Chapter 5 : Allied
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Chapter 4: Allied
“Excuse me, madame? Where is our food? We ordered it hours ago!”
A middle-aged woman with an impatient and cross look on her face was gesturing to herself and her husband, and glaring at Fleur as though it was precisely her fault. It wasn’t, of course, and Fleur countered the supposed attack with a lazy flick of the eyes up and down the plump woman. It wasn’t even a calculated move, but after a gruelling five-hour shift that was really unfair when she had already done ten hours at Gringotts, Fleur was on autopilot.
“Je suis très désolée, madame,” she apologized with an icy smile, and a tone that rightly suggested that she wasn’t sorry at all, “I will ‘ave a word wiz ze kitchens. Zey are certainly making ze final touches right now.” Stalking off before the woman could harass her further, she could feel the eyes of the restaurant on her as she moved with practiced skill between the tables.
The feeling was not an unusual one, or one she was unused to – however, Fleur was wishing, not for the first time, that she could force the stares back from her by sheer willpower. She hadn’t been in a playful or flirtatious mood for months, and now even her last reserves of patience had been worn down.
Stalking into the kitchen, Fleur merely sent an icy glare over to the apprentice that was taking care of the obnoxious couple’s meal (receiving a cowering plead of a look in return), before going into the tiny office behind the rack of carving knives. She glared no less while squinting at the chalked table on the blackboard, which timetabled all the waitress’ and chefs’ shifts for the coming fortnight.
Annoyingly, she was meant to be on the exact same shift of tonight tomorrow too – just when she’d wanted to visit her cheery boss and the infamous happy family. Equally annoyingly, La Maison did not take well to their staff swapping around the shifts on this chalkboard.
Fleur considered leaving the mission to lie for a moment, but decided that it would be stupide to pass up an occasion where Mhairi would certainly be at home. Swiftly, she rubbed out her own name and swapped it for the apprentice that she had glared at earlier, Jack – or rather, Jaques, as they all had to be called a French version of their own name according to the manager.
It was in order to maintain the sophisticated French atmosphere, and Fleur had only just bitten down on a scathing observation that being forced to rename fellow employees would create more confusion than atmosphere. Besides, real French restaurants did not serve food like this. The dishes that she relayed backwards and forwards were but English interpretations of the fine French food she had always eaten!
Stalking back out of the office, Fleur was pulled out of her food-centred reverie by a shout from the fish chef – Monsieur Noire was what they all had to call him, and despite the madly curling, sooty hair that escaped from his white hat and the blushing-ham appearance, he was among the most formidable of La Maison’s employees.
“Oi, Madamoiselle Fleur! What do you theenk you are doing, changing the timetable around?” he shouted over the din, impressive French accent catching her ear before the words were swallowed up by the metallic racket.
“I must work tomorrow, Monsieur, though I am very sorry for ‘aving to change ze times around so late in advance,” she simpered, “I weell be working to make up for ze hours.”
He glared at her suspiciously, slicing several salmon heads off without looking. “You ‘ad better. Zis restaurant can do wizout lazy waitresses,” he threatened, before looking back down to his working.
It was a clear dismissal; Fleur was free to go to Mhairi’s the following night.
The next evening saw Fleur standing outside Mhairi’s home at 116 Clarence Road, shivering slightly in her ice-blue coat that wasn’t thick enough, and a raspberry-coloured scarf that twisted around her throat in as artful a way possible. Because her presence was unannounced, Fleur knew that Mhairi would probably be in the middle of doing something as she arrived, but had been confident that she would at least be home for a mid-week family dinner.
Unfortunately, Fleur was wrong – all the lights were off and there were no signs of anyone being in. It was a shame, since just earlier today Mhairi had confessed happily to Fleur that she was having an evening in with her husband and children.
Maybe Fleur would have caught her if she’d arrived earlier; after all, it was half past eight, and children everywhere should have been climbing into bed right about now. But instead, Fleur was stood in the semi-darkness with her hands shoved in her pockets, standing outside the scarlet-painted front door and staring up at the sky while the wind blustered about her, a bite in its gusts.
Fleur loved to watch the sky. So many emotions could be played across its surface; so many colours, and so varied according to the time of day! Nobody but she ever seemed to notice, and she almost couldn’t believe the world’s casual dismissal of the sky and its beauty.
Right now, coal grey clouds were scudding across the pale orange as it faded to pale blue, fading to navy. They were contoured, like huge candyfloss rocks floating against a beautiful lake. Staring up at them, it was easy to get lost in flights of fancy and imaginings of other times and places.
Snapping out of the dream, Fleur stepped forward and pressed the muggle doorbell next to the shiny number 116. Again, there was a sharp ringing sound from inside, but nobody came to the door. It was obvious they were out, despite Mhairi’s previous happy assurances of a nice night in.
Fleur frowned and stepped backwards, deciding to try again another night. They just weren’t in, and she had no wish to contract frostbite whilst standing here waiting for her, even though it had been such a hassle to get here in the first place. Still, it wasn’t as though Mhairi had some sort of time limit on her – Fleur could take as long as she liked, and would still enjoy the night off for what it was.
She was just turning around to face the gravel path that lead back to the road, mind made up, when there was an ominous rustling from the bush to her right. Fleur stopped, and so did the bush. It was under a window to the house; was there a burglar? It was probably just a cat, out for a twilight walk, in all honesty. However, her assurances didn’t prevent the hairs on the back of her neck from prickling… it just didn’t feel right, not right at all.
Slowly, Fleur closed her fingers around her pocketed wand, and started to draw out her hand when there was a sigh from behind her. She whipped around, peering fearfully into the gloom and hoping she’d just imagined it all – that the wind was the culprit, and nothing was going to happen, it was just the sky affecting her again. It wouldn’t be the first time.
She had finally relaxed and turned around to walk away when there was a tap on her shoulder. She leapt around, brandishing her wand in front of her, as if poking someone in the eye might make the scares go away. The alarm bells that had been tinkling eerily in her mind before were suddenly madly resounding around her head, and Fleur could feel her heartbeat much more strongly than before.
Instead of scraping a face, her wand hit another wand, and for a moment she froze, stunned, before the end of the blocking wand lit up. It brought another face just a foot from hers into shadow and light.
“You might not want to stay out here; it’s a cold evening,” Bill Weasley pointed out.
Fleur unfroze from her genuinely scared expression as he frowned suddenly, carving her face into an expression of cold displeasure. “Zat is why I was just leaving. Zere is nobody in ‘ere,” she added with a scowl and a gesture towards the semi-detached house. For the instant that Bill had knocked down her barriers, she had seemed awfully vulnerable, and he wondered for a moment why she was so unpleasant all the time. The way that she was talked about – but no. That was purely because of his weak co-workers’ resolve, and easily-turned heads.
Realising that he was mentally rambling, Bill steered his thoughts away from the general opinion of Mademoiselle Delacour and concentrated on what she was actually interrupting (an investigation, as opposed to gossiping). Honestly, what was she doing here? She obviously had no idea that Mhairi’s family were missing, and been pretty much sending up a signal to anybody tracking the house that someone was asking for these muggles.
However, Bill still had to resist the urge to half-smile at her comment. “Yeah. And nobody’s coming back, either.” He turned around without looking at her and headed towards the front door, knowing exactly what the stubborn French girl would do, and that she really shouldn’t.
Sure enough, as he used a variety of curse detection spells and unlocked the door, Fleur came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder imperiously. Touché, he thought; he really should have seen that one coming. “And what is zat supposed to mean?” she demanded angrily.
“It means that Mhairi’s not here, and she hasn’t been for quite a long time either,” he replied, thankful that the range of detection spells had told him that much – he now didn’t have to explain to this amateur how he knew that the family were missing. After all, this was technically against wizarding law, and Order missions were not to be taken lightly either.
Fleur was silent behind him as the door swung open and he silently, slowly stepped over the threshold, checking about himself. He needed to find DNA traces, evidence, blood - anything to test and give the Order clues as to where the missing muggles were, and what had happened to them.
Turning around in the hallway, there was nothing except a blast mark above the door. It was a nasty, crumpled, black hole in the vintage pink-and-white wallpaper, and seemed so very out-of-place. Slowly, Bill reached up and traced around the black scorch on the wall. There was no method in his slow circling, yet Fleur stepped in and watched his finger trace it too. There was a hypnotic quality to it.
For a moment, Bill had a moment of perfect clarity, wondering what the two of them must look like from the outside. A curse-breaker on a mission and an angry French part-Veela, neither of them really knowing the other, and a strange silence as they both stood in the entrance.
Maybe it was the stillness of the house, and maybe Fleur was feeling it as she froze. Maybe it was the slight breeze, and maybe she was breathing in the lifted dust motes as they swirled. Maybe it was the sudden feeling that came upon them both; a feeling of abandoned chaos, as out of Bill’s peripheral vision, he caught traces of a violent mess.
It all seemed frozen, he realised. It was as though time had stopped, and they were in the middle of a freeze-frame. Any minute now, they would walk around the corner, to find Mhairi frozen in a position of wagging her finger at her boys… Bill frowned, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling with the anticipation of it all. He had always been much more at home in the heat, with fire.
But then, this mission wasn’t about staying within his comfort zone - and he shouldn’t have to remind himself of it, either. Bill stepped away, letting his hand fall, and thawing the sudden frost.
Making his way to the right of the stairs that were directly in front of them, he entered what had to be a kitchen-cum-dining-room-cum-sitting-room. It took up most of the downstairs, and was littered with toy trains and cars amongst soft quaffles and a tiny broomstick strewn at one end; the evidence of family, young children, was obvious.
Bill bent down to the ground, carefully sweeping his finger along the carpet, but Fleur swished past him carefully and walked to the table. He looked up to see her gagging, moving backwards with a disgusted look on her face.
“Ze smell… zis food is, uh, not right,” she said with a hand over her mouth and nose.
“Gone off?” Bill tried, wondering how much she would take in of the whole situation, and she nodded. “Anything else you can see for me?”
Immediately, the French girl put her hands on her hips and took a defensive stance. “For you? I am trying to help, too – she was and ees my boss! I am seeing for me and for ‘er!”
Bill grinned. Her stubbornness was strangely endearing, or at least proving to him that she was more than a pretty face. “Ok, if you say so… what do you know?”
Fleur sniffed, moving away from the table with disdain, and said, “Mhairi disappears zen returns, to put a zuzpicious package in a dragon vault. Keeley says zere are no new enchantments. Oui?”
Bill didn’t answer, instead turned his head to the side as he stepped carefully through the throng of toys. There was a pattern, he could see that much, and a higher density of crashed cars in a couple of places. If he just turned his head like that…
“Is zis not right?” Fleur demanded behind him, and he absentmindedly nodded, hearing her sigh, then ask, “what are you making?”
“Doing. It’s what am I doing,” he told her, moving backwards to the doorway before tracing the path through the toys with his wand. This was where the door opened and then the chairs were pushed to just so, and then that was where Mhairi grabbed her wand and kicked aside toys to stand in front of her family… and then there were obvious plough tracks through the mess, where the ‘visitors’ walked to them. Mhairi had tried to hex them here and it had missed and shot into the hall, leaving that scorch mark that they had examined before… and then there was a speared car, that must have been from her signature stilettos.
Whoever said that fashion wasn’t useful for anything and that men didn’t notice was wrong, Bill thought, ignoring the fact that he had only noticed because he had nearly been hit by a flying stiletto heel of hers before.
Then… he frowned, unsure if it was all just Mhairi’s kids playing. If he was right, that violence had been used, it was plain to see from here where her legs had been brought around, presumably when she’d been seized (it wasn’t that big a room) and either side were scattered arcs of cars and trains, where maybe someone else had kicked all they could.
In a perverse sort of way, it looked like a snow-angel, with sweeping arcs hollowed out in the shape of a person. Only instead of a sibling tugging on his arm with eager anticipation of his praise for it, there was a horrible sense of foreboding and naivety on his part.
Further along, there was a large outline of squashed cars on the floor, as if one of catchers had been punched in the face and fallen; then the last piece of evidence Bill could see was a long scratch across the wall. Paint had come away in a smooth movement, right next to a patch where it looked as though someone had tried to claw it off. No other spot in the room had wallpaper trying to detach itself from the wall, or ragged scratches in several long lines next to each other.
Bill carefully picked his way through the wreckage to that point on the wall and finally saw exactly what he was looking for. Blood.
Behind him, he heard Fleur sigh loudly and say, “Look, do you want to share ‘elp on zis case? Or eef you want, we can work togezzer on zis?” She didn’t sound very pleased at the prospect, more annoyed that she had to suggest it in the first place. It was all too evident that she just wanted his inferred information and then to scarper.
But he wasn’t about to let that happen. How insipid did she think he was? “Yeah, sure. It does make sense to have two people on a case and not just two separate ones.”
“Good.” Fleur sounded satisfied. Little did she know how her manipulation skills, that seemed to not work on him, would be of a great use when he could pit them against other people. “Well zen, what are you… doing?”
“Collecting evidence,” he said measuredly as he pulled out a glass phial from inside his leather jacket and moved his wand-tip over the blood, occasionally patting the edge as if it were a cigarette and he was dropping ash.
There was very little blood to begin with on the wall, and now, Bill had pretty much cleared up any evidence. Between the capturers who had evidently attacked Mhairi and her family and the Order, nothing left remained to track with. He just needed to clear up after himself.
Carefully, he made the paint knit itself together again and stood up, placing the phial back in an inside pocket to send to Snape later for Blood Tracking, and keeping a poker face at Fleur’s barely controlled rage. It had sprung up fast, he realised.
“Wheech ees?” she said through gritted teeth, sounding almost Australian as her French came out more with the temper. It took Bill a moment to work out what she had even said, and then another to remember back through their patchy conversation.
“Nothing. Now, when the opportunity next crops up, ask Mhairi about her family. We need to see why she wasn’t here, yeah? But don’t mention we were here. Can you even do subtle? Not such a display as what happened yesterday?” he added.
Fleur huffed, storming back out of the house and onto Clarence Road, leaving him to accept that as a yes.
It looked like Bill had just found himself an unwilling partner-in-crime.
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