"Yeah, you could – but I’m your inspector,” Cullen answered, with his faint almost Mona Lisa-like hint of a smile.
Catching the bartender’s eye, Cullen nodded. He spilled a handful of Knuts from his pocket onto the bar and ordered two Dragon Blood’s Draughts. Pushing one towards Mickey he indicated an empty table in one corner. Drink in hand Mickey followed him - curiosity about what the heck the guv’nor was doing here warring with concern about how he would explain his own presence. As was usual for Mickey, curiosity won.
“Guv, how come you’re here – and on your day off? You’ve got the right money and you even know the names of the drinks!”
Cullen had been a detective long enough to know the value of silence. He watched Mickey for a few moments without answering then took a sip from his bubbling glass. Clouds of red steam wreathed around him and added to the slightly alien air he always had.
Mickey shifted a little uneasily under his steady gaze and at last dropped his eyes.
Cullen smiled his faint smile again.
“As it isn't your day off, Mickey, I hope I can assume that this is work?”
“’Course, guv! It’s those waste ground assaults. Just finished going through the last lot of witness statements that uniform got - and I reckoned one of the witnesses could tell us a lot more than he had so I thought I’d have a talk to him.”
“Here?” asked the DI, with little emphasis but a world of meaning.
Mickey hesitated. How much did Cullen know? He was here – but Muggles did wander in every now and then. He had the right money though and had ordered the drink as smoothly as he would a pint of lager. Mickey glanced down at his drink as he thought that and with some idea of making his hesitation look natural took a large swig.
Fire burned through him and he looked at the DI with starting eyes as he gasped for breath. He looked down, expecting to see flames – or charred flesh – but saw only white shirt and brown jacket. Slowly the feeling of being burnt alive subsided until only a tingling remained. As the burning faded he realised the DI was speaking to him.
“Sorry, Mickey, I assumed that you’d had a Dragon’s Blood before. The longer you leave them the stronger they get and they are not meant to be gulped.”
The tone was quite sympathetic but there was definitely a smidgin of a smile in Cullen’s eyes. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the still gasping DC.
“So how do you know about this place?”
“I’m not a Muggle, if that’s what you mean,” said Mickey, a bit resentfully. “I used to go to Hogwarts.”
Cullen continued to watch him, not openly disbelieving him but certainly not believing him either.
“I was *fifteen* when I left – we thought we were something if we got our hands on a bottle or two of pumpkin wine, we didn’t get to drink deadly cocktails.”
“What house were you in?”
Cullen took another slow sip of his Dragon’s Blood Draught. There was nothing to show it on his face but he hated what he was doing. Part of his job was to ask questions and he was perfectly comfortable with that - but with his colleagues and acquaintances respect for their privacy was paramount. He knew well how to blank out other people’s prying questions about his own life - knew too that some people saw him as colourless as a result and others as mysterious – and, in return, he respected others’ walls. He knew his DCs’ characters and capabilities well - but of their background he knew only what they chose to tell him. Now he was stepping away from his own beliefs but he felt he had to know.
“So why did you leave?’
“I just wanted to belong somewhere, to be normal. When I first got the letter I couldn’t believe it – it was like a get out of gaol card. I thought for once I could get away from all the lies and the fights and the looks – but I didn’t belong there either. I was a mudblood – and even when they’re too polite to say it it’s what they mean. I still didn’t have any money or parents that gave a damn – and then every summer I had to go back to whatever craphole they were living in and get beaten up by the neighbourhood thugs for being an outsider. In the real world I could get away from them, get a job, make my own life – but in there I couldn’t get away from what I was…”
Mickey shuddered to a halt. What the hell was he saying? He hadn’t even told Dumbledore the whole truth and now here he was spilling out all his pain, resentment and confusion to the most self-contained man he’d ever met. He put the drink he was clutching down, hurriedly, but looked up to see Cullen shake his head.
“It’s not the drink, Mickey. I wouldn’t do that to you. Being here brings back the memories, makes them real. You didn’t finish your training but that doesn’t make you a Muggle or take away your powers.”
Mickey nodded, it made sense - he’d been feeling naked and exposed ever since he’d walked through the shabby old door. It certainly made more sense than believing that Cullen would have given him something to make him talk. How was it Duncan described the guv’nor? A decent bloke… even now - even knowing that, just as much as Mickey, he was living a lie - Mickey couldn’t rate him otherwise. Cullen was watching him now with that same sort of detached compassion Mickey had seen a hundred times as he teased out the story from a victim and Mickey shrugged his shoulders a little and lifted his chin. He didn’t want – never had wanted - anyone’s sympathy.
“So what are you doing here? You’re not a Muggle, are you?”
Cullen looked at him and took another sip of his drink. He didn’t want to answer. By custom and by choice he kept his life to himself, sharing very few of even the unimportant details. To break that and to talk about Hogwarts after all these years would have been hard enough but so much of his life there and his reasons for leaving weren’t his to share. He stared into the glass, still wreathed in faint tendrils of red smoke, but saw instead the skinny, red-haired boy who – wrapped in a cloak of shyness, resentment and loneliness – had buried himself in his work until he’d found dark powers. He remembered still the lure of them – to belong, to matter, to be caredfor. They’d whispered of all of that – and he’d listened. As Mickey waited impatiently for an answer Alex Cullen saw the dark-haired boy who’d saved him appear in the red shimmer – five years older than him, a year older than all the others in his year, a squib some whispered – but never openly. He had the charm and force of personality to be a leader and his family were one of the oldest and most powerful in the Wizarding world. There’d been a Chandler in Slytherin since the day it was founded.
He looked back at Mickey and, putting his glass down on the table, stood up.
“So, what’s this witness’s name?”