Author's Note: Many thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this story so far! I'm sorry for the long wait in updating - hopefully once the term is over, I'll have more time for regular updates. Please let me know if there are issues in plot and/or pacing here, as something seems off to me, but I can't put my finger on what.
The glass shattered before me, and I barely had enough time to shield the three of us from the sparkling shards as they ripped across the room. The girl cried out, but she wasn’t the screaming sort, so it didn’t hurt the ears. Not that we’d be able to hear for a while after that thick boom had torn through our eardrums.
Wand still in hand, I released Malfoy from the spell to be thanked by his loud curses. They were echoed by the screams in the street and in the surrounding buildings, people pouring out to view the damage.
The girl made a move to flee, but I grabbed her arm, roughly dragging her back.
“Don’t think about it,” I roared, clearly mouthing the words in case she’d gone deaf. “They think you were in there.”
Malfoy stumbled over to the window and thrust out his head, the breeze wafting his hair against his forehead. Sirens wailed closer and closer. I wouldn’t have much time.
I pushed the girl in his direction and made for the door. “Look after her.”
I slammed the door shut behind me.
Muggles were hiding behind their mobiles in the lobby, the concierge wiping his sweating forehead as he tried to console the more nervy ones. They must remember the terrorist attacks too well, their nightmares filled with leering foreign faces and inexplicable blasts. How different was this, after all, except for the fact that those attacks had been performed by Muggles against Muggles; wizards were totally out of things.
Those men had been wizards. I was certain of it.
In the street was more panic, people running amok, others standing about pointing at the wreckage of the girl’s flat, now open wide for all to see, its outside wall now limited to a couple of bricks hanging by threads of mortar.
“Did you see it?” a Muggle boy asked, plucking at my sleeve.
I looked down. He hadn’t noticed that a piece of shrapnel had cut his cheek, nor that his hands were scraped from falling.
“Where’s your mum?” I wondered how many more, worse, victims there were.
He pointed to the building. My heart sunk.
But a woman came running out of nowhere and scooped up the child in her arms, chastising him for wandering off for the millionth time. I let out a long breath and moved as close to the building as I could before the authorities arrived. The local bobby was already there, but I steered well away from him, sacrificing a good view for obscurity.
There were tire marks on the street. I couldn’t be sure if they were from the getaway car, but I whipped out my own mobile (a handy Muggle instrument that my colleagues frequently laughed at) to snap a few shots before helping an old lady wobble across the street. The constable only saw me then, nothing more than a good Samaritan.
“Thank you, sir.”
When he was distracted by the screech of black sedans entering the street - the spooks had arrived at last – and the old lady was safely out of the way, I crept back into the crowd, snapping more photos of the gaping building before slipping back into the hotel.
“It took you long enough.” Malfoy stood at the door, arms crossed. He sounded too much like my grandmother.
I pushed past him. “I had to check for evidence.”
“And?” He shut the door with his foot and leaned against it.
“Some tire marks. Everything else was–” I looked toward the girl. She was at the window, staring across at the ruin of her flat, remarkably calm, which was a bad sign. Any moment now, she’d burst like a volcano.
“Gone?” Malfoy had no such reservations.
She took in a deep breath, and I looked toward the door, wondering how to make a clean getaway with Malfoy in the way. This room was blocked from apparation, for our safely, of course. No one had thought that we’d be infiltrated within minutes of arrival, nor had anyone bothered to think that something like this would happen. It was supposed to be a dull, quiet job, a training exercise in surveillance.
My report would end up in a large red file labelled “fail”.
“The spooks are here. We better clear out.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and wandered over to the window. Well, he tried to wander, but his footsteps brought him there with rather too much eagerness. He leaned out from behind the billowing curtains.
“They don’t look very spooky.”
The girl glared in his direction. “Do you know anything?”
“He’s one of those people who is as stupid as he looks,” I supplied, listening at the door. They might have seen us watching from below. Maybe the constable had a more watchful gaze than I’d thought. We couldn’t be too careful. What was it that Dad was always telling me? Constant vigilance.
Malfoy was about to say something, but I cut him off. “We don’t even know your name...” Sweetheart wouldn’t do for her. She’d probably smash me in the face with her rather muscular fist. “Miss.”
She had to be kidding.
A little smirk appeared on her face as she watched my expression.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty silly name. That’s what Bogey always says.” She was talking pretty quickly now, her hands clenching and unclenching. Probably a smoker from the stains on her front teeth, she was aching for a taste of nicotine.
“I don’t think so,” I said quietly. “There was a great movie villain called Lime.”
“Really?” She didn’t sound all that interested, hands fumbling as she reached into her jacket pockets for a cigarette and lighter.
Malfoy turned up his nose and remained by the window.
“What’s a spook? Not one of us?”
I shook my head. “Muggle government agency. They clean up stuff like this.”
He looked toward the girl and asked his first intelligent question. “Did you have a lot of magical objects in your flat? Anything dangerous?”
She was taking deep drags from her cigarette, releasing them in a single, large puff that circled around our heads. I held my breath, not wanting to cough like a naive weakling.
“Does it look like much is left in my flat, Malfoy?”
“Then you don’t need to worry.”
She threw down the wasted cigarette, squashed it flat beneath her heel, probably wishing that it was one, or both, of us. When she reached for the door handle, though, I had to put an end to her escape.
“Don’t think about leaving, hon– Phyllis. You’re coming with us to the Ministry. For your own protection, of course.”
When she turned, she looked mildly impressed.
“But first you’re going to call your boyfriend and let him know that you’re still alive. The last thing we need in this city is a gang war.” I’d taken out my wand for emphasis, gesturing at Malfoy with a nod of my head to do the same and face her off. If she wouldn’t come quietly, we’d have to take measures.
This was really getting to be more exciting than I’d have thought this morning.
Those men, they’d been trying to kill her, probably to get at her boyfriend, and if they found out that she was still alive, then they’d be after her in a second. We were still working on this surveillance job, but the stakes had changed; we were guard dogs now, too.
There was still a chance to keep my report out of that pile of failed cases.
She took her time making her decision, watching us with more amusement than I thought was appropriate for the situation. Her eyes did keep wandering to the scene across the street, and I wondered just how much she had lost in the blast. Or was it all of Bogey’s stuff that’d been lost instead? She was a hard one to read. I felt sorry for the guy at the office they’d chose to interrogate her; he’d get nowhere fast.
“It’d be nice to see the old Ministry again. I’ve been out of the country for so long.” She was still smiling, but she reached into her other pocket for her mobile.
After hearing her opening “I’m alright, Bogey-Wogey,” I made sure to tune her out. Not the work of a good detective, but I just couldn’t handle all that mush. My stomach was already in a deplorable state.
So I turned to Malfoy. His forehead was as furrowed as an Idaho potato farm. So much thinking would do nothing for his sculptured brow.
“What do you think, Malfoy? Can we handle this?”
He looked at me, a long, curious look that had crumbled the hearts of girls across Britain.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
We both watched the girl finish her call.
“Not at all, Potter. I’m looking forward to watching you fail.”
“Fat chance.” I couldn’t let him have the last word, immature as it made me feel.
Then he smiled that smile which had struck terror into the hearts of parents across Britain.