Chapter 1 : Tuesday
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His first impression of the stranger was that of a man with more money than he knew what to do with.
Perhaps it was the way he carried himself, the height at which he stood, the shoes he happened to be wearing that particular day. Whatever it was, Lysander Scamander had watched him as he had stepped out of the lift, checked the scrap of parchment he was carrying, and strode in the opposite direction. With even footfalls and balanced breath, the stranger passed as quickly as he had appeared.
And Tuesday carried on as if none of it had ever really happened, like the man hadn't exited the lift and Lysander hadn't been watching him. Because time isn't known to stop and the world has never revolved around a single moment; when he finally did lift his gaze, minutes were flitting past just as they had been when the lift doors had opened.
But Tuesday was wrong. Tuesday, in all of its middle-of-the-week entirety, ought to have halted completely. If the universe had any inclination of foreshadowing, the stranger traipsing down the hallway with another man's stare smoldering holes into the back of his jacket should have been painted red, smothered in signs and jumping up and down, maybe yelling, "I'm important, I promise!" Even though Lysander gazed after him, noting the slick underside of the man's shoes and his unwavering gaze straight ahead, there was nothing that seemed to indicate that this stranger would crop up again.
"Mr. Scamander?" And as he turned, the man striding away disappeared completely from view.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, allowing the stranger to fade from the fringes of his thoughts.
His addresser had large, established muttonchops that made him look friendly and unassuming (he wasn’t). “I’m Mr. Flumox from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”
“Yes, hello.” Lysander gave the man a quick once-over.
92 percent probability of the man asking Lysander about company finances.
7 percent probability of pointless small talk.
1 percent probability of the man looking for somebody else.
“My colleague is here to speak with you,” the Ministry man continued, one of his hands reaching up to stroke some of his graying facial hair.
Answer: none of the above.
“Ministry funds, of course.”
Correction: finances. (Find escape route.)
If he was in the mood to be honest with himself (which wasn’t often), Lysander had been expecting this. Someone from the Ministry came down every couple of months, gallivanting around the facility and hoping that their inane questions would somehow illuminate what the labs and their introverted personnel were up to: “Are the light fixtures being maintained?” “How are the Ministry funds being appropriately used?” “Have your projects eaten any small children lately? (Kidding, kidding. But seriously, have they?)”
The man held out an expensive-looking business card, the letters emblazoned over the thick stationary glimmering slightly in the fluorescent light. “This is his. I believe he’s in your office now.”
Lysander glanced at the cobalt lettering briefly before tucking the card into his pocket, where it would be retrieved after the coat had gone through the wash and he would find it as a soggy, barely recognizable pulp.
Head of Supernatural Resources
Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures
“Thank you,” Lysander said, flashing a laconic smile and turning to advance toward his office.
The company building had always been a cavernous space, as the herbologists it employed seemed to scatter in bright light like the pests frequently eating their precious asphodel. Simply for the purpose of comforting these easily-spooked wallflowers (or geniuses, as they so often insisted), the lights grew dimmer as one advanced down the hallway, reaching almost complete blackness if they were to reach the very end.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, eight-and-a-half footsteps to his office, and he counted every time.
For whatever demonic reason, the strange Scorpius Malfoy who was supposedly waiting in his office had opened the blinds covering the large and very-unwanted window, and an onslaught of white, bewildering light burst forth as soon as Lysander opened the door.
“So you’re the famous herbologist,” came the unseen voice that greeted him as he struggled to shield his eyes with his elbow. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Maybe not famous,” Lysander amended. “They call me Doctor Salamander.”
He blinked a few times, experimentally checking to see that his corneas still existed, and slowly removed his protective arm.
The stranger was, in fact, his stranger: the man who had exited the lift and had captivated the very-easily-captivated Lysander as he strode down the hallway to, what he now realized, must have been Lysander’s very own office.
“Mr. Malfoy?” he ventured, digging around in his pocket for the business card but failing to retrieve it with his flittering fingers.
The man in question sat with his hands on his knees on one of Lysander’s very sad and very old lounge chairs that squatted dejectedly in the corner of his cramped office. The herbologist, while still fumbling for the card, took a moment to look, truly look, at the waiting gentleman.
Workaholic. No, just fond of work.
“Yes, hello.” The man stood and held out his hand, wavering for only a second when he saw that Lysander still had his buried in his pocket.
“What’s a Magical Creatures department connoisseur doing here, if I may be so bold to ask?” Lysander gestured to the seat in front of his desk, which Mr. Malfoy took without question, and left the reclusive business card alone.
“They didn’t really know where to stick my department,” he laughed in reply. “Magical Creatures was closest to, you know, plants. So here I am.”
“And you are here because…?”
“Right, sorry,” Scorpius said. “What do you know about Abyssinian Shrivelfig?”
“An odd question,” Lysander answered, “but you’ve come to the right place. I believe…” Without finishing his sentence, the herbologist wretched open the rusty drawers to the filing cabinet that stood next to the aforementioned elderly armchair, which, instead of parchment and withered documents, housed varied species of plant.
He emerged with a small, wrinkled fig pinched between his thumb and index finger, which he proceeded to set on the desk. “They’re used in Shrinking Solution,” Lysander explained, taking a seat across from the bemused-looking Mr. Malfoy. “You need to peel them first” – he pointed toward the furrowed plant in proximity – “but you don’t need a large quantity of them for the solution to work. Easy to care for, like direct sun, small until they reach…” He trailed off. “Sorry, how much did you want to know?”
Scorpius smiled, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward to examine the tiny fruit that lay immobile on the maple of the desktop. “The Ministry is interested in funding a project, you see.”
“What sort of project?”
“You – and by ‘you’ I mean this company – would be growing a large quantity of these. The Ministry would fund it, of course, and I would be making some of my own personal donations to the undertaking.”
“For Shrinking Solution, I’m assuming?”
“Well…” Scorpius hesitated, rocking away from the desk so that his back rested against the chair. “Something like that. I mean, nothing major. Nothing illegal. The project is, however, semi-secretive at the moment.”
“Ah.” There was nothing more that Lysander could seem to dig from the recesses of his mind that could have made for a more intelligent comment.
“Anyway, if you’re interested... I believe my colleague handed you my business card.”
“Yes, Mr…. Muttonchops gave it to me.”
For the first time that afternoon, Scorpius laughed: a light, airy sound with substance and sincerity. And for whatever reason, it elicited a chuckle from Lysander, too.
“I’ll have to tell him you said that,” Scorpius said, rising from his chair and tucking it back toward the desk.
“Oh,” Lysander replied, “please don’t.”
Mr. Malfoy offered his hand again, receiving the shake he had been temporarily refused when he had first been greeted. “Thank you for meeting with me,” he said, backing slowly toward the door, “and for sharing your knowledge on the subject.”
“My pleasure. It’s a fascinating fruit, you see.”
“We know. That’s why we’re so interested in establishing this proposition.”
The men considered each other for a moment, standing in a silence that had settled as Scorpius reached behind him for the door handle. “Thanks again for meeting with me,” he said. “I really do appreciate it.”
“My pleasure,” Lysander repeated. “Please, come back any time.”
“Oh, I will.”
The Ministry man turned and exited the office, keeping Lysander looking just as he had been when he withdrew from the lift. With a soft click the door was shut behind him, and the herbologist was left to stare at the cold, weathered brass of the door handle.
Very, very good-looking.