Chapter 11 : Chapter 11
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Thanks to kirstenalanna for being my beta.
image by .asperity @ TDA
Elena’s encounter with the Death Eaters in the alley had led to her being confined to the warehouse for several days. Though she had not been hit with the full force of Dolohov’s spell, she’d wasted all of her energy trying to save Simon and was consequently exhausted.
Not that Elena wanted to rest. When Corinne had delivered the news that Elena was not to leave her bed for three days, there had been a shouting match that left Corinne muttering that she should have sent Simon to tell Elena instead. Regardless of whom the bearer of the news was, Elena managed to be allowed out of her room, free to roam the expansive building… just not free to leave.
Now that she was feeling better, she was particularly annoyed that Simon could go when he was the one who really needed the rest. Less than a day after the incident, he had trudged off to the Ministry in his usual disguise of the Minister. Elena had wondered then if he had gone to see a Healer who had the proper potions to treat his condition and decided that he must have while she had been asleep.
With Corinne analyzing evidence with Alice and Frank in their better-equipped home, and Simon away as well it gave Elena some time to think about the whole situation.
Today, she figured, she would hear back about the contents of the potion vials she’d found in the guard Natalya’s room. The letter Elena had found was still being analyzed but she didn’t think much would be gained from it. Ethan MacDonald had yielded no information yet, though Elena knew that he had not been followed again, for fear of another ambush. Apparently, Corinne was working on gathering a team of Aurors to follow, arrest and question him.
Since there was very little for Elena to do regarding the case of the Minister, she had time to think of other things. Elena thought of her brother and how Frank had mentioned that he was safe a little before Christmas. The knowledge filled Elena with relief, though she was curious as to why Simon hadn’t mentioned it to her before.
And then, Elena thought of Simon. She had never felt such an acute worry in her life as when she had seen him fall to the ground slashed by the purple light. She wasn’t sure if the worry came from the stress of the battle or from something else, but it made her nervous. Even though Elena was growing attached to Simon and even to Corinne, she knew that their shaky partnership wouldn’t last. As soon as the mystery of Marcus Gordon’s killer was solved, they would go back to their ordinary work and Elena would be a healer once more.
With a sigh, Elena closed her eyes, leaning back in the plush chair. Despite claiming to not be tired, Elena was exhausted and a nap seemed just the thing she needed right now.
Her thoughts kept drifting and twisting, sometimes weaving, and often tangling. Elena was on the brink of sleep when a crack shook her awake.
In an instant, she was on her feet, her wand held tightly in her hand. There was a loud string of curses in the kitchen and Elena crept over to peer through the door. To her immense surprise, and relief, she saw only Simon, half the Minister, half himself, crouched over in pain.
“Are you alright?” she asked tentatively, confused as to why he was back at the warehouse already.
Simon nodded, standing up fully himself. “I received a message from Corinne telling me to meet her back here as soon as possible. I was just excusing myself when I realized that the potion was wearing off. When I went drink more, I realized that the flask was back on the desk, where I’d left it. So, I suppose I made a rather rushed exit. I don’t think anyone saw me change though.”
Elena gave a yawn, then quickly covered it, embarrassed.
“Were you asleep?” Simon asked, looking worried.
Elena bit her lip, leaning against the doorframe. “Almost,” she admitted. “But I’m alright now, don’t worry.”
Simon had a strange, intense expression in his eyes that made Elena want to shy away, instead she took a step through the door.
“So Corinne’s coming soon,” Elena verified, ignoring Simon’s eyes, which were following her every move.
“Tea?” Elena moved to put a kettle on the range.
Simon shook his head. “No, thank you.”
With a little shrug, Elena set about making tea and then, mug in hand, sat down at the table to stare up at Simon. For a while, she stirred the tea, round and round, finally taking a sip and nearly scalding her mouth with the hot liquid.
There was a protracted silence before Simon sat down across from Elena.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, sensing the odd tension in the air. His gaze had softened, and Elena found that she was now the one watching him intently.
She knew there was no avoiding the issue any longer. “Do you know my brother?” Elena asked bluntly, a hint of animosity coming into her tone without bidding.
Simon’s eyes flickered down for a moment, before he looked up and answered steadily. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Elena demanded of him. “When did you know? Frank said that you did, but you could have mentioned that sooner. My whole family is constantly worried sick about him! His wife wonders when she’ll get the Owl about his death! Simon, how could you?” To her horror, Elena felt tears welling up in her eyes.
Simon looked utterly bewildered. “Elena,” he said at last. “I didn’t want to upset you. And there was hardly time for idle chat.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Upset me? I think I’m more upset now because you didn’t say anything!”
“Listen to me,” Simon began, his voice rising.
“Are you going to explain?” Elena demanded. “Don’t bother speaking if you aren’t.”
Simon rolled his eyes quickly and stood up. “Tell me when Corinne arrives,” he said coldly and strode from the room.
Corinne arrived almost an hour later, and Elena was glad for her presence. She apparated with the tell-tale cracking noise and stepped into the kitchen.
“Simon?” Corinne called, and then saw Elena.
Elena looked up from her now cold tea, feeling desolate. “He’s around,” she said meekly.
Corinne stared at Elena questioningly. “What happened?” she asked. Elena had to guess that it was more out of social convention than genuine curiosity.
“Nothing,” Elena said quickly; she didn’t want Corinne to know she had argued with Simon. “Do you have any information?”
Seeming to decide that it wasn’t worth pressing, Corinne accepted the change of subject. “Yes. I’ll go get him before we start though.”
Minutes later, the trio was seated around the table, Corinne spreading out several sheets of parchment. “You were right,” she said to Elena. “The potions were Felix Felicius and Veritaserum.”
Elena nodded, not surprised. Very few potions were potent in small quantities. “Did you find who brewed them?” she asked, knowing that registered apothecaries magically labelled their work.
“No,” was the rueful answer. “It seems that they were privately made.”
Simon grabbed a report and stared at it. “That’s about ten different kinds of illegal,” he said after a moment. “Those quantities, from an unregistered brewer. The punishment for that is more than a fine.”
“Azakaban?” Elena whispered, feeling a twinge of dread wash over her.
Still looking pointedly away from her, Simon shrugged. “It all depends on the motives and the intent of the potion, but yes, Azkaban.”
Corinne waved a hand. “Illegally brewed potions are honestly the least of our worries right now. Someone with enough guts to murder the Minister wouldn’t be sloppy.”
She had a point, Elena knew and yet, very few people knew that apothecaries labeled their work. It only showed how careful the murderers had been.
“What next?” It felt like that several leads had dead-ended. Natalya’s flat had turned up the potions, and the letter, neither of which had lead to anything.
In response, a sheet of parchment was shoved in Elena’s face. With curiosity, she lifted it up and saw a profile of a man, complete with a mug shot and a detailed report. “Charlie Redmond?” she asked. “Who’s that?”
Simon tapped a finger on Redmond’s face. “Add a few years, and place him in front of a paper stand.”
The man suddenly looked familiar. Though he hadn’t aged well, he was still the vender who had offered Ethan MacDonald a job. “He’s a wizard?” Elena asked in shock.
“Oh yes. He was arrested for selling fake charms a decade back. Though with no real evidence, they had to let him go. From this report, it seems that ‘shady’ is his middle name.”
Elena stared at the man’s leering face again. “Do you think he’ll still be at his paper stand?”
“Worth a try,” Corinne said, stacking her papers up again. “Even if he already met with MacDonald, we can probably get a few words out of him.” Her face had taken on a feral sort of excitement that made Elena want to run the other way. She stood up suddenly. “Who’s coming with me?”
Simon sank in his chair. “Really?” he asked her. “Right now?”
Corinne nodded. “Yes. And since you seem so thrilled to go, I’ll send you and Elena. I still have a few other contacts I can check with.”
Elena didn’t particularly want to spend any more time alone with Simon at the moment, but she kept silent. Apparently, Simon felt the same, for a moment later he banged a fist down on the table, rattling the cups.
“No!” he declared. “Go your bloody self, Corinne. Don’t pretend you don’t want to.”
The French woman raised an eyebrow at him, her face mocking. She didn’t choose to speak for a long moment and seemed to be collecting her thoughts.
“Sorry?” she asked in a clipping tone.
“You heard me,” Simon snapped. “Go yourself.”
“Can I have word?” Corinne’s voice was icy. “Outside?”
Simon shook his head, his eyes blazing with frightening fury. “Say whatever it is you have to say here.”
Elena, sensing that whatever was about to transpire was not going to be pleasant, stood up and backed into a corner, leaving Corinne to circle Simon, her eyes seeming to spit anger.
“I don’t know what is wrong with you, Simon,” she said. “But be well aware that it is beyond inappropriate. If this mission was being overseen by the Office, they would have your arse for this.”
Simon stood as well and seemed to tower over Corinne. “Luckily for me, then, this mission isn’t.” His voice had a sneering quality to it that made Elena sick. This wasn’t Simon, not the one who had laughed, or almost died. This was some other man.
“That doesn’t mean that you can act like some petty child!” Corinne practically shouted at him. “We are not vigilantes. We are Aurors! And we have to follow certain standards of conduct!”
Abruptly, Simon stopped shouting and spoke with a deadly calm. “This isn’t just about now, is it?” Despite his voice, his face was reddening by the second and Elena saw his hands trembling.
“No.” Corinne looked almost rueful. “It’s not. You’ve been slipping Simon; I’ve seen it before. I know that you were about to let it slip to Alastor today. And you cannot tell anyone. We’ve agreed on this. You, me, Frank, Alice, Elena. That’s it. And that’s it until this is solved!”
“Would it really hurt?” he asked, “if we told him? It would help, you know, to get a little bit of backup. Then we wouldn’t have to be working all hours. Me, spending seven, eight hours a day pretending to be Marcus. Then coming back and spending all night searching. You wouldn’t have to make all those excuses in the office. And Elena wouldn’t have to go into combat situations she has no business being in.”
An almost gentle expression crossed Corinne’s face and she smoothed her hair back. “It can be time Simon,” she said softly. “You can just say that Marcus got sick, fell ill. If it’s honestly that bad. I know I could use more help searching.”
“Not just that,” Simon shook his head. “Though it would help, having about five more helpers would make this less of an impossible task.”
“You mean, then Elena wouldn’t have to help,” Corinne pointed out.
Simon shrugged. “Yes. She’s not a fighter.”
Elena felt like he’d slapped her. It was as though he’d forgotten she was in the room. But he’d sounded so sincere. He didn’t want her. Elena felt tears well up again at the rejection, but stifled them the best she could. There was no need for Simon to see her crying. That would only further his beliefs of her incompetency.
Corinne looked disgusted. “Have you lost your mind? Elena’s doing as good as any new Auror would. She’s still alive, Simon. Besides, you know why we can’t tell. If it gets out to the Office, the whole Ministry knows, and then the public. Chaos. Panic. The world would fall apart.”
“Did I say tell the office? Just tell Alastor. He can replace Elena.”
“I know what this is about.” Corinne took a menacing step towards Simon. “I know exactly what this is about. And let me tell you, Simon, that is a hazard of the job. People die. You know that. People have already died, and while I’d like the next victim to be our murderer, I doubt that’s who it’ll be. Accept that Simon, try to be as careful as you can, and then move on.” Corinne paused to get her breath, and cleared her throat. When she spoke again, her French accent was less pronounced. “And don’t you ever talk about telling someone again.”
Simon looked like she’d slapped him. He stepped closer to her, so that they were merely feet away. “You can be so callous!” he exploded. “‘People die, Simon,’” he mocked. “She was more than a person. I’d like to think that you would understand that. I’ve seen your file. I know that you’ve got some skeletons hiding in your closet. I know about Christian,” he began in a taunting voice.
Corinne gazed at Simon with what appeared to be undisguised hatred. She raised a trembling hand, as if to hit him. Several times, she looked like she was about to scream. Finally, she took both hands and shoved Simon hard, back into the table. “Go to Hell,” Corinne spat and whirled around.
She seemed to see Elena in the corner and with two vicious steps reached her. "Come Elena,” Corinne snapped and seized Elena’s arm. She dragged her two steps before launching a furious glance at Simon.
“Do not bother to come grovelling,” she said and with a twist, apparated.
Once the nausea from the spinning ended, Elena looked up. They had landed in some sort of garden, though the ground was frozen. Surprisingly, there was no snow on the ground, though Elena knew that all of London was covered. Corinne was sitting on a stone bench that leaned up against a large tree and she looked desolate.
“I,” Elena began. “Where are we?”
“Does it matter?” Corinne asked in a voice that sounded close to tears.
Elena couldn’t see the other woman’s face, but she was still bewildered. Corinne, about to cry? That seemed a most unlikely occurrence. If Corinne had left to hide her tears, why had she dragged Elena along?
“What did Simon say?” Elena wondered, not understanding what had set off this strange burst of emotion.
Corinne didn’t answer for a moment, then sat up, wiping her eyes. “That doesn’t matter either,” she said tightly. “People die. It’s part of the job.”
The statement seemed so forced, like Corinne had said it, half hoping that if she did it would be true. Elena felt a wave of pity. Corinne had always seemed so infallible. Tough and severe, without a crack in her shell. Elena had never considered that she might be harbouring a loss.
“Who’s Christian?” Elena asked gently.
“Christian,” Corinne said the name with a decidedly French accent and a wistful tone. “He,” she paused and shook her head. “Never mind. I don’t know what I was thinking. Listen, don’t worry about Simon. He’s being an arse and hopefully that little talk back there set him right again. He really didn’t mean half the things he said.”
Elena had been trying not to think about his wish to get rid of her. She nodded though, glad to see that Corinne was back to her usual self. For a moment, she looked around again trying to discern where they were, but she couldn’t tell. The sky was blanketed by thick clouds and the air was cold. The ground was frozen, there was little grass but it looked as if in the summer, this was a garden of sorts. Probably very pretty. But it was cold now, and mirrored the bleakness in Elena’s world.
She shivered, wrapping her thin sweater tighter around her arms. Elena hadn’t dressed planning to go outside.
Finally, Corinne stood up. “Come on,” she said, taking a hold of Elena’s elbow. “We need to go question our vender: Charlie Redmond.” Without further explanation, she apparated again, landing the two women in an alley in London.
This time, Elena recognized her location almost instantly. This was where she and Simon had fought with the Death Eaters. It still bore signs of the struggle as well. Rubble still lined the sides of the alley and glass lay in ragged shards near a broken window. There was a scar on one of the brick walls, a singed mark cast by a wayward spell.
“Why here?” Elena asked, not wanting to remember the horror that had occurred only days before.
Corinne didn’t bother to explain and simply walked out into the street with renewed purpose. She didn’t wait for Elena, who had to run to keep up, narrowly avoiding hitting several pedestrians as she pushed past them to reach Corinne.
The French woman didn’t stop walking until she’d reached the vender’s stall. Without pretence, she marched up to the owner, Redmond, and drew her wand slightly.
Elena, not sure what she should do, chose to pretend to browse his selection of magazines, scanning the Muggle titles as she kept her other eye on Corinne.
“I’m going to give you a name,” Corinne spoke in a low tone. “You are going to tell me everything you know about him.”
Redmond blubbered for a moment, then stilled when Corinne whispered, “Ethan MacDonald.”
“What do you want to know about Ethan?” Redmond demanded, his gaze turning wary. “Who are you anyways?” Elena noticed that he didn’t bother trying to deny that he knew Ethan.
“That doesn’t matter,” Corinne answered smoothly. “Just tell me where Ethan is.”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” the large man blustered. “Go away don’t you? You’re scaring off the business.” He gestured towards Elena, who had stopped pretending to browse.
With an evil grin that she didn’t know she possessed, Elena moved closer to Corinne and Redmond. “I’m with her,” she said in a sweet voice.
Redmond paled visibly. “I don’t know why you think you have the right to know.”
“Just a few words,” Corinne urged. “It will be painless. Unlike the alternative.”
“Which is what?” Now the man was using pretended arrogance, however anyone could see the terror that was growing in his beady eyes.
Corinne gave a smile much more saccharine than Elena’s own. “Let me spell it out for you. If you don’t talk, I’ll haul you out of this cart, straight to the Ministry. I’ll pour a whole vial of Veritaserum down your pudgy throat, and then we’ll see what you tell me.”
It was obvious Redmond hadn’t realized that Corinne was from the Ministry, possibly that she was even magical. He shook his head. “I don’t know what a Ministry bitch is doing in this part of London, but you can be sure that I won’t tell you a thing. Veritaserum or not!”
“You obviously have no experience with the potion,” Corinne said airily. “It can be quite persuasive. And if it doesn’t’ work, there’s always other means of coercion.”
Elena stepped forward and stared the man in the eye. When she spoke her voice was surprising brutal.
“Tell us where he is, or I will hex you so quickly that…”
Corinne stopped her with a hand. “Let me handle the threats,” she said, sounding almost amused by Elena’s attempt. “I’ll ask you one more time.” Corinne’s voice was still sweet, though the edge was creeping back in. “Where is Ethan?”
With shaking hands, the man reached into his pocket and drew out a pen. On a sheet of paper, he wrote out an address and passed the paper to Corinne. “There. That’s where he’ll be.”
“Who was his employer?” Corinne asked, but the man had reached into his pocket and had withdrawn a tiny vial.
He uncorked it quickly and drank the contents before anyone could stop him. Elena pulled out her wand, but realized that with the Muggles around, there was nothing she could do to save him. Besides, from how fast his face turned blue, he had taken a very quick acting poison that was nearly incurable. Unless she could magically produce a bezoar, he was going to die in the next twenty seconds.
The man now choked for breath, and his eyes bulged as he clutched his throat. For a moment, he made a noise that sounded like a fish, gasping for air then he slumped in the chair and fell still. Corinne put the paper in her pocket and stepped away in disgust from the dead man.
“That’s it then.”
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