Chapter 11 : Eleven: The Weapon
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I’m intercepted by Ragnar on the way to my cubicle. “Come with me,” he says, brusquely and without any prologue. I blink, then nod, and follow him back down the row of desks to the other side of the office, where his office door is standing open.
My heart pounds, and my head aches worse than ever: Ragnar must want to see me in private about the Wizengamot’s request. They want me to spy on my team, potentially on the entire department, and I have no idea how I should reply. On one hand, this could set me up for major promotions, and it’s never a bad thing to be in the Wizengamot’s good books. Besides, there’s a chance Ada was set up to look guilty for the press leak, and refusing to help with the investigation would be like turning my back on her. Still, there’s something about it that feels wrong.
He flicks his wand as we enter his office, and the door instantly snaps shut. It’s more cluttered than it was last Friday: there’s a large, empty box of Peppermint Mice on the desk, and several coffee-stained mugs stacked on top of a shelf in the corner. Was Ragnar here all weekend? I wonder.
“So?” he says in his deep, imperious voice that casts all other thoughts out of my mind. “What do I tell the Wizengamot?”
We stand facing each other for a moment, our eyes locked together. Then I sigh, lowering my head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”
Ragnar prowls around his desk and takes a seat behind it. He leans back in his chair, arms crossed, narrowing his eyes up at me. “That’s not the answer they’re looking for.”
“I know, sir.” I hesitate, then sit down in the chair opposite Ragnar’s. He’s not exactly a chatty person, and I don’t think he likes me much, but I can’t make this decision on my own. “What would you do?”
“I would cooperate with them,” says Ragnar immediately. “This is about catching the person who broke the law. That’s the only thing that matters.”
“But it’s spying,” I object, more loudly than I had intended. “Spying on my own department. It doesn’t feel right.”
Ragnar’s eyebrows push together over his bright eyes; he seems deep in thought. “The right thing isn’t always the most glamorous thing,” he says after a moment. “I don’t know if you ever heard of Severus Snape. He was a Hogwarts Professor during my time there, and a spy for Dumbledore. We would never have won the war without him.”
“Yeah.” I frown. “But Snape was spying on Voldemort, right? I’d be spying on my own people.”
Ragnar looks down at the stack of scrolls on his desk, wordlessly dismissing me from his office. “I’ll tell the Wizengamot you’re not interested.”
“No, don’t--” I jump up from my seat, making Ragnar start. Unsure what to do or what to say, I pace back and forth across his office floor for a moment. At the root of my reservations, I realize, is emotion. It feels wrong to spy on the team, it feels like a betrayal. But Aurors aren’t supposed to let emotions cloud their judgment; a good Auror makes her decisions based on pure, cold, sharp logic. I stop pacing and look up at Ragnar. “All right. Tell them I’ll do it.”
Ragnar raises his eyebrows and the light catches them, turning them bright gold. “You’re sure?”
I take a deep breath. “I’m sure.”
“Then I’ll let them know.” Ragnar leans forward, his hands folding together on his desk. “Sit down for a minute, Smith.”
I blink, surprised, and sit back down: Ragnar’s not a man of many words, and I’d figured he’d let me get to work as soon as I’d made up my mind for the Wizengamot. “Sir?”
“People get a lot of ideas into their heads,” he says gravely, his eyes locked onto mine. “About the Auror Office. A lot of people start out here thinking that it’s going to be like the Gryffindor Common Room. That there’s a code of honor between us all. Those people don’t tend to last for very long here.”
I feel my face flush a little, and I open my mouth to argue, but Ragnar interrupts me:
“I’m telling you this because I think you’ve got the makings of a good Auror.” My face heats up even more, but Ragnar doesn’t seem to notice. “But you’re not going to get very far if expect everyone else in this office to play fair all the time. Anyone else on our team -- anyone else in the office, for that matter -- they would’ve taken up the Wizengamot’s offer in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t have had a second thought about whether it was the right thing to do. They may be Dark Wizard catchers, but they’re also some of the most heartless, backstabbing cutthroats in all of London. Now, when you’re out on the field, that’s one thing, you have to look out for each other out there. But here, in the Ministry? It’s everyone for themself.”
After our private meeting, Ragnar takes a brief coffee hiatus, and then gathers the team in our incident room. The team now consists of myself, Darren, Charlie, and five new members who’ve been pulled off of low-priority cases to help us with this mess. We introduce ourselves quickly, and then turn our attention to Lorna Whitlock, who’s come in to deliver the results of her substance tests.
“Eye candy, nice,” Darren mutters as she enters the incident room. Charlie and a couple of the new team members chuckle.
To my surprise, Lorna doesn’t ignore Darren -- she rounds on him, hands on her hips, dark eyes calm and confident. “That’s the last time you harass me around the office, Grimm,” she says, in deadly-clear syllables. “Unless you’d like to be reported to the Head of the Department.”
Darren splutters; the entire room looks astonished. Lorna doesn’t seem to notice any of it, though. She returns to the front of the room and indicates the scroll of parchment she’s pinned up on the wall.
“These are the results of the substance tests I conducted on an assortment of objects from the two crime scenes,” she says. I straighten up, quill poised over a notebook in case I need to scribble anything down. “I found traces of an unknown substance on certain items from both crime scenes. There were traces of the substance on a tea set and a canister of English tea from the Harris’ house, and on a pair of wine glasses and on the inside of a bottle of wine from the Dawson house.”
“Poison,” says Ragnar, who’s leaning on a desk in the corner of the room. He inclines his head to me. “Nice hunch, Smith.”
“The substance seems to be a powder that dissolves in liquid,” continues Lorna. “It’s odorless and tasteless. When we administered tiny, residual amounts of the liquids to rats, they became extremely agitated, aggressive, and violent. Neither the Ministry nor St. Mungo’s nor the International Council on Dangerous Substances have anything like this on record. We’ve passed it on to the lot of them to do some more testing, try to figure out what it’s made of. And, er…” She shrugs. “That’s all I’ve got for you.”
“Thank you, Whitlock,” says Ragnar as Lorna stalks back out of the room, her eyes set straight ahead, presumably to avoid Darren and Charlie’s evil looks. “That was very informative.”
The door closes behind Lorna, and Ragnar pushes off the desk, rounding on the lot of us. “We’ve got a murder weapon, now,” he growls, practically baring his teeth. “If I wake up tomorrow and the papers have got hold of this, all of you will be on suspension until we figure out who the rat is. Got that?”
We all nod. I shoot a glance around at the new team members, who look taken aback, even alarmed. I grin: it’s nice not to be the newest member of the team.
“Sir,” says Charlie, straightening up a bit. “I was just thinking: if some tosser’s selling this stuff on the black market, we could be dealing with multiple killers. It wouldn’t have to be the same person at all, two separate killers could have bought the poison.”
“Which would make more sense, really,” adds Darren. “As there’s no evidence of any connection between the Dawsons and the Harrises.”
Something strikes me, and I speak up. “In either of the murders, the poisoner could even have been one of the victims. They could have dosed the drinks, and then taken one themselves, either accidentally or on purpose.”
Ragnar nods slowly. “So the field of possible suspects is even wider than it was.”
“Brilliant,” mutters Darren. “Just what we needed.”
“We haven’t got a lot to work with, and we’re under a lot of pressure from the Ministry,” says Ragnar, ignoring Darren. “Smith, why don’t you get the new crowd up to speed. We don’t want to waste more than a day on it, but it’s important that they have all the facts. Grimm, Holcombe, you might as well have a look around Knockturn Alley, see if anyone’s selling this poison. I’ll put in a request for permission to do surprise inspections, I’m sure the Minister’ll get it back to us in a matter of minutes.”
He pauses for a moment, stretching his arms behind his head. I can’t help myself from watching the twist of his shoulders, the contractions of his biceps into hard knots, clearly visible through his robes. He’s got to be two full decades older than Xavier, but he’s just as fit. He’s your boss, I remind myself firmly, looking away as Ragnar lowers his arms again. You’re not allowed to be attracted to him. Look at what happened to Ada.
“Hop to it,” says Ragnar simply, leaving us to our own devices.
I spend most of the day catching up the new team members on the details of the case, while trying to stave off anxiety about my agreement to spy for the Wizengamot on one hand, and increasingly lucid, completely inappropriate admiration of Ragnar’s physical being with the other. He has kids, you dimwit, I remind myself over and over. He has a wife. But every time he passes by the incident room, I find myself looking up to catch a glimpse of him.
Darren and Charlie return from their Knockturn Alley venture in the evening with nothing of interest to report. They’ll continue the surprise inspections tomorrow, they decide, and bring along some backup.
When I get home, I’m relieved to find that Rose has invaded my kitchen, and brought along a terrific quantity of food. She hardly looks up from a simmering pot of Merlin-knows-what as I enter.
“Oh, hey, Fee,” she murmurs, tenderly stirring the contents of the pot.
“Hi,” I say, collapsing into a chair. “I take it that’s dinner?”
“Hmm?” says Rose absentmindedly. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s a stew, or something.”
Rose’s lack of certainty on what it is, exactly, that she’s cooking isn’t exactly comforting, but I decide that I’d rather eat whatever it is than go to the trouble of fixing anything else for myself. I lean back, resting my feet up on the seat of the chair opposite me, and wonder if I should confide in Rose. I’m sure she’d have plenty of wisdom on the subject of how to deal with unbelievably fit bosses, but on the other hand she’d be sure to tell Jasper -- and once something reaches Jasper’s ears, there’s no knowing where it’ll spread.
“I just thought I’d whip something up,” says Rose, still sounding a bit vague and unfocused. “Well, really I just wanted to talk to you. See, the thing is…” She turns to me with wide, troubled eyes. “The thing is, I think I may have had sex with Scorpius after Jasper’s party.”
I pause with my wand poised in midair, on the verge of Summoning over a Butterbeer. “What? What do you mean, you think you may have?”
“Well, I definitely had sex with someone,” she says, waving the wooden spoon around so that little flecks of stew (or something) go flying in every direction. “Because I woke up naked in Jasper’s spare bed, and whoever it was had left, but he’d left a sock behind.”
“A sock?” I repeat. “How is that even possible? How could you not notice that you’d forgotten to put on a sock?”
“It does sound like the kind of thing Scorpius would do, doesn’t it?” says Rose mournfully.
“But you haven’t heard from him?” I ask.
Rose shakes her head.
“Well.” I flick my wand at the cabinet, and catch the bottle of Butterbeer that comes zooming out of it. “I doubt it’d be Scorpius, then. First of all, as we both know, he’s been in love with you for ages and he’d never leave your side once he thought he had you. If it were Scorpius he would’ve stayed in bed with you until you forcibly removed him. Also, you would’ve heard from him by now, there’s no way he would’ve played it this cool afterwards.”
“I s’pose this is why you’re a detective,” says Rose with a small smile that soon subsides into a heavy sigh. “I wish I could remember. Judging by how sore my legs are, I’d say it was pretty damn good.”
“Did not need to hear that,” I say, shaking my head. “Especially if it was Scorpius. Eugh.”
“Oh, don’t pretend to be squeamish” says Rose, though she’s grinning. “You had plenty of sleepovers with Xavier, Merlin knows what delinquent activities you got up to with him. Hey, speaking of Xavier, didn’t he show up at Jasper’s?”
“Yeah,” I say heavily. “He wanted to talk stuff over, but I turned him down.”
“Good.” Rose nods approvingly. “You don’t have time for weird nose fetishists. If you insist on being in some kind of, you know--” she makes a face “--relationship with someone, it should at least be with someone who has decent taste in haircuts.”
“There was nothing wrong with his--”
“Anyway, how was work?” interrupts Rose, turning her attention back to the pot of, presumably, some type of food. “Any headway on the case?”
“You know I can’t talk about the case,” I remind her, rolling the Butterbeer bottle back and forth between my palms. “Not unless I want to get thrown out of the Ministry and banished to, I don’t know, Wales.” I pause, and the kitchen goes silent. Rose seems to be waiting for me to say something. “I tried to talk to Evangeline the other night,” I blurt out eventually, for something to say that doesn’t involve Ragnar. “She seems really nice, actually. But then James cut in and, and…” I frown, searching the words to explain James’ latest transgression. “I don’t know, he just made it really clear I wasn’t welcome.”
“Well, he can’t stop you from talking to her,” says Rose. “It’s not as if he owns her.”
“It’s not even that, like I don’t particularly care about talking to her,” I admit. “I mean, she seems lovely, like I said. But it’s more that I was trying to be good to her for his sake -- to make up for how I’ve acted, I suppose. And he wasn’t having any of it.”
“I’ve told you this a thousand times, Fee,” sighs Rose. “And I’ll probably tell you a thousand more before it’s all over: he’s just not worth your time. I love him, obviously, because he’s family. But you remember what he was like at school. He wants what he wants, and nothing else matters to him. And right now I suppose he wants to make sure you don’t spoil things with Evangeline.”
“Right.” My insides bubble with resentment. I almost wish I’d brought up Ragnar instead of James and Evangeline. “I’ll just ignore the both of them from now on.”
“That’s probably the wisest thing,” agrees Rose.
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