Chapter 1 : The Warning
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Amelia Aubin twisted her robes between her fingers, oblivious to the expensive fabric warping beneath her touch. Before meeting Francis, she had never worn such nice clothing. She had been able to tell the difference between 1993 and 1994 Egyptian Quidditch jerseys with only a passing glance, but she was always stumped when it came to her own wardrobe.
It was Francis who had arranged for the dress robes, the blouses, the brooches. And she didn't mind, not really, but at noon on a gorgeous day she could only think about how much she was sweating under it all. She placed a hand on her stomach, which was bulging enough these days to be noticeable. What she would give for Junior to arrive now, before the discomfort really set in.
A shout down the corridor startled her out of her thoughts, and she straightened up, then stood. She was the head of the International Quidditch Association, for Merlin's sake. The least she could do was give herself a proper lunch break. Maybe she'd treat herself to a real meal before the match in Appleby.
Tonks twirled her wand between her fingers, oblivious to the fact that her absentminded actions were stirring a breeze between the cubicles of the Auror office. As Lorelei Peters tucked her hair behind her ears for the tenth time in a minute and Mark Zhang weighed down his papers with a miniature model of the Knight Bus, Tonks pondered Kenneth Jempton.
He was a journalist of some sort who, like Tonks, arrived to work five or six minutes late each day. Five or six minutes wasn't the end of the world, but it was noticeable if it became a daily occurrence. It was also mildly embarrassing: surely with a simple alarm clock change or adjustment of shower time, the issue could be fixed. But each morning, like clockwork, Tonks and Jempton found themselves on the lift together. Each time they were equally flustered, equally ready for their coffee to kick in.
And that was really all that Tonks knew about him. He was always late and he liked his coffee black. They rarely talked in the lift, and rarely overlapped during the rest of the day. So it had been a shock for him to drop by her cubicle today.
"Morning," he'd said. His arms were full of scrolls and bits of parchment, but he extracted a hand for a bit of a wave.
"Wotcher," she'd said. "What's up?"
"I was just passing through," he'd replied, even though that obviously was not the case. "And I was thinking, maybe, it would be nice to get a cup of coffee some time. Even if it were just quick, before work. We could force each other to be on time."
Now, looking back, she saw she'd taken a moment too long to say yes. She had never quite thought of Jempton that way before, and she had needed a second for his request to sink in. But now, over an hour after the encounter, she couldn't forget the nervous way that he'd nodded and walked off. Had she messed something up before it had ever begun? Jempton was a perfectly good guy; from what she'd seen, he said "bless you" when people sneezed, smiled even on rainy days, and had some adorable dark curls.
It was Jempton's curls that were on her mind when Moody hobbled up to her desk at top speed. The look in his one good eye was enough to jar her mind back to the present and stop the breeze that was now terrorizing half the floor.
"We've got to go," Moody barked. "There's a Quidditch match in Appleby that's about get a nasty surprise."
"We're to go to Appleby and meet a Mr. Barnes, who will brief us in full," Moody said. "I have the address of a secure Floo. Got your wand? Good. Let's go.
"And remember," he added, as they arrived in front of the Ministry fireplaces, "there's no telling what's running around in Appleby. Be on your guard. Always, always have constant—"
"—vigilance," Tonks finished for him. That earned her a lopsided grin. She and Moody had only been working together five or six months, just long enough for quick runs like this, runs that were urgent but not critical. She had a pretty good feel for how he worked, and knew enough to see that a little bit of her humor had rubbed off on the old man.
Moody stepped into the flames first, followed by Tonks. After the spinning stopped and her stomach flipped right-side-up, she opened her eyes and ducked into what appeared to be a dingy bar.
Moody was waiting for her, and he brushed some soot off her shoulder before pointing towards a table in the back corner. A man in navy robes hurried to stand up and greet them.
"Nathaniel Barnes," he said, shaking Moody's hand with vigor, then Tonks'. "Thank you so, so much for coming out here today, I know it's a hassle, but Appleby is simply not equipped to deal with this... Quidditch games are always so nerve-wracking for that very reason..."
"Quite all right," Moody said, helping himself to a seat. "What do you have for us?"
"We got a tip that something is going to happen at the match today," Barnes said. "Arrows versus Bats, you know, not usually an exciting match-up. Normally this wouldn't worry us, we get such things all the time, see. But it was the name mentioned in accordance with the match that really caught our attention. I'm sure you've heard of Damian Czarny?"
"The Ministry has been notified of him," Moody said. Tonks fought to keep a neutral, and even Moody's normally-whizzing second eye paused for a beat before continuing on its track. Barnes wouldn't have caught it, but it was enough to make Tonks sit a little straighter and listen closely.
"He's an English man of Polish descent," Barnes explained, as if Moody hadn't given an affirmative response. "He's associated with several underground Dark groups— none too dangerous alone, but for one man to be a member of so many is troubling. He's also credited with an attack in York last year and is suspected of having contacts with a vampire clan in Norway."
Tonks opened her mouth, but Moody caught her eye and she closed it. She supposed that she didn't really need to point out that she and Moody were the Auror office's reigning experts on Czarny. Gathering information on him had been one of her first assignments as an Auror, as a matter of fact. But it was always good to hear what others knew, Moody had told her too many times to count. You could never rule out getting a fresh bit of news.
"So naturally, you can see that we're nervous about this one," Barnes continued. "Not only that, but we had two alleged sightings of Czarny in the area in the past month. We only got the tip about the match this morning, otherwise we would have—"
He was cut off by the arrival of a tawny owl, who glided towards their table and deposited a letter in Barnes' lap without stopping. It swung right and was out the front door by the time Barnes had gathered his wits about him.
"Excuse me," he said, standing up. "This must be an update on the case."
Moody leaned toward Tonks as soon as Barnes was out of earshot. "I doubt this will be anything huge," he said. "I've worked with this man before, and he usually jumps to conclusions. Now, the two sightings could mean something, but people are throwing Czarny's name around more and more often lately. If there are no changes, we'll go to the match, be on alert, and work our way through all Czarny's possible courses of action. I notified the stadium to heighten security before we left, so there may be no situation to speak of."
Before Tonks could say anything else, Barnes tripped back to their table and grabbed the back of a chair for support, his knuckles white. Tonks snapped up to hear his news.
"It's worse than we thought," he said. "The match is rigged; the Keepers are going to ensure that the score is tied at 100-100 before the match's up. And when it hits 100-all, Czarny is going to do... something. Something terrible."
Moody was already on his feet, Tonks close behind. "When does the match start?" he demanded.
"Good; enough time to cancel before it begins."
"But Mr. Moody," Barnes said, "one of the security measures you ordered was an Anti-Apparation charm. Even if we Apparate as close to the stadium as possible, it will still be a half hour walk to reach it."
Moody drew his cloak up close, as he always did when about to Apparate. "Then we'll have to run," he snapped. "We can't let that score reach 100-all."