Who: Residents of Helga’s Hill
Where: Town Square, Helga’s Hill
When: 1 May 2001; 11pm Wednesday until the wee hours of Thursday morning
She couldn’t help it. She would never have imagined she would be a screamer, but she never imagined she would see a dead body either. Gathering together what was left of her wits, she took a step forward to see if Orpington was really dead, then thought better of it and hurriedly stumbled back until she hit the alley wall behind her with her shoulder. She almost screamed again, but managed instead a whimper. She could hear rushing feet and shouts and mindlessly turned and fled towards them. A couple of people ran past her, then one bumped into her, knocking the wind out of her. Before they could run past she grabbed hold of the front of his or her robes.
“Orpington,” she gasped, breathless half from the collision and half from shock. “He’s dead.”
It was amazing how quickly a scream could ruin a rock concert. And even more amazing how quickly the rumor of a dead body could move through a crowd.
“A body?” Gwen said, frowning deeply and trying not to think too hard about the implications. She craned her neck to try and see through the sea of people around her. She tugged on Terence’s arm. “Have you seen the twins?”
Terence felt uneasy. Gwen was here, but her sisters were not. They were almost family, with the amount of time he spelt in their company from day to day. “No,” he said measuredly, not wanting to cause further panic. “Maybe Tristan’s with the Mayor. Issy is—” strangling the Mayor’s son? “I’ve got no idea where Issy might be. But I’m sure she’s OK,” he added hastily.
There was nothing more annoying than being short in a crowd. At least her younger sisters had the benefit of several inches on her, which might make them easier to spot. She found Ter’s hand with hers and squeezed it tightly. It was more vulnerable a gesture than she usually allowed, but murder tended to bring out strange things in people.
Especially when she was fairly certain she’d just heard someone say ‘werewolf’.
“We should find them,” she said evenly.
“Of course,” said Terence. “Let’s see if we can get up on the stage.”
Gwen was more than happy to let Terence fight their way through the crowd. While she was quite capable of making an impressive amount of headway for such a small person, right now she was a little busy trying not to freak out to hip check people. Once you’d lost two of the closest people in your life, all it took was the word ‘body’ to send you into a tailspin until everyone you loved was accounted for.
They were nearing the stage when Tristan, who was standing nervously by the Mayor’s side and chewing on her lip, spotted them and pushed through the crowd to meet them.
“Gwen!” she said, hugging her older sister tightly. Once she let go, she hugged her sister’s boyfriend as well. “Ter! I’m glad you’re both all right.”
Family was nice, Terence decided. Especially when they weren’t your own. Though he was quite glad Amelia didn’t show any interest in the festival, though he had jokingly tried to talk her into visiting. One less person to worry about.
“Rightio, one down. Where’s Issy? Anyone got a megaphone? Do you know what’s happened?”
“I haven’t seen Issy since the concert began. I was helping with crowd control. I don’t know where she is,” Tristan confessed, trying to keep the worry off her face. While she knew that her twin sister wasn’t the murder victim, part of her couldn’t help but worry that if Issy had been cornered by Orpington, she might have let her temper get the better of her…
She chewed on her thumbnail. “Orpington… he’s dead,” she whispered. “The body is Orpington.”
“Oh well that’s fine, then,” said Terence, and he meant it. “But let’s find Issy. Can I get on the stage?”
“No,” said Tristan, shaking her head. “The Mayor isn’t even allowed up there. Not yet. He wants to address the crowd but they want to confirm that it is actually Orpington and not someone Polyjuiced to look like him or something.”
Gwen pointed a finger at Terence and forced a playful smile. “Don’t even think about suggesting I get on your shoulders.”
“Was going to suggest it the other way around,” said Terence. “Nevermind. I’ve a better idea.”
He took out his wand and cast a sonorous charm. “ISOLDE MONTGOMERY. YOUR FAMILY IS BY THE STAGE. YELL BACK IF YOU CAN HEAR US.”
Issy was standing over by the samosas trying to figure out what was going on and eat at the same time. Was someone really dead? Or was this just some weird, dramatic way to end the night with a bunch of excitement? Was it a murder mystery game? That hadn’t been announced, but then, neither had the Weird Sisters show.
She cringed when her sister’s boyfriend’s voice came thundering through the crowd. Really, Terence? How embarrassing! (It was totally something she would have done to someone else but when Terence did it, it was lame.)
“Coming!” she yelled without a charm as she started to elbow her way through the crowd.
“That everyone important, then?” asked Terence. “Should we have a group huddle?”
Ever since the scream, Barney had been nervous and jumpy. It made no sense, because here he was in the middle of a great big crowd, and it wasn’t like he was defenceless or anything, but something about a loud anonymous scream could do that to do you, especially with people around you panicking as well and talking about dead bodies. At one point Barney almost jumped on top of some poor guy who happened to tap Stella on the shoulder to ask her a question. When Mayor Smith finally took to the stage to address the crowd and let them know what was going on, Barney put his arm around his girlfriend and squeezed her tightly — possibly too tightly, since he didn’t always know his own strength.
“It’ll be alright,” he said, although he may have been reassuring himself more than her. “The Mayor is going to explain everything and it will be fine.”
This whole festival was meant to be a laugh and yet here Alex was, standing around still, and just waiting to be allowed home. Even though he often came across as pretty moody, that was nothing to how Alex got when he was tired and hungry. Blood sugars running low, and being a natural absorber of other people’s anxiety, Alex was not having a good time tonight. But then, because life was a bitch, it got even worse. Alex could see Hit Wizards striding around like they owned the bloody place. Great. Alex thought to himself. Just great. He hunched over slightly in his coat and tried to edge into a thick part of the crowd where he would be less conspicuous. Casually he reached a hand into his pocket and fingered the nub of marijuana within. Alex never carried large quantities of anything unless he had specific plans for offloading it, for precisely this sort of reason. With a tiny sigh, he pulled his hand out of his pocket, bud hidden in a loose fist, and uncurled his fist with his hands by his sides. It was a wrench to waste it, but not as much as prison would be.
lex made his way through the crowd and away from the evidence. When he found a space, he reached a hand into his other pocket and withdrew a small glass pipe and some tobacco. Now that he could have. As a general rule, Alex carried tobacco purely so he could give a reason for having a pipe on him, but right now, anything to help him feel less on edge would be welcome. He loaded up a bowl and set to smoking it. Good job he didn’t have papers, as his hands were still shaking too much to roll. Damn law enforcement.
Wayne was visibly anxious as the questioners worked their way through the crowd. Although often pale and fidgety, he was even paler and more fidgety as they approached. “Yeah, I saw him around some earlier, but not since dark,” he offered, when pressed for what he knew. “Just around the food stalls and all. No, I don’t know where he went.”
He didn’t add that he didn’t know where Orpington went because every time he’d glimpsed him, he’d quickly bolted in the opposite direction. If Orpington had already figured out that Wayne had slipped him false information, he was the last person Wayne wanted to see.
Wayne took a big, shaky breath when the inspectors moved on to question the rest of the assembled crowd, but he still looked pretty shaken up, and he kept spinning his badger hat in his hands — that stupid, fluffy badger hat someone had stuck on his head earlier in the day, when he was pleasantly buzzed and the sun was out and he’d been thinking that just maybe everything would be OK.
Because now all he could think about was that fake Arithmancy formula he’d given Orpington just days before, and where it might be now, and how soon the inspectors might find it, and whether it would lead them back to him. “Shit,” he mumbled out loud, looking down into the beady puppet eyes of the felt badger in his hands. He then snapped his head up, worried someone might have overheard.
“Didn’t know badgers could swear,” remarked Humphrey. He’d already been questioned. In a way, being known to law enforcement previously was an asset. There were a fair number of anxious people they had to corral and nobody wanted to do more work in the middle of the night than they had to. He’d seen poo thrower Capper getting a hard time, but the officials had regarded him with an “oh that’s just Hayes” eye-roll and quickly moved on after some cursory questions.
He still wasn’t allowed to leave, though. “Something gone horribly wrong?”
Shit, Wayne thought again, but this time kept his mouth closed. He didn’t know Humphrey, really, but he knew him a bit by sight and had him mentally catalogued as “someone to avoid.” He darted a quick look around to see if he had any friends nearby so he could use them as a pretext for ending this conversation, but once again he’d lost them all in the crowd. He was stuck.
“Um, someone got killed?” he replied, giving Humphrey an odd look. Was it possible he hadn’t heard what was happening yet, or was he messing with him? “Xavier Orpington?”
“Seems so,” said Humphrey. “Did you do it?”
“What? No, did you?” What kind of a question was that, to just ask somebody? Although, it was kind of weird the inspectors hadn’t asked it outright. Maybe they figured it was covered by asking where he’d last seen the victim. As though anyone would say “Oh just a few hours ago, when I was murdering him.”
“You seem fidgety,” Humphrey remarked. He’d also been dead nervous earlier but he acquitted himself well enough when the officials came around, mentally reminding himself that he may be guilty of many things but murder was not one of them.
He lit up a cigarette and belatedly thought maybe Wayne would like one. “Smoke?”
“I’m not used to being questioned about a crime, it’s normal to be fidgety,” Wayne defended himself. He caught himself flipping the badger hat in his hands and crammed it into his pocket.
He waved away the offer of a cigarette and looked off in the other direction, thinking this conversation could come to an end. But then a thought occurred to him and he turned back. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Forgotten what it was.”
Wayne frowned. This guy was definitely messing with him. “Forget it,” he said, and deliberately turned away in a way that didn’t invite further conversation.
It had been an extremely long day for Sylvie Fawcett. She’d had to get up and go to work early as usual and from there she had gone straight to the Badger Festival, grabbing dinner and seeing what she could throughout the evening. And she’d been enjoying the concert and chatting up a fit bloke when everything had gone into pandemonium.
It had been fine at first — even fun! Sylvie was able to distract herself and bother other people and when word came out that it was Orpington? Well, that practically called for a song and dance. He wouldn’t be bothering Annette anymore, which would get Syl’s sister off her case, and it looked like with so many people frustrated it was probably for the best. But the lightheartedness faded as they were corralled there and pulled in one by one for annoying questioning. They weren’t letting her go home and frankly, Sylvie was tired.
At 3AM they finally released the crowd.
“Ridiculous,” Sylvie said to no one in particular (or really, whoever was willing to listen to her carp). “Don’t they know some of us have work in the morning? I can’t be expected to work on experimental charms with four hours of sleep.”
“Poor you,” said Wendy, pulling a face. She wasn’t sure that the girl had actually been addressing her. But anybody who had to work with experimental charms deserved commiseration. Ugh. “I’m lucky. I spend most of my time at work napping anyway.”
She glanced over her shoulder as she said that. She didn’t want Tali to overhear her saying that. She’d never hear the end of it.
Syl looked over at the other girl. She was the hairdressers’ daughter and worked at the… bookstore? But she was talking to Sylvie and Sylvie was nothing if not a social creature.
“Yeah, that doesn’t work well with my job,” she griped “Someone would prank me for sure. I’ll probably call off, but my boss will give me a hard time since usually when I do that I’m hungover and I’m not even drunk right now. Unfortunately.”
It would have made the night and the questioning that much more bearable.
“That is unfortunate,” said Wendy. Luckily, after the shite that had gone down in her house this morning thanks to the dear departed fuckhead formerly known a Xavier Orpington, she had made sure to have booze on her person all day. Digging into her robes, she pulled out her flask and tossed it to Hot Experimental Charms Girl. It held more than it ought to thanks to a Wizarding space spell, so there was plenty left.
“Knock yourself out,” she said with a nod. “I think we’ve all earned it.”
“Score!” Sylvie took a long swig out of the flask. That hit the spot.
“Thanks. This whole thing is such bullshite. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bastard offed himself just to piss us all off by keeping us here. Seems like the kind of arse thing he would do, you know?”
“If I didn’t think he was far too enamored of himself to deprive us of his presence, I could totally believe it,” Wendy said, rolling her eyes. Seriously, what exactly had convinced Xavier Orpington that he was God’s gift to the universe? Nothing about the man had been particularly special.
With the exception of his astonishing ability to be a complete dipshit.
“So,” she asked, leaning in conspiratorially, “who do you reckon did it?”
“Fair point,” Sylvie agreed, taking another swig. She was definitely going to pass out tonight. It wasn’t that much alcohol compared to how much she consumed some nights, but coupled with her exhaustion it would help her sleep well.
“Hm. Someone who hated him — oh wait, that’s everyone. Someone we wouldn’t expect, I bet. Like Dunstan! Maybe he offed one of his precious duckies. Or that Smethley bint — didn’t they have an altercation earlier tonight?” Sylvie had only vaguely paid attention since she had been more interested in getting a snack and seeing the show at about that time, but she vaguely remembered something like that.