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WHO: Kingsley and Diana
WHAT: Snooping Looking for information
WHERE: Knockturn Alley
WHEN: Very soon after this
RATING: Not sure. PG or PG-13, depending

Kingsley was not snooping. Snooping implied hiding oneself, ducking in shadows, listening in on otherwise private conversations, and generally going about unseen. Which was exactly what he was doing, but he was one of the Good Guys, so it didn't count as snooping. No, this was gathering information. Yeah.

Currently, he was flying under the radar in Knockturn Alley, hidden by a rather good Disillusionment charm. Thus far, no one had taken any notice of him, not even to turn their head at the sudden sensation of someone walking by when there wasn't anyone there. Kingsley was good at Disillusionment.

He tucked himself into a tiny side alley between two dilapidated buildings as a group of indistinguishable creatures in black cloaks went by. Whatever they were, they weren't human. Knockturn Alley was getting more dangerous every day; a microcosm of the outside world.

He was just about to move back into the main alley when loud voices approached, sounding quite drunk. Kingsley pressed himself against the wall of one of the buildings, keeping to the shadows of the side alley despite the charm already concealing him from view. Drunken wizards could be dangerous...


She did have a point. Even very good Disillusionment charms only went so far. True invisibility was nearly impossible to achieve by even the strongest of magics, and Disillusionment was certainly weak by comparison.

Kingsley made a split-second decision of his own and drew his wand, making sure that he was mostly in shadow before showing himself.

"There is no need to hex me," he said in an undertone that, hopefully, couldn't be heard outside the alley. "I suspect that we are here on similar purposes, seeing that we have both chosen to keep well hidden until now."
"True enough," Diana replied, gazing at the man with unabashed, calculating curiosity. "Though, for clarity, I am here spying on naughty Death Eaters in order to gain information and sabotage their organization until its swiped from the face of the Earth." There was no use hiding it. Besides, if he was Death Eater himself, spying on other Death Eaters for the Dark Lord, his reaction to that statement would be important. "How about you?"

He certainly was tall. Especially from this place on the ground. She found herself to have to crane her neck in order to keep looking at him.
"The information I'm seeking is my concern alone," Kingsley replied. His mind was working, almost idly, on a way to extract himself from the situation without any sort of fight breaking out.
"Gee, how transparent of you," Diana said sarcastically. "If you're not willing to negotiate, then I suppose I really will have to hex you six ways from Sunday. I can't have someone going out there with knowledge of my being here, now can I? Considering that you gave your argument for me to NOT hex you by being that we are here for the same purpose, if you're not willing to substantiate that... then you have defeated your own argument. I'm giving you one last chance to be upfront. Otherwise we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Don't worry, if you truly are my enemy and you confess it, you'll get your chance to destroy me in combat shortly thereafter."
Dear Merlin, not one of those. You came across them once and a while, the type whose response to everything was a sort of focuses, militant paranoia. Mad-Eye was like that, only rather more fanatically than this girl seemed to be...

Kingsley sighed inwardly, but kept his face impassive. "I, too, oppose the Death Eaters. Forgive me for not seeming trusting."
"You're forgiven. I'm not exactly trusting either. I mean, when you go it alone like I do, there's not exactly a secret handshake or anything that helps me identify those who share my beliefs." She stood, replacing her wand. There was the possibility that he was lying. Only further interaction would reveal that.

"I'm Diana," she said plainly. "And while I understand the need for secrecy, if we truly are on the same side, sometimes security must be risked a bit for cooperation. It's truly as important to identify one's allies including one's enemies. You are...?

She felt her excitement growing. What if-- what if, he was really telling the truth, and he was one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix? After all of this work she was beginning to wonder if the organization existed at all...
Diana, Diana...the name rang no bells. This rather forward girl wasn't someone Kingsley knew or had heard of. That was a double-edged sword; her absence from his mental list of potential threats meant that he had no idea how much of a threat she might be. On the other hand, she could be telling the truth.

Kingsley lowered his wand, but didn't put it away just yet. Experience had taught him that trust needed to be earned, and earned slowly and thoroughly.

"I suppose you would take it as suspicious or a potential threat if I said that I choose to remain nameless for the time being?" he inquired, raising an eyebrow.
"I would suppose that you're trying to cover your ass until you can fully vet me," she replied back scathingly. "But you forget that it's a two way street, I'm vetting you too, don't forget. You have to give a little to get a little. If I'm the only one giving, that's not a very good way to start off a working relationship, hmm? Besides, I gave you my first name, not my surname. I didn't ask you for your date of birth or your wand maker or anything particularly identifying. Besides, there's a rather utilitarian reason for asking your name. If you don't have something I can call you by, I shall have to resort to referring to you as Big Surly Man. And I doubt you'd enjoy being called Big Surly Man over and over again," she said with a smirk.
The problem was, of course, that there were plenty of people in the world called Diana, and not very many at all called Kingsley. But Knockturn Alley was fairly deserted, the drunken wizards having long since gone on their way, and he did still have a hold of his wand. He was a member of the Order, after all. He knew how to be careful.

"You may call me Kingsley," he said, as if granting permission rather than introducing himself. His grip on his wand tightened unconsciously.
"Oh, what a delightful name," Diana said charmingly, and she wasn't being facetious, either. "Well, Kingsley, we've met on very unusual circumstances, but it's still a pleasure. At least there are still some people in the world who will stand up to this nonsense." She gestured about her to Knockturn Alley with a sad sigh. His subtle tightening around the wand wasn't unnoticed.

Diana sighed. "Got any veritaserum on you? I mean, let's just get it over with. Then you'll know I'm telling the truth. And if you're willing to take it yourself after I do, then I'll know you're telling the truth. And then we'll both sleep better at night. I'm afraid I don't have any myself. Not only are the ingredients hard to find, but potions was not my strong suit in school." Pyrotechnics, yes. She found it incredibly easy to blow up the lab many times, but correctly brewing a potion wasn't something that every happened.
"We shall have to settle for standard, non-magical trust for the time being," was Kingsley's reply, though he, too, saw the merit of Veritaserum in such a situation.
"It works for the muggles, though they at least have some very inefficient things call polygraphs which relies on scare tactics and interrogation... even their own scientists have discredited it. But everyone tries to discern truth as accurately as possible."

Diana chewed on her lip, thinking for a moment. "Knockturn alley seems to be deserted, now. We can skulk off to seek new targets, or find someplace to have a drink and talk. I'll leave that up to you. Though I'd rather not stay here when and if the Dementors come." Those creatures... she never could cope with them. They were only good for an excuse to eat chocolate. Not that she ever needed an excuse.
Kingsley risked a look around. There didn't seem to be any voices, save a few distant ones wafting out from the windows of buildings. No sound of footsteps met his ears. And Diana's mention of Dementors sent a chill up even his spine. There was always a pall of mist swirling around the street in Knockturn.

As for talking...perhaps that would be best. Parting ways now meant that this girl, should she turn out to be dangerous after all, would be walking off with his name, his appearance, and a vague idea of his business free for the telling to whomever she thought fit to hear it. At least, if they spent a bit of time talking, he would be able to better gauge her loyalties.

"If you have no aversion to the Leaky Cauldron, perhaps we could talk there," he suggested.
"Not at all," Diana replied, turning and heading in that direction, but nothing without casting a careful look around. "I love the Leaky Cauldron. Though it has lost much of its atmosphere with all this war business," she added sadly. It was a shame to see such a cultural icon so deserted, most of the time. "Fear can do terrible things to communities. Sometimes I think even if the Leaky Cauldron goes out of business because of the war, then I'll still stand around near it and sip on pumpkin juice, purely out of spite," she laughed softly.

Diana thought it best to fill the silence with conversation. It was neither revealing too much nor demanding anything of the rather obstinate Kingsley. However, any information was useful; as knowledge was power. Anyone who was a spy knew that-- a spy was putting your life on the line in order to learn something. And it didn't even have to be a particularlly big something, either.

It was exactly what she was doing now-- putting her identity and life on the line in order to learn more about this mysterious stranger who claimed to share her sentiments. But, she had long since resigned herself to the danger of that-- after all, she thought wryly, her mother always said she'd die before she was 35.
Kingsley, for his part, was only half-listening. He had long ago developed a way of discerning between the important and the unimportant, and his brain would alert him if the former suddenly presented itself in the midst of Diana's rambling. He was using the rest of his faculties to watch out for potential danger on the streets around them.
Yeesh, this would not be easy. The man did not want to be coaxed out of his shell. Though she appreciated his observations, she knew once they were both seated in the Leaky Cauldron, she'd have to stop talking and all but make him take over. Diana would put herself out there-- but only so far. All the same, she understood his position. Paranoia was better than death.

Eventually, the familiar Leaky Cauldron came into sight, and she entered, perching herself on one of the stools. The few regulars who still stayed around nodded politely to her, murmuring her name. At least she knew that if the Cauldron was closed, they, too, would stand outside and sip on pumpkin juice out of spite with her. They could have a sit-in. She nearly laughed aloud at the thought.

"Order what you want. It's on me," she told Kingsley amicably, asking for pumpkin juice herself. She almost never drank, unless it was socially. Alcohol affected the brain, and she needed every neuron on the highest alert right now. Taking out her wand, she whispered a spell, watching the glass glow and shift in color.

"Well, it's not been messed with," she remarked, sipping at it. There were some obscure potions that could slip past the test, but she always tested anyway. Same principle-- better paranoid than dead.
Kingsley, too, rarely drank. It was too risky these days to put your mind in a compromised state. In a situation like this, it would be downright stupid. He ordered a butterbeer.
Diana just stared at him for several minutes. Finally, she raised an eyebrow. Well, the least he could do was thank her for paying for his drink.

"You know..." she said dryly. "When we agreed to go somewhere, have a drink, and talk, I was laboring under the delusion that a conversation was defined as a time when people exchanged ideas, facts, sentences... It involves trading off..." She quirked an eyebrow at him. "I've monopolized things long enough. Why don't you take over?" she asked. "Is there anything you'd like to ask me...?" she suggested.

Sometimes secret operatives could be babies. Apparently she was going to have to hold his hand and guide him through this normal human interaction of the art of conversation. Poor soul.
Another thing that Kingsley had learned long ago was to let other people do the talking as much as possible. It was amazing the things you could learn if you left a big, yawning silence for people to get nervous about. The more nervous they got, the more they babbled to fill that silence, and the less caution they tended to use as they babbled. Diana, however, apparently knew this trick and wasn't about to fall for it.

"I could ask you what your search for information has turned up," he said at length. "But I have the feeling that you wouldn't be willing to tell me, and that it's none of my business in any case."

Who knew, maybe that tactic would work. Indifference had its own way of gathering information.
"You're wrong there," Diana remarked. "If we're on the same side, what I tell you can only help the both of us. If you're not, then what I tell you can only hurt me. It's the economic model of Nash's equilibrium. Brilliant muggle, he was..." But she didn't let herself get distracted this time. "Tonight, I didn't find out much except that morale is very high. They're gloating about how they have everyone in fear, so they feel victory is near. And some of them kept joking about a muggle man-- saying he was the most useful muggle the Dark Lord has ever come across. I thought I was going to be vomit," she said with disgust. "As for it being your business, it most certainly is. I'm not here for a competition, Kingsley," she said, a little crossly. "It's not first spy to the prize. There are lives at stake, so I'm willing to take a risk and tell you. The Dark Lord is out for everyone, we're all each other's business now." Perhaps that was the most revealing statement of Diana's frame of mind-- 'we're all each other's business now.' She firmly believed that. It didn't matter what nationality, liberal or conservative, pure-blood or muggle-born, there was a despot on the loose and united we stand and all of that jazz.
Kingsley was instantly on the alert. Caution or no caution, this could be a lead.

"A Muggle man?" he inquired. "Did you catch a name?"
Diana blinked. The transformation was subtle, but almost electric-- the sedate, cautious Kingsley was suddenly coming alive, going on the offensive. She preferred this one... and, for the first time that night, she believed him. He wouldn't be this interested if he didn't need to know something from the Death Eaters. This kind of quiet urgency was not easy to act out. She found herself relaxing slightly.

"No, I didn't catch a name. They don't really seem to believe in calling muggles by their names, or even knowing them unless it has some strategic purpose. They just call them degrading epithets, like... like animals. They kept making jokes about him though... Saying that once the Dark Lord had his way with him, he'd ring out like Big Ben... you know, the bell in the clock tower in Westminster? Since the bell is a muggle invention, they all thought this was terribly funny. I don't know if it was also a codename, he seemed to be a rather important muggle to them..." Diana revealed, not sure if this information would be of any help.
Big Ben...Death Eaters weren't exactly known for their wit, but it could be a play on words, a sick pun for their own amusement. And they had certainly been taking great pains to make sure that Ben stayed under their control.

"Did they say anything about where he was? Where they were keeping him?" Kingsley tried not to sound to eager as he asked this. "It could be important."
"They said that he was kept secure under the orders of the Dark Lord... That this time, there would be no interference. Now that you mention it, though..." She thought for a moment. "They mentioned something about his sister... Said someone needed to tie up that loose end. And then they started complaining about all of this work for two muggles, wondering what the Dark Lord was going at. They kept wondering aloud if this 'Big Ben' was worth all of the trouble of the security he was put under..." Diana wracked her brains for other details. "Actually, I think he would be kept away from the Dark Lord's usual strong hold-- the Death Eater who was complaining said something about being stretched too thin, with all of this trouble to hide him away. But that's all that I could glean," she said with a shrug.
Kingsley thought about this as he sipped his butterbeer. As long as Casey was in St. Mungo's, she would be relatively safe, but if the Death Eaters started actively seeking her out...

It would be far too risky at this point to use her as bait, and it was unlikely that Casey would consent to such a plan in any case. She had no real reason to trust the Order at this point.

Stretched thin...they wouldn't still be hiding Ben in Luton, would they? Yes, his crazy aunt was among Voldemort's cronies, but hiding in plain sight wasn't a Death Eater tactic.
Diana just stared at the man again. He had gone silent. Probably was thinking and scheming. She let him do this for a sufficient period of time before speaking up again.

"I can infer from your interest that there is a missing muggle, that he's important, and that you know his name but not his whereabouts," she stated calmly. "I have given you all of the details I know about it. Care to reciprocate?" she asked hopefully.
Kingsley sat in silent thought for a while longer. Diana had given him potentially useful information, but that still didn't mean he could trust her. Not true trust, at any rate. A spy for the Death Eaters could have plenty of reasons for throwing out a useful tidbit of information, including trying to size up what the Order knew.

And yet, Diana had not yet made any indication that she knew who he was, much less that he was involved in the Order. Either she was a very good actress, or she truly had no idea.

At last, Kingsley decided to be vague.

"I believe you're right in your assumption that this particular Muggle is very important," he said, keeping his voice low. "Why is still a mystery, but he may be in quite a bit of danger. And anything that the Dark Lord sees fit to shroud in such secrecy could be very dangerous for us."

"Us" meaning The Good Guys, presuming they both were...
It was Diana's turn to sit and stew in silence. "It's not just that it would be dangerous to us," she remarked. "It's also just... wrong. It's wrong for Vol-- er, You-Know-Who to hold any muggle and torture him. I mean, that's reason enough to do something. But, there's nothing to do without more information," she sighed, draining the last of her pumpkin juice. Diana was like most in that she didn't particularlly enjoy saying Voldemort's name. There was power in a name, as each witch and wizard knew. It was only when she was indignant or just plain angry. Then it felt like challenge to Voldemort.

Diana wasn't sure what to say or do with Kingsley now. She had shared her information and he had given her a limited piece in return.

"Do you have an address?" she asked at length. "You know... a Post Office box or something? I can owl you if I hear more. Like I said... if you're a Death Eater, I'm only going to get myself killed. If I keep going it alone like this, it'll happen sooner or later, anyhow." She wasn't complaining, merely being pragmatic.
Post office? Kingsley couldn't help raising an eyebrow. True, it was a tactic that had been used by some groups during the first war; the Muggle postal service confused purebloods, and the Dark Lord had little use for Muggle systems, so some of the touchier communications had been carried out via Muggle post, but those days were long gone. As for owls...

"I have a feeling that we will run into each other again," Kingsley said, getting to his feet. "And perhaps I will have information that you will find useful." Probably not, but it sounded good, and friendly enough without actually being an offer to share anything he might find out in the near future.
"Perhaps," Diana replied with a sardonic little smile. "Though if today's performance is any indication, 80% of the time I'm going to be the one coughing up bona fides." Bona fides were the intelligence term for verifiable intel that was given to show someone was who said they were. Diana realized she needed to tone down her vocabulary. She was going to give it away that she was a professional at this. It was better to look like an amateur which who just read too many espionage novels. She was way past that point, already.

She tossed some coins to Tom, giving the man more than the tab was. Diana was a rather prolific tipper. She wondered what to do now... it was rather late to be skulking about Knockturn Alley now. She had to admit after a rather stilted conversation, it was going to be very lonely in her flat tonight.
"We'll see," was all Kingsley said. He was already going over Diana's information in his mind, wondering how he was going to fill in the blanks. He could do some listening of his own, now that he knew what to listen for, and perhaps he could do a little talking, too...
"Erm... right." she said, pulling on her cloak again and just staring out the door at the darkness and the rain. It was going to be hard to walk away...

Berating herself for her reluctance, she turned and stuck out her hand. "Pleasure to meet you, however strange it was," she remarked cordially.
Figuring that it was safe to at least return this pleasantry, Kingsley shook the proffered hand.

"Likewise," he replied. "Forgive me for being distant, but I've found caution to be necessary in this day and age."
"Like I said," she replied with a gentle smile. "You're forgiven. You're security-conscious and that's a good thing. I'm less so right now, because I have less to lose." She gave him a firm, professional handshake and then turned on her heel, heading back out into Diagon Alley. One last hurrah for the night... Time to sit and drink with in an Knockturn Alley bar. After all of the excitement, she couldn't bring herself to return "home."

September 2008

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