Chapter Eleven: Charm and Misdirection
He's not usually the reading sort, Augustine Marks thought. Not by half. . . . It's a bad sign.
The man was sitting by the window in his favorite Oxfordian haunt, the Snapdragon, nursing a pot of tea and considering his least-promising case.
After posting a report to Snape the previous day, he had gone to the Hall of Records where he had spied Gordon Macalister, one of Giancarlo Zabini's retainers, sifting through birth certificates. Augustine had wanted to look at the certificates, as well, but it wouldn't have done to reveal that to the thick-skulled Macalister.
Snape had not authorized him to look into Potter's background, but Augustine found it easier to find a subject when he knew why he or she had gone missing.
And it's odd that a society girl like Parkinson would end an engagement over a bad habit.
Marks knew that there was a reason other than drunkenness behind the business, and, once he'd been able to discretely examine the public records related to the Zabini-Potter "divorce," it had been a quick intuitive leap to the theory he was currently considering.
No Sealing Ceremony, that has to be it because I know neither party contested the separation. Harry Potter was pregnant. But who was the father?
For if it had been her husband, matters would have been settled appropriately.
Thinking of Snape, Marks forbore making any further intuitive leaps. There were several reasons that the Potions master might be interested in finding Potter—even the one the man had stated seemed plausible.
Though I doubt it's her blood he's after.
"You look like a jilted lover, Augie," Ree Gardener, his favorite waitress, said cheerfully, setting a plate of chocolate biscuits down in front of him. "Want to talk about it?"
It unnerved the man how the girl always seemed to hone in so closely on his thoughts.
"No time to be jilted—I'm working a case."
"Then I won't disturb you."
It was almost closing time, and the man often spent the end of his workday chatting up the affable, pretty young woman.
"Now, I didn't say I didn't have time to talk, did I?"
Ree sat down and looked at him expectantly.
"I'm afraid I'm stuck."
"Well, I know you're giving it your best."
He leered flirtatiously at her. "I always do, luv."
"It's a shame, that's what," Ree said, shaking her head. "Flirting on your client's time—no wonder you're not making any progress on your case."
"I'd rather be making progress with you. Tell me something about yourself."
Ree laughed. "Persistent bugger, aren't you? Right then—as you know, the life of our favorite waitress is a complex tale of tea cups and experimental tarragon scones, library books and essays—"
"—charm and misdirection."
It was an old game of theirs, and one Augustine enjoyed playing—even if he had no real intentions in Ree's direction.
"Why don't you like to talk about yourself, woman?"
"Augie, we can't all lead the exciting life you do, now can we?"
"And dead languages don't excite you?"
"Don't mock me. All the good stories have already been written. I'm just trying to figure them out."
"How are you going to make a living on Latin and Greek?"
"As you say," the man replied, rolling his eyes.
"You may have heard of a little institution called the British Museum," Ree retorted with feigned irritation before the laugh lines around her eyes crinkled up.
"But wouldn't it be more fun to make history instead of cataloguing it?"
The woman's face darkened swiftly. "No. . . . I'll leave that sort of enterprise to dashing sorts like you, Augie."
"Right. I can't even find my subject." The woman I'm looking for doesn't wish to be found, much like you.
Ree narrowed her eyes as if concentrating, and Augustine briefly entertained the idea that she was reading his mind.
"But that's impossible."
"I'm sure it isn't. She probably has a good reason for wanting to remain unfound—you are working your missing girl case, right?"
"I am. I don't suppose that you'd care to share some feminine insights on the subject of secretive women?"
"Good gods—God! Could it be that you're actually going to tell me something about yourself?"
"Only out of concern for your beleaguered girl, I assure you. I've my reasons for being . . . circumspect."
"Let's have them."
"Let's just say that my family wanted me to be someone I'm not, and they were difficult to deny. I left home so that I would be free to make my own choices."
So, you're a society girl, are you?
Augustine was relieved. He'd half expected Ree to impart some sordid tale of abuse at the hands of her husband; he'd seen what looked like a wedding band on a chain around her neck. But it seemed more likely that she was merely from a posh background and had balked at the demands of her social-climbing family.
"Are you telling me that you're eighty-ninth in line for the throne, then?"
"Not anything like that, but I was supposed to . . . marry properly. I elected not to."
The ring must've been her mother's. "Ah, so you are a 'nob!"
The girl's laughter at his little joke was flattering, but unusually excessive.
"Not anymore, Augie."
"In case it matters even a jot to you, I assure you that there is nothing remotely blue about my blood."
"And that is a comfort, but it won't help your . . . case any. Have you considered that the woman you're trying to find is hiding for some other reason than avoiding her family's disapproval?"
Augustine nodded. What Ree said was, in a sense, true. But he could not possibly explain Harry Potter to this Muggle woman. Though I'd like to, really. Ree would find it fascinating, Britain's other history.
"Well, I expect I'll just have to keep looking for her and hope for the best. The next time I speak with my client—who I assure you is not the ogre you imagine him to be—I think I'll bring him here."
"Because I'm going to have to give up this case if I can't find any new leads, and it might quell the man's . . . disappointment if he has a bite or two of your magnificent chocolate biscuits."
Ree smiled at the man's compliment. "You let me know when you're bringing him 'round, and I'll bake a batch just for the occasion."
Some days later, when Marks did meet Snape at the Snapdragon, it was to find that Ree Gardener was no longer working there.
But she had left a box of biscuits for him.
"Oh, and Augie!" Betsy, the owner, called before the man could return to his table, "Ree left you this, too."
It was a letter.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Marks?" the Potions master asked when the man finally joined him at their table.
"No, a friend of mine—" Augustine began to say, but stopped when he realized that Snape couldn't give a toss.
Setting the envelope down on the table, he was surprised when his client snapped it up.
"—forgive me, Marks. I'm familiar with the handwriting on this envelope," Snape told him, ripping it open with no further ceremony.
"But how is that possib—"
Something in Augustine's mind went whir, click, snap.
"Ree Gardener . . . is Harry Potter?"
"It would appear so."
Snape handed the letter to the investigator, who quickly read:
"I'm sorry to run off without a word. It's a bad habit of mine. After our talk, I realized that there was something I needed to do for a friend. I've been trying to put my past—and the people in my old life—so far behind me that it never occurred to me to that I might be of some use to some of them, even if I couldn't ask them to help me. I'm a horrid git.
"On that cryptic note, I'll say goodbye, and tell you how much I'll miss our chats. Don't forget me, you old flirt.
And I'm a stupid git. No wonder she was always willing to listen to me drone on about my bleeding cases!
Snape considered the man, laying a restraining hand on Marks' arm as he made to pull a chocolate biscuit out of the box he had just opened. "Don't eat any of those."
Snape didn't answer. Instead, he withdrew a small, black bottle from his jacket, unstoppered it, and spilled a drop of clear fluid on one of the biscuits. The chocolate brown of the biscuit turned white and then the entire cookie crumbled.
"It wasn't poisoned, was it?"
"No," Snape said, replacing the stopper in the bottle before placing it in his pocket. "I believe your . . . waitress has been plying you with some form of compulsion potion in order to direct your investigations."
"I am an idiot. I apologize, Sir, sincerely. There's no excuse for my incom—"
Severus closed the box of chocolate biscuits and pulled it toward himself. "—your lack of care has merely illustrated how Potter has, at least in part, managed to evade detection. I find that most useful, but now I would like to know why it was that you arranged this meeting."
The man hastily explained about his discovery of Macalister at the Hall of Records, and why he had visited that place.
"You will see to it that this person is made aware of those 'leads' that you followed earlier to keep him occupied, and you will cease to pry into Miss Potter's life."
You mean your life, don't you? Augustine asked silently. "Of course, Sir, but I imagine that Zabini will not give up searching for Potter so easily, and he has other . . . resources."
"That is my concern. You have your instructions."
With that, the Potions master took his leave of the investigator, almost certain of where Harry would next go. He made his way to a wizarding social club not far from the Snapdragon, and again made use of its floo.
"St. Mungo's," he said, tossing a handful of powder into the fire.
He felt rather unsettled, and had ever since he had held Harry's letter to Marks.
It was almost as if she was there with me.
Meanwhile, back at the Snapdragon, "Betsy" was humming to herself, well-pleased by what she had overheard, but feeling oddly empty since Severus had left.
She had not felt so lonely since her few solitary months of hiding on a magical node of power in France, near the abandoned fishing village Draco had told her he used to visit with his parents when it was still a picturesque, working town. It had hidden Voldemort once. And that had convinced the witch that she would be safe there.
Only I couldn't get away from myself, she thought, out of habit checking the interior metaphysical barrier with which she had surrounded the seething ball of . . . whatever it was of the Dark Lord that still dwelt inside her mind.
It was all well and good to access his knowledge of ancient languages.
But it wouldn't do to let anything else out, she thought, remembering how difficult not doing so had been before her self-imposed exile to France.