Chapter 1 : Chapter One
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The time on London Bridge was a quarter past eleven in the evening. Three carriages had gone by since George Bailey had taken his place at the side of the street near the steps that wound their way down to the river’s quay. Bailey was an elderly man, far past his prime and long-retired but still quick-witted. At this time in his life he spent a great deal of his days and nights hunched over an ivory cane and dressed in heavy black woolen garments which gave him the appearance of a large baby in swaddling clothes. Contrary to his rotund stature, his face displayed a gauntness that one could have misconstrued for malnourishment had they had the misfortune to encounter it whilst it was not firmly attached to its body. In fact this very litheness of face led many to believe that Bailey was not overfed at all, but instead ensconced by far too many layers of outerwear. The truth in this matter was about to be revealed.
“Evenin’ gov,” there came the voice of what appeared to be a shadow creeping towards Bailey from the steps. “I brought what you wanted, it weren’t easy neither,” the small man who was now in Bailey’s presence sniffed and wiped the emerging fluid from his face with one long sweep of his forearm. A small amount of it remained stuck to the hairs of his moustache.
“I trust that you were not seen,” Bailey reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a note.
“Course not,” the smaller man had his eyes fixated on the money between Bailey’s fingers. “I done me job, and now I deserves me dues.” His hands were filthy with soot and he rubbed them together, licking his lips and eyeing his prize.
“Produce what I came for, then you shall have it,” Bailey tucked the note back into his breast pocket. He was wary of the man’s grin; he was no stranger to his sort and certainly no stranger to the lust for money.
The smaller man took a step backwards and reached behind his back, pulling a long and slender box from the band of his trousers. He held it between his blackened hands, the desire to touch it was overwhelming. Before he could bring it to his nose to smell it Bailey snatched it from his grasp and tucked it away in the layers of his cloaks. The mustachioed mouth made a move to speak, but Bailey anticipated its question.
“That is no concern of yours,” he said, tapping his cane on the stones of the road. “I thank you for your services.” He once again put his hand to his breast pocket, but this time he only produced a coin: “a shilling.”
“Ere, what’s your game?” the smaller man put his face in Bailey’s. “I don’t find this amusing. Five pounds, you said. And you give me this bleedin’ shilling? Let’s ‘ave it all, gov. I don’t do work for free.”
“And I don’t pay more than what is due. Good evening, sir,” said Bailey, taking a step to the side of the man. He was not there for one moment before he felt the other man’s hands on his chest, pulling him up and forcing him to drop his cane.
“This was no game,” the thug spat into his face, “and I’m afraid I’ve lost me temper now. Pity, it was such a pleasure doing business with you.” He pushed Bailey up against the side of the bridge, hitting him against it multiple times. The sound of the Thames flowing beneath them was muffling the sound of Bailey’s head cracking against the cold stones of the bridge. The thug emptied Bailey’s pockets of the money he had seen before, and as he lifted the body up to throw it over the side he remembered the thin box. He thrust it to the place in his trousers where he had kept it previously and gave the body a small push, not bothering to watch it fall and judge from the size of the eventual splash just how large Bailey was.
The time that had just been indicated by the chiming of the grandfather clock in Arthur Pilchard’s study was four in the afternoon. It was early for him to be partaking of his daily cigarette and brandy but this evening was to call for his nerves to be intact. He had spoken that very morning with his most trusted colleague Ruthven on the subject of a very important delivery from Romania, and one which could be of considerable interest to himself. Arthur had a talent for getting himself into trouble, and that trouble normally situated itself in and around Ruthven.
Their’s was a bizarre relationship, as Ruthven himself was forty years Arthur’s senior and the father of two boys. It had begun as a master and apprentice relationship, as Arthur had been denied a proper magical education by his Muggle parents but refused to give up on his obvious talents. It was to his great fortune that he was discovered by Ruthven in a bookshop near Fleet Street pulling a volume of Socrates from a shelf without touching it. Since that day Ruthven had tutored the young and naïve Arthur into a stable and lucrative practise as a doctor by day and as a wizard by night. It was not uncommon in those times for many a wizard to run a Muggle business during the day, especially one as tantalisingly full of discovery as medicine.
He enjoyed his work; moreover he enjoyed using his hands. The one thing he never particularly took to in magic was the lack of manual contact. This job called for precision, dexterity, and above all patience. He had a strong stomach, as was necessary, but he had a weak heart. This was one thing Ruthven often criticised him of. Arthur was too quick to connect to a patient, to offer them his condolences, and above all, to try and help them. Whilst such a character trait might seem beneficial and even perhaps laudable, in modern society it could also be considered a danger. Muggles were keen to take advantage, much more so than in the wizarding world, and Arthur would need to be careful.
Physically, Arthur Pilchard was slender. He retained a pale complexion from his youth when he had been affected for a short period by what one assumed to be the consumption, and the mass of black hair that sprouted from his head made the effect even more noticeable. This said, Arthur was a handsome man. He was blessed with dark eyes which, had they been light, might have given him a more ghoulish appearance, an appearance which was not conducive to the medical profession as anyone with the slightest physical complaint would not normally be in search of a doctor resembling an undertaker.
At a quarter past four Arthur Pilchard was bent over his desk, scanning his latest acquisition for any recent advancements or discoveries, for techniques that may prove useful in future. This habit of hunching his back would most certainly lead to problems later in life, but for the moment Arthur was contented and complacent within his fog of concentration.
His concentration was easily broken. From the fireplace was emerging the elderly yet spirited figure of Ruthven. He knocked his boots against the frame of the mantel, dispensing himself of any erroneous soot or mud, before walking up to Arthur’s desk.
“Afraid I’m quite early tonight, Arthur,” said Ruthven, looking around at the menagerie of books spread out on the desk. “Some new additions to your collection?”
“Yes,” Arthur tucked a place marker into the book before him and shut it. “Why are you afraid that you’re early? Are we to arrive at our destination a bit sooner than we expected?”
“You were always of keen mind, Arthur,” Ruthven tapped his own nose. “It appears that there will be a bit more to discuss this evening, but I’ve been told to keep quiet on the subject. Shall we go?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow but decided it was better to not inquire, he would find out what it was this evening that was exciting the wizarding world in a short time. He pulled open the top drawer of his desk and retrieved his wand.
“Let us proceed,” Arthur said, standing up and smiling warily.
There was no time for pleasantries between wizards as all were hastily bid to take their seats in the Hall. Arthur and Ruthven had found places towards the back, but many were not so fortunate. Tonight’s meeting had drawn a considerable crowd, and not just from London. Wizards from as far north as York were amongst those present, and for a moment Arthur believed he caught the roll of an Irish “r”.
“Please, gentleman, I urge you to seat yourselves with alacrity, there are serious issues to address before this night is out,” said a large wizard standing at a makeshift podium in the front of the room. Arthur recognised him as Emeritus Brosnose, the head of the Wizard’s Council, the party in charge of all Wizarding and Muggle relations. The podium was slightly elevated so that all could see and hear, and the head of the Council demanded their further attention by banging his fist against it. After several moments of murmuring the crowd was finally silent enough for him to speak.
“Now, as many of you are aware, there was a murder last night.”
Looks were exchanged between those wizards who had not been informed of this matter, and Arthur was one of them. Upon turning his head towards Ruthven he was quickly shushed and redirected back to the wizard at the front of the room.
“The victim was a Squib, one of our own, a gentleman by the name of George Bailey,” said Brosnose, taking a stride away from the podium. “More important in this matter was the fact that Bailey was carrying on his person a rather important item. Some of you may recall last year’s affair of thievery in Paris, an incident that caused us much alarm. It would appear to me and to my colleagues that this item is one of the last ones unaccounted for from those robberies, the wand of Helsmoor.”
Another wave of murmurs spread out over the crowd.
“Silence, please gentlemen!” Brosnose held his hands up in an effort to calm everyone. “I know the severity of this matter just as much as you do, and yet there is nothing more I can do than to warn you. I urge you all to use the utmost caution in all magical places, and even in the common streets of London. We do not know who is behind this crime as its secrets are now buried with the dead. I can only presume that the one who possesses the wand is somewhere among us and has the potential to be extremely dangerous. The Council will be at constant work to ensure that this person is found, but until then we appreciate all of the assistance you could offer, but remember above all, remain vigilant.”
Brosnose turned unhappily from the crowd and made his way from the podium and into a small room by the front of the Hall.
Arthur had many questions but could not formulate them into coherent phrases until they were outside in the thick and sooty air.
“I’m not sure I remember my history lessons well enough, Ruthven,” he said, putting a hand to his forehead, “but I do remember a certain amount of trepidation when thinking about the wand of Helsmoor, and one can judge from the reaction of Britain’s greatest wizards that this is a very serious matter indeed.”
“That it is, my boy,” Ruthven put his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, “but it is one that cannot be discussed in the streets and under gaslight. We’ll go back to my house, there we can speak more freely.”
Ruthven took one last glance over his shoulder to assure that they had not been heard and pulled Arthur into an alleyway for their Apparition.