Floo Network

❄ Winter 69/70
I am the desert-scape, the sand inside your hourglass

Started by Deitha Albron, August 28, 2021, 03:29:00 pm

Deitha Albron

As the warmth of the world tried to claw itself free of the winterland, as the seasons felt ever stuck in the tundra - would the spring ever arrive? - Deitha had been making a few enquiries.  The events of her little trip to Azkaban had had results - not all of them good. There was the fallout between that healer and his father - and the Dementors. Far as she was concerned, they'd gotten what was coming to them. Then there had been Odhrán's disappearance and turning up in St. Mangled's, and that woman he was in love with. Some point the two of them would have to have a little chat about what had happened in Azkaban, but there was no time for that.

She'd even had a little chat with the Auror's Office over the fracas that had happened, but nothing was going to happen for the immediate time. She was, for the time being, still somewhat useful to the Office of Magical Law Enforcement, and besides she still had a job to do.

The poor sod she'd met in Azkaban, he'd given her a name, and quite the tale. A family to be taken care of, if only he'd taken the fall - and when it came down to it, he'd given her a name. She'd not mentioned it to the nice young chap at the Auror's Office; it wouldn't do to incriminate allies of the rich and powerful, but after the dust had settled, it was time to go to work.

The man whose name she had was, himself, not particularly important. But even the biggest empires need staff, foot soldiers to carry out the orders of the generals, lieutenants to keep them in line, and this name was such; important enough to be protected, to keep his hands clean, but not important enough for anyone to actually die for whatever cause. She'd learned this from the Unspeakable that had originally procured her services - after returning from Azkaban, she'd reported in as instructed, and learned a little more of the picture than she'd wanted.

Something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Deitha always thought it was a strange phrase but it summed up her feelings well enough. And that morning she'd found out who the name really worked for. It was no good going after the foot soldiers, there were always more of those, and there were always lieutenants. No, the operative that had reached out to her with a job and a wage wanted the general that had orchestrated it. An Unspeakable had orchestrated a recon mission out to Azkaban for her and her Auror minder - Spode, wasn't it? - and all her dealings with the Ministry meant that this had to have been more unpleasant than it had first appeared - and then she'd had confirmation. If it really had just been the name she'd originally been given, the Unspeakable would simply have taken care of it, he even said as much.

And so that morning, she'd been out for her morning walk with Bonehead, met her contact, and returned, staring at her wardrobe, lost deep in thought.

There are people whose homes you can just attend. Those with barely a pot to piss in, and those with a little bit more, there's never any trouble tapping on their door; what did they have to lose? But, she reflected, the more one had to lose, the more one was careful not to lose it... one did not simply arrive on the doorstep of wealthy, powerful people and just start laying about the place with a little Dark-flavoured magic. If nothing else it would be... unseemly.

She'd learned from her family about the proper etiquette of the situation and exactly what that should entail, perhaps a letter first to indicate her intent, but that would only put her target on guard and that would never do. Similarly, she might often choose attire to set the tone of how the conversation should go - bolder, brasher, brimming with confidence - but again that would never do here.

Sighing, she rifled through her wardrobe. Something charming, something disarming, while also being appropriate? It occurred to her that she actually didn't have anything suitable for such an endeavour. All of her outfits were less sophisticated than this situation implied, replete as they were with a little more forthright flair than was apposite for the situation. It also occurred to her that a different seamstress might be called for, different times called for different fashions. Leaving Bonehead with some food and a bowl of water, Deitha made the trip across town to Twilfit and Tattings.

The assistant looked her up and down, gave her a rather pointed stare over the top of her glasses, as if to silently ask what in Merlin's name she was doing, daring to come into the store dressed like that. Deitha, to be fair, was not wearing anything especially outrageous, just something comfortable and suitably 'I do what I please, you are advised not to argue with me', in quite a striking purple.

Deitha had half a mind to open the convevrsation with something combative, but decided not to, and instead appealled to the sense of vanity on display. "Hello, I was wondering if you could help me; while my normal fashion sense is inelegant as you can tell, I have to go visit some very important people and I want to wear something extremely fashionable, extremely elegant and naturally I came here instead of where I usually go because I need to wear the best. Something in a deep blue, if it's in season - unfortunately I don't keep up with such things any more and would be very grateful if you could give me a pointer in the right direction." She smiled and added with a chuckle, "I can burn this dress once I have something more appropriate, if that would help."

It wasn't long before she walked out of the shop with something in a deep blue - not quite her usual colour - flattering, elegant, charming, and above all -- appropriate. A long - but not too long - dress, with propriety, a matching tailored coat, and complete with the one sartorial element she refused to compromise on: a large wide brimmed hat. It cost a small fortune but she concluded she'd have more use out of it, especially on those occasions where dressing to impress, as opposed to fashion-with-her-flair was the right tone to take. It even came with a girdle to ensure the proper posture, something she didn't normally approve of. At least, not quite like this, and not quite in such uninspired colours and fashions.

And so she found herself stood outside a property known as Blandings, home to the Spaulding family, variously known as the familial seat of Ensworth and presently occupied by the 17th Earl of Ensworth, the head of the Spaulding family, by the name of Vincent, and his apparently ravishing half-Italian wife, Carmen. Interestingly despite being wizards, more was known about the family from a more... muggle... perspective than wizarding.

A polite knock at the door from a gloved hand, and a small - almost diminuative man answered, with a very nasal, "Yes, milady?"

She smiled. "Good day, I'm here to speak to Lord Ensworth about a rather pressing matter. Unfortunately I don't have an appointment, but here's my card. I would most obliged if his lordship would be able to see me today." She found she had to lean down slightly to hand over her card.

She might not mix amongst that particular social class, but she certainly had had the opportunity to observe.

The little man peered at it for a moment, and scuttled off with little more than a "Very good, milady." As he did so, Deitha took the opportunity to consider what she had just seen; here was a household that was known in both muggle and magical worlds, employing what appeared to be a human dwarf for a butler, but from the pointiness of his nose - that was a very nasal tone he had. She wondered if the poor sod was in reality part house-elf and in a disguise. It would suit what she had learned about the occupants.

Vincent Spaulding

There was a knock at the door. Such a thing was not entirely uncommon; the lord of the manor had to expect the occasional visitor, even if his family were perceived as very minor in the present day and age. Curse that Statute of Secrecy.

Even his house elf was not immune; Pokey had been in the family for generations, and he was sufficiently atypical as house-elves went that Vincent suspected there was something awry in the family tree there, he had in private moments wondered if Pokey had some human in his lineage, with the typically large hookish nose of a house elf but with far less pointed ears than would be typical.

Since the Statute of Secrecy however, Pokey had long assumed a more human appearance through magic and often affected the name 'Parker' and would just as readily answer to either, though privately he much resented not being able to show proper house-elf deference to his master; Master Charles in particular had been most insisting on the matter and Pokey obeyed his masters' wishes.

Pokey arrived with something of a shuffle wearing a butler's attire. "Master, there is a woman, a woman has arrived to see you." It was clear to Vincent that Pokey was still struggling to fit in after all these days, but Vincent never made a deal out of it.

"A woman, you say? Did she give a name?"

"The woman gave Pokey a card for Master." The butler's attire was at risk of spontaneous splitting, such was Pokey's barely restrained enthusiasm. The woman hadn't been like any visitors Pokey had seen.

"Pokey has the card for Master."

Vincent looked at it. It was odd, to be sure, delicately inked, with what looked like embossing. The woman - this Deitha Albron - knew how to present herself to her betters, that was something more than most. Though even with his extensive connections, the job title of 'Custodian of Incomplete Obligations' was unexpected.

Although his curiosity was piqued, he wanted to see just how Deitha would cope with being stonewalled.

"Pokey, please tell Miss Albron that the lord of the manor is not to be disturbed at this time, but if she has any messages, you would be glad to take them down and pass them to me."

Deitha Albron

The diminuative butler returned, opened the door and spoke with a nasal whine so pronounced, Deitha could have sworn it had to be exaggerated for comic effect. A nasal whine with an accent that seemed to treat each of the vowels like it might have begun with an H sound and most of the A's were hyper-extended even beyond the usual tones of the southern English accent - almost like it was trying to hyper-correct the intonations of the native regional accent.

"The lord of the manor," he began, "has advised that he is indisposed and not to be disturbed. If ma'am would be good enough to leave a message, I shall see that he gets it."

Deitha paused, frowning. This wasn't entirely going to plan. "I know," she said. "Tell your master that... madam wishes to discuss the small matter of some information that recently came my way. Information obtained from a former employee now serving an extended sentence in Azkaban. Tell your master that if we do not speak on the matter promptly, I may have to discuss it with a new friend of mine in the Auror's Office."

She wasn't sure that Garrett Rayne was a friend, even after their recent discussions, but she sensed he was not an enemy at the very least, and someone who would not overlook something as extensive a network as this. That poor wretch she'd seen in Azkaban was here because of Spaulding's doings, and she needed to speak to Spaulding herself about it before she made it official. Making it official made it complicated, and complicated she could do without.

"Well, please do relay my message to your master, and I'd be ever so grateful if you could let him know promptly."

The tone of her voice was not lost on the diminuative servant, who scuttled off again with little more than a "Very good, ma'am." He was, she thought, nothing if not well trained. Hopelessly outclasses in matters of any import but then again, matters of import were not for servants to decide on their relative merits.

Vincent Spaulding

Pokey returned, muttering something about a stubborn and churlish young woman and how she knew about a former employee now in Azkaban. Well, at least Pokey could be relied upon to exercise decorum and the proper respect for one's place and one's betters, which this young woman at the door evidently did not.

However, if she knew about it after all and it wasn't just smoke to get inside Blandings, on some pretence or other, well, he would just have to receive her after all. The name was unfamiliar to him, either in his muggle or magical dealings, but he could not risk exposure just at this juncture, too many things in motion that he should prefer not to disturb, not least of which his initiation which was imminent.

He sighed. "That will be all, Pokey. I will see to Ms Albron personally."

Pokey sloped off, still muttering. Spaulding was rather surprised - for someone to make such an impression on the house elf, could not bode well. He had been a loyal servant to the family for generations and his instincts were usually right.

"Well, then, Ms Albron, was it? Perhaps you had better come in. Clearly you have some troubling concerns that I should lay to rest sooner rather than later." Yes, that was the correct play, indulge her, let her feel listened to. Perhaps if he played his cards right... well, this Ms Alborn, whoever she was, was not unattractive and he judged her to be younger in years than the present Lady of Ensworth. Perhaps the whole matter could be... put to bed, as they say.

"Please, do come in. I'll send for a bottle of something, grave matters simply will not do to be discussed without a drink to line the stomach, yes?"

He led her through the entrance hall to the outer parlour, whereupon he rang a bell, and this time it was answered by a house elf without any magical disguise. Spaulding rattled off the particular whiskey he wanted sent up from his cellar, and how it should be decanted, as the house elf nodded and jumped to without any questions.

"Forgive the disguise of the butler, as you can imagine my family title and lineage predates the International Statute of Secrecy and as such our butler has to pretend to be human in case visitors are muggles."

"So, this business of a former employee of mine, in Azkaban you say? As you can probably imagine a fellow in my position will have a number of employees both directly and indirectly, and there must be some misunderstanding. If you can give me a name, we shall go through my records."

Deitha Albron

Deitha found herself a little off-kilter by this. Somehow she expected something very different, that it would be much more difficult than this - but she also knew that if she was in this position, something was definitely off. People that were a little too forthcoming were inevitably covering something bigger.

"So, Lord... Ensworth? Thank you for seeing me on such short notice - I can only imagine how busy you must be."

The house-elf returned from wherever, with a bottle of something brown and very expensive looking, and poured a glass for Spaulding, but Deitha politely refused. "I'm afraid I don't drink on the job, but thank you."

"You see, my lord, the Ministry asked me to visit Azkaban and see a certain person there, connected to rumours that they might be carrying out acts against Muggles, presumably on orders from higher above, but the poor wretch I saw in Azkaban assures me he was innocent. He gave me a name, which having made some enquiries about, leads me to you. It seems that you may have had people in your employ who abuse Muggles for fun."

She paused to let that sink in, and to watch for any signs of anything untoward. "I'm sure a man in... your position... would do nothing to abuse the Muggles - indeed, I have only heard good things about how you treat those in your employ, so you can imagine my curiosity that a former employee of yours is accused of doing dark deeds, and when it is inevitably investigated, someone is conveniently sent to Azkaban in his place, with claims of his family being ... taken care of. Such a thing requires finance, access and connections - things we can both agree that you have."

She watched as Spaulding slugged his shot of whiskey and poured himself another.

"The reason that the Aurors are not knocking down your door as we speak is because right now they haven't heard everything I know, and I wanted to find out for myself before I decided whether or not this needed to go any further. The Ministry affords me a certain latitude, and if I am satisfied that you're not involved, I can give them the name of your former employee and tell them it went no further. Discretion is important for people in your position, and I thought you'd appreciate that."

It occurred to her that getting to know Spaulding might not be the worst thing in the world. She had remembered hearing the name in Azkaban as one of the names of Odhrán's list, and having connections was never a bad thing. Greasing the wheel, so to speak, never unhelpful in her line of work. In any case, Spaulding - as much of a pudding as he looked and sounded - hadn't kept where he was in the world without knowing people and if he was unconnected, he could be useful to know in a variety of ways.

Vincent Spaulding

Well, well, this young woman was a right one and no mistake! Certainly had some nerve coming here. At least she understood her place and used the correct title, that was more than some of his visitors recognised. Some of them even had the temerity to call him 'Mr Spaulding' but this young woman - barely older than a filly if he wasn't mistaken - had the right idea.

He let her explain herself while he took his first shot of whiskey. She had politely declined - that was respectable, whiskey was a man's drink, and it was unseemly for a woman to avail herself of alcohol.

Her story, however, was nothing particularly disturbing or untoward. She was correct in all the salient details - one of his employees had gone off, gotten himself thoroughly inebriated, taken out his frustrations on local muggles, without revealing himself to them directly. While Spaulding himself sympathised to some degree, the gentleman concerned was not one he wished to throw to the wolves. Not just yet, anyway. He was himself connected, knew people, smoothed over some of the more questionable business dealings that Spaulding had. Fixers were always welcome to a modest business empire, as long as they didn't outstay their welcome. He had, of course, given the fellow a bit of a thrashing himself, after ensuring that no charges would actually be levied - there was no way that anyone was going to get off scot-free, especially as laying down enough money to provide for the patsy's family was not a small sum. Spaulding was sure the thrashing, combined with the various threats, would ensure loyalty and an unwavering sense of discretion in future. And if not, what was it to him if Azkaban beckoned for another low-level prisoner?

Miss Albron's tale was, all in all, rather droll - especially the notion that she was doing him a favour with her tact and discretion. It was, on some level, even true - with some of his own matters proceeding, it behooved him not to draw untoward attention from the Auror's Office, but there was nothnig he couldn't extricate himself from otherwise with a well-placed word and/or a better placed bung.

"Well, Miss Albron, I must say I appreciate your sense of tact and discretion. You are perfectly correct that someone in my position would not react too favourably in, say, dealing with the Auror's Office. We have had the occasional representative on site in the past, and I must say I rather chafed at the lack of decorum. So undignified, wouldn't you say?"

He smelled the whiskey, determined to enjoy this second slug. "As I said, if you can give me a name, I can most certainly have our records examined to verify if the perpetrator is on our books - and if so, I can also ensure he is stricken off our books so that we don't fund miscreants in an untoward fashion."

My, my, she was certainly sparse with details. Knows how to keep them close to her chest. He wondered what else she kept close to her chest, both figuratively and literally. Especially with the present Lady Ensworth at her family's grotty little place in Florence, he could do with some... company.

"If you like, we could work... closely... together as we go through the books. Leaving no stone unturned, of course." That second slug emboldened him. "We could probe every crevice of my operations to ensure nothing lurking that shouldn't be. And all I need is a name to begin with, and for you to say the word."

Deitha Albron

Deitha listened to what this Spaulding had to say and her opinion changed quite sharply from being a 'great pudding of a man' to a thoroughly odious and reprehensible character. Was... was he flirting with her? Him a married man, with status and station, looking for... some tawdry and sordid one night stand?

The thought reviled her. It took all she had not to throw up into the whisky glass she had chosen to forego.

"My lord flatters me with his attentions, but a man in your position must have so many matters to attend to that a thorough review of records would take a significant amount of time away from your other concerns."

She thought about it for a moment. "I can fully appreciate your lordship not wanting to give me, a relative stranger, access to records, while I'm certain your lordship understands my... reticence in giving up what I know. Only a fool would play his winning card in the first hand, and I trust neither of us are fools - but it seems we are at an impasse."

Let that be his problem for a moment to consider.

Vincent Spaulding

Well! This filly of a girl certainly had some spirit after all. He liked a certain amount of that in his mistresses, a bit of fire, a bit of an attitude. It made it all the more delightful when he broke them, just as he did with the horses in his stables. It gave him some quite dark thoughts to consider this young upstart in need of training just like some of his horses. Especially if she was going to talk back to him, he would certainly have to do something about that.

He paused before responding, as if considering her words. The reality is that his records were, naturally, near-pristine. They were, of course, technically correct but with a few minor inaccuracies - nothing incriminating, of course, but just the sort of administrative mishap the jobsworths would find, of course they would. But as ever, if you leave them a crumb to find, they wouldn't dig much deeper.

"Well, as you say, we are indeed at an impasse, and I should be glad to not be considered a fool; some of the people who work on my land have suggested otherwise in the past, but I pay a fair wage for a fair day's work, and they haven't left yet. Though, really, I don't know quite what you would find in my records; I have staff and contractors, some of the contractors may have their own - but if I pay a firm a hundred Galleons for building works and they bring in labourers to do the work, or it's one chap with a wand? As long as the work gets done for a price I pay, what business is it of mine? The companies I hire have good reputations and warranty all their works."

Steady on, Vincent, old bean. Don't let her think she's rattled you.

He sighed, slightly more dramatically than necessary. "I rather feel you have had a trek out to Blandings for naught, I'm afraid. While such a man as fortunate to be in my position has people who work on my behalf, I cannot personally vouch for each and every man, woman or child who is indirectly employed, and moreover I cannot in good conscience just turn over my books for what may as well be a witchhunt. For all I know you might be a spurned wife looking for a lover, or some sort of homewrecker!" He punctuated it by downing the rest of his glass of whisky.

That was a shade more forceful than he'd intended but he got the impression that Miss Albron would not be so easily swayed and that he would have plenty of opportunity to get to know her better. Or of course, if this simple deflection put her off, well, wouldn't have been worth the effort anyway.

He had the curious feeling of this Miss Albron being a horse headed for a jump, and he waited to see if the horse would clear the gate or pull up sharply.