M.I.T.: Muggle Interface Team

Detective Sergeant Jack Templar stepped out of the white tent, pushed back his white hood and pulled his white facemask down below his chin. Wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his blue-gloved hand, he gasped in the warm summer air like a drowning man hauled from the water.

Templar unzipped his white SOCO suit from neck to navel and then wafted the open suit front as he tried to cool down. In shirt-sleeves, it was much too hot; in the one-piece forensic scene-of-crime suit, it was unbearable.

According to the weather forecasters, 2003 was going to be the hottest summer since records began. He'd heard that headline many times before over the years, but this time he believed it. The uniformed officers on the perimeter were in shirt-sleeve order and many of them had even unfastened their stab-vests because of the sweltering heat.

Templar looked around the clearing. The paramedics had gone long ago. They had nothing to do. This was a job for the pathologist, as had been obvious from the start. But the initial 999 call had not been specific and an ambulance had arrived shortly after he'd got there himself.

Templar had been the first detective to arrive; the first police officer at the scene had been a young beat bobby. The constable had radioed in, requested the major incident team and done his best to secure the area. He had then taken a statement from the man who had found the corpse. He'd done a good job and Templar had made a note of the fact.

Both the Scene of Crime Officers and the pathologist had arrived while Templar was re-interviewing the middle-aged dog walker who had made the initial 999 call. As was often the case, it had actually been the dog that had found the body. Templar soon realised that the dog walker could not tell him any more than he'd told the bobby so, satisfied that they had got everything they possibly could from the witness, and once he was certain of the man's identity and address, Templar had let the man go.

After the dog-walker left, Templar watched the white-suited SOCO's struggle to erect the tent. It was a difficult job. The body had, it appeared, been thrown into the centre of a large clump of bushes. The large tent which hid the body from curious onlookers enclosed a lot of undergrowth. Templar had also stood silently watching while the uniforms arrived in a couple of Transits and cordoned off a large area of woodland in preparation for a search.

Hampstead Heath was still mostly green, but the ground underfoot was as hard-baked and cracked as a Greek island riverbed. When he'd first entered the tent, more than an hour ago, the August sky had been cloudless; only the faint wisps of aircraft contrails had broken the bright blue of the sky. Now, as he stood outside, hungrily inhaling fresh air, Templar again looked up. The intense midday sun blazed overhead in the uninterrupted blue. There was not even the slightest breath of wind.

Outside the tent which now screened the corpse, it was too hot; inside, it was like a furnace. Templar consoled himself with the thought that, while the sultry air outside the tent was still and oppressive, it was fresh. The smell of dead flesh inside an incident tent was never pleasant, but in this heat the stifling stench had stuck in his throat.

Detective Chief Inspector Abberline, the Senior Investigating Officer with the Major Incident Team, had arrived quarter of an hour ago, along with his own Sergeant and a young Detective Constable. Abberline had immediately taken control and, after a quick chat inside the tent, had suggested that Templar get some fresh air.

Abberline had offered him a cigarette, to get rid of the taste of death, but Templar had refused. After struggling through six cigarette-free months, he wasn't going let the discovery of a six-week-old corpse overturn his major achievement, no matter how unpleasant looking the corpse was.

It was not simply the putrefaction which was unsettling; everything about this body was odd, from the position in which it had been found to the bizarre clothes the man was wearing. Templar gazed out through the trees and wondered whether this was the strangest crime scene he'd ever attended.

Then the 4x4 arrived.

Templar watched as the Range Rover cruised to a halt only yards from the cordon. The vehicle appeared to be brand new; it was brightly black and the rear windows were tinted to almost night-like opacity. The midday sun shimmered on the highly polished paintwork.

The Detective Sergeant was instantly alert. The vehicle, and its unannounced arrival, meant one of two things. Either, this until now unidentified corpse had been identified as someone important, and the top brass wanted to know how the case was being handled; or, the spooks were coming to interfere.

Templar took a lungful of clean air, held his breath, and peered back inside the tent. Half a dozen experts, identically anonymous in their sterile white one-piece SOCO suits, were busily doing their jobs. One photographed the mouldering corpse and its surroundings while others picked and poked through the bushes and undergrowth into which the body had been thrown.

'What d'you think this is? D'you reckon that old Gandalf here was an orchestra conductor?' one of the men asked, pulling a long straight stick from the bushes below the body.

'Visitors, guv'nor, a flashy black car has just turned up,' Templar interrupted.

Detective Chief Inspector Abberline cursed and clambered to his feet. Even in the SOCO suit Abberline was easily identifiable. He was an extremely overweight man of about fifty. Encased in the white suit and wearing a facemask, all that was visible were piggy eyes and ruddy cheeks glistening with perspiration. The suit made Abberline look like the Michelin man, though no one who worked for him would dare to say so. Templar knew the man only by his reputation. When he was in a good mood, Abberline was foul-mouthed and surly. Wearing the white suit in this heat meant that his mood was far from good, and it made everyone around him even more nervous than usual.

Jack Templar turned his back on Abberline stepped outside the tent and quickly forced his way back through the undergrowth towards the Range Rover. He watched with interest as the vehicle disgorged its occupants. Four doors opened and four people got out. Whoever they were, they were definitely not top brass. Templar pushed through the bushes and continued to close curiously on the newcomers.

The driver closed her door and stood watchfully, legs slightly apart and hands behind her back. From her stance, Templar decided that she was probably "on the job," a fellow police officer. She was a tall and thin-faced young woman in her mid-twenties. A broad shouldered brunette with close cropped hair, she wore Doc Marten boots, black trousers, a white sleeveless blouse and a grey cravat.

The rear seat passenger on the driver's side was a long-nosed, but otherwise nondescript young blond man in his late teens or early twenties. He loosened the knot on his grey tie and unfastened the top button of his short-sleeved white shirt. Thrusting his hands into the pockets of his black trousers, he gazed inquisitively around the area.

Templar watched as the short haired woman approached the uniformed constable at the barrier and showed him an identity card. As he continued to close the distance on the strangers, the other two occupants of the vehicle moved into his sight from behind the Range Rover. These two were definitely not senior police officers.

All four were, in a way, similarly dressed, Templar noted. Black below the waist, white above, and something grey around the neck. But that was where the similarity ended. They were like school kids, he decided, forced to wear a uniform, but individualising it as much as they possibly could.

The front seat passenger was a slender, flat-chested woman, as tall as the driver. Her flaxen hair was pulled up into a tight and very severe bun. Her short-sleeved blouse was a dazzling white and her knee length skirt the blackest of blacks. Templar squinted at her. His first impression had been that she was in her thirties, but that was based on the severity of her hair, expression and clothes. She was actually a lot younger.

The final newcomer was small and curvy. Masses of dark Pre-Raphaelite curls framed a full-lipped round face. Her skirt was short, very short, her sleeveless blouse was unbuttoned to the point where her cleavage was impossible to miss, and her grey cravat was worn as a choker, so as not to spoil the view. He looked at the girl appreciatively. Nice calves, too. His approving contemplation of the girl was disturbed by the blonde with the bun, who ducked under the tape and strode purposefully towards him. Her three companions followed.

'Morning, officer,' the dimple-chinned blonde greeted him with thin-lipped seriousness. She flipped open a black leather wallet and handed it to Templar. He examined it curiously. On one side of the fold was the Government crest, on the other was a parchment card. The card indicated that the blonde was: Susan Bones, Auror Office, Special Intelligence Division, Home Office. The information was written in an ornate script alongside a photograph of the woman. Beneath the photo was a signature which, like the woman herself, was tall, neat and prim. Templar stared at the identity card uncertainly. For a second, when he'd first looked at it, he'd thought that the photograph of the severe-looking young woman had narrowed its eyes at him.

'Auror Office? Never heard of you,' said Templar. He looked curiously into the woman's face as he handed the card back.

'Not many people have. We are a specialist office. I'm Susan Bones, call me Susan, please. And you are?' The blonde held out her hand, Templar responded out of habit, and found himself being given a very firm handshake.

'Detective Sergeant Jack Templar,' Templar introduced himself. 'But most people call me Saint.'

'Good to meet you, Sergeant,' said Bones. She nodded towards the short-haired brunette. 'This is our liaison officer, Detective Inspector Beadle.'

'Call me Bobbie, Saint. We're an informal organisation,' the woman said. She showed him a Metropolitan Police Warrant Card containing her photograph.

Curious, Templar examined the warrant card carefully, looking for Inspector Beadle's Division. She was Special Branch, which meant he'd been right! This lot iwere/i spooks! The other card might have been some sort of fake, but Detective Inspector Roberta E Beadle had a genuine police warrant.

'Our trainee, Stanley Cresswell,' continued Bones. The blond young man nodded politely, but did not speak.

'And I'm Lavender Brown,' the curvy, curly haired girl said, winking at him. She grinned broadly, peered around him, and nodded in the direction of her gaze.

'So, Jack, can I assume that the sweaty barrel of lard now approaching is your boss?' Lavender Brown asked.

Swearing loudly and mopping his sweat soaked brow with a damp handkerchief DCI Abberline struggled through the undergrowth towards the odd quartet of newcomers.

'Yes, that's…'

'Detective Chief Inspector Abberline, I've met him,' Beadle finished the sentence for him. 'Hello, Chief Inspector.'

Abberline stopped, looked at the woman closely, recognised her, and peppered the air with expletives. Templar stepped aside and watched his boss carefully. Abberline's face had gone from tomato red to beetroot purple and the veins on his temples were pulsing alarmingly. Templar wondered whether Abberline would be able to control his famously foul mouth.

'Bloody hell, Constable Beadle, you were a beat plod a couple of years ago…' Abberline began.

'I was seconded to Special Branch, guv'nor, I'm a D.I. now and I'm the police liaison officer to the Auror Office. This is my colleague, Susan Bones. She's in charge.'

Abberline looked contemptuously at the blonde and swore. Bones, in return, parted her thin lips and bared her teeth in what might charitably be called a smile. Abberline simply swore again.

'Good afternoon, Chief Inspector,' said Bones, ignoring Abberline's foul language. 'I'm here to see whether the Auror Office wants to investigate this case. The initial police reports said that the body on the heath was a man in ankle-length robes, is that correct?'

'Yes,' Abberline admitted through clenched teeth.

'Have forensics determined a time of death yet?' Bobbie Beadle asked, moving forward to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Bones.

Abberline swore again, 'You buggers are going to shut us down again, aren't you? Just like the last time, when that speccy kid and his lanky ginger mate turned up! What happens if I decide not to tell you what we've found?'

'You know how it works, sir. We will simply contact our office and they will contact the Commissioner's Office. Then you will be ordered to "extend us every courtesy" and you will do everything you can to assist us with our enquiries.' Beadle told him evenly.

'So, approximate time of death, please, and did you find anything when you searched the body?' Susan Bones demanded.

'He's been dead for weeks, he stinks. I'd like to see your faces when you see 'im!' Abberline snapped, glaring balefully at the four. 'He was some sort of long-haired-beardy-hippy-weirdo and he wasn't wearing anything under his robes,'

'Traditional pureblood,' Stanley Cresswell spoke for the first time, his accent betraying his northern origins as he, too, stepped forwards. The three young women hissed him into silence. Templar wondered what Cresswell meant by those words, which obviously meant something to his colleagues.

'And this had fallen into the bushes under the body,' said Abberline, reaching inside his white SOCO suit and pulling out a transparent plastic evidence bag containing the conductor's baton. The effect was instantaneous. All but Bones, who remained poker-faced, reacted with a look of wide eyed recognition. With surprising speed, Bones stepped forwards and snatched the evidence bag from Abberline's hand. She took two steps backwards and her three colleagues closed ranks, creating a barrier between her and Abberline as the apoplectic D.C.I. moved to grab the evidence back.

Abberline moved purposefully towards Lavender Brown, who was by far the smallest of the four. As he lifted his arm to push the girl out of the way, Bones waved the evidence bag at him. Abberline's attempted assault on the Brown girl was halted when he suddenly tripped and fell. Templar was uncertain about what had made the Chief Inspector stumble. It seemed that Abberline's legs had locked together for a second. He tripped over his own feet and fell forwards onto his face. Fortunately, his belly took most of the force from the fall.

'Unicorn, willow, eleven,' Susan said.

She was speaking in some sort of code, Templar assumed. He moved forwards to assist the loudly cursing Abberline to his feet.

'Stanley, take this,' Susan Bones ordered. She handed the baton to the young man. 'Go back to the car. You should know the procedure from your basic training! Tell me, now!'

'Call the office and instruct them to inform the Chief Constable—no, we're still in London so it's the Commissioner of Police, sorry—let him know that the Auror Office will be taking over this investigation. Arrange for an Imager to attend the scene and contact our office staff to arrange for the body to be collected.'

'Good, well done, tell them what I've just told you, too.' Susan said.

'Unicorn, willow, eleven.' Stanley Cresswell nodded, dashed up the path, ducked under the tape and ran back to the car.

'And, Stanley, come straight down to the tent when you've finished,' Susan called after him.

Susan Bones' face was one of determined professionalism as she rapidly barked more orders. 'Bobbie, you deal with the scenes of crime people. Get them out of here, and make absolutely certain that no evidence leaves the scene.'

'Okay, Susan.' Inspector Beadle strode past Abberline as he struggled to his feet. The tall brunette moved purposefully down towards the white tent.

'Lavender, I'm going with Bobbie to see what we've got. You stay here and interview Templar and Abberline. I want the when, where, how and who of the body being discovered.' With that, Susan Bones followed Bobbie Beadle down to the incident tent.

'Just a minute,' Templar was forced to address Susan's back, as she neither stopped nor turned. 'You can't just stroll in here and take control.'

'We can,' Lavender said. 'Special Intelligence Division, remember. This is now a national security incident; your boss will be getting the call in minutes. So, Jack, we can start by you giving me your phone number, and then you can tell me who found the body.'

Templar looked quizzically at the girl, she smiled wolfishly. 'We can skip the phone number, if you don't want to meet me for a drink later,' she said.

Chief Inspector Abberline was worryingly silent. Templar glanced at him, the Chief Inspector looked as though he was about to explode.

'They can do what they want,' he grumbled. 'These buggers have done it to me before! A couple of years ago, I was called to a suspicious death in Belgravia, Beadle was a beat plod. The house belonged to a geezer called Fletch-Finchley or something. One minute, potential murder, the next, we're off the case.'

As if on cue, Abberline's mobile phone rang. He rolled his eyes at Templar, swore loudly, and then answered it.

'Yes, sir … I understand, sir … every courtesy, of course.'

When the call ended Abberline turned to Lavender Brown. He stepped forwards so that his flabby red-jowled face was much closer than socially acceptable, but she did not back away. He then swore loudly, creatively and vilely, into the young woman's face. Lavender simply waited until Abberline ran out of breath and then asked.

'Statements, please. Who found the body?'

'You tell her, Templar, you know as much as me. I'm going to call off the search and send the uniforms home. Then I'm off. I've got better things to do than waste my time chasing around after effing spooks.' Detective Inspector Abberline lit a cigarette, inhaled, gave a rattling, phlegm filled cough, and lumbered towards the security tape.

Stanley Cresswell was green-faced and retching in the undergrowth when Lavender finally walked down to the tent. This was his first corpse. That was why they had taken him from the lecture room. All trainees needed to see one. As soon as a suspicious death was reported, the Aurors took one of their trainees with them. It was an essential part of their training. Cresswell would probably see a lot worse in the course of his career. If he didn't like what he saw, he would quit and it was better to find out as soon as possible.

'A career in the Auror Office gives you a chance to meet new and interesting people, Stan,' Lavender told him. 'But some of them are dead! Although in this job you can't even guarantee that every corpse you see will have stopped moving. You will never really get used to it, but unless you learn to deal with death you won't pass the course.'

Cresswell gasped and nodded.

'What's the Ice-Maiden doing in there?' Lavender asked him.

'Auror Bones is just looking around the tent. She told me that she was "observing the scene," Auror Brown,' Stanley Cresswell gasped.

'Call me Lavender, Stan,' she told him. 'It's Susan, Lavender and Bobbie. If you must be formal, use Bones, Brown and Beadle, but lose the "Auror," it confuses the Muggles when they hear it.'

Parting the undergrowth with her wand, Lavender strode forwards, opened the tent flap, and stepped inside. Susan had preserved the body, cooled the tent, and suppressed the stench of death.

'Well?' Susan asked when Lavender entered. The tent was now occupied only by the three young women. The police and their forensics people had all been politely asked to leave.

'He prefers to be called Jack. He's twenty-nine years old, single, has recently stopped smoking and he's taking me out to dinner tonight. And he thinks that you need to let your hair down and wear shorter skirts, Suzy,' said Lavender.

'Susan,' Susan corrected her friend automatically. 'You know what I meant, Lavender, I'm not interested in your love life.'

'Love doesn't come into it, this is simply lust. He was cute, wasn't he, Bobbie?' Lavender turned to Bobbie Beadle for confirmation.

'Not my type, Lavender. I dated a copper once when I was on the job, it was a mistake,' Bobbie Beadle told her. 'These days I prefer Quidditch players; more stamina and better reflexes.'

Susan narrowed her fine blond brows and frowned in annoyance at her companions, silently ordering them to return to the matter at hand.

'Sorry, Susan,' said Lavender. 'A Muggle was walking his dog early this morning, the dog found the body. The Muggle called the police, a constable was the first to arrive, and then lovely Jack turned up and took charge. He certainly seems to be the masterful type…'

'For Merlin's sake, Lavender!' Susan interrupted.

'Sorry … back to business … Jack is from the local police station, in Hampstead. The fat man … Abberline … I ireally/i hope ihe/i wasn't the copper you dated, Bobbie… All iright/i, Susan … Abberline arrived later to head the investigation. He's from…'

'The Murder Investigation Team of the Specialist Crime Division, I know, Lavender. After she'd cleared the Scene of Crime people out Bobbie explained how the Muggle Police organise this sort of operation,' Susan interrupted again.

Lavender nodded and suddenly became brisk and business-like.

'They're M.I.T., just like we are. I reckon Harry knew that when he made up the acronym. They were investigating this as a suspicious death when we arrived. They think someone must have thrown him into the bushes. They reckon he's been here for a few weeks because of the state he's in, but they haven't established a time or cause of death. They were going to cut him up to find out!' Lavender rolled her eyes in disbelief before continuing.

'The Muggles are all leaving now, in fact most of them have gone. I've sent everyone away, apart from a couple of their Scenes of Crime people who are waiting to remove this tent when we're finished. Abberline isn't happy … obviously … but the system is working, they think we're spies or something, that's what spooks means. So Harry's "National Security" cover story seems to be working. What's happening about the body?'

'St Mungo's will send someone to the office, and they'll come here with the Imager,' said Susan. 'Did you find out anything else of interest, Lavender?'

'You heard Abberline say that his wand wasn't found on him. It was in the bushes under the body; over there.' Lavender pointed at a plastic triangle under the bushes on which the number 2 was printed.

'Dropped, do you think?' Susan asked. 'Or was he disarmed?'

Lavender caught the serious, testing, tone in Susan's voice. As she was the longest-qualified Auror of the three, Susan had seniority, and she liked to test her more junior colleagues. It was an annoying habit and Lavender had, so far, been unable to break her of it. From the tone of the question Lavender realised that Susan had seen something. Hunkering down, Lavender looked at the spot where the wand had been found. It was almost underneath the body and could, possibly, simply have fallen from his robes when he landed in the bushes.

The man was very elderly and was draped grotesquely within the undergrowth, hanging a couple of feet above the ground. He was screened from casual bypassers by the thick foliage. Lavender looked up at the broken foliage of the bushes and glanced at Susan.

'Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Susan?' enquired Lavender.

'What's that?' Bobbie Beadle asked the two witches.

'He wasn't thrown, he fell,' Lavender said. Susan gave her friend a thin-lipped smile. Much as she hated agreeing with Susan, Lavender immediately knew that they were thinking along the same lines.

'He fell, or was dropped,' Lavender explained to Bobbie. 'With any luck, this will turn out to be natural causes and we'll be able to close the case quickly.'

'Natural causes?' Bobbie looked puzzled. 'Do you think he was climbing a tree and he simply fell to his death?'

The two witches looked at their Muggle companion despairingly. Bobbie laughed at herself as realisation struck.

'Sorry,' she apologised. 'I've been on holiday, remember, I'm having problems readjusting to thinking about the magical possibilities.'

'You'll learn, and so will Stanley, I hope,' said Susan. With a wave of her wand she turned the roof of the Muggle tent transparent. Lavender looked up, exchanged a glance with Susan, and smiled.

'Stanley!' Susan called.

Trainee Auror Stanley Cresswell stepped nervously into the tent. He still looked rather green.

'Sorry, Susan,' he began.

'You need to get used to this sort of thing, and you need to learn to observe and investigate, Stanley,' said Susan sharply. 'Look around, tell me what you see, and tell me what you think might have happened.'

Stanley moved forwards nervously. Standing behind Susan's back, Lavender caught the trainee's eye, swung an arm and pointed her forefinger upwards.

'There … there are broken branches in that tree, right at the top.' Stanley began as his eyes followed the direction of Lavender's finger. He shaded his eyes against the sun's glare and squinted upwards.

He hesitated, and then reached into his trouser pocket. Pulling out his Auror wallet, he opened it, and then opened it again, unfolding it into its equipment configuration. Plunging his hand deep inside, he pulled out a pair of Omnioculars and looked carefully at the tree.

'Well?' Susan asked when he'd finished.

'It looks like he hit the top of that tree and, sort of rolled and bounced down the branches until he ended up in these bushes,' said Stanley.

He raked the Omnioculars up and down the tree several times before saying anything more.

'There are a few strands of what looks like robe material caught on the upper branches,' Stanley continued. He looked at Susan and Lavender.

'Do, er, do you want me to theorise?' he asked.

'Personally, I find practical a lot more fun than theory,' Lavender winked at him. 'But "Madam Bones" prefers not to work up a sweat, so theorise away, Stan.'

Susan pursed her lips and frowned at Lavender before turning to Cresswell.

'Tell me what you think happened, Stanley,' she asked. 'If Miss Brown can manage to come up with a few ideas, I have no doubt that you'll be able to as well.'

Lavender smiled. She'd successfully baited Susan to the point where she'd made an unprofessional remark! That was a victory.

'Right!' Stanley Cresswell took a deep breath. 'He hit the tree from above and went through the top branches and rolled and fell down this side into the bushes.'

'Which means?' Susan asked.

'That he was not just falling, he was moving forwards, too. That way!' Stanley pointed. 'And that means that he was flying. So, either he fell from his broom and died from the fall, or he died for some other reason and then fell from his broom. The first would mean that it could be a natural death, the second could mean that he was ambushed and killed.'

'Ambushed?' Susan asked.

'From the position of his wand, it seems unlikely that it was in his hand, and I carried out a "Priori Incantatem" spell on it in the car. I know that he didn't use it to defend himself or break his fall. So he either died up there and fell, or he was ambushed.'

'That's all theory, but it is sound, so far,' Susan nodded. 'Of course, he could have been riding a Hippogriff or a Thestral and been thrown. Have you anything to add, Lavender, Bobbie?'

'Good work, Stan,' said Lavender. Susan was quick to criticise and slow to praise.

'A Hippogriff would have to be made invisible, wouldn't it?' said Bobbie. 'And even if it was invisible, it would've turned visible the moment he spell caster died. I'm sure that someone would have spotted it, Susan. We'd have been called here within minutes of the death, not weeks later.'

'And only lunatics like Harry try to ride Thestrals,' said Lavender. 'A broom is definitely the most likely, isn't it?'

'Yes,' agreed Susan.

'The guy is elderly, and if he was flying in the direction his fall indicates … that way…' Lavender pointed just east of south, in the direction Stanley had identified. 'He would have eventually reached St Mungo's. So if we look for a wizard house in that direction…' she whirled around and pointed in the opposite direction '...we might be able to identify this old man.'

'Are you certain about St Mungo's?' Susan asked.

'I pretty much lived there for two years after the Battle, remember, Suzy. I know where the damn hospital is.' Lavender snapped.

'Sorry, Lavender,' Susan apologised. 'So, Stanley, what do you think we should do now?'

'If I'm right…' Cresswell began.

'Susan and I agree with you, so let's assume that we're all as clever as Suzy-B,' Lavender interrupted.

'Well then, in that case, there will probably be a broom on the ground, somewhere in that direction. Depending upon how high he was, then it might be a couple of hundred yards away, or a mile or more. Do you want me to go and look?' Stanley asked.

'No, thank you,' said Susan. 'As there is a member of this team who prefers "practical" and likes to "work up a sweat," I think our colleague Miss Brown is more suited to that job. You can go back to the car and check out wizarding addresses in the opposite direction, which would be...'

'Hampstead, then Finchley, then Barnet, or Borehamwood,' Bobbie Beadle supplied.

'Before I go looking for a shaft to ride, Susan, would you remove your stench suppressing spell for a few minutes? I want to see whether I can sniff anything else out,' said Lavender. 'Don't forget that I have the nose of a wolf.'

Susan rolled her eyes, but nodded and obliged. Stanley Cresswell gagged and retched.

Although she'd tried to prepare herself, Lavender was momentarily overcome by the odours, the olfactory equivalent of multicoloured flashing lights. Steeling herself, she moved closer to the corpse and sniffed. There was definitely something else beneath the overwhelming stench of death. Conjuring herself a platform, she climbed alongside the corpse and inhaled. She began with his boots and the hem of his robes and slowly moved upwards. When she reached his groin, she stopped and moved even closer.

'Do you have any idea how disgusting that looks?' Bobbie Beadle asked. Lavender ignored her and kept sniffing up his chest, his head, arms and finally his hands.

'Can you suppress the smell again, please, Susan? There's no reason for us to suffer any longer,' said Lavender as she finished, climbed down from the platform and dispelled it.

'Did you find anything useful?' Susan asked.

'He's been dead more than a month, but even you can smell that,' Lavender began. 'He either lives alone, or his family doesn't mind walking on a floor covered in biscuit crumbs and mouse droppings. You can see the evidence on his boots, if you're interested. Unfortunately, he has continence problems, so the only other thing I can tell you is that he uses rather too much Ogden's patent broom polish on his broom. It took me a while to figure out what that last smell was over the stench of death and stale urine, but I should be able to sniff out the broom if I get close enough.'

Stanley Cresswell's expression somersaulted between distaste, disgust and amazement.

'If you want to be able to have a wonderful sense of smell, Stan, meet me on the full moon night and I'll bite you. Or I would, if it wasn't against the law.' Lavender told him.

The young blond trainee looked at her in ill-disguised horror.

'Yeah, a lot of blokes look at me like that, too. But they will usually change their mind if I offer to bite them at some other time of the month. If you're interested in a girl who's seen places and been things, buy me a drink sometime and we'll see what happens,' she offered, lowering her voice to a husky whisper.

Stanley Cresswell blushed.

'Enough, Lavender! Go and find that broom!' ordered Susan. 'Stanley, make any houses occupied by single, elderly wizards on the approximate flight line a priority.'

'Okay, but … can I ask … why is this our job? It looks like there's no Dark magic involved,' Stanley asked hesitantly. 'I asked Auror Topping in class why we investigate all suspicious wizard deaths and all she said was "Because Potter says so".'

Lavender laughed, 'She's right, but there's more to it than that. The odd dead…'

'Tom Riddle and his supporters killed a lot of people,' Susan said quietly, interrupting Lavender. 'You know that, Stanley.'

Lavender was grateful for Susan's interruption. She had been about to say "the odd dead Muggle-born didn't bother the old Ministry." Hardly an appropriate thing to say to a trainee whose Muggle-born father, she remembered when Susan interrupted, had been killed by Death Eaters. She stayed silent and allowed Susan to explain.

'First, deaths by Killing Curse are dark magic and are ours anyway. Second, Tom Riddle killed people in his attempts to make himself immortal. He didn't always use the Killing Curse. In fact, most of the time he didn't; so Harry persuaded the Minister to make all unexplained wizard deaths Auror Office business. It used to be a job for Magical Law Enforcement, but Harry doesn't want another self-styled Lord Voldemort, none of us do. We investigate suspiciously inexplicable Muggle deaths too, because a few bigoted Muggle-haters still think that killing Muggles isn't ireally/i a crime. Apparently, Riddle's first victims were a family of Muggles. He used the Killing Curse on them. The Muggle police had no idea how they had died, and at the time, the Ministry weren't interested in dead Muggles. "Never again," as Harry says,' Susan concluded.

'Thanks,' Stan nodded in fierce understanding. He was close to tears, Lavender realised. 'We need to be sure that this poor old guy wasn't killed by someone trying to make themselves the next Lord … Tom Riddle. I will find out who he was and where he lived.'

He turned and was about to leave the tent, but stopped.

'I don't know if it's worth mentioning, but Ogdens was a popular polish for sporting and Quidditch brooms fifty years ago. It's a bit old fashioned and not many people use it now. Most people use Wicks Wax, and the professionals usually use Slipstream Wonderwax,' Stan said.

'You never know what might be useful,' said Lavender. 'I recognised the smell because Dad uses it. He iis/i a bit old-fashioned. Thanks, Stan.'

Stanley nodded and left the tent. Lavender waited until he'd gone before speaking.

'Thanks, Susan. I was about to put my foot in it, again,' Lavender admitted. 'I'd forgotten how his Dad died and I don't think he'd have appreciated a comment about dead Muggle-borns. And well done, you've fired him up, he'll do a good job.'

Lavender was rewarded by that rarest of things, a true smile from Susan.

'And I've no doubt that you'll find this man's broom, Lavender,' she said.

'I'm going, I'm going,' said Lavender in mock annoyance.

'Bobbie, you might as well go with Lavender,' said Susan. 'There isn't much more we can do here. I'll wait for the Imager and the Healer. You can try to keep Lavender out of trouble.' Bobbie Beadle nodded and followed Lavender from the tent.

They had been walking across parkland and through the woods for almost fifteen minutes, heading towards Parliament Hill, before Bobbie spoke. 'Did you really smell broom polish?' she asked.

'Yes. My sense of smell is a lot better than most people's.' There was a tinge of bitterness in her voice when Lavender spoke. 'On a full moon night, when I change, it seems to be better than my eyesight. Now it's just very good. It's no more than a shadow of the wolf, something to remind me that I'm ialways/i in the shadow of the wolf,'

'The shadow of the wolf, that's an interesting way to put it,' said Bobbie.

'You know that my appointment to the Auror Office was even more controversial than yours, don't you? A Muggle is bad, but a werewolf is worse. Harry, bless him, doesn't give a damn, but I get a lot of nasty comments in the Ministry. Doesn't it bother you, to be walking through the woods with a werewolf?' Lavender asked.

Bobbie simply shrugged.

'Until I met Harry, Ron and Hermione two years ago, I'd never heard of magic, Lavender.' Bobbie replied. 'Now, I simply lump goblins, trolls, witches, wizards, werewolves and everything else that's weird into one big bundle called "magic." I have no reason to think of werewolves as being any stranger or more dangerous than witches.'

'You wouldn't say that if you saw me on full moon night. Not that you iwould/i see me on full moon night. No one does. No one has. No one ever will. I lock my house, lock my bedroom door, and lock myself in a cage inside my bedroom.' Lavender admitted. She stopped and sniffed.

'I can smell broom polish,' she announced. 'It's close.' She sniffed again and looked around. Bobbie pointed up into the tree.

'It's caught on a branch,' Bobbie said.

Lavender looked quickly around; there was no one close, no one watching. She pulled out her wand, brought the broom down from the tree and sniffed it.

'This is it! Let's get it back to Suzy-B, and then we can go back to the office,' suggested Lavender.

When they returned to the site, the tent, the body and the last of the Muggle Scene of Crime people had gone. There was nothing to indicate that there had ever been a dead wizard in the bushes. Susan and Stanley were sitting in the Range Rover with the doors wide open. Susan, Lavender was pleased to see, had already started on the paperwork.

Stanley Cresswell saw them approaching, after a short exchange with Susan he climbed from the car and strode quickly towards them. He was staring at her.

'Wow!' he said.

Lavender was surprised. She'd seen him staring at her cleavage before, but he'd never commented on it. Then she realised that he was focussed on the broom she was carrying.

'It's a broom!' she snapped.

'It's a Comet 140, a classic!' the blond trainee told her excitedly. 'It's the broom he used when he played professionally.'

'He was a Quidditch player?' Bobbie asked, surprised.

'Yes, he is … was … Clarence Trebilcock, he played for Tutshill in the 1920's and 30's. He was a Chaser and still holds a club record for most points scored over his career. He was ninety six and lived alone in Borehamwood. At that time the players weren't the stars they are today. The pay was rubbish and there was no pension plan.' Stan's eyes gleamed as he spoke and Lavender recognised the excited enthusiasm of a Quidditch fan.

'Do we know how he died?' Lavender asked.

'Heart, probably. He had heart problems and flew to St Mungo's every two weeks to pick up a heart potion. He was a very stubborn and independent old guy, the Healer said. After he'd missed two appointments, St Mungo's sent someone round. No one answered the door, so they reported him missing. A Bailiff from the London Magical Law office went to his house and broke in. The Bailiff has been here too, and spoken to Susan. Trebilcock's place was a real mess, smelly and squalid. He wasn't coping, poor old guy. But the house was empty and the Bailiff couldn't find him.'

'He flew across London on a broom?' Bobbie asked.

'According to St Mungo's, he didn't trust the Floo Network, and he didn't like Muggles, so he used a Disillusionment Charm whenever he went anywhere. Healer Flaherty arrived and checked out the body. She thinks that the old guy's heart gave out. St Mungo's are going to do a full report for us, but the preliminary conclusion is that he had a heart seizure in mid flight, fell off his broom, and ended up here.'

'Has the Imager been?' Lavender asked.

'Yes, that tall woman with the thick glasses arrived with the Healer, not long after you went,' said Stanley.

'Fenella,' Lavender supplied the name.

'Yes, she took photographs of everything and then left. When Fenella finished, the Healer examined the body and took it away. I pulled the scraps of robe from the tree and tidied the place up. Susan said that, unless the Healers find something else when they check the body, we're all done here. Now that you've found the broom, there is nothing else for the Muggles to find and we can go,' Stanley said.

'Nice and easy, and a bit dull,' Lavender said as they arrived back at the Range Rover. 'Sorry you didn't get anything more exciting, Stan.'

'Poor old guy,' Bobbie observed. 'We should get a cover story out as soon as possible. We need a reason for us to have taken this case from the police. It would be useful if we can let them know, somehow.'

'You come up with a story, Bobbie, and I'll tell Jack,' said Lavender. 'I'm meeting him tonight.'

'Huh,' sighed Susan in disapproval.

Lavender ignored her. They climbed back into the car and left.

Jack Templar stepped out of taxi and held the door open for his companion. She leaned forwards as she slid out onto the pavement and he was rewarded by another good view of her boobs.

This was looking very promising. It was a good thing that he'd tidied the place up and changed the bedclothes before he'd left. She'd been forward and flirty with him at the crime scene but he'd been cautious. Flirty didn't always mean that he was in with a chance, some girls simply liked to tease.

'Home, sweet home,' he announced as he led her up to his front door. He could not find his key. As he searched through his pockets, fumbling to find it, he tried to buy himself some time.

'In the restaurant, you said that when we were alone, you'd tell me what was going on,' he said.

'I can't tell you everything, obviously,' Lavender purred. She was distractingly close to him. 'I certainly can't tell you who he was, but he used to be an important man, a scientist. He knew a lot of stuff we still don't want anyone else to find out about, and he was going a bit senile. From what we can tell, he gave his minder the slip and decided that it would be a good idea to go tree climbing. The post-mortem shows that he had a heart attack and fell into the bushes. So the case is closed, nothing suspicious, just a weird old guy who died in a weird way.'

Templar finally found his key, but in his haste he dropped it. Lavender slid down his body, her head very close to his crotch, and picked it up.

'It looks like you need help gaining entry,' she said. 'Shall I guide you in?'

She placed the key on his hand, and held both hand and key tightly.

'You poke it in there and wiggle it about a bit,' she told him as she guided key into keyhole and let him open his door. 'You'll soon get the hang of it.'

He was sweating from her touch. He hastily pocketed the key and ushered her inside. They got no further than the hall.

He turned on her and forced her against the wall. He was tearing off her clothes and she was tearing off his. She was wearing a corset! That surprised him. The night was hot and sticky; she must have been really hot in the restaurant he thought. He tried to remove it but she slapped his hands away. They made it into his living room and onto the sofa, but no further.

When they'd finished he examined her carefully. She was too good to be true, a looker and a goer. She wasn't a keeper, but if he could keep her sweet he was sure that she'd be good for casual sex. He couldn't be that lucky, there had to be a drawback.

She didn't seem to be crazy, but few women did. You didn't find out for weeks what the problem was. She'd shown no sign of wanting commitment; she seemed to be just after the sex. But … the corset … usually, it would be sexy, but in this heat it was simply weird.

'Do you want to stay the night?' he asked. It seemed a shame to waste those clean sheets.

'Are you up to it?' she asked. She was now on all fours and straddling him, one arm either side of his head. She was looking into his eyes. He took his chance and reached down. There were three clips on the front of her corset. He managed to unfasten the bottom two before she straightened up and slapped his hands away.

She pulled it closed, but she was too late. He had seen the drawback; she was disfigured, ugly, scarred! Five deep and angry red scars stretched across her abdomen. It looked as if she'd been clawed by some huge and vicious beast. He pushed himself away from her, over the arm of his sofa. He tumbled onto the floor in an ungainly heap in his desperation to get away from her. He was staring at the scars in disgust, seeing nothing else. He continued to stare at her abdomen even after she'd refastened the corset, only vaguely noticing her register the horror on his face.

'Jesus Christ!' he said. 'What the…' As he looked up at the girl he felt the passion, the excitement, the lust flow away. He was suddenly empty of emotion, unable to speak. Her distressed and disappointed demeanour silenced him in mid-word. She scooped up her clothes, stepped over him, opened the door and left. He heard the front door slam. The noise was followed instantly by a sharp crack, like a gunshot. Like her, he was naked, but he followed and pulled open the door anyway. She was nowhere to be seen.

He closed the door and slumped down onto the floor. The doormat was a scratchy and uncomfortable seat, but he remained there for several minutes because it distracted him. He could no longer remember her face or her figure. All he could see was her mutilated torso. He wouldn't be able to sleep for hours.

He couldn't be sure, but he thought that she'd been crying when she left. Why? It wasn't his fault that she was disfigured.

'Lucky escape there, son,' he told himself.

Reaching into his overcoat pocket he found cigarettes and a lighter.