“Tell me where you keep them!” Detective Wood demanded. He leaned in towards the man shackled to an old desk in an otherwise empty, gloomy room. The only source of light was a single candle swaying to and fro above their heads.
“I could call my friend Carmichael,” he leered, squinting at the man sitting at the desk. The man cowered, mumbling incoherently, as Oliver continued. He was forced to sacrifice his super-intimidating sunglasses because the room was so dark, and he could barely see his own hand right in front of him. Unfortunately, the protocol for this particular cross-examination decreed that the interrogation room must be kept largely unlit due to ‘ocular sensitivity and a general dislike of bright, shiny things’.
Stupid code of conduct. Humanity was inescapable nowadays.
“My friend Carmichael has tools. All kinds of tools. Pointy, sharp, metal ones.” Oliver sprang in front of the man’s face and hissed, making the hostage almost fall out of his chair. Or rather, he would have fallen out of his chair, except he was magically bound to it. “He’ll be able to find them for me. Would you rather we went that route?”
“I don’t have what you’re looking for,” the man insisted stoutly.
“Lies!” Oliver slammed his fist down upon the desk, suddenly wishing he had some straw or a toothpick he could chew idly while pacing the room. That’s what interrogators were supposed to do when grilling perps, right? They were always picking their teeth with stuff. Oliver withdrew a small white box from one of his pockets and clicked it open. He began to unwind some thin, bluish string.
“Top sources have already secured information against you,” he said, now flossing his teeth. “As we speak, my team is obtaining a warrant to search your home. It’s only a matter of time before we find the grounds to convict you. If I were you, I would speak now while you’ve still got the option of a plea bargain sitting here. Soon as we’ve got evidence, we take that deal off the table.”
The man shook his head, forehead creased with worry. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Honestly, I –”
“Ha!” Oliver barked. “Don’t waste your breath. Do you think I’ve lasted in this profession for almost five years by being some chump who’ll believe whatever you say? Guilty! Guilty until proven innocent!”
“But I don’t have any –”
Oliver suddenly attacked the man, prying open his lips to examine his teeth. “I don’t know where you’re keeping your fangs, pal, but I’ll find ‘em. Even if I have to lug you down to the basement and cut you open like a grapefruit. You could be hiding them in your gallbladder, for all I know.”
The man shrieked against Oliver’s invading hands, still searching for fangs along his gums. “Hash not ow it wocks!” he persisted, but Oliver forcibly shut the man’s mouth.
“Don’t tell me how it works! I decide how it works!” Oliver was so busy being menacing just then that he accidentally swallowed his floss. “Damn it…” He began chewing on his cufflinks instead. “And here’s how it works, my dear friend: You’re going to admit to being an unregistered vampire working in an unsupervised position in the Ministry of Magic, or I’m going to call on my little assistant I like to call ‘holy water’.”
“Go right ahead,” Percy Weasley spat, glaring murderously at him. “I’m rather thirsty.”
ONE HOUR EARLIER
Audrey peered through the mail slot, suspicious. She did everything suspiciously and checking the post was no different. What was even more suspicious than the knocking was the fact that there was nothing obviously suspicious about the situation at all.
Very suspicious. She grabbed a pair of scissors before unlatching the door.
“State your business.”
A loud, bored voice replied, “Finnigan’s Gift Factory. Got a delivery for an Audrey Bellpepper.”
“Never heard of her.”
“Hang on,” he said slowly, squinting through the crack in the door. Audrey hid in the shadows. “Hey! Yeah, that’s you! It’s me, Nathan. Don’t you remember me?”
“I try not to.”
“Audrey, you owe me ten Galleons. You thought I’d forget, eh? Let you off easy ‘cause you’re a girl?”
“Real Audrey checked out of the building ten minutes ago,” she informed him robotically. “You are speaking to fictional Audrey, better known as Taudrey.”
“Are you going to make me stand here forever, cheapskate, or are you going to sign off on your package?”
“You can sign off on the two shits I couldn’t give!”
Several threatening sentences later, a red-faced Nathan stomped down the drive. Audrey opened the door once he was gone, poking her head out over the stoop. Icing coating the welcome mat told her that Nathan smashed the small cake he had been dispatched to deliver, but a shiny new garlic necklace strewn over the bushes was still perfectly intact.
Wondering vaguely who would have sent her a garlic necklace, but always unwilling to question gifts since most of them were actually illegal torture devices disguised as gifts, Audrey looped it over her head and did a little dance in her front garden before returning into the house.
As she gave it more thought, however, Audrey became uneasy. Only one person knew of her particular affection for garlic, and that person was the reason why wearing them was a necessity in the first place. Perhaps he had sent it to be cheeky.
Audrey narrowed her eyes. She didn’t like it when people were adjectives relating to the face – whether it be cheeky or nosy or mouthy or hairy or what have you. And nothing – nothing – good ever came from someone who was ear-y.
At that moment, an owl swooped in through the open kitchen window and conked her right in the head, dropping a Howler at her feet. This must be from Oliver. Every message he ever sent was wrapped up in a Howler; it was the only way he knew how to communicate. He once sent a Howler in lieu of a condolence card to his own grandmother after the passing of his granddad. Rumor had it that he chewed rock cakes for breakfast and exfoliated his face with sandpaper.
Tough as nails, that one. Nails with little crystal hearts on them – like the ones Audrey’s friend Nina liked to get at the salon.
“THE ARREST OF PERCY WEASLEY IS GOING DOWN,” the howler screamed in Oliver’s robust voice. “GET TO HIS FLAT ASAP WITH A CAMERA AND MAYBE OUR DEPARTMENT WILL MAKE THE FRONT PAGE FOR ONCE.”
Audrey’s eyebrows jumped on top of her head as the Howler obliterated itself in a fiery explosion that broiled her mother’s Oriental rug. Arrest? Already? But…but he’d admired her walnut helmets… No one ever admired her walnut helmets…
Audrey bit her lip, hesitancy creeping in. It wasn’t often that Oliver actually listened to anything she said; and when he did, it was usually a cause for concern. Her rationality was always on the fritz, after all, and the world unknowingly depended on him to keep her in check.
Could it be possible that this was one of those slim, nearly non-existent occasions that she was…wrong?
Audrey shook herself, squaring her shoulders. “What are you thinking, Audrey? That’s preposterous. Ha ha ha ha ha!” Of course she wasn’t wrong! She was a bloody detective!
As ordered, Audrey grabbed her mother’s camera and hopped out into the sunshine, preparing to Disapparate to the neighborhood where Percy lived. She only had to run back into her house twice – once for her shoes, which she forgot, and the other time for her trusty Harry Potter mask that was en vogue last Halloween – before popping in front of Percy’s flat just in time to see some Ministry officer tie ropes around his wrists.
“What are you doing?!” Percy was hollering, kicking at the man.
“By the authority invested in me by the Ministry of Magic, I now pronounce you arrested!” the officer replied, tightening the ropes. “Tell it to the judge!”
“Tell what to the judge?” Percy fought against his ropes some more, curving around at just the right angle so that he could see Audrey, whom he thought was Harry Potter. His expression sank.
True to form, she promptly misconstrued his misery at having a friend witness his unfair and confusing arrest for the feeling of guilt. Well, he deserved to feel guilty, didn’t he? Went running around the world without registering that he was a vampire. Who all knew what he got up to in his free time when he wasn’t trying to stuff sandwiches (probably poisoned) down the mouths of people who used to be his employees? He was dangerous. Someone had to stop him.
“I dunno, whatever you did!” the officer finished. “Come along, then. Got to Floo you in.”
“Flooing me where?” Percy was still writhing in a panic. “Wait! Not yet! I can’t Floo in these robes, they’re brand-new!”
“Should’ve thought of that before you…did whatever it is that you did!” The man shoved him again, just for good measure. By this point, Percy was so faint that he collapsed to the pavement, sweat beading his brow.
Audrey shook her head ruefully. There he was, burning to a crisp. And to think that she had been on the verge of overlooking the blood-sucking aspects of his personality! She had even come to regard him as cute, in that I-really-want-to-stab-you-but-you-have-the-expression-of-a-deer-caught-in-the-headlights sort of way. Must have been his mind control powers working the joojoo over her.
“Harry!” he pleaded as a last resort, wriggling around on the pavement. The officer next to him didn’t make a move to manually restrain him, but conjured more ropes so that Percy’s body was almost wholly bound. The Ministry officer accidentally conjured sugar-free ropes, however, which weren’t nearly as strong; Percy broke free of them and started crawling away, panting for breath. “Help me, Harry! Tell these men that they’re making a mistake!”
“I shall do no such thing!” Audrey declared, snapping off a nearby tree branch and pointing it at his face. She then used her other hand to rip her mask off, exposing hair so electric with static that it was standing on end. “’Twas I who turned you in, you unsightly little villain with too many teeth!”
“Unsightly?” His face crumpled.
She pointed the stick harder, touching his nose with its tip. “You’re a vampire! And everybody knows it!”
The man performing the arrest, whose name was Dave, bound Percy in ropes again and started dragging him off in search of a fireplace where they could Floo.
“What?” Percy hollered. He twisted against the man’s force, applying Audrey with an expression of mingled shock and incredulity. “You think – you think that I’m a vampire?”
“Don’t try to wiggle your way out of this one, Peasley. You knew this day was coming.”
“I can honestly attest that I did not see this day coming. At all. At most, I hoped we might…” He drifted off, smiling stupidly in spite of himself. “Aww, you’re wearing the necklace I got for you. I knew you’d like it, since you’re so fond of garlic and all. Stupid George; said I should stick to mineral jewelry…”
Audrey jammed her fingers into her ears. “Stop with the joojoo! Stop sending pictures of what you look like wearing an elf hat telepathically to my brain. It’s too adorable to resist…” She grimaced. “Dave! Hurry it up! He’s gaining control over me!”
She flopped onto the ground. “He’s taking control of my body!” She started slapping herself in the face with the tree branch. “This isn’t me! He’s making me do all of this!” She rolled over onto her face, wheezing dramatically. “Arrest him on charges of possession! Possession of people!”
She continued flopping wildly around, rolling in somersaults off of the pavement and into the road (where she was narrowly missed by a caravan of broomstick riders). “I secretly like Oliver’s sunglasses and think they make his chin structure look extra manly! This isn’t me saying this! No – stop!” She cupped a hand over her mouth, but could not resist his evil powers. “My first kiss was with a peppermint meringue. I pretended it was Viktor Krum.” She covered her mouth with both hands, trying to quell the flow of word vomit.
Percy stared helplessly at her, jaw going slack.
“Your bondage seduces me!” Audrey screamed from across the street, banging her head against an apothecary shop window. Everyone inside the shop had gathered in the back room, fearing for their lives. “When I was younger I thought that the moon was just a snowball that got stuck up there. I hid in a drainage pipe last year while chasing down a grindylow on a crime spree and when I passed out from breathing in all the horrible drainage pipe fumes, a raccoon gave me mouth to mouth to revive me. I still haven’t sent him a thank-you note and it eats me up inside, but I don’t know the address of the tree where that raccoon lives.”
She tossed her head back, bellowing, “I only got one N.E.W.T., but I tell people I got fourteen even if I’m not sure if that’s possible! I pretend to be allergic to avocado oil because I think it’s interesting!”
PRESENT TIME. IN THE TENSE THAT IS PRESENT AND ALSO TENSE. INTENSE. PRESENTLY.
“Have you recovered from his mind control powers, then?” one of the officials questioned, eyeing Audrey shrewdly.
Audrey nodded. “With no small amount of difficulty, I have managed to persevere against his Dark magic.”
“What does it feel like?” another official wanted to know, leaning forward eagerly. “Being possessed, I mean.”
She thought about that for a moment. “It was a dark place, let me tell you. Like sitting inside the soul of a dementor, except instead of one dementor, it’s thirty dementors, and they’ve all got small but very mean kittens at their disposal. The kittens are looking at you like everything’s fine, but you just know deep down that as soon as one of the dementors gives them the signal, they’d be all over us like nifflers on gold.”
The official nodded soberly, eyes large. “That’s exactly what I predicted.”
Oliver came and collected Audrey, leading her down to one of the old courtrooms where Percy was contained. “This just keeps getting stickier and stickier,” he murmured into her ear while they walked down the corridor, Audrey internally appreciating her decision to wear high heels (as they made marvelous click-clacking noises when she strutted along this hallway, all echo-y and professional). It made her wish that she had a license to carry firearms. Not that it would be so difficult to make her own firearms.
She glanced at her arms, wondering how much fire she would need to put on them.
“That’s why you should clean them out,” she responded reasonably, still listening to her shoes.
Oliver frowned. “What?”
“Your ears. The wax.” When he still looked puzzled, she added, “You said it keeps getting stickier. That’s probably because you never clean them out. Dead distracting, really. You can’t possibly imagine the number of times I’ve wanted to say something.”
“That’s not what I meant, you idiot,” he muttered, patting his ears protectively. “The Percy situation. As it turns out, he’s the Yew Street Burglar. So far, he’s passing all of our is-he-a-human or is-he-a-vampire tests, but the investigation’s not a total fail because we’ve recovered stolen items from his residence. It’s pretty serious.”
“Wait.” Audrey stopped, tugging on his elbow to slow him down. “What do you mean, he’s passing all of your vampire tests?”
“Keep up, Bellpepper. Vampire accusations are so thirty minutes ago. Right now, we’ve got actual evidence to go on. You know how long it’s been since I’ve been able to say that? I’ve got a whole storage locker full of items reported stolen over the past several weeks, right here. Taken directly from Percy’s flat.”
Audrey’s eyes swelled. They were so large that she thought she could watch photosynthesis happening on a nearby palmetto in a pot. “Really?”
“Let’s see what you can make of it. His capture is the result of your skills, after all.” Oliver opened the courtroom door for her, letting her inside. At the end of the room, slumped in the darkness under the dangling glow of a stubby candle, was Percy Weasley. He lifted his head to gaze petulantly at her for a moment before dropping his eyes to the floor again. She’d never seen anyone trying to look more pathetic.
“We can make eyes at each other all night,” Audrey began airily, delighting in her feminine wiles, “or we can get to the bottom of this.” She pulled out a chair and plunked into it, seating herself opposite him. “Yew Street Burglar, eh? You’ve been a busy boy. Even I didn’t think you were capable of such, and I’m the brains behind this whole operation.”
Percy rolled his head back onto his shoulders, groaning. “First Penelope Obliviates herself, and now you’ve gone mental. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I give up forever.”
“Who’s Penelope? She one of your victims?” Audrey tapped her wand and conjured a quill and pad of paper, poised to take notes. “Give me all the gory details. Make them even gorier than they really are, if you prefer. I do enjoy a good dramatization.”
“I don’t understand what the hell is going on!” he roared out of nowhere, pulling against his shackles in vain. “What on earth possessed you to think I was a vampire?”
“You’re quite pale,” she said stiffly. “It was a reasonable assumption. No judgesies.”
“I’m a ginger! We’re supposed to be pale!” He stared at her, eyes burning and indignant, before hunching his shoulders inward once more. He shook his head, laughing without humor. “I was so stupid, thinking that you actually liked me. And here you think I’m some kind of monster.”
“Sorry about the whole vampire thing,” Audrey said in a clipped tone, patting one of his hands. “Turns out I was wrong or something. Who knew, right? Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge now. Good thing we’ve still got dirt on you or this would have been a catastrophe.”
“You’re sorry?” he repeated through his teeth. “Seriously? That’s all you have to say about messing me about and making me think things, and encouraging me even though you were just setting me up for failure?” His shackles made a tinny, echoing sound as he scraped them against the desk. “You made me look like a fool, Audrey!”
Audrey was taken aback. “What am I supposed to say? Policy’s policy, mate, and I have an open door policy. With my mouth. You can’t get mad at me just because strange things fall out of it on occasion. That sounds like a personal problem you’ve really got to work on.”
He ground his teeth, furious. “I know my rights. You don’t have the authority to hold me here.”
“Ah, ah, ah,” she sang, wagging a finger at him. “As it so happens, I’ve got loads of authority to hold you wherever I want. Even if it was against me, which I’ve been thinking about inside my head but won’t say out loud. Consider yourself blessed that I didn’t hold you to a promise!” She sat back, nodding knowingly while she conjured papers just for the act of shuffling them. “Everyone knows how inconvenient it is to be held to a promise.”
“I’m not a burglar.”
“That’s what all the burglars say.” She shuffled her papers at him more loudly. A note slipped under the interrogation door and flapped over to rest on the desk; she opened it and read it, the corners of her mouth turning up slyly. “Ahh. And the plot thickens. My sources indicate that we found flowers in your flat that were reported stolen by a Harold Fleming.”
“He sent those to me! I swear!”
She pounded her fist. “Don’t swear at me, Peasley! I’m a woman on the edge!”
Percy let his forehead smack the desk, so distressed that he was barely holding back tears.
“Wait!” someone cried as the courtroom door banged open. Oliver bolted inside, holding a birdcage aloft. Inside was a smug-looking owl. His teeny legs were bound in miniature handcuffs. “There’s been a twist in the case.”
Oliver placed the birdcage on top of the desk, eyeing the captive beast sharply. “His name is Edmund, you say? Well, Edmund knows something but he won’t talk.”
“He’s an owl,” Percy said blankly. “Of course he isn’t going to –”
“Silence, fiend!” Oliver held up a hand at him. “We caught this owl at the scene of the crime, wearing this.” He held a plastic bag up to the light. Inside it was a silver chain with the word ‘Audrey’ threading through it in fake rhinestones.
“That’s mine!” Audrey chimed, clapping her hands gleefully.
“I figured as much.” Oliver turned back to the owl, who pointedly revolved around on his perch and stuck up his tail feathers at him. “Turns out that your necklace isn’t the only thing this owl’s taken.” He zeroed in on Percy then, raising an eyebrow. “Nice hairstyle. I can’t help but notice that your crown is extra fluffy at the part; quite different from the last time I saw you, when it was dismally flat. Almost as though you’ve been recently combing it with a fine-tooth comb opposed to a wider-tooth one.”
Percy glanced from him to the owl to the baggie, shaking his head quickly. “No idea what you’re talking about.”
Oliver whipped another baggie out of nowhere. Inside it was a hair comb (with many magnificent little teeth). “Recognize this?”
Percy squeezed his eyes shut. “No.” He opened just his left eye, hoping the baggie had gone away, and then just his right. “Never seen it in my life.”
“Weasley!” Oliver barked.
“Okay, okay!” Percy buried his face in his arm, more distraught than ever. “Fine, I’ll admit it. Edmund is the Yew Street Burglar. But he’s trying to stop!” He implored Audrey now, fingers seizing to grab the end of her sleeve. “We’ve been working on his kleptomaniac tendencies and he’s getting a handle on it, truly.”
“So you admit to being an accomplice, then?”
“No! He did it all by himself – that is to say, he didn’t know what he was doing…” He looked at both of them for sympathy, but Oliver was glaring at the bird (who was glaring right back) and Audrey was trying to slip her necklace out of the evidence bag without being seen. “You don’t understand what it’s like, living with an evil maniac. He means well, he does. But his problems are inherited, you see. His mum had to steal small rodents to provide a living, and his dad got laid off at the zoo when Edmund was only an egg. It was the perfect cocktail for madness.”
“Undoubtedly,” Oliver said gravely, casting a spell over Edmund’s cage lest the creature steal Oliver’s heart (he was soft when it came to animals; his only weakness). “But the law is the law, and he must pay the consequence of his crimes.”
Percy nodded dully. “I understand.”
Oliver began to undo Percy’s magical handcuffs, saying, “He’ll do time of twenty days in a maximum security Owlery Penitentiary. Following his release, he’ll still be on probation and may be required to do community service.”
“What kind of community service?”
“Delivering the post for free, most likely. Pooping on the Minister’s enemies, that sort of thing.” Oliver swept out the door with Edmund, who was too proud to squawk in outrage and merely continued to show Oliver his backside. Once alone, Percy and Audrey looked at each other.
“Sorry,” Audrey said after a while, ducking her head. “About everything.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Percy assured her with a small smile. “And maybe it’s good this happened, anyway. Edmund had to be stopped. It was getting to be too much for me to deal with on my own…”
Audrey braced herself. It was now or never. “I didn’t make up fancying you,” she told him awkwardly. Every part of her body seemed to suddenly itch now that she was saying something uncomfortable, and she was sure that she must look strange while standing on one foot and vigorously scratching her other ankle. “Maybe I did read you all wrong, but I do think you’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and also quite smart. And you’re handsome, too.”
Percy brightened. “Really?”
“Yes. Your hair reminds me of spaghetti.”
Percy knew a thing or two about the importance of second chances. He knew all too well how much forgiveness meant to whoever was being forgiven, and the value of a fresh start. With a smile of real warmth, he said, “Maybe you’d like to get some real spaghetti with me some time?”
“I could get that anywhere,” Audrey answered, confused. “They’re in all sorts of restaurants around here. Don’t need help getting – oh! Oh, I’m sorry. You were trying to ask me out on a date, weren’t you?”
Percy smacked himself in the forehead. “Yes.”
“Oh! Grand. Yes, then. Yes, I’d like to very much.”
Percy looked relieved. “Brilliant. Let’s hurry up and leave, then, before any Ministry people start tackling me to the ground again.”
Together, they happily exited the courtroom, smiling shyly at each other as they walked down the corridor and up to the lifts. Their passage through the atrium was narrow, being such a busy hour of foot traffic, and Audrey had to walk in front of him as they pushed their way through the crowd. On the gleaming wall of the atrium stood a rectangular decorative mirror, with the reflections of people milling about flashing in its surface every other second. According to the mirror, the space right behind Audrey was unoccupied.
Percy grinned devilishly to himself as he glanced at the mirror and his lack of reflection; and without anyone except for himself noticing this particular oddity, the pair of them Floo’d out of the Ministry of Magic and into London, strolling into a lovely orange haze of evening sunlight.
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