16: Prey: Welsh Green and Hebridean Black

Mark Moon stepped out from the flaring green flames and into a light and airy atrium.

Directly ahead of him a dragon, a Common Welsh Green, was suspended motionless in midair. It was simply a carving; Mark knew that from the newspaper articles. But the creature was extremely realistic and just for an instant, as he stepped out from the Floo connection, he panicked.

A wide chandelier-like wooden ring was suspended from three silver chains held in the creature's mouth. The ring was slowly rotating and as he watched the wheel turn, Mark read the message inscribed on it: Office — Swyddfa Cymraeg — Welsh Office — Swyddfa. He was in the right place, not that there was any doubt about that. The building was almost brand new, and had been the subject of many newspaper reports and magazine articles. He glanced over his shoulder at the huge fireplace behind him. It was an enormous edifice of grey welsh slate set into a wall of pale oak.

Two years earlier more than fifty witches and wizards, all wanted for questioning by the Muggle-born Registration Commission, had escaped from the Welsh Office cells. Convinced that it was an inside job, Minister Thicknesse had insisted that the Welsh Office be razed to the ground and that all administration be moved to London.

Of the many incompetent decisions Pius Thicknesse made, that one was possibly the most foolish. It simply increased the anti-London, and therefore anti-Voldemort sentiments in the Principality of Wales. In one move the Minister had managed to alienate an entire nation. Even many of those Welsh Purebloods who would likely have been sympathetic to Voldemort's cause had been turned against Thicknesse's regime by the Minister's heavy-handed approach.

After the battle the new Minister, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had made it a priority to ensure that the Welsh Office was rebuilt, and that power was returned to the Principality. Minister Shacklebolt had alienated traditionalists by supporting those who demanded a new, modern building. The building was a symbol of hope, openness, and progress. It was entirely different to the ancient Ministry in London, and to the dark and old-fashioned Scottish Office. The Welsh Office was now the most modern ministry building in Britain, and was the envy of both London and Edinburgh.

Mark looked around with interest. Both to his left and directly ahead the wall was huge sheets of elegantly curving glass. The view through the windows was a panorama of Cardiff Bay, and of Practick Alley, the magically hidden street which housed many of Wales's largest magical shops and businesses. To his right was a five storey high wall, faced with Welsh oak. The four upper floors were served by a sweeping staircase and a pair of glass lifts. The long curving desk in front of the wall was also oak. A log floated in midair above the desk. On it the words: Reception — Dderbynfa were carved, and Mark realised that every sign in the place was going to be written in both English and Welsh.

The building was so neat and clean that Mark felt the need to check his uniform robes for any marks or dirt. Assuring himself that they were immaculate, he walked up to the reception desk. Immediately behind the desk were the wide stairs, which led up to the lowest of four balconies. Next to the stairs were a set of double doors marked "Staff Only". The girl who looked up at him was curly-haired and dark-eyed. He watched as she recognised his uniform, noted the slight difference in the collar of his robes, and realised that he was not a local law officer.

'Good morning, Bailiff,' she said cheerfully, her voice a musical lilt. 'I thought I didn't recognise you. You're not Welsh and, from your uniform, you're not from the Mercia Sheriff's Office either. What can we be doing for you?'

As he walked towards her, she gazed up into his face and smiled. 'You're tall, aren't you?' she added.

'I try tae be, Cara,' said Mark, reading her name from the badge she was wearing. 'My boss says it makes me look more imposing. I'm from the Scottish Office,' he added. He reached into his pocket for his Law Office warrant card, discovered that the pocket was frayed, and struggled to pull it free. With a far from smooth gesture he rather awkwardly opened the leather wallet and held it up for her to see.

'What brings you to Cardiff on this fine morning, Under-Bailiff Mark Moon, D.M.L.E., Scottish Office?' she asked as she checked his official identification under her security sensor.

'I need tae speak tae someone in your Sheriff's department about the execution of a search warrant,' he told her. I have a copy of the warrant with me. It's all authorised, but the High Sheriff of Scotland disnae want us tae tread on any toes. I'm here tae let your people know that we're working within your jurisdiction.'

'That's good of you. Usually, when the Sheriff of Mercia wanders across the border, the first we know of it is when he tells us, a week later, what he's done,' she said. She pulled out a Visitor Card, picked up a quill, and tapped it on the card. The quill stood expectantly upright, waiting to write. 'Please state your name clearly,' she said.

'Mark Moon,' he said.

The quill neatly wrote his name on the badge. Cara picked up the badge and, with a wave of her wand, attached the badge to his chest.

'Magical Law Enforcement is on this floor. If you take the door directly behind me, their office is the third door on the left. You can't miss it. And please don't take off the visitor badge I've given you. If you do, it will set off our alarms.'

'Thanks very much, Cara,' said Mark. The girl smiled again, and a moment of madness struck him. He'd probably never be here again. 'Cardiff looks like a nice place. I'm off work tomorrow; would you like to show me around?'

She looked him up and down, and gave a tinkling laugh. 'Why not? I'll see you outside the office at noon, Mark Moon from the Scottish Office.'

'Great,' said Mark, surprised by both his own boldness, and the fact that it had paid off. 'See you tomorrow, Cara, bye.'

'Not bye, wela i chi, Mark!' she said.

'Wela i chi, Cara!' he said, despite not knowing what the words meant.

His heart still beating rapidly, he pulled open the door, strode along the corridor, and entered the Law Office. Like the rest of the building it was new and very bright. There was no dark wood anywhere. The walls were a pale green, and the furniture was oak, buff leather and shining steel.

The majority of the desks were empty, but a stocky, dark haired man who was about eight or nine inches shorter than Mark was walking towards the door, his arm outstretched in greeting.

'Bailiff Moon,' the man said. 'I'm Bailiff Rhys Owen, call me Rhys. Cara tells me that you're here to see the Sheriff, isn't it?'

Mark offered his long and slender hand to Bailiff Owen; it was grabbed and firmly shaken.

'Call me Mark, Rhys,' said Mark. 'I've a warrant to search a property on the island of Anglesey, and written permission from two of the three occupants to search it,' Mark explained. 'But my Sheriff doesn't like it when the Sassenachs cross the border without telling him, so he sent me tae let your boss know what's happening.'

'Anglesey?' asked Rhys excitedly. 'This will be about those three Harpies players you have in your cells, I'm expecting. You'd best come with me and let the sheriff know. He's from Gwynedd, look you, so try to remember that it's Ynys Môn, and not Anglesey.'

'Ynys Môn,' Mark repeated the name carefully, and Rhys nodded approvingly. 'Are you a Harpies fan?' Mark added, suddenly worried that the local Law Office might be unwilling to help.

'I am, yes, but don't worry about that. There's not much I can do about the fact that you've got two of my team's star players in your cells, is there? Although the way they've been playing lately, you're probably doing us a favour locking them up. Quidditch, getting drunk, and partying really doesn't mix.' Rhys gave a resigned shrug which was so obviously heartfelt it seemed to start at his boots before finally ending with a despairing movement of his shoulders. 'Anyway, the Sheriff follows the Catapults, so no matter what I think, he'll probably be hoping that you're going to be locking them up, at least until after the game in Caerphilly.' Rhys stopped and stared up at Mark. 'Are you?' he asked.

Mark shrugged. 'No idea. Auror Potter seems to think that someone has been spiking their drinks, but…'

'So, Potter's with them, is he?' asked Rhys eagerly. 'The papers said that he'd split up with Weasley, and arrested her in revenge.'

'He arrested her because she hexed my boss,' said Mark. 'I was there.'

'You've met him, then? Potter? Did he really arrest her? Have they really split?' Rhys pressed. 'Half the blokes here would like a shot at her, if she's single, but…'

'Aye, I've met him, and her. And the last time I saw them, she was sitting on his knee,' said Mark, smiling down at the excited Welshman.

Rhys grinned. 'Well, that's that, then,' he said. 'You'll have been having a busy time, I'm suspecting.'

'Aye, oor office is full. Potter and most of his friends arrived in the middle o' the night, and we're being besieged by reporters and photographers. They even took loads of photos of me when I arrived for work, and all I did was help a daft wee blonde lassie though the crowds and intae oor office.'

They reached a glass door. Rhys knocked once, pushed it open, and said, 'This is Mark Moon, of the Scottish Office, Siryf. Come to let you know about a search warrant, hasn't he?'


Fifteen minutes later, Mark and Rhys Apparated into the grounds of the large apartment block where the three Quidditch players lived. Mark looked up at the apartment block in surprise. It was a modern, and obviously Muggle building. The white-painted structure was at least ten stories high and it overlooked the Menai Straight, the narrow band of water which separated Ynys Môn from the mainland.

The Sheriff had already arrived. He stepped out from the trees, accompanied by three other Bailiffs. One was Mark's regular partner, grey-haired Heather Huddleston. The others were a fair haired man, who was both burly and almost as tall as Mark, and a dark haired middle-aged woman.

'Mark,' was the only word of greeting the Sheriff said, and when he spoke his eyes were on Rhys.

'This is Bailiff Rhys Owen of the Welsh Office, Sheriff,' Mark told Hamish Campbell.

'The Siryf of Cymru asked me to thank you for letting him know what you were doing, sir,' said Rhys. 'I'm here to observe, look you.'

'Owen.' The Sheriff nodded a terse greeting to the stocky young Welshman. 'These are Bailiffs Erasmuson…' he indicated the burly fair-haired man, Huddleston, and Kilgour. We're simply here to search the place for evidence.'

'Yes, sir,' said Rhys.

'Why dae these kids live amang the Muggles?' Erasmuson grumbled, glaring up in irritation at the large building.

'Livy Aitkenhead's Muggle-born,' said Rhys firmly. From their short conversation, Mark had already recognised the signs of a Quidditch fanatic in the burly little Welshman. Rhys spoke with the authority of a man who could probably quote the Australian's Seeker's Snitch-catch percentage, height, weight, and birthdate.

'This isnae, the Highlands, Erasmuson,' said Heather Huddleston, smiling.

'I "live among the Muggles", too,' said Mark. 'My flat is in the middle of Edinburgh.'

'Aye, well, if ye're the expert on Muggle houses, then ye can lead the way, Mark,' the Sheriff said.

Mark nodded, and strode across the car park. The entrance, a single glass door undet a white concrete canopy, was in the centre of a long wall of glass. As they approached, Mark examined it closely. There was some form of electronic swipe key on it, rather than a mechanical lock. The strangeness of the mechanism might worry some older wizards, but Mark knew that the type of key really didn't matter; it was merely a Muggle lock. All that mattered was his intent to open it.

Mark pulled out his wand as he approached. 'Alohomora,' he said firmly. The door swung open, and he led the way into the foyer.

The bland, white-walled room wasn't large. To the right was the steel door of a lift, to the left was a wooden door with the word "Stairs" written above it. Between the lift and stairs, the only colour in the otherwise plain white room, was a peculiar painting of the type Muggles seemed to prefer to hang in public places. It wasn't a portrait, a landscape, or even a still life; it was no more than a few random blocks of colour.

The Sheriff pulled out a slip of parchment and checked the address. 'Third floor,' he announced.

Mark pressed the button and the lift door opened. The lift was tiny, it was big enough four people, five at a pinch, but certainly not six.

'You two are young and fit,' said Sheriff Campbell nodding to Mark and Rhys. 'You can take the stairs. And be sure to use Disillusionment Charms, I'd rather not have tae call out the Obliviators. The rest of you, come with me.'

The Erasmuson, Kilgour and Huddleston stepped into the lift. The Sheriff followed them, and pressed the button. Mark hastily Disillusioned himself. Rhys grabbed hold of Mark's upper arm, and did the same.

'We don't want to bump into each other on the stairs,' said Rhys quietly. 'You take the lead, Mark.'

'Aye,' Mark whispered. He pulled open the door and led the burly Welshman up the enclosed stairs.

They had reached the first floor landing and were beginning the ascent to the second floor when Mark heard voices.

'Bloody hell, that was close.' The man's voice was quiet, but it carried clearly down the stairwell.

'Who were they?' a female voice asked.

'You've led a sheltered life,' the man said. 'From the uniforms, they were Law Office Bailiffs.'

The footsteps echoed around the stairwell. There were two people, and they were approaching rapidly. Mark halted halfway up the flight of stairs. Rhys came to a halt alongside him and silently squeezed Mark's arm. It was a gesture which Mark assumed meant that Rhys, too, had heard the approaching voices. Mark reached for his wand, but not quickly enough. Suddenly there was a thump, a grunt, and a clattering noise alongside him.

Mark felt Rhys release him, and heard two male voices. One of them belonged to the Welsh Bailiff, the other to the man he'd heard approaching, and both were cursing as they tumbled down the stairs and onto the landing.

'Miles!' a woman shrieked at the top of her voice.

Mark was almost deafened by the noise; it was emanating from a point right next to him. Realising that the mysterious couple were also invisible, Mark reached out an arm. He grabbed a handful of cloth, and felt soft yielding flesh beneath it. The woman screamed and struck out at him, her slap was an ineffectual glancing blow against his arm. Nevertheless, Mark's sudden, embarrassed realisation as to which part of her anatomy he'd grabbed made him momentarily loosen his grip.

As the woman desperately tried to escape, Mark's fumbling fingers closed around a flapping piece of cloth. He grabbed it tightly and pulled. As he did so, it ripped. Mark yanked as hard as he could and the ripped garment fell from the woman's shoulders. It was an invisibility cloak, and as he pulled it from her, Mark found himself face to face with a tall fair haired and horse-faced young woman. As Mark stared into her startled face, the woman reached desperately for the remains of the cloak. As she did so, a Stunning Spell flared red from the landing. It stopped only inches from where it had started.

'I think I got him,' the man shouted. 'Just leave the bloody cloak, Daff, we've got to scarper. Now!'

'There's two of them,' she shouted. 'He's got my cloak.'

The man immediately fired a Stunning Spell past the girl. Mark ducked, dropping the torn invisibility cloak which the man was targeting, and pushed himself against the wall in order to avoid being hit. Trying to remain silent, Mark drew his wand. As he did so, he took a long, assessing look at the girl. She wore robes of good quality, and she was carrying a bulging shoulder bag. As the girl scampered down the stairs her companion continued to provide covering spellfire, forcing Mark backwards up the stairs.

When she reached the landing the girl stumbled over Rhys' prostrate body. The burly little Welshman was slowly becoming visible, proving that he had indeed been stunned.

Her companion had stopped firing off spells and had fallen silent. Mark had no idea where the man was, so he aimed for the stumbling girl. His spell, too, missed, because she didn't fall as he expected. She was caught in mid-fall, hauled into the air and carried around the corner by his unseen opponent.

Mark followed quickly behind them, but was met by a barrage of stunning spells being fired up the stairwell at him. The moment the spells stopped, he followed; but by then he was an entire flight of stairs behind them.

There was a clattering sound from above and Mark knew that, behind him, someone else was rapidly descending the stairs. For a second, he hesitated, but he recognised the loudly cursing male voice as that of Bailiff Olaf Erasmuson. Realising that his fellow Bailiffs were on the way, he dashed down the stairs after the fleeing duo.

Mark turned the final corner just in time to see the door into the foyer slam shut. Leaping the last flight from top to bottom, he charged through the door and burst out into the entrance hall an instant after the lift door opened.

He had expected to be targeted. However, upon hearing the ring of the lift door, the girl and her companion had both turned and blasted the lift with Stunning Spells. Mark was just in time to see Heather Huddleston fall out through the door.

Incensed, Mark shouted, 'Stupefy,' at his only visible target. His anger appeared to increase the power of his spell, and the bright red beam of the spell knocked the girl from her feet and sent her flying through the air. She hit the full length window next to the door, shattering it. Her unconscious form tumbled out onto the pavement in a glittering shower of glass shards. The bag she'd been carrying had fallen from her shoulder, bounced off the adjacent window, and landed on the floor alongside the broken pane.

It had all happened in an instant. Realising that his invisible opponent would target the spot his spell had come from, Mark dived to one side. He moved just in time.

'Reducto,' the man yelled, blasting the spot where Mark had been standing. The blast sent plaster, and the painting, flying across the room. When the painting landed on him, Mark knew that he would have to again move quickly. He rolled aside and the painting which would have given away his position fell to the floor.

The spell he'd been expecting didn't come. Instead, the girl was lifted into the air and, before Mark could get a clear shot, the duo Disapparated. Mark struggled to his feet and removed his Disillusionment charm. He was still cursing as the Sheriff ran into the small foyer from the bottom of the stairs.

'Repello Muggletum,' Sheriff Hamish Campbell shouted. 'What in Merlin's name just happened, Mark?'

'Sorry, sir,' said Mark. 'There were two of them, one male and one female, both invisible were coming down the stairs as we were going up. We didn't see them, and they didn't see us. They ran into us, and then the man stunned Rhys. I managed to grab the woman's cloak, so I got a good look at her. I followed them down here, and managed to stun the woman, but he grabbed her Disapparated with her the moment they left the building'

Bailiff Erasmuson silently repaired the window and reached down for the bag. 'Whit's this?' he asked.

'The woman dropped that bag when I stunned her,' Mark added.

'She did, did she?' said the Sheriff gruffly as he moved across to the lift and leaned against the door, preventing it from opening and closing on the unconscious Bailiff Huddleston. 'Hang onto it, Erasmuson. Did ye see who hit Heather, Mark?'

'Both of them,' said Mark. 'Like I said, I stunned the woman, but he was invisible and I couldn't hit him. Sorry, sir.'

'Aye, well, I know how hard it is to hit an invisible opponent,' said the Sheriff, raising his maimed left hand. 'And they're gone now. I don't expect they'll be back. Kilgour, give me a hand with Heather. Erasmuson, go with Mark and collect the wee Welsh laddie. We'll go to the flat and take a look around, there's no point in wasting this warrant. We can see what we've got in this bag, as weel.'

Mark nodded and moved to carry out his orders. Muttering under his breath, Erasmuson followed.

'Jings, the wee fella's heavier than ye'd think,' said Erasmuson as they toiled up the stairs with Rhys between them.

When Erasmuson and Mark finally struggled into the flat with the still unconscious Rhys, Erasmuson released him, leaving Mark to struggle into the living room and deposit the still stunned Welshman on one of the easy chairs. Heather had been laid carefully on the sofa.

Marked looked around the living room. The place was in a state of chaos, drawers had been tipped onto the floor and the contents were scattered everywhere.

'Merlin, what a mess,' said Mark

'Aye, the Sheriff said grimly. 'The place has been guid an' proper turned over. All three bedrooms are in the same state. I don't know how they got in, because there were a lot of very sophisticated security spells on the place.'

Hamish paused and kicked aside a large book; there was nothing underneath it, so he continued. 'It's only to be expected if your boyfriend is an Auror, I suppose. The door is a remarkable piece of work, magically reinforced and with a custom magic lock. If Miss Weasley hadnae given us a key, we'd hae had difficulty getting in. I don't see how those two could possibly hae got through it.'

'Probably because they had a key as weel,' said Erasmuson. He had been rifling through the dropped bag and held up a key. The Sheriff strode across and made a swift comparison. The two keys were identical.

'What else is in there, Erasmuson?' Campbell asked.

'A few bottles of Harpies Extra-energy Pumpkin Juice, and a few bottles of Bangor Brewery's Best Butterbeer, nothing else. No, wait, there's a side pocket here, and there's a letter inside it.' Erasmuson pulled out the parchment and unfolded it.

'It's addressed to Daphne Greengrass, Flat 13, 97 Knockturn Alley,' said Erasmuson, and it's dated this morning. He read the letter aloud.

"Daphne,

Your friends left far too much behind at the warehouse. The Aurors are involved, and Longbottom isn't the fool your friends think he is. You should know that. I suggest you forget this half-baked plan. Relying on a single Beater to feed Weasley the potion was never going to work.

I'm certain that you will have handled some of the Weasley and Baker bottles. Potter has begun to insist that his people check evidence for fingerprints so if you have touched them, you could be in trouble. I know that you think that Muggles are useless, but they can teach us a lot, and Potter knows it.

If I were you, I'd clear up the evidence and hide.

A Friend."

'Fingerprints?' Bailiff Kilgour asked.

Mark sighed, and held up his hands. 'The lines on your fingertips are fingerprints, and everybody's are different. My Mum's a Muggle, and she's a big fan of television cop-shows. Auror Potter is right; the Muggle police can identify people by the prints they leave. If I were you I wouldn't touch the bottles, Olaf.'

'Daphne Greengrass,' the Sheriff pondered the name. 'I wonder if our burglars stole this letter, or if it was in her bag because it's hers.'

'The girl I saw on the stairs, sir,' said Mark. 'The man called her Daff.'

'He did, did he?' The Sheriff's eyes blazed. 'Well, that's enough for me to assume that she was Daphne Greengrass, or someone Miss Greengrass knows. We certainly know enough to pay this young woman a visit, and she's kindly left us her address.'

Rhys groaned and opened his eyes. 'Did you catch them?' he asked. When Mark shook his head the young Bailiff cursed.

'Kilgour, tell him what we've just found.' Sheriff Campbell ordered. 'Bailiff Owen, once you know what's going on, I want you to inform your Sheriff. Tell him that he's got a burglary to investigate, but ye'd best warn him to be very careful, because Potter and the Aurors will be crawling all over this place the moment I tell them what we've found. In fact, it might be best if he contacts the Aurors himself.'

'Yes, sir,' said Rhys.

The Sheriff turned back to Bailiff Kilgour. 'After you've explained everything to Owen, I want you to stay here with Heather. Guard the place, don't touch anything, and don't move anything.'

'But, Sheriff…' Kilgour began to protest.

'Somebody has to stay,' said Hamish firmly. 'And I'm certain that there's more going on here than a simple burglary. Nothing leaves the place, understand?'

'Yes, sir,' Kilgour shrugged in resignation.

The Sheriff replaced the letter and the key in the bag. 'Bailiff Moon, Bailiff Erasmuson, we're going to Knockturn Alley. Follow me.'


'Keep yer eyes open,' the Sheriff ordered as he led the two Bailiffs off Diagon Alley and down the grimy side street. 'And watch for the house numbers.'

They had travelled some distance down silently watching street before anyone acknowledged their presence.

'You ain't local law,' someone shouted from a shadowy doorway as they strode down the street.

'Ach, away an bile yer heid, ya numpty,' Erasmuson yelled back.

Mark looked at Erasmuson, and then at the onlookers. It was obvious that none of them had any idea what Erasmuson had just said. However, his angry shout had certainly quietened them down.

'Ninety-seven,' Mark called a few moments later. He pointed to the shabby door.

'Right,' said the Sheriff. 'There's an anti-Apparition jinx on the entire area, so if they're in there, they can't escape. Follow me, and keep the noise down.

Hamish led them into a dingy and damp-smelling hallway and slowly up four flights of stairs. The Sheriff was moving quietly and placing his feet on the edge of the stairs, to reduce creaking. As they continued upwards, they passed several other flats. When they reached the final landing he signalled them to halt.

Using his left forefinger, the only complete finger on that hand, the Sheriff pointed up the narrow staircase, at the door on which the number thirteen had been roughly scrawled in red paint. The door was slightly ajar and, with a fierce grimace, Hamish silently reinforced the need for silence. Mark, who was bringing up the rear, was certain that he'd caught a snatch of conversation coming from the room.

They moved slowly, and were almost at the top when one of the stairs creaked. Erasmuson looked accusingly back at Mark, although Mark was certain that Erasmuson himself had been responsible. Whoever's fault it was, it didn't matter, the faint female voice Mark had heard suddenly fell silent.

After a disdainful look over his shoulder, the Sheriff continued up the stairs and began to push the door open. He'd hardly moved the door an inch when, without warning, he was hit by a Stunning Spell.

As the Sheriff tumbled down the stairs, Erasmuson stepped aside. Mark, however, reached down and prevented his boss's fall. He steadied the unconscious Sheriff, leaving him lying halfway down the stairs. Before Mark had straightened up, his colleague had loosed a spell of his own.

'Confringo,' bellowed Erasmuson. The door was blasted open, and the ensuing explosion seemed to make the entire building shake.

'We're the laa, ye scunners. Yooz hae hexed a Sheriff. Ye'd best geis yer wands afore we get real malky,' Erasmuson shouted angrily.

In the silence following the explosion someone in the room spoke.

'Was that English?' The female voice which asked the question spoke crisply and precisely.

From where he stood, Mark could see only a small part of the room. There was no one visible; all he could see was the broken and smouldering remains of a bed.

'We're Bailiffs from the Scottish Law Office,' Mark called, deciding that Erasmuson's thick accent wasn't helping matters. 'Daphne Greengrass, we'd like to speak tae ye about an assault on two Law Officers, and the burglary of a property on the island of Anglesea. Ye cannot escape.'

'Shit,' a female voice said. But the tone wasn't "Oh, no, we're trapped", it was closer to, "Oh, no, what a mess". It was, Mark realised, not the original speaker. There was a second female in the room. 'I'm Polly Protheroe, Auror Office,' the woman continued. 'You've just used a blasting curse on an Auror.'

'Ye fired first, and ye hexed our Sheriff,' Mark said.

'And why shed we believe ye, ye scunners?' Erasmuson asked. 'Show yersels.'

'This place is the last known address of Marcus Flint, who is wanted by the Auror Office. Why should we believe you?' the woman asked in reply.

'Oh, for goodness sake, Polly,' the second woman said. There was the sound of movement from inside, the door moved a fraction, and a small folded leather wallet was thrown out onto the landing.

Keeping a watchful eye on the door, and with his wand clenched tightly in his right hand, Mark reached forward with his left, grabbed the wallet, and opened it.

'Trainee Auror Susan Bones,' Mark said, showing the card to Erasmuson. It appeared to Mark to be genuine. More worryingly, he recognised the surname. Amelia Bones had been Head of Department when he'd joined the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

'Ach, pish,' said Erasmuson, then he gave a suspicious glower. 'They might have stolen it.'

'You managed to knock one of our colleagues out with that Blasting Curse,' the woman said accusingly. 'Fortunately, he's not badly hurt.'

'Aye, well, like I say, ye stunned oor Sheriff, first,' said Erasmuson angrily. He clenched his fists so tightly that Mark could see the knuckles whitening.

Mark motioned Erasmuson into silence. 'I'm coming in,' he said loudly. 'Don't fire.'

As he fumbled in his frayed pocket for his own identity card with his left hand, Mark struggled to keep hold of Auror Bones's card, too. Finally, he gave up and simply dropped her card into his pocket, making the job a great deal easier. Keeping his wand firmly in his hand, Mark stepped onto the landing. 'Cover me, just in case,' he whispered to Erasmuson. The burly highlander nodded, flattened himself against the wall, and pointed his wand at the doorway.

Mark pushed open the door and stepped inside, holding out his own identity card. A slender blonde girl whose hair was tied into a tight bun stepped forwards. She quickly examined his Law Office identity card, waving her wand across it.

'It's genuine,' she announced.

Mark looked around the room. The girl had three companions, all of whom were pointing wands at him. They all wore Auror uniforms, just like Harry Potter and his friends. The second woman wore her hair in black dreadlocks. One of the men was gray-haired and rather sour-faced; the other was young, burly and big-eared. A third man lay unconscious on the floor, alongside the blasted remains of the bed.

'It was Strang who stunned your Sheriff,' said the dreadlocked woman, indicating the unconscious man. 'I'm Protheroe, this is Susan Bones, Terry Boot, and Al Webb.'

'It's okay, Olaf,' Mark called.

'Ach, pish,' said Erasmuson as he carried the unconscious Sheriff into the room.

'You said that you're from the Scottish Law Office, and that you're here because of a burglary in Anglesea,' Auror Webb observed. 'Care to explain why three Scots Law Officers went to Wales, and then came to London.'

'Auror Potter…' Mark began.

The burly big-eared Terry gave a deep bass chuckle, Polly laughed, and both Susan and Al Webb smiled.

'No further explanation required,' Protheroe said. 'Those two words are enough, but I think that we should compare notes.'

As succinctly as he could, Mark told the Aurors what had happened.

'Ginny's flat has been burgled?' Susan asked. 'Does Harry know?'

'He should be finding out about now, I hope,' Mark said.

'Keep talking,' Al Webb ordered.

Mark did as he was told.

'Miles,' Terry grumbled, as Mark recounted the encounter on the stairwell.

'Bletchley, you reckon?' Susan asked.

Terry nodded. Mark was about to continue with his story when it happened. A female voice echoed around the room.

'Attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert ... attention, all duty Aurors ... this is an all Auror alert … this is not a drill … this is not a drill'

'You two, stay here,' Polly Protheroe told Mark and Erasmuson.

'Operation Hunter is now active ... target confirmed ... the prey is in the field.'

'We may be some time, so you might want to call for some local assistance,' she added, reaching into her pocket and pulling out her identity card.

'Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors and hit-wizards prepare for emergency portkey in thirty seconds.'

Terry and Al Webb were also pulling their identity cards from their wallets. Susan Bones was looking puzzled. Mark realised that the voice was coming from the cards, and also from his pocket.

'Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors and hit-wizards prepare for emergency portkey in twenty seconds.'

'Give me my identity card, now,' Susan Bones demanded. She strode up to him and held out her hand demandingly.

'Operation Hunter is now active ... all duty Aurors and hit-wizards prepare for emergency portkey in ten seconds.'

Mark hastily reached into his pocket, and pulled. He merely managed to tear the lining a little more.

'nine ... eight ...'

The card was stuck. He pulled desperately at it. As the countdown continued, Susan thrust her own hand into his pocket. She, too, grabbed the card, and pulled.

'three ... two ... one ... activate.'

Four identity cards glowed blue, and four Aurors, and Bailiff Mark Moon, vanished.

Mark saw the shocked expression on Erasmuson's face, and heard the Sheriff groan as he began to regain consciousness, then instead of standing in a room in Knockturn Alley, he was standing on an open area in front of a large stone farmhouse. Susan Bones pushed him away.

'Take cover, now!' she ordered.

'Rabastan Lestrange,' a magically amplified voice shouted. 'We have you surrounded. Put down your wand and surrender.'

'If anyone moves, the girl dies,' someone snarled.

Mark saw the man standing in the door to the farmhouse. The door was, for some reason on the upper floor. He was holding a girl of about twelve by her tawny-brown hair, and was using her as a shield. He flicked his wand. The spell flew over everyone's head, and one of the crude looking cottages surrounding the farmhouse exploded.

As Mark turned to watch, the building began to burn and the roof collapsed. As it did so, the door opened and he caught a glimpse of a small figure in torn jeans and a white man's shirt. The girl was in her late teens, and had masses of curly brown hair. She raised her wand, but too late. She was flattened by a falling timber.

Behind him, Mark heard spellfire. He ignored it, and sprinted towards the girl in the burning building.