Chapter 4 : Londoners
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Chapter Four - Londoners
Amazing chapter image by Lake of tda.
Spring is a curious time, the first English flowers beginning to be coaxed in back gardens, mists of rain gifting the tired earth with soggy life as it begins to unthaw. For me, spring is the season of discord, the months which stole my mother from me, her death as natural and quick as the first English rose which is snipped and primped.
When three of the four closest people in my life had been stripped from me, the death of Penelope and Sebastian's resulting distance, the spring of this year numbs me in those dark moments after awakening and remembering, my body and spirit freezing even as the ground awakens and the Londoners begin to stir in the hopes that those rare days of summer and sunshine are approaching at last. Penelope is the stolen Persephone to my humble earth, the eternal prisoner of a faceless Hades to leave me brittle and cold, bringing her light and warmth into the depths of the underworld.
My mother's funeral was held here: she was a Londoner, born within the peals of the Bow bells as she often laughed to me as we passed down the way. After the service I found my way back to our home, the tidy flat which had fallen from my mother's usual meticulous standards, piles of paper and clothes discarded when she had grown too weak to put them away. Without being asked, Penelope had accompanied me, her hair a breathless tickle on my neck as she leaned her head against mine.
"Show me your London," she had said. I brought her to our favorite cafe, a locally owned, fair-trade affair where my mother had picked up her daily coffee (dark blend, two sugar) every morning for countless years, small home cut flowers crowning each table in a lonely salute. I brought Penelope to Tower bridge, beautiful and Victorian, and we stood in its centre and looked towards the city I loved so dearly, where Borgin was unknowingly waiting for me, where princes and lamp-lighters and businessmen and beggars and mothers and murderers crossed each other paths from a thousand years of habit, where the past meets the present in the curve of an old street and the sewer down its centre, where the layers of the wizarding world gently overlapped that of the oblivious Muggles.
The Thames glittered below us, brown and steady and slowly rising, ready to overwhelm us someday, the mortals who had so greedily forded and sailed and discarded generations of human waste into her waters. My eyes were drawn to the great green bronze lion heads which lined the embankment. When the lion drinks, London sinks.
"What will you do with the flat?" Penelope had asked me, leaning over the railing and letting her hair blow wildly in the wind. A drop of rain landed on her white cheek, face especially pale against her dark dress and wrap. Perhaps we looked like two models perched on the bridge that day, in our dark patterned tights and high heels, somber and fancy and bought especially for the day. What would Penelope had said, had she known I would someday wear those same shoes to her own funeral? Laughed at the morbidity, most likely.
I shrugged at her question, I remember that. I'd barely thought about the flat's fate, or my own for that matter. "I guess I'll have to sell it. And clean it out." The task daunted me. Here I am, ready to leave Hogwarts, to begin my adult life, and I must first close down the remains of another's life, as if a woman with a name and a daughter had never lived there.
"I'll help you." Penelope had stated, and I nearly smiled then, because of course I knew she would. The flat, snatched carefully many years past and now subject to the great booms of inflation, would indeed make me very rich in the Muggle world. But I could not bear to sell it just yet, the flat with the view of a church, the steeple so close one could fool themselves they could leap to it, the green space and churchyard pretty in the summer, the trendy cafes and restaurants still out-shadowed by the local pub on the corner which served a mean plate of chips. I had kept the flat, cleaned out our personal belongings, and now let it out to long-term Muggle travelers. A helpful agent took responsibility for keeping them happy, and I received a tidy sum each month into my Muggle bank account. I didn't care much. I didn't care about anything, for a while, until I found the shop in Knockturn Alley and demanded Borgin give me a job.
It has become most clear to me in the last week that I have begun to resent Sebastian. On the Monday, after I had moved back to my place and he had followed me there for my “security,” it was seeing the dirty coffee cup he left behind in my kitchen: a cup I had always rather liked, with a Hippogriff-style handle and the phrase Things are getting worse, please bring tea. It was a solid, reliable cup. Penelope had used that cup, the last time I saw her when I made her tea, and to see it so clearly disrespected, with faint lip marks from Sebastian’s mouth around the ridges, the faint layer of brown left to harden in the bottom, and the obvious disregard for cleaning up after himself. It was as if Sebastian was blatantly reminding me: I have a real job, I’m important, I have to rush out and don’t have time to wash up, sorry babe. The cup isn’t important.
The cup made me rather angry. I smashed it on the kitchen floor, and since my own magic had still deserted me I had to clean it up by hand. The little Hippogriff handle looked up at me accusingly. Mrs. Crenshaw, my across-the-hall neighbor who heard the crash, came upstairs to check on me, concerned, and I had to go to great lengths to pretend that I was all fine and dandy and just had butter fingers, and it was most awkward because I wasn’t wearing a bra when I answered the door for her and it was all I could think about.
On the Tuesday, I was enjoying some yoga stretches after working all day at the shop when Sebastian came home. He began bustling around importantly telling me about everything at Gringotts and how preposterous and pompous the goblins were and how the American stock market was slipping yet again, can they not do anything proper like and how admirable his beloved boss, Mr. Gibbon was and how respected Sebastian felt every time he set foot through the marble doors. After I tuned him out, rolling my eyes from my rather sloppy downward-facing Kneazle position, Seb got very flustered and said rather snottily that for someone who wore such expensive yoga trousers, I should really be putting more effort into the poses. I bit back a retort that I always wore these trousers beneath my robes because none of my jeans fit me anymore, but Sebastian already knew that.
On the Wednesday, Sebastian didn’t come over until rather late, and then only from grumpy obligation to check up on me like he’d promised. This meant crawling into the bed at half two in the morning and kissing me roughly until I pushed him off and snapped that I was sleeping and that he reeked of gin, which was the truth.
On Thursday he beat me again at chess and chastised me for not finishing the dinner of fish and chips he had so thoughtfully picked up for us at the Leaky Cauldron. He teased me-but there was some aggression there-about the fact that I hadn’t even showered or changed out of my pajamas that day. He didn’t try to kiss me at all. I asked him to leave, that I wanted to be alone tonight, and spent the night sulking in anger towards Sebastian and reading the volume of poetry Penelope had concocted for me that I’d never gotten around to finishing.
In retaliation, I inform him firmly that we are taking a two day break, and on Saturday having a proper date because I can't stand this awkward domesticity anymore and need to remember why we love each other. Sebastian, clearly deciding to pick and choose his battles, concedes, so I pass a blissful Friday and Saturday morning working at the shop and spending time in my incredibly quiet and empty flat.
When he arrives at the flat to pick me up, today, Saturday afternoon, we tread around each other like wary cats, not quite ready to rub heads: he compliments me stiffly on the dress and tights outfit I've concocted, courtesy of Gemma's shop, and his kind words are a painful echo of the awed stares he used to give me whenever he saw me in something other than my shapeless Hogwarts robes.
"So where are we going, babe?" Seb asks as he leads me into the street, lighting up one of the cigarettes he keeps so carefully hidden from Gringotts, probably afraid the fumes will stick to his expensive dress robes.
"I thought we'd go around London, like we used to," I tell him, and a faint grin passes over his face. With his free hand he gently takes mine, our fingers falling into the familiar pattern, his thump lightly stroking the ridge of my finger. Together we tuck through Knockturn and twist into Diagon, and I carefully avoid looking at the shell which will be Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes in case a familiar freckled face should peek out.
Sebastian, however, points it out to me.
"You remember Percy Weasley, Gryffindor in our year at Hogwarts?"
Penelope's Percy. "Of course," I tell him evenly. The reminder of her doesn't burn as it usually does. In my head, I am seeing her twirl excitedly around the dormitory.
"Well his two younger brothers have left Hogwarts and they're opening a shop right there, where the old joke shop used to be. It's incredibly daring really, starting a new business venture in this economy. They've been applying for loans and financial investment all over Gringotts and everyone's split on what will happen."
"Do you think they have a shot?"
Sebastian bites his lip thoughtfully. "I mean, the idea's pretty intriguing. But to rely mostly on start-up income and loans to get a business going... well, we'll see what happens."
"Borgin says it amazes him every day that he can still make a living off our shop. He says it's the big shots- fat cats willing to be tricked into paying top Galleon for exotic and strange objects- that keeps him in business."
"That and paying a pittance for every product that actually comes in, then charging triple its worth," Sebastian says, and snorts. As we pass through the wall which separates the Leaky Cauldron from the rest of Diagon Alley and the wizarding quarter of London, I look up at him reproachfully. He recoils, hands in the air. "Hey, you know it's true. And Borgin's brilliant for pulling it off. Can't say the same for your neighbors, the apothecary in Knockturn- according to my mate who's their financial advisor the place is going to be shut down any day now."
The Dionysus apothecary is Borgin's greatest competition for peddling illegal potions ingredients and goods, so I can't say I'm too upset to hear the news.
"Borgin will be pleased to hear that." Dragging Sebastian by the hand, I weave through the Leaky Cauldron, my shoes creaking on the old wooden floors. Tom, the barman, waves his dishcloth in a silent salute to Sebastian as we pass through: he's a frequent customer. "He's stressed out nowadays since Judah is coming home soon."
"His long-lost, obnoxious and money-sucking son?" Sebastian asks, then smirks. "Don't you hate that guy's guts, Ver?"
"Yes," I say, and mime shaking my fist at an invisible opponent, giggling despite myself. "He's careless, and a brat, and thinks he has a right to the shop despite knowing nothing about it. He thinks because I'm a girl and a half-blood that I don't know what I'm doing either." Really, my blood boils just thinking about Judah Borgin and his infuriating smirk. Borgin's daughters are little spoiled brats as well, but at least they don't care to interfere with my shop.
Sebastian laughs. "Well, have fun with that one." He willingly lets me pull him towards the Underground station, silently acknowledging my dislike for Side-Along Apparition in the wake of losing my magic. Besides, there aren't many convenient Apparating spots where we're going.
The Underground, unlike magical travel, is sturdy, weighed down by over a hundred years of reliable service. You always know where you're going with the Tube, the stations listed clearly by a cool female voice, the constant influx of strangers reminding you that you're never alone, not really. We change lines seamlessly at Embankment, hoping off the Tube at Westminster and rolling our eyes good-naturedly at the large crowd of foreign tourists taking anxious pictures of the clocktower. Tourist-watching used to be one of my mother's favorite Saturday pastimes when we went to grab the best ice cream in town from a stand on the bankside.
Trafalgar Square, the mighty column of the great Muggle shadowing over the square like a sundial point. A small group of Muggles are playing reggae music, and one dreadlocked boy catches my eye and grins, bobbing his head to the music. There is always something going on here.
"Those lions are too upright and alert to be realistic," Sebastian notes, examining the four prim, enormous beasts who guard Nelson meticulously. At the moment, several younger girls are attempting to climb onto the closest one's back, squealing in their attempts as their legs wiggle, trying to straddle the stone backs.
I give my boyfriend a light smack on the arm. "Those pussycats are the mighty symbols of our nation you're mocking there, mate." I give a little. "Though, they are certainly too dignified to be suffering this kind of humiliation." The girls are now taking pictures from their perches on the lion, mouths outstretched in cheesy, false smiles.
"I feel like if Gryffindor had his own Chamber of Secrets, this design would feature prominently," Sebastian remarks, grabbing my hand and swinging it briskly. In Muggle London, surrounded by strangers, he doesn't mind showing me off a little. I suppose I don't object either, judging by the jealous looks a few cleavage-revealing bints have shot my way.
"Come on, we're almost there." I retort, and drag him across the packed street. I am a Londoner, after all: we don't hesitate for traffic. Sebastian looks mildly terrified and even a little green by the time we reach the opposite side.
Tucked into the crowded fabric of London is a small alleyway most seem to pass over. But for those of us who know, there is a delightful array of shops to be found, selling everything ranging from old toys, comic books, aged, browning maps, records, books that nobody remembers, movie props and other mysterious finds. It's one of my favorite places since being a kid, and now, I've found a way to integrate coming here with work.
I leave Sebastian to scope out some old Muggle records - he finds the things fascinating, and I even bought him an antique record player one Christmas - and begin to paw through the piles of weathered maps. Maps of Europe, of England, of the colonies, dating from different time periods when the boundaries and shapes of countries seemed to distort and twist, shrinking according to who held the reins of power. Finally, I find what I'm looking for: a small collection of faded ink where the drawings of sea monsters meant to designate the sea roar silently in their parchment prisons, and, as I squint and look closely, great armies march across the boundaries of England and Scotland, to be met by wild Highlanders who begin to charge. Every so often the collector who runs this place accidentally gathers a wizarding relic, and it is my pleasure to seek them out. Borgin will be very pleased. I pay the vendor smoothly in Muggle sterling and move on to the first of the used bookshops, crossing my fingers for an ancient edition of Beedle the Bard.
Borgin once confessed to me that while he has no qualms about selling fakes or talking up artifacts to make them appear more valuable, it was my father, Mr. Burke, who was staunch in providing the best service and product possible. He once reprimanded Borgin for selling a shaky teenage boy a poorly made reproduction of Slytherin's locket for triple its worth, letting the boy believe he was getting a wonderful deal. Apparently their fight raged over several days before Borgin grudgingly admitted he was in the wrong.
There are days when my father, dead before I could properly remember him, is so distant from my mind that it is as if he never were. Other times, I long to have known him: to get his opinion on wares I collect and bring to the shop, to see if he would be so angry with me for bringing in a fake. I wonder if he would have doted on me as his only child, or been hard on me. If he would have wanted more for me than to follow in his footsteps.
That night, Sebastian and I share a bottle of wine and play wizard’s chess. In bed he kisses me gently and I respond to him for the first time since Penelope’s death, and we sleep holding each other like when we first became lovers. Perhaps all isn’t over, after all.
But I don’t tell him about going through Penelope’s things, about the picture of my dead friend and the dead boy, Aaron Holden, and the laughing, handsome face of a boy called Christian Haynes. I don’t tell Sebastian, the great sceptic, of the words appearing on the back of the picture: talk to Christian. I don’t tell him that, against all laws of nature, Penelope may have found a way to speak to me from the dead.
I wake up to the sound of cursing and loud bangs from downstairs, as if a large object has been thrown against the wall. My flat itself seems to shake. Irritated, I pull a jumper over my baggy shirt and shorts and tentatively open the front door, peering out into the stairwell. The sunlight streaming through the windows informs me I’ve slept in, and that London has at last blessed us with a beautiful spring day. Across the hall, my neighbor, Mrs. Crenshaw, extends her long neck into the hallway, catching my eye.
We don’t have long to wait until the landlord, Rumple, emerges from the floor below us, shouting expletives at the couple who lets the flat below mine. A few years my senior, the husband cowers at Rumple’s angry words, while his wife screams right back. I cover my eyes, amused at this early day drama.
“-ALWAYS LATE WITH YOUR RENT, I’M OWED FIFTY GALLEONS AND A FEW MORE FOR THE FIRE DAMAGE TO THE BEDROOM-“
The wife, a fearsome woman with blond hair sticking up in every direction, sends another curse at Rumple, which he dodges with a small yelp.
“CALLING IN THE MORNING TO DRAG US OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME, YOU SKEEZY WORM-“
“And you’ll pay for that, girl, mark my words!” Rumple shouts as he narrowly misses a jelly legs jinx. “I’ll have what’s owed to me, and you’ll have your things out by midday, or me mates at the Department of Property Rights and Regulations will be payin’ yous a call!” With these threatening words, he ducks out the front door of the building, a resounding Crack! signaling his departure from the dangerous scene. Rolling my eyes, I retreat into my flat, mentally double-checking that I’ve sent an owl with my monthly rent recently. Rumple is hardly known for his generosity, and that tenant of his sure has a fiery temper. I can’t say I’ll miss the neighbors- they were constantly caught either snogging or arguing on the front steps, though I do wonder briefly who will replace them as satisfactory rent-payers.
Hopping in the shower and quickly toweling my hair dry, I hum a strange ditty as I walk towards the shop. Penelope would have been thrilled to witness such amusing and awkward public embarrassment, though she’d have never admitted to it aloud. Twirling my wand in my hand out of habit, I am pleased to see a few red sparks tumble from its tip, bright against the London morning.
My house is one in a row of identical Georgian townhouses, transformed into flats after World War two. A pattern of triangular panes of glass marks it as distinct from before there were street numbers
As I turn into Knockturn, the street changes. No longer a remnant of Georgian London, like the house in which my flat dwells, the street becomes narrow and winding, with scarcely enough room for a carriage of old to pass through the streets. A gutter runs through the cobblestones, where old inhabitants used to toss their human waste before the ingenious invention of indoor plumbing. The street goes narrower as the eye rises to the sky, the crowded buildings blocking out the light and sending a pervading air of darkness. I suppose it made sense to build houses so in those days, with the upper stories extending over the lower ones. In a few cases, a person standing on the top floor of two houses on either side of the street could nearly join hands.
I push past a small group of wizards huddling around a hook-nosed man and his wares – a pile of brooms which I’m quite convinced are illegally imported. The man shoves a pile of Galleons into the pocket of his cloak. A bead of water drips off the roof above and hands on his crooked nose.
I turn away, fumbling with my keys, noticing another figure the color of shadows emerging from behind a tiny alley. Sensing his eyes on me, I turn the lock quickly and let myself into Borgin & Burke’s, barely glancing at the Wanted poster for Sirius Black which seems to have appeared overnight on the glass of the shop window. Waving away dust mites which float through the stale air, I examine the state of the shop, which is unusually well-organized. Borgin must be really excited about
The shadow follows me, moving on quiet feet. I look him over suspiciously as he lets himself into the shop behind me. Heavy boots barely concealed by a thick black traveling cloak, which folds and conceals his body and anything he might be hiding on his person. Beady eyes silently appraise me, set deep within a weathered face that could use a good wash. I suspect the man has been waiting for the shop to open for quite some time this morning.
“Can I help you, sir?” I ask politely, positioning myself behind the counter. I resist the urge to smooth my hair back behind my ears, even though it’s dangling in my face, or to tug down the bottom of my jumper to ensure it’s covering the skin of my lower back. Men like this, rough peddlers who come to wheedle away their corrupt wares, mustn’t be reminded that I am just a girl, and a young, pretty one at that, with a high-pitched voice. They are used to doing hard deals with wary, weathered men like Borgin: a female who cannot embody this is a soft target. I must not fidget, or bite my lip nervously, or stutter, or smile too much. The underworld is still ruled by men, and dangerous men at that who hunt and smell weakness like bloodhounds.
The old man smiles, revealing a few black teeth and a brown tongue poking between them.
“Well met, lass. I donnae suppose auld Borgin is around, no?”
A Scotsman. Lovely. I shake my head assertively. “No, sir. But he should be coming in shortly.” A lie, but this will discourage him from trying to rob me. “Any business you have can be executed through me.”
“Aye, is that so?” The Scot asks, venturing closer. A waft of something rotting and unwashed fills my nose, but I don’t flinch. These men are a dime a dozen in the London underworld. They sleep in alleys and leer at pretty witches and carry wares in their pockets which are often useless, and sometimes worth a far prettier sum than Borgin will give them. “What’s your name, pretty lady?”
“Burke,” I say steadily. I raise an eyebrow with practiced professional skill. “Do you have something to show me, sir?”
“Burke, eh,” the Scot mutters to himself, grinning. He reaches into his cloak and pulls out a cloth bag, which he rummages through. I notice he is wearing gloves, a surefire sign of carrying dark objects which will curse a person who is foolish enough to touch it to their skin. On the counter before me he lays out two pretty necklaces: one of thin, fine-wrought silver, which looks so fragile that it might crumble like a flower pressed in a book and preserved for twenty years. From the other dangles an emerald pendant, which gleams evilly in the light from the gray street outside.
“Fine trinkets, no?” he leers. I examine the necklaces with a critical eye as he rummages in his bag yet again. “And just for you, lass wif the name of Burke, I know ye’ll be especially interested in tis.”
He throws something onto the counter: it resounds with a thud. Curious despite myself, I bend to look at it, the ends of my blond hair brushing the wood. The object appears to be a wallet, wrought of a very thin, fine material which I assume must be leather of some sort. It is clasped with a simple silver buckle.
“Pretty,” I remark , admiring the translucent quality of the material, the fine, gentle craftsmanship. I wonder if it has any special properties.
“Pretty? Ha! Haen’t you ever heard of Burke and Hare, girl?”
I shake my head, sensing a story. The old Scot claps his hands with glee. He clears his throat dramatically and begins to sing in a sing-songy, slow voice, not breaking eye contact, his voice ringing through the empty shop.
"Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke n’ Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief."
He looks me slyly in the eye, and sings the last line slowly.
"Knox the boy wha’ buys the beef.”
The Scot grins, revealing blackened and pointed teeth. He points a dirty fingernail at the pale wallet on the counter in front of me, and I feel goose bumps rise on my forearms. Irritated and wishing Borgin was here to serve as a buffer between me and this creep, I applaud very slowly and plant my hands on my hips sardonically.
“Nice song, sir. Are you going to tell me what is so wonderful about this wallet? If not I suggest you get out of my shop.”
“If you ken anything about Burke and Hare, girl, you’d know what a rare treasure tis leetle ting is,” the Scot told me seriously. “I’ll sell you the lot fo’ fifteen Galleons: a real bargain, it tis.”
Behind his head, in the street, I notice a familiar shape strolling purposefully down from the alley that leads to Diagon. Feeling my heart quicken with worry, I feign a confident laugh. “Ten Galleons the lot, and it’s the best bargain you’re going to get here in Knockturn. And if you look behind you, sir, you’ll notice one of the Auror Department’s finest coming to pay us a call.” I count out ten Galleons and offer them to the Scotsman enticingly. The necklace with the emerald pendant carries some curse for sure: the pureblood ladies of London will pay dearly for such trinkets. The wallet itself I find intriguing as well.
He pauses, glancing behind him at the approaching figure: then, making a fast choice, he scoops the Galleons from my hands and scuttles out the door, tucking the gold deep inside his cloak. I pull on a pair of gloves, which I keep handily stashed beneath the counter, and set to poking the silver necklace with my wand in the appearance of being engrossed. The Scotsman brushes by the approaching Ministry figure, who pats his own pockets suspiciously and glances back at the retreating peddlar. He lets himself into the shop, coming to stand by the counter, and rudely raps with his knuckles on the wood in front of me.
I look up, feigning surprise. “Ah, Auror Dawlish. What brings you to Borgin and Burke’s?”
Dawlish is as wily and weary as I remember him from the awkward questioning right after Penelope’s death. His eyes are piggy and mean, his shoulders a little too big for his thin fame. A poor excuse for stubble pokes from his chin.
“Just paying a call to the local businesses.” His lips curl as he takes in the shop: the dust floating through the air, the assembly of slumbering shrunken heads, their little lips swollen. The collection of second-hand wands laid out in a glass case. The jar containing a large assembly of glass eyeballs, which seem to swivel and watch him of their own accord. Dawlish moves a few paces, stopping to observe the smooth death-mask which Borgin must have acquired when I was out. I wonder fleetingly who it belonged to, whose sagging facial flesh it memorialized.
“Lovely set-up you’ve got here, Ms. Burke,” Dawlish says, running a finger down the dusty cover of a book about the genealogy of the ancient pureblood families, starting with the Peverells.
I shrug, wary, unsure of his intentions. “We do alright, sir. Are you interested in purchasing something?” I watch as he leans down towards a pretty ruby ring, probably admiring his reflection in the gemstone. “Er, Auror Dawlish, I wouldn’t get so close to that if I were--”
Dawlish yelps and recoils as the ruby splits open and clamps down on his nose. I am caught between horror and laughter as he flaps his hands and shouts, knocking over a carefully stacked pyramids of goblets in the process. Grabbing the ring, he frees his nose and flings it across the shop, where it lands with a resounding Crack!.
“You’re going to have to pay for that,” I say reproachfully: Dawlish, hand clasped to his nose as blood seeps through, sends me a murderous look that would frighten You-Know-Who himself and storms out the door, Apparating the moment his finely clad foot touches the cobblestoned street. Laughing to myself, I move to clean up the broken ring- very carefully- and wonder what in Merlin’s name the Auror who interrogated me was doing visiting Knockturn Alley, and whether the ring did me a favor by driving him out or simply made things worse.
Outside the shop, two birds flutter past the gray sky. I wonder idly if they are magpies, thinking back to the one I saw the day Sebastian told me Penelope was dead. One for sorrow. Two for joy.
That night, I take home one of the books in the shop of English history, and paw through it until I find ‘Burke and Hare.’ The weathered, dark text informs me that they were body snatchers, poor working Irishmen living in the Muggle streets of Edinburgh in the nineteenth century. After being paid a large sum for selling the body of a dead tenant at a friend’s inn to the medical school, the wretched pair began a business of murdering the degenerates and underclass of Edinburgh society, selling them to a doctor, Dr. Knox.
I remember the words of the ditty. Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief.
Eventually, the two scoundrels were caught and brought to trial, the book informs me. Hare sold out his partner for the price of his freedom. He fled to London and died a pauper in the slums of the capital.
I swallow a sip of tea, taking care not to drip on the page.
Burke was hanged, and his body dissected publically in a medical demonstration amid the excited mob. His skeleton was given to the medical school, parts of his skin stolen and welded into trophies such as coin-purses, his eyes disappearing in the accumulation of years and lost records. Now and again, one of these relics will show up: they are often sold for high prices among those fascinated with the old story.
Thinking of the finely made purse of thin, pale leather that the Scotsman had sold me that morning, I realize that it must be one of those relics of Burke the body snatcher, or else something equally sinister. Even if the man lied, I could probably still pass the thing off as a relic of a murderer. Some fine pureblood man could use it to carry his coins, relishing the poor Muggle man’s final service.
Knox the boy wha’ buys the beef. Simply lovely.
As for Doctor Knox, the man who paid great sums of money for these bodies yet claimed he did not question their origin, he became a ground-breaking physician who is much acclaimed for his research into the workings of the human body.
I puzzle for a moment over the faint injustice of Knox getting off, remembering another mysterious trio who I had so recently found in a photograph. Hare died miserable and alone. Burke, his name the same as mine, his very body turned into grisly trophies, to be sold for less than ten Galleons to the likes of me. Knox, celebrated physician. Penelope Clearwater and Aaron Holden, dead within two weeks of each other. Christian Haynes, still at large somewhere, perhaps with some answers.
Indeed, the world is a horrible, unfair place, where bodies are turned into capital, where even after death, nobody is truly gone.
Words appear in the page of the book, written in that familiar, neat hand.
We all leave remnants behind.
I trace the words with my fingers, wondering if I’m going mad. Five more appear beneath the first.
What are you waiting for, Verity?
I slam the book shut with a resounding thud, which echoes against the quiet walls of my apartment like a body hitting the floor.
AN: Hopefully I still have some readers for this story after this extremely long break! I started this when I was in London in July, and the beginning probably reads like a love letter to that most wonderful of cities. Thank you lovely readers for sticking by me, and I hope I didn’t give you nightmares from the tale of the body snatchers. If you have the time, I’d love to know what you thought in a review- constructive criticism is always welcome! Lots of love.
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