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[NTLJ] 2. Little Mrs Anonymous - SnorkackCatcher's Stories
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[NTLJ] 2. Little Mrs Anonymous
Chapter Summary: In which Tonks learns what the Liquor of Jacmel actually is and visits various dubious places in disguise. All in the line of business, of course.
Length: 9,100 words



2. Little Mrs Anonymous


Tuesday, 7th July 1994

Tonks Apparated into the Ministry the following morning. She was pleased to find that now the first day was over and done with, her nerves had settled back to a more normal level, and this time she managed to avoid actually flattening anyone on her way to the lifts.

As she rode up to the office, she skimmed through the morning edition of the Daily Prophet. The front page headline screamed 'SIRIUS BLACK EVADES AURORS AGAIN!', accompanied by yet another disquieting picture of the escapee. Underneath the paper's 'special correspondent' Rita Skeeter had written yet another of her anti-Ministry polemics. Since the Prophet clearly had no information beyond yesterday's report of a sighting, it was long on rhetoric but short on facts -- taking the entire Department to task for failing to catch him, despite having received information from the Muggle authorities that he'd been spotted practically under their noses in North London. Of course, Skeeter had somehow omitted to mention that Sirius Black had been long gone by the time that the information had filtered through to the Aurors, and that since he could presumably still Apparate he could have been anywhere in the country by then.

Tonks shivered. Thirteen years before, it had been almost impossible to believe that her cousin -- a favourite uncle, for all practical purposes -- could have behaved in the manner he had, betraying his best friends to You-Know-Who and trying to kill their baby son. The recent reports that he'd tried to kill him again now the Boy Who Lived was -- what, about fourteen? -- felt as if an old, half-forgotten wound had suddenly reopened.

Cassius was nowhere in sight when she arrived at her cubicle, but he had left a stack of parchment on her desk with a short note on top:
Dear Tonks (you see, I remembered!),

Here are the notes that I promised you. My sincere apologies for forgetting to bring them in yesterday. You should start with the Ministry's briefing on the Liquor of Jacmel, and then read my memo to Scrimgeour. The other reports are background material for your general information; although you should probably read through them at some point, there is no necessity for more than a cursory inspection at present.

Good luck.

Yours faithfully,
Cassius.
Tonks riffled through the sheets of parchment, most of which looked slightly tatty and had apparently been roughly produced with a Duplication Charm. She took the top sheet off the pile and began to read:
MINISTRY OF MAGIC
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Hall of Records


LIQUOR OF JACMEL


The 'Liquor of Jacmel' -- also known as Aqua Jacmelis, or in the vernacular as the 'Poor Wizard's Imperius' -- is a traditional potion recorded as having been brewed in and around the town of that name in Haiti for at least two hundred years. It is very seldom encountered in this country, as it is not only illegal in all civilised wizarding communities, but the precise ingredients and method of manufacture have always been kept a close secret by those Haitian Dark wizards and witches skilled in its production.

A Scarpinian analysis has shown it to contain the venom of the puffer fish, and it appears to also require extracts of certain magical plants that are found only on the island of Hispaniola. The preparation and brewing procedures are, however, completely unknown; although experiments attempting to reproduce it have been officially sanctioned by various Ministries of Magic from time to time, none have been noticeably successful.
Tonks wasn't particularly surprised by that. At school the Potions master had repeatedly drilled it into his N.E.W.T. class that potion-making was a supremely skilled art, and that it generally took careful, detailed, and patient research to analyse a potion or to develop a new one from scratch. (She'd once landed herself in detention by remarking -- in an insufficiently soft voice -- that clearly no-one had ever bothered to develop a potion to clean greasy hair.)

Oddly enough, she'd once visited Port-au-Prince during her summer holiday travels, and based on that experience she could easily believe that the recipe for the potion wouldn't be known to outsiders. Even in the relatively cosmopolitan Haitian capital the local wizarding community had been a close-mouthed lot, barely willing to give you the time of day, let alone their secret recipes.
As the common name suggests, the effects of the potion are very similar to those of the Imperius Curse. However, while casting an Imperius Curse successfully requires strength of purpose, considerable magical ability, and normally the opportunity to practice, the Liquor of Jacmel requires no skill at all to use. It is merely necessary for the user to dissolve a physical fragment taken from their own body in the base potion -- a few drops of blood are considered most powerful and effective, but a nail clipping or some hairs will suffice -- and persuade the victim to drink it. As the final potion is virtually colourless and has only a very slight sweetish taste, and experiments have shown that it may be diluted up to seventeen times without losing its effectiveness, this can easily be accomplished by slipping a dose into a glass or cup of some conventional beverage.
Tonks raised her eyebrows. Another thing she'd learnt from N.E.W.T. class was that physical fragment potions were often classified as Dark Magic because of their powerful effects -- even Polyjuice was borderline -- and this one seemed particularly Dark.
As the potion has no effect when drunk unless it contains someone else's physical fragment, merely drinking from the same cup or bottle offers no safety against a Jacmel attack. Aurors who have to frequent establishments of a questionable nature should not fall victim, as they should always practice constant vigilance against attempts to incapacitate them. It may be advisable to avoid consuming drinks served to them in such a situation -- the more advanced Transfiguration techniques can be of great assistance here.
She snorted. As advice went, this was right up there with 'Never tickle a sleeping dragon' under the heading of 'Blindingly Obvious'.
A witch or wizard who has consumed a dose of Aqua Jacmelis will start to suffer the effects within approximately fifteen minutes to half an hour. They will initially feel light-headed and disoriented, and this may easily be confused with the onset of ordinary alcoholic intoxication. In this state, however, they will be extremely suggestible to the person whose physical fragment was added to the potion, and will normally obey any instructions that this person gives to them. The effect lasts some forty-eight hours on average, depending on the victim and on the strength of the potion, and so Dark wizards who intend to keep their victim controlled for an extended period will normally order them to consume a fresh dose at regular intervals.

Those who have taken the potion will go about their business as usual if instructed to do so, but with a generally unfocused air, and will tend to appear distracted. When the potion has worn off, their recollection of what they have done while under the influence of the potion will usually be no more than vague, dreamlike impressions at best, and not uncommonly they will be unable to remember anything at all that has occurred from the time that they first took the potion.
That all rang a faint bell. Tonks knew that her Muggle lore was a lot sketchier than it should be, but she had a hazy recollection that they had a name for it ...
The mental state is similar to that of the Imperius Curse, and it is possible for the victim to fight it in the same way. In fact, in many cases the effects are somewhat easier to successfully overcome than an Imperius Curse, as these can be very strong, and do not wear off within a short space of time. Idiosyncratic reactions vary, however, and experiments have shown that some wizards can resist Imperio more successfully. On the other hand, Imperius Curses when identified can be lifted by a skilled Healer, while no actual antidote to the Liquor of Jacmel has yet been discovered -- although the Haitian authorities report that consumption of salt or meat has been found to be of some minor assistance in helping the victim throw off the effects. If the victim is nevertheless unable to do this, they must be kept under restraint until the potion wears off.

Victims of the potion are commonly known among local Muggles as 'zombies', and a number of fanciful legends about their nature exist, which are naturally encouraged by the Haitian herbologists who make the potion. (The concept of the 'zombie' has spread in corrupted form to general Muggle culture outside of the island, in which victims are frequently portrayed as belonging to the undead -- although they bear no relation to vampires or ghosts -- and attempting to attack or consume the living. This view of 'zombies' is very similar to the corpses reanimated by Dark Magic that wizards know as Inferi, and it is therefore unwise to use the term without specifying precisely what is being referred to.)
That was it. Zombies! Her Muggle-born father was a fan of the -- movers? No, idiot, it's movies -- and when she was a teenager he'd often brought home little black boxes to plug into some Muggle gadget to watch them (she'd always rather liked the television set -- it had been surprisingly impressive to see Muggle moving pictures). The 'horror films' had been scary -- but unlike the tales she'd heard about the things You-Know-Who's crowd had done, where the walking corpses had once been real people, they hadn't caused her any nightmares.
Extended exposure to the potion can be highly dangerous. Victims who have been under control for several months can develop serious mental illnesses, including an inability to recognise those they know, loss of coherent speech, and extreme general lassitude. In some cases the effects can be fatal.

Liquor of Jacmel is defined as a Class A Non-Tradeable Good under British wizarding law (Regulation of Dangerous Substances Act 1932). The maximum sentences laid down by the Wizengamot are twelve months imprisonment for possession, ten years for sale, and life for use. (It is considered notionally equivalent to the use of an Unforgivable Curse, although the penalties above are not mandatory, and sentences in previous cases have largely depended on what the victim of the potion has been forced to do.) A sentence of twenty years imprisonment for manufacture is also on the books, but no-one has ever been prosecuted on this charge for obvious reasons.
No kidding, thought Tonks with a whistle. And Cassius wants me to go looking for this stuff? Not exactly starting me off small, are they? She wasn't complaining; she could, after all, have been assigned to something a lot less interesting as a first case.
It is seldom available on the general wizarding black market in European countries, although a small-scale but continuous trade exists to the United States. The Haitian Département de Magie reports that the wizards who brew the potion tend to be suspicious of outsiders, and exports are seldom arranged unless they have developed a good personal relationship with the buyer. Where found, street prices tend to be high, averaging 20 Galleons a dose.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prepared by: Department of International Magical Co-operation
cc: Auror Office, International Magical Office of Law
Last updated by Cassius Smethwyck (Auror Office), 24th February 1973
Tonks raised her eyebrows at the footnote. Clearly Cassius wasn't joking when he'd implied he was the Departmental expert. She put down the briefing document and extracted the report Cassius had mentioned in his note. Apparently the Department's crib sheet was in need of revision:
As requested, I have investigated the possible use of Aqua Jacmelis in several crimes reported recently. I have now identified five cases in which I feel that there is a strong possibility that it was employed. A common feature of these reports is that the victims have no recollection of what they were doing over a two-day period, but were definitely not under an Imperius Curse when interviewed.

I have examined all the potential witnesses that I could find, but none can remember an opportunity when such a curse could have been cast on or lifted from the victims without being seen -- in four of the cases, there seems to have been no-one else present when the mental fog lifted. In any event, there are relatively few wizards with the ability to use the Imperius Curse effectively, as training in its use is not generally available. In all these cases, however, the victims had recently attended a party or other social occasion at which it would have been easy to poison their cup unnoticed. Unfortunately, there appear to be no witnesses to this either.
Tonks cursed silently. Witnesses would certainly have helped, but then again -- if there had been any, the case might have been wrapped up before she ever joined the Department.
In the first identified case, some four months ago, the victim was told to remove the defensive spells protecting a rare and valuable 18th century Flemish enchanted harpsichord that had been charmed to play compositions in the styles of the leading performers of its day. This allowed it to be removed from the premises (it has yet to be recovered).

In three further cases within the last month the potion was apparently used to force people to empty their vaults at Gringotts, the perpetrators getting away with over five thousand Galleons in each case.

The remaining case is more worrying still. The victim was apparently ordered to kill someone -- presumably an enemy of the user of the potion -- and only narrowly failed in their attempt when an Auror who happened to be present intervened.
Tonks shivered slightly at this list of cases. Obviously, Cassius hadn't been joking when he expressed concern about her being thrown in at the deep end either. From what she'd read so far, she couldn't see why the Department didn't have a whole task force on the case.
The last of the cases above is especially significant as the man concerned -- a Mr Benjamin Farley of Manchester -- fell into Auror hands for investigation before there was any possibility of the criminal taking action to conceal what they had done.

Mr Farley attacked one Mackenzie Ashford with a knife, while the latter (a successful wizarding merchant) was making his way home across Clapham Common. Fortunately, the area where Mr Ashford lives is home to a number of wizards. Auror Donnacha O'Gregan happened to be visiting a friend who lived nearby, heard the commotion, and was able to prevent Mr Farley from succeeding with his murder attempt.

When the assigned case wizards -- O'Gregan and Auror Arnold Cornworthy -- noticed the general condition of Mr Farley, who seemed to have difficulty concentrating even when it was pointed out to him that the penalty for attempted murder was a long sentence in Azkaban, they called in the departmental curse breakers from Magical Analysis to examine him.

As is clear from their report
Tonks flicked through the sheets of parchment again when she read this, and found a long and technical-looking document she hadn't noticed before. She put it aside to read later.
when the normal methods proved unable to lift a curse, they hypothesised the use of a potion and carried out the appropriate tests. Their conclusion is that there are at least nine chances out of ten that the active substance affecting Mr Farley was Liquor of Jacmel.

Mr Farley recovered within the next few hours and claimed to have no recollection of what he had done. Subsequent investigations have shown that although he has a fairly extensive criminal record for trading in stolen and restricted goods, he has no discernable connection with Mr Ashford.

Case wizards Aurors O'Gregan and Cornworthy have applied to the Wizengamot for a Veritaserum warrant, and given the unusual circumstances of the case, this has been done with the consent of Farley's legal adviser. They will inform me if any progress is made.
Tonks raised her eyebrows again at this. Although Auror candidates were trained in the use of Veritaserum, their teachers had informed them that warrants were frequently hard to get. She'd never been present at a 'live' interrogation.
It seems clear to me that over the last few months, the availability of Liquor of Jacmel in Britain may have increased sharply. Five cases in a few months is far above the normal rate (only two other uses have been reported since 1981, and in both these cases the guilty parties were American criminals here on 'business'). Although I have as yet been unable to track down anyone involved in the trade, inquiries among the Department's informants reveal that there are some rumours in criminal circles to the effect that a potion of this kind may now be available. None of them admit to knowing any more about this, but all concur that there have been no hints of foreign dark wizards attempting to expand their criminal activities in this country.

Although the number of possible uses actually recorded is still small, this is a worrying development, as the cases mentioned above could be just the tip of the iceberg. The potion is much easier to use than an Imperius Curse, and its nature makes cases difficult to prove.

I feel strongly that this investigation should be given a higher priority, and request additional full-time assistance. If possible, it should be someone with excellent skills in Concealment and Disguise, as it seems that 'undercover' work is the best, indeed even the only viable option that we have.

Auror Cassius Smethwyck
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Tonks smiled at the rather Edwardian rash of underlining that had broken out in Cassius' last few paragraphs (presumably old habits died hard when he was rushing to finish a report), and picked up the remaining documents to glance through. O'Gregan had written a summary report of the events of the night in question, Magical Analysis an extended technical report, and there was even a transcript of Farley's interview claims, which said little beyond "I can't remember a thing".

She read through the papers several times, then sat back to consider her position. She'd expected to be doing something simple for the first few months -- guard duty perhaps, or checking the security spells on Ministry property, at most providing backup for the Werewolf Capture Unit -- but she definitely hadn't expected to dive straight in to an undercover investigation. It was clear from Cassius' final request exactly why Scrimgeour had assigned her to him; it was scary, but also one hell of an opportunity to be starting her career with.

She looked around the room for Smethwyck, but he was nowhere to be seen. On a sudden inspiration she picked up her mirror phone again and called him.

"Hello, Tonks." The mirror hadn't opened out this time, and she shook the gadget a couple of times before realising with embarrassment that the voice was coming from behind her. She turned to see an amused Cassius Smethwyck looking at her from the other side of the cubicle partitions. Of course, O'Gregan and Cornworthy work over there, he must have been discussing the warrant with them. Idiot. "Would I be right to assume you're ready to start work then?"

"Er ... as ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

"Excellent! I've just been talking things over with Donnacha and Arnold, they'll keep us informed of any developments at their end. This afternoon, we'll discuss things we can do while waiting for the Wizengamot to decide on the warrant. But first, I should introduce you to a vital part of Auror work that they won't have emphasised in training."

"What's that?"

"Lunch. It's your first day on the job for real, so it's my treat."

*****

Lunch proved to be rather entertaining -- Cassius Smethwyck had a great number of past cases to tell stories about, and Tonks, listening in fascination, couldn't wait to get started on one of her own. Unfortunately, the afternoon discussion about things they could do didn't go entirely according to the way she wished. Despite the fact that he'd asked for Tonks' kind of help, it quickly became apparent that Smethwyck wasn't at all happy about asking her to stick out her neck so soon.

"Er ... what's the problem, Cassius?" she said, feeling puzzled and slightly exasperated, as he shook his head at one of her suggestions for the third or fourth time.

"It's a big risk, Tonks," he said. "We don't usually send people into the firing line on their first week in the job. Well, we didn't in my day, anyway. Rufus Scrimgeour has his own ideas, of course, but that doesn't mean I always agree with them."

"It's not too risky an idea though, is it?" said Tonks, hopefully. "Just morph myself into somebody anonymous-looking, ask around Knockturn Alley and similar places without being too obvious about it, and hope to ask the right question of the right person."

"That's always a risk," he said sternly. "You might ask the wrong question of the wrong person, and there are lots of little nooks and crannies along Knockturn Alley where people could hide and hex you from behind before you even know they're there. Aurors should always exercise caution when they wander along that street, we're not popular with the locals."

"Constant vigilance?" asked Tonks with a grin, remembering what had seemed to be almost a catchphrase with some of her instructors.

Smethwyck frowned at her. "Yes, actually. Old Alastor may take the principle to extremes, but you should listen to him."

"Alastor who?"

"What do you mean, who ... oh yes, he retired a few years ago, didn't he? Alastor Moody. The best man we had back in my day."

"Mad-Eye Moody?" asked Tonks, surprised. The man was a legend and she remembered hearing tales of his exploits, although she'd never met him. Which by all accounts was probably a bit of luck, given the way he was reputed to behave these days. Smethwyck winced at the name.

"Yes. I worked with him sometimes during the war, and he was always very scathing about plans that involved sending raw recruits into dangerous situations without proper backup. He has a point. You wouldn't want to get in a fight where you were outnumbered all by yourself, would you?"

"Hardly likely in broad daylight," argued Tonks. "Even in Knockturn Alley."

Smethwyck shook his head. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. I myself would prefer not to chance it without having backup nearby, just in case."

"But ..."

"No, no buts, Tonks. It's a potentially dangerous place for inexperienced people. For that matter, it can be a dangerous place for experienced people, under the wrong circumstances. I want to emphasise that as much as I possibly can."

Tonks sat back slightly and looked at him, trying to decide on her next argument. "But I won't ever get that experience if I don't try, will I?" she said reasonably. "I can understand you're not enthusiastic about sending a ... well, a novice alone into Villain Central. I'm a bit nervous about the idea myself, to be honest. But I've no intention of sticking my hand up in the middle of Knockturn Alley and shouting 'Hey, anyone know where I can buy Liquor of Jacmel?' I mean, give me some credit."

He looked at her with obvious misgivings. "Very true, very true. But ... you are new, Tonks, let's face it, and you don't have the contacts to fall back on yet. You'd be going in cold. And it can be very slow and frustrating work when you're starting from scratch."

"Hey, I can handle slow and frustrating," she said, grinning. "And ... to be honest mate, it's do this sort of thing or resign, isn't it?"

He hesitated. "I must admit, I was actually hoping they'd assign me one of the wizards I've worked with previously. People who've done a lot of undercover work before and have the right kind of experience."

"Wizards?" she asked gently. To do Smethwyck credit, she got the impression that his objections were more to do with her newness on the job than her gender, although she privately suspected that he'd been taught to be protective of the womenfolk during that Edwardian upbringing of his. At any rate, he looked chagrined and slightly annoyed with himself when she said it

"Or witches. I suppose that ..."

"Yes?"

He threw up his hands in resignation. "I've just got out the habit of sending people into danger, Tonks. I had to do far too much of that during the war."

"You did? I'm sorry to hear that, Cassius, and I know it can't have been fun, but ..." She waved her hands in a vague gesture to indicate that she wasn't sure what to say to that.

He hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision, and looked her straight in the eyes. "I'm sorry, Tonks. My problem, not yours, and I suppose I need to buck my ideas up now I'm back." He smiled. "I did want somebody more experienced to be assigned to me, yes, but it doesn't look like Scrimgeour's ever going to grant me that anyway, so -- welcome to the team. Will you accept my apology?"

Tonks grinned back at him, breathing a silent sigh of relief. "Of course, mate. And --" here she hesitated, but she knew this was going to be as good a time as any to say what she had to say "-- well, I have done a little bit of this sort of thing before. When I went travelling in the holidays I'm afraid I just bluffed my way around the world a lot of the time. Nothing too bad, obviously," she added hastily, "but I'm glad Scrimgeour didn't ask me questions about some of the scrapes I got into."

"Oh, I see." Smethwyck looked as if he was undecided whether to be alarmed or relieved at this news, and settled on relieved. He smiled. "So, what's your plan for taking Knockturn Alley by storm, then?"

Tonks looked at him thoughtfully. "Well, I did have one idea, to sort of start us off. Tell me if it's complete rubbish and would never work in practice, but ..."

*****

Thursday, July 23rd 1994

Tonks wandered slowly along Knockturn Alley, peering into the windows of the shops and inspecting the trays of the street vendors as she went along. Her lack of speed wasn't due to any particular fascination with the wares on view; it was mainly because she was taking great care where she put her feet. After all, it wasn't much use being able to change your outward appearance if your habit of tripping over things gave you away.

She'd been doing this every two or three days during her first couple of weeks on the job. Her chosen Metamorphosis for the task was that of a middle-aged woman, with anonymous features, and a defeated look in her eyes. It never impressed her mirror very much, but business was business.

She stopped every now and again to inquire about the prices of various potion ingredients, in the hope that someone would notice the main use of the ones she expressed an interest in, put two and two together, and come up with an answer that was more than four. She stared for a moment at a shop across the street, which had an unpleasant-looking window display of mummified dragon hatchlings. A sour-faced wizard examining them gave her a challenging glare, and she dropped her gaze and looked away timidly, as befitted the woman she was supposed to be.

The rough plan that she was following had been hatched after long discussion with Smethwyck that first afternoon. It was obvious that an indirect approach was required, since approaching people and asking if they knew anyone willing to sell her illicit mind control potions would be suspicious behaviour even in Knockturn Alley. Cassius explained that he'd already spoken guardedly to several wizards and witches on the fringes of the magical underworld who occasionally passed on information to the Aurors -- but as none of them knew who the suppliers were, they had not been willing to take the risk of helping him out by providing an introduction to an undercover Auror, in case it turned out that they were treading on the toes of someone that they'd prefer not to cross.

The version of Tonks' idea they had eventually decided on was for her to act the part of a respectable but somewhat desperate witch without obvious physical advantages; reduced to attempting to concoct Love Potions to keep her husband from straying -- a legally dubious use of an ethically dubious group of brews. She would, supposedly, be afraid to buy the items directly from a respectable supplier in case she was 'seen by her neighbours', and was thus seeking the necessary ingredients well away from conventional stores where her purchasing habits might be commented upon. Their hope was that if she could establish this character, and then on subsequent visits give the impression that her potions weren't working and that she was getting increasingly reckless, there was at least an outside chance that someone might suggest she try something stronger.

And even if no-one took the bait -- which seemed more and more likely to Tonks the longer she spent in this dingy place -- well, there was always the chance that she might learn something useful if she kept her eyes and ears open. Cassius had agreed that it was always valuable background experience for a new Auror. He'd gently pointed out some of the more obvious weaknesses in her ideas, and absolutely insisted on a backup procedure in case she hit trouble. She'd promised to make use of the panic buttons if necessary, with Cassius waiting nearby in Diagon Alley. A Sense-Enhancing Potion taken beforehand improved her chances of overhearing muttered conversations, although nothing she'd heard so far was of any great value. Unfortunately, it also enhanced her sense of smell, giving her the full benefit of the many noxious odours of the Alley.

OK, she thought as none of the shopkeepers she met seemed to give her a second glance, so this isn't necessarily a great plan, but what the hell. It's the best we can come up with for the moment. At least it was getting her started on the job, while they waited for the Wizengamot to make up their minds on the Farley case. Cassius had warned her not to expect early results there either. Apparently they were notorious for slow decision-making if they had no particular axe to grind, and getting Veritaserum warrants in particular was always a tortuous process.

Tonks shook herself. Standing in one place in Knockturn Alley daydreaming was not a smart idea. She was already attracting a few suspicious glances from the hard-eyed wizards and witches standing on the corners where even narrower alleyways branched off. So she continued to wander, looking in at likely shops, asking the price of milkweed sap, powdered Glowthorn, or dragonfly wings, always being careful to inquire about two or three different ingredients needed for the potion, and making a few small purchases for effect when the price seemed reasonable within the rather modest budget she'd been allocated.

One of the many drawbacks of her plan, of course, was that she couldn't be too obvious. So when on this particular day somebody finally connected the dots, she was actually taken aback.

"Ashwinder eggs?" asked a shop assistant with a leer. He was a youngish-looking man behind the counter of a grubby little shop halfway down the road, with an ornate but faded sign above the door reading 'J.W.Wells, Dealer in Magic and Spells. Founded 1871'. "Whaddya want those for then, love?"

Tonks shook herself and pretended to consult a shopping list scrawled on a piece of parchment. "Oh, er, touch of the ague," she said, letting her voice tremble.

The wizard gazed at her disbelievingly, but didn't make any comment. "Well, we got them in stock," he said. "Six Galleons each, though."

"Six Galleons each?" squawked Tonks. She was honestly surprised; she'd never needed to buy the eggs herself, for curing ague or any other reason, but that much gold per egg seemed excessive.

"Not easy to get," said the assistant with a shrug. "Takes a long time, and you gotta be careful you don't get your house burned to cinders. Could do you a discount on five or more?"

Tonks' budget didn't stretch to actually spending serious money for the sake of her role. She let her face fall, shook her head, and turned away with a crestfallen look.

"Hang on, love." He hesitated. "Look, you can make your own, you know? Might work out cheaper if Galleons are a bit tight for you."

Tonks looked at him in surprise, and said, in a fluttery sort of voice, "Oh. It's, er, very kind of you to suggest it." And rather suspicious, too. Can't be good for business, can it?

The assistant seemed to realise what she was thinking, and grinned. "Hey, it's not my shop. I'm just minding it for old Wellsey while he's away sunning himself in the Caribbean, and the sod don't pay you on commission. I don't work here to get rich. Do you know how you create Ashwinders?"

"Er ... not really." Actually, Tonks knew perfectly well, Professor Kettleburn having demonstrated the procedure in a memorable Care of Magical Creatures project at school. But on the whole she didn't think Little Mrs Anonymous would.

"Well, if you never tried it before, don't, unless you got proper instructions. The boss tried it out the back there once, nearly burnt the bloody place down and half the street with it. Stupid git didn't know how long to leave the fire burning, nipped out to the khazi and didn't notice the trail when he got back. Only just caught the eggs in time. He never done that again."

Tonks instinctively started to grin mischievously, realised that it wasn't really in character in time to catch herself, and hastily turned her expression into a wan smile instead.

"That's the spirit, love. Look, I won't ask what you want them for, though I reckon I can guess. You're not the first bird who's ever come in here to ask. You might say as how it's been a speciality of this shop since Wellsey's great-granddad opened it." He leered again. "Get yourself a book about it, that's my advice."

"Oh, right." Tonks instinctively glanced up the road in the general direction of where she thought Flourish & Blotts was, then bit her lip. She hoped that this small gesture might somehow convey the impression of a woman who didn't want to be seen in public buying books from the gossip-inducing sections of the store. To her surprise, the assistant looked at her with a sort of amused sympathy. Well, well. Maybe if the Auroring doesn't work out I've got a future as a mime.

"Look, if you don't mind going out into Muggle London, try Islington. There's a little bookshop in among all the antique shops in Camden Passage off the main street -- the woman who runs it has all sorts of old books, and most of them are pretty cheap. Found some really interesting ideas in there." He winked. "Just let her know you're not a Muggle and she'll let you in the back room. Bound to find something, ain'tcha?"

"Thank you!" Tonks' thanks were genuine, as was the surprise she was feeling. She knew Islington well, but she'd never heard of a wizarding bookshop in Camden Passage or anywhere else. The wizard winked at her again, and Tonks sidled out thoughtfully as he turned to deal with another customer..

She made it back to the end of Knockturn Alley without further incident. Once out onto the main street, she blended into the lunchtime crowds, and was able to slip into the ladies loos at the Leaky Cauldron without anybody paying her the slightest attention. She Transfigured her clothes into a slightly different style, then emerged with her normal face and figure and electric blue hair.

Cassius Smethwyck was waiting at a table outside Florian Fortescue's, largely concealed under a heavy travelling cloak -- Fortescue's shop had proved as good a place as any to meet on these occasions, given the importance of lunch in the practice of law enforcement, a principle with which Tonks found herself entirely in agreement. There were a couple of empty ice-cream sundae glasses in front of him already. Tonks sympathised; it must have been sheer hell in that cloak in the summer heat.

"Well, young lady, did you find anything today?" he asked quietly with his usual polite smile.

"Not sure," replied Tonks, equally quietly. "I didn't see anything particularly illegal. I mean, obviously there were people selling stuff like Tentacula seeds and Disrobing Glasses, and there were the usual batch of poisons, but that's not exactly a crime wave, is it? I did get a funny tip-off from a lad in one of the stores, though."

"Oh yes?" said Smethwyck with interest. "What did he say?"

"Might not mean anything, but he said there's a place that sells old wizarding books in Islington, only a few miles away from me. It must be hidden behind an ordinary Muggle bookshop, I should think. From what he said, and the way he said it, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the stuff they sell is a bit ... well, dodgy."

Smethwyck considered this briefly. "Islington? I've never heard of one located there, but then I haven't had reason to visit the wilds of North London for a while. Er, no offence meant, Tonks."

"None taken." She didn't bother to mention that she'd actually grown up in a substantial old house in Wood Green, in one of the posher streets. Her father Ted had a good job in Gringotts, and her mother Andromeda had managed to retain some of the Black family fortune even after they threw her out; Tonks had always suspected that her great-uncle Alphard might have had something to do with it.

She nibbled at her ice-cream. "Cassius," she said thoughtfully. "No offence meant here, either, but why is it only you and me on this case?"

Smethwyck didn't answer, but merely looked at her with a quizzical expression.

"Well, it's a bit worse than just Apparating without due care and attention, isn't it?" she explained. "I mean, if this Jacmel stuff becomes common, it could cause a boatload of trouble for the Ministry. Why aren't they taking it seriously?"

He sighed. "Tonks, this past year they've been so obsessed with catching Sirius Black and preparing for the World Cup, they haven't been paying proper attention to anything else. I'm sure the sole reason Scrimgeour let me look into this is because I nagged him when I heard about the Gringotts cases. And I think that was mainly to give me something to do. I fully agree with you that this potion warrants deeper investigation -- I came across it once before, when I was working jointly with the Americans. Nasty stuff, caused their MIB's -- sorry, that's Magical Investigation Bureau agents -- a lot of trouble twenty-odd years ago. But our Ministry only started to take me seriously when the curse-breaker chaps said that it had been used in the Farley case."

Tonks had winced internally at the mention of Sirius Black, but kept her mouth shut. She wasn't sure how much Cassius (or indeed her fellow-Aurors in general) had been told about her family background, and she didn't feel like mentioning it now in case some of them didn't know. She felt certain that having a mass murderer as a cousin and an Auror-torturer as an aunt wasn't going to increase her popularity with her colleagues, especially whoever it was that was actually allocated to Sirius Black case. She'd already noticed one or two of them whispering when she walked by, and that Shacklebury bloke -- er, Spackman? Sticklebolt? oh, whatever -- always seemed to look at her suspiciously.

Smethwyck was looking down at the table gloomily, and apparently hadn't noticed any reaction on Tonks' part. "I don't think they really believe this Jacmel potion could be a severe problem in Britain, you know. It's only that one case where it was definitely employed, after all; it's just a hypothesis in the others. A pretty convincing hypothesis, mind you -- I don't know of any other potions that have those precise effects -- but there you have it."

"But that's ridiculous!" said Tonks indignantly. "Surely they have to make a bit more effort to stop that sort of thing before it really gets started?"

Smethwyck snorted and shook his head. "That's the trouble with the current Ministry people. They're complacent; they don't listen if you tell them there might be something dangerous on the horizon. We've become slack since the war ended, I'm afraid. Even Rufus Scrimgeour to an extent." He scowled. "If You-Know-Who himself came back, they wouldn't believe it unless he took out a full-page advertisement in the Daily Prophet."

Tonks shuddered slightly. "Don't say that."

Her colleague looked her in surprise. "Can you actually remember the war, then?"

"Oh yes." Smethwyck continued to stare at her, and she reluctantly elaborated. "I was only a kid, but even kids pick up on a lot of the stuff that goes on, you know. I used to listen to my mum and dad when they didn't know I could hear them. They would have these whispered discussions about what the Death Eaters said they were going to do to people they didn't like -- Muggle-borns and unsatisfactory half-bloods and --" here her voice took on a bitter edge "-- blood traitors. Well, that just about sums up me and my parents. It was pretty scary."

He looked at her apologetically. "I didn't think, Tonks, sorry. It must be your father who was Muggle-born, of course?"

Tonks' eyebrows rose. "Yes, but how can you tell?"

"Well, just from your name, really. Exercising the deductive powers for which we Aurors are famous." Noticing Tonks' eyebrows rise even further, he hastily added, "You said your mother named you from a wizarding book she read as a child, so I assumed that she must come from a wizarding family. And Tonks isn't a name I've ever heard before, and I know most of the old pure-blood families well. I come from one of them, after all."

"So does my mother. You don't object to Muggle ancestry, I hope?" she asked, with a slight challenge in her voice.

Her partner looked horrified -- in fact, Tonks could have sworn that, for a fleeting moment, deep hurt had shown on his face. "No, Tonks, I don't. I never have. In fact, when I was growing up my family used to think I was very odd to have Muggle friends, but I never much cared about that. And at least most of the younger members -- by which I mean anyone born after about 1930, by the way -- are decent enough not to say anything, even the ones who don't really approve."

It was Tonks' turn to look apologetic. "Sorry, Cassius. No offence meant, eh?"

He smiled. "None taken."

Tonks shook herself. "Oh, well, I suppose we'd better go, so Mr Fortescue can use this space for paying customers. Come on, Cassius, I've got a report to write."

*****

"Tonks?"

Tonks only vaguely heard her name being called. Cassius' comments about the war had set her mind wandering back to her early childhood. She didn't often think back that far -- not because she couldn't remember it, rather because she remembered it too well, and the memories weren't pleasant ones.

"Tonks!"

With a stab of embarrassment, she recalled that at one point she'd declared that she didn't even want to go to Hogwarts when the time came -- preferring to stay at home and die with her parents when the Death Eaters came for them all, rather than go away and die miles from home. Her father had hugged her and managed to talk her round, but she'd seen the looks he exchanged with her mother over her head when they didn't think she was looking, and even then she'd known that her fears were justified

"TONKS! Oy, Dora!"

Tonks started. She span around in her cubicle seat, knocking a stack of parchment to the floor. Bentley Williamson was grinning at her.

"Lost in thought there, Dora?"

Tonks scowled. "Don't call me Dora!" she snapped. "Don't call me Nymphadora, for that matter," she added as an afterthought. "Just Tonks will do fine."

"Ooh, touchy, touchy. I might change my mind about asking you out for a drink now."

"What? Oh sod off, Ben, I'm not in the mood for this," she said, irritated, and slightly shaken, at having her thoughts so rudely interrupted..

Williamson smirked at her. "Oh well, worth a try. Actually, I'm off to cast an eye over the Transfigured Toad. Want to take a look?"

Tonks blinked at him for a moment before remembering the name. "The pub just round the corner from Knockturn Alley? What for?"

"Because it's where that bloke Farley was when he was slipped that stuff you and Cassius are working on, remember?" said Williamson patiently. "I've got to go there and see a man about a dog, so I thought you might like to tag along to get the lie of the land."

"Oh. All right then." Tonks picked her half-finished report from the floor, threw it onto the desk and stood up. "Where is Cassius anyway?"

Williamson shrugged. "Wizengamot Administration Services, I think. Went to chase them up about that warrant. I've got a, erm, 'friend' there, so with a bit of luck she might be able to egg them along. Are you ready?"

"I suppose so. Er, Ben?" said Tonks as a thought struck her. "Are we going in as ourselves, or are we supposed to pretend we're not Aurors?" She glanced at their robes; both of them were wearing the telltale little badge that denoted their status.

"Nah, this is an official visit, so they'll know who we are as soon as I start talking. I can't usually be bothered to make myself look different. I don't like the feeling of being Transfigured much -- gets a bit uncomfortable after a while -- and anyway, why spoil nature's perfection?" He paused to smirk again and give Tonks time to roll her eyes. "You can if you like though, if you think you might ever want to visit incognito. I should warn you though, people tend to be pretty good at seeing through disguises down there. You'll need something better than a few Charms."

Tonks grinned at him and turned herself into a thirtyish woman with a round, plump face and shoulder-length brown hair. Williamson gaped at her; obviously, he hadn't been told about her special talent. She sighed.

"I'm a Metamorphmagus, Ben, I can change my appearance at will," she said resignedly, in an I've-said-this-so-many-times-it's-become-a-recitation fashion.

"Wow." Williamson seemed to be struggling to avoid showing how impressed he was, and managed to find a way to joke about it. "Hey, does that mean you could look like anyone? You could be Zara Gabon if you wanted?"

"The 'Black Widow'? Why would I want to?"

He blinked. "Well, she's not exactly a hag, is she? You'd have to beat the blokes off with a Firewhisky bottle. Always had our suspicions about Madam Gabon, mind you, but we've never managed to pin anything on her."

"And looking like her is supposed to be a good idea?"

"Safer than the real thing, anyway," he said, chortling. "Tell you what though, I bet her old men died with smiles on their faces." He looked at her appraisingly. "Hey, it'll really make me look good when we go in there if you can do me a nice leggy long-haired blonde -- you know, blue eyes, big t --"

Tonks could see where this was going -- it was a very familiar path -- and headed him off quickly. "Stop right there! Ben, I really don't want to know about your personal fetishes, OK?"

"Suit yourself." He grinned, but couldn't quite keep an intrigued look off his face. "Ready then?"

Tonks looked around at the half-finished report on her desk, then shrugged. It could wait until later -- much later, with any luck. "I suppose so. Let's go."

They had to take the lift down to the Ministry foyer; most of the building was protected with security spells to prevent anyone getting in or out by the usual means. Tonks could see the point -- it prevented surprise attacks, burglaries, or escapes from the holding areas -- but it was irritatingly inconvenient.

They Disapparated from the foyer and appeared on the corner of Knockturn Alley, ignoring the suspicious looks of the locals, and walking round to the pub. The painted sign outside showed a wizard repeatedly turning a man into a toad; both of them paused in this activity for a moment to watch as Williamson and Tonks went in. He strode through the door without a backward glance; Tonks, hurrying to catch up, knocked over a table near the door and had to apologise to the drinkers sitting there. Fortunately, their natural annoyance at having their drinks spilt was tempered by the sight of her Auror's badge.

She found Williamson arguing with the landlord about some information he'd given him (or hadn't given him -- it wasn't quite clear), and seized the opportunity to look around her.

She'd been in the Hog's Head a few times during Hogsmeade visits at school, and until now had regarded it as a low point in pub interior décor. However, she quickly decided that the Transfigured Toad made the Hog's Head look like a luxurious modern pub with shiny new fittings. The lighting was poor enough to make her suspect it had been deliberately dimmed by magic, most of the patrons looked so shifty they might just as well have worn signs saying 'Criminal Element' around their necks, and around the walls were a large number of curtained alcoves that looked absolutely ideal for conducting shady business.

A nervous-looking witch emerged from one of them, tucking something into her handbag. Her companion appeared a moment or two later, a skinny hooded wizard, with a scarf over his face that masked most of it from view -- which, as with the Hog's Head as she remembered it, appeared to be a generally accepted mode of dress in this pub. He looked at Tonks suspiciously, and she followed her training, letting her gaze slide smoothly over to the other side of the pub as if she'd been in the process of turning her head when he looked at her. Her trainers had emphasised this: If they've noticed you, you can't do anything about it anyway -- short of a Memory Charm, which is rarely a practical option. Just look elsewhere, and hope they didn't notice. And don't give away the fact that you were watching by looking back to see how they're taking it! She brought her attention back to Williamson, who was apparently getting nowhere with the landlord.

"Look, Finley, we could close this place down if we wanted to!" he blustered.

"Yeah?" The man behind the bar sneered. "Well, up yours, Auror. If you've got proof of anything illegal going on here, then arrest somebody. Otherwise, just go back to Ministry-land and polish your wand."

"How about the Farley incident?" Williamson snarled at him in obvious frustration. "Dora, you know all about that?"

Tonks wanted to tell him off for calling her Dora, but thought better of it. She wished he hadn't chosen to drag her into this. "Illegal potion," she said, winging it. "Administered here. Can't you keep a closer eye on what your customers do?"

"No," said the landlord flatly. "I just sell drinks. What my customers do is their own business, unless they start hexing each other and damage the place. If You-Know-Who himself ever wanted to drop by for a quick Firewhisky, that'd be fine by me, as long as he behaved himself and paid his tab."

"Gah." Williamson made a disgusted noise. "We'll be watching you, Finley, don't you make any mistake about that. Come on, Dora, let's get out of here." He stalked out into the street, Tonks following to find him uttering an extravagant stream of swear words.

"Arrogant little toerag," he said, spotting Tonks. "Finley bloody McAllister. He knows what goes on there, we know what goes on there, and he knows we know he knows ... oh whatever. That pub has been a meeting place for villains for about twenty years, but have we ever been able to bloody get anything on him? No way."

Tonks shivered slightly. Well, the past just seemed to keep catching up with me today. "Twenty years?" she said quietly. "You mean he really did help out You-Know-Who's people? And we haven't put him away in all that time?"

Williamson shook his head. "I don't think he was ever one of their lot," he said fairly. "Just someone who was willing to turn a blind eye and let them get on with it. Our Finley was probably as relieved as anyone else when You-Know-Who got his comeuppance from that little Potter kid. I guess there were plenty of people willing to sell stuff to Death Eaters as long as they could stay out of the firing line themselves. I don't like that particularly, but it's not the same thing."

Tonks looked at him thoughtfully. "Are we watching him? Having someone go in there to see if they can spot anything?"

Williamson's face took on a disillusioned look. "Nah, not worth it, really. We don't have anyone we can spare, we've always had more urgent stuff to do." He looked at her. "Why, are you volunteering?"

"Might do. I mean, there are things Cassius wants us to try, and there's a dodgy-sounding shop not too far from where I live that I'm going to check out tomorrow, but that dump looks like it could stand going higher up the list. I can always drop in there after one of my little jaunts down Knockturn Alley. One condition, though."

"What's that?"

"Don't call me Dora!"



1. First Impressions Table of Contents 3. On The Night In Question

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Comments
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: 19th July 2007 21:41 (UTC) (Link)
I have to express my appreciation for the JW Wells joke....
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: 19th July 2007 23:36 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. Corny, but there you go. :)
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