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[NTLJ] Prologue: Round Midnight - SnorkackCatcher's Stories
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[NTLJ] Prologue: Round Midnight
Title: Nymphadora Tonks and the Liquor of Jacmel
Rating: PG-13
Length: 275,000 words approx
Pairings: Various, mostly OC/OC (some Tonks/OCC)
First posted: From 10th September 2004, Chamber of Secrets Forums
Version 2 posted from 6th March 2007 at Checkmated

Summary: It's never plain sailing for a newly-qualified Auror, and especially not for Nymphadora Tonks. Her Metamorphmagus talents are a big career advantage. Her dark wizard relatives certainly aren't. Being thrown in at the deep end on her first case doesn't make things any easier, either. So when Tonks puts her shapeshifting skills to good use investigating the trade in a highly dangerous potion, while simultaneously trying to deal with her family's very 'Black' past history, things quickly get complicated ...

Notes: The story posted here is 'Version 2.0' as revised for Checkmated (betaed by shiiki) and elsewhere.



Chapter Summary: In which Tonks prepares to start a new job on the following morning, and several people she will encounter over the next few months find themselves in uncomfortable situations.
Length: 2,500 words




Prologue: Round Midnight


Sunday, 5th July 1994

(a) The Man Who Couldn't Take His Liquor

Farley tossed and turned uneasily on the small, uncomfortable bed in the holding cell at Auror Headquarters. It had been more than a week now since they'd put him under arrest for something he hadn't done. Or rather, something they'd told him he'd done. They could be telling him the truth. Even Aurors did sometimes. Because however hard he tried, he simply couldn't remember exactly what had happened to him that Saturday night.

He was reasonably clear up to a point. He remembered dropping into Whitey Wells' going-away party at the Transfigured Toad at about nine o'clock, meaning to have a quick one (or three) before Apparating back home to the wife up north. He remembered slapping Whitey on the back and buying him one of those foul Dragon's Breath cocktails he liked (waste of good Firewhisky, but there you go). He remembered meeting this absolute honey who had drifted by from time to time and flirted with him quite outrageously, and deciding to stick around to see what might come of it. And he was fairly sure he remembered escorting her out the pub at about quarter to midnight.

After that ... things got very hazy indeed.

His only general recollection of the next day was that he'd spent it feeling as if he was floating. He could vaguely remember, in the back of his mind, some sort of voice talking to him. But he couldn't remember a thing about what it had been saying. Later, he could remember heading out to Clapham Common, which was a part of London he'd never previously had any reason to set foot in. But he couldn't for the life of him remember why he'd done that. And then there was one short but sharp memory of a fight. But as to who he was fighting with, or what they were even fighting for in the first place ... he hadn't a clue.

He did however remember clearly the shock of abruptly coming to his senses, and finding himself in a small room with two Aurors looking at him in a very unfriendly manner.

The following few days were ... well, a nightmare. No other word for it.

He'd had many a run-in with the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol in his time, of course. In his, ah, slightly disreputable line of business that was only to be expected, after all. But he'd always stayed well away from anything that could land him in the clutches of the Aurors. Fines were one thing. Even a few nights, or weeks, in these regular cells weren't too bad. But now here he was, up on a charge that could get him sent to the Rock.

He'd known people who'd been sent there. He'd seen them when they got back. Well, at least they looked like the people he'd known, on the outside. They didn't behave like the people they were when they went in.

The charge against him -- he still couldn't believe it -- was attempted murder. They'd shown him the evidence they had; the knife he'd been carrying, a St Mungo's medical report on the man he'd stabbed, eyewitness testimonies from an Auror who'd intervened and a couple of Muggles who'd seen him striding across the Common with the knife (it had taken him a while to realise that at least their statements probably wouldn't count against him, most likely they'd had their memories wiped by now). But he couldn't remember any of it. The alleged victim was someone he'd never even heard of.

He'd told them this over and over as they questioned him. He'd become increasingly panic-stricken, until finally it began to dawn on him that somehow, they actually seemed half-convinced. He'd no idea why they'd suddenly started to take his story seriously -- it didn't sound all that plausible even to himself, despite it being absolutely true for once -- but in the first wave of relief he hadn't felt inclined to look a gift Hippogriff in the beak.

Even when the word Veritaserum was mentioned, he didn't object. He was willing to try anything to clear himself by that stage.

He slept fitfully. In his dreams -- rather, in his nightmares -- figures of dark rumour and terrified imagination, in hooded cloaks, with scabbed, slimy hands, sucked at his insides as he lay screaming.


(b) The Wise Old Head of the Department


The white-haired Auror breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he dipped his quill into the inkpot for the last time, added the final few sentences to his report on the case he was working on, and signed his name. He'd more or less taken it on by default; his superiors had shown little interest in any of his suggestions or theories, until the Farley affair had suddenly made them realise that he might just have a point. Unfortunately, that case had been assigned to two of his colleagues. He'd asked for additional help, but realistically, he had little expectation that his request would come to anything. Most of the Ministry staff were spending all their time on either the hunt for Sirius Black or the security arrangements for the Quidditch World Cup.

He tied the report to the leg of his post owl, and opened the window to let it fly away. He realised, on reflection, that he should probably have stayed at the Ministry to finish it; but it was far too late to worry about that now. At least it would arrive on Claymore's desk early next morning.

He looked around the house sadly as he climbed the stairs to go to bed. Not that there was anything obvious in the house itself to be saddened by -- it had a nice cosy study, a pleasantly large lounge, a perfectly comfortable bedroom -- but practically everything in it reminded him of his wife. He felt her absence keenly. He tended to stay up late these days, working past midnight, until sheer tiredness drove him to retire.

It had been nearly two years since she died, after nearly sixty years of marriage. He'd been forced to try to get used to sleeping alone again. Maybe it would eventually get easier.

It hadn't so far.


(c) The Dog in the Night-Time

Ted and Andromeda Tonks arrived back at their home at about half past eleven that night. They'd spent the evening at their daughter's flat (not far away, but just far enough to establish independence while demonstrating affection for her childhood surroundings). She'd held a small, quiet family celebration in honour of her new job. They were prouder of her than they'd been able to say, but they knew Nymphadora -- when she'd answer to that name -- was an intelligent girl and didn't really need to hear it said.

As they opened the front door, a movement at the bottom of the garden caught Andromeda's eye. She felt her heart freeze for a moment at the sight of the large dog gazing at them from the end of the path, and gave an involuntary gasp. Her husband looked at her quizzically. He was Muggle-born, which meant that he knew little of the tales of death omens that his pure-blood wife had been brought up with from childhood. Andromeda shook herself in annoyance as she realised that the dog looked like a perfectly normal, solid, everyday sort of dog, not a spectral hound of legend.

"Shoo!" she cried, waving a hand at it, slightly alarmed nonetheless. The dog looked at her with a curious expression -- it might almost have been sadness -- whined in an oddly gentle way, and quietly slunk away into the night.

Around the corner he stopped in a small alleyway and sat back tiredly on his haunches. Earlier that evening, he'd spotted an empty house not too far up the road, with an overgrown garden which looked like a comfortable enough place to spend the night. But before he could curl up there for a well-earned rest, there was just one more thing he had to do.

A youngish couple returning from the pub a few minutes later provided him with the opportunity to do it. The dog wagged his tail furiously in pleasurable anticipation. He was generally well-behaved, but it was going to be quite amusing to act, for a few minutes, like the terrifying figure he was supposed to be. He'd be all right as long as he didn't overdo it.

He hadn't had any opportunities for playfulness in a very long time.


(d) The Concerned Parent

Angelica Hallendale made a valiant attempt to stay interested in the late-night black and white film on BBC2. It was one that she's always been nostalgic about, dimly but fondly remembered from a rare trip to the cinema in her teenage years. That, of course, had been before she'd encountered the wizarding world, at a time when her life had been a great deal simpler. But at the moment, she had far too many other things on her mind to leave space for worrying about how the hero and heroine would ever settle their differences and get together. With a sigh, she pressed the 'off' button on the remote control (smiling wryly, as she often did, at how surprisingly impressed she felt at whatever 'Muggle magic' it was that caused it to work).

Her son Clark had left earlier, storming out of the house and Apparating away from the front lawn without even checking to see if anyone was watching (fortunately, it was a quiet Sunday evening, and nobody was). He really never had been able to handle even very mild criticism.

She told herself firmly that he'd been under a lot of stress lately. But she knew that she made excuses for him.

As a mother who loved both her sons dearly, she dutifully tried to avoid comparing him with his younger brother, even to herself -- but sometimes, it wasn't easy. Montgomery had been so much more successful in carrying on his share of the family businesses. She was so proud that a wizard child had proven so adept a businessman in the Muggle world.

Another thing she avoided acknowledging to herself was the possibility that a little judicious magic here and there could go a long way.

Even her father might have approved of his grandson's success, despite the mockery and the anguish he had endured when his only daughter ran away with a wizard. She lay back in the chair and let her thoughts wander back to her husband, as they often did. She remembered the first time she'd seen him, as if it had just this moment happened; a strange young man from far-away California, winking at her as her father showed him into his study.

It had been a real Abelard and Heloise story; the Poor But Handsome Young Wizard coming to do business with her father, falling in love at first sight with the Rich Man's Beautiful Teenage Daughter, winning her heart (not with any great difficulty), and the two of them eloping by night to Seek Their Fortune Together.

And they had sought it, and found it, in ways that had been frightening but ultimately exhilarating; a revelation to a pampered but overprotected girl who had rarely been allowed even to explore her family holdings without a chaperone. In a way, her previous seclusion had made her sudden introduction to the wizarding world easier to handle; it seemed merely one aspect of the many possibilities opening up all around her. The world had been something glimpsed from a car window, read about in a book, or seen on a cinema screen, not something that she had actually experienced, and she would have been deeply excited to be part of it whoever she had run away with.

They'd had a terrific time, touring the world and getting into any number of scrapes; before eventually settling down, in quiet England of all places, in the late sixties. It had seemed as nice a place as any to raise their young family, and the remainder of her father's holdings, recently inherited, were based there. (The family estates were gone, expropriated; that had been a huge shock, but at least such devastating losses had had the result of reconciling her father to his only child.) They'd accumulated a modest amount of wizarding gold over the years too. When she thought about it, her life story would have made for an even better script than the film she'd been trying to watch. It just hadn't had a happy ending.

England, or at any rate wizarding England, had rapidly ceased to be quiet as open warfare broke out between the authorities and ... and Lord Whatever's forces, and the next ten years had been increasingly difficult for everyone in it. And then, towards the end of the war, Hank Hallendale had gone to a business meeting with a group of men who turned out to be Death Eaters. A squad of Aurors had arrived at the house while he was there, and in the ensuing crossfire Hank had been hit by an Avada Kedavra, from one side or the other -- none of the Aurors who survived the battle had known, or greatly cared, who had actually thrown the curse. The Ministry had issued a curt apology and stated that it was unfortunate, but that these things happened in wartime.

And the foundation had fallen out of Angelica's world.

She sighed and made her way upstairs to bed, where she lay thinking for quite a while before finally falling asleep. It had been fourteen years since it happened, and it still hurt to think about it.

And even after fourteen years without Hank there, it still didn't feel right to be sleeping alone.


(e) The Newest Recruit

The young woman in the Islington flat glanced at the clock on her bedroom wall, which was registering a few minutes to midnight. She wouldn't normally have considered turning in by now, but she wanted to be up bright and early when she started her new job tomorrow.

It was only now she remembered that she never had been able to actually get to sleep when she tried going to bed early.

It didn't help that it was a stifling hot July night, either, not at all conducive to slumber. With a sigh, she realised that the very long hair she had at the moment was probably a distraction too, weighing heavily on her in this weather. A strained expression crossed her face briefly, and her hair immediately shrunk into a very short, close-cut, almost masculine style. It probably wasn't flattering, but she didn't care. It was much lighter, and she could change it into whatever she liked in the morning anyway.

Nymphadora Tonks picked up her wand and cast a Cooling Charm around the bed, and enchanted a fan lying on the dressing-table to wave vigorously, generating a slight breeze. She hastily added a silencing charm to stop herself being distracted by the flapping. With that, she settled down.

She was really looking forward to what tomorrow might bring. She was sure that it was going to be the start of something big.



Chapter Notes:
The story is set during the first half of GoF, and therefore takes place in 1994, following the 'standard' HP calendar (based on the Deathday Party in CoS). The days of the week, however, are based not on the actual 1994 but on JKR's version, being calculated relative to GoF where October 30th is a Friday.



  Table of Contents 1. First Impressions

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