Disclaimer: Only the OCs are mine.
Also, I'm sorry for the wait between chapters. I haven't abandoned this story though, far from it! Thanks to kirstenalanna, who betaed this chapter!
stunning image by Lady Malfoy @ TDA
The stairwell was old and had a musty smell to it that erased the scent of sweat that had filled the bar. Elena crinkled her nose as she climbed the stairs, preferring the latter odour to the former. There was something ominous about it, as if no one had lived upstairs for years, though obviously this was not true.
Corinne opened a small door at the top of the stairs, stepping out into a thin, dimly lit corridor. As Elena stepped out to join her, she noticed that the paint covering the walls was a faded, peeling gray. The carpet below her feet was the same monotonous gray, splattered with brownish stains.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Elena asked in a whisper, though the question sounded loud now that the music had faded.
Corinne nodded silently, stepping down the hallway until she reached Number 5. Without any hesitation, she reached up and rapped on the door loudly, the sound breaking through the new silence.
As Elena had expected, there was no answer. Not the first time, nor the second time that Corinne knocked. Finally, after calling Natalya’s name, Corinne drew her wand and opened the door with ease.
With trepidation, the two women entered the flat, wands held aloft. Elena was a step behind Corinne, automatically deferring to her experience. For all her apparent bravery, inside Elena was anxious as to what they might find.
“Natalya?” Corinne called out once more into the dark flat. “Are you home?”
There was no reply, so Corinne cast a quick spell and a ball of light flew from her wand, hovering at the ceiling and casting bright light down on the room. Though she had been able to make out basic forms before, Elena could now see that a layer of dust coated the furniture. Apparently, no one had used this room in weeks.
After quickly scanning the room, Corinne moved to the next, repeating the same procedure of calling out, then lighting up the room and scanning for any signs of life. Besides a few unwashed dishes, they found nothing out of the ordinary.
After they’d finished searching the small kitchen, Elena turned to Corinne. “What next?” she asked.
Corinne replied by casting a litany of spells designed to reveal humans or dark magic in the dwelling. Bursts of light and heat emoted from her wand, creating a show of colours and brightness. However, once the spells had dwindled, Corinne gave a little shake of her head.
“Like I expected,” she said. “There is nothing. I would guess Natalya has not been here for a month.”
“And the others?” Elena asked, wondering about the two other men who, along with Natalya, had been guards.
A sigh issued from Corinne’s lips. “Elena,” she said a bit harshly. “We can’t focus on the whole picture at once. We’ll get lost. We need to examine little sections first, and then we can start to put things together. If we try to find everyone who is missing on the same day, we will get nothing done.”
Elena nodded, understanding what Corinne meant. “Alright,” she agreed. “But what do we look for now? Obviously Natalya isn’t here.”
Corinne twirled a strand of hair round her finger, thinking. “If you think you can handle it, I think we should split up. Someone needs to stay here and search the flat. And the neighbours need to be questioned as well.”
“I’ll stay,” Elena volunteered hastily. “There’s no use in having me question anyone. I don’t even know what to ask.”
“Alright,” Corinne agreed with a nod. “I will be back in half an hour. If I am not, do not go looking for me. Apparate back to the warehouse and tell Simon.”
“But what if you’re in danger?” Elena asked, wondering how much of chance there was that Corinne would not return in time.
The French woman gave a sly smile. “I think that I can take care of myself,” she said.
“Right,” Elena agreed, not doubting that Corinne was capable.
Once Corinne had gone back out into the hallway to try to speak with other renters, Elena found herself alone in the flat. It had taken on an eerie feel, with thick clouds of dust and dim lights. Elena half expected someone to jump out of the corner and scare her.
She made herself banish that feeling however, and moved to the small living room to begin her search. It had to be meticulous, she knew. Corinne would have seen anything in plain sight. Now it was Elena’s job to look under the furniture and inside the cabinets to make sure that no note or artefact was missed. Thankfully, the flat wasn’t large, so the task wasn’t quite
The paisley sofa was Elena’s first target. It was old, with dark wooden legs and an ugly mustard print. Obviously, Elena could tell, Natalya didn’t make much money as a guard. Or she had no taste in décor. That was beside the point, though, and Elena was glad that the sofa wasn’t too expensive when she quickly severed a small bit of fabric, to test it for any poisons later on.
Her initial search revealed nothing in the sofa. Only dust was hidden beneath it. No doxies infested the cushions. There were no blood stains on it, no signs of any sort of struggle. And once finished examining it, Elena wished that she would never again have to look at mustard paisley print again.
Satisfied that the sofa held no dark secrets, Elena moved onto a bookshelf, painstakingly taking each book off the shelf, opening it, and then setting it back in place. She made sure to look for secret compartments cut into the shelves and even examined the titles of the books for some sort of clue, but everything seemed to be mundane enough. Natalya didn’t even own any wizarding books, just flimsy Muggle romance novels and some Italian cookbooks.
The whole process exhausted Elena, who was wondering when the half hour would be up. She hoped that Corinne didn’t expect her to have examined the entire flat by then. With a sigh, Elena figured that since there was no hope of even finishing the living room, she might as well take a break.
A small red plush chair sat in the corner and Elena sank down into it, realizing how late it must be and wishing she could fall asleep. However, the chair was not nearly as comfortable as it looked. The cushion was lumpy and angular, almost as if she were sitting on books, only there had been nothing on the chair.
With a gasp, Elena sat up, and knelt in front of the chair, prodding at the cushions, trying to tell if anything was hidden within them. In the centre, she could feel the corners of a book or a box, something square at least. Elena reached for her wand and with a quick slashing motion, cut through the ruddy velvet. She repeated the motion again, in the opposite direction, then setting her wand aside, reached inside the stuffing and removed a plain wooden box, no larger than one of the paperbacks on the bookshelf.
Very cautiously, Elena unlatched the box, hoping that there would be no sinister spells within. When there was no mist, or any sign of dark magic, she opened the lid all the way. What lay inside the box both surprised and worried her. Nestled in cotton lining lay a dozen or so tiny glass vials. All were filled with clear liquid and they were labelled with five number codes, printed onto tiny strips of paper.
Elena didn’t touch the vials, though she wondered what they could hold. Very few potions, with the notable exception of Veritaserum, were clear and most would not be useful in such small quantities. Gently, Elena shut the box, setting it aside to show Corinne, whenever she returned.
Elena stood and turned to the door, her eyes falling on the mustard sofa that lay between the entrance and the chair. With a gasp, she ran over and prodded the cushions in much the same way. Like the chair, each seemed to hold the same sized box.
Again, Elena slashed at the upholstery, revealing an identical box. However, inside of this box lay vials of a golden potion that bubbled even as it lay still on the floor. Felix Felicius
, Elena realized in awe. The luck potion was very distinctive and again it was something that would only be useful in the smallest of amounts.
If she was correct and the other potion was Veritaserum, these two boxes held a fortune worth of potions. These substances were nearly impossible to brew and carefully regulated. In order to obtain this much, one would either have to brew it, or to spend hundreds of galleons per vial.
With growing excitement, Elena opened up the third cushion. Its box again contained the tiny glass jars. However, these were not filled with any sort of potion. Instead, they swirled with the unmistakable mist of memories.
Elena laid the treasured finds on the table. These three boxes made the entire visit, and her encounter with Jacob, completely worthwhile. Once they were able to test the clear potion and if they managed to find a pensieve to view the memories in, they would have a much clearer picture of just who the elusive Natalya was. Obviously, she was less mundane than her apartment. No normal witch would keep such valuable potions hidden within furniture.
Her discovery made Elena want to explore the other rooms and try to find more, however the small hourglass clock that Corinne had set before leaving was nearly out of sand. Elena figured that once Corinne returned, she could ask for more time to search.
Upon a second glance, Elena saw that there was even less time left than she had thought. There were perhaps two more minutes left. Anxiously, Elena glanced around. She had assumed that Corinne would return without a hitch, but what if she didn’t? Elena wasn’t sure she could make herself just leave, especially in lieu of what she had just found.
What if something had happened to Corinne? Yes, the Auror was capable, but if Corinne had met a dark wizard on her own, Elena wasn’t sure that she would be able to win such a fight.
If Corinne didn’t return, Elena wondered what she would do. It didn’t make sense to just pack up and leave without taking a quick look. Should she even take the potions and memories with her? And once it became time to go, Elena wasn’t even sure if she would be able to apparate from the building. Perhaps Natalya had spelled it to be impenetrable.
The sand in the hourglass was down to a handful of grains. Elena watched with a sinking stomach as the last grains fell into the bottom. The silence was so absolute that she thought that she could hear the tiny shuffling sound of the sand tumbling down the slope.
Elena bit her lip and flipped the glass over, starting the timer once more. Steeling her resolve, she held her wand at the ready and opened the door to the hallway. She glanced down its length, but nothing seemed to indicate that anyone even lived here. Certainly, there was no sight of Corinne.
“Corinne?” Elena called softly down the hall. “Corinne, if you don’t answer, I’m going to wait a little bit, alright?”
There was no reply, only a faint echoing vibration that came from the music in the bar below. With a shrug, Elena retreated back into the flat, shutting the door behind her.
She dragged her feet, walking back towards the table where she’d left the boxes. Despite what she’d whispered into the hall, she figured that it would be best to return to the warehouse. It had to be well past midnight now and Elena felt quite exhausted, she didn’t have the mental strength to push through sleepiness and continue the search.
Just to make sure she hadn’t missed anything, Elena poked her head into the kitchen, scanning the counters and the small table one more time. But when she saw nothing, she turned back to the living room to retrieve the vials of potion.
As she passed the paisley sofa, Elena’s foot caught on a wrinkle in the rug and she went sprawling on the floor. Her knee connected with the lamp stand, sending the whole apparatus crashing to the floor and she cursed as a throbbing pain raced down the length of her arm.
The fall had knocked her breath away, so for a moment, Elena lay on the rug, waiting to regain breath. As she moved to stand up again, her eyes caught on a scrap of paper, its corner peering out from beneath the carpet. Intrigued, Elena reached for it, seeing with astonishment that it was some sort of folded note.
Sitting up to lean against the sofa, she unfolded the crisp paper and read:
I know that you’ve been avoiding my owls. They keep coming back with the messages still attached, so I know you haven’t been reading them. But please, you need to listen to me. You think that you can take on anyone or anything, but I know that you’re not perfect.
Listen, I’m asking—begging you to meet with me. Just for lunch, if you’d like. I can’t tell you it all in a letter, but it’s about your work. I’m afraid that you’ll be targeted because of him. Even if You-Know-Who is gone, like they say he is, it doesn’t mean the world is safe.
Natalya, if you trust me, say you’ll meet with me. It won’t take long and I know that you won’t regret it. And remember, discretion is vital. No one can know.
Elena read the note three times, trying to make sense of it all. There was no signature, or even an initial at the end of the letter. There was no way to even tell the gender of whoever had penned the warning. However, even if it raised more questions than answers, the note was as valuable as the discovery of the potions. Someone out there had been worried about Natalya and her safety. It was all too possible that she had been the target of some renegade Death Eater, or sympathizer.
Though reluctant to leave without Corinne, Elena decided that it was more important to take her discoveries back to the warehouse. Like Corinne had said, she could take care of herself.
So, clutching a stack of boxes and the folded letter, Elena turned on the spot, allowing herself to be subjected to the familiar crush of apparition.
The temperature change was significant in the warehouse. While Natalya’s flat had been bordering on frigid, the air inside of the warehouse was almost too toasty.
Elena felt sweat slicking her hands as she set down her discoveries on the kitchen table. “Hello?” she called out, loud enough to be heard throughout the building. “Simon? Corinne? Are you there?”
Unfamiliar, heavy footsteps sounded and the Minister of Magic stepped into the room. Almost against her will, Elena jumped, still not used to seeing Simon under the influence of Polyjuice.
“Elena,” he said. “Isn’t Corinne with you?”
Hearing Simon’s words coming from a different body was disconcerting, but Elena shook the feeling away. “She said she’d come back later,” Elena said. “She made me promise to come back after half an hour.”
Simon nodded. “And did you find anything?”
Elena quickly related to him her search of Natalya’s flat, showing him the boxes of potions as well as the cryptic letter.
“So,” she finished. “I feel like I know even less than I did before, but I guess you could call that a start.”
“Indeed,” Simon agreed. “I can’t say that you didn’t do a good job. Any Auror would be proud to make such a discovery.”
A blush rose on Elena’s cheeks at that compliment. Though she certainly felt nothing like an Auror, it was good to know that, at least in some respects, her attempts were not a complete failure. “Should I worry about Corinne?” Elena asked, knowing that Simon of all people would know when it was time to be afraid.
He shook his head. “No. If she said to leave without her, then she was expecting to take more time. Corinne knows that you aren’t used to late hours and such. She probably didn’t want you to wait until all hours for her to get back.”
“Doesn’t she get tired?” Elena had to ask, stifling a yawn.
Simon found this statement extremely amusing. “Not at all,” he said with a shake of the Minister’s head. “She’ll stay up all night, if that’s what it takes.”
Elena had to admire that determination. “If it’s alright,” she said with a yawn. “I’d like to get some sleep. Unlike Corinne, I need it.” Absently, she stretched her arms over her head, yawning once more.
Simon didn’t respond at first. He seemed to be staring intently at Elena’s arms. When disguised with Polyjuice potion, Simon’s expressions were much more transparent. His brow was furrowed in worry, and anger seemed to dance in his eyes.
A hand came up and caught Elena’s left arm, gently twisting her arm so that he could examine a dark bruise the blossomed across her forearm. “What’s this?” Simon asked darkly.
Elena eyed in surprise, not remembering how she might have gotten such a thing. Certainly not from tripping back at the flat, that had happened to recently to show. She thought back through the events of the night, her mind finally remember Jacob’s painful grip at the bar.
“At the bar,” she began. “There was some guy.”
“He hurt you?” Simon said angrily.
As she was about to respond, Simon’s features began to melt, slowly transforming from those of Marcus Gordon to those of Simon Burke. Elena waited to reply until he was back to his taller, more intimidating self. “No,” she said in a soft voice. “Corinne made sure of that. Though,” Elena added. “I would have been fine without her.”
Simon’s face was stormy for a second, before regaining its usual calm. He withdrew his wand from his pocket and tapped the bruise twice. A bubbly, tingling sort of sensation ran across Elena’s arm as the bruise faded from view.
“Goodnight,” she said at last and Simon let go of her arm, watching her as she headed to her room.