Chapter 1 : Mystery.
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He intrigued her. This was the third week in a row he had been in, but tonight was the longest he had ever stayed. He usually left around five, to avoid the crowds; now, tonight, he was sitting in the middle of it, hood pulled up over his flaming red hair, back humped. No one noticed him but her.
He only talked when he wanted another drink, and then his voice was low, raspy and harsh, wanting to be left alone. He looked very, very familiar – like she had seen him briefly in public, or in an advert or something. Yet, he seemed very unfamiliar at the same time – like she had known him before, and he had changed so drastically he had become a new person.
No one ever approached him, let alone talk to him. In fact, he seemed to be as invisible to them as this pub was to Muggles.
She jumped, dropping the mug in her hands. It fell, then stopped before it hit the floor and hovered back up into her grip. Blinking, she turned around.
A greasy witch – or hag? – was leering at her from over the tabletop. Her greasy grey ringlets hung round her gaunt face hauntingly, her eyes sunken and grim, “Pound o’ raw liva’ from a bugbear, if you’d be s’kind,” she grinned, knotted hands gripping the tabletop.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Carrie said, keeping her voice steady. Hags always unnerved her, “Bugbear liver is now banned here.”
The hag pulled backwards, face screwed in shock, “Banned? Idiots. Nundu ‘ill ‘ave to do.” She muttered, picking at the wood with one, long, dirty fingernail.
Carrie hesitated, sensing trouble, “Ma’am, Nundu are forbidden. They have a Ministry designation of five, and - ”
“Oh, shut up!” the hag suddenly yelled, banging her fist on the table and causing several people to fall silent and look around, “’Ou tellin’ me tha’ you have no liver ‘n sale?”
“Sorry, ma’am, it’s banned – ”
“‘It’s banned!’” mimicked the hag, sneering, “‘It’s banned, it’s banned’! I don’ bloody care if it’s banned or nat!” she spat, pointing a twisted finger at Carrie.
“Hello? Hello? What’s going on here?” Hannah Abbot called, limping over to her employee’s side. She glanced from the hag’s furious expression to Carrie’s stunned one, and understood, “Terribly sorry, ma’am, the Leaky Cauldron is under new management - ”
“New manidgent?” the hag squabbled, dropping her hand to the tabletop, “Fer ‘ow long?”
“Until I see fit to pass it on,” Hannah said politely. The hag glared at her.
“You banned liver?”
“Yes,” Hannah nodded, “There were complaints. And it’s been tested by the Ministry to see - ”
“Ministry this, Ministry dat! I don’ care about the bloody Mini’try!” the hag raged, thumping her fist again. She gathered up her black rags, “I’m away to Knockt’rn Alley, where they sell propar ‘ood!” she stormed, before turning her back and storming into the crowd and out of the pub.
“Sorry,” Hannah apologized, taking the mug out of Carrie’s hands and filling it with Butterbeer, “Fifth one this week.”
“I know,” Carrie nodded, glancing towards the mysterious man. His head was raised, which surprised her, and his piercing brown eyes were watching her. As soon as he saw that she was looking, he bowed his head again. Had he watched the argument? “But it’s worth it.”
“I know. Liver’s such a horrible… thing. No idea why Tom served it,” Hannah said conversationally, giving the mug over to an aged wizard. He thanked her and gave her five sickles.
“Business, I s’pose,” Carrie muttered, tearing her eyes away from the man. Hannah nodded.
Before Carrie could respond, Hannah was hurrying away to the other side of the bar.
She hung her apron up on the hook, stooping down to pick up her bag. Her shift was finally over (thankfully with no more hag incidents) and she could almost smell the strawberry scented bubble bath awaiting her. Sighing contently, she swung her bag over her shoulder, flicked her long, wavy brown hair out from under the strap, and headed for the back exit, leading into Muggle London.
A twinge of disappointed pulled on her mind as she realised that she wouldn’t find out when the man would leave.
Carrie spun around automatically when she heard her name being called; Hannah was hurrying towards her, pushing through the staff who were working in the kitchen, a letter crunched in one hand and an empty mug in the other.
“Carrie… Carrie, Brian, he can’t work tonight – there was some sort of family emergency,” Hannah gushed in one breath, cheeks tinged pink, blonde hair dishevelled, “And I’m one bartender short.”
The bubbles in the bath burst.
“Oh,” she muttered.
“I’m so sorry to ask you this – I’ll pay you double!” Hannah continued quickly, “It’s just so, so busy tonight – I’ve flooed everyone who was off shift – but it’s late notice and they’ve all got plans – and I know you probably will have plans, too. Don’t you? If you have, that’s fine, I just wanted to - ”
“Oh, no, it’s fine. I’ll fill in Brian’s shift,” Carrie interrupted, sensing Hannah’s distress and her thoughts being clouded by the mystery man. Maybe she’ll see him leave - ? “I was just going to have an early night in, anyway.”
She nodded a little too enthusiastically, suddenly eager to find out more about the man. She hurried back over to her apron and dropped her bag as Hannah babbled behind her.
“Thank you so much – you can have tomorrow off – it’s just so busy - thank you - !”
Carrie laughed heartily, enlightened at the idea of spying on the man for a while longer, leading the way back out into the over crowded pub. She stole a glance at him.
He was still there.