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My first week of work flys by in a blur of paperwork and nerves. True to her word, Ada doesn’t seem to have told anyone about what happened at the crime scene. She comes in on Tuesday with no results to report, so Ragnar sends us out to do house-calls to the victims’ friends and families.
“Remember,” he says, “we’ve got no motive, no suspects, no murder weapon--”
“You mean, besides the great big effing knife they all stabbed each other with?” says Darren snidely.
“I think Ragnar was referring to the fact that their brains were all addled by Dark Magic,” snaps Ada, “and we’ve no idea what the means of enchantment was.”
Darren shoots Charlie a meaningful look.
“--so,” Ragnar continues, as if the interruption had never occurred, “any small detail could be of critical importance. Keep your wits about you.”
But the Harris’ friends and relatives seem to have nothing to say to us. They’re shocked, they’re grieving, they’re devastated -- too devastated, for the moment, to be of any use. The only new information comes from the Healers at St. Mungos, who confirm that the configuration of the stab wounds on the victims’ bodies suggest a combination of self-inflicted wounds, and wounds inflicted by each other. Moreover, stress marks on the body show clear indications of a struggle that lasted somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour.
“So they got a knife and ran around slashing each other and stabbing themselves,” says Charlie disbelievingly, when Ragnar tells us this, “for an hour? That’s just bonkers.”
“Bonkers?” repeats Ada scathingly. “Have some damn respect, Holcombe.”
By the end of the week, I feel as if I could fall into bed and sleep through the entire weekend. Unfortunately for me, Rose and Jasper have plans of their own.
“Hi, Fee!” shouts Dominique Weasley over the pulsing music. “Cool party.”
I’m standing in the corner of my sitting room, arms crossed, glaring around at all the intruders in my flat. Rose and Jasper have managed to crowd about thirty people into my smallish sitting room. There are a few old friends from Hogwarts, some co-workers of Rose’s and Jaspers, and of course, the usual multitude of Potter-Weasley cousins.
Under the influence of the cartload of Firewhisky Jasper dropped off in my kitchen this morning, things are getting pretty boisterous. Albus and Scorpius have their arms over each other’s shoulders (they always seem to), and are doing what seems to be a combination between a dance and a martial arts routine. James -- who hasn’t said a word to me, even though he had the nerve to show up in my flat -- has settled into an armchair with his girlfriend on his lap. Neither of them has come up for air in the last ten minutes.
As irritated as I am that Rose and Jasper have invited half of London, I’ve always had a soft spot for Dominique. “Thanks, Dom,” I say reluctantly.
Dominique is sort of the outcast of the Potter-Weasley clan, or the closest thing to an outcast that they’ve got. She’s just a couple of years older than Rose, Jasper, and I, so we got to witness the whole spectacle of her coming of age at a pretty close vantage point. Much to her mother’s dismay, and her father’s amusement, she shaved off half her hair right after graduating Hogwarts, and has spent the years since traveling around the world and doing who-knows-what.
“Where’d the jellyfish come from?” says Dominique, pointing at the throng of gently glowing, purple jellyfish that are floating lazily around my ceiling, dragging their long tentacles behind them. Jasper insisted on having all the lights out beside the jellyfish; they cast an eerie, pulsating purple glow over the dark room.
“I made them,” says Jasper, popping up at my side as if out of thin air. Jasper’s always had a bit of a thing for Dominique, but she’s one of the few women we’ve ever countered whose heart stubbornly refuses to melt at the sight of his smile. “Transfigured them out of some old mops. Pretty good job, no?”
“Yeah, they’re good,” says Dominique, nodding. She turns back to me. “How’s work? Keep in mind, if Uncle Harry’s not treating you right, I’d be happy to send him a nose-biting cactus or something.”
I grin. “Haven’t seen much of H.P., actually.”
“We’re trying to get Fiona laid,” says Jasper loudly, leaning in between Dominique and me. Dominique frowns, confused, and I feel my face go red. “Rose and I. So if you happen to see any particularly viable candidate, feel free to give her a good, hard shove in his direction.”
“Er,” says Dominique. She glances at me.
“I’m not at all okay with this,” I tell her. “In fact, the only reason I’m still awake right now is that my flat’s full of drunken hooligans.”
“Yeah, it is,” says Jasper, grinning with satisfaction.
As if on queue, Hugo appears beside us out of nowhere with a loud crack, grabs Jasper’s back collar, pours the entirety of his drink down the back of Jasper’s robes, yells “GRINDELWALD” at the top of his voice, and disappears again.
“Oh, it’s on,” Jasper, squirming in his now wet robes. “VOLDEMORT,” he shouts as loud as his lungs will allow him, and Disapparates.
I turn to Dominique, my mouth wide open. “Do you have any idea what just happened?”
“Ah, you innocent soul,” says Dominique, patting my elbow. “You’ve missed a lot, haven’t you? It’s this thing people’ve been doing for the past couple months -- no idea how it got started. You Apparate up to someone and prank them, and yell ‘Grindelwald,’ you know, and that means they’re Grindelwald, which makes you Voldemort. So then you Disapparate and the other person’s supposed to come find you and prank you back, and so on and so forth.”
I frown. “But why?”
“Well, like,” Dominique shrugs. “I think the idea’s that one of you is representing Grindelwald, right, and the other Voldemort. So it’s like a duel between the two darkest wizards of all time, except instead of murdering people and destroying human civilization, you’re just pouring drinks on each other and stuff.”
“Hmm.” I contemplate this phenomenon. “Kind of makes sense, actually.”
“It is what it is,” says Dominique, in her usual, enigmatic, hip-as-hell way. “Hey, you know what?” she says suddenly. “There’s someone I want to introduce you to. Come on.”
Unlatching herself from the wall, she grabs the sleeve of my robes and pulls me through the throng of partygoers, toward the other side of the room. I grimace, recoiling against the touch of the many bodies -- some of which are dancing enthusiastically to the music, others bobbing somewhat awkwardly. I pass by Rose, who’s been cornered by Scorpius, as usual. She waves at me resignedly as Dominique and I edge by, and I catch a snippet of what Scorpius is saying: “...could just put some huge fucking fangs on them, like with magic, then they’d be super-birds...”
Then we pass by Lorcan and Lysander Scamander, who grin their identical blonde grins at us and interrogate us about the results of Hugo and Jasper’s duel. “I’ve got my money on Voldemort for this one,” says Lorcan confidently. “Nah, man, Grindelwald for sure,” argues Lysander.
Finally, Dominique leads me up to a group of three blokes whom I vaguely recognize from my Hogwarts days. They’re a couple of years older than me, I think, in Dominique and James’ year. Dominique slings her arm over the shoulders of the nearest one.
“Hi, Xavier,” she says. “Hi, boys.”
The man named Xavier grins down at Dominique. I can see immediately why they’re friends: he’s wearing a set of vintage 70s robes, and he’s got one of those trendy haircuts, where it’s all short on the sides and long on top. He also happens to be extremely attractive, with dark, expressive eyes and a mischievous smile. I stare at him, wondering if maybe I should try to get laid tonight, after all.
“What’s up?” he says, and his voice is deep and melodious. My heart flutters, and I bite my lip, cursing myself internally.
You’re a damn Auror. Aurors’ hearts are not supposed to flutter.
“My friend Fiona wants to see your tattoo,” says Dominique, throwing her free arm around me. “How about it?”
“Sure,” says Xavier, directing his mind-numbingly handsome smile at me. “Hi, Fiona. Weren’t you in Gryffindor a few years below me?”
“Er, yeah,” I say, smiling uncertainly.
“Cool,” says Xavier, and my heart flutters again. He thinks that’s cool. Extricating himself from Dominique’s grasp, Xavier starts to roll up his right sleeve, presumably to show me the aforementioned tattoo.
“Oh, is Xavier going to show off his tattoo, now?” groans one of his friends. “Just what I bloody wanted.”
“Yeah, let’s have another look at that, X,” says the other sarcastically. “Don’t think I saw it clearly enough the first five thousand times.”
Xavier shrugs ruefully. “I do show it off sort of a lot,” he admits to Dominique and me.
“Sort of a lot?” says the first friend in a tone of disgust. Dominique laughs, and slips away from my side to join the two friends, leaving me alone with Xavier. He rolls his sleeve all the way up to his shoulder to reveal an elaborate tattoo of a school of fish that starts at the base of his neck, and swirls its way around his arm in spirals, ending at his wrist.
“Whoa,” I say -- I wasn’t expecting anything this intricate.
“Look closer,” he says eagerly, edging closer to me. I squint down at the hundreds of tiny fish, and as I watch them, they start to wiggle under my gaze -- until it looks like they’re actually swimming.
“What?” Instinctively, I reach out and touch the fish, but find that the inked forms are actually quite still under my fingers. I look up at Xavier, my hand still resting on his arm. He raises his eyebrows. I clear my throat. “Sorr--”
“Want to grab a drink?” says Xavier over my apology, nodding toward the kitchen. My firm belief that an Auror should never drink on a case sinks helplessly into the depths of my subconscious, and I nod at Xavier.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “Let’s.”
As we walk to the kitchen, I turn around and lock eyes with Dominique -- who winks at me -- and then, inexplicably, with James Potter, who’s still sitting in my armchair with his girlfriend on his lap, looking at me and Xavier over her shoulder. Our gazes meet for a split second, and then his eyes dart back to Evangeline’s angelic face. I frown, wondering how long he was watching me for.
But my thoughts don’t linger on James for long. Xavier holds the kitchen door for me, and follows me inside. He stands close beside me, the back of his hand brushing against me as I mix myself a drink.
“I know you didn’t really ask to see my tattoo,” he says with a wicked grin. “Dom always uses that as an excuse when she’s trying to hook me up with someone.”
I choke on the sip of Gillywater and tonic I’ve just taken. “Oh, er, does she?”
“Yeah,” says Xavier. “She looks tough on the outside, but she’s just as obsessed with messing with other people’s love lives as anyone else. Which is fine with me, when it comes to my love life I need all the help I can get.”
“Believe me,” I tell him. “I know exactly what you mean.”
We smile at each other, and I feel like we’ve made a connection.
“Tell me about yourself, Fiona,” says Xavier. “What do you do for a living?”
But before I can reply, the door bangs open and a messy-haired Hugo Weasley stumbles drunkenly inside. “I’m looking for Voldemort,” he tells us, wide-eyed. “Have you seen him anywhere?”
“No,” says Xavier.
“What are you going to do to him?” I ask, interested.
“Oh, I’m gonna--” Hugo breaks down laughing, almost to the verge of tears, then collects himself. “I’m gonna turn his shoe into a big slug.”
“A noble cause,” says Xavier approvingly. He turns to me, extending a hand. “Want to dance?”
“Y-yeah,” I say, feeling my cheeks turn a bit pink. I gulp down some more of my drink, and reach out to take Xavier’s hand. He twirls me around, and guides me back out into the sitting room, leaving Hugo doubled over with laughter in the kitchen.
The second I open my eyes, the light burns through them and straight into my brain. I recoil, turning over onto my stomach and pulling my duvet over my head.
Then I hear a deep voice chuckle in bed beside me, and my eyes snap open wide. I turn slowly toward the source of the noise, pulling the duvet back down to my nose -- and find myself lying face to face with a strikingly good-looking, stark naked, hipster.
“Hey, you,” he says, raising his eyebrows at me. He shifts in bed, lacing his fingers together behind his head, and I catch sight of the tattoo on his arm. It all comes back to me -- the tattoo, the Gillywater, the dancing.
I blush, lowering the duvet to my shoulders. “Hi.”
Xavier smiles sunnily at me. He rolls over onto his side, and strokes my cheek gently with his thumb. “Your nose is cute as hell.”
“Ha,” is all I can say. My brain is still struggling to keep up with everything that’s happened in the last twelve hours -- to process how I could have ended up with a beautiful, charming man lying with me underneath my fluffy blue duvet, stroking my face and telling me that my nose is cute. Where did I go wrong? After I broke up with James, I decided that I didn’t need men, or alcohol, or theme parties in my life.
Xavier frowns, apparently sensing my internal turmoil. “Not regretting last night, are you?”
“Erm,” I squint at him. “No?”
His frown deepens, and he removes his hand from my cheek.
“No,” I say more decisively. “No, I had a great time last night. It’s just that it’s… been a while, honestly, and I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Fair.” Xavier nods. He sits up in bed, and the duvet falls away from his torso -- my heart skips a beat. “Should I go, then? No hard feelings either way.”
I think for a moment, then shake my head. “No,” I tell him, “no, I’d rather you stayed. If you want to.”
He grins. “I want to.”
He rolls over so that he’s half on-top of me, and kisses a line down from my forehead to the tip of my nose. I smile, pulling his face down until his lips meet mine.
A/N: In the next chapter, Fiona will return to work and make some headway on the case! Please review! :)
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