The Sugar Quill
Author: PirateQueen (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Bookseller's Daughter  Chapter: Chapter Three: The Shield
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Chapter Three: The Shield

After two large tumblers of Ogden's Old Firewhisky, Liz finally stopped shaking.

A sad-faced Mrs. Everett looked down at the stark white card lying on the pine table, then turned to her daughter. "Is it true? Did you kill someone?"

Liz looked away, ashamed. "Yes, I did."

Mrs. Everett blanched. "But you Aurors are allowed to, aren't you? By law?"

"Theoretically. But no-one has, not for years now. Not since Crouch left the Department."

"But if you were in danger, wouldn't it be permissible? Self-defence? You did have some nasty injuries when you came home, love." Mrs. Everett's desperate search for justification almost broke Liz's heart.

"It wasn't like that." Liz stared down at her hands, and wondered how to begin. The barest details would suffice, but they would still be enough to horrify her mother. "I was involved in an undercover operation that went wrong. The person we were after murdered one of my contacts - Rosa - and then attacked me. I injured him, but he managed to get away. I chased him, and finally cornered him down a back street off Knockturn Alley." She paused, tasting bile as she struggled for words. "I could have arrested him. He was badly hurt, it would have been easy. But … I killed him, Mum. I turned on him and used the Unforgivable Curse."

Mrs. Everett, eyes wide with shock, stared silently at Liz for what seemed like an agonising eternity. Eventually, she spoke. "And someone else knows what you did."

White-faced, Liz nodded. "After I'd done it, I heard a noise behind me, and I suddenly felt like I wasn't alone. I couldn't see anyone, but there are any number of charms they could have used to hide themselves. I was bleeding badly and in a lot of pain, not really thinking straight, so I didn't investigate properly. I just Apparated back to the office and went straight to my boss. He sent me to St. Mungo's and said he'd go back and deal with the scene. He came to the hospital later and told me that there had been no sign of either body, Rosa or the man … nothing. Somebody had got rid of them."

"Is that the reason you came home?"

"St. Mungo's discharged me after a few days. Kingsley - my boss - told me to take a couple of weeks off. He'd told everyone the suspect had given me a beating and escaped."

"You've been here longer than two weeks." Mrs. Everett's voice was quietly firm. "Don't you think you should go back to work? Especially if someone's trying to frighten you. Your boss might be able to help."

Liz sighed. "I've been avoiding it as long as I can. Kingsley sent me a note to ask when I might be coming back, but I told him I still wasn't well." She paused. "I have been thinking that it was time to face things." She glanced over at the card on the table. "And now it really is."

Mrs. Everett's face set hard. "Do you know who might have sent it?"

"No, but it must be someone involved with the case. We'd been investigating a series of murders. Mostly women from the … the north end of Knockturn Alley."

"Prostitutes," replied Mrs. Everett. "Don't spare my feelings, love. Say what you have to."

"The killings had some characteristics of dark magic rituals. There's generally a group behind that sort of thing, even if only one or two of them actually carry out the crime. The man I … well, he might not have been the only one. Another of them could have been there, and followed me during the chase. Maybe that's what I sensed."

Mrs. Everett blanched. "Lizzie, might they come after you? Are you in danger?"

Liz nervously ran a hand through her hair. It was no use lying. "Possibly."

Mrs. Everett pointed her wand at the doorway and muttered a hurried incantation. All the outer doors and windows in the house locked immediately with a loud, metallic click.

Liz smiled grimly. "Thanks, but I doubt if simply locking them out will work."

"What do you mean?"

"The group that we suspect are responsible for these murders aren't ordinary criminals. Remember what I told you about the people who want to bring Voldemort back? Well, we think this might be them. They're wealthy and well-connected, not the sort of people you can just haul in for questioning. They can afford good lawyers, and we'd need a cast-iron case. That's why we set up the undercover operation, to try and catch them in the act. They could be powerful enemies."

"Whatever have you got yourself mixed up in?" snapped Mrs. Everett.

"Mum, I'm really sorry ... I don't blame you if you hate me --"

Mrs. Everett's anger seemed to melt away as suddenly as it had started. "Don't be silly, love. You're my daughter, for Merlin's sake. I could never hate you. I didn't mean to be nasty, I'm - I'm just scared, I suppose. I can't pretend I'm not shocked, but it must have been a terrible situation to be in, and sometimes that can make reasonable people do the worst things."

"It's tearing me apart, Mum. I took a life - for revenge. How could I have done it?" Liz felt her throat constrict with anguish.

Mrs. Everett placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Well, of course you feel remorse, love. Be thankful that you do. But that man would have killed you if he could. He murdered your contact, didn't he? If you let all this get the better of you, it will be as if he did take your life. You can't let that happen. Stop torturing yourself and face up to the situation."

Tears welled up in Liz's eyes. She knew her mother was right, and she was about to say so, but before she could reply, both women were nearly jolted out of their skins, as sparks and a puff of smoke shot out of the fireplace across the hearth rug. A disembodied voice echoed from the depths of the chimney. "Yoo-hoo! Delilah! It's half-past six! You nearly ready, dear?"

A flustered Mrs. Everett gasped for breath and clutched at the neck of her robe. "Alberta! Hello! Oh, er … I'm not sure I'll be going to the WI tonight after all."

"Oh, Delilah, you promised!" The small, grey head of an elderly woman hovered above the coals, a crestfallen look on her face.

Liz frowned and motioned at her mother. "Go on, I'll be OK," she whispered.

"Hang on a minute, Alberta, dear … Lizzie, are you sure? I don't think I should leave you alone."

"Nonsense. I'll be fine. You go and enjoy yourself. You've had your hair done especially, after all. And I've got stuff to get on with. I'm going to see if I can catch Kingsley before he leaves the office."

"Oh, well, in that case … yes, that is a good idea, love. You do that. I will go then, if you don't mind. You keep the doors locked behind me. I won't be late."

"I'll see you in the 'Broomsticks at nine like we arranged, Mum."

"No, Lizzie, it's too dangerous," said Mrs. Everett, alarmed.

"Don't worry, I'll be careful. Like you said, I can't let them win. Anyway, off you go. You're keeping Alberta waiting. See you at nine."

Mrs. Everett smiled. "All right then, love. I'll see you there. Apparate straight into the pub, won't you? Aunt Ros and Uncle Merc won't mind, I'm sure, if you call them first. And when you get there, you make sure you sit with Aunt Ros until I arrive."

Liz nodded. "Yes, Mum. Don't fuss. Go."

Mrs. Everett, visibly heartened, picked up her cloak and handbag from a chair near the door. With a swift "Coming, Alberta, dear!" she cast a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace and nimbly stepped in, announcing her destination.

As silence descended, Liz sank her head down onto her arms on the tabletop for a few minutes. She felt drained and sick, but she eventually dragged herself out of her chair and went off to the downstairs cloakroom. She splashed some water on her face, brushed her hair and straightened her robes. Finding a pot of Gorgeous Gloria's Powdered Glamour in her mother's make-up bag, she sprinkled some onto her hands and rubbed them over her face. A moment later, she examined her reflection in the mirror, and smiled, pleasantly surprised to see that she now sported a peachy complexion and smart yet understated make-up, instead of puffy, tear-streaked eyes and an anxious pallor. No wonder that Gloria's a millionairess, Liz thought. Deserves an Order of Merlin, First Class. Taking a couple of deep breaths to compose herself, she strode across the hall into the dining room. She knelt down on the hearth rug, and, holding back her hair, pushed her head into the grate. Whilst Floo travel would do at a pinch when Apparition wasn't suitable, Liz didn't much like using the fire to communicate, and she coughed a couple of times as she breathed in the warm, sooty air. She found herself thinking yet again that the Muggles might just be on to something with those telephones ...

As soon as Liz spoke the words "Auror Chief Superintendent Shacklebolt", her boss's orderly, wood-panelled office in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement swam into view. Seconds later the room swirled round again before her eyes, and she found herself looking into a larger but considerably shabbier room. She heard the hubbub of voices, and then a sudden shriek of recognition from a tall young woman with unruly violet hair, who promptly knocked a set of papers off the crowded desk in front of her into a nearby bin.

"Wotcher, ma'am!" The young woman leaned across her desk towards a handsome young man in his mid twenties, who had his feet up on another desk and was reading a battered paperback book. "Jack!" she said, a note of excitement in her voice. "Look who it is! Inspector Everett!" As she tugged at the sleeve of his scarlet Auror's robes, she overbalanced and landed in a heap on the floor. The young man rolled his eyes skywards and groaned.

Liz laughed, her spirits suddenly lifting at the sight of them both. "Good evening, Tonks. Still wrecking the place, I see?"

"Hey, ma'am," said the young man, guiltily tucking his book out of sight under a pile of grey parchment folders. "Long time no see. We've missed you!"

"Hello, Jack," Liz replied. "Reading on the job again? What's the matter, no criminals to catch? And don't call me 'ma'am'. It makes me feel about a hundred years old."

"You feeling better now then? Coming back to work soon?" asked Tonks, who had by now picked herself up off the floor.

"Looks that way," said Liz. "Has the Chief gone home for the day? His fire seems to be on re-direct."

"Nah, he's in a meeting with the top brass upstairs, boss," replied Jack. "Been there all afternoon. Only us here, catching up on paperwork. Everyone else is either out on a case, or at home having a life."

"Who needs a life when you've got the privilege of being one of the Ministry's finest, Auror Sergeant Williamson?" teased Liz. "What more could you possibly want?"

Jack gave a grim laugh, and Tonks turned round in her chair, knocking a mug off the end of Jack's desk, which promptly smashed on the floor. He sighed, languidly pointed his wand at it, and, newly intact, the mug flew upwards into his hand.

"Sorry, Jack," said Tonks. "It's all right, though - there was only mould in that one."

Liz smiled, cheered by their banter. "Well, I'll leave you to it. Tell the Chief I'll see him tomorrow morning." She raised an eyebrow, and her voice took on a mock serious tone. "And you two had better clear all your rubbish out of my cubicle, pronto. I know what you're like when you're left to your own devices."

Jack grinned. "What, even my Chudley Cannons blotter?" Liz made a growling noise at him in reply, and he hastily added "Looking forward to your return, boss." He winked at her. "Missed you cracking the whip around here!"

"In your dreams, Jack!" replied Liz, with a laugh. "Anyway, I'll see you both soon. Good night!"

Liz pulled her head from the fireplace and shook the soot out of her hair. As she stood up she caught sight of herself in the mirror and noticed a large streak of ash across her cheek. "So much for dear Gloria, after all," she grumbled, and then chuckled despite herself. It had been great to see Tonks and Jack, and she knew now just how much she'd missed their (in Tonks's case, quite literally) knockabout humour. She realised, to her surprise, that she was quite looking forward to going back, despite what might lie ahead.

The hall clock struck seven. There were two hours to go before she had to meet Mum, but Liz didn't feel much like being alone. She decided to go to the Three Broomsticks early. Perhaps she'd have a drink with Uncle Merc while Aunt Ros worked in the bar, and maybe a game of chess afterwards. She went upstairs, changed her robe and cleaned the ash off her face, then went back down to put on her cloak. As she entered the kitchen, she caught sight of the white card, still lying on the table. Suppressing a shudder, she drew her wand and levitated the card and its envelope. Finding a Spellophane bag in the kitchen drawer, Liz directed the items into it, and sealed the bag firmly. It was a long shot, especially after it had been through the owl post, but Magical Forensics might be able to find something, even though she had a sneaking suspicion that the writer would be far too clever to have left any clues. She walked back into the hall, opened the cupboard and placed the bag gently in the pocket of her uniform robe. As she did so, her fingers found her gold Auror's shield there, in its leather wallet, and she took it out and held it for a moment. The Ministry insignia glinted in the candlelight. Heart beating fast, Liz tucked it firmly into her cloak pocket, and then promptly scolded herself. As if you'll need it for a trip to the pub. But the familiar weight of the shield against her side was comforting, and she felt as if she had regained something lost, a part of her identity. Whatever will come, will come, she thought. And when it does, I'll be ready.

Author's note

Auror ranks
So far, we haven't learned a great deal of detail about the Aurors from canon, apart from the fact that they specialise in catching dark wizards, and they handle more serious cases than the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. In the latter respect, the split between British police detectives (regarded as more 'elite') and ordinary uniformed police is similar. Therefore, since there's nothing to contradict it as yet in canon, I've used the British police detective ranking system - so, for 'Auror Constable / Sergeant / Inspector' etc., the real-life rank would be 'Detective Constable / Sergeant / Inspector' and so on. Also, rank initials are often used; 'A.S.' would mean 'Auror Sergeant', for example.

No doubt the next book will prove me wrong ...

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