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MIT: Strange Place by Northumbrian

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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.

‘Jump? Impossible.’

‘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?’

Julia shrugged.

‘Because she’s not in charge,’ Aleesha concluded. ‘I knew there was something off about that lot.’