The Sugar Quill
Author: SnorkackCatcher  Story: Nymphadora Tonks and the Liquor of Jacmel  Chapter: 1. First Impressions
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1. First Impressions


Monday, 6th July 1994

Nymphadora Tonks tilted her head sideways to critically examine her reflection in the mirror. Changing her hair into whatever she liked had sounded fine in theory, more complicated in practice when aiming to make a good first impression in her new job. Her current style -- brown, shoulder-length, with a slight curl at the ends -- had been selected carefully from a number of trials. It wasn't anything remotely like the styles she normally favoured, which tended to run to spikiness and eye-catching colours, but then the general idea here was to look smart but conventional.

"Hmmm ... I don't know," she said meditatively. "What do you think?"

"It'll be fine, dear," replied the mirror patiently, for the fourth time that morning. "They don't really bother about how you look, do they? Didn't you say even the Minister wears a funny hat?"

Tonks' face broke into a mischievous smile. "He probably thinks he looks like a typical Muggle businessman, but I bet not many of those wear green bowlers. Anyway, I don't suppose I'll run into anyone senior on my first day." She gazed at her reflection, still not entirely satisfied. "You're sure you didn't think this look was better? More impressive?" Her face creased briefly, and her hair lengthened considerably and became silvery-blonde.

Mirrors weren't supposed to be able to cringe, but this one somehow managed to give the impression that it was doing so. "No, I didn't. Just play it straight, you said. Try not to seem as if you're making a big entrance, you said. The Veela look is hardly inconspicuous. You might as well go as that Celestina Warbeck, sign autographs in the foyer, and have done with it." Mirrors weren't supposed to be testily sarcastic, either, but this one had had to put up with years of experimentation and agonising over questions most mirrors never had to bother with. Then again, most mirrors hung in the bedrooms of people who couldn't change their entire appearance on the slightest whim, and occasionally even the finest of looking-glasses had to be just a little terse with their owners.

Tonks blushed slightly. "Yes, I suppose you're right." The hair changed back to brown, and she strode out into the kitchen. Breakfast, she thought nervously. Right. Good idea. Yes. I really should at least have some breakfast before leaving. Don't want to do this on an empty stomach. She waved her wand in the general direction of the bread-bin, with mixed results; several slices flew towards the toaster and bounced off, but eventually she guided a couple into the slots, and it started itself up automatically as it been charmed to do. Another jab of her wand set the kettle going, and Tonks leant back against the wall and closed her eyes, trying (without much success) to master her nervousness. She hated to admit it, but there was a jumpy feeling in her stomach, and it wasn't caused by a Peppermint Toad. Getting things right on her first day was very important to her.

Of course, if she had but known what the next few months would bring, the nerves might well have turned into terror. Then again, they probably wouldn't. Nymphadora Tonks was an unusual young woman in many ways, even allowing for the fact that she was a witch.

She took great pride in having just qualified as one of the elite of magical law enforcement. Being an Auror had been a dream of hers for as long as she could remember; and she still couldn't quite believe that she'd finally made it through the challenges of the training and the rigours of the examinations, let alone the misgivings about her motivations and family background that she'd needed to face before the Ministry would even accept her into the training programme. Well, at least I will be able to take great pride in it -- just as soon as I get to work this morning, she reflected. Technically, she had become an Auror as soon as she passed the final examinations; but Tonks knew that she wasn't going to feel like one until she actually started the job.

Of course, she had special advantages and disadvantages of her own.

As a born Metamorphmagus she knew she was quite likely unique among current Ministry employees. As she understood it, Metamorphmagi were very rare; certainly none of her instructors in the Auror training classes had taught one before, and most of them had given the impression of working hard to avoid letting her know how highly impressed they were with what she could do. She expected that it would probably be immensely useful to her in her new career. It had certainly got her past the Concealment and Disguise exams without any trouble at all. The slightly confused examiners had been expecting to test candidates on their skill at self-Transfiguration with a wand; when they realised that she could change her appearance more easily without one, they had scratched their heads, then shrugged, awarded her top marks, and passed on to the next candidate.

On the other hand, her clumsiness promised to be a serious career handicap unless she took great care where she put her feet. In her more reflective moments, she sometimes wondered if this was actually connected to her Metamorphosing ability. It could sometimes be hard to sense where your feet were when your legs were six inches longer than usual. Then again, even in her normal, natural, everyday form, she had an uncanny ability to trip over any solid object that happened to cross her path, so she had eventually ruefully accepted that it was probably just the way she was. It still made her wince to remember the near-disasters on the Stealth and Tracking practical during her final exams.

Tonks took as much time as possible over her toast and marmalade, but couldn't really work up an appetite. She checked the acceptance letter from the Ministry again for about the fourteenth time; it still said to be there to report to the Head of the Auror Office at nine o'clock. It didn't ease her nerves that as far as she could tell, she would be the only one starting today. Either they were staggering the start dates for her and her fellow trainees, or the others had been scattered all over the country to postings in the branch offices.

When she'd forced down as much food as she could, she glanced up at the kitchen clock again. It was still registering only quarter-past eight, doubtless from sheer cussedness. Tonks decided, after a few moments' thought, that she might just as well arrive bright and early -- the longer she sat around at home waiting, the more nervous she was going to get. She looked around carefully one last time to make sure that she had everything she needed. Wand. Check. Letter. Check. Brains? I'll get back to that one. She swung her cloak around her, intending to Apparate into work, then stopped the motion half-way through. It really wouldn't do to risk appearing on top of somebody, and looking like a complete idiot on her first day. No, a nice safe Floo journey seemed in order.

Tonks mentally patted herself on the back for having the foresight to have a fireplace specially installed in her flat. Non-wizarding flats generally didn't come with them as standard, and her Muggle landlord had asked a lot of pointed questions about fire regulations before reluctantly accepting her statement that it was there purely for decorative purposes. She'd arranged for an illusion of an electric fire to appear there to help things along, but it was probably the fact that it didn't actually connect to a chimney that had swung it for her.

"Incendio," she muttered, and a fire sprang up in the hearth. She grabbed a handful of powder and flung it into the flames, took a deep breath, and stepped in with a loud shout of "Ministry of Magic foyer!" It was only then that it dawned on her that the usual spinning around associated with this means of transport was unlikely to make her feel any less queasy.

Still, it was a fairly short journey across London to the Ministry, and Tonks managed to emerge in one of the fireplaces lining the walls of the Atrium without becoming too dizzy. She carefully stepped out of the flames and started towards the main gates at the end of the long hallway. Unfortunately, she'd overlooked the small decorative raised edge of the grate -- at least, until it came to her attention when she tripped over it.

She shot forward as it caught her foot, and tried desperately to stay upright, but couldn't help colliding with an older wizard who was hurrying across the foyer and paying no attention whatsoever to the people popping out of fireplaces. Both of them sprawled headlong on the polished floor, to the accompaniment of laughter from the other early-morning commuters arriving at the Ministry.

"Oh, sorry!" she cried, slightly flustered by this hitch in her plans. "It was the grate, I just forgot it was there, are you OK, I didn't mean to jump you, I mean fall on you, I'm dreadfully clumsy ..." At this point, her ears finally managed to get the message that she was babbling across to her brain, and she hastily clamped her mouth shut.

The wizard picked himself up somewhat gingerly. He'd obviously taken great care with his appearance, with a neatly trimmed toothbrush moustache, and pinstripe robes that had clearly been perfectly pressed until they encountered Tonks. "Never mind, never mind, I haven't been hurt," he said brusquely. "Just be more careful in future. Some of us have to work here, you know." He brushed himself down and strode off at high speed towards the golden gates at the end of the hall. Tonks watched him go and followed in a dejected manner. It wasn't the start she'd been hoping for.

Unfortunately, she somehow found herself in the same lift as the moustached wizard. Tonks tried to ignore his pursed lips and obvious disapproval of her, and instead concentrated on listening to the floor announcements, avoiding the paper aeroplanes that were flying in and out of the doors, and trying to read the upside-down headline on somebody's folded copy of the Daily Prophet (yet another sighting of Sirius Black -- that only made about fifty of them in the past year).

Tonks hoped fervently that the neatly-dressed wizard wasn't going to turn out to be her boss; her luck held as he left three floors before her, to her considerable relief. Could have been worse, she reflected, with a return of optimism. Could have been a lot worse. That really would have been a great start to my brilliant career. She got out at Level Two and headed along the corridor. Exceedingly violent winds and rain were battering on the windows lining its walls; she stepped back in alarm for a moment before she remembered that they must be at least a hundred feet underground, the windows were magical, and there wasn't really a major natural disaster going on outside. On the other hand, the 'storm' wasn't exactly helping to lighten her mood.

In front of the entrance to Auror Headquarters, she stopped for a moment to gather herself. While she had been in here before, it had only been on guided tours and relatively short training exercises. This was the real thing. She couldn't quite make up her mind whether she wanted to stride in confidently as if she knew what she was doing, or edge in and hope no-one noticed her for a while. With another deep breath, and the feeling that whatever happened it was best to just get it over with, she pushed open the double doors and stepped through them.

The noise hit her first: a general background of chatter, and on her left raucous laughter coming from a group of wizards and witches gathered around a cubicle. The occupant popped his head out as his audience turned to look at the newcomer; he was about thirty, perhaps, with long hair that was tied back in a ponytail, and he had chosen to wear robes of an eye-hurting shade of scarlet. His appearance made her feel oddly reassured -- if this was acceptable everyday Auror dress, she obviously had nothing to worry about.

"Hey, it must be our newest recruit!" he cried. "Now that's more like what I signed up for. No offence meant to present company, of course." Two witches rolled their eyes. "Bentley Williamson's the name, Ben to those who know and love me."

"So that'll be no-one then?" said one of the witches (slightly too innocently) in a Welsh accent. "You must be Nymphadora Tonks -- I'm Rhiannon, a little bit senior to our Bentley here and far more sensible." She didn't look particularly senior, with an impish grin and a lot of curly blonde hair. "Welcome aboard, love, and don't let him put you off. All charms and no wand, look you!"

"Ouch. You are so cruel sometimes, Auror Davies. Anyone would think you didn't adore me really."

Tonks grinned. "Wotcher, Auror Williamson. I suppose it's good training for the job. They told me I'd need to cope with all sorts of hideously unpleasant things." It was a feeble sally but it appeared to strike the right note, as the whole group, including Williamson, roared with laughter.

"Right, then, Auror, let me give you a brief introduction to these reprobates here -- you never know, you might be working with them," said Davies briskly. Williamson smirked and Davies rolled her eyes again. "Of course, if you're really lucky, you might not be. Anyhow, you've met Ben -- I'm sorry he had to be the first person you saw, obviously. This is Eleanor Finchley --" she indicated a plump witch with brownish hair, who smiled at Tonks pleasantly "-- this rogue here is Donnacha O'Gregan --" a dark-haired wizard grinned at her words and winked at Tonks; the obvious source of his name was backed up by a set of emerald-green robes with a large Ballycastle Bats badge pinned to the lapel "-- and this is Arnold Cornworthy --" a tall, slightly balding wizard with a hang-dog expression nodded at her "-- who puts up with him. I mean, works with him."

"Did they tell you what I'll be assigned to?" asked Tonks hopefully.

"Not yet," said Davies with a shrug. "You're a bit early, aren't you? Tell you what, I'll take you up to the boss's office, he'll be glad to see you're making an early start. No doubt you'll see this lot around the place. If they aren't out visiting dodgy pubs disguised as a stray Kneazle, of course."

"Hey now, we only do that for work purposes!" called Williamson after them in a mock-insulted voice as she guided Tonks away. "And not more than once or twice a week! Well, three or four maybe. All right, five at the most, unless it's a special occasion, of course ..."

His voice faded out into the general background noise as they walked across the office. Rhiannon Davies introduced the Aurors in the cubicles that they passed, reeling off a series of names and current cases; Tonks tried to remember a few of them, but soon realised that her memorisation technique seemed to have gone rusty in the short time since her final exams. Most of the Aurors glanced up to see who their new colleague was, and a few waved cheerily. A bald black wizard -- Davies had called him something like Shackleton -- looked at her with particular curiosity, and what seemed to be (but probably only in her nervous imagination) a disapproving expression.

Davies stopped at the far end of the office in front of an oak door bearing a small brass plate that read:

RUFUS SCRIMGEOUR
Head of the Auror Office


Tonks suppressed a smile at the name. It wasn't as if she was really in a good position to make jokes about such things.

"Scrimgeour's a reasonable enough sort once he's convinced you can do the job -- unless you really screw something up, of course," whispered Davies. Tonks wasn't sure if that was meant to be reassuring, but if so it wasn't very effective. "He hates getting bad publicity for the Department. But like I said, he should be pleased you've arrived nice and early. He's a stickler for work himself -- I wouldn't be surprised if he Transfigured his desk into a bed and slept here sometimes. Good luck, and try not to be put off if he's a bit brusque. He usually is."

Tonks nodded; she was familiar with Scrimgeour's voice and manner. "I know. I was on the receiving end of it at my interview," she said shortly.

"Well, we all were," said Davies with a grin.

She tried to return the grin, but couldn't quite manage it. "Yeah, but I reckon I got special treatment, even for an Auror candidate." That had sounded a little bitter even to her ears, and she quickly added, "Thanks for introducing me ... er, Rhiannon."

Rhiannon Davies raised her eyebrows in inquiry, but Tonks just shook her head, took yet another deep breath (it seemed to be the morning for them) and knocked on the door. A terse voice from within said "Come!"

"You're on, love," said Davies.

Tonks nodded and stepped into the room. She wasn't really looking forward to meeting Rufus Scrimgeour again.

*****

Scrimgeour was the only person on the other side of the door. She wasn't sure if that made her feel relieved or not. His bushy eyebrows rose when he saw who it was, and he gestured to her to take a seat.

"Good morning, Miss Tonks," he said shortly. "I wasn't expecting you until later, but I'm glad to see you're here early. So what do you think of the place now you're an employee and not a tourist?"

"Er - pretty much what I thought it would be, sir." She hesitated, wondering what to say next. Scrimgeour and his office were rather intimidating for a novice. He looked at her with a shrewd expression.

"I suppose you're wondering what I think of you, aren't you? After all, we've not met that often, have we?"

"No, sir. Only my initial interview, really. Well, I saw you a few times in passing in the Department while I was training, and you spoke to me at the graduation ceremony, but that interview was the only time we actually ... er, had much of a conversation."

He studied her for a moment, then his face broke into a very slight smile. Although it looked like an expression that didn't get a great deal of use, it was at least moderately reassuring. "Yes, Miss Tonks, we were harsh with you at that interview. We had to be. The first and most important thing that we need to discover about an applicant is what they're like -- see how they react, get a feel for how they think, find out how they behave. Especially when, as in your case, their background gives us cause for concern." He sat back and gazed at her through his wire-rimmed spectacles. "If truth be told, I was rather impressed by the way you came back at us."

"Oh." Tonks was caught slightly off-guard. "I didn't really think you ... I suppose you just touched a raw nerve. I thought I might have blown it actually," she added candidly.

Scrimgeour gave her a measured look. "Yes, you might have done - if that interview had been at the end of your training, rather than before it started. To begin with, we're more interested in your attitude than your self-control. But I'll do you the credit of assuming that you've learned how to deal with pressure fairly well during the last three years. Believe me, if you hadn't, you wouldn't be standing here now."

"No, sir."

Scrimgeour looked at her appraisingly. "I think you'll do, Auror. I've had good reports of you from the instructors."

"Oh. Thank you." That was a pleasant surprise.

"Indeed. Now, I'm not a man who believes in letting new recruits drift around for a couple of weeks 'getting the feel of the place' or some such nonsense. Wastes their time and mine. You'll go straight into an investigation. Better be something you can learn from as you go ..." Scrimgeour glanced around his desk, then reached for a piece of parchment lying on top of a pile. "Hmm, yes, why not?"

He picked up his wand and tapped a small framed mirror on the desk, saying "Cassius Smethwyck" into it in a carefully enunciated voice.

There was a short pause, then the mirror unfolded to about eighteen inches square and a voice came from it. "Yes sir?"

"Cassius, I've just read your latest report. Good news for you -- I think you may be right. I'm going to give you what you asked for." A voice from the mirror said something Tonks couldn't quite catch, and Scrimgeour shook his head. "Trill? Sorry, no. We're too short-staffed at the moment, what with the World Cup and this Black case on top."

He glanced up at Tonks as he said this, and she felt her eyes widen as she realised what he was talking about. She brought her attention back to what Scrimgeour was saying. "It's her first day, so you'll have to show her the ropes, but according to Bruno she knows what to do with her wand. And she's got interesting talents of her own that I think you'll like. Come in here and I'll brief you while she's getting kitted out downstairs."

"Kitted out?" said Tonks curiously, as Scrimgeour tapped the mirror with his wand again and turned to her.

"Yes, Auror, kitted out. Now you've joined us, you'll need the right tools for the job. We don't send you out with just your wand, you know." He shook his head at Tonks' enquiring look. "You've got paperwork to fill in before you can start, though. Get that sorted, then go and talk to the Enchanted Instrumentation people. When you're finished there, come back here and see old Smethwyck for details of what we want you to do. We'll get you a cubicle next to him. Off you go."

Scrimgeour sat back, clearly considering the conversation over. Tonks nodded, muttered something noncommittal and went back out into the main office, breathing a silent sigh of relief. Once again, that could have been a lot worse. Williamson popped his head out of a cubicle as she walked past, winked and gave her a thumbs-up, and Davies leapt up to meet her.

"How did it go?" she asked excitedly.

"Oh ... fine I think," said Tonks. "Is he always that abrupt?"

"Pretty much, I'm afraid. What's he got you doing?"

"I don't know yet. He spoke to somebody called Cassius Smethwyck through a mirror. Is he one of your team?" she asked hopefully.

"Cassius?" Davies looked taken aback. "No, not really, he's pretty much a sort of roving law unto himself. I'm surprised Scrimgeour assigned you to him actually. Don't worry," she added hastily, as a look of alarm must have crossed Tonks' face. "He's a really nice bloke, you'll get along fine. Honest. I'm not entirely sure what he wants you to do, but one of the things he's been banging on about seems to have worked out and it's ... well, anyway if it's what I think it is, he'll be very happy to tell you all about it himself. Looks like he's convinced Scrimgeour, anyway."

"It sounded that way." Tonks suddenly remembered where she was supposed to be going first. "Do you know where I go for the paperwork? Apparently I have some forms to fill in, and then I have to go find the 'Enchanted Instrumentation Department', wherever that is?"

Davies giggled. "Oh, of course, yes. Our resident geniuses. You'll get writer's cramp from the forms, I'm afraid, Nymphadora." She noticed Tonks wince. "What's the matter?"

"Just Tonks, yeah?" she replied pleadingly. "I've been trying to live that first name down since I was a kid."

"Oh, all right," said Rhiannon, grinning. "You'll have to put it on the forms though. You have to sign all sorts of things to say who you are and where you live and what your wand's made of ... and that you've read and understood all the regulations."

"I have?" said Tonks uncertainly.

"For form's sake. I mean, I don't suppose anybody actually has read them. Well, Scrimgeour perhaps, but then he probably wrote them in the first place." She looked at Tonks with a touch of sympathy. "Come on, I'll show you to the administrative offices, they're only a few doors down the corridor on the right. They'll tell you where to go when you've finished."

*****

Rhiannon Davies hadn't been kidding about the writer's cramp. Tonks spent all of the morning and a good part of the afternoon filling in endless rolls of parchment, recording everything from her Floo network address to her next of kin. Eventually, she escaped to find the Enchanted Instrumentation Department, which sounded much more interesting. It turned out to be in the basement of the building, along a dimly lit corridor that the lift didn't even go down to. For the third time that day, she found herself hesitating outside a door.

She knocked a couple of times, but there was no sign that anyone within had heard her. She tried again, and then a third time, but with the same result. She paused for a moment or two, irresolute; then with a shrug, she tentatively opened the door and stepped in, half-expecting to be shouted at. Most of the people working there, however, appeared to be no more than mildly interested that they had a visitor at all, and Tonks looked around her in slight confusion. She didn't quite know what she'd expected the place to look like, but subconsciously, she'd imagined there would be some sort of counter at which she would have to apply for the equipment she needed. Whatever she'd imagined, it wasn't anything like the scene that faced her.

The instrument enchanters appeared to prefer working in messy surroundings. Benches and tables covered in curious-looking objects were arranged higgledy-piggledy around the room. A wizard with rolled-up sleeves and a truly impressive bushy grey moustache looked up from one of the tables, caught her eye, and smiled. "Can I help you?" he asked politely.

Tonks grinned back at him in relief. "Hope so. I'm Tonks, I just joined the Auror Office. I'm supposed to pick up some stuff I need here? Hang on ..." She dug out the small ID scroll she'd been given downstairs and tapped it with her wand; it unfurled to show her photograph and Auror credentials.

"Ah, excellent, excellent!" said the man. "We haven't had any new people for a couple of years. Welcome aboard! I'm in charge of this lot, by the way. Quentin Kraft's the name, but you can call me K, everyone round here does. They do like their little joke." He waved a hand in the general direction of the other wizards and witches in the room, who looked up briefly and nodded to Tonks, before returning to whatever it was they were working on. They obviously found it much more interesting than a mere new recruit.

Kraft fussed about, glancing around the tables. "Now let me see, you'll be wanting the standard issue stuff. Just a couple of essential things really, though you can always ask if you need something special. Some of your lot cart around so much stuff I'm surprised they can fit it all in their robes."

He pushed aside some sheets of parchment on which little dots were moving, found an object that looked like a small multi-bladed pocket knife, and handed it to her. "Here you go. This little thingamabob has a number of useful functions -- this blade opens locks, you see, and this one doors, even if they've had something stronger than Colloportus cast on them. Run it around the edge, quite easy. This little pointy thing here, miniature poison detector, jab it in food or drink and it'll turn red if it's been tampered with. Spots most of the well-known potions and venoms. It's not infallible, I'm afraid, it's a bit too small, but quite handy. Then -- oh, never mind," he said, spotting Tonks' slightly glazed look as she tried to memorise this information. "There's an instruction scroll here, take it away with you and you can see what's what when you've got a bit more time."

He turned to rummage through the piles of equipment while Tonks skimmed through the instructions. The 'knife' had a number of interesting-looking attachments that she couldn't wait to try out, even if some of them were rather quaint (such as a tool for charming stones out of a Hippogriff's hooves, which didn't seem likely ever to prove useful).

She looked up just in time to catch a small rod he threw to her. "Here you are, my dear, you might as well take a few odds and ends while you're here. That's a Secrecy Sensor, these --" he handed her a packet of buttons "-- are Panic Buttons. Fix them to your robes, just press hard on them and it'll alert your team. This is useful --" it was a small circular gadget with a needle "-- locator compass, sensitive to wizards and witches, just tap it with your wand and it'll point at the nearest one of our people. Useful for spotting them in a crowd of Muggles." Tonks raised her eyebrows at this, but forbore to point out that doing anything with a wand in a crowd of Muggles was likely to cause a lot more trouble than it was worth.

"Ah yes, the most useful thing we can supply you with, communications!" Kraft pulled something out from underneath a pile of small unidentifiable silvery gadgets. "Very important. This is our latest little toy. Experimental issue for Aurors only." He pushed a small object across the table at her with a look of pride.

Tonks picked it up in disbelief. She thought she recognised the device, although she'd never actually used one. "This is a mobile phone, isn't it? Um, is this some sort of mingle-with-the-Muggles thing?"

"Yes, indeed!" His enthusiasm was obvious. "My own invention! We used to supply Aurors with two-way mirrors that you could talk into --" like Scrimgeour's, realised Tonks "-- but they were a bit hard to explain away if a Muggle saw you using one. These work on the same principle, but they're built into a Muggle telling-fone, so they don't look suspicious at all!"

"Good. Terrific. Er, how do they work, Mr Kraft ... I mean, K?"

"Oh, they're very easy to use. All you have to do is speak the name of the Auror you want to contact into it, theirs will make a sort of ringing sound, and you can talk."

"Like a sort of private Floo network, then?" said Tonks, impressed.

"Exactly!" He seemed pleased that she'd grasped the principle so quickly. "You'll see who it is in the mirror -- oh yes, forgot to mention, that little square part at the top expands into a mirror when you're talking to somebody. It's enchanted so only you can see it, so don't worry about the Muggles getting curious." A thought suddenly seemed to occur to him. "Er, if you're using it in a Muggle street, you might want to press a few buttons first so everything looks they way they expect."

"Right." Tonks was grinning now. "I don't suppose you can still actually use it for the original purpose then?"

"Talk to Muggles, you mean?" he said, with more than a little pride in his voice. "Oh yes, it -- what's their word -- inthefaces with their system, so you can call to them or they can call to you and it'll link up quite nicely. Had to charm it to do that, of course -- the other spells scramble its innards, unfortunately. Really tricky one, took me ages to get right during the development phase. I kept hearing suspicious comments from their operationals who wanted to know what nutwork I was on." He slapped his forehead. "Merlin's beard, that reminds me -- don't let a Muggle touch it, it's enchanted to stop working completely if they do."

"Huh?" said Tonks, nonplussed.

Kraft shook his head sadly. "No choice, my dear. Official rules. My prototypes didn't do that, but unfortunately somebody left one behind in a pub, and a Muggle picked it up and started using it. Well, you can imagine what happened. Caused a huge row when somebody called it -- the mirror popped out, of course, and the fellow on the other end blithely started discussing Dark Wizards and curses without looking to see who he was talking to. That Misuse of Muggle Artefacts chap Weasley wrote a very critical report. Went all the way up to the Minister's office, I believe, and the only way Amelia Bones was able to calm them all down was to say they would just go completely kaput if they got into the hands of a Muggle."

"Oh. Um, so is there any way I can fix it if, say, I trip and drop it and a Muggle picks it up?" Tonks crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping that he wouldn't realise that she was asking because this was exactly the sort of thing she might do.

"Not by yourself, I'm afraid. But if something like that happens, take it in to Magical Maintenance, and they'll be able to reset it for you." Tonks breathed a silent sigh of relief. "You'll have to put up with it if they start complaining. Please don't actually lose it though, they're very difficult to make with all those fiddly charms on them. Since nobody else has bothered to learn how to do it, I'm afraid I get lumbered! That's why we're only issuing them to Aurors at the moment."

"Right you are, K." Tonks kept her fingers crossed. "Is that it, then? You don't supply Invisibility Cloaks or anything like that?"

His eyebrows shot upwards. "Invisibility Cloaks? Merlin's hat, no, far too expensive for general issue. If you really need anything unusual like that for an investigation you can put a requisition form in, of course." He looked around vaguely at the tables, but obviously didn't spot anything that reminded him of something that should be mentioned. "Anyway, that's all you actually have to have, I think. But let us know if you need anything in particular and we'll certainly see what we can do."

"Thanks!" Tonks waved to the instrument enchanters on the way out, but only one or two of them looked up, briefly, before returning to their work. She shrugged and closed the door gently. Best not interrupt them if the work is so absorbing ...

She looked at the 'mobile' curiously, then on impulse spoke into it: "Cassius Smethwyck."

It buzzed a couple of times, and then a small mirror, about six inches square, opened out. "Yes?"

The man in the mirror had a kindly face, which was rather wrinkled, and a shock of very white hair. He looked vaguely familiar, but Tonks couldn't quite place him. He smiled at her. "Don't tell me, let me guess -- Nymphadora Tonks?" Tonks nodded. "Very well, come on up then. I've been hearing a lot about you."

*****

Cassius Smethwyck's cubicle turned out to be on the other side of the partition from the ones where Tonks had met Williamson and the others on her way in that morning. He sprang to his feet as she arrived and pulled out a chair, waiting for her to sit down before returning to his seat.

"Good morning, Miss Tonks," he said with a friendly-looking smile. "I do hope you won't feel you've drawn the short straw working with me. I'm Cassius Smethwyck, but of course you knew that. Please do call me Cassius, won't you?" He had a courtly, old-world manner and a mellow tone of voice that Tonks found slightly amusing.

"Thanks, Cassius," she said. "I'm Nymphadora Tonks -- but you knew that as well, obviously. Call me Tonks."

"Oh, certainly." Smethwyck raised his eyebrows slightly, giving the impression of a man who was surprised, but too polite to ask for details. It took a second or two for Tonks to realise why. "Oh, sorry!" she said, mortified. "That sounds horribly rude, doesn't it? It's just ... I've always hated my first name. You don't really mind calling me by my surname, do you?"

"Of course not, if you prefer it." His eyes twinkled. "To be honest, I suppose my own first name is a bit unusual, too, but it's a family tradition with the Smethwycks to give the children classical names."

Tonks chuckled in relief. "Fine by me. My mother always makes the excuse that names like mine are a family tradition too -- but my dad told me once that the real reason for it was that she took it from a character in some old book she liked as a kid."

"Would that be The Adventure Club stories?" asked Smethwyck with interest. "I read those when I was at school. I used to read them to my daughter as well, although I'm not sure she enjoyed it as much as I did." His eyes twinkled again, in a way that suggested this came quite naturally to him.

Tonks raised her eyebrows in turn. She'd never come across anyone other than her mother who'd admitted to actually reading the books. "Sounds like the right title. I never fancied reading them, to be honest."

Smethwyck shook his head. "You missed out on a treat then, if I may say so. It really is a classic wizarding children's series -- uh, well, it was in my day, anyway." He looked slightly embarrassed. "They're about this group of children who run around at school with their pet Crup, having adventures under the noses of their teachers, and defeating plots by Dark Wizards. Nymphadora Norville was one of the heroines. You'd probably actually quite appreciate being named after her."

Tonks shrugged. She didn't think it would have made much difference, personally -- a funny name was a funny name, especially when you were being teased about it -- but she didn't want to upset her new partner right off the bat. "Oh well, maybe if I have my own children to read to one day I'll look them up. Come to think of it, with the stupid names that run in mum's family, I suppose 'Nymphadora' seemed relatively normal to her." She sighed. "I just wish she'd given me a decent middle name at least. I could have used that."

"Why, what is it?" asked Smethwyck curiously.

Tonks went through a brief internal struggle. "Promise you won't tell anyone? I hated having to write it down on the forms this morning."

He grinned. "Auror's honour. How's that, er -- Tonks?"

Tonks grinned back. "Fine then. It's, um --" her voice dropped slightly "-- Diaphanta."

To her surprise, comprehension appeared on Smethwyck's face and he chuckled at her. "Oh, I see. Most appropriate. I suppose you wouldn't know, but Diaphanta Dennison is the other heroine of the stories."

A great light dawned on Tonks. Although she really, really wished her mother had grown up with a different selection of reading material ... at least her choice of names made some kind of sense. Still, she'd have been much happier with her father's preference of 'Katherine' (a name he still sometimes used for her when her mother wasn't listening).

Her attention snapped back as she realised that Cassius was still speaking.

"... to use one of my middle names, too, but they happen to be Septimus Cato, so I suppose you could say Cassius was the best of a bad job. Anyway, enough about our unfortunate names," he said slightly guiltily. "I should be explaining what I want you to work on, Tonks. Did Scrimgeour tell you anything?"

"No." That seemed like a safe answer, and had the merit of being entirely true.

"Ah." Smethwyck reached into a desk drawer and riffled through some pieces of parchment, then frowned.

"Bother," he said. "I thought I had my notes here, but I must have left them at home after I wrote my report last night. You'll need to read through them later, Tonks, but the summary is: I think we have a problem with a dangerous potion that seems to have appeared on the black market in some quantity recently. It's taken me quite a while to assemble information on possible uses -- it's rather obscure, and I seem to be the only person in the Department who knows that much about it. Past experience, I'm afraid, we had an outbreak of cases about twenty years ago at the start of the war. I haven't been able to find out very much -- well, anything at all, to be honest -- about where it's coming from, so I suggested we needed someone to do some, er, undercover work."

Tonks was listening with wide-eyed interest, but at this point Cassius Smethwyck visibly hesitated. "I must admit, though, I really don't like the idea of throwing a new Auror in at the deep end like this. But Rufus Scrimgeour was dropping mysterious hints that I should ask you about some special skills at disguise that you have?" His voice rose slightly in mild inquiry, but he couldn't quite hide the look of scepticism on his face.

She nodded. "Yeah, I do. Well, sort of anyway. I'm a Metamorphmagus -- do you know what I mean by that?"

This time, his eyebrows didn't rise so much as shoot up towards his hairline. "Good grief. You mean ... you can ... you don't need ...". He stopped, obviously at a loss for words.

Tonks smiled at him. "Here, let me demonstrate." The familiar strained expression appeared on her face several times, as she changed her appearance successively into a tall grey-haired woman, a middle-aged black woman with close curls, as near a likeness of Madam Bones as she could manage from memory, a short, plump teenage girl with long wavy tresses, Celestina Warbeck the Singing Sorceress, and then back to her normal appearance.

Smethwyck hitched his jaw up from where it had fallen and actually applauded. "Amazing. Truly impressive. Did you learn that or is it a gift?"

"No, you have to be born that way. Useful though."

"I'll say." Smethwyck gazed at her with real respect. "It was better than I could do with a wand, and I've had decades of practice at it."

"Decades?" asked Tonks. She was annoyed to find that she felt slightly overawed by that. "How long have you been an Auror, Cassius?"

To her surprise, he seemed thoughtful. "I suppose it depends on how you count it, really. I retired from the Department after You-Know-Who fell -- I thought I'd done my bit by then. But when -- well, when my wife died a couple of years ago, I pulled a few strings and asked to come back." A bleak look briefly crossed his face, but then he smiled again. "So you can think of me as either the wise old head of the Department, or as the oldest newcomer in the business. Whichever you prefer."

"How does everyone else think of you?" The question slipped out before Tonks could stifle it, and she bit her lip.

A rather sad smile played across Smethwyck's face this time. "They don't quite know what to do with me, Tonks. I'm sure they think I'm hopelessly old-fashioned, but since I was fighting Dark wizards before most of them were even born, they can't really say too much. So ... I'm tolerated. I get to see the information that comes in, and ask if I can investigate things I think deserve a closer look, and Rufus and Gawain attach me to cases on an ad hoc basis when they think my experience might come in useful. It's not quite the same as it was, but it's still better than sitting at home brooding." He raised his eyebrows again. "And I really don't know why I'm boring you with all this. My apologies." He gave her a little bow.

Tonks smiled. It seemed she'd struck lucky with her new partner. "Cassius, I don't mind at all. Honest. Old-fashioned is fine by me." Her smile widened into a grin. "Even if you do talk a bit like an Edwardian gentleman, you old rogue."

"Well, I was an Edwardian gentleman." Seeing the puzzled expression on Tonks' face, he added, "I first joined the Department back in ... just a moment, it must have been ... good grief, 1909. Time flies, it seems like yesterday sometimes."

She had to ask. "Cassius, how old are you?"

"One hundred and five." He grinned again.

Tonks knew that she must look astonished, but she couldn't do anything about that. "You don't look it," she said finally. "Even for a wizard."

"Still in my prime, I like to think, but a trifle late to be starting a career, is it not?"

"Um." There wasn't really a good answer to that. Cassius wasn't exactly ancient, not for a wizard, but as far as she knew (which, admittedly, wasn't very far) it was definitely unusual for anyone to come back as an Auror after a decade in retirement, and she reckoned that he must have had to really work hard to bring his skills back to the required level. With that thought, it suddenly dawned on her where she'd seen him before -- he'd dropped into a few of their training classes, sitting right at the back of the lecture hall and taking notes. Everyone had just assumed he was some kind of Ministry assessor checking up on the lecturers.

He was still chatting pleasantly: "We were quite the genteel family back then. Actually, my parents weren't too pleased with me when I joined up; they thought the job rather unbecoming for a Smethwyck. We didn't have this modern fast-track training programme in those days, you see, you had to start in the ordinary Magical Law Enforcement Patrol and work your way up. It usually took five or ten years, but by the time I made it to Auror they'd become used to the idea. Once I started to do well for myself, one or two of the younger ones in the family were even persuaded to follow me into the Department and make a career of it." There was a twinkle in his eye again. "In fact, it's quite disconcerting to see how far people I knew have progressed in the time I was away. Even Rufus Scrimgeour himself is actually distantly related to me -- he's my great-nephew by marriage -- so it's a little embarrassing that he's so far senior to me now. Especially as we haven't always got along that well, frankly. And the family might have agreed with you about 'rogue'. Bit of an all-round black sheep, that's me."

Tonks smiled again, but only to herself. She couldn't help taking that with a large grain of salt. In her experience of men (which was certainly more extensive than on the details of Auror career paths) it was the gentlemanly types like Cassius who always liked to think of themselves as being terrible rascals, despite all evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, she liked him, so she wasn't going to hurt his feelings by saying so.

"Well, I'll have to bear that in mind then. Anyway, er, shouldn't I be reading up about something? I don't want to get into trouble on my first day here."

"Oh of course!" Cassius consulted his watch -- Tonks was amused to see that it was a very Edwardian-looking one on a chain, rather than a wristwatch -- then shook his head. "Actually, it's half-past four already, so it can wait until tomorrow now. I'll bring in my notes in the morning, and you can go through them. I have to go and talk to a couple of people about the case anyway. Just settle in and put your stuff away." With another small bow, he strolled round the corner of the row of cubicles and out of sight.

Tonks sat down and looked around at her new cubicle. It was made of polished oak, with an adequate amount of working surface, a row of pigeonholes, and a few drawers under the desk section. It seemed a bit bare next to Smethwyck's (which was covered with wizarding photographs, presumably of his family) but she had plenty of time to fix that. She grinned; what she'd achieved was finally starting to sink in.

Auror Tonks, she thought happily. You made it, girl. You finally made it.


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

Notes: The middle name I gave Tonks isn't important for this plot, but was a small tip of the hat to After the Rain's excellent stories, as her fans may have spotted -- in this context especially The Purloined Prophetess. Since Tonks doesn't use her middle name (if she has one) in canon, presumably it must be equally embarrassing. :)

NTLJ (for short) was originally posted at Chamber of Secrets Forums and FictionAlley. This version 2.0 has been given a general spring clean but the basic plotlines are essentially the same. The main difference is that Rufus Scrimgeour is now Tonks' boss from the start, instead of getting the job at the end (he replaces the previous OC boss -- who was quite similar in character, fortunately). Cassius was previously called Scrimgeour as well, but wasn't supposed to be that closely related to a future Minister for Magic (the story was begun pre-HBP) -- so his surname has now been changed to that of another suitable canon family.
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