Chapter 4 : Bayard's Dream Boutique
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Bayard’s Dream Boutique
Audrey closed the door to Williamson’s office behind her quietly. The interrogation had been unsettling. To see Williamson use the Imperius Curse on a muggle…well, it was certainly against the rules. But, as Williamson had often told her during training, “circumstance trumps regulation.” And really, wasn’t Imperius the least serious of the Unforgivables? Audrey mused as she continued down the corridor, stopping briefly at her desk to grab her rucksack. She passed Harry’s cubicle, where she could just see the top of his messy black hair sticking up over the divider. That’s right, she thought. Even Harry Potter had used Imperius once, if the gossip was correct.
As she waited for a lift, she stuffed the duplicate police uniform Williamson had conjured into her rucksack, along with the tiny flask of polyjuice potion he had given her. The plan was simple.
“He doesn’t seem to know much,” Williamson had said, concluding his interrogation of Caine with disappointment. “We’d need more to go on than that to launch a full investigation.”
Audrey shifted uncomfortably. “I could go back to the scene and look around some more, if you like,” she offered reluctantly.
To her relief, Williamson shook his head. “No. I’ve got a better idea.”
He strode over to his desk and bent over to pull open a drawer. After digging through the contents for a minute, he rose, a small, opaque glass bottle clasped in one hand. “Here, take it.” He tossed it to Audrey, who just managed to catch it.
The label, hand-written in black ink, read: TESTER, EXTENDED EFFECT POLYJUICE. She sucked in an awed breath. “So the rumours are true? They really are experimenting with twenty-four hour polyjuice potion?”
Williamson nodded, coming back around the desk. “It’s still in the testing phase, but it’s safe to use. Don’t mention I gave it to you though. We’re not supposed to distribute it yet.”
Audrey nodded, still staring reverently at the tiny bottle. Williamson approached Caine, who smiled sleepily at him, his eyes out of focus. “Accio badge.” A police badge flew out of the detective’s pocket into Williamson’s waiting palm. He passed it to Audrey, before turning back to the detective to pluck a strand of hair from his head. “Here you go.”
Audrey opened the potion and added the hair. It fizzed slightly, emitting a foul odor of unwashed socks. Audrey hastily recorked the bottle and stowed it away carefully in her robes. She frowned, a new thought occurring to her. “Won’t I need a uniform, though?”
“Ah, of course. I knew there was something…” Williamson pointed his wand at the imperiused detective. “Geminio.”
A duplicate uniform materialized in midair beside Caine and fell to the ground. Williamson bent to retrieve it. “I take it you understand your assignment then?”
“Yes, I’m to go to Scotland Yard undercover to gather some more information,” Audrey said, taking the duplicate uniform from him. She paused to fold it under her arm, gazing up at him uncertainly. “But, don’t you think you should send someone with more experience?”
Williamson’s lips quirked in a small smile. “I trust you,” he said. “Report back to me if you get any leads.”
Audrey fought not to grin. This was serious business, she chastised herself. Think of Parvati. “And you’ll get in touch with the Patil family?” Audrey felt her stomach constrict again at the thought of the girl. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with Padma again…”
“Yes, yes, I’ll take care of it,” Williamson had replied, sounding impatient. “Now get going. You’re wasting time.”
The lift had arrived. Audrey stepped aside as a number of sleepy-looking aurors stepped out, grumbling good-natured “Hellos,” and “Mornings” to her as they passed. Audrey smiled briefly at them, her mind still on her assignment. Caine hadn’t been able to give them as much information as she’d hoped. The previous six victims had all been muggles, and therefore had only been submitted to muggle investigation procedures—hardly sufficient to track down a magical murderer. She had learned that all six had been killed in the same way, by evisceration. Most importantly, perhaps, each of the murders had occurred exactly eleven days apart, with the notable exception of Parvati. Which reminded her… Audrey frowned, counting backwards to the date of the last murder Caine had described. If Parvati’s death was removed from the pattern, the next murder should be taking place tonight. She shivered.
She could understand why Williamson had wanted her to continue on the case—after all, she had been the one to discover the scene of the crime, and she had been present for Caine’s interrogation. But why couldn’t she have backup? There were enough trained aurors to spare a few for an investigation. But he said he trusts me, Audrey thought. She could feel herself flush pleasantly at the very memory of the compliment.
Before she knew it, she had arrived in the lobby of the Ministry, which was by now buzzing with ministry employees. Around the edge of the hall, a ring of large stone fireplaces roared with emerald flames every other minute as people Flooed in, casting the entire hall in an eerie flickering green light. Along the opposite wall, the apparition points were equally busy, filling the air with popping noises. Most people looked rather tired, like they’d rather be anywhere but here on a bright, summery Tuesday morning. Audrey continued resolutely toward the apparition points. There was almost no line for outward-bound destinations, given the time of day, and within moments she was on her way to Diagon Alley.
She apparated into the middle of the alley, which was already packed with early morning shoppers. She threaded her way through the throng, passing Slug & Jiggers, where a middle-aged witch was haggling vociferously with the shopkeeper over a particularly fine unicorn horn, and pushing through the ever-present crowd in front of Quality Quidditch supplies. She gave wide berth to a young wizard outside Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes, who was spewing rainbow-colored vomit all over the pavement, and slipped by the still-darkened window of Ollivander’s Wand Shop. At last, she was within sight of her destination: Madame Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions.
To Audrey’s surprise, there was a decent-sized pack of witches and wizards gathered outside her aunt’s shop as well. Malkin’s had a dedicated clientele, but there was rarely a line outside the door. As she came closer, however, she realized that they were actually ogling the new shop that had opened up next door. Audrey stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse. As far as she could tell, the window was empty but for an elegant blue sign, which read:
BAYARD’S DREAM BOUTIQUE
Your fantasies made real
3 hours—15 galleons, 1 day—27 galleons
“It’s rather expensive, isn’t it?” A wizard beside her said, wrinkling his brow.
“But it’s a full-body experience!” His friend replied excitedly in a brash Liverpudlian accent. “Youse can actually feel everything. Much better than a Day-dream Charm!”
“They can design dreams directly from your memories,” a wizened warlock sighed with longing. “I could see my Cecily again…”
“I’ve heard the owner’s foreign, and he’s got the most delicious accent,” a young witch near the back whispered to her friend, who giggled appreciatively.
Audrey edged back from the crowd. She had no interest in paying for dreams—she had too many as it was, already. She turned into her aunt’s shop, and paused near the threshold, waiting for the door had swing shut behind her before continuing inside. The interior of the shop had not changed since the last time she’d been there, nearly a month and a half ago. It was still cool and brightly lit, every possible surface covered with bolts of cloth and mannequins displaying stylish new robes. The familiar smell of dust and cloves (the latter used to prevent doxy infestation) perfumed the air. Audrey inhaled the nostalgic scent, closing her sore eyes.
“You’re all finished, Mrs. Bayard. I’ll ring you up at the counter, just come along when you’re ready,” her aunt’s cheery voice rang out from one of the fitting rooms. Soon enough, the woman herself appeared, hurrying around the corner with her arms full of electric-blue robes.
“Oh! Audrey dear,” Madame Malkin stopped, staring up at Audrey. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have work?”
“Hullo, Auntie,” Audrey replied smiling. “I’m on special assignment today, though I do have to get back to work soon. I was just wondering if you had anything around for breakfast, but if you’re too busy—”
“No, no, you’re always welcome! Go along to the back, dear, I’ll be right there. Just helping a customer.”
Audrey nodded and made her way to the back of the shop, where a hanging tapestry covered the door that led into her aunt’s flat. She walked straight into the tiny kitchen, cluttered as always with colorful china and potted plants, and sat down in seat at the table. A delicate piece of half-finished needlework lay on the table before her, and Audrey could already make out the words “rest in” and “beloved” embroidered on it. She felt her heart squeeze a little in her chest. Could it be that time of year already?
“Oh, there you are, Audrey. Thought you’d be in the den.” Her aunt had come into the kitchen while she had been studying the embroidery. Auntie Malkin grabbed a crocheted apron hanging on door and tied it around her squat middle, before waving her wand to light the stove. “How would you like your eggs?”
“Just scrambled, please.”
Auntie Malkin busied herself with the frying pan and eggs, adding some sausages as well, “for her health.” “I must say, Audrey, you’re looking very pale,” she said, eyeing Audrey disapprovingly. “And tired. Have you been eating regularly? I don’t know why you have to live alone when there’s plenty of space here, and meals—”
“It’s been busy at work recently,” Audrey said, cutting her off. She didn’t want to get into this argument yet again.
“They work all of you too hard at the Ministry, especially this time of year,” Auntie Malkin replied, turning back to the stove with a shake of her head. “Just like Bernard, he always came home from work so late…” her voice trailed away sadly.
Audrey mentally kicked herself for bringing up work. June was always a difficult time of year for her aunt—it reminded her of her husband, who had passed away just two years ago. Bernard Malkin had loved his job in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, often staying at the office late into night. She should’ve known better than to bring up anything having to do with the Ministry, especially after seeing the embroidery…her aunt made one every year, without fail, for their anniversary.
Audrey searched around for a topic, any topic, to change the subject. “Er—Auntie, who was the customer you were helping back there?”
“Oh,” her aunt chirped, her face brightening considerably. “That was Mrs. Bayard, she opened up the shop next door, perhaps you saw it?”
“Bayard’s Dream Boutique?” Audrey said, startled. Hadn’t that young witch said the owner was a man?
“Yes, that’s the one. She came in with a bulk order, uniforms, you know. I was a bit surprised, actually.” Her aunt waved her wand at the pan, so that the scrambled eggs and sausages jumped onto a waiting plate, which she placed before Audrey. “Eat up, dear.”
“Why were you surprised?” Audrey asked, piling ketchup on her sausages.
“Well, the shop’s been there for a while now already,” Auntie Malkin replied, seating herself opposite Audrey. “It opened almost two months ago. So I thought they already had uniforms. But, sometimes these things happen—perhaps she didn’t realize how popular it would be.”
“It did seem very popular,” Audrey mumbled around a mouthful of eggs. She swallowed. “I saw a whole crowd of people standing outside the door on my way in.”
Auntie Malkin chuckled. “I know! It’s enough to make me jealous. Still, one can’t begrudge a fellow businesswoman her customers. She seemed very nice, actually—said she’d give me a discount, if I ever cared to stop by the shop.”
Her aunt’s face looked strangely wistful. Audrey couldn’t help remembering the words of the elderly warlock she’d seen outside Bayard’s: “They can design dreams directly from your memories…”
“I dunno about it,” Audrey said, pushing away her empty plate. “It seems a bit dodgy to me, messing with dreams.”
“Oh no, it’s all very systematic and organised,” her aunt exclaimed, her eyes wide. “Mrs. Bayard tried explaining the whole thing, but it was too complicated for me. She assured me that it’s perfectly safe though.”
“Hmm,” Audrey replied, but didn’t argue. She had to get going. “Thanks for breakfast Auntie. Your food is the best, as always.” She stood, reaching for her bag.
“You’re leaving already? Oh, don’t look at me like that, I know you’re busy,” Auntie Malkin huffed, smiling a bit at Audrey. “But do come by more often, dear."
Audrey kissed her aunt goodbye, and hurried out of the shop back into Diagon Alley. She apparated to Westminister, and quickly blended into a large tour group near Scotland Yard. There had to be somewhere safe—somewhere private—to take the polyjuice potion, even in muggle London. She craned her neck to see over the heads of several tall, blond tourists. There were a number of cafés across the street, but most of them were busy serving breakfast to visitors and sleepy police officers. Audrey paced back and forth around the area, trying to peer surreptitiously into shop windows as she passed. At last she decided on a quiet, run-down pub called “The Pilfered Pigeon,” conveniently located just around the corner from Scotland Yard. Audrey slipped inside. It was dark and filled with the fusty stench of spoiled beer and mildew. Several dour-faced men were hunched over the bar, nursing large tankards. The barman was staring intently at the football on the telly, completely ignoring his patrons. He looked up when Audrey walked in and fixed her with a suspicious glare. Audrey suddenly wondered if she’d made the right choice: clearly, she wasn’t the usual customer for this kind of establishment.
“Um, e-excuse me,” she stuttered nervously. “May I use your toilet?”
The barman grunted and waved her in, his eyes already glued back to the screen. Audrey heaved a sigh of relief, and scurried to the back of the pub. The loo was cramped and smelled strongly of piss. Audrey wrinkled her nose as she locked the door behind her. She set her bag with the duplicate uniform gingerly on the floor, and rummaged in her robes for the flask of potion Williamson had given her. Pulling it out, Audrey stared at it for a moment. This was it—there could be no backing out after this. Crossing her fingers behind her for luck, she took a deep swig.
It tasted disgusting, like clotted cream and pickle juice and hot sauce and marmalade and cinnamon at once—all perfectly nice things when taken separately, but, mixed together, they became the most nauseating mess anyone could ever imagine trying to choke down. Audrey very nearly did choke—or rather, she was nearly strangled by her Ministry regulation necktie. She yanked it off clumsily, along with the rest of her now too-small robes, before staggering towards the filthy sink, clutching her burning chest.
Her reflection shocked her. Her skin was bubbling like a cauldron, moving and reforming into a new shape. Her back and shoulders creaked as the bones lengthened and became encased in sinewy bands of muscle. Her hair sunk back into her skull and darkened to a muddy brown, just as patches of scratchy stubble appeared across her cheeks and chin. Her nose was now broad and rather bulbous at the end, like a potato, and her eyes were deep-set—though a surprisingly attractive shade of hazel green. All told, within minutes Audrey Tuesday was no more, and Detective Caine was standing alone in the dirty pub washroom, wearing a rather scandalous pair of purple, flowery knickers.
Sorry it’s been so long! School and work have taken over my life, so it’ll be a while between updates.