The thing about Broadchurch was that, from the outside, it looked just like any other sleepy English seaside resort town. Alec Hardy, who had pulled over to the side of the road to survey his new environs from the top of one of the cliffs, placed his hands on his hips and squinted out into the distance with a sigh. Yeah, fine, it wasn't that much smaller than where he'd lived before, but at least that small, unexciting town contained Daisy and Tess (although he honestly wasn't sure if the latter was an asset or a drawback, at present). Broadchurch, by contrast, appeared quaint and cosy and completely boring.
Well. This was what he got for being too nice to people. Alec made a mental note to start being a bit more of an arsehole to everyone, not let anyone else get the idea that he'd sacrifice his career and family and happiness for any of their stupid bloody stupid shenanigans.
(Years later, recalling his arrival in town, Alec would grumble to Ellie that Broadchurch's outward presentation was absolutely false advertising. "Nonsense, it's just as charming on the inside!" she would insist with a wink, earning a groan from Alec over the terrible pun.)
To return to the moment at hand, however—or, more precisely, a few days later. Down in the town, inside the cylindrical wood-panelled building that housed the local police station, Ellie Miller stared in shock at her boss.
"What?" she said dumbly.
"I know it's a disappointment," began Elaine Jenkinson.
"You said it'd wait 'til I got back from leave!" Ellie protested. "You said I was a shoo-in! I gave myself a hideous migraine taking a bloody trans-Atlantic Portkey back from Florida, just so I'd get back sooner than if we'd taken a plane..."
"Lucky your husband's a Healer, then," Elaine reminded her. "The situation changed."
"Christ!" Ellie exclaimed, scowling at the wall for a moment of sheer rage. "Who? Who got it?"
"DI Alec Hardy."
"A man?!" Ellie scoffed. "What happened to, 'The area needs a female DI'? What happened to, 'I've got your backing'?"
"Alec Hardy has a lot of experience," Elaine explained calmly.
"Oh, and I suppose the years of my life that I dedicated to the Main Auror Office count for absolutely nothing outside of London, thanks a lot," Ellie cut in. "Also, why do I know that name?"
"He was in charge of the Sandbrook murders," Elaine said.
Ellie's jaw dropped.
"Are you kidding me? He's not even one of us! Does he know about...?"
Elaine shook her head. Ellie fumed.
"How the hell are we supposed to do our work without the entire station being sanctioned by the Ministry?!"
"The way we do our work whenever we coordinate with the police forces over in Weymouth or Yeovil, or any other Muggle town in the vicinity," shrugged Elaine. "And it's not like we don't use computerised technology to do most of our work already, thanks to all of the regionally coordinated investigations and information-sharing. Take it as part of the seasonal influx of Muggle tourists into Broadchurch, maybe—we'd be lying low and playing things closer to our chests for these next few months, anyway."
"For the next few months," grumbled Ellie, but it wasn't like pointing out the obvious was going to change anything about the decision. She sighed. "Fine. When does he start?"
"Last week," said Elaine.
Ellie glowered for a moment before storming out of the office in a huff.
Across town, Beth Latimer made her way downstairs from her bedroom, into the bustle of the rest of the house.
"Why didn't you wake me?" she asked Mark, on his way out the door for work.
"I did, you told me to piss off," Mark replied.
"I don't remember," Beth frowned.
"Mum, I've got a temperature," Chloe announced, picking at her breakfast.
"You haven't," Beth replied.
"I'm not going," grumbled Chloe.
"If I have to, you have to," Beth snapped, a bit more cross than she'd intended to be.
"Gotta go, I'm late to meet Nige," Mark said, slipping out.
"Have you seen Danny?" Beth asked the remainder of her family, glancing absent-mindedly at the counter. "He forgot his lunch."
"Yeah, well, maybe people who've been accepted to Hogwarts don't need to eat food like the rest of us," Chloe grumbled.
"Chloe," her grandmother scolded, "you can't be bitter because Danny..."
"I'm not bitter," Chloe protested. "But he has been acting like God ever since he got his letter, hasn't he? Just because he's the first person from this town to be accepted in decades, doesn't mean he has the right to be as much of a self-centred arse as he's being."
"Don't call your brother names like that," Beth snapped. "Really, Chlo, can't you just be happy for him? He's too excited to keep it all bottled up."
"I'll say," snorted Chloe. "Every evening, it's, 'Mum, d'you think I'll be a Ravenclaw? Dad, what if I'm a Gryffindor? Chlo, which House d'you think you would've been in, if you'd been accepted to Hogwarts?'"
"You're a fine witch, too, dear," Liz promised soothingly, rubbing her granddaughter's arm. "You've learned everything you need to know to..."
"To spend the rest of my life being mediocre, in a mediocre town, right?" Chloe dropped her spoon into her bowl of cereal and deposited the lot unceremoniously in the sink with a flick of her wand that sent the bowl zooming across the kitchen, milk splattering onto the floor. "I'm going out."
"I thought you had a temperature," Beth reminded her.
"Yeah, well, since I wasn't accepted at Hogwarts, I still have to go learn bloody trigonometry at normal Muggle school, don't I," grumbled Chloe, and she stormed out the door.
You really want another one of these? Beth asked herself as she climbed into her car with a sigh, Danny's lunch clutched in one hand. She'd been sure that another baby was on the way for about two weeks now, but what with the excitement of Danny's Hogwarts letter (and Chloe's resulting surliness), she hadn't told the rest of the family yet. And who could say, maybe a new addition to the family was exactly what she and Mark needed to anchor their relationship, on the days when she felt him drifting from her. With Chloe only a year from finishing school (and hopefully off to uni thereafter), and Danny now headed to Scotland in less than two months, Beth almost had a hard time imagining what she and Mark would have to talk about in the evenings, once the kids were out of the house and off living their own lives elsewhere.
"No Danny?" asked his teacher, when Beth arrived at the school and made her way across the football field, eyes peeled for her boy.
"Oh, I thought he was here," Beth stammered.
"No, we haven't seen him today," his teacher shook her head.
Oh, thought Beth; and now she was properly worried. As if in disconnected clips, she rang Danny (no answer, troublingly), rang Jack Marshall (said Danny hadn't been by to do his paper round), rang Mark (no answer, predictably), shouted to Tom Miller when she saw him pass and asked if he knew where Danny was. Stop panicking, Beth, there's no need to panic, she ordered herself, but the panic was settling in, regardless. For a wild moment, she wondered if she risked casting a Patronus to go look for Danny, out here in the open—but no, even if all of the Muggles in Broadchurch were tacitly aware of the witches and wizards in their midst (often in their own families), she didn't dare do such a thing at the height of tourist season. Besides, with fear gripping her as painfully as it was, Beth wasn't sure she'd have it in her to cast a Patronus, if she tried.
Taking a deep breath or two, she climbed back into her car, drove a few minutes with dread hovering close around her, cursed under her breath impatiently when she ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic on the main road to the coast. Too impatient to wait, she climbed out of her car.
"What's going on?" she asked the woman in the car stalled in front of hers.
"Someone said the police are at the beach," the woman replied. Her next sentence made Beth's heart stop for a moment. "They might have found a body."
Alec's hair was always a bit of a rumpled mess, but the sea breezes made it even more so. He automatically ran a hand through it as he gazed across the sand at the poor boy—dark-haired, delicate-featured, laid out almost too perfectly on the sand—whose body the Coast Guard had rung over to report. Seagulls circled overhead, screaming the same pitch over and over again; and the roll of the waves echoed against the striated ridge of Jurassic Coast cliffs looming over the whole pitiful scene.
"Oh, god, don't do this to me," Alec muttered. This felt just like Sandbrook, all over again. Alec thought suddenly about Daisy, about the fact that this kid looked to be about the same age as his own little girl. Only the hardened professional in Alec kept him from bending over and dry-heaving into the sand.
Come on, Hardy, pull yourself together, he scolded himself, and, after taking a few deep breaths, he began to cast a more objective and emotionless eye over the scene. He glanced up at the cliffs, then back down at the body. Maybe not a murder, but a suicide? It was possible. Alec wasn't sure if that made things better or worse, but perhaps not such a bad thing if he stopped assuming that everyone around him was a potential criminal.
In the midst of these musings, he slowly became aware of a figure approaching from behind.
"Oh, god," choked a voice. "No, no, no..."
"Off the beach," Alec shouted, turning to face the wide-eyed woman who had arrived at the crime scene, the wind buffeting her curls just as mercilessly. "This area's off-limits, as of now."
"No, I'm police," she insisted, shoving her credentials at Alec, her eyes still locked on the body. "Oh, god, I know him. He lives here. He has tea at my house. He's my boy's best friend!" She flinched as a new thought struck her. "Oh, god, Beth. Does Beth know?"
"All right, calm down, DS Miller," Alec insisted. "Shut it off. Be professional. You're working a case now."
When the woman stared at him in disbelief, he held out a hand.
"I know," said Ellie Miller curtly, "you're the Muggle who got my job."
Alec had no idea what a Muggle was, but he assumed it wasn't a compliment. He decided not to worry too much about it as the distraught officer haltingly answered his questions about the dead boy (Danny Latimer, eleven years old, went to school with her boy Tom, dad was the local plumber, wasn't the type to jump from the cliffs). Partway through the conversation, however, the boy's mother appeared and recognised her son's shoes and had to be hauled screaming from the crime scene. His fellow detective, who had seemed on the verge of getting a grip on her emotions, promptly let them slip from her fingers again.
Hell of a first week, Alec sighed internally, feeling unspeakably weary. He glanced again at the boy's trainers, forced himself not to think about whether they were roughly Daisy's size, then insisted that his shaken colleague come with him up the patently hazardous coastal path to the top of the cliffs, where SOCO were at work, analysing the rock fall patterns and the grass.
"No sense of a downward trajectory," confirmed a SOCO.
"Could he have jumped?" Alec asked, since suicide still was top of mind.
"That's unlikely, sir, given where he was found and the trajectory off the cliffs, although, if you take into account..."
The SOCO broke off mid-sentence and exchanged a significant look with Alec's new colleague.
"My guess would be no," replied the SOCO more firmly, looking back at Alec.
"See, not Danny," Ellie Miller added, not quite smugly.
"If you ask me," continued the SOCO, "someone tried to make it look like an accident. I don't think he was up here."
Alec exhaled and reviewed the information he had just been given. The rock fall around the body was likely faked. The angle of the body was wrong because it was too arranged. On cue, the tingling sensation that had haunted him since he had first seen the body on the beach flooded his senses once more. Not a suicide, then. Someone, whether deliberately or not, had snuffed the life out of a young child. A murder. As he'd feared, another Sandbrook.
Alec made a mental note to thank Elaine Jenkinson with every ounce of sarcasm he could muster, once he got back to the station. Then he scribbled the mental note out, because unless Elaine was the murderer, she couldn't have predicted that this would happen only days into his tenure. And Alec frankly couldn't imagine that his old friend had killed a child, even if he knew he couldn't write anyone off as innocent just yet. Not even his fellow police.
Especially, Alec considered, since he was increasingly sure that something funny was happening in this community, something that percolated through even his new police station. He glanced at the Detective Sergeant whose job he had inadvertently taken. Ellie Miller's enormous dark eyes thankfully were no longer glistening with tears, and her bottom lip (formerly wobbling) was now set resolutely. Well, those were good signs, from a professional competence perspective, at least. Still, Alec didn't know what to make of the glance that had passed between her and the SOCO. It smacked of a conspiracy that didn't feel criminal, but certainly made Alec bristle internally. Perhaps the entire town knew something about Danny Latimer that he didn't, as of yet? Something to ask, he supposed, once he had earned the trust of his colleagues a bit more, at least to the extent that they stopped calling him regional insults to his face. Glaring out over the seaside vista, past the investigators scanning the grass on the clifftop, Alec frowned and made another quick mental note to look up what 'Muggle' meant, knowing that he'd probably forget long before he left the beach.
Deep down, Olly Stevens had always known that he wasn't going to get a letter from Hogwarts. So when one never arrived for him, he sighed and simply stopped checking the post every day, closed his curtains against the owl-filled skies every night. It was disappointing, but not surprising; after all, no one had been accepted to Hogwarts from Broadchurch for the past half-century. Besides, as his mum constantly reminded him, he was no Hermione Granger when it came to magic.
(Magical talent mismatches notwithstanding, however, Hermione Granger had been Olly's first serious crush. Never mind that she was nearly a full decade older than he was, nor that she was already married to Ron Weasley by the time Olly was old enough to find girls intriguing rather than repellant. Maggie used to tease Olly about his obvious adoration of the national heroine, back when he was her teenage intern and dropped by The Echo after school almost every day—but nicely, because of course Maggie always had approved of Olly's attraction to intelligent, ambitious women.)
Fortunately for Olly, he wielded a proverbial pen with infinitely more flair than he ever could a wand. Maggie always told him so with considerable pride, even if she also always made it unflinchingly clear when she thought his work was subpar. His professors at uni likewise had said he had real potential, and although they warned him that jobs in the print media industry were harder and harder to come by, they encouraged his ambitions nonetheless, which couldn't be said for all of Olly's peers. Olly knew his strengths and his weaknesses, and while he never imagined that he deserved to go to Hogwarts, he did imagine that he was reasonably competitive in the market for reporting positions at national news outlets.
And perhaps this was why getting the rejections that Olly didn't feel he deserved, always felt so much worse than not getting an acceptance letter that he never expected anyway.
"Bastards," he grumbled, glaring at the three polite paragraphs of dismissal from The Daily Mail.
"Oh, sweetheart," sighed Maggie Radcliffe, a comforting hand on Olly's shoulder as she peered at his computer screen from behind him. "There's plenty of other papers."
"I've tried them all now," lamented Olly. The smugness he had felt moments before, when Maggie had told him that his phone camera photos were good initiative (and, implicitly, as good as what Reg could do with an actual lens when he was at work and sober), was rapidly ebbing away.
"Well, like I've said before, if you ever want me to reach out to Xenophilius," Maggie reminded him, taking a sip of the coffee that he'd picked up for her, en route back from Sports Day at the school.
"Ugh." Olly pulled a face. "I'm not quite that desperate, thanks."
"Look, I won't deny that The Quibbler has its, er, quirks, shall we say. But even if you were too young to remember, it really was the most important news outlets during the War; and, setting aside my personal grudges, that iconic interview with Harry Potter absolutely was an inflection point in broader wizarding society's outlook on..."
"I know, I know," sighed Olly. During his decade or so of working for The Echo on and off, he had been subjected more times than he could count to Maggie's rants about The Prophet's complete wartime abdication of speaking truth to power, and its subsequent diminution to a propaganda machine for the Fudge Government.
Maggie smiled at him sympathetically.
"You're good, petal," she promised him. "Your time will come. Now, look, text from Yvonne. She says the beach is closed off for some reason. Go down, check it out, will you? Get some fresh air."
Normally, Olly would have simply Apparated down to the beach and back, but at the height of tourist season, one never could be sure that a Muggle wouldn't be standing three feet away when a witch or wizard suddenly appeared out of the ether. Instead, anticipating the traffic, he made his way across town briskly by foot, just in time to catch sight of Auntie Ellie walking down from off the coastal path, alongside a tall, lanky, sullen-looking man with rumpled hair and his necktie askew.
"DS Miller!" Olly shouted, and when his aunt ignored him and ushered the other cop along, he added, "Ellie! Auntie Ellie!"
"I told you, don't do that," snapped his aunt, as Olly drew too near to ignore.
"Olly Stevens, Broadchurch Echo," Olly said to the grouchy-looking newcomer, who continued to look unimpressed. "I was down at the other end. Why has the beach been closed? I heard there was a body, has it been ID'ed?"
"There will be a statement, Oliver," growled Auntie Ellie, making it quite clear that the conversation was over.
But Olly was nothing if not persistent. So rather than head back to the newsroom, he texted Maggie that he was going to keep an eye on things for a while longer and then loitered by the end of the beach near the cordoned-off crime scene, checking his phone, casually eyeing any fit tourist girls who wandered by (but only briefly, because Olly was on a mission and couldn't let himself be distracted right now). Olly may not have had much patience when it came to his job applications. But he certainly had enough patience to monitor a situation until a lead finally appeared.
Back at the police station, Ellie heaved a sigh and told herself to get a grip, in spite of how absolutely harrowing the past hour had been. She truly hated that Hardy had been right about just how devastating it would be to tell the Latimers their suspicions, about the utter torment of watching her friends grieve and knowing that there was nothing, nothing, that she could do to make things better. A shiver went down Ellie's spine, and to stave off the intense pain of the personal, she switched into professional mode and began formulaically reviewing the evidence collected from the conversation with the family. Danny was last seen around nine the previous evening by Beth, lying in bed, reading. No abnormal behaviour, no reason to be up on the clifftops in the middle of the night, no signs of forced entry into the Latimers' house that would indicate an abduction. But missed his paper round that morning, according to Jack Marshall. And then there was everything that Mark had said, when he'd insisted on seeing the body of his poor little boy. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you... you're my boy, Danny, and I let you down... I'm so, so sorry. What did it all mean?
Fleetingly, Ellie thought about Hardy's curt instructions to watch the family carefully, about his conviction that no one should be ruled out as a suspect, not even the people who loved Danny most. Then she slapped herself internally. I love you zillions, superstar, Mark had said to his son's body, his voice cracking with emotion. I always will. Mark would never do this, not to any child, and certainly not to his own son. How many times had Ellie seen Mark cheering on Danny as he zoomed around the yard on a broomstick, his face filled with utter delight and pride for his son's aptitude for the magical abilities that he himself lacked? How could she possibly imagine that he loved his Danny any less than she loved either of her own boys?
My new DI is a complete and utter knob, Ellie concluded with a huff. What really did Alec Hardy, who had been in Broadchurch for all of a week, know about anything around here?
Which brought Ellie back to her workplace and a related, pressing issue. When she spotted Elaine heading back into her office after lunch, Ellie knocked on her door.
"Could I have a moment?" she asked, then closed the door behind her as Elaine folded her hands on her desk, ready to listen. "The placement of the body."
Elaine raised an eyebrow.
"Well, when we spoke with SOCO, Brian Young said it was found too far out from the cliffs for Danny to have jumped, that the angle was wrong," Ellie reported. "But Danny... he's always been good at flying, really good. Beats my son Tom in Quidditch nine out of ten times, any given weekend. Seeker build, but he prefers playing Keeper. Or, preferred, at any rate." She faltered at the past tense, then rallied herself with a deep breath. "My point being, even before he'd learned to fly using a broomstick, Danny was one of those kids who'd get picked up by the wind for several seconds at a time. If he jumped, or fell, I think it's very possible that he'd be carried further out across the beach than your average Muggle, or even your average wizard. And Hardy seems nearly positive that we can rule out a suicide, based on the forensics as they've been explained to him, but..."
Her voice trailed off, and Elaine, understanding exactly what Ellie was trying to say, nodded.
"I see your point," she sighed. "All right. I'll talk to him. I think there might be a way to get him off the case voluntarily, so that an all-magical team of investigators can step in and examine all the evidence, without any caginess."
"I'm not asking to be put in charge of things, by the way," added Ellie quickly.
"But you're the obvious candidate." Elaine frowned slightly. "I think you already know that I'm not going to Obliviate Alec and send him away, so if he doesn't voluntarily step down from this case, we'll talk further. If you need to head up a shadow team to examine the magical forensics, we can probably figure something out. All right?"
Ellie nodded and left before she could point out that Elaine, as the Chief Super, technically was well within her rights to just boot Hardy off the case, without any apologies or explanation whatsoever.
But, despite Elaine's best efforts, Alec Hardy did not budge an inch—not at being reminded about Sandbrook, not at being reminded about how the press might make a fuss over his heading up the investigation.
"This happened a stone's throw from your station," he reminded Elaine coolly. "I've met your team, no-one's as qualified as me. Sandbrook doesn't make me vulnerable. It makes me the best man for the job. You wanna stop me, you're welcome to try."
Well, bully for you, but you wouldn't know an Impediment Jinx if it hit you between the eyes, Elaine sighed internally; but, since she had made her decision about not forcing Alec out, there was nothing more that she could do.
"What did Jenkinson want?" Ellie asked Alec, catching up to him along the harbour.
"Jenkinson?" replied Alec, playing dumb.
"The Chief Super," Ellie reminded him sharply. "I saw you walking with her."
"No," grumbled Alec. Good god, did the woman really want his job so badly that she'd outright asked Elaine to sack him?
"I did, you were having 99s!" Ellie insisted. (Or, more accurately, Elaine Jenkinson was having a 99; Alec didn't seem to have taken a single lick of his.)
"Miller," Alec interrupted, before his colleague could say anything that would confirm his worst suspicions about her office manoeuvrings, "your son went to school with Danny. Does he know yet? I'll need to talk to him."
"Tomorrow. I'll tell him tonight," Ellie promised. "Sir, do you mind not calling me 'Miller'?"
"Why?" scowled Alec.
"I don't really like the surname thing. It's very old-school, Hogwarts-style elitist, you know? I prefer 'Ellie'."
"Ellie," mused Alec. "Ellie. No." After a moment, he added, "What does 'Hogwarts-style elitist' mean?"
Shit, thought Ellie, her eyes widening with horror for a second.
"Did I say that aloud?" she laughed nervously, her brain racing to invent some plausible explanation. "Er, rather immature nickname that my friends gave to the levels of snobbery that you'd find at an Oxbridge dining club, after the whole Piggate thing. Sorry, definitely didn't intend to have to explain that to you..."
Alec looked extraordinarily unimpressed. Ellie sighed. Right, well, her boss still didn't know that she was a witch, but he definitely now thought that she was filthy-minded and possibly not entirely trustworthy. Vaguely, she worried that perhaps he was a Tory and now hated her for political reasons; but then she considered that he was Scottish, after all, and thus the odds were in her favour on this count. She'd just have to be on her extra-best behaviour, in the hopes of not alienating the man even further.
But this ambition was forgotten when, after a brief and unenlightening interview with Jack Marshall, the coroner reached out with more information.
"Superficial cuts and bruises to the face," he explained. "Traces of domestic cleaning fluid on the skin. Cause of death was asphyxiation—he was strangled. Bruising to the neck and windpipe and at the top of the spine. The pattern of bruises suggest large hands. I'd suggest male. It would have been brutal. The angle suggests he would have been facing his attacker. He would have known."
"Any sexual violence?" asked Alec, stone-faced.
"The time of death?"
"Er, I'd put it between 10 p.m. Thursday night and 4 a.m. Friday morning." The coroner paused, glanced at Ellie, then cleared his throat. "We don't get these around here. Make sure you find them."
Ellie nodded to the coroner and followed Alec out of the morgue to go update the Latimers on this latest, grim development.
Chloe Latimer had never had a more shit day in her entire life. She really had woken up feeling under the weather, even if she might've exaggerated things a bit in front of her mum, and even if she had been planning to use the excuse to skive off Sports Day and spend time with Dean. But why had she had to be such a prat during breakfast, why had she said so many stupid, stupid things about Danny? Chloe loved her little brother, had loved him ever since she first saw his puckered little newborn face and been told that, at just four years old, she was now a big sister and she had to help her parents look out for Danny. And yeah, of course they'd fought over the years, the way that siblings bicker. But for all the moments of jealousy or resentment or petty fury that Chloe had harboured over the years, there had been so many more moments of laughter and sunshine and pride. And Chloe knew already that she would always hate herself for having spent the last few weeks she ever got with Danny rolling her eyes bitterly at his good fortune.
"But he knew how much I cared about him, didn't he?" she sobbed into Dean's shirt as he held her close. Ellie and her new boss just had come by with the official news that the death was now being treated as a murder, and Chloe, who had spent the entire day prowling from corner to corner of the house like a frightened animal, had slipped out as soon as her parents' backs were turned, desperate to escape from the claustrophobic dimness.
"Yeah," replied Dean gently, pressing his lips to her hair. "Yeah, of course he did. You were his big sister. Of course he knew."
And then he agreed to take Chloe down to the beach, like Chloe had known he would, because Dean was the support she needed in this moment, when her parents were too lost in their own grief to help tether Chloe. She pressed her cheek against the solidness of Dean's back as they rode his motorbike down to the beach, feeling more secure than she had since her mum had first called the entire family back to the house in a panic. Not for the first time, Chloe noted the irony that, despite being a Muggle, her boyfriend was undoubtedly the most magical person she had ever met.
Olly Stevens had been lurking by the cordoned-off section of beach for hours now, sand increasingly working its way into his shoes, his skin beginning to get just a touch blistered from the sun. For at least the tenth time that day, he wondered if it would be worth wandering into town briefly to pick up another coffee for himself (he'd left his back at The Echo), or maybe a pastry of some sort (to tide him over, in lieu of the lunch he hadn't eaten). And then he once again talked himself out of leaving, on the rationale that he might miss something important. But, just as he was turning a longing gaze in the direction of town back towards the crime scene, he spotted Chloe Latimer, accompanied by a young man Olly didn't recognise but with whom Chloe seemed entirely familiar, approached the beach with a little Niffler soft toy and laid it on the sand. Olly's heart pounded as he watched Chloe bow her head, then retreat from the beach with her hand in that of the young man. There really was only one reason that Chloe Latimer would bring a toy down to the beach. Finally, despite Auntie Ellie's complete and utter lack of cooperation, Olly had his lead.
At a service station across town, as Ellie was paying for some snacks that would hopefully restore her rapidly falling blood-sugar levels, her mobile rang.
"Is it Danny Latimer?" asked Olly eagerly.
"I can't talk to you," Ellie snapped.
"I've seen Chloe at the beach. It is, isn't it?"
"This isn't appropriate, Oliver," Ellie insisted, unable to outright lie.
"It is him, oh my god," gasped Olly, sounding equal parts horrified and excited. "The poor kid."
"I did not confirm that!" Ellie nearly shouted over the phone, properly panicked now. "This is not a confirmation."
"No, I understand, Auntie Ellie," Olly responded.
And then he hung up and refused to answer his aunt's subsequent calls so she could give him the scolding he deserved.
"I did not confirm that! You cannot speculate about this incident! Are we clear?" Ellie ranted at Olly's voicemail. "Damn it, Olly, I swear, the next time I see you, I will curse you so many times over that you won't be able to..."
Ellie quickly shut up when she saw Alec watching her from over by the car with his eyebrows raised.
"Look, ring me back, okay? Or I'll ring your mum," she concluded somewhat lamely, then hung up.
Great. So, now her boss thought that she was a highly immature Tory-hater with curse-related superstition levels worthy of a character from an Italian opera. Ellie opened the car door with a sigh. Truly, Jenkinson would owe Ellie a salary raise, after all of this was over.
After fifteen minutes of disgruntled silence—which Ellie assumed was her new boss's preferred state of being—Ellie's phone rang again.
"Why've they released his name?" Beth sobbed over the line.
"What?" asked Ellie.
"Chlo just saw that The Echo had released Danny's name! Why did you tell them who it was, without asking us first?"
"It... we... shit." Ellie bit her lip, panicked. "We didn't tell them, Beth, I promise. But we'll find out who did. This wasn't supposed to happen."
Her eyes were still on the road as she hung up, but she could sense Alec's gaze on her.
"What happened?" he asked as they pulled into the police station's car park.
Ironically, Maggie liked Muggle technology more than pretty much any witch or wizard that Olly had ever met. She was always going on about how absurd it was that the 'Diagon Alley sort' who populated Hogwarts and the Ministry and Hogsmeade and other exclusively magical corners of the country, still relied on owl post and quill pens, when emails and computers existed and made life infinitely easier.
"Typewriters, Olly!" she occasionally ranted. "Even if there's too much magic around for electricity to function properly, imagine all of the hand cramps they could save themselves and those poor students by acquiring a shipment of mechanical typewriters! Or just bloody ballpoint pens, for Merlin's sake—do you know how much flak I used to get at The Prophet for using ballpoint pens, when at least my reports and fingers alike never ended up covered in ink?"
"There are always Quick-Quotes Quills," Olly had offered on more than one occasion, since why even bother with mechanical typewriters when one could just enchant a quill to write everything for you?
"The audio recording device on your phone works even better, and once again, I will not hear another word about those monstrosities in my newsroom, thank you very much," was Maggie's typical response; and while Olly always had wondered if there weren't a way to enchant a quill to act as a faithful stenographer, he had learnt by now which battles were actually worth fighting with his boss.
Today, however, even Maggie's fondness for digital printers was not enough to shield Olly from her wrath.
"Does it ever occur to you to think for just a moment before you do such supremely idiotic things, Oliver?" she shouted at him.
"You're making your computer spark," replied Olly weakly, which was true, although pointing out the extent of Maggie's fury was unlikely to calm her down.
"I will change the official Twitter password, and you will have to earn back the right to post to the official account, inch by groveling inch," Maggie snarled.
"But you don't even know how to use the Twitter account," Olly pointed out. Which also was true, because for all her love of Muggle technology, social media was still a black box to his editor.
"I'll bloody learn," Maggie snapped, "although not nearly as quickly as you'd better learn not to leak sensitive information."
"It wasn't a leak!" Olly protested. "No one ever confirmed it with me! It was an informed guess, and I more or less said so in the tweet, didn't I..."
"Olly? Shut up. I have spent the past fifteen years building an unimpeachable reputation for honest reporting within this community, and so help me, if you manage to tear it all down with one stupid tap of your thumb..." Maggie's hand twitched towards her wand, and Olly took half a step backwards. Maggie's computer finally overloaded from all the latent magical rage ricocheting around the newsroom, and with a loud whir of resignation, it melodramatically died. Maggie glared at it and then took a deep breath in and out, at least facially calmer. "Right. Damage control."
"I'll ring my aunt," Olly promised penitently.
"Oh, you certainly will, petal; but first, you'll apologise to the new cop heading up this investigation."
Fuck, thought Olly, who had his lapses in empathy but was certainly perceptive enough to know after only a few brief seconds of interaction that Alec Hardy hated his guts.
Thankfully, Alec Hardy seemed to understand that if anyone was going to kill Olly over his missteps, it would likely be Maggie herself. Given that Olly had walked into the Traders vaguely concerned that he was about to be arrested, Hardy's one-sentence admonition seemed like a very light punishment, by comparison. Maggie went straight back to her office in a huff, undoubtedly trying to avoid blowing out all the fuses around the newsroom by leaving Olly's presence, which was why Olly was sitting alone by his computer, brooding, when his phone rang.
"Hi, Olly, it's Karen White from The Daily Prophet."
"Oh," replied Olly, dumbstruck. He'd already been rejected from The Prophet, by owl a few months earlier. Had they somehow changed their minds? "Um, hi."
"I saw you broke the story about Danny Latimer. I'm down here after a hotel recommendation."
"Oh, right, okay," said Olly, who suddenly had a thousand other questions about why a Prophet reporter was following Twitter in the first place. "Where are you, at the moment?"
"The beach. I see people have started leaving flowers."
"Well, Danny's sister left one of his toys down there earlier, it must have started it," Olly explained. "Okay, so your best option is the Traders Hotel. It's opposite our offices on the high street. Becca runs it, you tell her you know us, she'll give you a good rate. Muggle, by the way—but, she knows. Takes Sickles and Knuts, as well as sterling and euros."
"Great, thanks," replied Karen. "I'll maybe see you around."
"Yeah, I hope so," said Olly, whose mind was already awhirl with the combination of 'woman with an age-appropriate and attractive-sounding voice' and 'Prophet reporter' and 'staying in town across from my office'. "I mean, that would..."
He stared quizzically at his phone when he realised that Karen had hung up.
"Who're you putting up at the Traders?" Maggie asked suspiciously, appearing behind him.
"No-one," said Olly, a bit too quickly. "A girl. Woman."
"Oh, a woman?" repeated Maggie, and Olly relaxed a bit internally, because if Maggie was back to teasing him, then it meant that she probably wasn't going to hex or sack Olly anytime in the near future. "Remind me to get Steve Connolly back here to fix my computer tomorrow. I'm off to the media briefing at the school."
"Good luck," Olly said automatically, then caught himself. "Not that you..."
"I know," said Maggie dismissively as she headed out the door. (Thankfully, none of the computers that she passed along the way even so much as flickered.)
Joe was attempting to feed a rebellious Fred yoghurt when Ellie arrived back home briefly to shower. She felt utterly drained, from the events of the day, from speaking with Beth down at the beach moments earlier, from the horrible knowledge that life was never going to be the same after all of this. Still, the sight of her family behaving somewhat normally grounded her, just slightly.
"How's the new boss?" asked Joe, and Ellie felt the tears spring to her eyes unbidden. Not only because she'd lost out on the job, which was disappointing enough, but because she had just promised Beth that she'd solve Danny's murder; and how the hell was she supposed to do that when her bloody Muggle of a DI couldn't be told anything, when it was evident that SOCO and the morgue and Ellie herself had to conceal important information, to ensure that the Ministry didn't come crashing down on their heads for improper use of magic in front of a Muggle? They won't let me do his job, Joe, and he's not even letting me do my own, Ellie wanted to scream. Instead, trying to remain as professional as possible about the situation, she sat down in her husband's lap and wrapped her arms around his neck and let him prop her up when she felt like she was going to keel over. And this small margin of relief made Ellie's tears flow all the more readily.
"I saw him lying there, I don't think I can do this," she whispered into Joe's ear.
"You can," he promised her, reassuring. "Need a Cheering Charm?"
Ellie shook her head, then sighed and headed upstairs.
Joe said he hadn't told Tom anything after he got Ellie's text about the murder. But Tom was sitting upright in bed, regardless, his face sombre. Which somehow didn't surprise Ellie, because even if they didn't know what had happened, kids somehow always knew when things were wrong.
"You know Danny wasn't at school today?" she told Tom gently. "Tom, sweetheart... Danny died. I'm so sorry."
"How?" whispered Tom.
"I don't know yet," Ellie said truthfully. "He was found on the beach early this morning."
"Does his mum and dad know?" asked Tom after a moment.
"Yeah." Ellie paused. "So, look, when... when someone dies unexpectedly... it leaves a big hole. And it's all right to be sad or to have a cry, okay?"
"Okay," repeated Tom. He hesitated. "Will you... will the police want to ask me questions?"
"Yeah." Ellie examined her boy. "Is there anything you want to tell me now? Was Danny all right?"
"Yeah," said Tom quietly.
Ellie thought about how incomprehensible the entire day had been to her, and how much more so it must be for her poor son, who had just lost his best friend at such a young age. Tom already had the incorrect idea that, as an eleven year old, he was starting to be quite grown-up. It broke Ellie's heart to see him looking so small and helpless, like the little boy who used to call out for her when he woke up in the middle of the night with bad dreams.
"I think a hug's a good idea," she told Tom, and he didn't protest when she enveloped him in a tight hug. "You know I love you more than anything?"
"More than chocolate?" asked Tom.
"Even more than chocolate," Ellie smiled. "I'll be just downstairs. And don't be embarrassed to have that cry."
Halfway downstairs, though, Ellie realised that chocolate probably actually was just what Tom needed. Old trick to stave off the ill effects of Dementors, according to the grizzled veterans at the Auror Office, and Ellie certainly felt like she'd had all the hope sucked out of her and would never be happy again. She rummaged downstairs in the cupboards of the kitchen until she found a few chocolate bars, then climbed the stairs to give one to Tom, in case it would cheer him up. When she knocked at his bedroom door, she heard a rustling, as if he were putting something away in a hurry, before she pushed the door open.
"Tom? Everything all right?"
Tom's eyes were shiny with tears. Ellie could see the corner of his computer sticking out from under his pillow.
"Look, please don't read about any of that online, okay?" Ellie sighed. "People say all sorts of rubbish that isn't true, and it'll just give you bad dreams. If you just ask me what you want to know, I promise I won't hide things from you, Tom, all right?"
Tom nodded hesitantly, and although Ellie slipped the chocolate bar into his hand and kissed him on the brow before she went to go shower, she didn't notice that Tom's palm was clammy with guilt and fear.
The CCTV from the town centre came in about 20 minutes after Ellie arrived back at the station. She watched as a small figure on a broomstick stealthily slunk along the walls of the high street, heading through town well after midnight. Unmistakably Danny—after all, Ellie had seen him play Quidditch enough times to recognise how Danny flew. So, unless he was under an Imperius Curse, he wasn't abducted. But why had he snuck out in the middle of the night? Where was he going? And who was he meeting?
Moreover, where was his broom?
Elle cursed under her breath and waved her wand under her desk so that the CCTV footage went grainy. She'd have to speak to Jenkinson later about whether it would be at all ethical, in any way, shape, or form, to doctor the footage so that it looked like Danny was doing something Muggle-appropriate, like riding a skateboard.
"Footage is all static, we'll have to ask for a cleaner copy," she lied to Hardy, who had just appeared from his office in a fresh suit. "But here's something worth note. I was checking through the list of belongings recovered from Danny's body and at home, and there's no mobile phone. He definitely had one; he and Tom, my son had the same model, virtually identical."
"Check with the family," Hardy said. "Press conference in ten minutes."
Once Alec had left the station, Ellie put her head into her hands and sighed. She really had always been shit at lying; and the deceit, plus the lingering effects of that damn Portkey back from Florida, plus the fact that her best friend's son had just been murdered, all made Ellie just want to curl up in a ball and wail. But, even if she couldn't share the CCTV footage with Hardy right now, she could still glean something from it, hope to point her unwelcome new boss in the right direction (and think up some plausible explanation for why she should know more than he did, in the interim). Taking a deep breath, she returned to scanning the footage, Hardy's press conference in a smaller window up in one corner of her screen.
"If you or someone you know has any information, has noticed anything unusual, please come forward now," she heard DI Hardy say, for the benefit of viewers scattered across Broadchurch. "I'd urge everyone, don't hide anything. Because we will find out. If a member of your family or a friend or a neighbour has been behaving differently in the past days or weeks, please tell the police immediately. There will be no hiding place for Danny's killer."
Ellie's full attention was on the press conference by this point, and she felt as if Alec Hardy's gaze was boring straight into hers, the world's first Muggle Virtual Legilimens.
"We will catch whoever did this," the DI promised.
And Ellie Miller—one of the handful of people who understood exactly how much was being hidden in the course of this investigation—could only hope that somehow, some way, they would.