HARMON END, ESSEX. SATURDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER, 2007. 03:10.
Harmon End was a quiet village, and it was the dead of the night, but the steady stream of lights and sirens had woken most of its occupants, or at least those who hadn’t been startled out of bed by the sound of the blast. They peered out of their darkened windows, playing telephone with their neighbors as the news made its way across town: Down the road, away from the rest of the houses, tucked behind a grove of trees and a stone fence, the house of Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody had a new hole in it, and this one wasn’t from shooting at shadows.
This one opened up to the sky, letting in a light rain, which collected to run slowly over the charred wood and scattered remains, forming a black sludge that was seeping into the crater left where the floor had been. The fire service had finally declared the site free of all remaining fires, and a bomb disposal team had carefully checked for any additional threats, and finally the police had been allowed in, desperate to get to the site before it was corrupted any further.
Standing at the edge of the gruesome scene, a few feet back from where the floor had been snapped apart, were two figures, distinctly separated from the rest. One wore a neon yellow police jacket about five sizes too large, her tight curls sticking out from under the hood to collect droplets of water that glistened as officers passed in front of the high-powered portable lights set up throughout the ruin. The other could take a step back and disappear out of sight, his black trenchcoat, flat cap, and thin scarf obscuring his features. No one was paying much attention to either of them. Not even the constable, who had been the one to call them to the scene. It was a courtesy, not a request for backup, and any untoward interference would draw that courtesy to an end.
That didn’t mean they weren’t involved. From their vantage point, they could listen, and observe, and draw their own conclusions.
“You’re sure it was him?” the man asked his companion after a stretch of silence between them.
“It was him,” she replied. Her mouth was set in a grim line. “He’s sending a message. And who else would show up at the house of a retiree and do… this?”
“He had a lot of enemies.”
“Do you have some suggestion of who else it might have been?”
Even though they both spoke in muted tones, her voice was harsh. He waited for a moment. He didn’t like Moody—never had, and they’d known each other twenty-eight hate-filled years. But she had liked him. Respected him.
“No,” he said at last. “I don’t. But if I didn’t know otherwise, I’d say it looked like Grindelwald’s work.”
Across from them, a photographer was taking photos of a twisted piece of metal. The last remains of a prosthetic leg, identifiable only because a boot, now half burned away, had cushioned the sculpted shell of the foot. The blast had thrown it away from the body and into the solid face of the refrigerator, which now had a foot-sized dent in the door. Behind the photographer, two men were arguing over whether two bullet holes in the wall were fresh or old—the angle of the rain and the blackening from the explosion was giving them trouble.
After a moment, the man in the trench coat sighed and picked his way across the rubble. He examined the damage, and turned back to the arguing pair, jabbing his finger at the wall and adding some scathing remark before returning to his companion. She turned away silently, leading them out through the open front door of the house, though they could have just gone through the part of the front wall that had been blasted down, and down the driveway, ducking under the police tape at the bottom, tied on the fence posts on either side. A few of the braver villagers and a zealous reporter were gathered on the other side, but the pair ignored them, heading towards the line of vehicles. The woman took off the reflective jacket, giving it to the closest officer with a word to return it to its owner, and they continued down to the end of the line, stopping beside an unmarked black car and turning back, observing the house as it crawled with neon jackets. The man lit a cigarette, the lighter illuminating his sallow face, ignoring her irritated glance.
“It’s him,” she said. “Grindelwald’s in prison. He’s been in prison twenty-six years.”
The man sighed out smoke, and scowled into the dark. “If the old man hadn’t died—”
“Don’t blame him for this.”
“He could have done a lot more a lot sooner, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“You agree with me, then?”
“I think you need to have another conversation with your friend from MI5.”
“I think I need more than that.”
The man didn’t respond to that, but snuffed out his cigarette and returned it to a metal case that disappeared into the pocket of his coat. He moved around to the passenger side door, and the woman drove the car past the last few response vehicles and through the village, following the road out.
“My list of favors to call in are few and far between,” he said, after a spell.
“Use them all.”
“If she’s wrong—”
“If she’s right. Imagine that. Is there anything bigger you’re holding on to them for?”
He sighed. The car was aimed towards London, and she was angry, driving fast. They’d be there in an hour, and then…
He’d been hoping for a quiet weekend.
“You want revenge.”
“No. I want justice. That it’s Alastor dead just adds fuel to the fire.”
A lie. She probably believed it.
“You’ll need evidence.”
“We’ll find it. I just need a clean desk and the proper funds. Operational freedom. If this is as big as she thinks...”
If it is, there’s no telling who they can trust. They need absolute autonomy on this, or they’re going to hit brick wall after brick wall, and it’s not going to be a lack of substance holding them back.
“Take us to the office, then,” he said. “You get in touch with your friend. I’ll see what I can do.”
“You can thank me if it works.” He watched darkly out the window as she curves them onto the motorway. He wasn’t sure if it will work, or, if it does, it will even matter. Grindelwald had been caught with luck, and a violent end. Voldemort—or Tom Riddle, if that really is his name—will take more than that.
The old anger crept up in his bones, and his fingers itched for another cigarette. He dug them into his palm instead.
“It will work,” she said, grip tightening around the wheel. “It has to.”