Theme: Luck and daring exploits
July 24th, 1998
After a long day of reading, studying and possibly spying on the crazy Ministry librarians while trying to track down the book Hermione had recommended him that morning. Ron had been disappointed to find that it was already checked out and the rest of Lowell's books were still in the librarians' storage closet where they hide controversial materials during the war and had spent the morning trying to break into as a combination of retrieval and training exercise. Hermione would have to come and request them herself after getting a card when she came home.
Ron was quite glad for a bit of peace and quiet. The Burrow was quiet, but it was a depressed kind of quiet, Ron was seeking a different kind of silence. Diagon Alley was pretty quiet at night, for the most part; it was a bit disconcerting to be honest. The long shadows seemed to reach out to grab the ankles of the unsuspecting passersby and rowdy songs were being sung with relish at the local pubs.
George had snuck out to go on a pub crawl, something that had been happening almost every night since they had buried Fred. Percy was George's usual retriever for these nightly adventures but he had moved back into his flat a few days ago. Ron suspected it was so he could start having a social life again, judging by Percy's lunch group and also to resume a form a privacy that the Weasley children did not get at the Burrow.
Percy had left a list of George's usual haunts in case there was a night he could not go look for him. This list included all of the pubs in Diagon Alley. Ron was not sure why Percy left the list if that was the case.
Through, his brother.
Percy had mentioned that the Sneezing Snitch was a particular favorite if he was in a fighting mood, plus the owner knew him and kept a tab for him.
The Sneezing Snitch was a tall, old building with what looked like a large flat on the second floor where the owner supposedly lived. It looked weather beaten and run down from the outside, the windows were smudged and cracked, adding to the aesthetic of the most violent pub in the alley, well away from the more reputable shops near the front and a very long walk to get to from the Wheeze.
The shouts from the inside caught Ron's attention. It did not sound like a brawl.
Ron opened the door a crack just to take a look and found an Enforcer standing in front of the bar with her arms crossed as she yelled back at an older man who was giving her a hard time. He took the distraction to open the door and silence the bell that would announce him and kept his head down as he made to take an empty chair by an irate portrait that seemed to be screaming at the bartender near the back of the pub.
"Fowler, you're being ridiculous."
"I don't see what the Ministry wants with our memories."
Some of the others in the bar shouted their agreement.
Ron recognized Lucia Selwyn who was sitting at a table in the back by the fireplace talking quietly to an average looking man who was reading a medical textbook and a small, round woman with wavy brown hair tied back in a bandana. Lowell, who was sleeping soundly with his head on the table despite the chaos, occupied the last chair.
"I'm trying to move on from the stuff I saw, not put it in a bottle to scare some historian a hundred years down the road!"
Lucia stood up and adjusted her glasses. "What about Selene Scoresby? I think she deserves some justice after some son of a bitch decided to make her an example by blasting her head off in a public execution!"
The pub grew quiet.
Ron's mouth fell open. He had heard that story on PotterWatch. Lee had left out decapitation in his description, instead focusing on her life and career as a small independent publisher.
"Her daughter deserves justice. You have the capacity to help see it done and you can't bare the memory of it?" Her fist slammed down on the table, Lucia's voice trembled. "Serena Scoresby saw it too, Fowler. You all did! And you were to cowed to try and save her or help the children Selene was protecting after their parents were put in Azkaban!"
"Then where the hell were you, Lucia?" Another man stood up, "Hiding out because it easier then facing what kind of power your family had gained when Muggle-borns like Audrey started going to Azkaban?"
Lucia's beautiful face contorted into something nasty that sent shivers up Ron's spine.
"I've done more for the war effort then you can possibly imagine. I fought and killed to create a better world while you sat in your house and cowered at the idea of dirtying your hands!"
Ron had never really considered the plight of rogue blood traitors from purist Death Eater families before. It was a bit beyond his realm of comprehension with his whole family wearing the blood traitor label like a badge of honor. That woman was walking around with a target on her back and wearing it with pride.
Her friends were trying to pull her back into her seat but Lucia shook them off and drew her wand.
"If you're going to throw being the scion of a family of Death Eaters in my face, draw your wand!"
"SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!" The Enforcer shouted from the front of the pub. Lucia and the man both sat down quickly and looked at her in shock. Ron had to assume that the Enforcer never really raised her voice at these events.
Lowell picked his head up off the table for a quick look around at the sudden loud noise before lying back down.
The Enforcer crossed her arms and her lips were curled back in a snarl. "This is a community, we're not going to tear each other to pieces over blood status or bearing witness to war crimes." She turned her eyes to Lucia, "Lucia, I thank you for speaking up, but you do not get to play judge and jury over other people's choices to come forward as a witness to a crime. That's a personal choice, you do not get to make it for them or throw around insults to make it happen." Lucia's glasses grew foggy, through her face remained stoic.
"As for you, Blackwood," she turned her gaze to the older man who had folded his hands on the table and looked at her with a steady gaze. "Throwing blood status around makes you no better then a Voldemort-" there was a gasp from the crowd, "-supporter in any context, even if it's turned in the other direction!"
The Enforcer gazed at every person in the pub. "If you want to turn our community meetings into a free-for-all over our sins from the last year, then we will not have them at all. I am not going to tolerate abusing each other when we should be working together to try and rebuild our homes and our sense of community. We have problems here, yes, everywhere does, but the fact is you are all still here tells me that as bad as things were, you will not let it beat you."
The patrons looked very ashamed.
"I'll see you all next week."
There was a sudden hustle as most of the Sneezing Snitch emptied leaving only a couple of tables occupied. Ron stood up and walked over to the bar to talk to the Enforcer and the barkeep.
"That was tense, great speech."
The barkeep handed the Enforcer a glass of water that she drank quickly.
"Oh, yeah, she's impressive! That's why we're stepping out, right dear?"
She snorted into her glass and made a serious effort not to choke.
The barkeep held out his hand to Ron, "I'm Scully, barkeep and owner. You must be a Weasley."
Scully seemed like a very smart man.
Ron shook his hand firmly and grinned. "Ron Weasley, how could you tell?"
"I know George and Percy pretty well, you look a lot like the latter." Scully motioned him closer, and started wiping down glasses. "If you want to mess with him, he comes in to flirt with Audrey when he's picking up George. I think they've lined up their schedules to walk back together with their respective drunk."
"It's hilariously sad," The Enforcer chimed in.
Ron grinned, "I may have to use that at Sunday dinner with my family, see what happens. Unfortunately, I don't really know Audrey that well, Lowell teaches in my department but I don't know much about either of them."
Scully and the Enforcer exchanged a look.
"I may need something a bit more subtle to mess with Percy." Ron tried to cover. "What can you tell me about her?"
"Audrey?" Scully stopped wiping his mugs and leaned on the counter conspiratorially. "She's been living in the alley for a couple of years with that drunken lump." He pointed to the snoring lump at a table by the fireplace that was his teacher while Lucia talked quietly with the couple she was friends with. "She usually picks his sorry arse up from the pubs in the evenings. Though he came with his niece and the Townsends tonight so I think Audrey's taking the night off at the Leaky Cauldron. Bit of a shame, she probably would've taken a swing at Blackwood for saying that stuff to Lucia."
Scully laughed, and refilled the Enforcer's glass of water. "That shy disposition fools a lot of people. Audrey is one of the nicest people I've ever met, but the war left her with a mean right hook and a twitchy wand, I would not cross her." His lips pressed together tightly, seeming to see the question in Ron's eyes. "She's Muggle-born, she managed to avoid the Ministry's efforts at purification, but she's not the same person she was before she went into hiding. More burdened, traumatized. Though she's always had a spine of steel seeing as Septimus had six apprentices before Audrey and none of them met his rigorous standards." Scully paused and looked into Ron's eyes. "They're both good friends to me and wonderful people. I won't hear a word against either of them."
"Why are you really asking, Weasley?" The Enforcer asked, her hazel eyes sharp.
"I'm just curious, the way things have been lately we're doing a small background check on the new workers."
"Well, you can stop your questioning about the both of them here." Scully's tone was firm. It was the kind of thing Lowell and Heathers were on the trainees about most of the time. Sound like you are in control, even if you are not. "This is something to small for Aurors, let alone trusting a trainee with."
"How could you tell I was a trainee?" Ron sputtered.
"You walk like an Auror, but you haven't mastered the shifty look around they do when they enter a room." Scully pointed at Lowell, "I've known that man since I was in nappies. I know Auror paranoia."
Ron sighed and tried the shifty look around the room.
"You look like you're trying to hard." The Enforcer said plainly as she took another sip of water. Scully began to laugh and put his hand on top of her unoccupied one.
"My girlfriend, she's great!"
The woman smiled at Scully and held her hand out to Ron, "Bit late on the introductions on my part, I'm Celeste Cadwallader, the Enforcer stationed in Diagon Alley."
Ron shook it firmly.
"Nice to meet you."
Dating the local Enforcer was one way to keep the Ministry out of private business matters. Letting her run community meetings in your pub was a way to keep the riffraff out of your pub once a week.
Celeste stood up and stretched before leaning over the counter to kiss Scully on the cheek. "I need to go look into something, I'll be back later for our… appointment."
Ron tried to will himself into a state of invisibility as his face lit up like a beacon while Scully smiled like a fool.
"She's great." Scully muttered as he leaned over the counter to watch her leave. "Fantastic person."
The door closed behind her with the tingle of a bell. Lowell woke up and propped his head on his hand so he could look at Scully with a rather malicious grin.
"So, Scully," he started slowly, the alcohol apparent in how he swayed back and forth. "Didja finally get into her knickers?"
Scully's face turned a shade of crimson so bright it matched Ron's hair.
"You go straight to hell!" Scully tried to shout but it was apparent he was choking on his own embarrassment.
Lucia snorted loudly as her body shook with laughter. The Townsends quickly followed her lead with a bit more subtlety.
Ron made for the door as quickly and quietly as he was able before Lowell noticed him. He wanted to try and talk to Audrey.
The cobblestone streets were lit with magelights and lights were going out in the shop flats. Ron checked his pocket watch to find that it was almost eleven. If Audrey was awake, he had a couple of questions he wanted to ask her. He did not want her to know everything he knew, but he was hopeful that he could get some answers.
Scully said she lived at the Leaky Cauldron. That was good; he had to go through there to get to his apparation point. If he saw her on his way out he would try to make it seem casual. He noted Ollivander's was open again; the windows displayed his new hours on a piece of parchment. He smiled; glad that things were really starting to go back to normal for the start of a new school year.
Though Ron's face fell when he walked past Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. It looked abandoned, though Ron knew George stopped by once in a while to check the place, but the wounds were still too raw to open back up to the public. The most time George spent inside was when he was collecting his possessions to move back into the Burrow.
He turned his back on the building and looked at the burned out skeleton of the building across the street from the Weasley shop. Ron was sure it used to be a bookshop.
Ron turned away and could now see the Leaky Cauldron at the end of the street; it was easier to deal with what was in front of him then to get lost in thought. He fingered the deluminator in his pocket and resumed his walk.
The lights in the Leaky Cauldron were off, but the door was supposed to be unlocked for people to enter and leave the alley so Ron had no scruples about opening the door and stepping inside.
There was an eerie silence in the dark pub. The shadows stretched and seemed to reach for him as he looked around for the main exit to muggle London. Ron guessed that Audrey was already in bed as he took another sweep around the room.
Ah, there was the door!
Ron walked towards it cautiously, but a dim light out of one of the private parlors caught his attention. It was the room next to the stairs that lead up to the bedrooms. Ron walked over and peered through a crack in the door. There was nobody inside. Being kind of nosy, Ron slowly opened the door and stepped inside. If he got caught, he could always say he was looking for the exit.
There was a terrible ringing in his head as he hit the floor. He could hear someone breathing heavily with exertion behind him before he turned to look his assailant in the face.
"Oh bloody hell!"
Audrey said a word he would never say in front of his mother as she held the thick book aloft ready to hit him again with A Complete Dictionary of Runes and Meanings, unless she decided to change her mind and draw her wand.
Her stance slowly eased and her arms came down to her sides, "I thought you were someone else," she breathed, her voice soft and edged with fear.
"Who did you think I was?"
"Someone a little smarter."
Was his dad sure they were not related? Those sarcastic quips had to be a genetic quirk.
Audrey was quiet for a moment, "Why are you here?"
Ron thought quickly, "I'm looking for George."
Audrey raised an eyebrow, "Percy took him back to your mother's place twenty minutes ago. Try again."
She looked into his eyes and Ron instinctively broke contact, feeling something at the edge of his mind that he could not place. He just knew it would be a bad idea to make eye contact with this woman.
"Information," if she were going try to dig around in his head, it would be on his terms. "I heard the MFR is holding a lot of meetings here."
"Old news, they've been here for months."
Ron blinked, the ringing in his head was beginning to subside.
Audrey clutched the book to her chest and heaved a tired sigh, "I'm sorry I hit you, you scared me. You can look at me, I'm not going to try and read your mind again." She paused, "I'm not very good at it anyway."
Ron got to his feet wearily and got a better look at Audrey when she stepped past him and into the well lit room. She looked completely exhausted, even her housecoat was ill fitting for such a slight woman and her hair was a mess that corresponded with the dark shadows under her eyes. This was someone who clearly did not live a comfortable life and was not sleeping very well.
And wore ragged pink bunny slippers that seemed to be held together by magic.
"Scully said there was some man asking about me at his pub tonight. Was that you?"
Ron blinked and tried to formulate a response.
Ron added viciously intelligent to his list of descriptors.
"How did you-"
She pointed at the fireplace she had been sitting in front of, "Floo call."
Ron was starting to think she had left the door cracked on purpose after Scully told her about him. Did he want to be honest with her? No, he did not want to be honest with someone who could potentially be much more then they appeared.
"Muggle-borns for Reformation, I heard they are trying to get a foothold in the Ministry. I just wanted to investigate, see if I could find out anything."
Audrey snorted, "Suspecting all Muggle-borns of joining the MFR? How purist of you."
Shit. Ron really had to work on his cover stories.
"N-no! That's not it at all! I heard you know almost everything that happens in Diagon Alley."
"Then you could have found me at work in the morning instead of in the middle of the night."
She turned on her heel and went back to the chair by the fireplace where she had probably been reading before setting the trap for him. Ron was sure that this was the most he had ever heard her speak to someone who was not in her inner circle.
If she was in a talkative mood, perhaps he could get some answers. He got up and took the other armchair on the other side of the small table and stared into the fireplace. Audrey flipped through her book until she found where she had left off before hitting him with it.
And ignored him.
Okay, the ice needed to be broken. What would be a good topic? Lowell was clearly mad as a hatter, why not start with that?
"So, how is Lowell doing?"
"You saw him in class this morning, and probably at the Sneezing Snitch."
"Yeah, well, I thought he looked a bit peaky. I don't think it was the murder of the day either."
"Oh, that stuff doesn't bother him. He's says he's seen worse."
Merlin's saggy left-!
"If it scares you, don't let it. He's trying to weed out the ones without the stomach for the harder edge of the job."
"You had to sit those lectures too?"
She marked her spot in the book, setting it in the small bag next to her chair and pulled out a quill and some parchment with a diagram on it with a flick of her wand. Ron noted another book on the small table; this one also quite thick but he had other concerns then her reading materials.
Ron stayed where he was, trying to figure out the best way to either take Audrey off his suspect list or find hard facts to keep her on it. She did not seem to care that he was still in her work area. In fact, it appeared she had quite forgotten he was there, perhaps not really viewing him as a threat or immediate problem. She levitated an inkbottle within reach of her quill as she scanned the diagram.
It may have been bad timing to say anything, but Ron was never known for that.
"What are you looking at?"
Audrey yelped and lost focus on the inkbottle that suddenly fell into her lap all over her paperwork.
Ron jumped up, "I'm really sorry! Let me help-"
Audrey pulled the spilled ink off her parchment with a sharp wave of her hand that got the ink into the air around her outstretched hand and sent it flying into the now upright inkbottle at her feet.
She repeated the gesture with the ink that had spilled onto her housecoat before leaning back in her chair and turning her head to stare at Ron as if to tell him he now had her undivided attention.
"If you want to interrogate me, Weasley. Go right ahead."
Ron sat back down in the empty chair very carefully. As he sat down he noted the title of the book on the table. Simulacrum: A Guide to Creation and Use.
He wanted to say something, but for some reason his mind was blank and unfocused.
Audrey's eyes were grey with the barest tinge of blue. They were pretty, but made unnerving in their single-minded focus on his person, made more so by the shadows cast from the dying fire.
"I need to ask if you attended any meetings recently, I didn't want to embarrass you at work."
Audrey still looked as if she did not believe him. "I attended the first MFR meeting in Diagon Alley two months ago. A friend of mine was providing food at their leader Silvern's request and I went to see what it was all about. If Silvern wasn't Muggle-born, I'd have sworn he was a Death Eater, so I left early."
"Your friend's name?"
"Where can I find him?"
Audrey paused and took a rather emotionless expression, "Wizardhead graveyard, plot three hundred and ninety-four."
"Okay," Ron nodded, the directness was awkward, and it was probably on purpose to make him feel bad about digging into her personal life.
"I also joined the Diagon Watch after the war ended because we weren't getting any help from the Ministry with our high crime rates." Her voice was soft, but laced with disgust. "Which is why Russell's…"
Vigilante was another word he scrawled own on his mental list.
"Is that all? Or do you have anymore asinine questions about my life."
Ron felt his temper rise, "Yes, I do. What is it you do for Lowell?"
Audrey's lips pressed together into a thin line, "I'm his shop assistant."
"Everyone else calls you his apprentice."
She shrugged, her face blank. "I do that to, but it doesn't pay much."
"What does that mean?"
"Why do you care?"
"What is he teaching you?"
"How did you get the scar on your hand?"
Audrey recoiled and looked like the woman Scully had described at the pub. Twitchy and dangerous. Her eyes narrowed and resembled chips of midwinter ice; her hand went to the bag on the other side of the chair where he could not see it as she continued to stare at him. That made him nervous and he jumped to his feet. Before he could remove his wand from his holster, Audrey's wand was already in her hand.
Surprisingly, Audrey wasn't pointing it at him; she just fiddled it around in her hands while she stared at him as if she was contemplating the best way to send him home in several matchboxes.
"I don't like nosy little spies."
Ron's breath caught in his throat as he finally got his wand in his hand. The back of her hands were covered in a thin sheen of ice. He knew he had made better choices then the ones he made tonight.
Audrey sighed, her breath was visible despite the heat from the dying fire. "In my line of work, I deal with a lot of nosy little spies. People who want things, secrets, weaknesses, powerful magic. I make them forget what they have found when I catch them."
She seemed contemplative.
"The last one I got killed himself rather then have me go through his head, and what he found wasn't even a real secret."
Audrey turned her hand out to show Ron the scar on her palm.
Paper cut was a really poor description. From the fleshy base of her thumb to the underside of her pinky was a violently red cut that looked barely healed. From the cut there were dull, thin spider webs that extended outward to the rest of her palm, a couple seemed to be moving to the back of her hand. Ron thought it was a horrid, unnatural scar.
"I got this saving your brother and everyone else in that godforsaken Ministry of yours. I'll let you draw your conclusions on whether or not you trust me from that."
Ron was quiet.
"Now," she returned to fiddling with her wand, "if you want to take me in for questioning, I will fight you and win."
Ron's mind whirred.
Audrey rose to her feet and picked up her bag and adjusted the strap on her shoulder. "I think you've pried enough for one night and I have more important things to do then help you play Auror." Audrey walked silently towards the parlor door. "Have a good night, Ron." She closed the door behind her.
Ron exhaled slowly, the back of his neck warm with his repressed temper as she disappeared to her bedroom. He got to his feet and slipped out into muggle London to go to the apparation point in an alley down the street. All he had gotten from Audrey were half-truths and she was quite defensive.
Affiliating his problems with chess helped him think.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. If he thought about it like chess, Audrey was a rook. Always protecting other pieces like an immovable wall.
Though he was running into another problem. He was not sure if he knew where all the other pieces were on the board, or even who they could be. This felt bigger then just a mysterious woman; there were too many things that did not add up yet.
Perhaps it was time to go see Kingsley for something other then reports on his studies.
A/N: The post-war wizarding world in my opinion is a really interesting time period. I think as people felt safer, a lot of war crimes started coming to light and Kingsley wanted to try and keep a record from witnesses so nothing would be forgotten. A public record of war trial evidence and for historical purposes. Ron's getting a much fuller picture of life under Voldemort instead of hearing reports through the radio, the public is still incredibly mistrustful and scared to come forward for a lot of different reasons. I have extensive headcannons.
Audrey is a complicated person, burdened, secretive and will fight tooth and nail to preserve those secrets. Apprenticeship in magical research is basically the Master's program from hell, seven years of study and service under an accredited teacher, by nature researchers are very secretive and Septimus is a rather... difficult man to work under. Audrey's on her second year, the previous six quit under mysterious circumstances within six months.
In my universe, Lucy is named (diminutively) after Lucia Selwyn. For several good reasons.
Happy Holidays everyone!