VII. At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
The delicious story is ripe to tell the intimate friend;
Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire;
Still waters run deep, my friend, there's never smoke without fire.
Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of the migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.
For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
The scent of the elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall,
The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.
from "Twelve Songs", W.H. Auden
The body was found buried beside a thicket near the tracks down by the Hogsmeade train station. The Aurors had been lucky: in another few weeks, the body would have been hidden by the thick drifts of snow common in a Highlands winter. Instead it'd been half-unearthed by Aberforth Dumbledore’s goats, in search of dried grass and thistles to supplement the warm mush he scraped into their trough every morning, and for once the wretched beasts’ tendency to consume anything in their path had been for the better, if one might call the discovery of a virtually exsanguinated corpse "better."
Detective Chief Inspector Draco Malfoy squints against the bright, late autumn sun as he strides towards the white tent erected over the crime scene, barely stopping to flash his warrant card at the Auror constable guarding the perimeter. Sunlight glints off the silver DMLE badge on the warrant card's leather cover as he tucks it into his back pocket. He can see Aberforth and his damned goats loitering a few meters down the tracks, along with what looks like half of Hogsmeade and the entirety of Hogwarts, all trying to get as close as they can to the white tent covering the human remains. Draco scowls. Brilliant. Just bloody, fucking brilliant.
"Keep those idiots back," he snaps, and the constable nods. The last thing any of the Scenes of Crime Aurors want is a score of bored teenagers on a Hogsmeade weekend tromping around and obliterating what little forensic evidence might remain after the heavy rains the night before. Draco might have silver hairs mixed in with blond now, but he remembers clearly how much thoughtless destruction he and Greg and Vince could leave in their wake twenty-odd years ago. There's no damned way he's putting up with that shit today. Not at his crime scene.
"Will do, sir." The constable's breath is a puff of white in the chill air. His crimson Auror robe, belted at the waist with a shiny strap of black leather and brass, is a splash of bright color against the gravel of the tracks and the mud of the hillside. He scratches beneath the black and white peaked cap that's threatening to fall off his greying hair. Draco's grateful he's moved over to the Criminal Investigation Department of the service and left that wretched uniform behind. Five years of street policing was more than enough for him, even if it'd meant he'd stayed in bloody Edinburgh.
"Protective gear, DCI Malfoy." A ginger female constable, obviously bored, flicks a wand his direction, sending a spiral of thin, white dust over Draco’s clothes, skin, hair, and shoes. Within a moment, the dust hardens and grows transparent, catching the glow of golden afternoon light in its faint sparkle. Draco flexes his fingers and scowls at the pull of the charm against his knuckles. To be honest, he misses the days when no one in the DMLE gave a damn about contamination. He doesn’t know whether to blame the influx of Muggleborn into the rank and file of the Auror services or the influence of the Muggle policing system as the Magical and Muggle governments throughout Britain had drawn closer over the past twenty years. Sodding Dark Lord. One psychopathic tyrant ruins it for everyone, as usual. Now instead of ignoring the Muggles as they'd done for centuries, they're forced to work with them—or at least the ones who have enough security clearance to know about the wizarding world, and nine times out of ten those particular tits are poncy little wankers that make Draco positively itch to throw a Stinging Hex or two towards them. Still, he has to admit the Muggles have dragged the Auror services into modern policing, albeit kicking and screaming at points. There've been far, far fewer charges of Auror brutality and corruption in the ranks since Shacklebolt had pushed through the Auror Reform Act in 2001, and the antiquated rank structure had been streamlined, finally setting up a direct chain of command that made bloody sense for once.
With a sigh, Draco pulls up the thick cotton tent flap, trying to prepare himself for what's coming next and absolutely failing. He nearly gags at the smell of rotting flesh. "Shit," he says and presses the back of his hand against his nose and mouth. His stomach roils. No matter how many years he’s been a detective on the Edinburgh Auror force, no matter how many gruesome crime scenes he’s had to endure, that first whiff of dead body always gets to him. The DMLE has yet to find a spell to dissipate it.
"Breathe, laddie," Moira says in her Scottish lilt, not bothering to look up. Her short, silver hair gleams beneath the dusty glimmer of her protective charm. Other SOCAs move silently around her, bagging evidence and running preliminary diagnostics. "If you sick up over my corpse, I'll throw my best knee-reversal hex your way."
"Fuck off, you cow." The muddy grass squelches beneath Draco's feet as he squats beside the forensic Healer. "How long have that lot out there been gawking?"
Moira shrugs. "Since before I arrived. I had to chase Ab's goats away from the tent." She eyes his cream jumper, jeans and corduroy jacket. "Sorry to interrupt your Saturday morning."
"I'm certain," Draco says dryly. There's any number of detectives she might have rung up, but Moira knows he's been following the Abbott-Goldstein brouhaha. They've been friends of a sort for over fifteen years now, meeting on Draco's first case as a detective constable. Moira never brings up the fact that he'd nearly passed out at the sight of that particularly macabre mutilated corpse. That in and of itself has earned her his grudging loyalty. He looks down at the body in front of them and winces. It's a woman with blonde hair. "It's her, isn't it?" He already knows. Her photo has been circulated around Auror headquarters in Edinburgh the past two days as part of her missing persons case. He'd recognise her face anywhere.
"Looks like." Moira studies the half-naked woman. Her hair is matted with blood, and her chest and shoulders have been slashed open to the bone, deep and ragged. Gory shreds of her pale blue dress and once ivory bra hang off her body in rags, and the ground beneath her has been soaked in blood. Putrefaction has already set in, giving the skin on her bloated stomach a greenish tinge. "Hannah Abbott. Missing since when?"
"Wednesday evening, according to her husband." Draco glances over at Moira. The wrinkles at the corner of her eyes are deeply scored. He knows his aren't much better, despite the creams, Muggle and wizarding, his vanity requires that he slather on his face every evening. Nearly two decades in this job has aged the both of them, left its mark in lines and scars that cross their skin. He looks back at Hannah's shattered body. He recognises the pattern of slashes across her chest. How coule he not? He sees those scars across his chest every damned day. "Death by Sectumsempra?" he asks, voice harsh in the quiet of the tent.
Moira rolls her shoulders, her exhaustion evident. "You know I can't say yet."
Draco does, but he has to ask. "It looks like it, though?"
That's as good as he's going to get right now, and he knows it. "What about time of death?"
Moira frowns up at him. "Impossible to determine without the proper tests. Besides, with the cooler air—"
"Before or after Thursday morning?" Draco pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He just wants to get out of the tent and have a fag. He's seen too much death in his life, and he hates every moment of it.
Moira doesn't answer for a moment, then she sighs. "Unofficially? Before, I'd guess. But not far after. No later than Wednesday midnight, but if you tell anyone that, I'll call you a lying wanker." She softens her words with a small smile.
It's what he's expected. Sixty-odd hours after she'd disappeared? Abbott would have either done a runner or got herself killed. He runs a hand over his hair, grim. He'd really hoped for the former. "Thanks," he says, standing up. "When are we likely to get a report?"
"Likely?" Moira taps her quill against her notepad. "End of the week. But for you, I'll try to move it up a bit. Can't promise, though."
Draco nods, but hesitates. "Any signs of sexual violence?" He holds up a hand at Moira's sigh. "I know. You can't say."
"And you'd be right." Moira stretches, and Draco can hear the vertebrae in her neck crack. She's been hunched over Hannah Abbott's body for at least an hour, he knows, and she'll spend most of the weekend in the morgue. "I can't even tell you for certain that she was murdered here yet, blood spatter or not. Give a lass a break, dear."
"Fine." He knows he sounds sharp, but Moira won't care. She's been doing this too long as well. There's always that frustration at the beginning, the anger that you have to foster so that you don't get caught up in the pain of another human being's death, in the grief of yet another family's loss. They're all used to it, that quick flare of temper that's all too often taken out on your fellow Aurors. He's just grateful that this one isn't a child. Those are the hardest to make it through unscathed—something he's never managed. "As soon as you can though, yeah?"
She nods again, and Draco stumbles out of the shadows of the tent into the bright glare of sunlight. He can still smell Hannah's body, that sweet-sour scent of death and decay that lingers in the back of his throat. He shakes himself hard, and the protective charm falls off in a puff of white dust just as the photographer passes, ducking into the tent behind him.
An upward sweep of Draco's wand sends his Patronus gliding away on widespread silvery wings that melt into a wisp of cloud. His team will meet him at the office as soon as it shows up on their various doorsteps. "Send the crime scene write-ups to the Edinburgh murder investigation team," he snaps at one of the constables, the pretty ginger-haired one who'd set his protective charm in the first place. Her face is familiar, and he knows he should remember her name. Elena, maybe. Or Helen. He's not certain, nor does he care. At the moment she's just a body in uniform to him. There's a flash of light from the tent, accompanied by the click of a camera. "Photos, too," he adds.
The constable scrawls something in her notebook. The ink sinks into the white page, shimmers for a moment, then disappears. "They'll be on your desk when you arrive."
And there goes his pleasant weekend, he thinks, stopping to light a cigarette with a twitch of his fingers and a snap of wandless magic—the only party trick he can do without his wand in hand. He takes a long drag, then exhales a thin stream of smoke. No books and whisky in front of a fire or pickup game of Quidditch with Blaise, Theo and Greg down at the Manor. Instead it'll be kegs of bad coffee and a ghastly spread of crime scene photos across his desk.
If he's honest, he can't wait.
Draco slaps the photo of Hannah's slashed and bloated body on the whiteboard with a temporary sticking charm. "Hannah Abbott-Goldstein, murdered sometime between Wednesday evening and Saturday morning."
He looks around the small office assigned to the CID's murder investigation team. The murder room, as it's known throughout the station, is a bleak place, meant for a bleak business. The walls are a shabby grey in need of painting with a few long, narrow, diamond-paned windows that let in a minuscule amount of natural daylight—what little there is in Edinburgh during the colder months—and the wooden desks angled towards one another are worn and scarred and piled high with bland beige file jackets stuffed with paperwork still to be catalogued from their last case. Too much work for too small a team. There's only four of them allocated to the Edinburgh MIT, including himself. London's where the hotshots end up, the ones the Ministry decides not to hide up here among the Scots and the sheep. Draco's handpicked his team, choosing them for their loyalty and their skills. They're his, fiercely and completely. They always will be. He's their guv'nor, after all.
Lee Jordan sprawls loose and languid in his chair, turning it back and forth with one foot. His dark dreadlocks are thick and wild, falling into his eyes. "So she's obviously out of missing persons." He's still wearing the purple and gold striped Prides scarf from the match Draco's Patronus had interrupted. He'd been the last of the team to arrive, having to Portkey in from Portree due to the Apparition wards on the stadium.
"And with us now, poor cow." Pansy Parkinson walks over to the board, Susan Bones at her heels. "Grim picture, that."
Susan flinches and looks away, tucking a silky lock of ginger hair behind her ear. Draco remembers too late that she'd been friendly with Hannah back in school. Hufflepuffs. They always have that bloody soft streak in them. "Jesus," Susan says. "What'd the bastard do to her?"
"That's what we're going to find out once Moira gets off her arse and does her job." Draco sticks another picture on the board, this one taken from an Apparition license. A blond man smiles out at them. Draco thinks he might even have just winked at Pansy. "Tony Goldstein. Hannah's husband and rising star of the Scottish Ministry. Rumor has it he's being groomed for London."
"Wanker," Lee says, and Draco can't help but agree. None of them have a good opinion of anyone who ends up in London's grasp. Knobheads, the whole lot of them. Scotland may be cold, bitter, and filled with drunken arseholes, but Draco'll take Edinburgh over London any day. At least a sheep won't call you a Death Eater to your face.
Susan turns her back to the board. Draco'd been surprised by her when her name first crossed his list of potentials. She'd been a constable down in London but had been transferred to Edinburgh after a cock-up that got her partner killed. It'd taken her some time to come back from that, but when she'd found her feet again, she'd risen through the ranks quickly, moving from constabulary to CID within two years. Her scores on the tests had been phenomenal. She's a detective sergeant in the Auror force now, with a quick, investigative mind that rivals Draco's own, even if he does think she's far too sentimental for her own damned good. "We're going by the first rule of murder investigation then?" She sounds sceptical.
"Always look at the spouse first." Draco's quill underscores Goldstein's name on the whiteboard in a stroke of bright blue. "Ten-to-one it's him."
Susan doesn't look convinced. "Too neat."
"Maybe, but it could be an easy domestic," Pansy says, leaning against her desk, long and lean in black pants and a pale grey silk shirt open to reveal the swell of her breasts. She's in heels even on a Saturday: Draco's fairly certain Pansy doesn't even comprehend the concept of weekend casual. A small silver Gringotts key hangs from a chain around her neck. It opens her family vault, not that there's anything in it any longer. The Ministry made sure of that, after the war. Still, it's one of the few Parkinson possessions Pansy has; most of the rest had been sold to pay for the house in Auckland her parents emigrated to a decade ago. "Besides it's obviously him. Look at that smarmy expression. It screams 'I'm a smug bastard what did in my wife.'" She frowns. "I'll wager a bottle of wine down the Hebridean that she made his dinner wrong again."
Draco manages to keep from rolling his eyes. Barely. Pansy's bias against politicians is legendary and has been since after the war. Not that he blames her, mind. He's also wary about anyone whose primary life goal is to sit behind a Ministry desk. But at least he'll stop by the polls to cast a vote every now and then. Pansy doesn't see the point; according to her, they're all lying, poisonous shits.
To be honest, she's not half wrong.
Lee unfolds his lanky body from his chair and saunters up to the board. He eyes the photos of Hannah's broken body, his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "Her eyes have been closed. Killer knew her."
"Could be part of his modus operandi," Susan points out. "Remember the bloke in Inverness who put pennies on the eyes of his victims?"
"True." Lee frowns. He points towards the shards of bones sticking through Hannah's sternum. "Does seem a bit personal after he imploded her chest, though."
"Or she," Pansy says. "Sorry to pull my feminist out here, but women can kill too. Just look at Draco's Auntie Bella."
Draco shudders and sets his quill down. "I'd rather not." As much as he hates to admit it, he owes Molly Weasley a debt of gratitude for taking his bitch of an aunt out. The woman had far too much delight in torture and murder; by the end of the war it'd turned into sport for her. Draco can still remember the night he'd walked in on Bella holding a wand to his mother's throat, looking for all the world as if she'd be willing to end her own sister's life on a whim. It'd taken his shout before his Uncle Rodolphus had stormed in and disarmed his mad wife. He looks back at the board. "Still, we'll need to talk to Goldstein anyway. Pans? Feel up to a home visit?" He knows he shouldn't, given her bias, but a little antagonism tempered with his own discretion might be the right push they need to close this case quickly.
Pansy's grin is feral as she reaches for her black jacket. "Always, guv." She shrugs as he shoots her a wary look. "Don't worry. I'll behave myself."
That's highly doubtful. He turns to Lee and Susan. "Open up the prelim paperwork, and tell missing persons they've a quarter-hour to get us everything they have on Hannah's disappearance."
"Already on it," Susan says, her Patronus scampering around the corner on tiny Crup feet. "I'll forward it to you when it arrives?"
"The very moment." Draco grabs his jacket and pulls it on over his jumper.
"If we're lucky," Pansy says cheerfully, "this'll be wrapped up in time for a hot dinner and a brilliant merlot."
Draco grabs the file jacket marked Hannah Abbot-Goldstein and shakes his head. They won't be that lucky. Not this time. He can feel it in his bones.