The pipe smoke drifted lazily across the meticulously tidy chamber, summer clouds floating across a starless night sky. Witchlights occupied the four corners of the ceiling, gently glowing white the colour of crescent moons. Lavish crimson and gold fibre adorned richly polished mahogany surfaces of walls and softly carpeted floor, an intricately designed and decorated office more suited to Kings than an Office Head, even one of the Ministry of Magic. The scene would have been the perfect image of elite sophistication, if not for the figure slumped forward in the one of the guest sofas.
Sebastian Travers jolted upright, wand half pulled before he could register his surrounding and paused.
"You are spilling ash on my carpet." William Johansson Black, the Head of the Auror Office, had more than the usual hint of annoyance in his tone, in fact, his words were dripping disdain and disapproval. The embodiment of the very concept of English gentleman, William's meticulous attire of richly black high-collared shirt, velvet waist-coat and breeches was spotless and impeccable, quite likely achieved through magical means. His manners were delicate and precise, just as his voice was a crisp and richly resonant high-class accent.
"Apologies. I'll remember to smoke something more expensive next time I'm in your office."
Sebastian Travers, however, was the complete opposite. Under the brown long coat he never bothered to remove and carelessly slept on, the waist-coat was missing, and his shirt had its collar skewed and top buttons undone. His hair was an unruly mess, and he stank faintly of cheap tobacco, the very same type that was still tracing smoke from the pipe he was holding loosely in his left hand. His accent held undeniable Scandinavian characteristics, rough and half grumbling.
William Black waved his hand, and the carpeting below Sebastian's feet parted to reveal a mouth with an ashen tongue, which it used to promptly swept the ash down the darkened hole before disappearing, leaving behind perfectly clean fibre. Up on the wall, the framed painting of the previous Auror Office Head glowered into Sebastian's back.
"At least I'm not late."
"Not for a lack of trying. I know exactly..."
"Spare me your lectures this time, Black. I'm here, am I not?"
"Only because you never left the building."
The swift exchange was interrupted by a sharp keening coming from the carved wolf head above the entrance, announcing a guest's arrival. William removed his pocketwatch and clicked his tongue.
"Just on time, punctual as ever." He snapped his fingers once and the heavy wooden door swung open.
“My father invites you for tea tomorrow, Black,” Adelaide wasted no time in passing on the message sir Rosier had given her before departing. Adjusting her glove a little more the brunette paid no form of acknowledgement to either of the men, knowing full well what company she was stepping into. “He wishes to discuss an amendment in your new anti-muggle proposal,” she spoke, finally giving William Black a full look in the eyes.
Maintaining an aloof and even condescending air the female then turned towards the other, scowling a little at his appearance before parking it in the back of her mind. There was a roughness about him unlike the gentlemen she usually had to deal with. It was of no matter, however. As long as he wasn’t to hold her back on this mission, or worse; a whiner.
Besides, she had no usual appearance either, dressed in trousers underneath her dress coat not too coincidentally the only feminine piece she wore that night.
“I suppose that shall do,” she continued after a few moments and turned around. “I already got the details from Truman.” Waving a file the female cast a meaningful look over her shoulder.
The Black and the Rosier had been at war for ages, nicking information from underneath their noses through secretaries or ordering around one another for the other. It was a volatile relationship, which was a reason for many of the tensions within the Ministry, but one that only expressed itself in a cold war of petty actions. Pushing and pulling at each other’s boundaries the dance between the two pureblood families never quite allowed them to show any sort of mutual respect to one another. And so it was the same tonight.
“Pardon, I meant secretary Nott, of course,” she chirped, not feeling all that sorry at all before turning to what she assumed as to be her new partner. Relishing the scathing look Black burned into the back of her head.
“Adelaide Rosier,” she finally introduced herself, merely giving him a curtsy of her head before turning around once more to leave. “I shall fill you in on our way out. Goodnight Black,” and before allowing anyone else to tell her opposite the female already strode out of the office, the sound of her boots heavy in the empty hallways of the Ministry.
The two men watched her go, Black half scowling and Travers amusedly unimpressed.
"Delightful." mused Sebastian.
"Get out of my office."
They locked eyes for only a moment, and William Black's narrowing gaze clashed against Sebastian Travers' raised eyebrow.
Silently, one slowly rose and exited the blood-red lavish chamber with the other's stare boring into his back.
A thick mist hung over the muddy broken cobbled street of London, like the cloud of fear and despair of its people manifested. The night was dark and moonless, the saturated suffocatingly humid air mingled with wet wood chimney smoke smelt faintly of human waste and putrid fish half salted. The mist devoured it all, the glow of street lamps, faint near ethereal candle light from cloth-covered windows, and the clicking of two dark figures' boots on the deserted street into Whitechapel.
Sebastian's pipe burned unnaturally bright in the smothering blanket surrounding them, its smoke a flashing silver that sizzled and sparked in the dampness, as if he was breathing fire. His top hat was skewed to one side barely hanging on, and he hadn't bothered to button his shirt or coat despite the frigid curtain of mist they were wading through.
They walked in near complete silence except for the muffled wet splashing of boots on mud and the crackling of Sebastian's pipe smoke. The Witch, Auror Adelaide, was not quite what he had expected, but he had seen her type before. She held herself with the confidence and focused intensity of someone with something to prove. Everything about her was a façade carefully designed to project an image of power, from the way she dressed to her attitude and the way she radiated disdain. She decidedly disapproved of his very presence, but it was beneath her to show it. Yes, he had seen purebloods like her before.
Whitechapel stank of paralyzing terror and hopelessness. Dread hung in the air like a palpable weight, present in the lifeless streets of half crumbling whorehouses and depthless narrow alleys that seemed to swallow the very possibility of daylight. Muggles were afraid, as they often did. That on its own would be a potent enough component for more than a dozen rituals he could recall. Perhaps the Ministry had been right after all. There were more efficient methods of cultivating fear to power a something, but if a Warlock was in a hurry and had no care for Muggle lives...
The sound of boots abruptly ceased, the enveloping mist devouring their echo. Shadows seemed to dance and lap like waves at the mouth of the alley, absorbing the dim muddled glow of the single street lamp struggling to fight back the darkness of Whitechapel. Deep inside, past the veil of gloom and crooked deserted doorways, a hint of crimson burned in the inky black.
She never heard the name of her companion, but Adelaide had caught whiffs and whispers of his person. Travers, she recalled his family name to be. Pureblood like she, but not bred with the fine English manners the island was so known for. The auror wouldn’t have known this without the secretary, looking at the drab 'Travers' wore for clothes. Rumours had it that he was a lapdog of Black, a way to keep an eye on the youngest scion of Rosier. A shame, for his name alone held too much potential to be kissing heels. However, if true wholly unsurprising and a good reason to practice caution.
Scrunching up her nose Adelaide held her head a little higher as they neared Whitechapel. The neighbourhood demanded no respect from her, wasted and overcrowded, representing every muggle failing in one concentrated place. The stench of sweat, smoke and the public sewers were so strong that she was sure the smells would stick to her clothes for ages on end. Already feeling dirty by the heavy air surrounding them the pureblood continued to stride forward, catching glimpses of the muggles that followed their every step. To that she clicked her tongue. Pathetic.
However disgusted she may be, Adelaide knew that she had a job to focus on, which was not the role of a noble lady. It never had been and for that she had been grateful.
“Here,” swerving to the left Adelaide entered a hidden alley where the crime scene had happened. A narrow path followed, barely wide enough for two to pass each other sideways, leading to a dead end. The auror couldn’t help but hum a little at the impressiveness of the murder executed. The detail and preciseness of the execution that had been reported wouldn’t give her the impression that it had happened in this narrow space. Though, it confirmed her suspicions all the more.
“Capacious extremis,” she mumbled, waving her wand once she was deep enough to be out of view from the unwitting. Slowly the alley expanded itself, making it easier for the duo to fit. Turning around with swing, something she wasn’t able to do before Adelaide folded her arms behind her back, staring straight at her new partner.
“Any first observations?” her voice haughty and aloof was testing the other. She had commanded rather than asked, as if she was a teacher speaking to a student whom she though incompetent. Now that she was comfortable with the space allowed Adelaide certainly felt herself to be in the position to do so.
He did not like her tone, but pushed forward all the same. The quicker he finish the work he earlier he could escape her condescension.
Slowly, Sebastian circled the scene, careful to avoid visible splatters, even heavily disturbed by the Muggles as they were. "Precise, meticulous. She died slowly, blood had time to pool. Minimal sign of struggle. Perhaps opiated, or bound? She was carried..." He motioned from the mouth of the alley to their feet, "...manually, carriage marks out there are too fresh. Fortunate they used only one, most likely the mortuary's."
From his coat's inner pocket he withdrew his wand, a long, crooked, gnarly thing that looked more like a branch than something manmade. His eyes scanned the ground, walls and doorways, searching for abnormalities. Nothing immediately presented itself.
"Specialis revelio." He incanted repeatedly in his mind, tracing the wand close to the ground over the pools of blood, through the air and adjacent walls. It was a crude spell, tactless, but he had always been more of a hammer than a scalpel. The wand tip flared lightly in the gloom, a dim glow barely visible even in near total darkness. His pipe fizzled and cracked, the sound magnified tenfold by the empty space.
"No obvious residue. Either a Muggle, quite likely, or a Wizard skilled at concealment, doubtful that one of such ability would deign to dirty their hands with manual dirty work like this one." Smoke escaped his lips with each word, pipe held loosely in his other hand burning silver. Kneeling before the largest bloodstain, Sebastian's nose wrinkled at the foul stench of emptied bowel and fear. His gaze narrowed and focused on the blood itself.
"There was...far too much blood." His voice carried a note of doubt as his eyes tracked the splatter radius and examined their colour. "Yes, far more blood than a body contains. All of these stains are too heavy, too deep. And..." Dipping a fingertip lightly on a crimson patch, he quizzically rubbed it against his thumb, "...they are still fresh. Even after one and a half day. Only partly dried."
"Peculiar." Mused Sebastian. "Perhaps an enchanted weapon? Or the result of alchemy or potion?" Absentmindedly he rubbed his forehead against an already rising headache.
"The victim could just have a rare natural Muggle disease." He said it like a question, more wishful than solemn.
A scoff escaped her, soft like a chuckle as she listened to the list of observations. Impressive, Adelaide had to be impressed. Sebastian didn’t fumble nor seemed to care for her good opinion. That alone made him all the more favourable to the female personally. Only personally, however.
Counting the stones stained with blood Adelaide found some sense in his words. The circumstances were out of the ordinary, even in terms of wizarding.
“Nice observation,” she finally spoke, thinking that a compliment was due. Though, Adelaide wouldn’t be Adelaide if she didn’t prepare herself to ruin it instantly as well.
“The alley is too narrow, however,” she nodded her head towards the walls, waving her wand around to remind her new partner that she had just enlarged the passage. The cold bricks suddenly rushed towards each other, like magnets being pulled together. Adelaide took a few quick steps away from her partner to prevent them from being squashed. All just to prove her point.
“The victim was a muggle.” Deciding that she had made her point across Adelaide waved her wand once more to command the walls to rush away from her. “A prostitute, to be exact. Nothing too respectable and riddled with diseases,” Adelaide rolled the wood around in her hands, her eyes boring into its details as if she could read the whole casefile from it. Nothing was less true, however. She had simply memorised the casefile.
“Organs from the lower abdomen stolen; her reproductive organs,” she continued to speak, moving towards the stains that Sebastian had touched earlier. The blood, he had mentioned. Eyes scanning over the bloodstains that her partner had recalled to the place Adelaide wondered why that is.
“My theory is someone from our world. Mudblood organs sell on the black markets,” Adelaide didn’t bother to censor herself as she used the insult. Unflinchingly she continued to pull off her gloves before hovering over the stones of the crime scene. “My guess is that they tried a preservation spell,” she mused a little hesitant to touch anything, but knowing that in her line of work it was impossible to go home without a grime.
"Easy target, most likely. Plenty to pick from, limited risk. And very, very low chance of drawing the Ministry's attention." It was true. They wouldn't have been there had it not been for a chanced Divination by one of the more influential Seer within the unified Black faction. The circumstance surrounding said divination was peculiar, he had heard, destructive and violent. The details were quickly suppressed, the investigation discreetly passed by the Head Auror's desk only to be assigned to a few cast-aways as mere formality.
In truth, death and torment of the Non-magics at the hand of the more impulsive wizards and witches were more common than the Ministry cared to admit, a half-open secret. It was rare for an investigation to be formed at all, let alone by Aurors. Sebastian's messy charade in William Black's office was no thoughtless abandonment but a subtle taunt and misdirection. Still, his luck wasn't good and the Head Auror's lips stayed carefully sealed.
Sebastian was lost. He didn't know why he was there, what he was looking for, or if there was even something to find at all. Absently he twirled his wand around his fingers, letting it dance through the air in blurry sparking patterns. His pipe sizzled once and dimmed, the tobacco running out.
He was about to say something when their surrounding darkened, and he looked to the mouth of the alley. A figure blocked out the barely visible street lamp, their face hidden in the shadow. They hadn't noticed the pair a way off, still trying to peer into the gloom.
"Hey!" Sebastian yelled. The figure jolted in startlement and darted away. In a moment Sebastian was off after it.
“Wait, don’t-” but Sebastian already disappeared after the figure, leaving Adelaide alone at the summoned crime scene and the enlarged alley.
On instinct Adelaide would have ran after her partner, but while often impulsive Adelaide wasn’t one to react to physical impulses. There was no chance in catching up with the men. Besides, there was this whole enchanted area that would be inexplicable to the muggles when found.
With a sigh the female waved her wand, mumbling a “Finite incantatem,” to return the alley into its regular state. The past remained, after all, even as the stones soaked up the blood without a trace. The bricks moved, shoving in and out of each other as the walls zoomed in on her, watching the witch in an eerie silence. Traces of magic could be felt, but in a muggle neighbourhood that meant nothing.
Adelaide checked to make sure no one had seen her before stepping out of the alley, fastening the clasp of her glove. The streets seemed strangely abandoned, but the pureblood blamed it to the late hour. Very few fine folk would find themselves outside, still. Especially with these murders around. It all came very convenient for her. Perhaps even too convenient.
“Lumos,” she whispered, raising up her wand. A bright light sprang from the tip of her wand flowing gently into the darkness to spread it apart. However, Adelaide found that she still couldn’t see much farther than she could moments before. As if she hadn’t summoned a source of light.
Pulling out a watch from her pocket the female hovered with her wand over it’s surface squinting slightly to see the hands wildly twisting between ‘Danger’ and ‘Safe’. “Must be broke,” she mumbled but an eerie feeling crept up on her.
Too much was happening at once. The mist didn’t seem all that thick, yet it repelled the light from her lumos. Then her watch… Something was interfering with the investigation, or at least trying to. Something magical, Adelaide decided and she took a few steps into the darkness, flicking her wand forward twice:
A blinding flash flew from her wand into the darkness, flinging itself through the streets and illuminating everywhere it passed. Gliding past the empty and lifeless windows wasn’t even what bothered her the most. It was the scream that followed. Covering her ears the female fell to the ground as she felt something rush over her head, a cold breeze blowing through her before the streets settled down once more, continuing its existence as if nothing had ever happened.