But I am posting what I have, per the rules of the ficathon.
Think of the first scene as a teaser. :-) I'm adopting this story as my alternate NaNo story (to be worked on if I finish "Senseless" before I hit the 50,000 word mark or the end of Nov).
Small warning: only the first scene has been revised. I'm posting the rest, as well, but read on at your own risk. My first, rough drafts are REALLY rough and ugly.
What Is Truth?
Sara Sidle tapped her left palm with the tip of her blonde oaken wand. “Impurvius.” She switched hands and tapped her right palm, then laid the wand aside and pulled a covered tray towards her. The scraps of scarlet linen had been wrapped around a magical object, possibly cursed, and she planned to use every precaution.
Her corner desk gave her some focus, even though her teammates would not shut up.
“No, seriously. I stopped Dawlish in the hall on my way down.” There was a rustle, probably pages turning. That was Nick, addicted to latest news. “He says that Harry Potter kid was here last night, in the middle of the whole thing.”
“Oh really.” Warrick was pretending to be bored, but Sara had seen his dark face intent over the same copy of the morning’s paper. “When are you going to quit obsessing over that kid?”
“Did you read the interview he gave–-“
Warrick snorted. “Just because he talked to a tabloid doesn’t mean he was right.”
“‘Course not.” Nick got quiet. “Then something like last night happens, and you have to wonder how much of it was right.”
Sara turned over another piece of linen, looking for a match to the burn mark on another. She needed to stop letting their conversation distract her from work, and let work distract her from the rumors. Distract her from the nervous flutter that had hovered in the pit of her stomach since she had Flooed into the Ministry Atrium that morning and found it looking like a battlefield.
The door to the office opened and shut. Sara paused. She wanted to ask for news, but the boys would be all over whoever it was, and she was right in the middle of this now. Instead of turning around, she continued matching the bits of scorch mark together. That almost looked like a crest of some sort, serpent rampant and a pair of scales. . . .
“Catherine!” That was Nick again, of course. Paper slapped onto a surface, probably Catherine’s desk. “Did you get anything out of the Aurors up there? This paper’s worse than the Quibbler, they report whatever they feel like reporting.”
“Sit down, Nick.”
The sigh and thump that followed were, presumably, Nick sitting down. “You never wear that damn necklace unless we’re going into the field,” he countered. “And if we’re off to look at some minor scene a hundred miles from the Ministry, I’m quitting.”
At that, Sara risked a glance over her shoulder. Catherine was seated at her own desk, legs crossed beneath her fashionably trim robe, holding a hexagonal mother-of-pearl pendant in front of her. She frowned, and tapped the pendant with the tip of her pale ash wand. Blue light flared across it.
Focus on your own work, Sidle, Sara scolded herself. Calibrating a detection pendant means absolutely nothing.
But it was hard to tamp down the swell of hope. It was about time they got a break.
“Don’t you two have work to do?” Catherine snapped.
“We’re waiting for Greg to finish mixing up some more Preserving Solution,” Warrick said. Sara imagined him leaning back in his chair. “We ran out, and I need that to finish logging in the ingredients we were looking at yesterday.”
“I know you’re pretty good with potions.” Catherine wasn’t to be cowed. “Why aren’t you next door helping him?”
Sara moved another piece of cloth, rotating it about 95 degrees, and smiled as it fit neatly. That was worth letting herself add something to the conversation. “Because they’ve been too busy poring over that rag, and theorizing from a story that is incredibly muddled and probably not true anyway.”
Catherine’s snort was either appalled or amused.
“I can’t help it if none of our senior departments feel like filling us in on what actually happened here.” Nick vented a frustrated sigh. “It’s not evidence, but it’s better than nothing. I mean, if we finally have proof that Volde–-“
“Nick . . .” Catherine said warningly.
“Sorry, if ‘Lord Thingy’ really has returned, then the PM has egg all over his face, and this could be the start of . . .” His voice trailed off, as what he was saying really registered. Sara braced herself, not even pretending to see her little puzzle now. “The start of a war. Right? Just like what happened sixteen years ago?”
The door opened again–quietly, so it wasn’t Greg. Sara abandoned her task and turned in her chair. Grissom had his wand out before he even closed the door, and with a wordless flick he Banished both copies of the Daily Prophet.
“What was that for?” Nick asked.
“You shouldn’t be looking at that.” Grissom tucked his wand back into his robe, shut the door, and turned to them all with a rare smile. “We have the scene. Get your kits together. The longer we wait, the less likely it is we’ll find anything probative.”
“Alright!” Nick pumped a fist in the air, then rapped knuckles with Warrick as both jumped up from their chairs.
Grissom crossed the room and peered over Sara’s shoulder at her project. “Can this wait?”
Sara reached for the lid and sealed it over the tray with a press of her fingers. “Yeah, this can definitely wait.” Grissom nodded, then patted her shoulder and moved away. For a moment Sara stared after him. Then she stood and stepped to one side of her desk, sliding her right thumb along a small silver plate set into the wall. A shallow drawer shot out. Sara deposited the tray inside, and pushed the drawer shut.
“Where’s Greg?” she heard Grissom ask.
“He’s next door, refilling supplies.” Warrick sounded muffled. He was digging around in his desk, and came up with a slim, flat armband made of the same mother-of-pearl as Catherine’s pendant. “Want me to go get him?”
“Yes, please.” Grissom took his own seat, and began checking his field kit. The soft pouch was about seven inches long, but he pulled out specimen bottles, a jar of scale dust, a bundle of shining orange ribbon the size of his fist, brushes, an iron chisel, and there were clearly still items inside.
“Grissom,” Sara called softly. When he looked up, she added, “You were going to show me the modifications you made to that carry-all. I still can’t get mine that compact.”
Grissom glanced from the pouch to Sara and back. “I don’t exactly have time right now,” he reminded her. “But remind me next time we’re between cases. You have a background in arithmancy, right? It’s a simple re-application of principles.”
Sara reached underneath her desk for her own kit. She didn’t even have to check it; it had been almost three hours since she’d been escorted to the offices by a member of Magical Law Enforcement, who were busy keeping most of the Ministry cut off from the Atrium proper and from the Department of Mysteries. The Daily Prophet had said something about an attempted theft.
That tidbit, scarily enough, made sense. If Voldemort was trying to gain power, then there might be things down in Mysteries that he could use. Maybe even weapons he had devised during his first rise, things that had been found afterwards and taken for study.
Sara dipped one hand into her pouch and pulled out a flat, six-sided broach. Who knew what else might be down there? She gathered up the front of her robes and pinned the broach in place.
It worried her a little, that she wasn’t actively afraid.
The door banged open to admit Greg, who nervously scrubbed a hand through his spiky hair. “Uh, Grissom, you wanted to see me?” He was still wearing one lab-grade dragon-hide glove and had the sleeves of his robe rolled up almost to his shoulders.
“I did.” Grissom closed up his kit. “How would you like to join us in the field?”
Greg went absolutely still. “Are you serious?” he nearly whispered.
“Yes,” Grissom said simply. “We’re going to need as many sets of hands and eyes as we can get. We’re leaving in five minutes.”
“I’ll get my kit and be right back!” Greg bounced out the door, stripping off his glove as he went, and everyone could clearly hear his whoop of delight as he made it into the empty corridor.
Nick snickered. “You just made his year, Griss. You know that?”
“He’s ready.” Grissom opened a tiny wooden box and slid out a plain mother-of-pearl ring.
Sara touched her broach. He means we’re all ready for this. Are we? If it really does turn into war, are we ready for any of this?
ANYTHING AFTER THIS HAS NOT BEEN GONE OVER A SECOND TIME; READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
[rush to lift; Nick asks for explanation, gets something very minimal; no escort, but Dawlish or Williamson are on scene in the Atrium and Mysteries.]
Dawlish, one of the most obnoxiously officious Aurors, escorted the team up the lift into the Atrium. Green fire burned in two of the Floo fireplaces, at the far end of the room, and a couple of men from Magical Law Enforcement were standing guard between the comings and goings down there, and the mess that was the near side of the long room.
“One hell of a mess,” Catherine murmured, raking the scene with her gaze. “Look at the fountain. Blown to bits. There’s nothing left.” She sounded almost admiring.
Grissom stepped out into the cleared area, holding up one hand to keep the rest of the team back. Sara tracked his movement, small alterations of posture and sight line. The Fountain of Magical Brethren burbled faintly, water welling up from wrenched and sheared metal A large patch of the stone floor was damp, with liquid pooling in the cracks between the stones. Chunks were broken from the statues: a pointed golden ear, slim pieces of a bow.
“Hey.” Nick, standing behind her, spoke low. “Look at the craters in the wall. Someone was throwing some powerful spells.
Warrick voiced a quiet whistle.
Motion caught Sara’s eye; some of the figures at the far end of the Atrium were gathering to watch. The Aurors were making them keep behind the invisible line they created, but still, Grissom wouldn’t like having to work with such a cynical and rumor-ready audience.
And he had clearly already seen them. Grissom straightened up. “Catherine?” She stepped closer, and he said, “Most of the physical evidence here is probably going to be contaminated. Too many people go through this room every day, and there’s been a lot of magic done here even after the event. Finding probative trace could be difficult.”
“And you think I’ll be good at playing gatekeeper for you.” Catherine shook her head. “Well, Gil, you know I love a challenge.”
“Get what you can,” he told her. “There are several other areas I need to assess. If I can spare anyone, I’ll send Nick or Warrick back up to help you.”
Catherine shook her head again, but headed right for a specific spot on the floor. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” she said absently. She knelt and reached out a fingertip to prod a dark gray patch. “These are ashes. What on earth could have burned so cleanly?”
Grissom had already turned, gesturing for the rest of them to precede him to the lift. “Dumbledore was here,” he said, off-handedly.
It took Catherine a minute to answer. As the lift doors closed, Sara could hear her say, “Wait, are you telling me....”
“Department of Mysteries,” Grissom said to the lift.
After a long moment, as the lift sank beneath them, Greg cleared his throat. “Dumbledore has a phoenix,” he said, clearly feeling his way. “You think those might be phoenix ashes? Could a phoenix just spontaneously regenerate in the middle of the Atrium?” His hands curled together, then flew out in a graphic demonstration of an explosion.
Sara could have sworn that Grissom’s mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smile. “That’s Catherine’s problem. This is ours.”
The lift doors slid back, depositing them in a bare hallway. A Law Enforcement officer stood beside a thick door of what looked like black metal, which was ajar. Grissom led the way through it into a circular hall, also black, except for the blue flames that streamed steadily from candelabras set between each of the [number] identical doors.
“Creepy,” Greg said, wrapping his arms around himself. Sara silently agreed; the faint flicker of blue made everything seem to be in motion.
She counted four door, aside from the one at their backs, which were standing partly open.
Grissom indicated these. “Every open door leads to an area that seems to have been the scene of a battle.”
Warrick took a few steps away, and turned slowly, surveying the room. “They kept coming through this hall to reach other areas of the Department. [ Interesting design, he added–they do this for containment purposes?]”
“It looks that way,” Grissom nodded. “Keep in mind, though, that some of rooms down here feed into each other as well as back into the hall.” He strode towards one of the open doors. “The doors are the most likely place to find magical trace, so each of you take samples from one of them. Unless one of you tells me there’s something I really need to see, I’m not going to worry about finding magical trace on the floor.” Grissom bent and rapped the tip of his wand against the smooth black shimmer. “Impurvius Totalis.”