A missing policeman leads Bones, Brown and Beadle - the Muggle Interface Team - into a very strange place. Circumstances soon force their boss - Head Auror Harry Potter - to become personally involved.
Categories: Post-Hogwarts Characters:
Original 7 Book Canon OnlyWarnings:
1. Found and Lost by Northumbrian
2. Law and Order by Northumbrian
3. Questions and Answers by Northumbrian
Found and Lost by Northumbrian
Found and Lost
It was more than a house, it was a presence. An almost-living entity sitting in the landscape, it glared disdainfully out across the North Norfolk coast. An observer with a sunny outlook on life might charitably think it a lonely, grumpy-old-man of a building; more suspicious souls would doubtless find it rather threatening.
In the few places where they showed through the green and ochre lichen that covered the roof, the well-weathered pantiles were a rain-bleached red. Where there was some shelter, moss covered the lichen, and up near the ridges a few wispy strands of grass were growing through the moss. The roof’s unkempt appearance indicated that the place had not been properly maintained for many years.
L-shaped, and with a steeply pitched roof, the building was certainly distinctive. There were two full stories, and a third, attic floor. This last fact was apparent from the tall and narrow windows in the gables at the end of each branch of the L, and also by the unusual dormer window in its crook. The dormer, a convex Cyclops-eye of sea-blue glass, stared menacingly out over the porch and down the path towards the gate.
Even the porch was unusual: longer than it was wide, its oak shingle roof was supported by six weathered oak pillars that funnelled visitors towards the entrance, making the only possible approach a direct one. Walled to a height of three feet and open to the elements above that, it was as if the lonely lychgate of some long-lost church had sidled up to the arched front door in an attempt to protect it from the elements.
The skeleton of the house was a series of black timber squares, each more than a dozen feet across. The timbers were so old and black that the largest of the age-cracks were big enough to swallow fingers up to the first knuckle, if not further. Worryingly, they somehow managed to threaten that--given the opportunity--that’s precisely what they would do.
The flesh between the age-darkened timber bones was provided by handmade bricks the colour of dried blood. There was no doubt that the ancient bricks had long outlived the kiln in which they’d been fired. The dark red blocks were not arranged in English bond, but had been laid between the black ribs in a herringbone pattern. It was a style that had been popular in Jacobean England.
The window frames piercing the brickwork were as black as the timber bones. All--apart from the unblinking blue eye of the dormer--were filled with small diamonds of green-tinted glass. These jade fragments were old and full of imperfections. Some panes glinted brightly in the sun, while their neighbours were dull and lifeless. As the Earth spun, the multifaceted insect-eyes of the property shifted between rheumy, bright, and baleful.
The house, which was set in a triangular garden about a hundred yards long on each side, was surrounded by cropland. It was difficult to see the gardens because of the unkempt hedge surrounding the place. The only access to the property was along a narrow macadam lane that ran between fields of sugar beet, wheat, and barley. It was wide enough for a tractor, but not much more and--according to the name carved on the old wooden sign at its junction with Coast Road--it was called Strangewitch Lane.
Around the house, the countryside was as flat as a flounder. The hedges that enclosed the property, and hid it from the world, were the only impediment to what would otherwise have been an uninterrupted view. Behind the house, to the south, farmland stretched out for miles. In front, to the north, were the waving reeds of the salt marsh and beyond them, the North Sea. A slight fall in the land in the northern part of the overgrown garden meant that views into the site from this direction were good. It was apparent that the windows on the northern gable would have an impressive view of the River Glaven, the marshes, and even the sea, which was more than half a mile away.
The hedges were typical of the area, a wild and thick mix of hawthorn, blackthorn, ash, and elder. Their prickly presence meant that the only way to access the property was from the narrow lane. Even there, access was restricted. A rose-entangled wicker arch formed the only gap in the hedge. The low wooden gate that barred it was no more than a yard wide. Beyond the gate rough, rust-coloured Carrstone cobbles formed a narrow footpath that led through the neglected and weed-choked garden to the peculiar porch which, despite the bright morning sunlight, shrouded the front door in shadows.
Other than the narrow pedestrian gate, there was no way into the grounds. There was neither driveway nor garage; the old house had no parking. Despite this drawback, it was very marketable.
Lester Lubbock scratched his head. Everything about the property was inexplicable. Neither the house, nor the lane on which it lay, appeared on any map of the area. How the Ordnance Survey could have missed not only a house as old and imposing as this but also the lane on which it was situated, was a mystery to him. Even more astonishing, given its obvious age, the property did not appear on the listed buildings register. For such an obviously old building, that was remarkable.
As Lester stood on the roadside, looking through the arched gate, he lifted his camera and pressed the zoom button. It was no use; he couldn’t even get a good shot of the front door. The rooms were dark and the small panes of old and uneven green glass managed to be both too dull and too bright to allow any glimpse into the interior of the property. He could see nothing.
It looked like the property was unoccupied; certainly no one had approached him as he’d walked around the boundary, holding his camera above his head and taking photographs over the top of the hedge. Nevertheless, despite the dilapidation, there was something about the place that suggested a living presence.
As arriving at the front door with a camera around his neck would give a poor impression, Lester returned to his bright red company Mondeo. Opening the door, he placed his expensive digital camera on the passenger seat, next to his laptop.
This was an opportunity for a big commission. He’d found a prime property in a sought-after location, a building that had enormous potential. It was a characterful house that, even in its current rather rundown state, was probably worth in the region of half a million pounds. Imagining a single, frail and elderly occupant (what else could explain the condition of the house and gardens?) Lester decided that he would start by suggesting a four percent commission.
He’d been parked on the lane for half an hour, and in all that time not a single vehicle had driven past. The place was very quiet. “Ideal for those seeking solitude,” Lester began to mentally write up the sales particulars. Opening his briefcase, he pulled out one of the Company’s standard “We are looking for properties like yours” leaflets and stapled his business card to it. Picking up the laptop, he dropped it into his briefcase and snapped it shut.
Although he was confident that there was no need to lock his car, he locked it anyway. Pocketing the key fob, he crouched down, checked his hair and his tie in the door mirror, brushed non-existent dust from his Saville Row jacket, made certain that his brown Italian shoes were clean after his excursion through the fields, and walked towards the gate.
He halted for a moment. Was that someone’s shadow--a child, perhaps--moving across the dormer window? Uncertain, he continued his approach.
As he reached in to open the latch on the gate, a stray strand of rose stem suddenly whipped down, lashing the back of his hand. Cursing, Lester hastily opened the gate and hurried through. As he did so, a second and then a third rose stem sprang towards him. He got through the gate, but not before his expensive jacket had been ripped and he’d received a second cut, this one to the forehead. Thankful for his sunglasses, which had protected his eyes, he stumbled towards the porch, still swearing under his breath. Five percent commission, he thought to himself vindictively.
‘November-Charlie-three-three to Control.’
‘Go ahead, November-Charlie-three-three.’
‘Red Ford Mondeo, index number alpha-uniform-five-six-lima-lima-lima, reported stolen by Anglian Estate Agents, is parked outside that old house on Strangewitch Lane, almost a mile outside Cley-next-the-Sea. Vehicle is locked and empty. There’s an expensive-looking digital camera on the front seat, but no sign of our misper.’
‘Please repeat the address.’
‘I don’t know the name of the property, control, and there’s no sign on the gate. It’s the big old house overlooking the marshes.’
‘There isn’t a Strangewitch Lane, November-Charlie-three-three, not according to my map, and there definitely aren’t any big houses that close to the marshes. I grew up a couple of miles away, in Blakeney, I’d remember a big old house in the middle of nowhere.’
‘I’ve been patrolling this area for five years, Control. This house has always been here, it must’ve been. I’m looking at it now, and it definitely isn’t new! Strangewitch Lane connects the northern part of Old Woman’s Lane back south to Coast Road.’
‘There isn’t a northern part of Old Woman’s Lane, either, Del. It stops when it hits the coast road. What’ve you been drinking?’
‘I’m sober as a judge, Davey! The map must be wrong. I’ll just go and have a word with the residents. From where he’s parked his car, Mr Lubbock must’ve gone to visit them, although the house looks empty to me. Except… Wait a minute…’
‘Control to November-Charlie-three-three. What’s happening, Del?’
‘There’s a round, blue, window jutting out from the roof; I thought I saw movement. No, it’s nothing, but--hang on… I can see something in the shadows under the porch. It looks like a briefcase. It’s just lying there. I’ll go and take a look. Ow! Bloody hell!’
‘Do you require assistance, November-Charlie-three-three?’
‘I’m okay, but that was weird! There are all these roses around the front gate. When I opened the gate, one of ’em took my cap off and another cut my arm. It’s gone through my shirt. Thank Christ for my stab vest, it deflected the stem. Don’t laugh, but those roses have wicked sharp thorns. Hang on, there’s definitely something under the porch canopy. It is a briefcase. I’ll just…’
‘November-Charlie-three-three from control.’
‘November-Charlie-three-three from control. What’s happening? Del? Del! Answer me, Del.’
‘Stop pissing about Del, it isn’t funny.’
Del, if you don’t pick up right now, I’m going to report this as a lost contact!’
‘November-Charlie-three-three from control. Please respond, November-Charlie-three-three.’
‘Shit! ... All units, all units, officer not responding. Contact lost with November-Charlie-three-three, Constable Adrian Boyes. Last reported position Strangewitch Lane, Cley-next-the-Sea.’
‘November-papa-one-nine-er to control. I’m about half an hour away from Cley, but where the hell is Strangewitch Lane?’
‘November-alpha-two-three to control, we’re closer, we’re in Beeston Regis. ETA twenty minutes--tops. Floor it, Jules…’
Law and Order by Northumbrian
Law and Order
For the third time that morning Lavender Brown leaned across Bobbie Beadle’s desk, placing her left hand on the report Bobbie was trying to read and, for the third time that morning, the lean woman ignored the sparkling gold, diamond, and amethyst band on Lavender’s ring finger. Instead, disguising the action by running her fingers through her short-cropped brown hair, she glanced sideways at Susan Bones and gave the blonde a surreptitious wink.
‘Will you stop interrupting us, Lavender,’ Susan said sharply. ‘This paperwork is important. We need to get ready for court next week.’
‘What could possibly be more important than getting the case file sorted,’ Bobbie added, trying very hard not to smile.
‘Call yourselves investigators?’ asked Lavender scornfully. ‘You can’t even see what’s right in front of your faces.’ She waved her engagement ring at them. ‘Mark proposed to me last night, and I said yes!’
‘At last,’ said Susan in relief.
‘I make it ten thirty-four,’ said Bobbie, checking her watch.
‘I said thirty,’ Trudi Pepperell called hopefully from across the other side of the room.
‘Ten thirty-five!’ said Terry Boot, almost apologetically.
‘Terry is closest,’ Bobbie said, checking the sheet she had hidden under the file.
‘You knew! And you were running a sweep!’ said Lavender, scandalised. ‘But how did you know? Did Mark tell you?’ She snatched the sheet from Bobbie and looked at the names.
‘We’re all Aurors, Lavender,’ Susan said. ‘As you pointed out, we’re investigators.’
‘If Mark told you...’
Worried for Lavender’s fiancé, Bobbie decided that the baiting had gone on long enough. ‘Mark didn’t tell anyone anything, Lavender. Ginny was in Diagon Alley yesterday morning, and she spotted him coming out from Chang’s Jewellers,’ she told her friend. ‘He was in smart Muggle clothes, carrying a ring-box, and looking very nervous. Ginny contacted Harry and, when you told us that he was taking you to the matinee performance at the Globe Theatre and then out for a meal, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was really happening.’
‘When you left, yesterday lunchtime, you were the only one in the office who didn’t know that Mark was intending to propose,’ Susan added. Her face was calm, but her eyes showed that she was revelling in that fact.
‘Ottilia and Williamson both bet I’d turn him down!’ Lavender shrieked.
‘But most of us thought that you’d do the sensible thing and say yes,’ Bobbie told her.
‘After all, there’s a first time for everything,’ Harry Potter added as he appeared at the door to his office. ‘You lasted a lot longer than I expected. I was convinced you’d make an announcement the moment you arrived this morning, and so was Ginny.’
‘I hate you all,’ said Lavender. Her complaints were drowned out by the cheers, jeers, and catcalls of her colleagues.
She was still basking in the congratulations of her colleagues when Harry’s personal assistant, Martha, stood up from her desk and shouted over the banter. ‘Call from the Muggle Monitoring Service!’
The office fell silent. ‘The Muggle Police in Norfolk have lost contact with one of their men,’ Martha said. ‘His last known location was next to a “house on Strange Witch Lane.” The MMS contacted us because of the name, and the fact that neither the house nor the lane appears on the Muggles’ maps. They’ve started looking, but so far they haven’t found the house on our maps, either! We don’t know any more about the property than the Muggles, who are sending more police to investigate.’
The office remained silent; Harry looked at Lavender and her colleagues. ‘We’ll celebrate later,’ he said. ‘This is a case for the Muggle Interface Team. Hopefully, it’s simply a Muggle-repelling Charm that’s failed, and you’ll be back in time for lunch.’
‘We’re on our way,’ said Susan, closing the file she’d been working on.
‘Lost contact with an officer on duty is a serious matter for the police. It means that every copper in the vicinity will already be approaching at speed,’ said Bobbie as she followed Susan’s lead. ‘If you want to avoid a mass memory charm, Harry, we need to get there now.’
‘The MMS have only an approximate location. I’ll organise the Emergency Portkey for you,’ Martha called as the three women picked up their coats and dashed for the express lift.
The lift plummeted, lurched, sped rapidly forwards, and then shot upwards. When it opened, Susan, Lavender, and Bobbie were standing in the concrete gloom of a multi-storey car park. A black Range Rover was parked right next to the doors.
‘Shotgun,’ said Lavender, pushing past Susan to get to the front passenger seat of the car.
Susan, who had already begun to open the door, looked at her friend as if she were insane. ‘What?’
‘I said shotgun, so I get to sit in the front,’ Lavender told her. ‘Isn’t that right, Bobbie?’
‘In the Muggle world, yes,’ said Bobbie resignedly as she slid into the driver’s seat and buckled herself in. ‘We’re in a hurry…’
Susan resignedly climbed into the back seat. ‘I’m not wasting time arguing with you, Lavender,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘Not today.’
By the time Susan had fastened her seatbelt, Bobbie had already switched on the invisibility booster and placed a finger on the Mirrorphone fixed to the dashboard. ‘Portkey Office, Auror Office Priority.’ Bobbie said. A woman’s face appeared in the mirror. ‘Alpha-Oscar-three ready for immediate departure,’ Bobbie told her.
‘Thank you. Emergency Portkey approved, and activated,’ the woman replied.
The steering wheel glowed blue; the Range Rover lurched, and instantly translocated. The three young women found themselves hovering half a mile in the air. Bobbie looked out of the windows. Ahead was the sea, to the left a small village, to the right and rear were a flat patchwork of fields. It was the flattest terrain she’d ever seen; she could see for miles.
‘Blue lights heading this way,’ Bobbie pointed out of her side window to the east, towards the distant town. ‘It’s an area car.’ She wound down the windows, and heard the blare of distant sirens.
‘And this way,’ said Lavender, pointing in the opposite direction. ‘And there’s another one way over there in the distance.’
Susan, meanwhile, was scanning the area with her Omnioculars. ‘That must be the place, down there,’ she said, pointing down and towards the east. ‘There are two cars, a big red one and a smaller police car. They’re both parked outside that big old house. The police car has a number--thirty-six--and an orange circle painted on its roof, what does that mean?’
‘Three-six is Norfolk Constabulary, and it’s a local patrol car,’ said Bobbie as she took in the scene.
Putting the car into gear, Bobbie accelerated rapidly down towards the house. Although she was concentrating on her destination, and on dropping the car down towards the road, she also tried to keep one eye on the closest police car.
The police car parked outside the house--the patrol car--was a Ford Fiesta, but from her aerial vantage point Bobbie could see that the rapidly approaching blue lights belonged to a large Volvo area car. Bigger, faster, and carrying a lot more kit, unlike the one-man patrol car it would almost certainly be two up. The area car was travelling at speed. The presence of an orange circle on its roof showed that the officers inside were unarmed, but that was only to be expected. She’d have been astonished to find an Armed Response Vehicle in such a rural area. Nevertheless, Bobbie recognised the driving techniques of a pursuit-trained driver. She estimated that they would arrive at the scene only a minute or two before the police vehicle.
‘Interesting,’ said Lavender, pointing at the dashboard. ‘We’re still a mile away, and the Sneakoscope’s already starting to show something.’
‘Never mind that,’ exclaimed Susan. ‘Look at this!’ She pushed her Dark Detector between the front seats so that both Lavender and Bobbie could see the needle’s steady climb. As Bobbie skilfully dropped the car onto the deserted road and began to brake, the needle swung from amber through to red and began to bounce agitatedly against the stop.
‘Bloody Hell!’ said Lavender as Bobbie slammed on the brakes. ‘We’re still outside the grounds! I’ll call for the Cursebreaker Squad.’
‘What on earth are we going to? Is the entire house cursed?’ Bobbie asked in concern. As the Range Rover slithered to a stop just behind the police car, she turned off the Invisibility Booster.
‘Whatever it is, it’s certainly very nasty,’ said Susan, staring down at her Dark Detector, and shaking it in disbelief. ‘I’ve never seen a reading like this. We need to keep those Muggles well away from that house, Bobbie, no matter what! I’ll stun them and call in the Obliviator Squad if I have to.’
Lavender had already placed her thumb on the glass of the centrally mounted dashboard Mirrorphone. ‘Martha,’ she said urgently. The face of Harry’s PA instantly appeared in the mirror. ‘Susan’s Dark Detector is off the scale,’ Lavender told the curly-haired woman. ‘We’ll need the Cursebreakers, and we need to be able to pull rank on the Muggles. They’ll be here any minute now. It’s Norfolk Constabulary, right Bobbie?’
‘That’s right,’ called Bobbie. ‘We’ll all be cops, Martha; that will be easiest.’
‘I’ll get right on it, and I’ll let Harry know,’ Martha said, breaking the connection.
‘The flak jackets and baseball caps are in the boot,’ Bobbie told her companions as they unbuckled their belts and opened their doors.
After switching on the Range Rover’s concealed blue lights, Bobbie flung open her door and dashed round to the rear of the car. Susan and Lavender were already in the boot; they had shucked off their black Auror coats and were hastily fastening their equipment belts. Bobbie pulled her own belt out from its box. She had it buckled within seconds. Susan and Lavender were still struggling into their flak jackets as Bobbie pulled on hers. Conscious that the sirens were getting louder by the second, Bobbie hastily unlocked the safe containing her Glock and ammunition.
After carefully fastening the Glock in its holster, Bobbie pulled on her police baseball cap with its navy and white checked band, and turned to examine her companions. Lavender was fine, other than her loose hair, and the jaunty angle of her baseball cap. The cap was just Lavender making a statement, but the hair was unacceptable on duty. Susan hadn’t fastened the flak jacket correctly.
‘Tie your hair back,’ Bobbie told Lavender as she adjusted Susan’s attire. She had only just finished when the roof lights of police car appeared in the distance.
‘We’re from the Met, CTC! It stands for Counter Terrorism Command,’ Bobbie told her friends. ‘I’ll do the talking; you two go and check out the abandoned cars.’
The rapidly approaching Volvo wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down. That was understandable; they’d lost one of their own. Hoping that the loss wasn’t permanent, and that the house, its occupants, or its contents, hadn’t killed anyone, Bobbie took a deep breath and put on her unflappable professional face.
This was what she lived for. The adrenalin of the action, the excitement of the strange and dangerous cases, and the sheer variety of the work made up for the days at her desk writing reports. She’d joined the police service to keep the public safe, and that’s what she was doing.
She couldn’t tell the public the truth, but then she often had no idea what the truth was! In this case it was obvious that both Susan and Lavender were extremely worried by the level of Dark magic they’d detected. Their immediate agreement about calling in the Cursebreakers showed that.
A few years earlier, not long after she’d been recruited, Bobbie had witnessed a curse-death; she didn’t want to see another one. Assuring herself that she was probably saving the lives of the two police officers in the area car, Bobbie stepped into the centre of the narrow country lane. As she held up her left hand to stop the oncoming police car, she used her right to pull out her wallet.
The Volvo screeched to a halt only feet from her, and Bobbie could see that the driver, a pale and round-faced blonde, had been handed the radio mike by her colleague. The passenger, who was also female, was black, and she was watching Bobbie carefully. She said something to the driver, unclipped her seatbelt, opened her door, and stepped warily out of the car, keeping a close eye on Bobbie’s holstered gun. The rangy, fit-looking woman was as tall as Bobbie.
‘Inspector Beadle,’ Bobbie called. ‘Met, CTC! We have a potential major incident. Why are you here?’
‘Officer not responding,’ said the woman tersely. She closed the car door and strolled warily towards Bobbie. Noting the crest on Bobbie’s flak jacket, and the two silver diamonds on her epaulettes, she tried to be a little more deferential. ‘What about you, ma’am. You’re a long way from your manor. Does HQ know that the Met are here? What sort of major incident are we looking at.’
‘Anonymous tip off; firearms and possible explosives inside the property,’ Bobbie told her, improvising wildly. ‘Your Chief Constable, or at least someone senior in Ops, should know we’re here. Your “officer not responding” explains the patrol car my colleagues are looking at, and that’s why you’re here.’ She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. ‘What about your missing officer? Why was he here?’
‘The red Mondeo belongs to a missing person, a chap called Lester Lubbock. An estate agent,’ the police officer said. The contempt in her voice was restricted to her final sentence, and Bobbie registered the woman’s dislike of estate agents. ‘He didn’t turn up for work yesterday, and he weren’t answering his mobile. His boss were told that we wasn’t going to go look for him. Lubbock’s an adult with no mental health issues and no criminal record. But Lubbock’s car and mobile phone both belong to the company, so his boss reported them both stolen and we had to flag his car’s index plate.’
‘What more can you tell me about the missing person, Lubbock, and your missing officer?’ Bobbie asked.
‘IC1 male single, early thirties is all we have on Mr Lubbock, ma’am. Del found the car and told control that he was going up to the house. He said something about the roses cutting him, and then we lost contact with him. There’s no response from his radio.’
Bobbie looked warily over her shoulder towards the house. She was well aware how dangerous magical plants could be. Susan had her Omnioculars up to her eyes and was standing only a couple of feet from the gate. ‘Bones, Brown, get over here, and do notapproach the property,’ she ordered. ‘Thanks,’ she added, turning back to the officer. She noted the concern in the woman’s eyes. ‘And the missing constable, you called him Del?’ she asked.
‘Oh, er, yes, ma’am. He’s actually Constable Adrian Boyes,’ the woman said. ‘But everyone calls him Del.’
‘Of course they do,’ Bobbie told her. ‘And you are?’
‘Constable three-two-seven Aleesha Duchesne, ma’am.’
‘You work out of the same nick as PC Boyes?’ Bobbie asked.
Duchesne shook her head. ‘Not now, but he looked after me when I was a probationer,’ she said. ‘He’s a good copper, ma’am.’
Bobbie heard footsteps approaching from behind her; the tick-tick of Susan’s stilettos was accompanied by the much quieter pad of Lavender’s flats. Susan’s shoes weren’t sensible, they never were. Bobbie found it unfathomable that Lavender, who was usually the mistress of impracticality, was prepared to be separated from her fancy shoes while working, but the otherwise sensible Susan wasn’t.
The car door opened, and Aleesha’s blonde colleague finally climbed out from the car. As the second officer approached, Susan and Lavender stepped forwards to flank Bobbie.
‘Headquarters say that this lot are Met, Counter-Terrorism, Leesh,’ the blonde said. The woman’s face had lost what little colour it had possessed. ‘We’re ordered to assist in any way possible. OIC is a DI Beadle.’
‘That’s me,’ Bobbie said. ‘Meet Detective Sergeant Bones, and DC Brown.’ She indicated Susan and Lavender. ‘You are?’
‘Julia Holman, ma’am.’
The two police women assessed Bobbie and the Aurors. Bobbie wasn’t sure what they were thinking, but she was certain they’d both clocked Susan’s shoes.
‘Both cars are empty, guvnor,’ said Lavender, sounding rather too much like a TV police officer for Bobbie’s liking. ‘The police car wasn’t locked, and the engine is still warm. The other car was cold, and there are cobwebs across the door mirror. It’s been there for a while, at least overnight, I think. I managed to open it, and retrieved this.’ She showed Bobbie a digital camera.
‘There’s something very odd about the house, ma’am,’ added Susan cautiously.
‘I’ll say there is! Did you spot any blood at the gate?’ Bobbie asked. ‘Apparently PC Boyes cut himself on the thorns, but it’s possible that the gate is booby-trapped. The red car belongs to a Mr Lubbock, who’s been missing for at least twenty-four hours…’
‘The last confirmed sighting we have is more than forty-eight hours ago,’ PC Holman interjected. ‘He left his office to scout for potential properties on Monday morning. No ’un has see’d him since.’
‘And you’ve lost contact with the local patrol who found Mr Lubbock’s car,’ Bobbie shook her head worriedly and addressed the two police officers. ‘Given what we now know, I’m confirming this as a major incident. It looks very much like two people have entered the house, and neither has come out again.’ She stared into the worried eyes of the two local constables. ‘I bet your first instinct is to grab the big red doorknocker from your car and take that bloody door down.’ She waved in the direction of the house. ‘To be honest, so is mine, but although I hope for the best, it’s my job to plan for the worst. It looks like two people have gone inside, and no one has left. For that reason we’re not sending anyone else in. We’re not even going through that gate until we know what the hell is going on inside that house, understand?’
The two local officers glanced at each other, and reluctantly gave their agreement.
‘I’m going to call for back up, and I’m going ask our Office to D-notice this. If we really do have an officer and a civilian hostage in there, then the last thing we want is a bloody media circus turning up,’ Bobbie told the two constables. ‘We’ve got surveillance gear in the car, and we’re all AFOs. We’ll set up here. Holman, you go back up to the junction with the main road junction and block it. Duchesne, take PC Boyes’ patrol car to the other junction, up that way, and block the road at the far end.’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ The two constables nodded their acquiescence. Bobbie, Susan, and Lavender waited until the two cars moved away before speaking.
‘I think I can guess what a big red doorknocker is,’ Lavender began.
‘Hand held battering ram,’ Bobbie confirmed.
‘But what’s a D-notice, and an AFO?’ Lavender asked.
‘A D-notice is a ban on publicity,’ Bobbie said. ‘Hopefully it will keep the local police chatter to a minimum, and...’ she tapped her holster. ‘Authorised Firearms Officer. They don’t have guns, they can see I’m armed, and now they think you two have guns in the car, too. Have either of you any idea what we’re dealing with?’
‘Yes,’ Susan and Lavender spoke in unison.
‘Really?’ Susan looked at Lavender sceptically.
Lavender lifted the camera she was still carrying. ‘This is a… um… it’s a something-to-do-with-fingers camera.’
‘Fingers?’ asked Susan in confusion.
‘It’s digital,’ said Bobbie as she figured out what Lavender was trying to say.
‘I knew I was right,’ Lavender confirmed smugly. ‘Den was showing Fenella one the other week, and I was…’
‘Being nosey, as usual?’ Susan suggested.
‘I prefer the word inquisitive,’ Lavender corrected, using the primly censuring tone Susan usually used on her. Waving the camera, she continued. ‘This one has loads of photographs of the house on it. I took a look at them. There’s a photo of the front door and you can clearly see that there’s a crest above it.’
‘A crest?’ asked Bobbie.
‘It’s three stars above a clenched gauntlet,’ said Lavender. ‘It probably belongs to one of the old wizarding families. We should be able to find out whose house this is.’
‘I saw the crest through my Omniocculars,’ said Susan grimly. ‘We’ll have to assume that this place is packed with dark magic, because I recognised it. It’s the emblem of the Lestranges.’
‘Shit!’ said Lavender. ‘I’ll let Martha know.’
The name Lestrange was vaguely familiar to Bobbie, probably from some old background file she’d once read, but Susan’s worried face, and the fact that Lavender had now sworn twice, were enough to make her realise that they were dealing with something very serious.
‘We’re not going to get back in time for lunch, are we?’ Bobbie asked. Susan and Lavender shook their heads.
PC Julia Holman was leaning against the door of her Volvo, taking some comfort from the worried looks on the faces of some of the motorists driving past. She was dealing with the frustration brought about by her unwanted inaction by pointing the radar speed gun along Coast Road. Although she couldn’t do anything about the speeders, watching the traffic slow as it passed her gave her some relief from the boredom.
She checked her watch, and realised that she’d already had the road blocked for almost two hours. She was wondering how much longer she’d be there when the faint crunch of boots on gravel made her turn around. Her partner was striding up the lane towards her.
‘Hi, Jules,’ Aleesha called. ‘Big Geoff and Tommo arrived at the other end of the lane not long after I did. They were all for going on down to the house, but I insisted that they contact Control.’
‘And?’ Julia asked hopefully.
‘When they did they were ordered to stay where they were, and told to make certain that no one approached the house. Tommo’s really pissed off. He wanted to know why I was there, and why I was in Del’s patrol car, so I told them about Inspector Beadle of the Yard, and her CTC squad. Not that I could tell them much.’ She gave an expressive shrug. ‘Did you get a message about something called “the Auror Office” taking over?’
‘Yeah.’ Julia nodded. ‘I’ve never heard of them, have you?’
Aleesha shook her head.
‘So what’ve you been doing down there, Leesh?’
‘Big Geoff decided that it would be a good idea to take a look through Del’s patrol car,’ Aleesha told her colleague. ‘There was nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing we found was his lunch. It was under his seat, but Geoff sniffed it out. He half-inched the pork pie and a Mars Bar, but he left the salad and apple.’
Julia snorted. ‘I swear he can smell food through a solid wall,’ she said. ‘Too many pork pies and Mars Bars; that’s why he’s called Big Geoff!’
‘Yeah,’ Aleesha nodded. ‘It was dead quiet down there. Not a soul about, not even passing traffic. At least you’ve found something to do. I was getting really bored with all the footie talk, so used my initiative. I decided that, technically, Geoff and Tommo had relieved me. And that meant I was free to walk back up the lane to rejoin my partner.’
‘So, what’s going on at the house? Did you see anything?’ asked Julia eagerly. ‘I’ve only let the one car through at this end. They said they was Met, but they didn’t look like it. The driver was a bloke called Creevey. He had five others with him, but ’un of ’em looked like my granny, an’ another was a girl who looked about seventeen. Nun of ’em was wearing flak jackets. They din’t even look like they was on the job, although according to his ID Creevey was supposed to be a Detective Sergeant. I was expecting a couple of vans full of Tactical Firearms and all the gear. Perhaps they’re still on their way up from London, but our TFU would’ve been here by now.’
‘There’s still just the two Range Rovers down there,’ said Aleesha. ‘They’re a weird bunch. They were all wearing long black coats, even Brown and Bones. And they looked kind of shifty when they seen me, all except DI Beadle.’ Aleesha paused. ‘She weren’t happy. But when I told her my relief had arrived, and that I were heading back up to join you, she was okay about it. She walked me past the house, made sure I didn’t linger. I saw your old granny; she were examining the gate with some sort of probe. But, apart from Beadle and her two friends, granny was the only women among ‘em. I never saw no teenager.’
‘Blonde, skinny, very pale, quite pretty,’ Julia said.
‘She weren’t there.’ Aleesha was definite. ‘DI Beadle said that there were some sort of booby trap on the gate, razorwire in the roses, and they’s worried that the entire place is rigged with explosives.’
‘Have they made contact with anyone inside?’ Julia asked.
Aleesha shook her head. ‘There dun’t appear to be a phone line. There definitely ain’t overhead wires to the house, and there won’t be anything underground, not out here. They ain’t been able to find a phone number for the last known occupants, neither. Beadle said they’d tried using a loudhailer, but no un had replied.’
‘But they know who lives there? What about Del?’
‘They’ve got an owner’s name, Lestrange,’ Aleesha said. ‘And I asked Beadle about Del. She said that they’re having problems with their thermal imaging gear, but they think that there are two people somewhere inside. They hope that they’re Del and Lubbock. They think there might be someone else in the house, but they’re not certain.’
‘Here’s summun else now,’ Julia observed.
The black Range Rover, identical to the two already on the scene turned off the main road and halted in front of Aleesha and Julia. The driver, a bespectacled, black-haired man, lowered his window. Aleesha walked around to speak to him.
Julia walked around to the other side of the car to get a look at the passenger. She was a haughty-looking woman who appeared to be in her fifties. Her hair was an almost platinum blonde, her skin pale, and her profile sharp and angular. She didn’t move, or acknowledge Julia’s presence in any way, but simply stared straight ahead. Her expression was one of utter distain for the surroundings in which she found herself.
‘Harry Potter,’ the driver said. ‘Auror Office. I work out of the Home Office, hostage negotiations.’ Julia watched him hand an identity card to Aleesha. ‘Inspector Beadle is expecting me.’
‘And?’ Aleesha asked, staring curiously at the woman.
‘This lady is a sister-in-law of the last known owner of the house,’ Potter said. ‘She’s the only person we’ve found who has actually been inside the property. She’s kindly offered to help us.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Aleesha.
She nodded at Julia, who moved in front of the newest arrivals and lifted the police cones from alongside the Volvo. Both women waved Potter’s car through the gap and watched it accelerate down the narrow lane.
‘Auror Office?’ Julia asked. ‘What the hell is the Auror Office, Leesh?
‘Security Service,’ Aleesha said. ‘That’s what his card said, anyway. Never mind him; did you see what she was wearing? That dress looked positively Victorian! And I doubt she “kindly volunteered” to do anything. She couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge us.’
‘Everything is weird,’ Julia said. ‘Weird house, weird events, and weird people! At least they’ve found summ’un inside. I hope Del’s okay.’
‘CTC my arse,’ Aleesha opined. ‘I reckon they’re all security service except Beadle--and possibly Brown--I’d put money on it. All this D-notice … don’t say anything … it’s all bollocks. Do we really trust this lot to get Del out of there?’
‘If they don’t there’ll be hell to pay, Leesh,’ said Julia, who was busy scribbling in her notebook. ‘I’ve taken names, collar numbers, and vehicle plates.’
Questions and Answers by Northumbrian
Questions and Answers
‘Lestrange!’ Harry exclaimed.
His PA, normally unflappable, had hesitated before saying the name. ‘That’s what Lavender’s just told me.’ Martha gave a grim and serious nod as she relayed the latest message from the Muggle Interface Team.
Harry frowned. From the moment Martha had conveyed Lavender’s request for the Cursebreaker Squad, he’d known that this MIT mission wasn’t going to be straightforward. This latest message, and that one name, had taken things to an entirely different level. Whatever they were dealing with, it was definitely much more serious than a failed Muggle-Repelling Charm.
Trying to push his concern for the missing Muggles aside, Harry quickly thought through his options. He needed more information before he could decide on the best course of action.
‘Why didn’t we know about this place? How long has it been visible to the Muggles? Why didn’t Rabastan Lestrange use it when he was on the run after The Battle?’ As he fired off a series of questions, his PA shook her head.
‘You’re asking the wrong person, Harry,’ Martha reminded him politely. ‘Shall I send Philippa in, or--do you want me to call all Senior Aurors to the briefing room?’
‘No, neither,’ said Harry, coming to a decision. He pushed his chair back and stood. ‘I’ll come out and speak to everyone in the office. Contact Brenda; we’d best make sure that the Minister knows that the Muggles have discovered the Lestrange House. He may even want to let their Prime Minister know.’
Breaking the connection, and closing the arrest file he now knew would have to wait, Harry strode towards the door of his glass-walled office. By the time he stepped outside, Martha was already talking into the Mirror on her desk, rapidly updating Brenda, the Minister’s PA, on the situation; the entire office was waiting for him.
‘Everyone!’ Harry called. The final few whisperers fell silent and over a dozen pairs of eyes turned their attention towards him. ‘The MIT call is proving to be a lot more complicated than we thought. You know that Susan’s Dark Detector is off the scale; Lavender has just told us that the house has the Lestrange crest over the door.’
Ignoring the oaths and exclamations coming from many of the Aurors, Harry stared in annoyance at two members of his team whose ineffectual attempts to remain unnoticed had caught his eye. He addressed the more senior of the two. ‘Hamish, why are you and Eric still here?’ he asked quietly. Everyone in the office looked at the two junior members of the Cursebreaker Squad.
‘We’re waiting fer Ottilia,’ the thickset and bushy-bearded Scot replied nervously.
‘Where is she?’ Harry demanded. ‘Lavender asked for the Cursebreaker Squad more than ten minutes ago!’
‘I dinnae ken,’ said Hamish helplessly. ‘She cannae be far away, Harry. Mebbe she’s in the lavvy.’
‘It’s quarter to eleven, Hamish.’ Senior Auror Philippa Fortescue came to the rescue of the hairy young Scot. ‘She always goes for a cuppa at half-ten. She’ll be in the tea room, catching up on the gossip.’
‘Should hae asked, sorry.’ Galvanised into action by Harry’s glare, Hamish got to his feet and strode towards the door.
‘Not the Law Enforcement tea room, Hamish. She uses the one in Magical Creatures,’ Philippa called after him. Hamish groaned and came close to breaking into a trot.
Harry sighed and turned his attention to a burly and plain-featured young man whose receding hair had left a pronounced widow’s peak as it retreated. ‘Terry, take Dennis and Camelia and get a car ready. I want you to provide support for Bobbie and the team. You can take the Cursebreaker squad with you, when they finally get themselves organised.’ He glanced over at Dennis. ‘Den, you know how to deal with the Muggles. The police are expecting reinforcements for Bobbie, so it’s best if they see you all arrive.’
‘Okay,’ said Dennis cheerfully. Standing, he walked over to the long line of black coats hanging on the wall.
‘As you wish,’ added Camelia. The slender, pale-skinned and raven-haired young woman stood and joined Dennis.
‘Terry, when you get there, I want you to Map the place. I’ll get the authorisation paperwork sorted out now.’
Lumbering to his feet, the burly young Auror gave a silent nod. Terry was one of the most taciturn people Harry knew; he spoke only when absolutely necessary. In the silence, Harry heard Martha opening a drawer. Although she was still speaking to the Minister’s secretary, he knew Martha would be preparing a Mapping form.
‘Need four,’ Terry rumbled.
‘Dennis, Susan, and Lavender all know the spell. They can help you with it,’ Harry told Terry. ‘We need to know who’s inside the building as soon as possible. At the very least I want to be able to tell the local police whether their missing man is still alive.’ He paused in thought. ‘I don’t suppose Fenella’s invented an X-ray camera has she?’
‘X-ray?’ Terry asked. He, and at least half the office, looked rather confused.
‘It’s a Muggle method of seeing through flesh to the bones inside,’ Dennis explained. ‘But Harry wants us to be able to see through the walls and into the house.’
Terry shook his head. ‘X-ray,’ he grumbled as he pulled on his coat. After a moment’s hesitation, he actually volunteered information; it was something he rarely did. ‘Remote viewing without an enchanted “seeing-object” inside the place you want to view is impossible, Harry.’
‘Is it? Oh, well.’ Harry shrugged.
‘We can try to get an Extendable Eye inside, if there’s a letterbox,’ Dennis suggested.
‘Good idea.’ Harry nodded.
As Terry, Dennis, and Camelia moved towards the lift, Hamish returned, a thin woman in her late sixties following him into the office. She was carrying a cup of tea and, unlike Hamish, there was no sense of urgency in her movements.
‘No time for that, Ottilia,’ Harry told her. ‘You and your team are going to Norfolk in one of the cars, and Terry, Dennis, and Camelia are going with you.’
‘In a car!’ Ottilia protested, scandalised.
‘Now,’ Harry told her. ‘Terry will explain what’s going on.’
‘Hmph,’ she snorted dismissively. ‘Rush, rush, rush! You can’t rush when you’re breaking a curse, Harry.’
‘No, but you can rush to get there,’ Harry told her. ‘We believe that there are two Muggles trapped inside a house that belonged to the Lestranges. Go!’
Still grumbling, and still carrying her cup, Ottilia followed Terry. Harry heard her mutter, ‘Probably dead already,’ as she led her squad towards the lift. As they lift doors opened, Harry turned his attention to the plump grey-haired lady sitting at the desk closest to Martha’s.
‘Philippa,’ he began. ‘We’ll need to take a fresh look at all of the information we have on the Lestranges. Send someone to the filing room and organise a team to go through the files, please. Al Webb’s team are in the field. They will have to stay on the dismemberment case, unless they’ve already tracked down the troll responsible.’ He looked around the room and raised his voice to make certain everyone could hear him. ‘You can take anyone else you need to help you, Philippa. It doesn’t matter which case they’re currently assigned to, this takes precedent over everything. Organise them however you want. Pay particular attention to any Dark Magic and cursed items the Lestranges were rumoured to have.’
‘Rumoured? That’s easy. A lot!’ the elderly Auror told her boss. ‘Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much actual solid information we’ll have. Most of our files on the Lestranges mysteriously vanished when Thicknesse was in charge.’
Turning, she addressed the man sitting at the desk adjacent to her own. He had a large goatee, a small chin, and an eager expression.
‘Dominic, go down to the training room and take a couple of the trainees out of their lecture. Get them down to Law Office Central Filing.’ Philippa paused in thought. ‘Not just any of the trainees, use Gareth and Amber, they both seem keen; a few hours looking through files and we’ll find out how keen. Search for any references to the Lestranges--and Bellatrix Black--there may be stuff filed under her maiden name, too. The Death Eaters probably didn’t get rid of all of the copies filed within other departments. Central Filing is a good place to start, but International Magical Cooperation may have copies of some of the files, too.’
Satisfied, Harry left her organising. He had intended to return to his office, but Martha called out. ‘The Minister wants to see you now, Harry.’
‘Tell him I’m on my way.’
‘I have the Mapping form ready,’ Martha added, waving the large rectangle of parchment. ‘As we’re operating in a Muggle area, it will need the Minister’s countersignature.’
‘I thought I was Head Auror, not office post-boy,’ Harry complained.
Knowing that he was teasing, Martha simply smiled as he took the form from her.
‘It could take a while for us to get any solid information, Harry,’ Philippa called as he strode past her desk. ‘The files won’t be easy to find. Can I ask Gawain Robards and Patience Blood to come in? I know they’ve both retired, but I’m sure they’ll be able to remember stuff about the Lestranges that isn’t in any files.’
‘Do whatever you think is necessary,’ Harry told her.
Harry was back at his desk and checking through one of the many Lestrange files when Martha’s face reappeared in the mirror on his desk. He glanced at the clock. An hour had passed since Terry’s team had left with the Cursebreaker Squad; hopefully there was good news.
‘Dennis has an update for you,’ Martha said. ‘I’ll put him through.’ She pulled her hand across the mirror.
Her image slid off the left side, to be replaced by an unhappy looking Dennis. It was immediately obvious to Harry that things weren’t going as well as he’d hoped.
Dennis was sitting in the car and had his Mirrorphone mounted in the cradle; all Harry could see of the outside world was a small sliver over the young Auror’s left shoulder. Looking past Dennis, he saw a dark and forbidding-looking hedge. Realising what Harry was doing, Dennis twisted the mirror a little, giving Harry a better view of the world outside the car. He could now also see the gate with its arch of roses; a very annoyed looking Ottilia was crouched in front of it.
‘We’re still waiting for the Cursebreaker Squad to get us past the hedge,’ Dennis began, his frustration obvious. ‘Ottilia’s getting really annoyed, says that the house is fighting back.’
‘What about the Muggles? Are they still alive?’ asked Harry.
‘We’re pretty sure they’re both alive and inside,’ Dennis assured his boss. ‘We’ve used the Mapping spell three times now, and it’s always shown them to be somewhere fairly close to the front door and close together. We think they’re being held in the same room.’
‘Three times, why?’ Harry asked.
‘The Map goes blank after about five minutes,’ Dennis explained. ‘We’re not sure why. Ottilia says that it’s more proof that the house is fighting back, but Terry and Susan both say that there’s no such thing as a sentient house. I’ve no idea what’s going on, Harry. All I can tell you is that there’s definitely something happening to the Map,’ he shook his head in confusion. ‘Terry can’t explain it, so I certainly can’t. We’ve seen the names Lester Lubbock and Adrian Boyes every time we’ve created a map, but the strangest thing is that no other names have appeared on the map. Terry has tried Homenum Revelio, so have I. In fact I think everyone has! There are definitely only two people in the place, so I can’t come up with a better explanation than Ottilia’s. It seems like we’re up against an empty house!’
‘Have you tried going over the hedge?’ Harry asked.
‘That’s one of the reasons I called. Lavender’s just done that. It didn’t work. The hedge reared up and knocked her back out into the road. It also grabbed her broom and smashed it!’
‘Is she hurt?’
‘Not really, no. She got a few cuts and bruises, but she was much more worried about muddy clothes and laddered stockings; you know what she’s like. Susan sorted out her injuries while Lavender tidied herself up,’ said Dennis. ‘Her pride’s been wounded, of course, and she’s annoyed about losing her broom.’ Dennis smiled. ‘But that’s because it will be her second “lost or damaged equipment” report. She hates those forms, and two reports within twelve months means she’ll have to go through an interview. It might be a good idea to get one of our Healers out here, just in case someone else is hurt.’
‘Good idea, Dennis, I’ll send Dacia,’ said Harry. ‘The Mapping spell and Homenum Revelio can only tell us that those two Muggles are alive. They could be dying, we’d only find out if one of them vanished from the map.
Harry put his head in his hands. Although he didn’t often sympathise with Lavender, he’d rather face an escaped Death Eater than the Ministry’s Budget and Finance Unit. Another lost broom would certainly lead to an enquiry. Although the Deputy-Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Hermione Granger-Weasley, was his friend, he knew that wouldn’t prevent her from giving both Lavender and him a long lecture on equipment care. Dismissing any possibility of delaying the meeting until after Hermione went on maternity leave, he made a note to reread the relevant policies.
There was little doubt that the loss of another broom would result in a request from Budget and Finance for the Aurors to make do with something other than the very expensive, top of the range, pursuit broom that was standard issue. It had taken him a year, and three long and detailed reports, to acquire those brooms for his staff.
‘Why did she even make the attempt?’ asked Harry, failing to hide his annoyance.
‘We found the spell that was animating the hedge, Terry removed it, and we all checked to make sure it was gone,’ Dennis told his boss. ‘It was, I swear it! But it had been put back in place before Lavender could get across.’ He paused. ‘Could you get someone in the office to check up on Lubbock and Boyes? They’re the only two people inside; the only logical explanation is that one of them is a wizard.’
‘I’ll put Williamson’s team onto it,’ said Harry. ‘But don’t get your hopes up, Dennis. It doesn’t seem likely that anyone who knew the Lestranges well enough to be their Secret-Keeper would have taken a Muggle job.’
‘I wondered if Lubbock might be a fake,’ Dennis pondered. ‘His disappearance got the police involved, and the policeman who found Lubbock’s car vanished. If Bobbie’s team hadn’t got there so fast, I think the next two coppers to arrive would’ve simply vanished, too.’
Before he could reply, Harry was distracted. Ottilia appeared to stumble, and the gate opened and closed.
‘What happened?’ Harry shouted.
Dennis’ eyes widened, and his head turned away from the screen. Harry saw Dennis open the car door and heard several people shouting.
‘Interesting!’ Dennis turned back to address his boss.
‘How did the gate open?’ Harry demanded.
Dennis was momentarily confused; he grinned as realisation struck. ‘You saw it through the Mirrorphone! You couldn’t see her!’ His smile vanished as he saw Harry’s face. ‘Sorry, Harry. You saw--or rather you didn’t see--Camelia walk through the gate. It looks like the magical defences don’t react to vampires.’
Dennis moved his mirror further around, giving Harry a much better view of the rose-arched gate. He could see, and hear, Ottilia’s annoyance. Camelia, of course, was completely invisible to the mirror, so Harry had no idea where she was or what she was doing.
‘It’s a pity Camelia can’t even activate a mirror,’ Dennis observed.
‘She can’t get into the house, either,’ Harry replied. ‘Even if she knocked at the door, and someone opened it, she can’t force her way in, and I don’t suppose she would be invited inside. At least we finally have someone inside the grounds. She can look through the windows, if nothing else.’
While they’d been talking, an idea had been flitting around the back of Harry’s mind. Unfortunately, it was proving elusive. Hoping that if he ignored it, it would fly within his grasp, he continued to question Dennis.
‘You’re absolutely certain that the only people the Map shows are the two Muggles?’
‘Yes,’ Dennis confirmed. ’But it doesn’t make sense. If they aren’t magical, then there must be someone else inside the house, Harry. Curses don’t reset themselves. Are you sure that the map can’t be fooled?’
‘The Marauders Map even shows ghosts,’ Harry reminded Dennis. ‘You know the spell, Dennis, we’ve used it often enough. We can Map anywhere, and it’s always been infallible.’ As he spoke, the idea finally flew within his grasp. ‘The Room of Requirement wasn’t on the map,’ he added. As he spoke, he knew that there was more, but any alternate solution to the puzzle of the map escaped him.
‘So there could be a magically hidden room! Are you sure that there are no surviving Lestranges?’
‘Positive,’ Harry said. ‘If there were… Damn, I’m an idiot!’
‘What? Why?’ asked Dennis worriedly. ‘Is there a Lestrange you’ve forgotten?’
‘No!’ Harry said. ‘At least I don’t think so. But I should have thought about the Malfoys! If anyone knows more about the Lestrange family than we do, it’s them. I’d bet that Narcissa--and Lucius, probably--will both have visited “dear Bellatrix”. They must have been inside that house. Tell everyone to keep trying to get inside, but be careful. I’m going to visit Malfoy Manor.’
It was a pleasant day in Wiltshire. Landing his car just west of the tiny village of Broughton Deverill, Harry drove along the gravel track that led to Malfoy Manor. Parking just outside the gates, he pulled on his black Auror coat before approaching them. Although he rarely visited the place, and despite the fact that he was arriving uninvited, the gates of Malfoy Manor swung open as he walked towards them. His ability to arrive unannounced and unimpeded at the Malfoy’s front door was entirely due to the fact that the house’s magical protections recognised his “family” status. A benefit due to the fact that he was Godfather to Narcissa’s Grand-nephew, Teddy Lupin.
Strolling down the gravel drive, he noted the flower bed on the lawn to his right. It was a new addition since his last visit. Planted with bright yellow flowers, it snaked sinuously alongside him, tapering to a point when it reached the path surrounding the manor. It wasn’t until he climbed the steps up to the front door that he realised what he’d been seeing. Turning back, he took a long, assessing look. The yellow flowers were a snake slithering across the green lawn, the head was close to the wrought iron gates through which he’d entered the grounds.
It was a surprisingly attractive and benign version of an image that Harry instinctively distrusted. He had no doubt at all who was responsible. With Lucius a sulking alcoholic wreck, Narcissa and Draco were the ones keeping the family’s business interests afloat; they had no time for the gardens. This new arrangement could only be the work of one person, Draco’s flower-loving wife, Astoria.
Turning back to the door, Harry lifted the ornate knocker and allowed it to fall onto the metal plate. The noise was still echoing in his ears when the door opened. A House-elf bowed low.
‘Welcome to Malfoy Manor, Master Harry,’ she said as she ushered him into the cavernous entrance hall. ‘Who is you wishing to see?’
‘Hello, Tolly, how are you?’ asked Harry solicitously. ‘I’d like to speak to Narcissa, if she’s available.’
The House-elf quivered nervously at Harry’s enquiry about her own wellbeing, and chose not to answer the question. ‘Mistress Narcissa is in the small sitting room,’ Tolly said. ‘What be your business?’
‘I want to discuss a house near Cley next the Sea,’ Harry began. Upon hearing the location, the House-elf whimpered. Harry stared at the little elf. ‘The Lestrange house, do you know it?’
‘Tolly has never visited Glaven House,’ the House-elf said. ‘Never, never, never. No!’ Her large head shook like a pumpkin in an earthquake, and the motion caused her spindly body to shudder. ‘Tolly will let Mistress Narcissa know you is here.’
As the House-elf scuttled across the entrance hall, Harry heard her muttering ‘Poor skivvy, poor skivvy,’ under her breath. Wondering whether Tolly was being mistreated, he decided that he’d mention his concerns to the Sentient Entities Rights Agency. They could organise a surprise inspection.
While he waited, Harry looked around the hall. There were several gaps on the wall where paintings had been removed. The remaining portraits, every one of a Malfoy ancestor, stared down at him in silent disdain. The missing portraits were of the most vehemently bigoted Malfoys. That, he suspected, was also Astoria’s doing. It seemed that, almost four years after her marriage, she was finally beginning to make her presence felt.
‘Glaven House!’ Narcissa announced from an open door on the right side of the hall. She beckoned him across. Harry’s black shoes drummed a steady beat on the polished tiles of the floor as he approached the open door. ‘Tea?’ she asked.
‘Yes, please,’ said Harry.
‘Come in, sit down,’ Narcissa said, stepping aside to allow him to enter.
The small sitting room was Narcissa’s domain, it always had been. Draco had his study, a room that had been the refuge of Malfoy men for centuries, but despite being de facto master of the household not even Draco would enter the small sitting room without permission. Harry had first visited it almost ten years earlier, and he had watched the room change over the years.
Narcissa’s writing bureau remained in its usual place alongside the window, but the photograph atop it was no longer a snapshot of Andromeda and Teddy Tonks. Its replacement was a formal portrait of Draco, Astoria, and little Scorpius. Andromeda and Teddy had been banished to the occasional table that stood behind the door.
The twin sofas still stood facing each other, at right angles to the fireplace. The gilt mirror still hung above the carved marble mantelpiece, but once again, the newest Malfoy had usurped his elders. The formal photograph of Lucius, Draco, and Narcissa that had always stood centrally on mantel had been replaced by an image of a blond toddler in very formal robes.
Harry sat on the sofa to the left of the fireplace; it was the place he usually took. He had to move a soft toy in order to sit, something he hadn’t had to do since Teddy Lupin was very small. As he lifted the stuffed dragon, and placed it next to the teddy bear at the other end of the sofa, he smiled at Narcissa.
‘Al has one just like that.’ Harry indicated the dragon. ‘It was a present from his uncle Charlie.’
Narcissa acknowledged his words with a nod, but remained silent and inscrutable. She sat on the other sofa--directly opposite him--carefully adjusted her robes, and looked searchingly into his face. Harry could sense her curiosity and see her weighing up her options, but he knew from years of experience that trying to hurry her would be counterproductive.
Moments later the door opened, and Tolly glided in. The House-elf had a large tray balanced on one outstretched hand, something that never failed to impress Harry. His own House-elf, Kreacher, claimed that it was simply practice, but he was convinced that it was yet another form of House-elf magic.
The tea service--a large teapot, two fine cups and saucers, two side plates, a jug of milk, a sugar bowl full of cubes, and a cake stand--was rose-patterned white porcelain. The sugar bowl was unnecessary, as were the silver spoons resting on the saucers, because neither Harry nor Narcissa took sugar. Kreacher always brought sugar when he served tea, and on the only occasion Harry had asked why, his elderly House-elf had been scandalised.
‘What if Master Harry did want sugar?’ Kreacher asked.
Tea was poured and milk was added. A fruit scone (with butter and strawberry jam) and a slice of Battenberg cake was placed on one plate; the other received a slice of seed cake. Her duties done, Tolly bowed low and left. Picking up her plate, Narissa used her cake fork to cut, and pick up, the seed cake.
‘The Muggles found Glaven House,’ Harry said. ‘We were alerted after a police officer went missing. There’s another Muggle missing, too.’
‘Ah,’ Narcissa said.
‘I assume that you have visited the place.’
‘Many times,’ she admitted. ‘Although not for many years.’ She took a dainty sip of tea, and Harry took the opportunity to take a bite from his scone. ‘As you know, Harry, my memory is excellent. However, I’d forgotten about the place. That can mean only one thing; Glaven House was placed under the Fidelius Charm sometime after my last visit.’
Still eating scone, Harry indicated that she should continue.
‘A dozen years ago,’ Narcissa said. ‘At least a year before The Battle.’
‘But you have been inside?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes,’ she admitted.
‘Bellatrix was never a great hostess,’ said Narcissa carefully. ‘No more than a dozen times over all the years of her marriage, probably fewer. And, as I said, the last time was twelve years ago.’
‘We believe that two missing Muggles are trapped inside,’ Harry told her. ‘We’ve been unable to get past the front gate.’
‘My sister was never welcoming,’ Narcissa observed; her face remained blank and her voice even. Harry waited. ‘My husband will be in front of the Wizengamot again next month. He is once again appealing against his wand ban.’
‘They ignored me the last time,’ Harry reminded her. ‘But I would be prepared to speak again.’
‘Perhaps it would help if I went to Glaven House with you,’ Narcissa said. ‘It is, after all, the duty of all good witches to aid the Auror Office.’
‘Thank you,’ Harry said. ‘I should warn you, the place is surrounded by Muggle police. We’ll have to travel by car.’
Narcissa was even more scandalised by the idea than the head of the Cursebreaker Squad had been.
Constables Hollman and Duchesne were leaning against the side of their Volvo, watching the traffic. Bored, Julia Hollman pushed herself upright, turned, and looked down Strangewitch lane.
‘Storm coming,’ she observed.
‘What?’ Aleesha Duchesne hastily pushed herself upright.
Julia was amused by the way her colleague had whirled around. Aleesha was now staring down the deserted lane and looking confused.
‘Storm coming,’ Julia repeated. Pointing up at the black sky to the north. ‘Might miss us, but I doubt it. Best get the waterproofs out now, eh?’
‘I thought you were speaking metaphorically,’ Aleesha admitted.
‘Metaphorically?’ Julia shrugged. ‘Long words is a closed book to me.’
Aleesha laughed. ‘It’s been another hour, Jules,’ she said. ‘What the hell do you think they’re doing?’
‘Reckon we should go and take a look?’ Julia asked.
A distant roar made them both turn back to the main road. The large black motorcycle thundering toward them seemed to have appeared from nowhere. It was travelling extremely quickly, and Julia wished she hadn’t put the speed gun away. As they watched, the bike’s nose dropped; brakes were being rapidly applied. The motorcyclist rounded the junction almost horizontally, and for an instant Julia thought that the black-clad rider was going to drive straight into them.
The bike slid to a halt no more than a yard away from them. As she stopped her vehicle, the flame-red hair that had been trailing out behind the rider’s green full face helmet dropped onto her shoulders. Although the bike was stationary, the rider hadn’t put her feet down. Instead she kicked down a stand and let the bike drop onto it. She wasn’t tall enough to stand astride the bike and hold it upright. The bike’s thundering engine dropped to a low grumble, the rider flicked open her visor to reveal a freckled nose, chocolate brown eyes under fine brows as red as her hair, and a scowl.
‘The road’s closed, madam,’ Julia said. ‘Police incident. Do you have business...’
‘I know,’ the woman snapped. ‘Why do you think I’m here? Let me past. Now!’
The tone of the woman’s voice was enough to make Julia and Aleesha take a step back.
‘Perhaps if you could explain who you are, and why you’re here,’ Julia began, in an attempt to calm the obviously agitated woman.
‘We’re expecting her,’ a voice yelled. Julia recognised it as belonging to Inspector Beadle. ‘We’re in negotiations to try to get the hostages released. Mrs… Ginny is here to help us.’
‘Hostages?’ Aleesha asked. ‘Is Del okay?’
‘Mr Potter is with Constable Boyes and Mr Lubbock,’ Inspector Beadle assured her. ‘They’re all safe and well.’
‘Good,’ the redhead on the motorcycle was obviously relieved by the news. ‘Can I go now?’
Aleesha and Julia exchanged a glance, and looked to Inspector Beadle for guidance. When the Inspector nodded, Aleesha moved a road cone; the motorbike roared off down the lane.
‘It may take some time before we can get them out,’ Inspector Beadle told the two constables. ‘These hostage negotiations have to be taken slowly. Sorry we didn’t warn you about Mrs... Ginny’s arrival. I’ll let you know if we call in anyone else. I’d better get back.’ With that, she turned and jogged back down the lane.
‘Didn’t think Ginny was going to stop,’ Julia said.
‘Me neither, I thought she was going to try to jump over the car,’ Aleesha observed.
‘Just for a second, I though both wheels were off the ground,’ Aleesha said.
‘At that speed it’s possible that, just for a second, they were.’
They pondered this latest development in silence.
‘Just thought of something,’ said Aleesha after a few minutes. ‘That was Beadle, the officer in charge. Why didn’t she send a junior officer up? Why come herself?’
‘Because she’s not in charge,’ Aleesha concluded. ‘I knew there was something off about that lot.’
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