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Chapter 1: I.
Sturdy violet top-hat?
Waistecoat, cumberbund, and silken cravat?
Check, check and check.
You are ready. Dressed to perfection, you are prepared to dazzle the throngs of common men who await you outside of your country manor. You reach out and grab the edge of your beside table. The years, or perhaps last night’s malt, may have snuck up and robbed you of a step or two, but nevertheless, you are still the best to ever set foot on the stages of Europe. Ego now properly inflated, you slowly push yourself up from the side of the bed and onto your feet.
How could you have overlooked your feet? Your feet hold your place in this terribly common world. They separate you from the dregs of government officials, healers, alchemist and the like that pollute the streets and pay your bills. Yes, you owe all that you are to these two glorious anatomical anomalies.
Polished metal-soled shoes?
Now, tap shoes laced snugly around your two most prized possessions, you are truly ready. You look down at your face staring up at you from your shined toes. Blast, you truly are blessed with dashing eyes. You wink them for good measure. Grabbing at your chest, you are ensured that the breathtaking wink had not stopped your heart. Feeling a bit plucky, you chance flashing a grin at your reflection as well. Merlin knows that audiences love your toothy smile.
There is something wrong with the grin that shines back up at you. Your brow furrowsin concentration. What can possibly be missing? Bah. Concentration has never been your specialty. It is something best left to the common man. You conclude that hallucinations, the malt a more than likely culprit, must be to blame. There is no way that anything is wrong with your grin. After all, you are the Fabulous Xavier Rastrick.
Yes. You are Xavier Rastrick, the great performer whose tap dancing routine has graced stages all over the British Isles and across the Channel bringing culture to the lives of witches and wizards wailing in ignorance before their encounter with you. Yes. You are practically a hero of their enlightenment. And heroes always have marvellous grins.
In the corridor outside your bedchamber you stop yourself from scolding your houseboy. After all, simple folk such as he cannot help but be dishevelled. Instead, you feed him the normal narrative. Yes, a large gig. Yes, in town. No, do not wait up. He stares devotedly back at you. His whiskers hang limply at his jowls, a path of drool hangs from the corner of his mouth and he turns and trots down the hall to tend to the household chores. For a simple bloke, he certainly is loyal.
The foyer could not be further from outside. A hand on your shoulder stops you just as you reach out to open the large wooden doors. An irksome follower of your work, no doubt. She is nothing to look at, plain looking and marred with wrinkles. How she got in here is of some concern. You make note to tighten up the manor’s security charms.
She is talking to you now and you find her nurse garb to be less than flattering. Pushing her act to a ridiculous extreme, a roll of parchment is clutched in her hands. She must be a simple village woman. Through your disgust, you struggle to interpret the words coming out of her mouth.
You should stay in bed, Mr. Rastrick.
Surely not with her.
Sir, You are not well.
Not surprising considering your current company.
Why on earth are you wearing your good shoes?
Slanderous. Why in Merlin’s good name would you, The Fabulous Xavier Rastrick, not wear your tap shoes on the way to a performance? Women.
Outside, you cautiously peer around the gardens. Never can be too cautious. Fame such as yours is much like being the fox in the hunt. Fatal if you happen to let your guard down. Today is your lucky day. The coast is clear.
You concentrate; turn in place, and Apparate.
Painswick. The sound and smell of a bustling city street fills your ears and nostrils. Unfortunately for you, the smell of fame mirrors the smell of large towns. Rotting waste and animal droppings. Oh the glory of nineteenth century life.
The theatre is just ahead of you.
Animal waste forgotten, you weave your way through the throngs of people to the side entrance of the large stone establishment. Your stage is calling out to you, and not even your adoring supporters crowding the streets could delay your progress.
At the door stands a large, brawny man. He tries to stop you.
The poor bloke.
You politely inform him of your name and gaily strut around his large mass.
The back of the stage welcomes you like an old friend. The sound of the audience chattering behind the thick velvet curtain tickles your fancy and sends adrenaline rushing through your body.
They grow silent.
The music starts.
You rush out onto the stage and take your spot. The music winds around your limbs and they come to life. A steady beat taps out across the stage.
Something is wrong.
The audience is restless.
You focus more intently on your feet. The taps roll out a harmonious accompaniment to the sound of the small orchestra.
From the back balcony, a voice fractures your world.
You pause and look up.
Staring back at you from the surface of a large mirror hanging in the rear of the audience is a frail old man. His wayward grey hair sticks out in all directions and he is clad in a thin dressing gown. A brilliantly shined pair of tap shoes are laced to his feet.
The sound of the audience stirs you from this devilish enchantment. You down at your clothes. In the place of your waistcoat, silken cravat, cumberbund, and velveteen overcoat is a thin dressing gown. Your skin is lank and hangs down from your kneecaps. You are an old man.
Old men do not dance.
Old men are not famous.
When they ask those in attendance of your disappearance, they can only say that one moment you were there, and the next you weren’t. Gone. Vanished. They of course search your manor. There, they only find your worried nursemaid and an ancient terrier dog.
Your mystery puzzles investigators for months. Then they give it up. Forfeit. Chalk it up as a loss. It is a loss made famous by a man, his collector’s cards and the throngs of wizarding children willing to collect them.
They never do know your secret.
You are simply on a stroll. To a time and a place where you can dance again.