SIYE Time:12:14 on 13th August 2022

Strangers at Drakeshaugh
By Northumbrian

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Rating: PG
Reviews: 849
Summary: The locals in a sleepy corner of the Cheviot Hills are surprised to discover that they have new neighbours. Who are the strangers at Drakeshaugh?
Hitcount: Story Total: 236984; Chapter Total: 7333
Awards: View Trophy Room

Author's Notes:
Thanks as always to Amelie for her beta work, and apologies for the delay. Almost seven thousand words, how did that happen?


Interlude: Bad Moon on the Rise

As he watched his departing son, Harry decided that, in addition to his many other failings, he wasn’t even a very good father.

Jacqui had offered to help, he reminded himself. She was perfectly capable of assisting James with his jacket and settling him in the classroom. But what had he gained? He might, possibly, get to his office five minutes earlier than he would otherwise have done. With a sour feeling of regret churning inside his chest, he realised that his protestations about having to make the school run were, as Ginny had told him during their argument, ridiculous. It seemed to him that, recently, every decision he made was wrong.

Harry started to follow his son, but James, Henry and Jacqui were oblivious to his continued presence at the school gates. He vacillated for a moment, and changed his mind again. He’d already said his goodbyes. As Henry’s mum herded them up towards the school, the two boys were chattering happily to each other. There was no backward look from James but, despite the fact that his son was entirely unaware of the action, Harry waved goodbye to his eldest.

As he strode over to his car, his son’s indifference to his departure, his sense of failure as a father, the Daily Prophet headline and the news from his office filled his head with gloomy thoughts and recent memories.

Harry closed the connection, replaced the mirror in his pocket and stared at the Prophet’s headline: CLUELESS: Potter flounders as the full moon approaches.

He picked up his coat. ‘I have to go, Ginny,’ he said. ‘You can take James to school.’

‘I can’t, sorry, Harry,’ Ginny told him quietly.

‘You have to. It’s an emergency,’ he replied sharply, standing and preparing to leave. Ginny scowled and she, too, stood. A silence fell across the kitchen table, and Harry was aware that his children had picked up the mood of their parents, and were watching carefully.

‘It is
not an emergency,’ Ginny told him. Her voice was level and reasonable, but he could see the annoyance simmering in her eyes. She grabbed his arm, preventing him from leaving. ‘Your people have lost a suspect, not you. They lost him, they can bl…inking well find him! You know how much time it will take for me to make this place Muggle-friendly. I will be busy from the moment you leave with James. No one’s life is in immediate danger, is it?’


‘No buts, Harry. I’m not cancelling Jacqui’s visit at the last minute because of an Auror Office crisis. Another half hour won’t make any difference to you!’

‘You don’t know that.’

‘And you don’t know that it will, Harry.’

‘Don’t be silly, Ginny…’ As he spoke those words his wife’s annoyance boiled up into anger. Her bared teeth stopped him in mid sentence.

She released him. ‘Silly? Me? This is my fault, is it?’ she snapped sarcastically. ‘Work is obviously all-important. Fine, be like that. You
must leave now, must you? Oh… Stuff it! Just go, bu...bog off and do what you want! Don’t mind us, we’ll cope without you, won’t we kids?’

Harry clenched his teeth and took a deep breath. He looked first at his incensed wife and then at his confused kids. Al was close to tears; he hated this sort of unpleasantness. Although Harry wanted to argue, he didn’t want to do so in front of the children, and Ginny knew it. He was trapped, and she knew it. Her tactics made him seethe, but he backed down.

‘Sorry, Al,’ Harry said, turning back to the table and ruffling his younger son’s hair. He returned his gaze to his wife, furious that she had won, and forced himself to smile. ‘Okay, Ginny, I’ll take James to school.’ He turned to face his son, who was wolfing down a bowl of cornflakes with Weasley-like haste. ‘Come on, big boy, Daddy needs to leave.’

‘Have you cleaned your teeth, James?’ Ginny asked sternly. Harry clenched his jaw, but said nothing.

Climbing into the Range Rover, Harry pulled the mirror from the inside pocket of his coat and placed it in the cradle on the dashboard. As he fastened his seatbelt, Harry saw Amanda Berry chivvying her rather reluctant son and daughter towards the school. He tried to give Amanda a friendly wave, but his heart wasn’t in it. It was immaterial, as she didn’t seem to notice him; she certainly didn’t return his perfunctory wave.

Starting the car, he put it into gear and drove out of the village. The moment the road was clear he switched on the Invisibility Booster, pulled the car into the air, and tapped the mirror.

‘Portkey Office,’ he said.

‘Good morning, Mr Potter,’ said the round-faced woman in the mirror. ‘The Auror-priority Portkey to your Ministry parking space is authorised. You may depart when ready.’

‘Thank you,’ Harry said. He brought the car to a halt in midair and pulled on the handbrake. Drawing his wand, he touched the steering wheel, said, ‘Portus,’ and experienced the familiar lurch as he instantly moved some three hundred miles to the south.

The blue glow of the Portkey had barely faded when Harry opened the car door. His nostrils twitched as he climbed out into fume-filled London air which was noticeably different from the fresh country air he’d just left behind. Hurrying through the dingy car park, Harry strode out onto the street. The main entrance to the Ministry had been relocated onto a side street between the Strand and Covent Garden, and it was directly across the road from the car park.

Following several other Ministry employees through the magically hidden entrance, Harry entered a wide hallway. On both sides of the hall, dozens of Floo connections were flashing and flaring as witches and wizards arrived from all across the country. Directly ahead of him, beyond the flickering fireplaces, a line of two dozen dark wood security arches, each one wide enough for one person, stretched from wall to wall. The only way to enter the Ministry atrium, which was visible through the apparently unobstructed arches, was to pass beneath them. On the wall above them, a sign glowed in bold blue letters: “Warning, Mapped Area Ahead”.

There was a long queue at the two left hand arches, both of which were marked “Visitors”. Ministry employees streamed, unhindered, through the others. As Harry approached the arches he noticed a tanned, long-nosed wizard in the visitors’ queue. Everything about the man, from the tension in his stance to his impatiently tapping foot, indicated that he considered himself to be much too important to wait his turn.

Almost immediately, Harry was proved right. He watched the man leave the visitors queue and move across to the next arch. He wasn’t the only one who noticed, and there was a subtle shift in the flow of office workers as they moved to avoid the arch the man was approaching.

Harry didn’t warn the man, nor did anyone else. It was policy not to. It was a test of the system, and a lesson to anyone else in the visitors’ queue. The moment the man entered the arch the security shutters dropped, just as they should. A babble of excited comments sprang up from the people in the queue.

‘Perseus Packman, you are not a Ministry employee and your use of arch twenty-two is unauthorised,’ a female voice announced firmly. ‘Please deposit your wand into the slot on your right and remain where you are. You will experience several minutes delay while a security check is carried out. Thank you for your patience.’

Harry walked through an unused arch some distance from the incident. ‘Harry James Potter,’ he spoke his name clearly, and passed straight through into the Atrium.

‘Morning, Mr Potter,’ said one of the two blue-robed security witches who, with wands drawn, were slowly making their way towards the sealed arch in which Mr Packman was detained.

‘Morning,’ Harry replied.

He vaguely recognised the young woman, but he could not remember her name. As he continued towards the lifts, Harry tried to remember why the security witch seemed so familiar to him. She was several years younger than him, so he didn’t know her from school. He was almost at the lifts when he finally identified her; she was an Auror applicant, one of many who had failed the preliminary Auror interview. He remembered her because she had been spectacularly inept. She had been “killed” within fifteen seconds of the start of the initial practical assessment, a record.

As he remembered the incident, Harry wondered what sort of qualifications the building security staff needed. They were not employed by Magical Law Enforcement but instead, like all service staff, were part of the Ministry Maintenance Section, an almost ignored division of the Minister’s Office. His musings were, however, interrupted by a shout.

‘Over here, Harry!’

He looked up to see Trudi Corner holding a lift door open for him. The crop-haired young witch was glaring at a balding middle-aged wizard who was attempting to enter it ahead of Harry. The wizard registered Trudi’s Auror uniform and slowed down, and then her words hit him, too. He glanced over his shoulder and, upon seeing the Head Auror approaching, hastily stepped aside. When Harry entered the lift, Trudi immediately released the door and pushed the button to take them to level two.

‘Morning, Trudi,’ said Harry. ‘Michael,’ he nodded at Trudi’s husband and then looked at the only other occupant of the lift.

‘This is my, um, er, my assistant, Jason Jones,’ said Michael. ‘He’s been helping me to refine the — the System.’

‘Jason.’ Harry nodded a greeting.

‘Hello, Mr Potter,’ Jason said hesitantly. ‘Most people call me Jay,’ he added. The baby-faced young wizard was no taller than Dennis Creevey and was, it seemed to Harry, to be barely out of his teens.

‘It wasn’t our fault, Harry,’ said Trudi. ‘Polly’s rechecking the map, but she’s certain that the map creation spells were all done correctly.’

‘We’ll talk in the office,’ Harry told her. He turned to Michael. ‘You left a message to say that you no longer think that Robards is responsible. He’s the fifth suspect which the RANDOM System has suggested, is there something wrong with it?’

‘We think that it’s a problem with the probability curves,’ said Michael, turning to Jay, who eagerly nodded his confirmation. ‘I have been using a standard multivariate normal distribution, but I now believe that the curve is slewed. The perpetrator doesn’t fall into normal parameters. He, or she, doesn’t fall within the normal deviate.’

Jay chuckled, and Harry looked at him curiously.

‘Arithmancy joke,’ the young wizard explained. ‘The person you are looking for isn’t a normal deviate, he isn’t a normal serial killer, not in any sense of the word.’

Not for the first time, Harry wished that he had Hermione to translate for him. The complexity of Michael’s Arithmantic probability calculator was completely beyond his grasp, and Michael, for all his intelligence, found it difficult to explain the intricacies of his predictor.

‘I’ll send Terry down to see you, Michael,’ said Harry. ‘You can explain the problem to him.’

‘I just did, weren’t you listening?’ Michael asked him, puzzled.

‘Perhaps I could explain in less technical language, Mr Potter,’ said Jay eagerly. ‘I could come to your office and…’

‘I think I’ll be very busy today, Jay,’ said Harry. ‘Some other time, perhaps.’

‘Any time,’ said the baby-faced young man earnestly as the lift came to a halt at level two.

‘Bye, Michael, see you later,’ said Trudi, kissing her husband’s heavily bearded cheek.

‘Are you meeting the Minister?’ Harry asked, realising that Michael and Jay were heading to the first floor, away from their office in the Department of Mysteries.

‘No, we’re going to the Central Administration Office,’ said Jay.

‘Yes. Administration,’ Michael confirmed. He was pulling anxiously on his beard, and was so distracted that he almost seemed to be under a Confundus Charm.

Harry waited for the lift doors to close before turning to Trudi and asking, ‘Is Michael okay?’

Trudi shook her head. ‘No,’ she admitted. ‘I think it’s the RANDOM System, he’s probably simply puzzling out some Arithmancy problem in his head. Using the System puts him under a lot of strain, Harry. I tell him that we’re pursuing other lines of enquiry, but…’ She shrugged helplessly.

Harry nodded. ‘I know what effect using it has, Trudi,’ he said quietly. ‘That’s why I don’t often involve Michael in an investigation. The first time we used it Terry explained “the data dilemma,” as Michael calls it, to me.’ He smiled wryly at Trudi. ‘Michael isn’t very good at layman’s language, Terry is.’

‘True,’ she admitted. ‘I took Arithmancy to NEWT level, and I got an “Outstanding,” but usually I have no idea what he’s talking about. All I know is that the System provides more accurate predictions with every additional piece of information. Unfortunately that means that the more people who are killed, the better the System gets at tracking the killer. Michael hates it, you know. He doesn’t like thinking about death and dark magic, about what we investigate, and he really doesn’t like it when bad things happen. Unfortunately, the System needs the bad things, and he needs to report them accurately. The thought of people hurting each other, people dying, drives him crazy. He puts himself under tremendous pressure to get it right. If he fails, and someone dies, he feels responsible.’

‘He’s not the only one,’ said Harry with passion. ‘I wish I knew why the Muggle Monitoring Service didn’t contact us after the first death. Lavender, Polly and Dennis would have immediately realised that we were dealing with a werewolf attack.’

‘Except that we aren’t looking for a werewolf, not any more,’ Trudi reminded him as they walked through the main Magical Law Office towards the Auror Office. She lowered her voice. ‘I know that Lavender’s a friend of yours, Harry, but she’d have taken the werewolf connection personally; you know she would. It’s probably a good thing that she’s on maternity leave.’

‘But we’d have had another month,’ said Harry. ‘We might not have found the killer after the first death, but we didn’t even begin our investigation until the second. I hate to say it, but we’re running out of options, the RANDOM System is our best chance to prevent another death.’

‘I would never have met Michael if he hadn’t invented it,’ said Trudi thoughtfully. ‘But sometimes, I wish he’d never come up with the Arithmantic formula for predictions.’ Trudi Corner looked helplessly up at Harry. ‘Related Abstractions of Non-deterministic Distributions to an Ordered Mean! Despite the name, the System is anything but RANDOM, except this time.’

‘What do you mean?’ Harry asked.

‘Michael was trying to tell you that he doesn’t think that the System is working properly. For a while he was convinced that he’d somehow entered faulty information, but now he’s not sure. He thinks that the killer isn’t what we first thought. He’s removed the werewolf parameters, and it’s coming up with a completely different set of predictions. You know that it can only point to trends, possibilities, but even so, he thinks that it’s getting less accurate, not more,’ Trudi admitted. ‘Michael doesn’t know why, and he hates being unable to solve an Arithmancy problem.’

Harry nodded sympathetically and decided that it was time to return to the real world investigations, the things he could control and understand. ‘So, what went wrong at the Marvellous Magical Menagerie?’

‘We’ll get a full report to you this morning. I hope that Polly has started it. She’s been here for an hour, but Dennis and I stayed behind to double check the site,’ said Trudi anxiously. ‘We watched Gaheris Robards enter the museum grounds by the side gate. He seemed a little on edge, so Polly, Dennis and I stayed outside the grounds, just in case he checked to see if there was anyone invisible in the area.’ Trudi sounded worried, so Harry nodded encouragingly.

‘It sounds like you followed standard procedures,’ he assured her. He stepped forwards, opened the door leading into the Auror Office, and motioned for her to go first. She acknowledged the gesture with the briefest of smiles and they walked into the large open office.

‘We wouldn’t have lost him if Mr Brick had given authorisation for us to Map the grounds as well as the building,’ said Trudi.

‘As Head of D.M.L.E., he’s supposed to keep the use of covert Mapping to a minimum. Use only in exceptional circumstances, over the smallest area,’ Harry reminded her.

‘Thanks to Mrs Weasley and her “invasion of privacy” concerns,’ Trudi complained.

‘If you want to argue with Hermione, go right ahead,’ Harry told her. ‘It didn’t get me anywhere.’ He smiled at the memory; although he hadn’t been smiling at the time.

‘Sorry, it’s just… we lost him,’ said Trudi angrily. ‘The grounds weren’t Mapped, so we stationed ourselves at the gates and waited for him to enter the building. We waited for ten minutes, but he didn’t appear on the Map. We gave him another couple of minutes, and then Polly ordered us in. We checked the grounds but he wasn’t there, and according to the Map he hadn’t gone into the museum, either. We went in to double-check. The Map was registering us, so we knew that it was working, but no one had seen him. The grounds are covered by an Anti-Apparition spell and the Floo connection is inside the building. I know it’s impossible, but he didn’t enter the Mapped area, and he didn’t leave the grounds. He simply vanished.’

‘He could have hidden himself in the grounds and sneaked out when you went to look for him.’

Trudi shook her head emphatically, ‘We checked the grounds as we entered, and we put alarm spells on both of the the gates.’

‘I want a full report on my desk within the hour,’ Harry told her. ‘And I’ll schedule a debriefing with you all once I’ve read the report.’

‘I’ll tell Polly,’ said Trudi as she strode over to her desk. Harry continued through to his own private office at the far end of the room.

‘Morning, Martha,’ he said to his secretary as he entered the outer office. ‘What else has gone wrong?’

Martha Nicholson was a tall, skinny, bespectacled woman in her early fifties. Her wild brown hair was, as usual, tied back with a colourful bow. She looked up from the papers she’d been sorting through and flashed him a half-hearted smile.

‘Good morning, Harry,’ Martha said. She ignored his question. ‘Mrs Skoll and Mrs Boot want to see you in the Imaging Room immediately, if not sooner. Also, the Minister’s Office has scheduled a meeting for you. You’re to meet Minister Shacklebolt at ten.’

‘I don’t know why. I don’t have anything to tell him,’ said Harry gloomily. ‘Anything else?’

‘You had a meeting with the Dark Forces Defence League at two. They wanted to discuss the werewolf menace. I tried to cancel it, but they weren’t happy. I managed to persuade Mr Brick, through his secretary, that the complaints relate to general Law Enforcement matters, not matters for the Auror Office. The League seem to be a little happier now that their concerns about the werewolf legislation have been passed to the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. However, Mr Brick is “too busy” so he has passed them down to his Deputy. She has agreed to meet them.’ She looked straight into his eyes. ‘I’ve advised building security to provide additional security in the vicinity of Mrs Weasley’s office.’

‘Hermione won’t need it,’ said Harry.

‘It’s not for her,’ said Martha, a twinkle in her eyes. Harry chuckled, but Martha glanced back at the diary on her desk, and pressed on. ‘Also, one of the other Mrs Weasleys has a meeting with the Sheriff of Wessex at three. She asked if you could attend, but I told her no.’

‘What is the meeting about?’ Harry asked.

‘There have been several assaults on werewolves in Wessex. Most fairly minor, but one young woman ended up in St Mungo’s. The local werewolves claim that the Sheriff’s investigations have been cursory, so they approached the Sentient Entities Rights Office and they’ve asked Mrs Weasley to investigate. One of the complainants alleges that a Sheriff’s Bailiff was involved in the assaults.’

‘Tell Angelina that I’ll try to attend, but it will depend in how things go with the Minister,’ said Harry. He paused and then shook his head. ‘Forget that. Try to contact Hamish Campbell — the Sheriff of Alba — and ask if he could attend the meeting. I appreciate that it’s short notice. And ask if he’s prepared to allow Senior Bailiff Moon to carry out an independent investigation of the conduct of the Wessex Sheriff’s Office. Tell Hamish that, if he agrees, I’ll clear it with the Minister when I see him. Hopefully the threat of an external investigation will be enough. If not, and Sheriff Appleton of Wessex won’t put a stop to the attacks on werewolves, Mark will put a stop to the Sheriff.’

Martha nodded. ‘I’ll contact the Edinburgh Sheriff’s Office immediately, Harry, and I’ll schedule the mission debriefing with Aurors Protheroe, Creevey and Corner for eleven. You should be finished with the Minister by then.’

‘Thanks, Martha,’ said Harry. ‘It’s going to be another busy day. I’ll go and see Dacia and Fenella now.’

After shrugging off his coat and hanging it on the stand behind Martha’s desk, Harry turned and headed back out into the main office. He walked diagonally across it, towards a frosted glass door on which the words “Specialist Auror Services” had been etched.

As he walked across the room Harry realised that he could do nothing until Polly’s team had prepared their report. His annoyance, and his argument, had been pointless, Ginny had been right; he could easily have taken James to school. Shaking his head in exasperation at himself, Harry pulled open the door and stepped into the bright yellow corridor. To left and right were doorways leading to the various specialist offices. He walked past doors marked Muggle Liaison Officer, Healer Team, and Analysis Unit, to the door marked Imager Section. When he entered, Terry Boot’s black-haired wife looked up and blinked at him from behind her fashionable, thick-lensed spectacles.

There were two desks in the small office. The second one was unoccupied, and remarkably tidy. Fenella Boot’s desk, however, was cluttered with vials, stacks of photographic paper, a large wooden box which appeared to be almost full of clay, and a poseable jointed wooden mannequin of the type used by artists. The mannequin was sitting on the edge of the box.

‘Morning Fenella,’ he said. ‘Martha said that you, and Dacia, wanted to see me. Is Dacia in the Imaging Room?’ He glanced at the door behind Fenella.

‘Hello, Harry.’ Fenella’s high-pitched little-girl voice was, as usual, barely above a whisper. Picking up her wand from her desk, she stood. ‘Yes, Dacia and I have–well–this case seems to be getting more complicated.’

Stifling a groan at her words, Harry allowed her to lead him through the door. They stepped into the outdoors, into a large area of woodland. Harry found himself in a familiar grassy clearing where a middle-aged witch who wore the green robes of a Healer was standing over a corpse.

‘Morning, Harry,’ Dacia Skoll, the Auror Office’s Senior Healer said the moment Harry followed Fenella into the room. ‘I’ve spent two days experimenting and taking another look at the bodies of the victims. We’ve got something for you, but you’re not going to like it.’ She scowled in frustration as she spoke. ‘I wish the Muggles wouldn’t cut up dead people the way they do. It doesn’t make things easy for me. Why don’t you tell him, Fenella. After all, you spotted it first.’

‘This is the woodland off Grimesthorpe Road,’ Fenella began. ‘And that’s the second victim…’

‘Eleanor Fearn, age twenty-three, born and raised in the city. She worked as a waitress in one of the city centre cafés,’ said Harry dismissively. ‘I know, Fenella, I’ve seen this before. I was there when you Imaged the scene, remember?’

Fenella, who was a couple of inches taller than Harry, slumped and her lower lip quivered. Before he could apologise Harry found himself face to face with his Senior Healer. Dacia’s wild, tawny-brown hair was, as usual, tied back into a bun, but she was shaking with anger and several hairs had sprung free making her look rather wild.

‘Of course we know you were there,’ Dacia snapped. ‘Do you really think that we would call you here to see something you’ve already seen? I don’t suppose that Fenella has told you how much time and effort she’s put into reconstructing the other crime scene.’

‘The other crime scene?’ asked Harry. He stared at the two women. ‘We weren’t notified about the first death. We don’t have an Image, only the police photographs.’

‘We do now,’ said Dacia. ‘We’ll get to that later. First, just take a good look at the scene.’ Dacia gestured towards the body. ‘No blood, Harry, remember? Even the Muggles know that she was killed elsewhere and placed here. But the question was when? We’ve all assumed that it was within a few hours of her death, because rigor hadn’t begun when the body was found. Just look at the scene again, see if you can see what Fenella saw.’ She gestured at the ground, at the magical recreation of the crime scene.

Harry decided that it would be wise to humour the still angry Healer, so he peered down at the bitten and ravaged corpse of the young woman. Even though it was merely an Image, a three-dimensional representation, it was a reminder to Harry of the urgency of his job. He spent several minutes examining the scene carefully.

The body was supine, displaying numerous wounds to the torso and neck. Her left arm was by her side, the right flung out. Her out-flung hand was lying palm uppermost, and it was pressed surprisingly deeply into the soft ground.

‘Did someone stand on her hand? Push it into the ground?’ he asked.

Dacia shook her head, turned, and nodded to Fenella. The Imager waved her wand, and the body vanished.

‘Right hand, back of head, and both heels,’ said Dacia, pointing to four strangely deep indentations in the grass and mud. ‘Now, show him the other scene, Fenella.’

Fenella waved her wand and Harry found himself in another open grassy area, looking at a different corpse. It was an odd scene as, unlike the first Image, there were black cracks and gaps in the sky above. In addition, the grass and the trees were unnaturally rigid.

‘This is Chelsea Park, in Nether Edge,’ said Fenella quietly. ‘Bobbie got copies of all of the crime scene photographs the Muggle police took, and I recreated the scene from them.’ She paused, looked in frustration at the scene, and didn’t notice Harry’s amazed expression. ‘I know that it’s not very good,’ she said apologetically.

‘It’s brilliant, Fenela,’ Harry told her. She shrugged dismissively.

‘There are gaps in the Image, and I can’t get the timing right. The grass is flickering instead of moving naturally in the wind, and that pigeon, well…’ As she pointed to a bird which was flickering in and out of existence in the sky beneath oddly static clouds, her expression was one of frustration and despair.

‘I didn’t think this was possible,’ said Harry. ‘It’s brilliant, Fenella. We’ve got all the details we need to be able to look at this scene carefully.’

‘It’s kind of you to say so, Harry,’ said Fenella, disbelievingly. ‘I think that the ground around the actual scene is accurate. The Muggles took lots and lots of photographs of the body, enough for me to be able to convert all of their funny little unmoving photographs into this Image. Unfortunately, the Muggles didn’t take many photographs containing the sky, or distant objects.’

‘It probably doesn’t matter, Fenella,’ he told her. Fenella shook her head forcefully.

‘It might!’ she said earnestly. ‘The first time I made an image of a crime scene for you…’

‘I said: photograph everything, because it’s impossible to know what’s important, and what isn’t,’ Harry acknowledged, realising why Fenella was unhappy with her achievement.

Dacia Skoll stepped forwards, and pointed to the bloodstained corpse on the grass. ‘Jamie McLuckie, Scottish, mid-forties, homeless and, judging by the state of his liver, an alcoholic. Neither you, nor the Muggle police, have found any connection between at all between poor Jamie and the second victim. This is a secluded corner of the park, but even so it’s surprising that the body wasn’t found for several days after his death. Take a good look at him.

Harry did as he was asked. The man’s body was in an entirely different position to the woman’s. His legs were bent, his left foot under his right calf. His arms were bent, but at his sides. Harry checked. The indentations under the man’s left foot and left elbow were surprisingly deep.

‘Strange,’ said Harry.

‘Fenella spotted the indentations in the image of the second crime scene,’ said Dacia. ‘I asked if the first crime scene was the same, so Fenella recreated it for me, using Muggle photographs and creating an Image from them. You were impressed. You should be. No one has ever created a magical image from a collection of Muggle photographs. Fenella was told that it wasn’t possible, but she did it anyway.’ The bespectacled woman blushed at the praise.

‘I was only trying to help,’ she protested over Harry’s compliments.

It was obvious to Harry that both Fenella and Dacia thought that they were onto something. ‘What’s your explanation for the marks?’ he asked them.

‘Like I said, you won’t like it,’ Dacia said. Fenella gave a wide-eyed and very worried-looking nod of agreement and dismissed the image. Dacia opened the door and led the way back into Fenella’s office. ‘We’ll do the second scene,’ she told Fenella.

Dacia picked up the mannequin, straightened it, and stood it on the table while Fenella passed her wand over the tray full of clay, reshaping it into the twisting undulations of an open area of parkland. Dacia then pointed a finger at the mannequin’s chest.

‘Killing Curse,’ Dacia said. She pushed the mannequin and after it had clattered onto the desk, she twisted the limbs into a good approximation of the position of the corpse. Picking up her wand, she drew it across the body, making red marks across the torso and head. ‘Fake werewolf attack,’ explained Dacia. ‘We’re now certain that the marks were made post mortem, although the lack of defence wounds made that extremely likely. The Muggle dead-person doctors…’

‘Pathologists,’ interjected Harry.

‘Yes, them,’ said Dacia. ‘I’ve seen their reports, and they agree with me. They base it on the way the blood settled in the body, and various other tests. Their report made interesting reading. They have several useful ways to find stuff out without using magic. However, I’m now convinced that they have time of death wrong.’ She pointed at the mannequin. ‘Here we have the body in its original location, the scene of the murder. Notice that we have a body lying on a completely flat surface. Now watch this.’ Dacia raised her wand, ‘Duro,’ she said. The mannequin immediately turned to stone.

Using her wand to levitate the mannequin, Dacia placed it carefully onto the clay. Harry peered at the mannequin. It was not resting on the ground; instead, it was supported at four points.

‘Right hand, back of head, and both heels,’ Fenella said. ‘The entire weight of the body was resting on four relatively small areas; we think that’s what caused the depressions.’

‘I’ve been experimenting on dead rats,’ said Dacia. ‘Obviously, the Duro spell doesn’t work on living creatures, but dead ones are completely preserved by it. Although a body doesn’t age after death, it certainly changes. But the spell stops everything, including the post-mortem changes. The effects of death simply restart the moment the spell is ended. My rat experiments have confirmed it. We based the time of death on body temperature and the onset of rigor mortis. But…’ She shrugged helplessly. ‘Finite Incantatem’ she said, and the mannequin returned to its original wooden form.

Harry swore. ‘You think that they were killed earlier, and then they were turned to stone…’ Dacia held up a hand, forestalling Harry’s question.

‘And when the spell was ended, they returned to dead flesh,’ Dacia continued. ‘Of course, at that moment the body would collapse onto the ground. But, because the process of death had been halted I can’t tell you when they died. It could have been minutes, hours, or days before the estimated time of death I gave you in my original report.’

‘So, all of the people we’ve eliminated because they had alibis for the estimated times of death are now back on the suspects list,’ said Harry helplessly. ‘Gaheris Robards was the only person who had access to the werewolf jaw and who didn’t have an alibi for the times of the murder. Now we need to look at everyone in the Marvellous Magical Menagerie again. Gaheris always seemed a very unlikely suspect to me. Luna said that he’s one of the nicest men she’s ever met.’

‘That’s because he listened to her politely when she talked about Snorcacks,’ said Fenella.

‘True, but Luna’s usually right about people,’ said Harry. ‘She’d be an asset to the Office, but…’ He shrugged helplessly.

‘The only thing which puzzles me,’ said Dacia. ‘And I’ve only just thought about it now, is why transport the body as a statue? Why not remove the spell and then move it.’

‘Perhaps he doesn’t like blood,’ said Fenella.

‘A squeamish killer,’ said Harry thoughtfully. ‘The Killing Curse is almost clinical, but it still results in death. It’s almost as though the killer is two or three people. One doing the killing, another ripping the body, and a third moving it to the place where it is found. It’s no wonder that we are having problems, and so is Michael. I’m beginning to think Ron was right. The victims aren’t important; at least, they aren’t important to the killer. He doesn’t care who he kills, it’s all about how we are reacting to the deaths. So far we’ve had assaults on werewolves, and questions about me, and about Kingsley’s suitability as Minister…’ He paused, ‘Who else knows about this?’

‘I’ve told Terry,’ said Fenella. ‘He asked me why I was working late.’

‘I haven’t even discussed my ideas with Amber,’ said Dacia.

‘Good. I want to keep this information quiet for the moment. I’ll have to tell at least two squads of Aurors, and Michael of course, but no one else.’ said Harry firmly. ‘You’ve given me a lot to think about,’ he added ruefully.

‘Sorry,’ said Fenella.

‘Don’t be, Fenella,’ he told her as he hurried from the room. ‘Well done, both of you. I’ve got a lot to do. I’ll send a squad to Sheffield to find out what the Muggle police know about the last movements of the victims, and to make further investigations. At least we know that The Prophet has no reason to try to blame the killings on a werewolf.’

‘It would be nice if we could tell them,’ said Dacia vehemently.

‘I’m beginning to think that someone is passing confidential information to the killer,’ said Harry. ‘And if there is more than one person involved in the killings, then we could be looking for someone inside the Ministry.’

The Auror Office Conference Room was a windowless box protected by dozens of anti-eavesdropping spells. Harry sat at the head of the conference table and surveyed the seven faces staring at him. He wondered if one of them could be plotting against him.

He’d appointed over half of them, and the others had fought in the Battle, and proved trustworthy over many years. Perhaps this was part of the plan, he thought. Perhaps, along with everything else, the killer was trying to make him suspect his staff. Nevertheless, he had already made his decision. He had to trust them all.

Auror Squad Beta, the squad from which the Muggle Interface Team was constituted, had been reorganised only weeks before the murder investigations had begun, but they seemed to be working well together. With Susan and Camelia likely to be in Transylvania for some time, and Lavender on maternity leave, Harry had been left with no alternative but to make major changes to the squad.

To Harry’s left were the white team: Senior Auror Aloysius Webb, a shabby, grey-haired and mournful-looking man in his late fifties, and Aurors Len Lister and Stan Cresswell, both young and keen. To his right were the black team: Lead Auror Polly Protheroe, and Aurors Trudi Corner and Dennis Creevey. At the end of the table sat Trainee Auror Ellie Cattermole, the tiny, dark-haired girl seemed to be astonished that she was being sent on a mission into the Muggle world.

‘So, now you know everything I know,’ Harry told them as he completed the briefing. ‘I’m putting Terry’s squad onto the re-investigation of the staff of the Magical Menagerie.’ He turned to the squad leader. ‘I know you did a good job at the Menagerie, Al, and you to, Polly,’ he added, turning to Al’s deputy. ‘But I want Terry’s squad to take a fresh look at all of the suspects.’ Harry turned his attention to the trainee.

‘Ellie,’ he began. ‘You haven’t worked with our Muggle Liaison Officer, Bobbie Wood, have you?’

‘No, sir,’ the girl said.

‘She’s expecting you. You will be Detective Constable Cattermole, and you’ll be working with Bobbie to sift through the evidence the Muggles are gathering. She’s Detective Chief Inspector Wood, not Bobbie, so remember to call her boss, or ma’am. Report your findings to Aloysius; he’ll be your mission supervisor. As for the rest of you, you all know Bobbie. So far as the Muggles know, she’s in charge of the “profiling team” sent up from London, so don’t do anything to jeopardise her cover.’

‘We’re not stupid, Harry,’ Polly protested.

‘I know,’ Harry admitted. ‘Polly, I want you, Trudi and Dennis to concentrate on the victims. Find out everything you can about them. We really need to know exactly when they vanished, and remember that the Muggle police don’t know that time of death is no longer certain. Al, I want your team to check up on, and investigate, any MisPer reports that the local police are dealing with.’

‘Missing Persons reports,’ Aloysius Webb grumbled an explanation to his confused companions.

‘Our next victim may vanish today,’ said Harry. ‘What worries me is that he or she may already have vanished. If Dacia is right the victim may already be dead and turned to stone. It’s possible that we’re already too late, but let’s assume that we aren’t. Good luck.’

‘Thanks, Harry,’ said Polly. Al Webb gave a nod of acknowledgement, and with that, the Aurors left.

The moment they did so, Martha Nicholson marched in, carrying a tray. ‘It’s ten past two, and you haven’t eaten since breakfast, Harry,’ she announced. ‘Apparently you left in such a hurry this morning that you forgot to collect your sandwiches. Ginny sent a message, and this, an hour ago.’ She placed the tray in front of him. ‘It’s red onion focaccia and a salad. I’ve made you some coffee, too. You aren’t leaving this room until you’ve eaten. And Ginny says that I’m to tell you “dinner at six o’clock, don’t be late, I’m making a treacle tart.” She insisted that I repeat the message verbatim.’

Harry smiled. He now knew that Ginny, too, was regretting the words they had exchanged that morning.

‘Thanks Martha,’ he said as he began eating.

‘Oh, and I’ve spoken to Sheriff Campbell. He will attend the three o’clock meeting in your place,’ said Martha. ‘He said that you’ve enough on your plate without having to deal with a Sheriff who hates werewolves.’
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