Disclaimer: If I were JK Rowling, I would live in Scotland, have three children, and never have to worry about where next month's mortgage is coming from. I don't live in Scotland, I have only one child, and I'm chronically broke -- therefore I must not be her. Damn!
"Whatever has happened here tonight, Albus?" Nicholas gasped as he entered the wrecked laboratory. What indeed, Albus thought from the corner of his shock-ridden mind where what was left of his inquisitive nature had retreated. My world has ended, was all the answer he could have mustered, and yet he could not make his voice work to say it. It would have been tantamount to admitting she was dead, and even now, with her lifeless body cradled in his arms, he couldn't bring himself to admit her state.
Albus brushed a long fingered hand across her lovely face, pushing aside a blond curl that had crept over her brow. In that simple act, a bit of her blood found its way to his finger. He stared at it morosely, rubbing finger and thumb together and wishing he had found something to stay death. She was past the point when even Nicholas' elixir could have helped her. Her soul had departed, leaving only the empty shell to remind him of what had been lost.
Nicholas tripped his way across the pieces of roof that had collapsed to litter the floor, sidestepping a pile of broken beakers and cauldrons. He came to a stop nearby and inhaled sharply before tears began to drip down his cheeks. "Lorelei, no!" he cried. Some part of Albus cursed his old friend for naming her, though it was merely an exclamation of grief. But to Albus it was the end of his ability to deny the obvious. Lorelei was dead and he was to blame. He heard a loud cry of pain and realized it had come from his own mouth, though he had been divided from it, almost as if he was watching himself spiral into sorrow.
Nicholas knelt beside him and slowly pulled Lorelei from his grip. "Come, Albus, you cannot help her now," Nicholas urged. Albus was never sure how it had happened, but somehow Nicholas not only succeeded in taking Lorelei from his arms, he also managed to get Albus to his feet and out of the demolished laboratory so that the scene could be investigated. He last glimpsed his losses as a representative from Magical Law Enforcement covered Lorelei with a wool blanket.
Outside the building, Nicholas spoke to someone briefly while Albus was too absorbed by grief to even care about the exchange. When Nicholas returned, he patted Albus' shoulder once and then apparated, while keeping a tight grip on Albus' arm. It had been ages since anyone had apparated for him and he hoped it would never happen again in his lifetime. He felt the familiar tightening sensation and found himself standing outside of the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade.
Nicholas steered him through the door of the small inn, into the clean and quaint interior. Other than the name, which Albus had always found a little morbid, and the sign outside (a severed boar's head leaking blood onto the white cloth around it) which everyone found disgusting, Albus had always found the small inn charming, despite its checkered past. It had been the rebel headquarters in the 1612 goblin rebellion. The ancient bar had stood then much as it did now, but the current owner was something of a compulsive cleaner and swore that one day soon he'd replace the piece with something modern, all assuming he could find a way around the goblin spell that cemented it to the floor.
Nicholas directed Albus to take a seat at a small table and disappeared again briefly. Albus waited, unable to shake the image of Lorelei's lifeless body from his mind. When Nicholas finally returned, he set a smoking mug in front of Albus. "Drink!" Nicholas ordered. Albus did as he was told, wincing at the bitter pepperup potion. His mind cleared some, but it only served to increase the ache of knowing that Lorelei was gone. He set the mug back on the table and stared at his knuckles. He heard someone take a seat at the table behind them, but he didn't have to turn to know that it was Elijah Huntington, who had recently been assigned to head up the hit wizards who were trying to catch Grindelwald . The auror would have to know the story and Albus would have to relive the events of the last forty-eight hours, though he was uncertain if he would ever completely understand why things had progressed the way they had.
"Did Grindelwald escape?" Elijah asked. It probably was the only part he was interested in.
"In a manner of speaking," Albus replied softly. He fixed a pleading gaze on Nicholas.
"Manners, Elijah," Nicholas chastised. "An ally has fallen." An ally. Oh, but she was much more than that. "Lorelei Figg was killed tonight." It was just like Nicholas to state the most painful facts as if they were nothing more than statistics.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Elijah started impatiently. "But what I need to know is what happened to the most evil wizard of our times!" He emphasized his point by slamming his fist on the table, jarring the mug hard enough to make the remaining pepperup potion jump and slop against the sides.
"He escaped the scene after he killed Lorelei," Albus responded dully. "He disapparated before I could follow."
"Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Nicholas queried curiously, tilting his head.
Albus tugged his long beard and stared at the mug. "The trap had already been set." It was the ironic fact that had been nagging at the back of his mind. Lorelei had not needed to be there. Grindelwald had set in motion a chain reaction that might spell his ultimate defeat, and yet she had been lost anyway. If the events played out as planned, Grindelwald would finally fall, but at what cost?
Elijah snorted impatiently. "Tell me everything!" Only Elijah could turn three words into this level of demand.
Albus turned and looked back at him miserably. "Perhaps I do not know where to begin."
"Just begin at the beginning," Nicholas advised softly, patting his arm in a reassuring way.
"Ahhh, but then the beginning is much farther back then you might expect," Albus answered.
"I've got no place better to be," Nicholas stated. He gestured to the barkeeper and the man nodded and reached for a clean glass from the tray by the register. Nicholas, of course, knew much of the facts, but Albus understood he was attempting to be supportive.
"Will this trap help us stop Grindelwald?" Elijah demanded gruffly.
"Of course," Albus said.
"Then I'm not leaving until I've heard everything," Elijah informed him stubbornly.
Albus watched as the bar owner set three jars of ale in front of them. Elijah immediately grabbed his and gulped about half. Nicholas pulled one toward himself, but didn't actually drink. Albus stared into his, trying to decide where precisely to begin. But he was distracted by the amber liquid and a memory associated with it – the first time he had seen Lorelei Figg, nearly two years earlier in the very inn in which he sat now. Perhaps that was the best place to start.