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Chapter 9 : Chapter 9
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The next morning, Elena hoped she might earn a reprieve after the successful and late night; however, she was awoken all too early the next day by Corinne, who looked like she’d gotten less sleep than Elena had.
“Come on,” she snapped. “We’ve got to get to work.”
Elena moaned at the prospect of more work. “Another hour?” she begged, pulling the covers over her head. She wondered sleepily that if it had been Simon, who had shown so much concern last night, waking her up, if she would have gotten more sleep.
“No,” Corinne declared harshly. “There’s a bit of a situation going on right now and if I have to be there, so should you. Mon Dieu,” she complained and Elena caught the word ‘Simon’ before Corinne’s mumbling degenerated into French ramblings beyond 'My God.'
With reluctance, Elena dressed herself and made her way to the tiny kitchen, hoping that there could at least be some tea made. She was a bit annoyed to find herself so tired. During the War, she had functioned on far less sleep than this, but once the war was over, and the demand for Healers dropped, she had spent less time on the job. Apparently her tolerence for exhaustion had diminished in those few months.
Still wondering about the tea, Elena entered the kitchen. To her surprise, she saw that Simon and Corinne weren’t the only ones seated around the table. Frank and Alice Longbottom sat in two chairs as well.
“Oh, good morning!” Alice said with a sunny smile. “Sorry to wake you up!”
Elena shook her head. “That’s alright,” she said quickly, taking a seat in the vacant chair between Frank and Corinne.
“So, now that Elena’s here,” Simon continued, “we can start dividing up.”
A puzzled expression crossed Elena’s face. “Sorry?” she asked. “Where are we going?”
Corinne waved a hand impatiently at Elena, but Alice stepped in. “Frank and I offered to help with the investigation,” she said quickly. “We only just decided last night, while you were out with Corinne. Simon told us what you found and I’m sure we can make progress now.” Her face was now set into a grim line as she spoke of her father’s murder.
“Where’s Neville?” Elena asked, remembering the chubby baby.
“We left him at Frank’s mother’s,” Alice said, her face lightening a little at the mention of her son.
Tired of the small talk, Corinne interrupted. “So, Elena, last night I found a bit more about this Natalya and her fellow guards. It seems like one of them may have moved to another flat. We’ll try to find him and Natalya as well. And those potions do need to be tested, which can be done at the Ministry.”
“I’ll take Alice and go try to find the other guard,” Simon said quickly, before anyone else could speak.
Corinne shook her head fiercely. “I don’t think so,” she said, her accent clipping the words off harshly. “I was stuck with Elena last night; I’ll take Frank and Alice with me, to search for Natalya.”
Simon stared at her, eyes flashing angrily. “No,” he said. “I think that Alice,” he paused, “won’t want to see Natalya. There’s a chance you’ll find her and that could be dangerous.”
“I’m perfectly capable!” Alice interjected.
But Frank put an arm on her shoulder, “Al,” he said. “Think of Neville, there’s a reason you haven’t been doing any field work lately.”
She shrugged his hand off. “Stop it. Both of you. Stop treating me like I’m so delicate. You know full well that I can take care of myself. And besides,” she added in a rush. “I’m sorry, but you told me that Elena’s quite inexperienced. Why should she go with Corinne if I’m not allowed?”
Elena was surprised at Alice’s outburst though it made sense. Obviously, she was capable, even if her husband didn’t want her to be in danger.
“Alice is right,” Corinne said, to the surprise of everyone at the table. “She is more qualified than Elena. She can go with me.”
Simon raised an eyebrow, “so you’re leaving me with Elena, who is, as you say, not qualified. You know that wherever we go, there’s a chance we’ll be in danger.”
“I know,” Corinne snapped. “I just think you’re being unreasonable. I will take Alice and you can have Frank, if you’re worried that Elena will be a burden.”
Elena was tired of being talked about as a hindrance. She knew she had none of the skill of the other Aurors, but she still felt capable enough. “Can’t we all go together?” she suggested, tired of the arguing.
That caused both Simon and Corinne to scoff. “We need to split up,” Alice told her gently. “That is the best way to get the most done.”
That was like a slap to Elena, now the Aurors were ‘we’ and she was some left out extra. “Fine,” she said harshly.
“Are you sure you want to go with Corinne?” Simon asked Alice so softly that it sounded private.
She shrugged. “I don’t really care,” she said finally, shaking her blonde head.
“So if she doesn’t care, Alice is with me,” Corinne said with a harsh definitive tone to her voice.
Elena had to wonder why Corinne was so eager to have Alice with her. It seemed strange, since Corinne certainly hadn’t seemed very friendly with Alice when they’d gone to tell them the news of the Minister’s death. Then again, Elena never really understood Corinne; yes, she’d think she understood the woman, but then Corinne would do something that would completely throw Elena for a loop.
“When do we leave?” Alice said to Corinne, desperately trying to sound bright despite the obvious tension in the air.
The French woman stood. “In a moment,” she promised. “I just need to have a word with Simon.”
Simon shook his head quickly, indicating that he didn’t want to speak, but Corinne was insistent and dragged him to the other room, leaving Elena alone with the Longbottoms.
Frank, ever the quiet man, was happy to sit in silence, glancing around the surroundings in curiosity. Alice watched the door where Simon and Corinne had left, a puzzled expression her face. When she saw Elena watching her, she shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts and began speaking to Frank in a low tone.
Elena stood, giving them some privacy and went to the stove, where she quickly set the pot boiling. Once the water was ready, she prepared a pot of tea, taking several chipped mugs down from the cabinets. “Would you like some?” she offered to the couple.
They both declined, so Elena went to ask Simon and Corinne, wondering what was so important that they’d been talking for so long. She poked her head through the door and saw the two several meters away, talking in hushed tones. Corinne seemed to be scolding Simon for something.
“Tea?” Elena said loudly, interrupting them.
Simon jumped and turned around, looking at Elena nervously. “Oh, yes please,” he said.
Corinne declined with a sharp shake of her head and gave Elena a deadly stare.
Quickly, Elena backed into the kitchen and poured two steaming cups of tea, sitting back down at the table. She was glad that she’d decided to put on Muggle clothing when she’d dressed. All the others were wearing trousers and shirts instead of robes and so she figured that they would be doing most of their searching in Muggle districts of London.
The café was crowded with the artsy type, Elena noted as she sipped her second cup of tea. Simon and Frank were also drinking, looking around the cozey room alertly. “Have you seen him yet?” she asked Simon in an undertone, taking a bite of biscuit to cover her question.
He shook his head quickly, not even glancing in Elena’s direction. She bit her lip, annoyed by his frigid response. He’d been treating her this way since they’d left the warehouse. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to anger Simon as she had barely spoken to him either, after giving him his first cup of tea. It seemed like whenever possible, he would look straight ahead, not even turning to Elena when she spoke to him.
With a roll of her eyes, Elena returned to the paper that she was pretending to read. It was some sort of alternative Muggle piece, filled with unmoving photographs of artwork and strange poems. She had read one of them, but it had seemed like a random string of words. For ten minutes, she’d been doing the crossword puzzle. Elena’d learned how to solve them from her father, who’d always had a slight obsession with them. Unfortunately, it was filled with strange references to Muggle culture that she really had no knowledge of, so she’d even had to give that up.
It was quite boring business, this tracking. Elena had assumed that there would be results like when she’d gone searching for Natalya, however they’d been in the café for at least an hour and nothing had happened. Of course, it would be much easier to track the man by magic, but he would probably be charmed, according to Simon, to notice when someone placed such a spell on him, so they would have to find and follow him the old fashioned way.
She had come to the end of her mug of tea and swirled the dregs around several times absentmindedly. With a smile to herself, Elena glanced down to see if they’d formed any discernable pattern; she’d taken a year of Divination, but had never really subscribed to that particular branch of magic. It wasn’t surprising that there was just a random, jumbled swirl of wet tealeaves in the bottom of the cup. She’d expected nothing more.
With a barely concealed yawn, Elena poured herself another mug of tea from the pot resting on a tea cosy in the centre of the table and helped herself to another biscuit, this time ginger. She turned back to her paper, wondering how much longer they’d have to wait before this man showed up.
Almost as soon as she’d wondered the thought, she felt Simon stiffen next to her. Looking up Elena saw the door to the café close, blowing in a gust of frigid air. A young man, probably no older than twenty six, walked in, pulling off a woollen cap. Instantly, Elena could see the similarities. This was certainly their target: Ethan MacDonald.
Trying to relax, Elena sank back down into her plush chair and took a sip of tea, burning her mouth on the hot liquid. “Damn,” she cursed as the liquid scalded her throat like liquid fire.
Simon stepped on her foot on the table, and a sharp pain issued from her booted foot. “Ow!” she hissed and resisted the childish urge to kick him back.
Ethan made his way to the counter and ordered something. As he waited for the drink to be prepared, he leaned against the counter, leafing through several papers in the process. A hip young woman handed him a paper cup and whispered something in his ear with a flirty smile. Ethan laughed and gave her a peck on the cheek over the counter.
He made his way back to the door, navigating the maze of tables and chairs. Simon stood causally, picking up his coat and fastening it over his jumper. He leaned down and whispered to Elena and Frank, “talk to the woman,” before leaving. They’d already decided that Simon would be the one to follow Ethan at first. If he needed backup, he would alert Frank and Elena. Elena wondered why they’d all come, if Simon was the only one to follow him, but Frank had explained that it would be too recognizable to have the whole group of them trailing Ethan.
Elena watched Simon exit the café and turn right, follow Ethan before turning to Frank. “Do you want to talk to her?”
He laughed at that, a warm sound and shook his head. “Now?” he questioned. “You really are green, Elena. I can’t go up to her right away, do you realize how suspicious that would look? I’ve got to give it half an hour at least. Obviously,” he lowered his voice to continue. “She’s close with Ethan. If we act too suspicious, she might tell him that people were asking after him.”
Elena nodded, of course he was right. “Right,” she felt a blush of shame rising on her cheeks. It made perfect sense, only she hadn’t thought of it herself.
“Who did you train with?” Frank asked curiously, no doubt, Elena thought, wondering who had trained her so inadequately.
She bit her lip and shook her head. It was better to be honest than to create an elaborate web of lies. “Look, Frank,” she said. “I’m not really an Auror. Not even, close. I’m a healer.”
Frank raised his eyebrows, a shocked expression for him. “Does Simon know?” he asked, looking worried and Elena was sure he was reaching for his wand, in case she was some sort of imposter.
Elena laughed at the absurdity of the question. “Of course Simon knows,” she said almost bitterly. “Who do you think brought the Minister to St. Mungo’s?”
There was silence for a moment as Frank’s eyes grew wide. “You were the one who treated Marcus?” his voice was incredulous.
Elena nodded slowly. “Yes sir. Healer Elena Wood at your service.” She realized that she might be a bit too deprecating for the situation. “I did everything,” she said in a more earnest tone. “Simon can vouch for that. But some kinds of hurt simply can’t be healed. I’m truly sorry that I could do nothing to help him.”
Frank held up a hand to stop her rambling. “What’s done is done,” he said. “I believe that Simon wouldn’t have let you know about all this if he didn’t trust your judgment and skills. There’s no need to try to prove it to me.” He paused for a moment, savouring the words. “But, maybe it wouldn’t be best to tell Alice this? Don’t lie to her if she asks directly, but I think Marcus’s death is still too raw for her to hear that you were there when he died.”
Glad that this was his only reaction, Elena agreed earnestly. “Of course. And I am sorry for leading you on. They—Simon and Corinne—thought it would be best not to advertise that I wasn’t an Auror.”
Frank didn’t say anything, but suddenly was staring at Elena very intently. A crease furrowed his brow and his eyes seemed to be cataloguing her face. “Did you say your surname was Wood?” he asked.
Elena nodded, unsure as to why he was asking. “Yeah.”
“Oliver Wood,” Frank said. “You’re his sister.”
Elena’s mouth dropped open for a moment in shock, then she composed herself. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. “Did you—do you know him?”
The Auror took a sip of his tea. “I knew him,” he said slowly. “He was in training at the same time I was. Albania, right?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Elena said, feeling like she’d struck gold. “Do you know if he’s alright? What is he doing there? Have you spoken to him lately?” If she could learn anything about her brother this whole ordeal would be worth it. She could tell Marianne and her parents and they would forgive her for all this secrecy and lies.
“I can’t tell you everything,” Frank said with a shake of his head, “because I don’t know it all. I don’t know how much you know. However, your brother did go to Albania last October to try to find You-Know-Who. Some officials thought that he might be hiding there but of course, he’s dead now. They kept Oliver there though, I don’t know why, but they seemed to think it was important. I haven’t been to the office in the Ministry for a few weeks but I know that there was a message from him at Christmas, saying he was safe.”
Elena breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank Merlin. We hadn’t heard from him since November at least. God it’s wonderful to know that he’s all right. Or,” she amended, “that he was alright then.”
“I’m glad to give you that comfort,” Frank said. “I know how hard it is to have family in danger, much less to not know if they’re alright. I’m thankful that I know where Alice is when she’s off on this mission or that one. Of course I still worry, what husband wouldn’t, especially with Neville, but at least I’m not in the dark.”
Frank seemed to understand exactly what Elena felt. “Thank you,” she said, glad for this assurance, however little.
There was a comfortable pause before Frank added one more thing. “You know,” he said, “if you wanted to know more about your brother, I’d talk to Simon. I think that he might know a lot more than I do.”
A cold sensation trickled into Elena’s stomach at that. “Oh?” Simon couldn’t possibly know. Otherwise, he would have told her. Maybe he hadn’t made the connection; that had to be it.
“Ask him later,” Frank said, draining the last of his tea. Once it was gone, he looked up at Elena. “I’m going to go speak to that girl now.” He grimaced. “If you hear from Simon, don’t wait for me. Go after him, alright?”
“Yeah. Good luck,” Elena added, thinking with a giggle of solemn Frank trying to flirt with the hip waitress .
“Same to you, Elena.” There was such gravity to his words that Elena did a double take but he was already gone and she couldn’t see if he’d been truly serious or just playing.
Giddy with the news of her brother, Elena leaned back in her chair, watching the people through the café’s large glass windows. Her tea was cold now, but she didn’t care as she dunked her biscuit into it and took a bite. Her brother was alright, that was all that mattered.
She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she barely registered that the man who had just passed the window, coming from the right, was Ethan MacDonald.
With a jolt, Elena realized that Simon was nowhere round him. She reached down to pick up her leather purse and coat, heading quickly to the door. Before she left, she saw Frank, chatting up the woman behind the counter and tried to catch is eye, however he had his back to Elena. She didn’t waste time trying to call out to him, and simply left, stepping out into the cold, knowing that he would realize where she’d gone.
Once in the frigid air, she latched her eyes onto Ethan, who was half a block a head of her and started walking. She had to forget about her brother and about Simon’s odd behaviour. She had a guard to track.
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