Chapter 5 : Chapter 5
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“Are you sure it’s a good idea to send Corinne?” Elena whispered to Simon, glancing up at him to gauge his response. She didn’t want to offend the man, though she was curious as to his answer.
Simon’s face contracted into an expression of confusion.
“You’re going to have to talk louder,” he told Elena.
Elena felt a blush creep up her neck, settling on her cheeks. “I was just wondering,” she began in a raised voice, then lowered it to an undertone. “Well, can Corinne handle...?” Elena’s voice trailed off as she realized how idiotic the question sounded. Who was she to question Corinne’s capabilities?
He raised an eyebrow, not quite mocking her, but still laughing. “I think your view on Corinne is a bit one sided,” he said. “She can be quite restrained if the situation arises.”
Elena shrugged, trying to hide her embarrassment. Simon was right, of course. If Corinne’s temper was really so explosive, she would never have made it through Auror training and she certainly would never have been the Minister’s guard.
She was about to explain her reasoning when a sharp secession of beeps rang throughout the warehouse, the sound bouncing off of the metallic walls and amplifying the volume. While Elena barely resisted the urge to cover her ears, Simon seemed unbothered and glanced at his watch.
“That would be the time,” he said after the alarm’s strident sound had faded. He leaned down to pick up a rusty bucket that had previously been resting on the floor at their feet. “Grab hold,” he directed Elena, offering it to her like it was a delicate jewel.
She did, gingerly holding the handle, afraid it might crumble under her grasp.
“Corinne!” Simon shouted, turning his head towards the small living quarters. “It’s time!”
A minute later, Corinne came running from the direction of her room, a bag slung over her shoulder.
“Sorry,” she apologized as she grabbed hold of the bucket, stepping between Simon and Elena.
Neither Elena nor Simon had time to reply, for at that moment, the Portkey flared to life. Dazzling blue light emulated from the bucket, flooding the dim room with blinding brilliancy. As the intensity of the magical light grew, the Portkey began to rise, lifting Elena up from behind her navel and spinning her towards her destination.
Though the travel only lasted for a split second, it gave Elena enough time to remember how much she hated Portkeys. In fact, Elena was not fond of any sort of magical travel. In general, such travel made her dizzy and disoriented. Portkeys were the worst though, because they required landing. Elena, without fail, could not remain standing.
This time was no exception, for when the bucket deposited its passengers, Elena crumpled to the ground, her hands colliding with rough stone and barely stopping her head from meeting the same fate. It took a moment for the world to stop spinning and the nausea to fade. Once things had become slightly steadier, Elena looked up to see an offered hand. She took it, letting Simon pull her to her feet.
“Come on,” he said, ushering her up the steps to where Corinne was impatiently waiting in front of an ornate oak door.
As soon as they were all up the steps, Corinne lifted a knocker once, letting it fall onto the wood. It made a sonorous, gong-like tone that echoed both in and outside of the house, too loud to be natural. Almost simultaneously, the sky thundered ominously, the sound and boiling clouds foreshadowing a storm to come.
A moment later, the door was opened to reveal slightly round woman with shoulder length blonde hair and lively brown eyes. An expectant smile crossed her face as she took in the trio outside her door.
“Simon! Corinne!” she exclaimed with pleasure. “It’s wonderful to see you. Come in!”
A moment later, the woman’s eyes fell on Elena. “Who’s this?” she asked with a note of surprise. “A new recruit?”
“Elena,” Simon said with a curt nod, his tone uncharacteristically abrupt.
The blonde woman turned to address Elena.
“I’m Alice Longbottom,” she introduced herself. “But of course, you already knew that,” she added with a laugh. “These two wouldn’t neglect that.”
Her statement surprised Elena on two levels. First, that the woman would assume that she already knew her. Simon and Corinne certainly hadn’t told her just who they were going to visit only why. Secondly, Elena was confused about this woman. She knew that Alice Longbottom was an Auror, but this woman did not resemble a fighter. She was more motherly and soft than harsh and deadly. Her demeanour already seemed to be welcoming rather than untrusting.
“Come in,” Alice repeated, ushering the group inside. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” she laughed again, glancing back at Simon and Corinne. “And this really is a pleasure, since we’re practically under house arrest.”
Even with such a statement, Alice’s cheer was infectious, and Elena felt herself wanting to smile with this woman, who she had just met moments ago. For the first time in days, she felt a sort of lightness as some unseen weight lifted from her heart. It felt like so long since she’d seen someone be happy.
Simon waited until the door was shut before speaking.
“We need to talk to you and Frank,” he said quietly, though his tone was cutting and sinister, quickly bringing Elena back to the gravity of the present situation.
Alice frowned, the smile leaving her features for the first time.
“What happened?” she asked, then her face paled several shades. “Is it about Dad?”
Corinne gave a curt nod.
“Oh Merlin,” Alice whispered, her arms crossing as if to hold herself still. “Is he in danger?”
Neither Simon nor Corinne answered.
“Just get Frank,” Simon said.
Alice nodded, pressing her lips together and turned to run out of the room.
No one spoke until Alice reappeared, pulling her tall and dark haired husband behind her.
“Let’s go to the sitting room,” Alice said finally after a weighted silence that seemed to settle into the house itself.
They all moved to the large airy space in single file. Frank led with purposeful strides, his wife hovering behind. Elena was the last to pass through the door and to see the room. Though the house had a very gothic outward appearance, the inside was quite modern. High ceilings, light coloured walls and wooden floors made it quite a cheery room. The bright landscapes and photographs on the walls only made the home seem more spacious and welcoming. While the decor fit Alice’s personality, it now seemed too cheery.
Elena perched herself on a tan leather divan, trying not to stare at the room. Everything about it was tasteful, but still showed signs of considerable wealth. Simon and Corinne had told her that they were going tell the Minister’s daughter of his death, but they had failed to mention just who she was. Or how wealthy she was.
They had all been seated for several moments before Simon began to talk.
“We have some news,” he said at last.
The whole room seemed to suck in a gasp of air, in anticipation of the news. Elena leaned forward, awaiting the inevitable words. It seemed like ages and yet, Simon hadn’t spoken again. Maybe he had decided not to say anything. After meeting Alice, Elena wasn’t sure that anyone could purposely cause so much harm to the lively witch.
“Alice, your father is dead,” Simon’s voice finally spoke, though it was strangled and it choked on the words, as if they were too unpleasant to come from his mouth.
At that, the blonde woman covered her mouth in horror.
“What?” she whispered, stunned, before turning to bury her face in Frank’s chest.
“I’m sorry,” Corinne said softly and Elena was shocked to see that her eyes seemed to be glistening with tears.
“What happened?” Frank Longbottom asked, looking very tired as he held his sobbing wife.
Simon sighed, not in boredom, but rather exhaustion.
“It was three days ago. Corinne and I had just taken him home. He’d gone inside, and we were about to leave when he came staggering out, bleeding.” Alice made a distressed sound and Simon quickly summarized. “We took him to St. Mungo’s but nothing could be done to save him.”
Alice sat up, eyes blotchy. “Why am I only hearing now?” she asked with a sniffle. “He is—was the Minister, after all. Even here, I should have heard.”
Corinne took over from Simon who seemed unable to say any more. In fact, he looked more distressed than Elena had ever seen him—and he had witnessed Marcus Gordon’s death!
“No one else knows. Just me, Simon, Elena, you and Frank.”
Alice wiped at her eyes. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why would no one else know? He has work…” her voice faded off, as if it had failed her.
Frank, however, wasn’t as confused, he nodded his head slowly, as if beginning to understand. “You hid it,” he said slowly.
But Corinne, even in her newly sensitive state couldn’t be bothered to wait for Frank to guess. “We have a contingency plan,” she said quickly. “To keep things stable until we can find the killer.”
If it was possible, Alice paled even more. “You don’t know who did it?” she asked in a trembling voice.
The other Aurors were saved from having to answer when a disharmonious alarm sounded. Frank, Alice, Corinne and Simon jumped to their feet, pulling out their wands and Elena followed, a beat behind them.
“Neville,” Alice said and turned to turn out of the room.
Simon moved to follow her, but Corinne was in front of him, stopping him. They seemed to have one of their silent conversations for a moment, allowing Elena to catch up with them. They ceased communicating, however, when Elena reached them and Simon roughly pushed Elena after Alice, hissing, “follow her and as soon as you can, apparate her back home.”
Elena didn’t respond but ran out of the room, trailing up the stairs after Alice. The blonde woman was faster than she looked and she was taking the stairs two at a time. From below, Elena heard a rapid pounding—knocking at the door.
Alice reached the top of the stairs entered a room several doors down. Elena slipped inside just as Alice was about to shut the door.
“Colluportus!” The blonde sealed the door, not even pausing to see if the charm stuck, instead running over to a corner where, in a cradle, a baby boy lay.
She scooped up the baby, holding him in her arms, tears running down her cheeks. Alice sank to her knees, crouching on the floor, her back to Elena.
Elena tugged at the door, was satisfied it wouldn’t open easily, then glanced at the baby and the woman. Alice was cradling her baby as if to shield him from some harm. Sobs were shaking her entire body. It was a picture of utter despair. With a twinge, Elena noticed that it looked as if Alice was mourning.
“Alice?” Elena asked as gently as she could.
The woman looked up, almost surprised that Elena was in the room.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, wiping her tears away again. “I overreacted, didn’t I?” Though it was obvious she was trying to put on a brave face, her voice still trembled.
Elena shook her head quickly. “No. Not at all.” The woman was surprisingly calm for just having heard of her father’s death.
Alice tried to smile at her child, though it was more of a grimace and rocked the baby gently in her arms.
Elena waited for her to give more of a response, but there was none.
“Give me your hand,” Elena said, trying to emulate Corinne’s easy authority.
However before Alice could comply, an explosion issued from below, knocking Elena to the floor. Dust filtered down from the ceiling, obscuring Elena’s vision. After a moment, once the shock of it all had faded, Elena crawled towards Alice, grabbing her arm. She stood, yanking the other woman up and tried to turn into the void of apparition. Only nothing happened. Elena focused her mind, trying to apparate again. Only this time it felt like a strip of elastic was holding her back.
Elena realized dizzily that you couldn’t apparate inside of the house. She coughed twice, the movement shaking Alice out of her stupor.
“You can’t apparate from here,” Alice confirmed, clutching the baby to her chest to protect him from the dust.
Elena cursed silently. “Then we need to go somewhere where we can.”
“Follow me,” Alice said, shifting the baby so that she could hold her wand in one hand. With the explosion, her Auror training seemed to have taken over and her hysteria had vanished.
She opened the door with a wave of her wand and turned right, running down the hall. There was a shout from below and heavy footsteps that were pounding up the stairs, getting closer. Alice stopped abruptly, turning to an empty wall. She muttered a quick incantation and the knob of a door grew from the plaster. She yanked open the door, pulling Elena inside and shutting it behind them.
There was little light, and the room was quite dusty. In the murky twilight, Elena saw Alice hold a finger to her lips. The footsteps slowed as they neared, until they were only a soft padding on the carpet covered floor. Elena held her breath, resisting the urge to close her eyes.
Beside her, she could feel Alice shaking. As the person grew nearer and Elena wished more than anything that she could apparate away from this whole mess. Little Neville gurgled and his mother quickly cast a speechless Silencing Charm on him.
Something touched the wall that was protecting them and Elena shrank away, drawing her wand in readiness. Before she could think farther, the door was flung open, revealing the sinister mask of a Death Eater. Elena wished that they’d kept running. At least, then, they would have had a chance to escape, but now they were trapped, easy targets. For the Death Eater it would be like killing an animal.
“Expelliarmus!” Elena cried instinctively but the man blocked the spell easily. Alice had Neville clutched tightly in her arms, angled so that he was behind both his mother and Elena.
The Death Eater raised his wand again. “Avada,” he began. “Kedavra.”
Elena threw herself to the side, waiting for the bolt of light to hit her, only it didn’t. Instead, the Death Eater had aimed his wand down the hall to another assailant.
In the next seconds, the man in front of them toppled forward, struck by some sort of stunner. Elena, without really thinking, grabbed Alice and yanked her out of the closet and down the hall again. She didn’t even stop to see who had saved them, merely kept running.
Alice took the lead after a moment and pulled Elena down another branch of the hallway. Another door was hastily opened and the pair stumbled down a flight of stairs. Elena could hear her heart pounding and her rapid breathing and the clattering of feet on wood. However with the din around her, she had no way of telling if they were still being followed. She didn’t wait to see if they were.
The stairs emptied out onto the grassy lawn, which was now hazy with acrid smoke. After choking on the clouded air, Elena seized Alice’s arm and focused all of her energy on picturing the warehouse. For a moment, she thought that she might splinch, for her mind was wandering hopelessly, but when she opened her eyes and collapsed onto the concrete floor of the warehouse, she seemed to be in one piece.
They had made it.
A moment later, after her breathing had slowed, she turned to see Alice also gasping for air.
“We have to go back,” the blonde said after a moment. “I can’t leave them there.”
Elena shook her head quickly. “No!” she cried. “You need to stay here, where it’s safe.”
Alice, it seemed, was too exhausted to argue. She nodded slowly and then proceeded to check Neville for any injuries. Once satisfied that he was unharmed she turned to face Elena.
“Is there any where I can lie down?”
In response to the request, Elena took two mattresses from the bedrooms and laid in the open part of the warehouse. Once Alice had fallen asleep, Elena closed her eyes as well drifting off into an unsettled sleep of her own.
It was hours later when Simon, Corinne and Frank apparated into the warehouse, bloody and exhausted, though seemingly unharmed. Elena thought about getting up to talk with them, but her head was pounding and she was quite comfortable lying on the mattress, so she didn’t bother.
Frank woke his wife gently, who promptly collapsed into his arms and the two of them, plus Neville left for St. Mungo’s as Frank was convinced that Alice needed something for the shock of it all.
Simon and Corinne wandered to the kitchen, but Elena could hear angry voices as they started to disagree.
“You should not have gone,” Corinne said sharply.
Simon replied in an aggressive tone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Her,” Corinne snapped. “I saw you. All you had eyes for was her. You get distracted and then you get killed!”
“I’m not dead,” Simon said snappily.
Corinne scoffed, “close enough. Honestly Simon, it’s unacceptable.”
Elena wondered sleepily who they were talking about. It couldn’t be her. Simon didn’t like her. And he certainly didn’t like her enough to be distracted during a fight.
“Nothing’s happening,” Simon said belligerently.
“Right,” Corinne replied waspishly.
There was a crash and it sounded as if Simon had thrown something.
“Don’t you trust me, Dupont?” he shouted. “I’ve only worked with you for the past...”
“Shut up!” Corinne hissed. “Don’t try to be so self righteous, it’s not becoming Burke.”
Elena sat up and slowly walked to the kitchen. Though she didn’t want to be involved in their argument, whatever it was about, she figured that with all the shouting she couldn’t pretend to be sleeping anymore.
She stepped into the room just as Simon cursed loudly and another glass shattered across the room.
Corinne jabbed her wand furiously towards Simon.
“Control yourself!” she ordered.
“I-” Elena began, surveying the scene.
Both the Aurors turned to look at her. Without another word to either of them, Simon stormed from the room, pushing past Elena roughly. Elena stumbled backwards, and caught herself on the doorframe. Corinne slid past her more gracefully, joining Simon so that they all now stood in the open warehouse.
After an awkward silence, Corinne cleared her throat.
“Don’t mind him, Elena,” she said, her French accent seeming stronger.
“What happened?” Elena asked, this time not asking about the argument but rather what had happened at the Longbottom house.
Corinne didn’t seem to understand, for she simply waved a hand as if to ward off the question.
“Just forget about it.”
Simon muttered something that Elena couldn’t hear. However, from the look on Corinne’s face, it wasn’t good. With one more pointed glare at Simon, the French woman stormed off, spouting out a litany of curses. Elena took one look at Simon’s stormy expression and left to busy herself putting the mattresses back into their respective rooms.
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