The Daily Prophet fluttered against Roxanne Weasley’s hands as an
unseasonable morning wind whipped down Diurn Alley. She struggled with
her newspaper, trying not to lose hold of it, and took another sip of
Just across the road a Quidditch star shielded her face against the flashes of paparazzi lenses. Roxanne didn’t even register the commotion and kept her attention focused on the Prophet headlines. After seven years living on Diurn Alley, she’d become well accustomed to the bursts of activity surrounding some visiting celebrity.
Despite sitting only a brisk fifteen minute walk from the wizarding
commercial center at Diagon Alley only a minority of Britain’s magical
population ever came to Diurn. An alley in name alone, Diurn was more of
a boulevard. Its wide street was smooth, rather than cobbled—all the
better for walking in expensive heels. Roxanne had gotten used to that
sound; the clack-clack-clacking of stylish witches and adventurous
wizards criss-crossing between the shops. Diurn Alley had always been a
magnet for the rich and famous, with its unplottable apartment buildings
and couture robe shops. As a result, gossip magazines kept a constant
presence of journalists stationed in the area to intercept their
Not that Roxanne had ever attracted much attention herself. Unlike the rest of her family, she’d managed to live most of her twenty-eight years with only limited mention in the press and her reputation had primarily been confined to the world of Healing. With a sullen sinking in her chest, she realized how likely it was that that might change.
She finished scanning that morning’s Prophet and felt relief at seeing no mention of her name. It seemed, at least for the time being, that the details of her messy departure from St. Mungo’s hadn’t yet leaked their way to the public. With a resigned sense of duty, she turned instead to her real target: the classified section.
Another fierce gust of wind swept her hair into flurry. Fluffy copper
curls obscured her vision as the gale raged, but Roxanne remained
resolute in her decision to occupy an outdoor table at Leonardo’s. After
seven years, and an unknowable number of cappuccinos, she would soon be
saying goodbye to the cafe that had become like an extension of her own
home. While she would certainly stop in whenever she was in the area,
it just wouldn’t be the same. Unless she managed to find another
lucrative career before her flat found new tenants, she wouldn’t again
live just across the street from Leonardo’s.
This is the end of an era, she thought, but the wistful notion
didn’t quite do justice to the enormity of her situation. It was more
like the end of a life—a life she had been carefully constructing since
her schoolgirl days.
The more Roxanne tried to cling to her old routine, the more her feeling of loss stung. Businesses all along Diurn opened for the day, and she felt a pang as she watched their windows twinkle to merry life. It was just an ordinary Monday to them; they didn’t know she was saying goodbye.
Eyes re-focused on the flat-share listings in the Prophet, Roxanne lifted her cappuccino to her lips but found only the overly sweet dregs where the sugar had settled at the bottom of her cup. With a sigh, she stepped back inside to order her third coffee in as many hours. She couldn’t return home yet, as the realtor was still showing her flat, and she needed an excuse if she was to hang round Leonardo’s all morning.
The cafe had been in continuous operation since the sixteenth century,
and little had changed in that time. Its stone walls were crowded with
paintings—all original DaVinci’s, rather than the static replicas
adorning muggle museums. A nude witch smirked and waved from the canvas
above the bar.
Returning to her seat in the fierce wind, she struggled to flatten her
newspaper. Her eyes paused on a listing—the first that was actually
within her price-range: Single Bedroom in Shared Flat, 100G/month. Marylebone, Muggle London.
Her heart leapt and she rummaged for a quill to circle the advert, then read further: Furnished bedroom, shared kitchen and bath, apparition point on site. Desired tennant is young, unemployed, and possessing of significant patience. Independently wealthy or with a stable financial safety-net a plus, but not required. Those who leave passive-aggressive notes about the washing up need not apply. I will be showing the apartment today, prospective candidates may drop by whenever.
Roxanne blinked down at the quixotic listing, not sure she’d read it correctly. It had been the first instance she’d yet seen where ‘unemployed’ hadn’t been a deal-breaker. In fact, the degree to which the advert reflected her current situation was uncanny.
She felt some pause over the mention of ‘passive-aggressive notes,’
though; Roxanne had always been fastidiously tidy. While she hadn’t
flat-shared since she’d been in Healer training, she’d been known in
those days to devise chore rotors and leave the occasional note if
anyone slacked on their duties. But for only a hundred galleons a month
she might be able to make a few allowances.
Independently wealthy, or with a stable financial safety-net, she thought. Roxanne had enough in savings to get by for a while on a budget, and in the event she couldn’t find another job before her funds ran out, well…
She eschewed the idea of asking her family for gold, certain she’d much
rather kip out on James’ sofa (as he’d offered) than mooch off of her
father’s fortune. It seemed, somehow, more palatable to accept help from
her cousins and peers than from her elder family. It was a comfort that
her parents would never let her go destitute, but an option she had no
interest in ever exploiting.
With clear-eyed determination, Roxanne gulped down the last of her cappuccino and made out for muggle London.
It had been easy enough to find the building but she struggled to
identify the correct doorbell. Finally she spotted a cracking piece of
parchment spell-o-taped to the door frame. Faded ink read 221B
with an arrow pointed to an ancient-looking cord. Not sure what else to
do, she gave it a tug. The sound of bells jangled above her head,
harsher and more discordant than she’d expected, and she smoothed her
clothes with nervous hands.
In a desire to cheer herself up that morning she'd paired her favorite tartan skirt with a pair of lime green stockings, a yellow blouse, and a striped pink jumper. She began to regret her ostentatious ensemble just as heavy footfalls sounded from within.
Finally, the door creaked open to reveal a crumpled-looking face: dishwater-blond hair stuck out at rakish angles, several days of stubble darkened a gentle jaw, and a badly tattered housecoat hung open over a pair of what had once been elegant dress robes. He looked young, maybe a few years younger than Roxanne, but prematurely weathered.
"Oh," the wizard said, holding a tattooed hand up against the glare of the early afternoon sun. "Healer Weasley, I take it?"
"You—you were expecting me?" Roxanne blinked at the eccentric young man.
"No, not in the least," he replied.
"I’m very good at what I do," he waved dismissively.
"Oi!" Roxanne cried, throwing her fingers over her face. "Don't you dare go looking into—"
"I’m not a Legilimens," he rolled his eyes. "Well, I am, but it’s an awful practice. Too messy. Too easily blocked, or corrupted, or subverted. I prefer to deduce."
"So you deduced my name and job? From what?" Roxanne asked, suspicious. "I mean, yeah, I'm black and I'm ginger, so that’s a give away—but how did you know I'm a Healer?"
"Yes, your coloring is rather idiosyncratic, but no, that isn't how I figured your identity."
"Freshly roasted coffee," he replied.
"That's what you smell like,” he explained. “The oils aerosolize during roasting, and cling to your hair and the fibres of your clothes. And you’ve got a lot of hair, and with a particular texture, so you have more surface area to trap the oils."
"And how does smelling like coffee tell you my name and occupation?" Roxanne pressed, one fist perched on her hip. Dread began boiling in her gut; perhaps something about her retirement from Healing had made the press after all.
"Former occupation, but I'll get to that," the young man corrected her. "Starting with the coffee: the aroma suggests a lower tannin content. It’s a gruesome process—the beans have to pass through the digestive tract of a kneazle. These coffee blends are expensive, and the residual foam in your hair tells me you had a cappuccino. There are a few places in London that serve luxury espresso, but only Leonardo's on Diurn Alley has outdoor seating. Given your quantity of hair, you might not have been sitting somewhere windy while you sipped your drink, but as I've already established, you were a Healer, and so you aren't likely to be sloppy."
"Yeah, so I had a cappuccino on Diurn, but—"
"Cappuccinos at Leonardo’s run for a galleon a cup,” he went on as if there hadn’t been an interruption. “And judging by your tremor, you’ve had at least a few today. So just this morning, you spent more than the barista's daily wages on caffeine—this tells me you come from money. Certainly Healers make decent salaries, but as I've mentioned, you are no longer a Healer. Therefore, I have to assume you grew up rich; rich enough that you wouldn't balk at spending a small fortune on gourmet beverages."
Roxanne rolled her eyes, growing exhausted of his parlor trick and increasingly convinced that she had indeed been photographed by some sly Prophet reporter. "Since when is 'rich' synonymous with 'Weasley?'"
"Since the war, obviously," the man said, and his expression implied he’d wanted badly to follow up that statement by saying, duh. "But there’s more evidence of your ancestry: Your muggle costume is not, in itself, surprising—we’re in the middle of muggle London, after all. But you wear it with some awareness to current fashion trends, so you aren’t likely from the pureblood old guard. There's also the bold mix of patterns and bright colors, which suggests a sense of humor, as well as a marked lack of snobbery. These observations culminate to tell me you are the daughter of successful joke shop business owner, George Weasley. Plus, like you said, the ginger afro."
"But how'd you know I'm a Healer, then? It's been in the papers, hasn't it?"
"Were a Healer," the man corrected again and Roxanne felt her face flush with annoyance. "The index finger and thumb on your left hand are stained aubergine, a recognizable marker of someone who spends a lot of time cutting bezoars for preparation in healing draughts. On its own, that might just tell me that you work with potions, but the soles of your shoes are rubber. And worn at the heels. Most potioneers don't do a whole lot of walking on marble floors."
"And what, the type of wool in my jumper tells you that I quit?" Roxanne raised an eyebrow.
"Of course not, don't be absurd.”
"Oh, so nothing from my jumper then," she deadpanned.
"No no, your jumper tells me a great deal,” he gave an eager nod. “But it's absurd to suggest that you quit. No one with a decent salary or any prospects would bother inquiring about this flat. It's rather a hovel."
He hadn't lied. She followed him upstairs to find a coffee table overflowed with yellowing issues of Transfiguration Today and at least twenty mouldy teacups perched precariously on the many boxes and crates. Roxanne scrunched her nose against the stench of sour milk and stale cigarette smoke, surveying the disaster that was 221B Baker Street.
She almost hadn't followed the maddening young man into the building, but burning curiosity had won out against her fierce desire to simply slap him across his smug little face and storm off. More to the point, it was the only housing she’d found within her limited price range. Perhaps, she thought, she shouldn't throw money away on expensive coffees after all.
"I have a very complex organizational system, so please don’t disturb the order of the sitting room," he said, lighting a cigarette.
"Organized?" Roxanne scoffed. "You're a proper hoarder!"
"Not hoarder, collector," he inclined his head. "The crates all contain sensitive case files for the Ministry, highly confidential. The academic literature is stacked corresponding to each file, organized by relevance. I know it’s… obscure, but there’s a method to it."
"And the mouldy teacups?" Roxanne raised a brow and eyed a particularly fuzzy mug with disdain.
"I find it helpful to leave, ah, booby traps around the flat," he explained. The vibrato hadn't left his voice, but his shoulders sagged noticeably. "Keeps me sharp."
Roxanne fought to contain an exasperated grumble and fanned his cloud of smoke away from her face. She knew she had little choice in living arrangements but couldn't stomach the prospect of having to navigate such squalor.
"What about this?" she demanded, picking up a copy of Them! magazine. "Old celebrity gossip rags are hardly 'academic literature.'"
"I happen to be very invested in the details of Circe and Myron Wagtail's relationship!" he replied defensively. A pause, then, “we may be able to make some, ah, alterations to the common spaces."
At least her future-bedroom wasn't terrible. It was small, to be sure, and faced south to a sunwell ensuring she'd get very little natural light. But it was clean, and it was furnished, and it didn't smell. That smell was even a concern reminded Roxanne what a significant reduction she’d soon be making in her standard of living.
The furniture was old, she noticed. Antiques, but in rather shabby
condition. A green brocaded duvet spread over the bed, and while
threadbare in places, it had a certain beauty. Roxanne took a deep
breath, trying to picture making a life in that dingy little flat. She
spared a few seconds mentally redecorating the room, finding it easier
to plan how she might arrange her personal belongings than plan how she
might arrange her future.
One step at a time, she thought. Step One: find yourself. Step Two: get a life.
"So, will you be, er, moving in then?" her future flatmate asked around the door. His voice had the tinge of timid eagerness, and while Roxanne had been mostly frustrated by their interactions thus far, she couldn't help but feel mildly endeared.
"Yes," she sighed. "I imagine I will be."
"Excellent," he said with a clap, all previous confidence restored. "You can bring your things round later this evening. Rent is due on the first of every month, and you can pay the landlady directly. First and last month's to move in; Mrs. Hudson should be home by three."
"Good, okay," Roxanne nodded, feeling dizzy with the abruptness with which she'd made such a major decision. "Well then, I guess I should..."
"Miss Weasley," the young man interrupted, pulling a rather fine pocket-watch from his robes and checking the time. "Do you have any prior engagements for the next two hours?"
"Good, that saves coming up with an excuse to get out of them."
"Pardon?" she cocked her head, annoyed by the presumption.
"Would you care to accompany me to the Ministry? I could use a medical consultation for a case. There’s a briefing at the D.M.L.E. in twenty minutes."
"Hold on," Roxanne peered into his pallid face. "I don't even know your name yet!"
"Right, yes,” he shook his head. “I’m Perry Hume, Consulting Auror to
the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Pleased to meet you."