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Chapter 1 : A New Lead
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As ever, I am not the amazing JKR and everything you already recognize belongs to her. I hope you enjoy!
Audrey Bellpepper unwrapped a seventh Chocolate Frog and bit its head off, chewing thoughtfully as she watched Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor from behind a pair of vintage Spectrespecs. She was crouched under a revolving rack of dress robes in Madam Malkin’s shop, peering across the street as Fortescue’s front door opened and closed under a deluge of late summer customers.
“Very interesting,” she murmured, swallowing the last of the squirming chocolate as she uncapped a Quick-Quotes Quill with her teeth. It didn’t work anymore, as it was getting on in age, but she thought it made her look incredibly professional to be carrying it and had engineered the instrument to function with self-filling ink cartridges rather than the old-timey inkwells. “Yet another new shop owner of Fortescue’s. Cursed job, maybe?”
She drafted up a list of names of people who had bought and resold Fortescue’s during the last two years since the wizarding war. There were at least five of them that she could count…
“Curious,” she said to herself. She sounded very wise today, due to a recent cough that affected her throat and voice. She made a mental note to acquire another cold around the time she was due to appear in front of Wood at the end of her probation period. With a sultry tone like this, he would never be able to deny her.
She made a strange noise that was a cross between a sigh and a groan, lamenting that she had to reduce herself to skulking under clothes racks these days. How was she to know that breaking the Statute of Secrecy sixty-seven times in one week was a world record that called for a disciplinary hearing, a fine of one-hundred Galleons, Wand Safety classes, and being booted off the job by her boss for two months without pay? She had been on a mission, for crying out loud! There was supposed to be leeway for vigilantes; they weren’t supposed to be held accountable for laws they had to trod on in order to catch the perp.
No one abided by the vigilante code anymore. It was madness.
It didn’t help that Audrey had been closing in on the perp right at the moment Wood chose to intervene, dragging her in to be arraigned. Wood had fought with the other Ministry officials, of course, touting his shiny Head Detective badge, and managed to talk down their previous penalty of getting her tremulous-at-best Ministry perks (job title included) stripped.
“Just two months,” he’d said, “and then you’ll be back. It’s not too long, and you can hardly call it unfair. To be frank, you’re lucky they didn’t lock you up in Azkaban.”
“They took away my Fortescue Frosty coupons,” she’d replied absently, digging through her bag after coming out of a holding cell.
“You’re going to be out of a job until October and you’re complaining about them confiscating your coupons?” Detective Wood shook his head, looking worn beyond his years even though he was the youngest detective in history to rise to such a prestigious rank. He credited this accomplishment to his lightning-quick Quidditch reflexes, which he now used for whacking bad guys in the knees with a lead broomstick. Then again, he hadn’t been quite right in the head since landing on it in the middle of a World Cup. Which explained why he worked at the Ministry now.
It’s where all the head-cases ended up.
So now Audrey was back on the streets, sans badge (she hadn’t ever been given an official one, so she’d constructed her own with spell-o-tape and a gold star, labeling herself ‘The Eliminator’). She wasn’t permitted to do any more freelance work, which basically entailed going undercover in the Muggle world to clean up magical messes made by dragons, werewolves, and the occasional crazy elf. She had been instructed to go home and sit on her hands until October third, which was when her probation ended. Under no circumstances was she to even think about crime-fighting.
But what the Department of Law Enforcement didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt them.
Audrey pocketed her Spectrespecs and raised a pair of trusty binoculars to her eyes, tearing another Chocolate Frog in half. Malkin was going to have a fit if she saw the state of her storeroom floor in this corner, littered with foil wrappers, but Audrey needed the caffeine and she’d never quite gotten the hang of drinking coffee and jotting down notes at the same time.
“Theories,” she whispered. “Theories, theories, theories.” She ran over them in her head, remembering the time she’d blown into a shop in Kent whose money till made the cashier forget to give back any change. There could be some sort of funny curse along that line at Florean’s. Or maybe Florean’s ghost was doing some back-room damage… After all, he’d died in the war and everyone knew about the secret recipe fiasco, when his daughter sold his culinary secrets for a pittance.
Audrey felt a familiar itch just thinking about it. She was what Muggles called a ‘paranormal expert’. She could go into a haunted house and banish a poltergeist in under twenty minutes, and leave the house in relatively stable condition in her wake. There were only a handful of times when the poltergeists’ haunts would have to be condemned because Audrey got a tad overzealous with her spellwork.
To be banishing poltergeists again! Ahh, how wonderful it sounded to her out-of-work ears. It was September twelfth, meaning that she’d only been on probation for ten days. But for someone like Audrey, who needed missions and mysteries all day, every day, it had been ten days of itchy hell. And while poltergeists admittedly weren’t her favorite creatures she came across in her line of work, she would take them over helping her mum and dad in Scrivenshaft’s any day. Ever since her parents bought that shop after the war (loads of stores were demolished or abandoned in that time, which her father called a ‘buyer’s market’), they tried to get her to move up there for a more stable job.
Stable! Ha! Stable was for horses.
“Stupid Wood,” she grumbled, feeling particularly ungrateful today. He was probably in his Ministry office right this second, shoes propped up on a gleaming desk while he perused a fresh stack of reports flown in from all over the country. Undoubtedly, the Yew Street Burglar was tacked to the forefront of this list, undergoing its eleventh inspection of the day. Lord knows how many times Audrey tried to convince him to give her the case, but he’d told her it didn’t ‘fall under her expertise’. He preferred to keep her out there with the renegade witches and wizards lurking in the Muggle underworld, the ones creating trouble off the map. Said she wasn’t fit to interact with magical news.
Wood didn’t know anything. Office gossip said that his brain was actually a Quaffle, so it wasn’t like Audrey could put much stock in his opinion. Quaffles were notoriously bad decision-makers. At any rate, she wasn’t allowed to do so much as give verbal warnings to jaywalking kneazles, so the Yew Street Burglar was out of the question. But maybe, just maybe, if she could prove that something fishy was going on at Fortescue’s, Wood would talk the rest of his department into reinstating her and giving her the meatier cases. She was ready to run with the big grims in the magical world. Combing her way through Muggle birthday parties to locate a shady hinkypunk on the lam no longer interested her.
“Hmm.” Audrey whipped a hat off of a nearby shelf and plunked it on her head. She always looked ten times better under a brim, and it would help conceal her identity if Wood happened to walk by. Not that he would, probably. His office had self-circulating, self-cooling air…
She realized that she was fanning herself with her binoculars instead of staring through them, and held them back up to her eyeballs pronto. Street-ogling wasn’t her favorite pursuit. She would rather be out there, in the thick of it all…filching candyfloss from small, waist-level children.
She had to squint her eyes as the sun dropped right over the street, making everyone go up in flames. It wasn’t as busy as it was during the summer, now that kids between the ages of eleven and eighteen were off at Hogwarts, but the occasional tot pointed at her and tugged on a mum or dad’s arm, loudly bringing the batty lady crouching on the floor by the window with a large hat and binoculars to everyone’s attention. Audrey had to crawl on her hands and knees around the other side of the revolving rack once or twice when this happened, cursing her situation.
When she worked her way back to the window, shoving sunglasses onto her face with the price tag still jangling from it, Fortescue’s shop door opened again. A wild Weasley appeared, far from his natural habitat of trying to be a hero somewhere. This one was Percy. He sauntered out into the brilliant sunshine, so pale that he nearly blinded her. Audrey snickered to herself, taking off her sunglasses for a minute so that she could better appreciate how ridiculously pasty his skin tone was.
She blinked, perking up. He was very pale. And he was licking an ice lolly that was…red. As red as blood…
“Ooooooh!” she whispered, doing a small dance that was difficult to achieve given her cramped position.
How long had this been going on unnoticed? Here she’d been, desperate for a lead on the Yew Street Burglar, and Percy Weasley was a vampire.
She knew the same general stuff about him that everyone else knew: He was twenty-four (he’d been in the year below Audrey at Hogwarts), he worked a low-level job in the Ministry, and he’d been famously ambitious two years ago. It perplexed many people to see just how far he’d fallen since the war – he’d been right up there with the Minister, and now he busied himself pushing a snack trolley around the various floors all day long.
Maybe he had given up his previous occupation because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself (being a vampire and all), but had to stay in the Ministry in a more covert way, loitering around to get the low-down on everyone. No doubt building himself a nice list of their blood types. Maybe he was keeping an eye on the Minister himself, chatting him up like all the Weasleys were prone to do just to remind everyone else that they were on first-name terms with old Shacklebolt. He was probably out to convert Shacklebolt to vampirism, as well.
She gasped out loud.
Egads! That was it! Weasley was trying to overthrow the Minister for Magic!
Audrey scrambled out of the store, dropping a handful of coins onto the counter for the hat and glasses, and crept down the street at a low squat. She imagined that she looked a tad absurd, waddling along like that, but she couldn’t afford for any Ministry drones to catch her out and about. She’d been specifically asked to go on holiday out of the country. She was starting to get the impression that they didn’t want to see her anytime soon.
Percy glanced behind him several times, looking quite wibbly and nervous. It was no secret that he’d been a right prat during the lead-up to the battle, siding with Death Eaters posing as the Ministry. Audrey tried to swallow snorts of derision as she side-stepped a dog who was taller than her head. It kept sniffing at her even as its owner pulled back on its lead, scolding him.
“Shoo,” Audrey hissed, hopping at a quicker pace. She had to hold down to her hat to keep it from flying off her head in an inconvenient gust of wind, her Quick-Quotes Quill clamped between her teeth. She thought she felt some of the ink seeping out onto her tongue.
“Spahhhh!” She spit it out. The Quill rolled down the road and into a sewer grate, disappearing. Audrey could have Summoned it with Accio, but she was too focused on Percy, who was disappearing into a small office whose enchanted toilets led to the Ministry. Never mind that, never mind. She had another quill in her pocket somewhere, she could feel it stabbing her leg. Now if only she could follow Percy without losing more of her stuff...
The toilets! The Ministry! Blast! This would be tricky. Audrey would have to bring out all of her genius to get past the security blokes who had surely been notified to keep her out.
She stood up and kept her head down, hat obscuring everything but the very tip of her chin, and tried to jog inside the building without being noticed. An arm jumped out, clotheslining her, and a deep voice said, “Hold on there, miss.”
“Eugh.” She stepped back, feeling her heart drop somewhere near her pancreas. “What?” She shook the man’s arm off of her, irritated. He tried to lift up her hat but she swatted at him. “I’m following him.”
Stupid. Stupid. Why did you say that??
“Who?” The guard glanced inside the building, through the tinted glass doors. Percy’s nervous hunch-backed little form scurried away from her, making a break for it. He'd already ditched the blood lolly, not wanting to be caught with damning evidence. “Weasley?”
She wracked her brains for the best possible explanation. “Yeah. I’m his sister.”
The guard lifted a dubious eyebrow. She could tell that he was scrutinizing her, knowing she was familiar but not being immediately able to place her. She almost felt offended about this, since she considered herself to be highly memorable. Before she could stupidly accuse him of not paying close enough attention to people with interesting faces, he narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re Ginny Weasley?”
His eyes were pretty much slits now. It made her go cross-eyed behind her sunglasses. She had to employ every ounce of self-control to suppress mad laughter.
“Okay, Ginny Weasley. Go on in.” He tipped his hat. “Have a nice day.”
Audrey jerked her left arm elbow back, hand fisted, in a congratulatory gesture. She then strutted inside the building after two cool nods to both officials flanking the door. She had to stop abusing her good looks into getting her places. It just wasn’t professional. Within seconds, she had flushed herself into Whitehall, popping out of a fireplace in the gleaming atrium.
“Right,” she said to herself, smiling devilishly. “Let’s go stake ourselves a vampire.” She laughed maniacally for a minute, wishing there was someone there she could explain to about the pun of a stake-out involving vampires. (Hahahahaha!) But alas, there was only a sleeping witch on a bench, her bright red wig askew as she snored into an August issue of Witch Weekly.
Audrey nimbly traded the witch’s wig for her hat, slinking away along one wall with impressive cat-like agility. The woman snored louder, still asleep, and Audrey gave herself another arm-pump. And Wood thought she should take official classes for this sort of thing!
Training, shmaining. She was a natural.
Audrey ducked into a cubicle on the first floor and seized a letter-opener that she thought might be silver-tipped, keeping her eyes peeled for any signs of guano. You could never be too sure when someone was going to randomly transform into a little flapping sonar thing.
“Of course, sir,” a voice drifted through a door quietly closing at the end of the corridor, its frosted-glass panel blurring whoever stood on the other side. Audrey took a wild sniff. The voice smelled like freckles. She was positive that it belonged to Weasley.
“Eat your heart out, Wood,” she muttered, grinning. Who cared about some burglar on Yew Street? She had a power-plotting ginger with an unquenchable thirst for A-positive!
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