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Prologue: Round Midnight
Sunday, 5th July 1994
(a) The Man Who Couldn't Take His Liquor
Benjamin Farley tossed and turned uneasily on the small, uncomfortable bed in one of the outer holding cells of Azkaban Prison. It had been more than a week now since the Aurors had put him under arrest for something he hadn't done. Or rather, something they'd told him he'd done. They could be telling him the truth. Even Aurors did sometimes. Because however hard he tried, and even when the occasional passing of a Dementor sucked happier thoughts from his mind, he simply couldn't remember exactly what had happened to him that Saturday night.
He was reasonably clear up to a point. He remembered dropping into the Transfigured Toad at about nine o'clock for the going-away party of Whitey Wells, intending to have a quick one (or three) before Apparating back home to the wife up north. He remembered slapping Whitey on the back and buying him one of those foul Dragon's Breath cocktails he liked (waste of good Firewhisky, but there you go). He remembered meeting this absolute honey who had drifted by from time to time and flirted with him quite outrageously, and deciding to stick around to see what might come of it. And he was fairly sure he remembered escorting her out of the pub at about a quarter to midnight.
After that ... things got very hazy indeed.
His only general recollection of the next day was that he'd spent it feeling as if he was floating. He could vaguely remember, in the back of his mind, some sort of voice talking to him, but he couldn't remember a bloody thing it had said. Later, he could remember heading out to Clapham Common, which was a part of London he'd never previously had any reason to set foot in. But he couldn't for the life of him remember why he'd done that. And then there was one short but sharp memory of a fight. But as to who he'd been fighting with, or what they were even fighting about in the first place ... he hadn't a clue.
He did however clearly remember the shock of abruptly coming to his senses, and finding himself in a small room with two Aurors looking at him in a very unfriendly manner.
The following few days were ... well, a nightmare. No other word for it.
He'd had many a run-in with the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol in his time, of course. In his slightly disreputable line of business that was only to be expected, after all. But he'd always stayed well away from anything that could land him in the clutches of the Aurors. Fines were one thing. He could even handle a night or two in the cells. But now here he was, up on a charge that could leave him stuck here for years.
He'd known people who'd been sent to the Rock for a long stretch. He'd seen them when they got back. Well, at least they'd looked like the people he'd known, on the outside. They didn't behave like the people they were when they went in.
The charge against him -- he still couldn't believe it -- was attempted murder. They'd shown him the evidence they had -- the knife he'd been carrying, a St Mungo's medical report on the man he'd stabbed, eyewitness testimonies from an Auror who'd stuck his nose in and a couple of Muggles who'd seen him striding across the Common with the knife (it had taken him a while to realise that at least their statements wouldn't count against him, most likely they'd had their memories wiped by now). But he couldn't remember any of it. The alleged victim was someone he'd never even heard of.
He'd told them this over and over as they questioned him. He'd become increasingly panic-stricken, until finally it began to dawn on him that somehow, they actually seemed half-convinced. He'd no idea why they'd suddenly started to take his story seriously -- it didn't sound all that plausible even to himself, despite it being absolutely true for once -- but in the first wave of relief he hadn't felt inclined to look a gift Hippogriff in the beak.
Even when the word 'Veritaserum' was mentioned, he didn't object. He was willing to try anything to clear himself by that stage.
He slept fitfully. In his dreams -- rather, in his nightmares -- figures of dark rumour and terrified realisation, in hooded cloaks and with scabbed, slimy hands, sucked at his insides as he lay screaming.
(b) The Oldest Newcomer in the Business
The white-haired Auror breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he dipped his quill into the inkpot for the last time, added the final few sentences to his report on the case he was working on, and signed his name. He'd more or less taken the case on by default; his superiors had shown little interest in any of his suggestions or theories, until the Farley affair had suddenly made them realise that he might just have a point. Unfortunately, that case had been assigned to two of his colleagues. He'd asked for additional help, but realistically, he had little expectation that his request would come to anything. There were other priorities for most of the Ministry staff, such as the hunt for Sirius Black and the security arrangements for the Quidditch World Cup.
He tied the report to the leg of his post owl, and opened the window to let it fly away. He realised, on reflection, that he should probably have stayed at the Ministry to finish it; but it was far too late to worry about that now. At least it would arrive on Scrimgeour's desk early next morning.
He looked around the house sadly as he climbed the stairs to go to bed. It wasn't that there was anything obvious about the house itself to be saddened by -- it had a nice cosy study, a pleasantly large lounge, a perfectly comfortable bedroom -- but practically everything in it reminded him of his wife. He felt her absence keenly. He tended to stay up late these days, working past midnight, until sheer tiredness drove him to retire.
It had been nearly two years since she died, after nearly sixty years of marriage. He'd been forced to try to get used to sleeping alone again, hoping that maybe it would eventually get easier.
It hadn't so far.
(c) The Dog in the Night-Time
Ted and Andromeda Tonks arrived back home at about half past eleven that night. They'd spent the evening at their daughter's new flat (not too far away, but just far enough to establish independence while demonstrating affection for her childhood surroundings), holding a small, quiet family celebration in honour of her new job. They were prouder of her than they'd been able to say, but they knew Nymphadora -- when she'd answer to that name -- was an intelligent girl and didn't really need to hear it said.
As they opened the front door, a movement at the bottom of the garden caught Andromeda's eye, and she felt her heart freeze for a moment at the sight of the large black dog gazing at them from the end of the path. Her husband looked at her quizzically when she gave an involuntary gasp. He was Muggle-born, which meant that he knew little of the tales of death omens that his pure-blood wife had been raised with from childhood. Andromeda shook herself in annoyance as she realised that the dog looked like a perfectly normal, solid, everyday sort of dog, not a spectral hound of legend.
"Shoo!" she cried, waving a hand at it, slightly alarmed nonetheless. The dog looked at her with a curious expression -- it might almost have been sadness -- whined in an oddly gentle way, and slunk away into the night.
Around the corner he stopped in a small alleyway and sat back tiredly on his haunches. Earlier that evening, he'd spotted an empty house not too far up the road, with an overgrown garden which looked like as comfortable a place as any to spend the night. But before he could curl up there for a well-earned rest, there was just one more thing he had to do.
A youngish couple returning from the pub a few minutes later provided him with the opportunity to do it. The dog wagged his tail furiously in pleasurable anticipation. He liked to think of himself as generally decent, but it was going to be quite amusing to act, for a few minutes, like the terrifying figure he was supposed to be. He'd be all right as long as he didn't overplay it.
He hadn't had any opportunities to play in a very long time.
(d) The Concerned Parent
Angelica Hallendale made a valiant attempt to stay interested in the late-night black and white film on BBC2. It was one that she'd always felt a touch of nostalgia for, dimly but fondly remembered from a rare trip to the cinema in her teenage years. That, of course, had been before she'd known that there was such a thing as 'the wizarding world' -- at a time when her life had been a great deal simpler. But at the moment, she had far too many other things on her mind to leave space for worrying about how the hero and heroine would ever settle their differences and get together. With a sigh, she pressed the 'off' button on the remote control (smiling wryly, as she often did, at how surprisingly impressed she felt at whatever 'Muggle magic' caused it to work).
Her son Clark had left earlier, storming out of the house and Apparating away from the front lawn without even checking to see if anyone was watching (fortunately, it was a quiet Sunday evening, and nobody was). He really never had been able to handle even very mild criticism.
She told herself firmly that he must have been under a lot of stress lately. But she knew that she made excuses for him.
As a mother who loved both her sons dearly, she dutifully tried to avoid comparing him with his younger brother, even to herself -- but sometimes, it wasn't easy. Montgomery had been so much more successful in carrying on his share of the family businesses. She was so proud that a wizard child had proven so adept a businessman in the Muggle world.
Another thing she avoided acknowledging to herself was the possibility that a little judicious magic here and there could go a long way.
Even her father might have approved of his grandson's success, despite the anguish and the mockery he had endured when his only daughter had run away with a wizard. She lay back in the chair and let her thoughts wander to her husband, as they often did. She could remember the first time she'd seen him as if it had just this moment happened; a strange young man from far-away California, winking at her as her father showed him into his study.
It had been a real Abelard and Heloise story in some ways, certainly a romance even better than the film she'd been trying to watch -- one in which the Poor But Handsome Young Wizard came to do business with her father (who had trusted him); fell in love with the Rich Man's Beautiful Teenage Daughter (at first sight, naturally); won her heart (not with any great difficulty); and eloped with her by night (planning to Seek Their Fortune Together).
And they had sought it, and found it, in ways that had been frightening but ultimately exhilarating; a revelation to a pampered but overprotected girl who had rarely been allowed even to explore her family holdings without a chaperone. In a way, her previous seclusion had made her sudden introduction to the wizarding world easier to handle; it seemed merely one aspect of the many possibilities opening up all around her. The world had been something glimpsed from a car window, read about in a book, or seen on a cinema screen, not something that she had actually been allowed to experience for herself, and she would have been deeply excited to be part of it whoever she had run away with.
They'd had a terrific time, touring the world and getting into any number of scrapes; before eventually settling down when children had come along in the late nineteen-sixties. They'd accumulated a modest amount of wizarding gold over the years, and although her old family estates were gone, expropriated, in the wake of such devastating losses her father had been reconciled to his only child before his death. What little was left of his holdings were based in quiet England of all places; and it had seemed as nice a place as any to raise their young family. Yes, her life story would have made an excellent script for a film. It just hadn't had a happy ending.
England, or at any rate wizarding England, had rapidly ceased to be quiet as open warfare broke out between the authorities and ... and Lord Whatever's forces, and the next ten years had been increasingly difficult for everyone in it. And then, towards the end of the war, Hank Hallendale had gone to a business meeting with a group of men who turned out to be Death Eaters. A team of Aurors had arrived at the house while he was there, and in the ensuing crossfire Hank had been hit by a Killing Curse, from one side or the other -- none of the Aurors who survived the battle had known, or greatly cared, who had actually cast it. The Ministry had issued a curt apology and stated that it was unfortunate, but that these things happened in wartime.
And the foundation had fallen out of Angelica's world.
She sighed and made her way upstairs to bed, where she lay thinking for quite a while before finally falling asleep. It had been fourteen years since it had happened, and it still hurt to think about it.
And even after fourteen years without Hank there, it still didn't feel right to be sleeping alone.
(e) The Newest Recruit
The young woman glanced at the alarm clock by her bedside, which was registering a few minutes to midnight. She wouldn't normally have considered turning in yet, but she wanted to be up bright and early to make a good impression when she started her new job tomorrow.
It was only now that she remembered that sleep was something she'd never found easy to achieve when she tried going to bed early to calm her nervousness.
It didn't help that it was a stifling hot July night, either, not at all conducive to slumber. With a sigh, she realised that the very long hair she had at the moment was probably a distraction, weighing heavily on her in this weather. A strained expression crossed her face briefly, and her hair immediately shrunk into a very short, close-cut, almost masculine style. It wasn't flattering, but she didn't care. It was much lighter, and she could change it into whatever she liked in the morning anyway.
Nymphadora Tonks picked up her wand and cast a Cooling Charm around the bed, and enchanted a fan lying on the dressing-table to wave vigorously, generating a slight breeze. She hastily jabbed her wand at it and muttered "Silencio" so the flapping wouldn't distract her. With that, she settled down.
She was really looking forward to what tomorrow might bring. She was sure that it was going to be the start of something big.
Note: The story is set during the first half of GoF, and therefore takes place in 1994, following the 'standard' HP calendar (based on the Deathday Party in CoS). The days of the week, however, are based not on the actual 1994 but on JKR's version, being calculated relative to GoF where October 30th is a Friday.