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In Plain Sight
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12th November, 1890 — Ministry Atrium
@Fallon Abernathy
“Don’t forget your eyebrows,” Trystan commented, as he took another bite of his sandwich. By ‘don’t forget them’, he meant it, at least in this case, as a reminder not to leave them as they were, but to alter their colour to match the change in her hair. It was all part of the exercise.

This was not, strictly speaking, a proper training exercise, but as Abernathy had asked - begrudgingly, probably - for a refresher before some assignment or another, Trystan was inclined both to be thorough, and to have a little fun with it. They had gone through the basics already back down in the Auror office, whilst this year’s batch of newest trainees were busy suffering through some dull-as-dirt three hour lecture on the correct antidotes to particular poisons. (The fact that even that was a great deal more bearable than the paperwork seminars the poor trainees got put through was testament, Trystan thought, to the sort of stubborn person who actually made it to the end of the programme with a qualification.)

Now, he had brought her along to the long entrance hall of the Ministry’s Atrium, where he was scarfing down a spot of lunch and Abernathy was getting put through her paces. They were loitering down one end where people Flooed in, Trystan leaning lazily between fireplaces, and Abernathy’s task was - if she were going to go undercover in any scenario - to get past the visitor’s desk and the Welcome Witch on duty with a lie and an improvised disguise.

A convincing disguise. Concealing oneself by a brief spell of invisibility was easy, in comparison, but certain areas of their line of work required more skill than that. One could not hang around in certain locations in Ministry robes with ‘Auror’ practically emblazoned across one’s forehead, after all; sometimes the job involved a little more discretion. Whether it was scouting out some dubious hole in the wall for an evening in a guise that would not draw attention or spending a month cultivating a valuable asset on the way to cracking a criminal ring under a detailed identity, Trystan had been there. It was not something they often advertised, when they collected the new trainees, as a quality one should have: a flair for lying. But it certainly helped.

“Right, come on, time to go again,” he instructed cheerfully, shooing her away from her reflection in the shining-gold of the Ministry fireplaces to put a time-limit on the spellcasting, waving a hand towards the other end of the hall where Auror Abernathy could go test the new identity out on the Welcome Witch she had conversed with once this afternoon already. “Pretend to go for the lifts, and apparate back over here with that Visitor’s badge.” The Welcome Witch was not, perhaps, the most suspicious by nature, but she was rather chatty, and idle chatter was where the worst cover stories already began to show their cracks. Or, for that matter, sometimes it only took a minute for a bad colour-changing spell or a hair-growth charm to go awry.

But Abernathy was presumably back on professional form these days, so it should be easy as pie for her. For now. He already had a few ideas of how to make this little exercise more challenging.
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Concealment wasn't one of Fallon's strongsuits within her auror training. Combat? Sure. Law? Even better. But working within a disguise rather than being temporarily invisible was a challenge. Her lying abilities were iffy on a good day, nevermind when her life was quite literally on the line. There was no room for being average anymore. Fallon had to master it, and she had to master it yesterday.

She heeded his reminder about her eyebrows with a reluctant "thank you" and quickly turned them dirty blond to match her hair. Without figuring out how to darken her pale skintone, she felt limited with her hair colors. A rich brown would be too sharp a contrast, too noticable, for someone trying to stay undetected.

The exercise was simple, really. Welcome Witches weren't the most intuitive sort, and very few thought to question someone thoroughly enough to catch a great lie. Fallon remembered doing just that when she was initially training, nearly always choosing the same poor witch because of how gullible they were. Fallon wished she had paid more mind to the concealment classes then, for at least then she might've been spared the embarrassment of asking Selwyn for help.

Armed with her lie of meeting with Miss Goyle in the Beast Division, Fallon headed over to the desks and attempted to lie her way through. Which, would've worked had her charm on her bloody eyebrows held up. The welcome witch had nearly called security before Fallon flashed her auror's badge and explained the exercise. She hadn't wished to resort to such obvious measures, of course, but what else was there to be done? Fallon could hardly allow herself to be escorted from the property!

She marched back over to Selwyn with disappointment and frustration clear across her features. "Well, that was a failure," she muttered. "My bloody eyebrows gave me away - again."


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#3
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He shifted his position by a pace in order to have a slight sightline around the atrium’s fountain to the welcome desks to watch Abernathy as she went. Trystan was disappointed but admittedly a little amused at it all going south rather quickly for her; he inhaled the rest of his sandwich and brushed the crumbs off his fingers as she returned in defeat. Clearly there was still work to do.

“I hope that’s not you giving up already,” he remarked, folding his arms mildly and observing her obvious frustration for a thoughtful moment. It wouldn’t be, of course: in this line of work, failure was hardly an option. (And if she had been mentored by Auror Connolly - who was equally Irish and exceptionally feisty - Trystan fully expected some of that dogged determination had rubbed off on the woman before him.)

“Well, never mind the eyebrow spells for the moment,” he said, waving that off without too much concern. They could go over more charms practice in the office later until she had it down pat - and if her hair colouring charms could hold as this one seemed to be, there was certainly hope for her eyebrows yet. “You won’t always have to change every feature, you know. Your eyes, alter your nose a bit, grow another inch or two - that’s often enough to lose that recognition.” he shrugged. People were not as perceptive as they pretended; they did not look as closely as they should. It had always been an enigma to Trystan how little one needed to fiddle with to become unrecognisable. Longer hair or a clean-shaven face, shave a foot off one’s height or turn light eyes dark: any one of those might be enough for a double-take. Enough to have the benefit of the doubt. And the key, of course, was usually to be non-descript. Uninteresting. Ignorable.

Nevertheless, he was not advocating half-assedness here, not when it came to the job. Dark wizards were more suspicious of strangers than most, more likely to be rattled by the smallest detail. A spell that did not stick - that failed obviously - had the potential to blow a cover, to make a previously secure situation life or death.

That said, Aurors were supposed to be good at thinking on their feet. At the same time as that danger, a bit of clever improvisation could save lives. “How did the cover story go?” Trystan inquired, on this train of thought. The Welcome Witch had gotten the truth out of her, clearly, but up until the eyebrows... she might have even saved it after that, but, he suspected, she had probably panicked.

“You ought to be able to sell anything provided you can bluff well enough,” he pointed out. Perhaps her acting skills were a bigger problem than the charms.
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"Of course not," Fallot snapped. Her charm work had quite obviously slipped in the month of disuse, a fact that would have infuriated her were she not so focused on getting this right. If she couldn't produce an adequate cover Prewett would never allow her to go undercover, or, if he did and the cover failed she would likely be in a fight for her life. Truth be told, Fallon had had enough near death experiences for the year.

Transforming her hair color was vital in her opinion. The auburn locks, while not a dazzling red like some had, were pretty enough to be the source of some focus. "I have to be able to do change my eyebrows," she muttered determinedly. "But we should work on the rest, too. I remember making myself shorter during training." Any taller for her would be too noticeable, she felt. Shorter meant she was seen as more meek and incapable, a sometimes desirable trait.

Her wand was held in hand, ready to both make herself shorter and attempt lightening her bloody eyebrows again when he asked about her cover story. Considering the disaster that was her love life in early October, Fallon thought herself to be more than capable of lying her way through a cover story. She had lied by omission to Lachlan, after all, and destroyed their friendship in the process. The lie Selwyn was encouraging her to sell was a different sort, more focused on storytelling than anything else, but the ability for both was rooted in the same place. Self preservation had always been her most redeeming Slytherin quality, it seemed.

"The story was solid, a forgotten appointment with Miss Goyle in the Beast division. She was about to give me my visitors pass when the spell wore off." Fallon was still irked that it had failed at all. The perfectionist in her refused to settle until she had at least one proper attempt.
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“Solid, indeed,” Trystan agreed, not about to criticise an entirely reasonable tale. “But I think salvageable, even after the eyebrow fiasco -” he waved a hand before she could protest, pretending to lean forwards in confidentiality, and affecting a higher-pitched voice, ‘By the way, do my eyebrows look okay? I tried a new eyebrow wax from Witch Weekly this morning.’’ He shook his head slightly in acceptance that a silly improvisation like that might not have spared her against paranoid hardened criminals, but with that welcome witch? It would gone down a treat.

And if Abernathy learned one single thing from him before she went undercover, it was not a charm or an invisibility spell, but the rule that freezing up was the worst thing she could do undercover in the field. Whoever she looked like, she could never, never, never appear panicked.

But she was not a complete newcomer, thank Merlin, so he would let that sink in on its own; no sense in hammering that home as he sometimes did to the fresh first-year trainees to make them understand the stakes of the job. (Abernathy understood them better than most, probably, given all she had been through already this year.)

“But look, here,” Trystan relented, cutting her enough slack to be briefly gentle about it. Without needing to look in the gilding of the fireplaces or gaze into the fountain’s reflection to be confident he had done it, he demonstrated the spell - aloud, for her benefit - with a certain deliberateness to the wand flick, turning his own eyebrows a white-blond that probably made him look ridiculous. “If it’s the eyebrow spell getting you down, think sideways - if you’ve got a block with the colour-change charm, try inalbeo - the incantation of a lightening charm instead, which would at least serve in this instance, to soften the hue of her eyebrows - “or vice versa.” A patchwork of abilities might have to do, at such short notice, and besides, it never hurt to have a failsafe option up her sleeve.

They could work on the shrinking spell for her height next. “The benefit of doing it all by spellwork,” he added, trying to cheer her up slightly about all the work she was having to put in before she even started her undercover assignment, “as opposed to relying on Polyjuice,” (besides having to be someone, and not an entirely fake identity), “is that once you have the hang of it again you won’t need to worry about topping them up nearly as often.” The rest of her hair seemed a strong spell, would last hours longer than a bit of potion. “And they’re much easier to recast in a pinch.” Even with a ready supply of Polyjuice by the department, there was no promising that she would always have a secret flask about to drink from on the hour. Even in the most dire circumstances, if she were as strong an Auror as she seemed, she’d probably still have her wand to hand, and thus have nothing to worry about.


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