A/N: PLEASE READ!
If you've just found this story and have never read anything of mine before, a few quick things:
All my stories are on the same timeline, and they all fit together. I don't want to put people off reading this as new readers (Welcome! Please keep reading! Come and say hi!), but there will be some things in it that will make very little sense without having read at least one or two of the others. Less so at the beginning, but in later chapters, the timeline seriously overlaps with one of my other fics, CHOICES. And the events of Choices are too weird to make sense as a mostly-off-page sub-plot, which is what they are here.
In a way, this is a sequel to Choices, because it will eventually continue where that one ended. In a way, it's a sequel to all the fics that I've written so far, so the way to understand it best is having read them all, but that's not strictly necessary. I'll do my best to fill in plot holes so it all makes sense, whether or not you've read the earlier stuff.
And finally, although they are both listed as main characters, if you're only here looking for Scorpius/Rose romance, I'm afraid you won't find it. There are ships in this story, but that's not one. There are also OCs. I'm quite proud of my OCs, so if you're allergic to the very idea, this probably also isn't the story for you. If you've read my other stories, though, most of them are the same OCs, so you might meet some old friends.
It looked, for all the world, like blue sand in a small, black pouch. Well no, it was blue sand, in all the essentials. But it was also much more than sand. It was the culmination of two years of painstaking work conducted in the hours around a full-time job, which often meant he had worked on it well into the night.
It was the thing all Scorpius Malfoy's ambitions hung on. And this was the test. It would either work, or it would not. They would either see the value in it, or they wouldn't, and he might as well go back to testing magical aids to horticultural decomposition.
He looked up from the pouch. Persis McKay stood beside him, in neat Ministry travel robes, the trim and her badge showing her as both an employee of the Department for Magical Law Enforcement, and a member of the Criminal Investigation Unit. She was cool and business-like as always, her fair fastened back in a neat bun.
He picked up the pouch, and tucked it into the pocket of his robe. He didn't usually bother with robes, but the Ministry staff all had to wear them in one form or another, so he'd felt it would make a good impression. She smiled at him, and he nodded, but couldn't manage to return it. His nerves were getting the better of him, but he mustn't show that.
They were in a hurry, he knew, but she still paused for a moment and looked at him, head tilted to one side.
'You know, we could wait for a different case. If this one's too much. It would be completely understandable.'
He gazed back at her, relieved to find that, despite his anxiety, his mind was quite clear on the matter. He wasn't tempted by her offer to let him basically chicken out.
'The whole point of this is to help solve your cases. The bigger the crime, the more important it is, right? I don't want to wait.'
She smiled again. 'Well, all right. Let's get going then, before the Law Enforcement Patrol mucks the scene up for us.'
For all her calm manner, he thought, as they prepared to Apparate, this must be quite a big deal for her too. She could only be about thirty, and he knew that the task force she'd been assigned, with the mission of developing a better and more efficient crime scene response, was the first she'd headed. And he was her gamble, which, considering she'd only met him a few weeks previously, must be at least a slight concern for her.
They arrived at a grim scene. It was early morning, and the heavy sky and drizzle meant that it hardly felt light. The street, one of the smaller ones not far from Diagon Alley, in the main residential area of Wizarding London, had been cordoned off. A couple of people in bright St Mungo's green, along with a Ministry Medic, stood outside the door, their heads close together as they conferred. There were a number of people from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad around the property, but, more surprisingly, two in the brown uniform of the Auror Department stationed outside the gate.
Scorpius glanced at Persis, who was frowning. Without looking at him, she marched up to the gate.
'What's going on here?' she asked the nearest Auror, a woman perhaps somewhere in her late thirties.
The woman looked at Persis, appearing somewhat taken aback at her sudden appearance.
'Er… This is a crime scene,' she said.
'Yes, I know that,' Persis snapped, jabbing a finger at her badge. 'This is my crime scene. Persis McKay, Criminal Investigation Unit—I'm in charge of this case. What's the Auror Department doing here? This isn't a Dark Arts case.'
The woman looked over at the other Auror, a younger man. For a moment, neither of them replied to Persis, but eventually, the older one looked back at her.
'This case has been connected to an ongoing Auror investigation,' she said.
Scorpius couldn't see Persis's face, as he was standing behind her, but he saw her shoulders stiffen.
'What investigation?' she demanded.
'I'm afraid I can't disclose…' the Auror began, but she was interrupted.
'What's going on, Lindon?' Another woman—also in Auror robes—strode down the path from the house.
By her demeanour, the newcomer seemed to be in charge, and Persis turned to her, and once more explained who she was, and what she was doing there. The woman heard her out, then nodded.
'Well, I'm Natalie Kennet, Senior Auror. And I'm sorry if we seem to have swooped in, but this is quite an important case for us.'
'I don't understand,' Persis said, although she sounded slightly less annoyed. 'These people were murdered using Venomous Tentacula, not the Dark Arts. It's straightforward crime.'
Natalie Kennet hesitated. 'I'm afraid I'd have to get clearance to tell you the situation,' she said. 'But, although you're right about the murder method, it's not quite as straightforward as that.'
Scorpius could feel his chance melting away from him. At this rate, they were not even going to be allowed inside. He stepped forwards, and spoke in a low voice to Persis.
'Look. If we're going to do this, we have to be quick. I may only have a narrow window.'
Auror Kennet looked at him.
'And you are?'
Scorpius felt that she probably knew more or less who he was, because most people seemed to; he looked like a Malfoy, and people mostly recognised his appearance. His sister was the only one of them who usually passed unnoticed, by dint of looking more like their mother.
'This is Scorpius Malfoy,' Persis said. 'He's from the Magical Research Association, and he's brought state-of-the-art new crime scene equipment that we're testing. But if this is now an Auror investigation…'
The description was pushing the boundaries of accuracy. Scorpius did work for the Magical Research Association, but most of his real experimentation, including this, had nothing to do with his paid work. And 'state-of-the-art' really depended on whether he could make the thing work. But Kennet looked at him with a spark of new interest.
'What kind of equipment?' she asked.
Scorpius produced the pouch, and Kennet gazed suspiciously at it. Feeling time flowing away, he sighed, and opened it, so that she could see the blue powder.
'And the purpose of this is?' Kennet asked.
'Well, um, the idea is…' he began, stumbling over his words. In his mind, he heard Calypso Zabini's voice saying, don't sell yourself short! He straightened his shoulders. 'You spread it in a ring, and activate it, and it gathers impressions of recent activity within the ring. It's then possible to recreate those impressions, and, with a bit of work on them, produce a picture of what happened in the area, a bit like a less clear version of memories in a Pensieve. But the more time between the events and the gathering of the impressions, the less clear it is. So if you want me to demonstrate it, I need to do it as soon as possible.'
His confidence had grown as he spoke, and he delivered his last lines with a direct gaze at Auror Kennet. He knew that his invention worked. He had tested it himself, just never in front of strangers and Ministry officials, apart from Persis McKay, and she was only one person.
Kennet frowned, and looked at Persis.
'This thing works?'
'Apparently,' Persis said. 'I've seen it working in controlled conditions, and I got permission to try it. At the moment, Mr Malfoy is the only person with the expertise to use it. It's experimental, of course, but…'
Kennet appeared to make up her mind. She nodded.
'Very well. Just be aware, I can't share many details of our wider mission. But if this… equipment works, it could be very useful. Come with me.'
If Persis was irritated to have authority snatched away from her, she didn't show it. She gave Scorpius a small nod, and they both followed Kennet up to the house. His nerves were returning. Even more seemed to hang on this than before. An Auror investigation. If he failed, it would not only be mortifying, it might destroy his credibility when presenting any future projects.
Plus, three people had died, and they deserved to have their killer caught.
They came into the living room of a house that looked bizarrely ordinary. It was a bit devoid of personalisation, as if it hadn't been lived in very long, or the inhabitants had only been there temporarily, but there was nothing odd or out of place. The furniture looked good quality—armchairs, a coffee table, a fireplace that, from the ashes in it, looked recently used. A bland picture of a field and trees hung on the wall, the leaves moving as if in a breeze.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs as they entered, and another figure descended, one Scorpius knew all too well, and his heart sank a little. The grey-blue trim, rather than gold, of her Auror uniform marked her as a trainee. She was tall, with her red hair shaved on side—he didn't remember that hairstyle from school, but it had probably been against school uniform codes. He did remember the purple stud in her eyebrow, because had caused a bit of a stir about uniform codes itself, although she'd been allowed to keep it in the end.
'We've collected up all that gear from the back room, Ma'am,' she was saying as she entered, before she caught sight of Persis and Scorpius and stopped short. For a moment, she looked startled. 'Oh. Hey, Persis.' Her eyes travelled on. 'Malfoy.'
'Hello, Weasley,' he said resignedly.
He shouldn't even be surprised that Rose Weasley was on first name terms with Persis. There were so many Weasleys, they had connections with everyone.
'Rose,' Auror Kennet said briskly, 'Ms McKay and Mr Malfoy are going to conduct some investigation at the scene. Nobody's moved anything yet, have they?'
'Nobody's touched anything in there since we got here.' Weasley said, casting an openly curious look at Scorpius. 'The Law Enforcement Squad had already been in and killed the plant before that, though.'
'That shouldn't matter,' Scorpius put in. 'We can go back before that. It starts getting confusing if there's been too much irrelevant activity in the area, but so long as we know what was done, it ought to be okay.'
'Good. Mr Malfoy, do you need me to clear the room? Or are you happy to have an audience?'
Scorpius hesitated. He'd have liked to say he needed complete solitude, but it wasn't really true, so long as there weren't so many distractions he couldn't concentrate. And he knew that Persis fully intended to be there.
'Well, I mean, it'll be easier if there's not a crowd. But a few people are okay,' he said in the end.
She nodded. 'Well, that's good, because I'd like to observe this myself, if you don't mind? And it might be a good thing for Rose to see.'
Scorpius's heart sank further. He knew that the Auror wasn't really deliberately trying to humiliate him, but it almost felt like it. Well, he just had to get it right and succeed, that was all. He nodded, not daring to let himself speak, although he cast a glance at Persis, and caught a flash of something like grim amusement in her eyes.
'Lead the way, Rose,' Kennet said.
Scorpius found himself following Rose Weasley up the stairs, with Kennet and Persis behind him. The pouch was still in his hand, and his palms were damp with sweat. Weasley turned her head as they reached the top, her face unsmiling.
'Ever seen a dead body before, Malfoy?'
He stared at her, pausing for a moment. Because the truthful answer was no, and, now that it came to it, he wasn't sure he was going to be able to deal with it, but he didn't want to admit that to Weasley.
She met his eyes for a moment, then turned away again and continued up the hallway.
'Well, neither had I, before today,' she threw back, without looking around again.
He wasn't sure whether it was meant to make him feel better, or to challenge him.
The scene of the crime was a mess, and bile rose up in Scorpius's throat as he looked at it. The three people had been poisoned by the Tentacula, their bodies discoloured and distorted, faces twisted in pain. Tentacles were wrapped around their limbs, and there was blood where the plant had bitten them. The Tentacula itself also lay dead upon the floor in a spiky mass, hacked-off chunks oozing liquid here and there.
Persis, beside him, swore quietly.
'Their hands and legs are tied, as you see,' Kennet said, her voice impassive.
'Yes, so my report said,' Persis said. 'The landlord of the place found them, and called us in.'
'The Law Enforcement Squad had already taken him into custody when we got here,' Kennet said. 'So your lot have got him. We'll need to talk to him, though. And I'd like to have a look at that report, if I can.'
'I'll get on with it, will I?' Scorpius asked, not wanting to be in that room longer than he had to be.
He worked quickly, trying not to look at the dead people in the middle of the room. It was hard to make a complete line of powder around the whole scene, and impossible to make it a circle, but the shape didn't really matter, so long as there were no breaks in it. That done, he positioned himself carefully outside the ring, and began to mutter the incantations. In his concentration, he almost forgot his audience. The powder from his ring began to rise, blending together to make a circular curtain of pale blue smoke, in which shadowy figures moved.
Scorpius stepped back, relief flooding him. It was working. At least, this part was. It was like watching mist swirl—impossible to make any sense or picture of. His three companions peered into it, as if trying to see, but Scorpius didn't bother. It was later that it would come clear, and he would know if there was anything to see.
'That's it done,' he said at last, as the air began to clear, and the powder to settle back down to where he had placed it. 'It can only take impressions of the most recent activity. Too far back, and it just fades out.'
'Was it far enough?' Weasley asked.
'I can't tell, but it should have been. It only happened a few hours ago, didn't it?'
Nobody answered this question, although he waited a moment. Clearly, he wasn't meant to ask questions, although, given that he was the one who was going to be interpreting this evidence—if there was any evidence to interpret—and he had already signed confidentiality agreements, he didn't know what good keeping him in the dark was meant to do. However, he wasn't sure how much he wanted to know. He turned with a small shrug, and, with a wave of his wand, gathered the powder back into its bag.
They left the room together, quietly closing the door behind them.
'And now what?' Auror Kennet asked Scorpius, when they were all back in the hallway.
'Now I have to try to create a reconstruction of what happened,' Scorpius said. 'I've got a space set up for it back at the Department for Law Enforcement. Might take the rest of the day, or even a bit longer.'
Kennet glanced from him to Persis.
'We're going to need the results of this,' she said. 'I mean, if this really does what you says it does, this could be a crucial development.'
Scorpius's gaze also flicked to Persis. Her face hadn't moved, but there was a certain grim resignation in her eyes. Of course, the Auror Department did need his results. Solving this crime was the most important thing. But at the same time, it had been Persis who had taken the gamble and championed his cause. Given him a chance, where other people had dismissed his ideas as flashy gimmicks, more suitable for a toy shop than for Ministry work. And now she and her task force weren't going to get a look in.
'My contract's with the Criminal Investigation Unit,' he pointed out. 'I'm not a Ministry employee, but they're the ones who put up the money for me to finish this thing. I've been working on their behalf.'
Kennet stared at him, her eyes narrowing.
'The Auror Department is in charge of this investigation, Mr Malfoy. That decision has come from the top. Any evidence related to this case will have to be handed over, as Ms McKay will tell you.'
'Of course it will,' Persis said, still expressionless. 'We'll naturally co-operate in any way we can.'
Scorpius took a deep breath. He much preferred to keep his head down—he'd been doing it all his life. But he'd put himself out there on this occasion, and he'd promised himself that he wouldn't give in or back down this time.
'Or,' he said, as reasonably as he possibly could, 'you could work directly with the CIU, and the cutting edge methods they've been developing. Take Persis on the case, and you'll get the results direct. No delay, and no paperwork over transfers or whatever.'
For a moment, Kennet said nothing. He'd annoyed her, for sure. He shouldn't have said anything. Who the hell was he to start telling a Senior Auror how to manage her cases?
Then she smiled.
'Well, Mr Malfoy, that's not my call to make—at least not alone. But I don't see any real reason why it shouldn't be possible, and I'll certainly suggest it. If Ms McKay is open to collaboration.'
A smile hovered on Persis's face. She looked amused, but also, Scorpius thought, somewhat pleased.
'I'll have to suggest it up the chain too,' she said. 'But I'd like to be involved, if I can.'
Kennet hesitated for a moment, then said, 'Well, I can't tell you anything about our wider context without permission, but, considering that you came here ready to work on the case, I personally would appreciate anything you can tell us about it, and any insights you've got, Ms McKay. If you're able to stay.'
'I am, and I'd be glad to,' Persis said. She caught Scorpius's eye, and gave him a small smile. 'Are you all right to head back without me? You know what you're doing.' She took a small, white, metal token from her pocket. 'This'll get you back into the Ministry and the department. It'll also get you access to my account in the canteen. Get yourself some food and a coffee—you've earned it.'
It wasn't quite a thank you, but he understood, and smiled back.
'Rose, I want you to head back as well,' Kennet said, then went on, as Weasley opened her mouth in protest. 'No, I mean it. You've been here for hours. Go and take a break, then report back to the department.'
And so Scorpius found himself returning to the Ministry with Rose Weasley. His legs were a little shaky as they got there, and the image of what he'd seen in that room, the three people who had died so horribly, kept replaying in his mind. Even Weasley looked a little strained, as she turned towards him in the Ministry entrance hall.
'That was nice of you,' she said.
He stared at her, taken by surprise. He and Weasley had never really spoken, except the odd sarcastic comment exchanged in the classroom. She didn't like him, he knew that much, and he'd never been her biggest fan either. What was she even talking about? What had been nice of him?
'Pushing for Persis to be on the case,' she said, with a touch of impatience.
'Oh! Oh, well.' He shrugged. 'She's been helping me out.' He looked curiously at her. 'How do you know her?'
'Persis? I don't know her that well. Only a bit, through Teddy.'
He still had no idea what she was talking about, and she must have been able to see it on his face.
'Teddy Lupin. You know, your cousin? She's one of Teddy's best friends from Hogwarts. I assumed she'd have mentioned it, if you've been working together.'
'No. I didn't know.' It had never come up. There had never been a reason for it to come up; they'd only talked about work things. And it wasn't as though he really knew Teddy. They'd only met once, and that was when Scorpius had been little.
'Well,' Weasley went on, 'I think we're probably heading for the same place. So are you coming to get coffee? It's actually pretty decent in the canteen.'
Today was setting up to be one of the weirdest he'd ever had. First dead bodies, and now being invited for coffee by Rose Weasley—in a way that was almost friendly, something he hadn't really known Weasley was capable of. If he was completely honest with himself, he'd been intimidated by her when they were at school, and it was hard to throw that off entirely. Then again, they were adults now. And he was quite good friends with one or two of her cousins.
He nodded, trying to look as if this was all completely normal, although he'd probably left too long a pause for that to be very successful.
'Yeah, sure. Let's go.'
It was clearly tea-break time at the Ministry, because the canteen was full of people. They had to queue for coffee, and Scorpius was tempted by the large array of different cakes and pastries on offer, but felt too awkward to pick one up, since he was on Persis's tab. Of course, he'd done her a favour, and she had said get food, but still. Weasley had no such worries, and helped herself to something that called itself a pumpkin, walnut and nasturtium breakfast muffin.
As they pushed out of the crowds at the counter, Scorpius caught sight of a tall figure with a familiar mess of sand-coloured curls just joining the queue.
'Hey!' he called, vastly relieved. 'Danny!' Now he wouldn't have to sit alone with Weasley.
Dannicus Urquhart, one of Scorpius's closest friends from Hogwarts, turned, and his face lit up with a grin.
'Hey, Scorp! What are you doing here?' He left the queue and stepped towards them, then his eyes fell on Weasley, and his face changed.
In all the years they'd been friends, the only other time Scorpius could remember seeing Danny look so discomfited had been the day James Potter had spiked all the Slytherin goblets with Veritaserum. For a moment, his face was a mask of surprise, then he turned a shade of dark pink, an expression of total dismay on his face.
Completely confused, Scorpius stared at him.
'Er, I came for a work thing,' he said, looking from Danny to Weasley for an explanation for Danny's bizarre behaviour.
She was looking at Danny, and although her face didn't give as much away, her pale skin had gone several shades redder, and she seemed to have frozen. If anything, that was weirder. He had never seen Rose Weasley anything other than in total control.
'Er…' he said, somewhat lost for words.
'Morning, Urquhart.' Weasley, predictably, recovered first, although she wasn't exactly looking at Danny as she spoke to him.
'Um… hey.' Danny sounded as if he was recovering from an extended Sonorus spell.
Weasley turned to Scorpius, and she'd resumed her usual colour.
'Well, I'm going to take these up to the office with me, and check in. They'll probably be waiting for my report. See you around.'
And with that, she was gone, her distinctive figure pushing through the milling people. For a moment, Scorpius stared after her, clutching his mug of coffee. Then he turned back to Dannicus. His friend had gone even more darkly red, and wasn't meeting his eyes.
'Okay,' Scorpius said, recovering his breath. 'What the hell was that?'
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