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Chapter 7 : Trouble
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Amazing image by carpe.noctem at tda.
As it turns out, even a hastily adorned invisibility cloak cannot hide George, for the newcomers know there is a second person here. George lets out a little grunt as a Stunning spell hits him.
“Well, well, turns out you were right to summon me after all, mates,” the Auror says. “And what intriguing intruders they are. Accio.” With another wave of his wand, mine and George’s own wands and the invisibility cloaks fly neatly out of our hands and into the arms of a black-haired witch with very pink cheeks and wide eyes. She catches them, staring at George and her eyes darting around the corridor as if looking for somebody else.
“Dawlish,” I whisper as the spell holding me frozen is lifted. I frown at him. “Look, sir, I know how bad this must look…” I trail off, unsure of how to explain this. After all, this is Dawlish, the Auror investigating Penelope’s death who was so rude while interrogating me. He’s not the most perceptive nor compassionate of people, but I should be able to trust him – he’s an authority of law! “We weren’t doing anything wrong – just having a laugh. Look, you can use Veritaserum, I promise…”
“No,” George cuts in, his face straightened into a stern mask. The expression looks most out of place on his regularly cheerful features. “No, they can’t do that, it’s not legal unless there’s a first-tier crime involved.”
“Which we haven’t disproved yet,” Dawlish says. He gestures to the two security guards, one of whom points his wand somewhat slowly at George. Dawlish himself points his wand at me. He almost seems to relish it, or so I’d think if I didn’t know better. “I suppose we might as well head up to my office – Ms. Burke is of course familiar with it.”
His office has hardly changed since I was last at the Ministry, and I do my best to sit primly and smile politely, as I might with a difficult customer at the shop. After all, I have nothing to hide, no secret motivation for being here. As soon as we reach the office and sit on two chairs facing Dawlish across the desk, the black-haired witch in security robes deposits our confiscated wands and cloaks on the table behind the Auror. Pink-cheeked and staring at the floor, she flits out of the room without making eye contact with either of us.
“Now, Ms. Burke, and Mr…Weasley, is it? Just which Weasley?” Dawlish says. I take the moment to examine him a little more closely – he’s perhaps thirty, with scruffy hair and a raggedy shadow of facial hair which seems to be growing unevenly. His eyes are very small and piggy, and he has crooked teeth which peep through the thin lips as he grimaces at us.
George hesitates, and I wonder if he’s considering saying a brother’s name instead of his own, but he gives in. “George, George Weasley. Look, we were just playing a joke – my brother and I, we bet that I couldn’t break into the Ministry and I wanted to show…”
“Yes, yes, you wanted to show off and impress the love-well, the girl, anyway. George Weasley, let me see.” Dawlish taps a piece of parchment on the desk with his wand and says George’s name again. Words appear on the parchment in thick, official looking print. “George, Hogwarts dropout – ah, you caused quite a stir, Professor Umbridge has you blacklisted – why, if you or your brother set foot in Hogwarts, the Headmistress has license to call for you to be arrested!” He chortles, as if this is a great triumph. I glance at George, wondering what happened to drive him out of Hogwarts so early – somehow we haven’t yet properly discussed the matter. And in the back of my mind, the almost-kiss is still lingering in my head, the kiss which was cut short so quickly by the interruption.
“So? We were only having a laugh, like Verity said. Really – it was all my fault, Verity didn’t even know we were coming here.” George shifts in his seat, the pink glow on his face doubtlessly match by my own. His freckled hands grip the sides of his chair, as if he’s reminding himself to stay patient.
Dawlish looks very keenly at me for a long moment, and, wondering if he can do Legilimency, I glance at the desk in front of us, admiring a very long-feathered quill. The moment is broken when the door creaks open – I turn around and see the black-haired security witch has returned, along with two men – one is a tall, thin man with thinning red hair, freckles and a weary expression upon his face, while the other is black and bald with dark, steady eyes and wearing rich purple robes.
“Ah, Dawlish, thank you for bringing these two upstairs,” the second newcomer says in a very deep voice. “Now, a word, if you please. I am sure Arthur can keep an eye on Mr. Weasley and the young lady.”
The tall, red-haired man, who turned out to be George’s father, walks slightly ahead of us as we exit the darkened Ministry, up through the atrium. In front of the Floo fireplaces, Mr. Weasley pauses and looks at his son, eyebrows raised.
“Well, cheers Dad,” George says, clapping his father on the back. “Reckon I’ve learned my lesson now.”
Mr. Weasley sighs, massaging his forehead with his fingertips. “Really, George, I don’t quite know what to say right now. I’ve heard you and Fred joking about duty, but it’s not a joke – it’s something to be taken very seriously. Dumbledore says it’s important. For you to… you’re not even in…” He glances at me. “I’m sorry, my dear, Verity, was it?”
“Yes, and I’m so sorry about everything,” I tell him earnestly. “We were just… oh, you know, being stupid, and I’m just… I’m sorry. Thank you, and please tell Mr. Kingsley that as well. I’m so thankful he vouched for us – he really doesn’t know anything about me, he didn’t have to.”
Mr. Weasley hesitates. “You were friends with Penelope Clearwater, weren’t you?” he says quietly. “She was a lovely girl – came round a few times. I recognized you immediately from the photograph Per – from a photograph of a group of your yearmates. I was so sorry to hear what happened.”
“Yes, thank you,” I whisper, averting my eyes from his kind, almost pitying gaze.
Mr. Weasley sighs. “Well, I’m very sorry you got mixed up in George’s tomfoolery.”
“Dad, look, I just wanted to explain to Verity that You-Know-Who is back – don’t you think she deserves to know the truth? That everybody does?” George says, leaning back against the smooth stones of the atrium. Torches flicker across his face. There is a long, quiet moment in which Mr. Weasley stares at his son, calculating. When he speaks, there is a certain weariness to him, exhibited in the shadows beneath his brown eyes.
“George Weasley, please tell me you did not bring this girl here in the hopes that You-Know-Who would hold a raid so that you could prove to her he’s back,” Mr. Weasley says. There is a quiet anger in his voice. “Because – and even for you boys! – that would be one of the most… where is Tonks tonight, anyway? She should be taking her duties more seriously.”
George waggles his eyebrows and opens his mouth, but Mr. Weasley puts out a hand to prevent it. “Stop, George, I don’t want to hear it. Consider yourself lucky that Hestia was on duty – the spells informed her there was somebody in the corridor who wasn’t authorized, so she sent a call up to the Aurors office. Good thing she recognized you, son, and owled me. You’re quite lucky you don’t work at the Ministry, so they can’t fire you.”
“I don’t give a rat’s arse about the Ministry and the scumbags who work here,” George says, and his voice rings loudly through the atrium. In the distance, the two security wizards are standing by the fountain, and they look up sharply. I feel a pang of guilt, thinking about how kind the witch – Hestia – was to contact Mr. Weasley and Mr. Kingsley for us.
“I will remind you that the Ministry is what put food on your table and clothes on your back, George,” Mr. Weasley says loudly – too loudly. Then he lowers his voice. “Later, we will continue this conversation.” He turns back to me. “Now, Verity, are you alright getting home?”
“I’ll take her, Verity’s been having trouble with her magic,” George blurts out, then turns pink. “Aw, Verity, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume...”
“No, it’s fine,” I say, pulling out my recently returned wand. I wave it, and a few blue sparks come out the end. “I think it will be fine. I sort of want to walk anyway.”
“That’s quite far,” George says. He tentatively puts a hand on my arm. “Dad, let me just take Verity home. We can talk tomorrow…”
“Oh no, young man, you’ve got your mother to answer to, as well as the rest of the Order,” Mr. Weasley says. George turns slightly green, and I nibble on my lip. My face still feels warm, and I’m sure the mortified pink color hasn’t faded since our discovery. “Why don’t you get yourself to the Burrow, and I will Apparate Ms. Burke home.” He offers his arm to me. “Where are we going, my dear?”
I tell him my address, and catch George’s eye – he mouths ‘sorry’ and winces. I think to myself that this is the most catastrophic date I’ve ever been on – not that I should be referring to it as a date. Not that I should want to call it that.
I don’t see George for the following week, though we exchange a couple owls. He apologizes profusely, I say that I forgive him, somewhat hesitantly, and then venture into teasing him about his fear of the wrath of his mum. George is a difficult person to stay angry with, and over a few days the incident starts to wear down from mortifying to sort of funny. Gemma laughs hysterically when we meet up for a quick coffee.
As usual, it is Borgin who calms my nerves about the whole thing. I turn up to the shop three days later and perch on a stool as he cleans silverware. Mercifully, Judah and Christian are not about, as I’m sure Judah would take the mickey out of the whole situation and Christian would probably just say something useless and cryptic and go back to arranging the papers or whatever he’s supposed to be doing while staying with the Borgins. Mr. Borgin himself listens to the story, then raises one hunched, crooked shoulder and reminds me that in comparison to many of our customers, I can hardly be considered any kind of crook.
“The worst that could happen is that they suspect you were trying to break into the Department of Mysteries for the sake of collecting things for the shop,” Borgin tells me. He taps his polishing rag with his wand and it shakes itself out, clean once more. “The Ministry knows I’ve sold prophecies here before, back in the old days before the laws. And I wouldn’t mind having a sample of the Archway…”
“The Archway?” I chew on a fingernail. “I didn’t actually go inside the Department – we were just sitting outside.”
Borgin frowns. “Odd, that. Did the boy say why?” I shake my head, deciding there is no use repeating what I heard from George and his father that I might not have been meant to remember. From what I know, George and his family and friends have been assigned to guard something – something to do with the Department of Mysteries, but that’s all I can discern. But there’s no reason for Borgin to know.
I also don’t tell Gemma or Borgin about the almost-kiss between George and I, that precious moment when our lips almost met and my heart quickened: I’m not sure how to quite explain it, even to myself. I never considered myself the type of person who would cheat on her boyfriend, yet I can’t bring myself to confess what happened to Sebastian. He’s quite busy over the next week as well, and I don’t properly see him until a week from the incident at the Ministry. We are nearing the end of May, now, and because the air is getting warmer we agree to go for a walk in the London streets at dusk.
St. James’ park is the oldest of the royal parks in London – apparently it used to be the site of old monastery which was taken apart during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII and turned into hunting grounds.
Despite the park remaining open at night, there are local legends which say to venture inside its grounds at night is very dangerous indeed. Sebastian and I sip on tea purchased from the Caffe Nero across the street, and meander along the path which borders the edges of the long lake in the centre of the park. Strange-looking bird float past us: ordinary swans - property of the Queen, of course – glide among orange ducks with black marks on their wings.
As we walk, I tell Sebastian about one of the spookier tales: how a monk whose monastery was taken apart on these grounds has been known to rise up out of the ground and glide, screaming silently, at passersby. The worst part is that one wizard the ghost supposedly shocked had a heart attack from fear, and was dead by the time he got to St. Mungo’s. This story had led to a fear that merely seeing the ghost of the monk would lead to death for the viewer.
Sebastian keeps his eyes peeled to the ground right in front of him after that, though I laugh and tell him that ghosts can’t hurt anybody, not really. Well, legend states that the Bloody Baron once was so furious with a student for throwing a book through his head that he haunted the student for a week and passed through his body constantly, eventually giving the student pneumonia – but usually, ghosts are fairly harmless. There is another tale of the park, of a woman who had been beheaded, and who haunted the park at night, headless and desperate. I poke Seb in the arm and tell him that a body was eventually dredged from the lake, but the woman’s head itself was never found. He turns slightly white and says it’s all rubbish. Looking out at the lake, right here in the middle of London, I observe how the half-grown plants in shades of sand and brown give the place a forlorn, lonely look, far from the distant hum of traffic and people.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I say cryptically, pleased that I have such power over him. A small red squirrel hops up to us, inquisitively, his nose twitching in the air. It rained earlier, but the ground is damp and the air has that earthy, warm smell of things coming to the surface after a frozen season. “Honestly, it’s the poltergeists people should worry about. Peeves is bad enough, but there’s a house here in London that is apparently possessed by a malicious spirit which impaled-”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Sebastian grumbles. He turns to me. “Can we sit for a moment? Preferably out on the street and out of this infernal place?”
“Fine,” I say, a little stung, and take a large sip of my tea. The liquid sloshes up onto the plastic lid, wetting my lips and spilling on my hand. I follow Sebastian up out of the park, facing old brown St. James palace. He is silent for a long, long moment, staring up at the palace.
“You know, there’s a story that says you shouldn’t look up at the tower in the palace if you’re in a relationship, because it’s cursed so that-”
“Enough with the damn creepy stories, Ver,” Sebastian says, slapping his tea down on the bench between us and cursing as he, in turn, spills warm tea on his hands. He wipes his fingers fervently on his coat – a rare move for one so polished. “Honestly, are you purposefully trying to give me a fucking nightmare?” I notice he averts his eyes from the tower of the palace anyway, staring at the gates instead.
“No, I just think it’s interesting and we need something to talk about,” I say indignantly. The seat of my trousers feels a little wet from the damp bench, but I refuse to be the one to stand up and complain, even if it means having a dark patch on the journey home. “You’ve been really quiet all night… is there something you want to talk about? You always get really quiet when you want to say something but aren’t sure how.”
Sebastian drums a rhythm on the damp wood of the bench. His blond hair is sticking up slightly in the back, and he’s sucking his cheeks in slightly and pursing his lips. “Alright, Verity, let’s talk,” he says, finally, though he does not turn to face me. “First of all, is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
My heart quickens a little against my ribs, and I feel my face grow a dull pink. This is Sebastian’s trick – he probably uses it with his clients and coworkers when they slip up, but it always used to work on Penelope and I. Penny once blurted out that she’d borrowed his Potions notes because they were better written against Sebastian’s explicit permission (he was very territorial about notes), when all he’d wanted to know was who had misplaced the bookmark in his Transfiguration book.
“Not particularly,” I say, being sure not to blink, even though he isn’t even looking at me.
“Fair enough,” he mumbles. “Alright, well I heard a very interesting story today. Something to do with you being caught in the Ministry after-hours, and nearly arrested?”
I curse silently. “Oh, that, yeah. It was just stupid, a mistake really.”
“And why were you there, then?” he says with feigned interest.
“I… wanted to see the corridor where the courtrooms are. I’ve never been down there before.” Sebastian snorts – clearly he knows more than he’s letting on. “Look, I messed up, alright, but I don’t need you to be all rude about it. It doesn’t affect you.”
“Does it, though? I mean, your little lame excursion into our Ministry – that wasn’t some sort of date or something, was it?”
“What? No, I was just with a friend,” I say, turning away slightly and hoping he won’t see the dull pulsing of red spreading over my cheeks. My heartbeat has accelerated and I distract myself by staring at the passersby. One guide is leading a small group of people, and she stops in front of the entrance to the park, arms flourishing dramatically. I catch a few words – she’s telling them about the ghosts, but I resist the urge to tell Sebastian that I wasn’t just making up the stories off the top of my head.
Sebastian is getting impatient. “Okay, Verity, I’m going to stop edging around the point and just tell you what I heard, because clearly you’re being sneaky and it’s not going to get us anywhere. So Clementine told me today that she was in the atrium near that tool Midas and the Weasley blokes, and I suppose one of them was saying how he took you to the Ministry to impress you, and how it didn’t go well. So, Ver, that sounds a lot like some sort of failed date to me, and frankly I’m pretty upset with you right now.”
“That seems fair, but, Seb, it wasn’t like a date for me,” I say in my most rational, calm voice. “Nothing happened – I just see George as a friend.”
“It really didn’t seem that way, from what Clementine told me,” Sebastian says in a low voice. “Is there something wrong with us, Verity? I mean… we’ve been together for years… it’s only natural to look at other people sometimes, and wonder… but why him? I’m frankly a little insulted that someone like that might be your type…”
“Okay, now that’s rude,” I say. The tour group has moved into the park – a few of them are clutching one another’s hands, and one woman has her hands over her eyes and is using her friend’s arm for guidance, as if she’s afraid she’ll see the ghostly monk burst out of the brown grass. “George is a really great person – but that doesn’t mean we’re dating. I’m with you, he knows that. He was probably just talking big to his mates.”
Sebastian sighs, and we are quiet for a moment. I realize that, in this moment, I have no desire to be close to him, to hold his hand or kiss him on the cheek. I barely even want to look at him – the talking is strained enough. Perhaps it has been for weeks, for months, and neither of us have the courage to admit it.
“Maybe we should take a break.” The words hang in the air, and we both blink, confused about who exactly said it. I realize I was the speaker, and wish for a moment I could take it back, and take a large, gulping sip of my tea instead. It’s cooling by this point.
“Do you mean it?” he asks. Frown lines run in uneven paths across his forehead.
“I… well, honestly, I can’t remember the last really lovely time we had together. Perhaps when we went to my favorite alley and bought the maps and books… but, I don’t know, Seb. I don’t know if we’re still together out of habit, or… or if we really still love each other in the same way.” I take a deep breath, unsure of what to say next. Instead, the words just come flooding out. “I lied. In the Ministry… before the whole debacle started, I almost kissed George. Just in the moment- I wasn’t planning on it. But I did. And instead of accusing me of being a cheater and all kinds of nasty words which girls get called in these sorts of situations, perhaps we should evaluate why I would feel compelled to kiss somebody else.”
We talk about all kinds of things. The floodgates have been released, and Sebastian tells me how he’s been feeling as well. That I don’t support or respect his career at Gringotts. How I don’t make an effort to get along with his mates, and that he’s always the one trying to make plans with me – how it can be a little exhausting, not to get anything in return. How he thinks I lack ambition, and this is frustrating. And I tell him how I feel: how he didn’t stand up for me when I was angry with Judah and Christian, how he judges me for working at the shop, how he can be really mean and snobbish sometimes, and it’s not attractive.
“So, how long?” Sebastian asks. “How long do you want to go this… break? Two weeks, and then we meet up and re-evaluate?”
“Two weeks seems reasonable,” I agree.
He sneers a little. “And what are the rules? Can we snog other people – kind of like having your cake and eating it too, eh, Ver-”
“Enough of that,” I tell him. “I think… that if we both do run off and snog other people, it could be a sign that we shouldn’t be together at all. And if… well, maybe it will show us that we don’t want to snog other people after all.” Realizing I’m not making any sense, I decide to ask Gemma how breaks in relationships are supposed to work, as I’ve never really been on one before unless I count the time Sebastian and I broke up for a month at Hogwarts. But that was a proper breakup, not a weird… whatever this is supposed to be.
“Yeah, seems fair,” he says, very quietly. “See you in two weeks, then.”
“Bye, Seb,” I say softly. He nods abruptly and, tossing his cup in the bin, slouches off down the street, hands in his pockets. I decide that he’s probably going to find a quiet alley from which to Apparate back to his flat, and start to follow half a block behind in the direction of the Tube stop. My bum is damp from the bench and my legs are stiff from sitting for so long, and looking back at the spot outside the park, I wonder if I’ll always remember it as the place where I lost the boy who was supposed to be the love of my life, back when we were young and happy and everything was less complicated. How simply and easily months of tension could explode in a final decision on a lonely bench in the middle of London.
The story of the tower of St. James’ Palace is that of a bloody ghost who wails and shouts, a blade sticking from his chest. The story says that if a person in a relationship looks up at the tower, they will soon lose their love in one way or another. I glance up at the tower, seeing nothing but the gray clouds gathering in the darkening sky against the old brown bricks of the palace.
My first day of being sort-of-single is, as usual, spent at Borgin & Burke’s. Christian and Judah pop in for a little bit, and I am surprised when Christian brings me a coffee in a disposable mug and sets it down on the counter for me, while Judah shuffles off to the back room.
“You didn’t let him slip some poisonous substances into this, did you?” I ask Christian, who laughs once he realizes I’m joking. I take a sip of the coffee. “You alright?” He’s hovering around the counter, leaning slightly on one foot. It’s raining outside, and his dark hair is slightly mussed and the padded shoulders of his jacket are darker than the rest of it. I consider advising he borrow the fanged umbrella, though that’s a little malicious. The coffee doesn’t seem to be poisoned, after all.
“I just wanted to follow up our discussion last week,” Christian says. He is very pale in the looming dust mites of the shop, and he traces a pattern on the counter with his finger. It looks like a zig-zag and a line beneath it, something he almost does from nervous habit. “I… I feel bad, about what happened to Penelope, and I don’t feel comfortable telling you more. However, I can tell you somebody who might be able to.”
“To tell me more about your shady society which Penny was allegedly involved in, you mean?” I ask, more harshly than intended. After all, he does seem to finally be opening up to me.
“Something like that… this woman can tell you more about what Penelope was doing before she… you know,” Christian says. He tears off a bit of parchment from the pad we use to write out receipts for customers, and dips one of the quills into the inkpot. I watch as he writes two words, then brings the parchment up to his lips and blows softly on it so the ink will dry. The air whistles quietly as it runs through his mouth. He folds the parchment very neatly and slides it across the counter.
“Send her an owl, and she might meet with you,” Christian says softly. “Good luck. And Verity – please know, I really do want to help you, but I was questioned by the Ministry, and I couldn’t tell them anything useful either. I’m not holding out on you… it’s just that there are some things I physically can’t say.” He looks at me imploringly, but his finger is tracing that same pattern on his hand – the zig-zag and the line. I find my eyes being drawn to his hands.
“Erm, alright,” I say, unsure of how to take this confession, and turn back to filing receipts after tucking the bit of paper into my pocket. Christian leaves shortly after.
The rest of the day is quite busy for the shop, and a steady stream of customers floods through. They range from Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, looking rather battered and bloody with a black eye and several obvious bruises not-quite-obscured by the bushy black beard, but he is cheerful enough. A weathered, greedy-eyed man buys the hand of glory which Judah brought back from his travels at an impressively low price set by Judah, which I raise my eyebrows at but choose to say nothing in order to avoid conflict. The most interesting customers are a pair of vampires – identifiable by their sallow, white-pale faces, very red lips and bleary eyes from having to walk out in the sun – who take turns shutting each other up inside the empty mummy’s sarcophagus, chuckling in a rather horrible way, and then asking the price in strained, strict words as if trying to minimize the contact with us wizards.
Judah leaves around four, claiming that he has a family dinner which he seems to be making a point about not inviting me to. I roll my eyes at that.
As I am starting to close up the shop, a grimy man comes bursting in. He’s familiar, with brown hair streaked with grey falling about his ears, a thin, curved mouth and a ring protruding from his eyebrow. He smells of clay, like he hasn’t washed in a while, and his clothes carry that dusty, flea-infested look of the Knockturn Alley underworld crowd. I recognize him as the man who bought the hand of glory earlier – his eyes are burning and venomous.
“Oi, you there!” he calls, nearly knocking over the fanged umbrella which is leaning against the cabinet. “I’ll be ‘aving me money back! The bloody thing didn’t work now, did it?”
“I’m sorry, sir, how can I help you?” I ask, adorning the tone I use for hardened customers. “Was there a problem with the hand of glory you purchased earlier?”
“Didn’t bloody work, did it?” he repeats, reaching into his cloak and depositing the hand with a round slap. The horrid, burnt thing lolls on the counter, the half-burnt candle surrounded by the blackened fingers. “I ‘ad some… business to attend to – nearly lost me ‘ead.” He pulls out his wand and points it at me, teeth leering. “I’ll be ‘aving me five Sickles, then.”
“I’m sorry to hear this, but there is no need for wandwork,” I say smoothly, reaching below the counter and pulling out the mokeskin bag where the day’s coin was kept. Keeping an eye on the man, I rifle through the receipt from the day and find the appropriate one in Judah’s untidy scrawl. “Mr. Scabior, correct?”
“You saw me buying the damned thing, sweetheart,” Scabior says very quietly and dangerously. I rearrange my crocodile smile.
“It’s not a problem to return the money, and I’m very sorry, on behalf of Borgin and Burke’s, that the product was not to your satisfaction,” I tell him, and slide three Sickles across the counter. “I hope you have a lovely night, and please don’t hesitate to come back again.”
“I’ll ‘esitate, all right,” Scabior mutters. He scoops up the Sickles, bites each one to see if they are real, a strand of saliva extending between his mouth and the coin for a moment before breaking and falling upon his already filthy shirt. He walks towards the door and hesitates for a moment. And then – “You are old Caractos Burke’s daughter, yeah?”
“That is correct,” I say, not bothering to correct the mispronunciation of my father’s first name.
“Can’t believe the day has come when old Borgin lets a girl close up in Knockturn Alley alone,” Scabior says, and then looks at me, eyes greedy and calculating. My hand twitches towards my wand, though I would greatly prefer not to use it. Such things are bad for business, and my spell-casting abilities are out of practice from the last month.
But thankfully, he turns away, leaving and disappearing nearly as soon as his foot touches the cobblestones outside. I hasten to the door and bolt it shut, sighing. Alone at last, I step out of reach of the spitting tongues of the shrunken heads and pull out the paper Christian gave me, with the name of a woman who might know something more about Penelope, something I could piece together. I toy for a moment with the idea of showing Dawlish – after all, isn’t he supposed to be the Auror who is solving the mystery of whoever killed my best friend? But then I think of Dawlish’s cold, creeping eyes, the hunger in them when he found George and I at the Ministry.
I peel the paper open. Christian’s handwriting is very neat and clean, with a little flourish at the end. The name reads Margaret Macauley, which means absolutely nothing to me. Margaret Macauley. Who could she be? I tuck the paper back inside and resolve to send her an owl first thing in the morning, just in case she knows something which I should hear.
I walk home in the rain, slow and lonely, but the book is waiting for me, leaning against my front door. It’s small and very old – it could be any of the old books which we keep at the shop, though they are rarely touched by anybody but the very few child customers who come through. And tucked into the pages is a note.
Letting myself into my flat, I peel off my wet coat and drape it over a chair. Placing my wand on the table, I sink onto the sofa and tuck my legs up underneath me. Looking more closely, I realize the book is an old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a wizarding children’s book of fairytales. Being raised by a Muggle mother, I only heard of Beedle at Hogwarts, and feel quite unfamiliar with many of the stories.
I turn to the page marked by the bit of parchment and peer at it. Verity – I thought you would find this interesting. The note is unsigned. My eyebrows furrowing, I pull out the note from Chrsitian and compare the two hands – they are both tidy, yet don’t look like they were written by the same person, though I am hardly an expert.
The note marks a story I have never read before: The Tale of the Gemini Crowns. Above the title is an illustration, almost like a rune, of two crudely shaped crowns, with three spikes, like a shape that a child might draw. And beneath the title, a bird peeks out of the page, his feathers ruffling in the parchment wind. The bird has a white body and black tail, wings and head – he’s a magpie. Something shining glitters from his mouth – a magpie’s treasure. One for sorrow, two for joy.
Frowning, I wonder if perhaps this is some kind of ploy of Sebastian’s, though leaving a storybook hardly seems his style. He has no interest in the tales of history, only the boundaries of his own future. I stick the note back in the page and place the book gently on the table beside me – I’ll read the story in the morning. I have too much to think about.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! I do not own the magpie rhyme.
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