A/N: This is the first chapter of a four-part story about a muggle Detective who got himself into a bit more trouble than he can handle. I was originally planning on writing this as a series of four independent one-shots, but it didn't quite work like that, so I tried something different.
Chapter One is a prologue of sorts and takes place at the end of the first rise of Voldemort. The rest of the story is set in the 90s and will include more canon characters. This is a bit of an experiment, my first attempt at writing a HP story using a complete stranger's POV. Let me know what you think of that. :)
The lyrics are from "Cornflake Girl" by Tori Amos.
"This is not really happening...
You bet your life it is."
Had the cameras on the corner of Oak and Haycroft been capable of recording sound, at 2 AM one windy Sunday in the autumn of 1980 they would have recorded one piercing scream, cut short. It's possible they would have caught a few quiet words that vaguely resembled Latin. If the microphones had been sensitive enough, they might have stood a chance of preserving the sound of uneven, gasping breaths and a hearty chuckle when the breathing stopped.
The cameras, however, recorded images only, though in great detail. Should anyone ask him, Detective Inspector Colin Hammond would say that the lack of sound made the experience of watching the film hard to bear.
The monitor in front of him displayed a young girl with greasy, blonde hair covering her face. She was dressed in worn and dirty clothes and her patched backpack lay on the ground beside her. She stood in the entrance of a narrow alley, her back to the brick wall. She said something, but dim light flickering over her features were not enough for Colin to guess what it was. She began to shake and her shoulders pressed against the wall as if she wanted to escape by walking through it.
One of the men before her stepped back and turned to the left, facing the camera. He wore a black hooded cloak, so long that it brushed the littered pavement when he moved. Blue neon light shone over his face, hidden by the white mask, transforming him into a bizarre statue. His two companions (both bulky and tall) nodded, so he must have said something, even if the mask made it impossible to see. The girl's eyes widened and she tried to push between the wall and one of her attackers, but he managed to grab her arm and pull her back to him. Hammond noticed that he was wearing the same kind of costume – white mask and a rich black cloak.
The girl's lips moved again and this time Colin could easily read her words. "Please," she said. "Please," over and over again. Finally the first man raised his hand, holding something long and slim pointed at the girl's chest. It looked like a conductor's baton, thought Colin, even if it didn't make any sense. Then the man made a rapid gesture with his...whatever it was…and the girl fell to the ground, writhing and thrashing in obvious pain. Her eyes were clenched shut, hands balled into white-knuckled fists, muscles on her neck strained, and her mouth opened in silent screams.
After a while the hooded man made another gesture and the convulsions stopped. Small tremors ran through the girl's curled up body. The leader turned to the other two and they both reached for their own strange weapons. Three slender pieces of wood pointed at the victim and three jets of light flashed towards her. She screamed and clutched her stomach with unsteady hands. For a moment she suddenly straightened and lay completely still, as if turned to stone. Two more swishes and two bloody cuts appeared on her face. More strange gestures followed, some accompanied by flashes of bright light, every last one making the victim soundlessly scream her lungs out and curl in terrible pain.
Detective Colin Hammond stopped the tape and stared at the hand of the attacker, clearly visible where he was standing now. He leaned forward and tried to figure out what was the thing this bastard was holding.
"Liam," he called over his shoulder, "look at this, will you?"
A young man with short sandy hair got up from his desk and looked over Hammond's shoulder.
"That's the dead girl from Oak and Haycroft!" he exclaimed.
"Yeah, only she's not quite dead yet at this point. Tapes came this morning," Hammond said in a tired voice.
"But that's great, right?" asked Liam. "I mean, you've got the whole thing on video. You can figure out..."
"That's the problem, kid," interrupted Hammond. "I can't figure out one bloody thing from it. That's why you see me going through this, instead of the Supreme Arse-licker around here this week."
Hammond sighed in frustration. It was his case. He was the one who connected three dead bodies with the same, unexplainable injuries. And still it was Riley's Golden Boys who were given useful leads to follow while he was stuck with the blasted tape that didn't make any sense. He would have long ago thrown the thing away and considered it an extremely bad joke if the injuries the girl on the video suffered didn't exactly match the ones on an unidentified body in the morgue.
"Play the whole thing then," said Liam. Colin pressed the play button and closed his eyes, willing the growing headache away. He leaned back and waited for the soft click that marked the end of the recording.
"Bloody hell." Liam looked at the last frame of the tape, showing the lifeless body crumpled on the ground in an empty alley.
"My point exactly," said Hammond. Both men stayed silent for a long moment.
"Okay, okay. Listen, we've got two options here," said Liam, finally, dragging his chair to Hammond's desk and sitting down. "Either this thing is real or it's not, right?"
The other detective just nodded. When his colleague went into "hyper mode," as his friends called it, it was better to let him run with it.
"Right. Let's assume it's fake. Somebody did a damn good job on special effects and somehow replaced the real tape with this one. We've got a very real body in the freezer, so it's not just a stupid prank; it's an actual murder. Whoever made the tape knew about the murder – all the details match, down to the last cut on the girl's cheek. He either witnessed the whole thing...made a record, probably. It would have been impossible to remember enough details to pull it off. Or, more likely – he was an active participant. Either way, the only reason to alter the tape would be to protect the identities of the killers and maybe frame somebody innocent in the process. Whoever did it had access to the server rooms, anyway, and could have simply deleted all the copies, destroy the evidence, and save himself a lot of trouble. And if they wanted to send us on a wild goose chase, wouldn't they come up with something that actually looks real to make the records appear genuine?"
Liam stopped staring at the wall above Hammond's head and looked at the man instead.
"I mean, as a cover story it's bloody ridiculous!" he exclaimed, gesturing wildly. "Somebody killed the girl, and then made a tape showing some freaks killing her with their magical laser-sticks or whatever the damned things were. Then he broke inside the security agency's server rooms, put his tape there, and went home to sleep and dream sweet, homicidal dreams? Bollocks. And even if our killer is a nutter who would consider this kind of plan a real option, there's no way he could manage to keep the fake and real girl's injuries perfectly matching! Not even George bloody Lucas could do that, mate!"
"I thought as much. There's no way it's all fake. I think the killer, or killers, altered the part showing how they inflicted those injuries."
"Yeah, but why?" asked Liam. "We can't identify them as it is. Why go to so much trouble? Besides, look at that thing. It doesn't look altered at all! If it is, whoever pulled it off should be thanking the bloody Academy right now!"
"You know, that's exactly what Miranda and her geeks said when they checked it out," laughed Hammond. "She even said something about hiring the guy, because she has no idea how it was done. And there's one more problem. It's not just one server room. The company keeps several copies and none of their employees know about all of them. Security reasons, they said. And every single copy of this tape shows exactly the same thing."
Liam smiled. "Okay, so what does the logic tell us? One: every expert says it wasn't altered at all. Two:it's impossible to make a fake that close to reality, especially on such short notice; it wasn't even two days! Three: as a cover it's downright ludicrous. Four: whoever switched the tapes knew about all copies, which is impossible unless it was Director Rivers himself, and since I've met pickled fish smarter than the man I can't really believe that. So?"
"The logical thing to assume would be…it's not a fake."
"And you don't have a problem with that meaning that three masked men tortured and killed a girl by pointing sticks at her?" asked Hammond. "Because I do. If I put that in my report, they will send me on enforced early retirement so quickly I won't even know what hit me."
"Okay, then maybe we just don't understand what we're seeing here," said Liam in a patient voice.
"What part don't you understand?" Hammond was growing more and more irritated. He had fifteen years more experience than this kid and here he was trying to teach him how the job should be done? "You think I didn't consider it? How else could I interpret this?" he pointed at the screen, still showing a small, unmoving body. "They point those sticks at her. They don't touch her with them — just point. They don't pull any kind of a trigger on the stick — only wave it. And then she's bleeding. Her skin is burned, covered in boils. Her fingers snap. Her eyes..." He was shaking. Liam stared at him, grey eyes wide with shock. Hammond was known for remaining cool and composed in the worst circumstances. There were stories circulating among all the old timers in the Department. The man was a legend! Apparently Riley, their new boss, and his desire to make Hammond's life hell were really getting under his skin.
Hammond took a slow, deep breath and held it in for a while, eyes closed. When he exhaled and looked back at his colleague, his hands and voice were steady.
"Or maybe you forgot the moment when those guys waved their magical sticks and disappeared? Puff, and they're gone?"
"Oh, and one more thing for you to consider. I don't know if you noticed, but the poor lass was screaming her head off all the time. And this isn't exactly the middle of nowhere; this is residential area. There's absolutely no way nobody heard it, it lasted too long. Somebody should have called in a disturbance at the very least."
Liam seemed to be thinking about it for a while. Finally he looked at Colin and spoke, measuring his words carefully.
"So there's only one explanation for it." Hammond raised his eyebrow. "It's real. All of it, all the bloody way." he spread his hands helplessly. "It's the only theory that doesn't have holes the size of London in it. But I can't think of anything we can do about it..."
"You mean – no holes except the wee little problem that our suspects are armed with magical sticks and apparently can teleport? And it's just me, Liam. They've got you working on something that actually has some use. I'm the only one chasing fairy tales here," he leaned back and stared at the cracks in a ceiling.
"What are you going to do then?"
He shrugged. "I'll give it to the techies, tell them it can't be real so they may just as well give it a try because I don't know shite about it. They won't have the foggiest what's wrong with the thing and it will freak them out like you wouldn't believe. Miranda and her boys hate it when some of this computer voodoo doesn't work like it should. And then it's going to be buried in archives and deliberately forgotten forever. But thanks anyway, kid," Hammond felt obliged to say. The boy tried to help after all.
Liam's shoulders slumped and the small smile that always lingered at the corner of his mouth vanished.
"Let's hope Norton's team finds something then," he finally said, without much enthusiasm. He rolled his chair back to the other side of the room and started shuffling through some papers half-heartedly.
"Yeah, let's," Hammond looked at the screen. He pressed the button on the left and images rushed backwards. He froze it again two minutes before the moment when three men disappeared. The one he assumed to be a leader removed his mask and threw back the hood. In sharp blue light Colin could see every detail of his face. Young, pointed chin, high cheekbones, bright, narrowed eyes, long hair, so fair it looked silver. And the chilling look of mixed disgust, pleasure, cruelty and something darker still, clear on his coldly perfect face.
He searched every database available to him and then some that he theoretically didn't have access to, but couldn't find a trace of this man. He was told to give it up – the best anyone could do was to add the bastard's picture to the books and hope he turns up sooner or later.
Helpless fury burned in him. It was just like Riley. The case wasn't front page news, so he gave it as little attention as he could. Three homeless kids, two of them punk junkies, didn't deserve any real resources. A perfect job for the greying detective who didn't give rat's arse about making an appearance in evening news and insisted that quiet, boring, everyday things were the most important part of the job. He's been a right pain, and that's why the whole investigation would go down before Hammond had a chance to solve it.
He stared at the pale face for a long minute, carving every detail into his memory. He followed the murderer's features with obsessive intensity, making sure he would be able to remember it as clearly as the face he saw every day in the mirror. He owed those kids at least that much.
Finally he pushed the play button again and felt something freeze inside him when a slow, satisfied and completely insane smile crept upon the man's thin lips. The others stepped aside and their leader, still smiling that sickening smile, pointed the stick at the bloodied and bruised girl and spoke two words. A jet of brilliant green light flew straight at her chest and then she lay still, dead and silent.
Hammond rewound the tape back and again many times before he was sure he read the man's lips correctly.
He looked one last time at the evil smiling at him from the screen and turned off the computer. He put the tape inside an envelope addressed to Miranda Dunn and placed it in the out box, then put on his jacket and walked out of his office.
"Avada Kedavra," he whispered to himself, closing the door.
Jeremy Baddock shook his head and tried to force himself to stay awake for at least few more minutes. His desk was buried under stacks of both handwritten yellowish parchments and Muggle printouts. With new attacks several times every week, the Obliviators had a hard time smoothing up every single incident. The fact that more and more of them happened in broad daylight or in Muggle areas didn't help one bit. Last week half of the Department spent four sleepless nights searching for all witnesses of a Death Eater attack in the middle of a shopping mall. All three hundred and seventy one witnesses. Thank Merlin for the Pepper-Up Potion.
His mind was drifting again and he mentally shook himself. He scanned the report in front of him. A Muggle girl, tortured to death for fun. He grimaced in disgust as he read the description of what the Death Eaters did to her. He saw more reports like this – it's been the most common way of initiating new recruits lately, but still he couldn't force himself to stay detached from it. It just felt so wrong that it hurt.
It seemed that the leading Muggle detective, Hammond, felt the same way. In one of his reports he found a furious note demanding more resources and more time, even if the case 'wasn't exactly prime time news'. Baddock started feeling sorry for the man. He seemed like a good guy, who really wanted to make a difference. And soon was going to have his memories erased, as if nothing ever happened, poor sod. This felt wrong, too.
Inside the folder he found some photos. The way Muggle photographs didn't move always irked him, but those were even worse. Those wouldn't move even if they were as magical as they come, the girl would lie just as still. He froze when he saw next photo. A pale face, silver-blond hair, poisonous smile. If Muggle photographs were accepted as evidence by the Wizengamot, this piece of paper would be Lucius' Malfoy's one-way ticket to Azkaban, thought Baddock. He crumpled the picture in his hand. Wrong, all wrong.
He turned the page and looked at the words written over Hammond's spidery notes. 'Insufficient basis for further investigation.' There was an official-looking stamp at the bottom, saying 'Case closed' in angry red letters.
Well, he thought, if they dropped it, there's no reason to mess with poor man's head... He closed the file and reached for the next thick folder.