“Can I help you, sir?” A plain looking individual calls out from behind the counter of this droll little store before he approaches me. He is tall but his shoulders hunch forward as if he is ashamed of his height and bearing. His cheeks are sallow, his body looking emaciated as his robes look as if they will literally fall away from him.
“Are you the owner here?” I ask curtly, not bothering with niceties with one so far below my social status. If this is the quality of men who my Gabrielle’s lover chooses to associate with, then I almost regret my choice in choosing her as a bride if she would allow this rubbish to touch her.
“No sir, that would be Fred Weasley but he isn’t here currently. He’s on a quick get away with his girlie,” the young man replies with a wink and I want to strike the smile off his face but I still my hand, realizing that I am in England and not my native Romania where my actions would not be questioned. The store employee stares at me, a curious look crossing his features as he continues. “My name is Cosmo and I’m the assistant manager, sir. Can I be of assistance?”
“No…thank you. But do you know where the owner currently is, Cosmo?” I query while quickly pulling my hand away for his before I watch him shake his head.
“He just said he’d be gone for a while but he came back a few days ago when I had a bit of an accident. You just missed, old Fred. You must be a school chum or something although I didn’t know they let any French students in the school?” He responds and his words tell me he is as thick as his skull.
I truly want to hit him now and try to think of some way to get him to lead me into the backroom where I will rage at him about my proud Romanian ethnicity. But instead, I breathe deeply and ask one more question. “No, my friend, I’m not French but isn’t the woman who Fred is currently associated with from France, correct?”
“Gabrielle? She sounds like she’s from around here but that last name…Delasomething or other…that does sound French and let me tell you something, mate…those two aren’t just associated…that is l-o-v-e at it’s finest,” he answers as if I did not know how to spell the word but it seemed that with each letter that fell from his lips, I felt my heart tighten and my fury begin to seethe.
“Delacour” I reply simply and his features brighten as if he has solved the Riddle of the Sphinx. I find no more use in being in this banal shop, so I turn abruptly and head out the door before the fool tells me he has watched them fuck.
When I am outside, Ivan joins me from his perch outside the store. I shove my hands in my pocket against the wet cold of the English winter as I say, “The fucking fool knew nothing. He is useless and now we are back to square one because of your incompetence.”
He does not respond and soon we find ourselves in the warm confines of the Hogshead tavern, an establishment which suits my current mood, dark and foreboding. After we find seats at a table in the corner and order two ales, I find myself unable to contain my rage at Ivan’s foolishness while I continue, “I can’t believe you lost the fool and a seventeen year old girl who just got her Apparation license. You’re incompetent, Ivan and I should have you beaten. If Gabrielle and the man she is fucking are in that forest, they could be lost to us forever.”
Our ales arrive and I drain mine in one long swallow before I slam the glass back down on the table. Ivan winces noticeably and I want to continue to rail against him but a thin voice calls out from the table next to us. “There aren’t too many places in that forest that one can stay where they will be safe from both the weather and the creatures, my friend, and I happen to know where all those safe havens are located.”
I turn and the man gets up from his seat at the table next to us before sitting with us. I order him an ale along with another for myself and he nods his appreciation before he holds out his hand. “My name is Milton Earle and I’ve hunted in that forest since I was a youth. There is not a single blade of grass in those woods that I haven’t trampled upon.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Earle,” I reply while a smirk creases my features. Our ales arrive and he smiles a toothless grin before he takes a healthy gulp. The old man looks to be in fairly decent shape and I can tell from his weathered face and his rough hands that he isn’t lying about his proclivity for being outside. I tip my glass toward him before I say, “If what you say is true, I would be able to recompense you well for leading us on a tour of the forest and helping us find a long lost friend and the man she is associated with now.”
“Who is this friend?” He asks while arching an eyebrow.
“Why it’s my fiancée and her lover, my friend. The job will reward you well if you track them down but it will pay you quite handsomely if you’re willing to perform certain tasks that one might find morally bereft after you help us find them.” I smile widely before taking a sip of my ale.
“Well, I’ve never been one to let my morals get in the way of a Galleon or a thousand. By the way, that will be the price of my services, a thousand Galleons.” He replies without hesitation while picking up his glass.
“Well, here are fifty Galleons to seal our negotiations. Now, my friend, it’s early in the day, so I’d like to get started as soon as possible. You will lead Ivan into the woods immediately and if you are able to find them today, there will be an extra hundred Galleons for your quality work,’ I say casually while I reach into my robes and pull out a small pouch. I watch the old man’s eyes light up as I knew they would when I mentioned the bonus and handed him the money.
I slide the pouch across the table and he eagerly snags it from me as I continue, “Ivan, you’ll go with him and then when you have found our quarry, you will both come back to me. If you’re successful, you may lead me back into the woods so I can scout where my fiancée has chosen to make her lair. In the mean time, I’m returning to my suite to take a bath.”
“In the next few days, if you are correct, my friend, we will make a quick visit to that joke shop he owns to make sure he is not there before we begin to hunt down our prey. ”
The old man smiles, a savage toothless tear cutting his face and I know that I’ve chosen the right man for the job. I watch as he drains his glass and stands, motioning to Ivan before he walks confidently out the door. Smiling, I order another ale so I may celebrate the fact that within the next few days, Gabrielle will be mine again…