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[NTLJ] 4. The Value of Art - SnorkackCatcher's Stories
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[NTLJ] 4. The Value of Art
Chapter Summary: In which Tonks encounters some paintings that aren't just pretty pictures, has her parents drop by, and gets some unexpected leads.
Length: 10,400 words



4. The Value of Art


Monday July 27th 1994

O'Gregan's question hung in the air. It was fairly obvious what he meant, but no-one wanted to be the first to voice it aloud. Eventually Tonks shrugged and said it.

"He's innocent?"

"Right. Innocent. Took a knife to somebody. Wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Well, OK, but he's got a perfect defence, hasn't he?" Tonks looked around at the more experienced Aurors. "I mean, being under Imperio is enough to acquit you, isn't it, so I suppose it's the same with Liquor of Jacmel? Cassius?"

He nodded. "Yes, it is. I've checked with the legal section. I'm sorry, Donnacha, but I don't think you have any choice but to let him go after he passed the Veritaserum test. We've no reason to suppose that he's able to counter it, so you haven't really got a case that will hold water in court. Scrimgeour will need to sign off on the decision, but it seems more or less cut-and-dried."

O'Gregan looked at his partner, who looked back at him dolefully. "Sorry, Don, but they're right. He was set up. We didn't get even a hint he knew what was going on beforehand. We don't want to put him on trial and look like complete idiots in the Prophet, do we? And we can always pick him up again if it turns out later he does know something."

Donnacha O'Gregan gave a resigned sort of scowl. "Who set him up though? Why Farley? He's just a little gouger, no special skills. Who'd pick him as their hit man?"

"He was probably picked because he didn't have any connection to whoever set him up, Don," said Cornworthy. "He wasn't a Londoner, he was only here for a visit."

"Mmm ..." Smethwyck said thoughtfully. "And surely it was meant to look like an ordinary Muggle mugging, Donnacha, as if the attack was nothing to do with the fact that he was a wizard at all?"

O'Gregan rolled his eyes. "Well, yes, obviously. But so what?"

"Suppose you hadn't come by at the key moment?" asked Tonks. "He'd have killed Ashford and just woken up with no recollection of what happened, right? Even if he was seen by Muggles, he could still have done magic to get away from them, and no-one would be any the wiser. Not even Farley himself!"

"Not bad, Tonks," said Cornworthy thoughtfully. "But you have to assume that whoever gave him the stuff told him what to do and where to go, and they must have known there are quite a few wizards living round there. How could they be sure none of them would pass by? How could they know none of them would tip us off?"

"I'm not sure they needed to care about that either," said Smethwyck quietly. "He must have been told to pick a moment when no-one was near. How many wizards would have the skills to stop him from long range, even if they dared to use magic to interfere in what would have looked like a purely Muggle affair? If he'd once escaped, I don't think it would even have mattered if we found him later. Once the Liquor had worn off, how would he ever have proved it? It looks like we have a good planner at work here. It took a lot of things to go wrong before we could get an idea about how it was done."

"Exactly!" said Tonks, pleased. "Lucky for Farley an Auror was there, as well as for Ashford. Any other way, Farley might be in trouble but there'd be no suspicion attached to whoever gave him the stuff, would there?"

"But we'd still have to check out his story, Tonks," pointed out O'Gregan. "And if it was this bit of totty who slipped him the stuff, he gave us a picture of her. I mean, she stands out a bit -- in more ways than one."

"She doesn't seem to have been talking to him any more than to anyone else until she actually picked him up, though?" pressed Tonks. "He wouldn't have been able to prove anything. It must have been late on, when most of the people at the party were probably smashed -- and the patrons of that pub aren't known for being talkative when we're around anyway, are they?"

"Well no, no-one else has come forward to identify her," said Cornworthy. "Even assuming it's her real face."

"Polyjuice, you mean?" suggested Tonks. "After all, anyone who could get a bottle of this Jacmel stuff could probably get some of that at the same time."

"I doubt they'd want to buy it from the same seller, even if they had some. It would leave too strong a back trail," Smethwyck pointed out. "In my long experience, Polyjuice has by no means ever been as commonly used as you might think." O'Gregan snorted and Smethwyck shot him a pained look. "It's not easy to brew unless you're a dab hand with a cauldron -- which many of us aren't -- and that's assuming that the ingredients are available. Powdered bicorn hair, for example -- that's hard to find, and expensive when you do. And come to think of it, unless they've revised the textbooks since I was at school -- yes, Donnacha, I know that leaves a great deal of scope -- they don't give complete instructions. You used to have to dig up a copy of Moste Potente Potions, and that's a fairly obscure volume it itself these days."

"More than that, it's not like Jacmel where you've only got to add a bit of yourself to it," added O'Gregan impatiently. "You'd need to know someone who had exactly the look you wanted, and then get body samples from them. You can't just go up to someone and cut off a chunk of their hair, can you now? And it's vile stuff, smells foul, and every time you take it, it's agony. Twists your insides, and you've got to make sure you can do it every hour and not forget. Hard to conceal what you're up to unless people are used to you being eccentric. Maybe it's just me, but I've never thought it was all it was cracked up to be."

"Transfiguration, then?" said Cornworthy hastily in a placating voice. "That's not as painful, and it lasts fairly well. And you could pick any face you wanted. She did look a bit too good to be true," he added wistfully.

"Most people aren't very good at it, though, are they?" said Tonks. She scowled slightly as her colleagues laughed, and O'Gregan muttered "resident expert" under his breath. "Oh, sod off, Don, I mean it. It's not easy to do well, especially if it needs to look just right. It would take me practice to get that look. And I don't care if it sounds like bragging, I am better at changing appearance than practically anyone else ..."

"Actually," Smethwyck interrupted, "I've a feeling she looked familiar." O'Gregan snickered, and Smethwyck shot him a mildly annoyed look. "No, I really mean it. I've been trying to think back. I seem to remember seeing her at a big occasion of some kind, about three or four years ago while ... while my wife was still alive," he finished flatly. "As you gentlemen obviously noticed, she's a girl of striking appearance. I'll have to try to recall where it was."

O'Gregan and Cornworthy didn't seem especially impressed, but as everyone had by now run out of constructive suggestions, they wandered back to their cubicles to write up their report.

Smethwyck smiled at Tonks. "Well, that didn't go too badly, did it?" He glanced at his notes. "I suppose we'd better check on that chap Nathan Arkwright before that slips our mind as well. Come on -- I'll show you how to use the WEB Access."

*****

Tonks followed him over to a large alcove in one corner of the room. A roughly printed sign hung above it:

WIZARDING EASY BOOK ACCESS
Please see the instructions provided,
or consult the staff of the Hall of Records
if you encounter any problems.


The instructions, such as they were, appeared to consist of nothing more than some roughly duplicated sheets of parchment. The Wizarding Easy Book Access itself was a huge life-size painting of a library that stretched across the back of the alcove. The artist had included a blank scroll to the left of the picture.

"So this is the WEB thing?" said Tonks with interest. "It's quite new, isn't it? I've never had a chance to play around with it before."

"Well, that makes me feel better," said Smethwyck. In response to Tonks' raised eyebrows, he added: "It took me quite a while to get the hang of this, you know, when I came back. I was used to going down to the Hall to look things up for myself. At least you won't be making me feel past it."

"You're in your prime, mate," said Tonks, grinning. "So, are you going to pass on the wisdom of the ages to your humble student, then?"

"I can try," he said, smiling in return. "Now, this thing lets you search the contents of the Hall of Records without actually having to be there, or even needing to know exactly what you're looking for. And it's not hard to use; even an old codger like me can manage it." He tapped his wand on the frame of the painting, and a wizard in the robes of the Hall of Records walked into the picture from behind one of the shelves.

"Good morning, sir, and madam," he said politely, making a slight bow towards them. "My name is Jakob Gogol, and I'll be your searchwizard for this visit. How may I be of assistance?"

Tonks glanced at Smethwyck inquiringly. "We need any recent documents you can find -- within the last ten years, say -- containing information on one Nathan Arkwright of Yorkshire," he told the wizard in the painting. "Prioritise anything in connection with magical creatures or a man called Mackenzie Ashford. Please check everything publicly available and include the DMLE confidential records as well, and we'd like the most recent first."

"Certainly, sir," said Gogol, and disappeared among the bookshelves. Smethwyck sat down in one of the chairs next to the painting and motioned for Tonks to join him. Gogol was still out of sight.

"How long will he be?" asked Tonks. "He hasn't really gone off to search the whole Hall, has he?"

"I think so. Apparently, the way it works is that they put some sort of indexing charm on the contents, and it lets these portraits of former Hall of Records staff search them very quickly indeed. You have to add things to the index one at a time beforehand, of course, so it took them a while to set it up, and it takes longer if you want something obscure ..."

He was interrupted by the return of the searchwizard, carrying a large pile of painted books and papers, which he deposited on a table in the foreground of the picture. The scroll at the left of the picture immediately filled with a list of the reading matter he'd brought back

Smethwyck inspected the list, and raised his eyebrows. He tapped with his wand on the first entry, and the scroll cleared to show a reproduction of a page of the Daily Prophet from about six months before. At the bottom of the page was a small article stating that Nathan Arkwright, 52, from near Bedale in Yorkshire, had been severely injured by a young Hebridean Black that he had been attempting to raise from an egg. Tonks winced as she read the details. The poor sod had been lucky not to be burnt to a crisp.

"That might have dampened his enthusiasm for funny creatures a bit then," she said dryly.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" said Smethwyck with a grin. "Hang on a moment, if the Prophet knew about it, there has to be something in our records." He scanned the list again and tapped an entry about a quarter of the way down, a case report on the unfortunate Mr Arkwright. Tonks peeked over his shoulder to read the summary at the top, which stated that Arkwright had been arrested immediately upon his release from St Mungo's, and brought to trial on several dozen charges of keeping dangerous magical beasts without a licence. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had inspected his zoo, paled at the inadequate safety provisions, and confiscated the creatures (which was probably a bit of luck for his neighbours). They had also imposed a very large fine.

Tonks whistled. "I didn't know there were that many Galleons."

"I always thought there must be, but I never knew where they were kept before."

"I wonder if he dealt with Ashford? Must have at some point, surely." She tapped away at the list, pleased to see that she was getting the hang of it. "No, nothing that I can see. Mr Gogol?" The searchwizard poked his head round a corner. "Was there anything at all mentioning those two names together?"

"I'm afraid not, madam. Not in this set of documents. We wouldn't keep sales records though. If you would like to submit the appropriate interdepartmental request forms, I could check the confidential records of other departments?"

"Never mind," said Smethwyck. "Donnacha took a copy of Ashford's ledgers -- remind me to ask him about it. I'll make them a copy of these." He examined the instructions for a moment, then pointed his wand at the articles they'd looked at, muttering "Scriptorum corporalis." The painted versions glowed pale green for a moment, then copies materialised on the desk in front of him.

"Right, Tonks," he said. "Do you think you'll be able to get the hang of this now?"

"I hope so."

"Good." His face took on a wry grin. "In that case, you can sit here and look up those other names, while I go and talk to Donnacha and Arnold." He bowed ironically and left. Tonks didn't mind at all. She'd been looking forward to a chance to play around on this thing.

She consulted her notes and checked for mentions of the names 'Papadopolous' and 'Freddy Farnham', and the nickname 'Trollbrain'. Although she'd harboured a faint hope of finding something useful, it was disappointed. Several Greek wizards called Papadopolous had merited mention in the files, but none of them seemed to have anything in particular to do with magical creatures. Farnham had won numerous prizes at shows for his Kneazles, but had otherwise failed to trouble the record-keepers. And 'Trollbrain' seemed to be a fairly common insult among the criminal fraternity, appearing in various case records.

The Finchley woman she'd met on her first day turned out to be the casewitch dealing with the enchanted harpsichord theft, so Tonks fished a piece of pale violet paper from the rack next to the painting and wrote her a short memo on the subject, asking them to keep her and Smethwyck informed of any developments. With any luck, the nickname, if that was what it was, might ring a bell.

She folded it up and launched it in her general direction; confident that the charm on the paper would carry it across to the right cubicle. She was sufficiently lost in thought that it didn't register that someone was calling her name until the second or third time she heard it. She turned to see who it was.

"Miss Tonks?" It was the bald black wizard, Shacklebolt, looking at her as sternly as ever. She felt a flash of annoyance. What was his problem?

"Yes?" she said, slightly aggressively.

"Do you have any urgent business on hand?"

Tonks looked at her notes. Unfortunately, she'd more or less finished. "Not really. Why?"

"I think it's time for us to have a little talk about your cousin, Sirius Black."

Tonks stared at Shacklebolt in confusion, and with a touch of trepidation. Uncle Sirius was not a topic she was keen to discuss. "Well, OK, if you want to, but what for? Why you, for that matter?"

"Why me? Because I've got the job of trying to find him," said Shacklebolt in his calm voice. "And what for? Because he's still on the loose, and seems to have gone to ground again after the last sighting. And you're his cousin, and I have to check out all suspicious possibilities."

"Suspicious possibilities?" said Tonks, not liking the sound of this at all. "What suspicious possibilities? I haven't had any connection with him for a ... a decade and a half, almost! The last credible report I heard, he was up in Scotland!"

Shacklebolt gazed at her sceptically. "Don't you read the daily intelligence bulletins? You know, the ones that say things like 'Sirius Black reported seen in London'?"

Tonks cast her mind back with a slightly guilty feeling. There had been a series of memos circulating, but most of the time she'd been too busy with other things to read them thoroughly, and ... "OK, fair point. I only glanced at them. Sorry. I got the impression they were just for background information. I'll keep a closer watch on them in future."

"Perhaps you don't even read the Daily Prophet? Or see the Muggle news? It was a big story there too."

"Well, I saw Rita Skeeter's rant, yes ... but honestly, he's been sighted everywhere from Tyneside to Truro over the last year. Do you mean that London report was actually right for once?" She shivered. The thought of her cousin being nearby wasn't a pleasant one.

"Oh, I think so. Two Muggles coming back from the pub on a Sunday night spotted him, and they called the telephone hotline." Tonks noticed that Shacklebolt's slow, careful enunciation tended to give emphasis to what he was saying, and kept him in control of the conversation. She wondered briefly if it was his natural way of speaking, or just something he'd practised when he became an Auror. "They recognised him from the posters -- that wasn't difficult, there was an old one on a tree right next to them -- and he threatened them and ran away onto some waste ground."

"Are they sure?"

"Oh yes. They gave us a very clear description. They were extremely lucky, because he didn't have a wand, apparently. I daresay if he had, we'd just have found their bodies."

"What would he be doing down here, though? From what I heard, he was up near Hogwarts trying to ... finish the job he started." Tonks shuddered. I have never ever been able to understand that. Trying to kill his own godson? After the way he talked about him?

Shacklebolt looked at her. "Well, that's an interesting question. You do realise that Hogwarts is closed for the summer now? And his ... uh, target lives in the south of England?"

Tonks felt her jaw drop. "Oh hell. You mean he was just passing through London on his way there?" She stopped for a moment to consider the problem. "You're sure he hasn't just gone to ground here? That old home of theirs must have been empty for years, and it must be impossible for anyone else to get in."

"It still is empty. We put tracer spells on the area as soon as he escaped, Tonks. He hasn't been anywhere within a mile of the place."

"Old friends maybe? Does he have a hideout somewhere?"

"Another interesting question. Do you know which part of London it was where they spotted him?"

She shrugged. "Haven't a clue. I'm afraid I didn't read the whole story. Sorry."

"Wood Green." He continued to watch her carefully. Tonks shuddered again.

"Wood Green! That's too close for comfort ... hang on, where ..." She trailed off.

"The next street to your parents' house, in fact. Not very far from your own flat either, is it? His one-time favourite cousin and her daughter, the only family members he was supposed to be at all close to? I think you'll see what I mean when I talk about suspicious possibilities."

Tonks exploded. "So what?! Like I said, I haven't seen him for years! If I did, I'd curse him into a million pieces!"

"Would you? That's what I'd like to know, Tonks." Shacklebolt's voice remained steady, but unfortunately that in itself made it seem threatening. "If he came around asking for your help, if he begged, if he threatened, would you really turn him away? He hasn't visited either of your addresses since then, but he must be hiding somewhere."

"Well he's not at my place, and I'm sure he wouldn't be at my parents ..." She stopped. "Hang on, how do you know he hasn't visited?"

"We placed tracers on both of your homes, of course," said Shacklebolt, still calmly; a lot more calmly than Tonks felt.

"You had no ri ..." Tonks trailed off again, swallowed, and took a deep breath. "OK, I suppose you technically have the right."

"Yes. We'd have been alerted if he crossed the boundary of the premises. Unless he was already there, of course, or unless an accomplice had Transfigured him into some form the tracers wouldn't recognise ...."

"What? Why in the name of Merlin do you think I might be the sort of person who hides fugitive mass murderers, even if they are related to me? I'm an Auror!"

"Because you're a Black, Tonks."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Her voice was gradually getting louder, and some of the occupants of the nearby cubicles were glancing over at them curiously.

Shacklebolt shrugged. "You're a Black. It's not your name, but nevertheless, that's your blood. And in this department it's not the recommendation it might be elsewhere, especially for those who remember the war. They've stirred up far too much trouble, even when they stayed on the right side of the law. And when you get one who seems to be a decent Black at first, like your cousin, they often seem to revert to type. I have to consider the possibility, or I wouldn't be doing my job."

Tonks felt her mouth open and close a few times, completely at a loss how to respond to Shacklebolt's little diatribe. It had been bad enough facing this sort of thing during the interview process, but she couldn't believe that after all this time mistrust had followed her onto the actual job.

Shacklebolt had been watching her carefully. "You asked," he said simply. "I'm afraid I find it hard to trust Blacks, especially when we get suspicious happenings like this. You must have realised."

Tonks found her voice. "If you think I'd help ... my cousin --" she spat out the last word as if it were an obscenity "-- do you really think I'd have become an Auror, of all things?"

"Why not? It's a glamorous career, after all. And even Aurors have been known to keep things secret from the Ministry, if they think they have good enough reasons." His expression suggested that he wasn't particularly enamoured of this concept.

"Not in this case." Shacklebolt's raised eyebrows annoyed her enough to add, "You don't realise just how badly he betrayed us, do you? My mother thought he was a decent member of her family who didn't give a toss about all that Nature's Nobility crap. I thought he was a hero. And then ... then it turned out he'd been playing us for fools, he was just the same as the rest of them, the same kind of filth who'd sell out his best friends for the sake of his precious pure blood!" She realised dimly that she was shouting, that Shacklebolt had touched a raw nerve, but she couldn't stop herself. "I was in shock for a week when I heard! The only consolation I had was that it all went pear-shaped for him and his darling Dark Lord! Served the bastards right!"

Shacklebolt watched her with a thoughtful expression. He wasn't the only one; Tonks realised with unease that the room had gone surprisingly quiet, and she had a nasty suspicion that most of the Aurors within earshot were hanging on their words. "I see," he said softly. "Now suppose he knocks on your door one evening and tells you some tale of woe -- that he was tortured into doing it; or acting under the Imperius curse; or framed by a Death Eater. What will you do then, Tonks? When he begs for help? When he appeals to the part of you that probably desperately wants to believe he's not a monster?"

"He won't." Tonks was speaking softly as well now, albeit coldly. Kingsley Shacklebolt's way of talking did at least help to calm things down if you let him run on for a while.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, because he'd never get the words out. I'd kill him before he had the chance." The last sentence hung in the air for a few moments; Tonks had the impression that the occupants of the nearby cubicles were trying very hard not to do anything which might make a noise, such as breathing. Which was why she literally jumped when someone coughed behind her.

It was Cassius Smethwyck. He was smiling gently as usual, but Tonks thought she could detect a touch of annoyance behind it.

"Can I have my partner back now, Kingsley old chap?" he asked. He said it politely enough, but this time Tonks definitely recognised an underlying hint of steel. Even though it really wasn't the time for it, she couldn't suppress the mischievous thought that she'd love to see which of them would win a Remaining Calm In The Face Of Extreme Provocation contest. Shacklebolt had the style, but Smethwyck had the experience.

Shacklebolt shrugged again. "Of course, Cassius. I think she's made her position on the matter quite clear." He nodded ironically in Tonks' general direction. "Just remember, Tonks, don't, ah, try any freelance work on the Sirius Black case."

"Fine," said Tonks curtly. "I won't." She trailed Smethwyck back towards their cubicles, trying not to notice the pairs of eyes that followed her and then looked hastily away whenever she glanced in their direction. Smethwyck sat down and gave her a hesitant smile.

"You know, I got the distinct impression there that you weren't too happy with your cousin."

Tonks looked at him in embarrassment. "How bad was it?"

Smethwyck mimed a thoughtful look. "Well, if he really is anywhere in London, he'll definitely have heard you threaten him. Frankly, there's a good chance he heard you if he's still in Scotland."

Tonks sighed. "It just slipped out, I didn't really mean it." Honesty compelled her to add, "Well, at least I don't think so. I hope I'm not the sort of person who'd kill for revenge. Not even if ... I don't know, a friend was killed in front of me. But ... I've realised over the last year that I really do hate him. Just like I hate all of them who were with You-Know-Who's merry little band. I suppose it was the escape that brought it all back."

"You were close to him once, then?" asked Smethwyck gently.

"Yeah, sort of." Tonks sprawled back in her chair with a bleak look. "He used to visit us, you know, when I was a young kid? Not often, I suppose, but I thought he was really cool, the nearest thing I had to a proper wizard uncle. My mum always got on well with him; both of them were more or less disowned by their parents because they refused to go along with the pure-blood stuff. Once Auntie Bellatrix --"she practically snarled the name "-- had paired off with that Lestrange git, apparently my gran started trying to set my mum up with his brother! Keep everything in the family! She wasn't having any of it, of course. She'd met my dad at school. I thought Uncle Sirius was really proud of her ... well, I thought I knew him. Obviously I didn't."

"I see."

"I still can't quite get my head round it, you know. Do you think he was a Death Eater all that time?" There was a plea in her voice.

Smethwyck looked thoughtful again; this time apparently for real. "I suppose he could have been turned late on in the war," he said hesitantly. "It happened that way sometimes. I remember one case of a man from a pure-blood family -- Jugson, his name was -- who fell for a Muggle-born woman and married her. I vaguely knew some of his family; they actually seemed quite decent people for the most part, but they did strongly disapprove of such marriages. In public he was very much against everything You-Know-Who stood for, and apparently many of his old friends gave him the cold shoulder because of it." He paused, with a distant look.

"What happened to him?"

"What happened? One day he must have ... well, just cracked, I imagine. Wanted to come in from the cold. He dropped out of sight all of a sudden, so naturally under the circumstances we suspected he might have been murdered by Death Eaters. It used to happen a lot in those days."

"I know," said Tonks quietly.

"Ah. So, anyway, we checked his house. When we did, we found his wife's body ... Let's just say it wasn't a pleasant sight."

Tonks felt her mouth fall open. "He killed her himself? You're sure it wasn't a Death Eater attack?"

"Apparently not. His defensive protections were still in place all over the house, it took us hours to get in." Smethwyck shook his head. "And they lived on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, it wasn't as if the neighbours wouldn't recognise people doing magic when they saw it. No-one had seen anything -- well, all right, we were used to people saying that, but in this case they seemed genuinely surprised."

He paused again, apparently lost for a moment in old horrors. "The next we heard, one of our people tracked down a gang of Death Eaters to a big house just outside Ipswich, and we put together a task force for a surprise assault. One of the people we found there turned out to be Jugson, and before you ask, no, he wasn't under Imperius or anything else. We lost three good Aurors and a couple of bystanders capturing him and his friends -- well, the ones who survived, at least. As far as I know, they're still keeping your aunt and uncle company in Azkaban."

"Good riddance." Tonks winced when she said that, albeit only internally -- the remark had come out with far more vehemence than she'd intended. Smethwyck looked at her uncertainly.

"I'm surprised you still feel so strongly, Tonks," he said slowly. "And a bit worried, truth be told. I know it's a cliché, and you were probably told this so many times during training that you're fed up with hearing it -- but you genuinely can't afford to let personal feelings get in the way when you're doing this job. I mean, everyone who saw that Jugson chap's wife -- or knew the people we lost in the battle -- would have loved to take him apart slowly, piece by piece. But we didn't, we just shipped him off to Azkaban. Although that hellhole is punishment enough, I suppose."

Tonks sighed. "Come on Cassius, give me a break. I suppose ... I never realised I was so sensitive on the point till people here started calling me on it. It's been, what, thirteen years now? The war ended, and then my aunt finally stepped out of line and got herself caught, and after that we never talked about it. But when Unc ... when he broke out, it brought back a lot of bad memories for us."

"'Us'?" inquired Smethwyck quietly.

"Me and my parents. You know, the 'good Blacks'." The last two words were spoken with more than a trace of embittered sarcasm.

"The sheep of the Black family, in fact." He made an admirable attempt at a straight face while saying this, but couldn't keep his mouth from twitching at the edges.

Tonks felt anger flare for a moment, but then said shamefacedly, "Yeah, I suppose so. Strange lot, aren't we? The Muggle-born, the blood traitor, the half-blood freak. We might as well have had a big target painted on our house. I'm amazed we all survived."

He grinned at her. "I think you'll do, Tonks." He hesitated, then the grin returned. "You're doing me good, you know that? It's been so many years since I was a real tyro -- first time around, that is -- I'd forgotten how it felt to be young and enthusiastic. Your attitude must be rubbing off; I'm actually starting to enjoy this again. I must remember to thank Rufus Scrimgeour next time I see him."

Tonks snickered. "I'm not sure he'll appreciate that." She paused. "Look, thanks for rescuing me from that sod Shacklebolt. I might have said something I'd have regretted. Well. OK, said something more I'd have regretted."

"No problem. And don't be too hard on Kingsley, he's just doing his job. He's a very good chap when you get to know him and work with him."

Tonks shrugged. "Well, don't take offence, Cassius, but I really hope that isn't for a while yet." She looked at the pile of work awaiting completion on her desk, and grinned at him mischievously. "Right then, if you don't mind my young person's attitude, all I've got to say is -- last one to finish their report buys the drinks after work!"

*****

Tuesday July 28th 1994

Tonks Apparated into the Ministry rather later than she'd intended the following morning. She was suffering from a hangover that even a dose of potion hadn't completely alleviated, although as compensation she had the pleasant recollection of having successfully outlasted her partner, drink for drink, while they got to know each other better. She was rather hazy about the details of their conversation, but could vaguely remember Cassius entertaining her with a series of thoroughly scurrilous tales of what Auror work had been like in the old days. One of these days, I'll have to get him to tell me again when I'm sober, she reflected. She glanced at the clock, winced, then brightened; at least with this job, you could keep odd hours and put it down to 'working on a case'.

Cassius wasn't anywhere to be seen in the office when she arrived, but Rhiannon Davies was there, talking to the man in the Muggle police uniform again. Tonks tried to watch them out of the corner of her eye while dutifully reading the daily intelligence bulletin. The man looked uncomfortable and somewhat overawed, but was paying close attention to whatever it was they were talking about. Davies noticed she was looking and winked.

The bulletin wasn't especially interesting. Most of the reports were brief updates on cases of which she only had the vaguest recollection. However, she was pleased to see that O'Gregan's report on the results of the Farley interrogation was included, and that Cassius had added a note on what they'd learned from the WEB. Out of curiosity she looked for Rhiannon Davies' name, but it wasn't listed on any report as far as she could see.

She glanced up to find that Cassius had just arrived, looking somewhat the worse for wear. She wondered guiltily if she'd encouraged him to overdo it the previous evening, but he managed a rather wan smile as he sat down.

"You know, Tonks," he said, in a voice that was hoarser than usual, "I haven't had a session like that since I left the Auror Office all those years ago. I can remember why now. You feel like death warmed up in the morning."

"Oops. Sorry."

"No, don't apologise. You didn't exactly force the stuff down my throat at wandpoint. I went into it with my eyes open -- well, at least they were open for the first bottle or so." He winced and put a hand to his temple. "Probably overconfidence on my part. I used to be quite good at it, you know; I even outdrank my Yankee counterparts sometimes when I was over there, and that's not easily done. Unfortunately, like so many things in life, if you don't do it for a while you don't realise how out of practice you are until you actually try it again. I hope I didn't embarrass myself."

"Don't think so. Don't know if I'd remember if you had though, mate."

"Ah." He paused. "Thank you for last night, Tonks."

Tonks blinked. "Thanks? Are you sure?"

"Yes. You made me feel like -- what's the phrase -- 'one of the boys' again. I haven't really been one since I came back. I appreciate it, Tonks. Really, I do. It was worth the after-effects to be able to feel like that again."

Tonks grinned at him. "Don't mention it."

Cassius grinned back. "All right, I won't. Mind you, I don't think I'll try it again for a while. I always knew you were going to be trouble."

"Trouble's my middle name, mate. Well, OK, you know it isn't, but it should have been. I wouldn't have minded answering to that at school. It would have fit beautifully."

"Spent half your time in detention, eh? When I was at school -- yes, Tonks, even I was a schoolboy once -- I used to hand them out," said Cassius reminiscently. "Only because I had to, though. We prefects were meant to keep the little wretches in order. I don't think we ever managed it, mind you, but we were meant to."

"I was one of the little wretches none of the prefects could keep in order," said Tonks, grinning. "The Metamorphmagus stuff really helped. Well, for a year or so anyway, until they cottoned on."

"Oh yes?"

"Yeah, if I was where I wasn't supposed to be and a prefect came along, I'd just change my appearance and give them a false name. Most of them didn't know who all the first-years were and didn't care anyway, it was easy."

She chortled as a particular set of escapades popped up from her memory. "I gave one poor Hufflepuff fifth-year a real runaround. He'd see me disappear into a room looking like myself, then pop out again the next minute as somebody else with a butter-wouldn't-melt expression. Then he'd go in the room and find it empty. He was horribly confused, poor boy. I could practically see the thoughts going through his mind: 'Wait a minute -- she must have changed her appearance! No, hang on, she's only a first-year. No way can she know how to do advanced Transfiguration. The other one must be hiding, or maybe there's a secret passage I don't know about. Damn!' It was hilarious."

Cassius sat back and chuckled. "You know, I'm very glad we didn't have anyone like you around when I was a prefect. I think I might have just handed the badge back as a bad job." He looked around guiltily. "Anyway, enough of your terrible past. And mine. I've a feeling I probably slandered my erstwhile colleagues quite outrageously last night, so it's probably best we're both a bit hazy about it. We'd better do some work, or Scrimgeour will drop by and turn us into polecats."

They spent what was left of the morning reviewing the information obtained from the previous day's investigations, sneaked out for an extended lunch break, then returned to their desks. "Did you get Ashford's sales reports from Don?" she asked as a thought struck her.

"Ah, yes, I'd forgotten about them." He rummaged among the paperwork on his desk, and threw over a selection of duplicated notes. "Here we are. They'd done business together a few times, but Arkwright wasn't a big customer. Arnold didn't even have a picture of him to show Farley. I suppose he was only looking for unusual creatures, and the bulk of Ashford's trade is in the common ones people usually want -- Crups, Puffskeins, Kneazles, the occasional winged horse or Hippogriff, things like that."

"Right," said Tonks, glancing down the list. "Let's see ... Ashford sold him a school of Plimpys, whatever they are -- oh, some kind of fish apparently. A Jarvey ... I remember those from Care of Magical Creatures, they're like foul-mouthed ferrets, nothing much to worry about. And ... blimey, a breeding pair of Snidgets? Managed to get a licence to sell them somehow. That set Arkwright back a fair few Galleons. Seems to be it though. Oh, apart from the cages and stuff."

"Cages?"

"Cages for large creatures, 'magically reinforced and fully guaranteed', apparently. Sold in job lots of a dozen. Couldn't have been that much good if his dragon got out of them."

"Maybe he should ask for his money back," Cassius chortled. "He could probably use some after the fine they slapped on him."

Tonks looked up as a thought struck her. "Does everything Ashford sell go through his books?"

Cassius looked at her sharply. "You mean, might he have sold things to Arkwright illegally? Good question. He's a fairly shrewd businessman, but we didn't find anything to suggest that he traded on the black market. Donnacha said his impression of him was that he's not the type to risk a successful legitimate company for a small illegal profit on the side, but might consider it if the amount of money involved was large enough."

"Right. Technically, Ashford and Arkwright aren't part of our case, are they? Do we do anything else with regard to looking into them?"

Cassius shrugged. "Another good question. I'll go and see what Donnacha and Arnold are planning to do. Maybe we can team up with them; there's bound to be a lot of overlap, after all. See you tomorrow, Tonks." He turned back towards her as he walked away. "Oh, and if you feel like a drink after work -- ask someone younger this time!"

Tonks grinned to herself as she turned back to her desk and a couple of memos zoomed into her cubicle in-tray. Hey, at least the boozing session made Cassius feel welcome again. Result!

*****

Five o'clock came as a welcome relief to Tonks. It had felt like a very long day. She Apparated from the foyer back to her flat, kicked her shoes into a corner, and sat back in the comfiest chair she possessed with a sigh of relief.

Naturally, the doorbell rang just as she'd settled down nicely. She closed her eyes and silently swore, then dragged herself out to the door and yanked it open with a touch of annoyance.

"Wotcher, Princess."

"Dad!" Her tiredness vanished. "Mum! Why didn't you tell me you were coming round?"

"Thought we'd surprise you," said her father with equanimity, hugging her. "Are you going to invite us in, then?"

"Oh don't be daft, Dad. You know where the lounge is, go and sit yourself down." Her mother embraced her more sedately, but with equal affection. "It's good to see you, Mum. I'm sorry I haven't been round this last couple of weeks, I've been busy ..."

"That's all right darling, we understand." Her mother smiled at her. "Just so long as you don't let it become a habit." They followed Ted Tonks into the lounge.

"How're you doing, Princess?" he said seriously. "Enjoying it? How are they treating you?"

"Fine, Dad. It's been, well --" Tonks wanted to say "a dream come true", but that sounded far too corny "-- well, great really. Cassius -- the bloke I'm teamed up with -- is a really decent old soul."

"Cassius?" said her mother curiously. "Not Cassius Smethwyck, by any chance? I thought he retired years ago."

Tonks felt her eyebrows rise. "You know Cassius? Where from?"

"Oh, I don't really know him, Nymphadora, but I do know the Smethwycks, of course. Quite nice people, very old family." She hesitated briefly but perceptibly. "We occasionally used to meet them socially when I was a child. Everybody seemed to think Cassius was a bit odd, of course, but I must admit --" she giggled mischievously, in a way her daughter had always found endearingly incongruous "-- I never paid much attention to them when they dismissed people like that. I only saw him two or three times, probably, but he seemed to be a very pleasant man."

"Yeah, he is. He did retire, but he came back after his wife died."

"Ah." Andromeda Tonks looked slightly embarrassed. "Yes, I see. I'm sorry to hear that. Is he well?"

"He seems to be. We're working on quite an interesting case, but I can't really talk about that, obviously."

"Long as they're not sending you down Knockturn Alley on your own every day," said her father jocularly. He noticed her wince and quietly added, "And if they are, don't mind us, love. Yeah, we worry about you, we're your parents. We're bound to worry when you're in a dangerous job. But we've always known you wanted to do this, and it's a good thing you're doing. You're all grown up now, Princess, you've got to do what you believe is right."

Tonks looked at her mother for her reaction, who looked a little sad but nodded. "I agree, darling. I don't suppose you realised it, but we spent a lot of time talking about this when you were a teenager -- you're our only child, after all, we want you to be safe. But we want the best for you too. And after all we went through in the war, it would be silly and wrong for us to complain about you standing up for a good cause. It's ... we're proud of you, Nymphadora, for doing this. Just be careful, that's all we ask."

Tonks felt her eyes moisten, and blinked a few times to clear then. "Thanks, Mum. Thanks, Dad. You don't know how much it means to me to hear you say that."

"No problem, Princess." Her father looked around, and turned to his daughter with a slightly shifty expression. "Do you mind if I have a look at your TV, kid? Just to catch the end of the news?"

His wife snorted sceptically. "You mean you want to know if your team have signed that German player yet. You never did fool me, Ted."

"Me, neither," added Tonks, grinning. "Is this the mighty Spars again?"

"Well, sorry, Annie," he said with dignity. "And, yes, it's Spurs. I like my sport on the ground where I don't have to crick my neck to see what's going on."

Tonks picked up her wand and called, "Accio remote!" A small grey box flew into her hand from down the back of the sofa, where it had somehow found its way after the last use, and she pressed a button to switch on the evening news programme. Seeing her parents' raised eyebrows, she explained: "I never got round to charming the telly for wand control. I don't really watch it much, but I thought I'd better get one because the landlord thought it was odd that I didn't have one. Anyway, you know I was never much good at household spells."

"Yes, dear," said her mother with mild reproof, looking around at the clothes, papers, and other miscellaneous objects strewn around the flat. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "I could always tidy this up a bit for you ..."

"Er, thanks, Mum, but there's no need." Tonks hastily turned to her father, who had his attention on the screen. "Any luck on the football, dad?"

"No," said her father gloomily. "Not a peep." He watched the weather report with a critical eye. "You know, if I ever got a Muggle job, that would be a pretty cushy number. You go in a studio, do a few minutes every day, then go home. It's not like you need Seer powers or anything. You don't even have to get it right!"

"Oh, I don't know," said Tonks with a grin. "I reckon they get it right more often than my Divination teacher ever did. If by some miracle she ever made a real prediction, I don't suppose she'd believe it herself."

Their conversation turned to other matters as the Crimestoppers programme came on. It was just a noise in the background to Tonks, so she was surprised when her mother stiffened at something on the television. She turned to see a batch of police mug shots on the screen, and hear the announcer's voiceover: "... and there is still no further news of escaped murderer Sirius Black, recently spotted in Wood Green after being on the run for over a year. Neighbourhood Watch patrols should keep an eye out, but on no account approach the man if seen, as he is reported to be armed and dangerous ..."

Andromeda Tonks had gone very quiet. The Black side of her family had always been a touchy subject for her from as far back as Tonks could remember, and for the past thirteen years it had been tacitly understood by Tonks and her father that Cousin Sirius and Auntie Bella in particular were topics best avoided.

"So what do they have you doing at work, then?" asked Ted in a voice that was rather louder than necessary.

"Oh, er, tracking down dodgy potion sellers," said Tonks, slightly flustered. She stopped there; that wasn't going to give away much about the case.

"Yeah?" said Ted, still attempting to ignore his wife's pursed lips and tensed body. "Not that one they're supposed to have been using on our customers, I hope?"

"WHAT?" cried Tonks, horrified. It took her a moment to realise that her reaction had just said more than it should have.

"It is?" said her father, with equal surprise. "Good heavens, Katie, they're not starting you off small, are they?" He ignored his wife's cluck of disapproval at the pet name. "I hope you find out who's doing it, kid. We don't want it happening too often, it's bad for business. I mean, I know the goblins make sure they write it into the conditions for opening an account that they aren't responsible for any magical problems affecting their customers, but somebody's going to kick up a stink sooner or later."

"Yeah, well, that lot don't want us interfering, do they?" said Tonks with a trace of bitterness, remembering the notes on the Gringotts thefts attached to Cassius' Jacmel file. She hesitated for a moment. "How much do you know about this, Dad?"

"Some reports went across my desk, that's all. They said someone brainwashed a few of our customers into taking all their money out, and your lot told us they used a potion to do it. I don't think there's much we can do. Shouldn't I know about this, then?"

Tonks hesitated, then shrugged. "Sounds like it's common knowledge at your end. We did ask them to tip us off if it happened again, but they just waved the Charter of Rights at us and said they didn't have to tell us what their customers did. And apparently putting someone from the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol there to keep an eye out might be 'intimidating to their customers'. Yeah, too right with some of them, I bet."

"Yes, well, they -- er, we -- don't like you interfering. Even more than they dislike losing customers." Ted Tonks hesitated for a moment in turn. "Look, kid, would you like me to try and tip you off if it happens again?"

Tonks' jaw dropped at this unexpected slice of luck. "Yeah! How, though? You don't work on the front desk, do you?"

"Nooo ... but there are portraits of Gringott all over the building -- the founding goblin, you know. One in front of my desk, in fact, and another big one in the main hall. I've talked to them from time to time. I think he does get annoyed sometimes by the way the present-day goblins refuse to co-operate. He might agree to tell me if he spots anything odd going on. If I let you know, you'd have to keep it really quiet who told you, though."

Tonks thought about it for a moment. "No problem, dad. I'll just put you down as a contact in Knockturn Alley. This could be exactly what we're looking for."

"Nymphadora!" Her mother's voice was sharp, and she jumped. "Are you sure you want to encourage him? Ted, how likely is it that you could lose your job over this?"

"Well ..." said her husband, slightly shamefacedly. "I suppose if they found out they'd be really angry."

Andromeda Tonks sniffed. "Angry goblins? Wonderful."

"Don't worry, Mum," Tonks said quickly. "Only the boss would have to know who it really is, but he'll never say anything. The main thing is finding a way for you to tell me without making it obvious ... you don't have access to the Muggle phone system, do you?" She'd never tried the linkup on her mirror phone 'mobile', and wondered how well it would actually work.

"Not in Gringotts, no. Muggle stuff doesn't work in Diagon Alley, remember? Too much magic around." At an exasperated look from his wife, he hastily added "Anyway, it would need to be something quiet. If one of the goblins came by and heard me telling you, they'd go mental. I'd send you an owl, but that wouldn't be quick enough, I suppose? Some sort of button to press, maybe?"

Tonks thought for a moment. "We'd need a description though to do us any good. Hang on, does this Gringott bloke have any spare miniature portraits lying around you could, er, borrow?"

"Don't think so. Normal sized ones, yeah, plenty of them. I could probably take one of those out -- they've got so many, they'd probably be happy to get rid of a few of them."

"I couldn't carry one around with me, though. Damn! Wait a minute." Tonks turned to her mother with entreaty in her eyes. "Er, Mum ... "

"Yes, Nymphadora?" she said, suspiciously.

"Would you, maybe, keep a portrait in the house? Phone me if this Gringott bloke drops in and says something's going on?"

"Nymphadora ..."

"Please. Pretty please? Pretty please with dancing gnomes?"

"Well ..." She looked at her daughter and her husband with a sort of affectionate exasperation. "Oh, all right. I'm not making you any guarantees, though. If I'm out when he calls, I'm out. I don't intend to sit around waiting all day, every day on the off-chance that someone wants me to play secret agent. All right?"

Tonks hugged her mother. "Thanks, Mum. No really, thank you for doing this for me. Right, I'll make you some dinner!"

Her parents exchanged glances. Their daughter's culinary reputation had never been high. "Er, never mind, dear, you sit down and have a rest," said her mother hastily. "I'll do it."

*****

Wednesday July 29th 1994

Scrimgeour proved to be busy for most of the next day, but Tonks managed to find him with a gap in his schedule in the late afternoon. She approached him with great trepidation, but he listened to her information with great interest, approved the arrangement with the portrait, and actually used the phrase "well done". Tonks flushed with pleasure at this. Coming from Scrimgeour, it was practically the equivalent of pinning a medal on her robes, and she felt in an exceptionally good mood as she strolled back to her cubicle.

Rhiannon Davies was waiting for her at her desk. "Well, you look cheerful," she said lightly. "Won the Daily Prophet prize draw or something?"

"Just got an unexpected pat on the back from Scrimgeour," said Tonks in an offhand manner, hastily arranging her face to look less gleeful. "Anything I can do for you?"

"Oh yes, my dear. How would you like a temporary job?"

"Tempor ... you mean the World Cup?"

Rhiannon grinned. "I had a word with Ludo Bagman, and he practically leapt at the chance to add you to the roster. I'd love to say this was entirely down to my feminine wiles, but he told me that man Barty Crouch in International Magical Co-operation has been sending memos round saying he wants to boost the security presence and wants as many Aurors as he can get. Apparently he was bending Scrimgeour's ear in a meeting all morning, and is sending a representative round to argue the toss about who we can spare. I wouldn't fancy being the poor sod who has to do that."

Tonks dismissed the problems of the Department of International Magical Co-operation with a wave of her hand. The news that she'd get to see the World Cup Final live was far more interesting. "Rhiannon! That's brilliant! Who will I be working with?"

"Me, with any luck. I asked Ludo to put you on my team; said you'd only just started work here, and you were still learning and not doing anything important yet." She held a hand up placatingly when Tonks squawked in protest. "I know, I know, Cassius has got a bee in his bonnet about this Liquor stuff, and I suppose he could be right. You'll have to go and work on that if anything breaks on the case, but otherwise you're supposed to help us make sure the spectators don't actually riot. Can't see that being too much of a problem. We'll have to watch the match from ground level, but hey, we're in!"

"Yes!" Tonks suppressed an urge to dance across the floor of the Auror offices as Scrimgeour passed by, escorting a young red-headed man towards his office. That jogged her memory. "Hey, Rhiannon," she said, "I've been meaning to ask you -- who's the bloke in the Muggle police uniform you were showing around? There wasn't anything from you about it on the daily bulletin."

"You read that? Wow, I'll have to be more conscientious, I didn't know anyone bothered." She chuckled, then quickly sobered up. "You wouldn't have seen anything on there about the developments on that case, because there haven't been any. I've been able to give him a few hints about where to look, but we're basically just waiting for something to happen. Not fun."

Tonks felt her jaw drop again. "You mean he's a real Muggle detective? What on earth was he doing in here?"

"Liaising." It appeared to dawn on her that Tonks really didn't have any idea what she was talking about. "Sorry, I thought you'd have seen it if you read the bulletins. To put it bluntly, it looks like a wizard has been killing Muggles over the last year or so." She paused to scowl. "He -- or she -- tortures them first, then brands some kind of sign onto their forehead before they kill them. Very unpleasant, and we have absolutely no idea who's doing it or what their sadistic little symbol means."

Tonks whistled. "Yeuch. How come I haven't seen this in the Prophet, then?"

"Because you probably don't read short paragraphs on page 19," said Davies bitterly. "And that's all the Prophet will bother to print when it's only Muggles getting killed. I suppose that might help though, we're trying to avoid 'letting the killer find out how much we know about the case' which for the record is approximately sod all. We managed to persuade the Muggle police to assign this Superintendent Nelson to the case; luckily he's got a cousin whose kid went to Hogwarts so he already knew about magic. I'm working on the case from our end, and he's telling them I'm a 'psychic' if anyone asks what I'm doing there."

"You're a Seer?" enquired Tonks, curiously. She'd always found the stories of Seers -- real ones, anyway -- quite impressive. "Seriously?"

"No of course not, you idiot, don't be daft. I've got to have some cover story though, haven't I?"

"Ah. Fair point." Tonks glanced around at her desk; she really wasn't in the mood for re-reading the same reports for the third time. She picked up the memos, but they weren't important enough to warrant more than a quick glance, simply noting a redesigned expenses claim form (she groaned as she realised that the one in her out-tray that she'd filled in to claim her money back for the books was now just scrap paper) and the date when tickets for the Ministry Hallowe'en Ball would go on sale. "Oh, stuff this for today, Rhiannon. It's nearly five o'clock. Coming?"

"Yeah. It's been a long day. And Donnie's been in a bad mood for most of it."

"Why?" asked Tonks as they strolled down the corridor together past the hurricanes battering the enchanted windows.

Rhiannon chuckled. "Because we're letting Farley go, that's why. He was sure he'd caught someone red-handed trying to commit murder, and now he's had to give up on the idea - all because of, as he puts it, one trivial little thing. Or as we'd call it, hard evidence from Veritaserum."

"Is he always like that?"

"Pretty much, I'm afraid. Once he gets the idea into his head that someone's a villain, he doesn't like to give it up. He's a stubborn Irish git that way." Tonks glanced at her companion, but she looked as if she were merely tolerantly amused at her boyfriend's foibles.

They stepped out of the lifts into the Atrium, bustling as usual with dozens of Ministry wizards and witches going home after work. Tonks glanced up as she bumped into someone; then froze, looking at a witch on the other side of the foyer who was standing in line for one of the Floo fireplaces.

"Rhiannon," she said urgently, pointing at the witch, "who's she?"

"Her?" Davies stared at Tonks in bemusement as the witch stepped into the flames and vanished, too far away for Tonks to hear what her destination was. "Haven't a clue, some Ministry official by the look of her. Why?"

"Because I've seen her before. Coming out of an alcove at the Transfigured Toad."



3. On The Night In Question Table of Contents 5. Good Auror, Bad Auror

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