Gotta Leave This Town Behind
Brown says: I disclaim all rights to the Anita Blake, Buffy or Harry Potter material and franchises. No Buffy in this story, but there will be in the sequel. Would love a beta reader. This story is partially inspired by Mhalachai's Inevitable
, a great story which I hope to see finished any year now.
My nights end in crime scenes far too often.
This Tuesday was no exception. I had finished my fourth raising for the night, and was on my way home. My last appointment had run so late that the night was turning into early morning, the sky a sullen pink-grey out the car window. I was thinking of nothing but a shower and then bed, cuddling up in the dog-pile my bedroom often became these days, curling up next to Nathaniel and possibly Micah.
My cell rang. It was Dolph, straight to the point without any greeting. “Anita, we’ve got a weird one. Dead guy, magic definitely involved. Reynolds wants a second opinion.”
I sighed, my shower-fantasy slain. I tried to think of a way to weasel out of a probably-horrific crime scene. It wasn’t the horror factor, I was just tired. “I’m not a witch, Dolph, just an animator. I won’t know anything that Tammy doesn’t.”
“That’s the point, Anita.” Dolph gravelled. “Reynolds doesn’t know what this is. If you have even the vaguest clue, that’s a step past square one. You’re coming.”
I shut up while he gave me directions. Tammy Reynolds was a pretty experienced witch; if she didn’t know what was going on, it must be pretty esoteric. My ability to raise the dead was very different from witchcraft, so my knowledge regarding spells of the murderous variety was pretty damn patchy. But I didn’t tell Dolph that – he knew, and there was a chance that I’d notice something Tammy hadn’t. Besides, strange murder scenes in St. Louis generally ended up being my business eventually.
The drive took me twenty minutes, and the slowly rising sun made the flashing police lights look silly rather than distinctive, painting nearby buildings a pale red-blue. A nest of cop cars blocked off both ends of the street, a quiet road in an industrial area. Deserted at night. A good place to dump a body, I reflected, swinging out of my car and stretching. Four zombie raisings in one night was tiring, and I’d been awake for almost twenty-two hours.
The uniform on the perimeter looked askance at my blood-flecked shirt, but I flashed my shiny marshal’s badge and he waved me through. There were definite advantages to being a federal marshal rather than a civilian ‘consultant’. As I scanned the area for Dolph, I became more and more uneasy. At really horrible crime scenes – like most shifter and vampire attacks, the kind I consult on – the cops all stand at the edge, pretending to do something and looking a little pale.
This crime scene was different. No one was pale, no one looked scared; just disturbed and a little bit…curious. It was a reaction I’d never seen before, and considering the number of crime scenes I’d graced over the past few years, that was worrying.
The swirl of uniforms and plain-clothes RPIT members parted to reveal Dolph, standing in front of a tarpaulin stretched out vertically between two cars, talking to a young uniformed officer in a low voice. The kid was nervous, and kept glancing at the tarp then looking away. I stood still; if Dolph was helping the kid through his first corpse, I didn’t want to interrupt. Having someone else, especially a girl, see his weakness would have made it even worse in his eyes.
Dolph nodded at me, said a few more words, and saw the uniform off with a pat on the shoulder. He turned to me, and I took a breath. Dolph and I had problems. He had prejudices against monsters; not just the violent ones, but all of them. Most of it was because his son was engaged to a vampire. And he didn’t exactly approve of my vampiric lovers, particularly Jean-Claude, who was not only French but the vampire Master of St Louis. Dolph thought my relationship with Jean-Claude was affecting my judgement, making me empathise with the things I hunted.
Most days, I thought he was right. But that didn’t mean I liked how he treated the men in my life. I waited, trying to tell what kind of mood he was in. He just nodded at me, and waved at the tarp. “Take a look.” His voice was quiet and emotionless, a tone I recognised as Dolph avoiding a fight. Normally he used it when talking to the media, or his superiors. If he was using it with me, it meant that he really wanted my help. I lifted the tarp and ducked underneath, hoping it wasn’t going to be nightmare material. I had enough of that already.
The corpse lay on its side, limbs splayed out like a carelessly dropped marionette. But I wasn’t really looking at the body. About four feet above the corpse, a glowing green skull hung in the air, a snake writhing from its mouth. The skull was bright, casting a sick glow over the pale corpse and dark asphalt. Totally confounded, I walked around the skull, carefully stepping over the corpse. The obviously magical design looked solid from behind as well, unnervingly real. As I finished the circle the snake twisted to look me directly in the eye, and I shivered.
Deliberately ignoring the magic sign for now, I sank into a crouch, blessing my decision to wear slacks rather than a skirt. I paused for a moment, concentrating on the details, viewing the body as an object; not a person. The corpse was a brown-haired male in its early thirties, dressed in a polo shirt and jeans. The eyes were clouded over, a milky white. Looking the body over, I couldn’t see any obvious injury or wound. The light was enough for me to see that the clothes were unstained and whole. Leaning in, I examined the lips for discolouration or foaming – and felt a brush against my skin, a touch of fading power.
My beast shivered. I carry several forms of lycanthropy, wolf and leopard and others, and my beast could feel something in the corpse. An echo of the beasts I carried. I leaned in closer, not quite brushing the skin, and inhaled. Soap, chemicals, death, animal. I took another breath. Wolf. The body had been a werewolf in life. Richard was going to be furious, one of his pack lying dead under a magic sign. There was something else. Under the slightly rancid, sweet smell of fresh death, there was more; a sensation I felt with my power rather than my mundane senses. A kind of power, like my necromancy but warm instead of cold. Malicious. I had never felt anything like it before.
I came back to myself, and realised I was bent over a corpse with my nose a whisper from its neck. Dolph was standing not three feet from me. I stood up in one movement, brushing down my slacks before his quiet stare. Quick, Anita, distract him with relevant information!
“The victim was a werewolf. I don’t know him by sight, but I can ask…around.” That meant Richard, my ex. Richard was the Ulfric – the leader, or as Jason put it, ‘top dog’ – of the local werewolf pack. Dolph didn’t approve of my ties to the ‘monsters’, but they were useful for getting information fast, when he let me use them. Dolph hadn’t liked me dating Jean-Claude, and I think he would have had a coronary if he’d known I’d been dating a werewolf as well.
Dolph inclined his head very slightly. “An ID would be good.” Apparently information trumped procedure tonight. Dolph went on. “Anything with the magic graffiti?”
I cocked my head. “I think he was killed with magic, but I don’t know what kind.” Turning back to the horrible floating image, I reached out. I could feel power, a litle like that on the corpse but without the sense of malice. Seeing the snake staring at my wrist, I quickly dropped my arm. “I don’t know how this was made, but it’s not harmful. I think it’s a signature of some kind.” I bit my lip as that sank in. “A magic-using serial killer?”
Dolph stared at the scene, quiet as the dawn, bone-tired. “I hope not.”
*Crash-clunngg! Clungg-whamm! Ka-krash!
Harry Potter jerked upright out of sleep, reaching for his wand even before he had processed the noise. He slid the length of wood, warm with magic and power, from the sleeve of his nightshirt and pointed it at…
Kreacher. The wrinkled house-elf gave a timid little bow, like he wasn’t holding two massive frying pans still vibrating from Kreacher’s twisted version of a wake-up call.
“Master has mail.” The elf’s voice was disgustingly neutral for such a cruel time of morning, especially since Harry had been up late last night dealing with an infestation of ghouls. He tried to concentrate on Kreacher’s words, struggling through a fog of sleep.
“Mail?” His voice was almost as croaky as Kreacher’s.
“Mail from Master’s Muggle cousin, inflated creature that he is, yes…” Kreacher was still muttering as he left Harry’s bedroom, hopefully to make breakfast. Harry smiled a little at the tone. It was taking time, but Kreacher was getting over his prejudices. A couple of years ago the elf would have called Dudley ‘it’, not ‘he’, and included many more adjectives. Now Kreacher even served Hermione food without grumbling, quite a step up from giving her dog food like he’d done the first time Harry had his friends over.
Harry rolled into a sitting position, groaning as a stream of sunlight burnt into his eyes. He had closed the shutters on that window last night, he was sure of it. Harry slid his wand away, groped around on the nightstand for his glassses, and stood up slowly. He’d taken a bad fall last night, diving away from a ghoul that had jumped through the flames. His research had told him that ghouls were terrified of fire; before toppling into bed last night he’d made a point of re-checking Revlin’s Necromancers and Theyr Servants
, and found a footnote in tiny writing that ghouls in areas with high ambient magic – like, say, graveyards where wizards had been buried – were both fearless and resistant to fire.
Perhaps he was biased, Harry thought as he thumped down the stairs, but that seemed like the kind of information that should be in the body of the text, in big letters. Underlined, even. Maybe Revlin wrote the book for knowledge’s sake, but what use was it if people couldn’t find what they needed?
Harry trudged along the ground-floor corridor, like the rest of Grimmauld Place in the process of being repainted. Half the wall was a fresh cream colour, and half was peeling yellow wallpaper with less-faded areas where paintings had once hung. Turning into the kitchen, Harry collapsed into a chair at the table. Kreacher was standing in front of the stove, peering at the frying pan, and Hedwig was perched next to the pantry, nibbling on an owl treat and glaring at the russet-brown owl sitting on the table. It was Dudley’s owl, which he kept to contact Harry in emergencies.
Kreacher waved a hand without looking back, and the teapot on the counter lifted up and poured a mug, which floated over into Harry’s waiting hands.
“Thanks, Kreacher.” Harry took a slow sip, letting the steam brush against his face. Feeling a little more awake, he set aside the mug and rubbed briefly at his eyes before reaching for the owl.
Dudley had named it Owl, muttering that it was bad enough having a postal owl and he wasn’t going to give it a fancy name. Owl held still as Harry untied the envelope, then flew off to find an open window. Hedwig screeched plaintively, and Harry made a note to give her some attention after he’d dealt with whatever Dudley was warning him of. Harry’s cousin was a police inspector, and he kept an eye out for wizarding problems that had crossed over into the Muggle world.
There were more and more of those, Harry reflected as he tore the letter open. With the Muggle government in England legalising vampires and becoming more accepting of earth magic and necromancy, it was getting harder and harder to keep the wand-wizards’s world a secret. Perhaps we should just give up, Harry thought moodily as he unfolded the paper. As always, Dudley’s laconic writing style – so like the Incident Reports that Ron occasionally bothered to file with the Auror Office – made Harry smile.
But the contents tore that smile away. Harry,
You said there was one Death Eater left. He’s stopped hiding. A murder in the States with green skull-and-snake signature. Magic definitely involved, police already investigating. Told them you were an expert on the killer. Reactivated your cover identity. See Lieutenant Rudolph Storr, Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, St. Louis, Missouri. Don’t let the last one take you out.
Harry felt cold, but he could feel his hands trembling with excitement. The last one. Most of the Death Eaters had died at Hogsmeade, either during the battle or after Riddle’s death, as the Death Eaters tried to flee. Some of them had escaped, hiding in England or running to the continent. They had hunted them down, the remnants of the Order and the few trustworthy Aurors still working for the Ministry. All of them save one.
Walden Macnair. Unlike the rest of Riddle’s twisted mob, Macnair hadn’t been into torture and degradation. Just death. Particularly lycanthropes, Macnair had loved killing shapeshifters. Was that why? Had Macnair gone for Remus, tried to kill Harry’s friend specifically? Or had it been random, just the nearest Order member in the swirling chaos that had been Hogsmeade? Harry didn’t know which would be worse, didn’t know if that adjective could be applied.
Macnair. He felt the rage, stirring deep inside him, the wounded cries of the grieving child that he knew he had never left behind. It was a white-hot, incandescent anger, pushed down where his memories still whispered. Cedric. Sirius. Dumbledore. Remus. Tonks. And the last name, the one that he couldn’t speak even in the deepest recesses of his mind. Oh yes, the rage was there, burning deep inside, but his mind was clear. His veins felt shot with ice, he was so calm.
Harry stood up, and Kreacher must have felt or heard something because he looked up and said “Master?” in a plaintive voice Harry hadn’t heard in years.
“Pack my bags, Kreacher.” He was sure that his voice was calm. He was sure. “I’m going away for a while.”