He slid into the apothecary to get his potion supply renewed and was served by an old man who was so wizened and bent that it was near impossible to make out his face. He left that place with the faint impression that he knew the man, but that was impossible.
He was hungry by this time, so he slid into the Leaky Cauldron to grab a bite to eat, ensconsing himself quietly at a corner table with a copy of the Daily Prophet and a plate of sandwiches.
"Good God," a well cultured male voice said from not too far away. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I'm intruding."
Anders wasn't sure if the voice was directed at him, but he looked up briefly from his newspaper to see what was happening anyway.
The owner of the voice was young, a tall man younger than Anders, with black messy hair shaken back from his face; in purple robes so dark they were almost shimmer-black. He was indeed poised halfway between Anders and the empty table to which he had been clearly heading, a butterbeer in his hand.
"It is you. Sir, I'm terribly sorry for interrupting but I just have to ask... can I buy you a butterbeer?"
"Er...I could go for a pumpkin juice, I'm off the butterbeer just now, but...whatever for?" Anders didn't recognise the man at all.
"I'm going to sound like a terrible fanboy." A wry smile. "Let's just say I don't approve all that much of the slander that's been in the press lately."
Anders was caught for a moment between the need to distance himself from recognition and the urge to find out what the young man meant. Curiosity won out.
"I'd love a pumpkin juice," he said, eventually, smiling hesitantly. "Pull up a chair and introduce yourself. I'm guessing you know who I am."
"Professor Grimalkin, it's a pleasure." He put his glass of butterbeer and plate of sandwiches down and brushed his hands off self-consciously before offering one to Anders. "Nathan. Nathan Greenley."
Anders blinked, then laughed. "I haven't heard anybody call me 'Professor'
for what feels like ages. Anders, please." He took the offered hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you, Mister Greenley."
"Gosh, no need to stand on ceremony either, just call me Nathan or Nate, either is fine." Nathan's hand was sunbrowned and weathered, his fingernails short and, though clean, there was a vague sense of ingrained earth about his fingertips. "Let me just get your pumpkin juice. I, ah, don't have to join you, if you'd rather not. It wasn't my intention to intrude, Professor.. Anders.."
"It's no intrusion at all. I'm quite glad for the company, to tell the truth," said the young Curse Breaker honestly. "I get a bit sick of my own conversation after a while. And it's also nice to discover that not everyone wants my windpipe ripped out." He cast a glance sideways at the witch sitting at the next table as he said this; she had said words to that effect when he'd arrived. It hadn't exactly made him comfortable. Neither had the way that she'd continued to stare coldly at him.
Nathan turned around and stared directly back at the witch, frowning at her.
Almost immediately, she stared down at the table, muttering under her breath. Anders grinned broadly at Nathan. "Nicely done," he said, approvingly.
"Some people have no sense of decorum." Nathan said sharply and turned back to Anders. "Sorry. Really gets my goat, people talking and spreading rumours about things they have no understanding of."
"Always the way," said Anders. "People don't understand something, they react badly."
"I prefer to think of them as merely ignorant," said Anders, with a shrug.
"But then I'm a fool who's good at trying to see the best in people even when there is no best to be seen."
Nathan smiled. "I hope you don't mind me rushing over here and barging in, I just really couldn't help myself. I'm a sort of a fan of yours, sir, though I hope not to embarrass either of us too much by saying so."
"Uh...not really embarrassed as more sort of...baffled, really," said Anders with a rueful grin.
"It's a sort of a strange personal hobby.. I'm not a stalker or anything, don't get me wrong." Nathan's warm smile wobbled just a little. "My mother was a Curse Breaker. I didn't do well enough in Defence against the Dark Arts to follow in her footsteps."
"Greenley...Greenley..." Anders racked his memory to try to recall the name. "This would have been pre-Guild, of course...most 'Breakers were employed by Gringotts or worked freelance up until several years ago..."
"Brier Greenley. No, you probably wouldn't have known her... she died about ten years ago."
"Ah, I'm sorry to hear that. I just recently lost my own mother, I'm afraid. You have my sympathy."
"It was a long time ago." Nathan looked away for a moment, and then back again with a half smile. "So yes, I'm afraid you became a little bit of an icon for me."
"I really don't know why," said Anders, a little shyly. "I just do what I do."
"That's the point though. You do what you do but not everyone can do what you do. Very few can do what you do to your standard. You're brilliant, Professor. You've got a knack for it."
Anders made a dismissive, self-depracating noise. "I'm not brilliant," he said. "I just got lucky a few times, really. Of course, I'm not working just now, either."
"It's a crying shame."
The young Curse Breaker rubbed his nose and surveyed Nathan thoughtfully.
"I've not been in a position to see exactly what the 'Prophet' has been saying about me," he said. "Would you mind filling me in on exactly what they've said?"
Nathan took a drink of his butterbeer before he replied, "In a nutshell, they say you're a Charm addict who flipped out and tried to kill some socialite rich kid."
"I'm not the Guild poster boy I was before then," said Anders, good-naturedly. "Maybe women will stop sending me underwear by owl now."
"It's slanderous, is what it is, invasive and slanderous. I only wish your lawyers well when they take them to court for defamation of character."
Anders looked up at Nathan from under his untidy fringe and smiled crookedly. "I don't have any lawyers," he said, and it was almost apologetic.
The younger man almost choked on his mouthful of butterbeer. "You...what?"
The tone was definitely half confused, half incredulous.
"I don't have any lawyers," repeated Anders, picking up his pumpkin juice and taking a long sip. "Never had to, see."
"If you'll forgive the advice, you should seriously consider it."
"Thing I learned about the Daily Prophet," said Anders after a moment's consideration. "Is that they let things go after a while. About eighteen months ago, one of their hacks started a rumour that I was spending all my money on buildig a statue of myself composed entirely of pizza boxes. They ran that for a few days, then someone more interesting than me sneezed and it was forgotten."
"No, Professor, you don't understand. This isn't just a rumour; they've mangled what might be a true story out of all conception. They're casting aspertions on your character, on your name, on your job, on the function of the Guild... it's a nasty business and you don't want to sit back and let them do this to you." Nathan seemed indignant.
Anders stared at the table for a while. "Is it really that bad this time?"
he wondered aloud.
"Yes." Nathan said simply.
A haunted expression cut through Anders' thin veneer of returned confidence.
"Maybe I should look into it, then." He was suddenly, acutely aware of eyes in the inn settling on him, some in curiosity, others in what he now saw as utter contempt. He felt an overwhelming urge to go outside and stood up.
"I need some air," he said, his voice strained.
"I'm sorry," Nathan said quietly, looking up at him with very concerned green eyes. "I really thought you must have known."
"No," said Anders. "I've not really been well enough to read the papers."
That, and the fact that the Healers at St. Mungos and also Wilf had done a sterling job of keeping them away from him. He felt very claustrophobic all of a sudden and a bead of sweat broke out on his forehead.
"Would you rather be alone?" Hesitancy.
"I think I just need to be outside." Anders' legs felt shaky with the sudden force of realisation that he was on the verge of losing everything he had eveer known. "Would you mind coming with me? Like I said, I haven't been too well. The last thing I need is to collapse on my way out of here."
He smiled anxiously to show he was joking, if only in part.
"No, it's fine." Nathan was up on his feet instantly, touching Anders'
elbow very lightly to give him a sense of steadiness without encroaching too much on his personal space. "I'm so sorry if this is my fault, I really am."
"It's not your fault, how can it be your fault?" Anders was genuinely perplexed by the comment as he made his way with as much pride as he could muster out of the inn and into the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley once again. The warmth of the day and the sunlight washed over him like a soothing balm and he let out a deep breath. "Thank you for your help. I should probably think about heading home. I've not been out for so long in what feels like weeks."
"Here, you should sit down for a minute, make sure you're alright." Nathan steered him to a bench.
It wasn't until he sat down heavily on the bench that Anders realised just how much he was shaking.
"Deep breaths," Nathan said softly, perching on the arm of the bench and watching Anders in some concern. "Shall I get you your pumpkin juice?"
"No, no, I'm fine." Anders flashed a smile and dug into the pocket of his battered leather jacket for a vial of his potion. He swallowed the lot in one go and closed his eyes in appreciation as he felt a sense of calm flood through him. "I'm sorry about that."
"No, you've nothing to be sorry for. It was my fault, I shouldn't have brought it up like that in the first place. It was rude, and I do beg your pardon for it."
"No pardon needed. In fact, I should thank you. Maybe I WILL look into getting myself a lawyer."
"If it wouldn't be forward of me, I can recommend mine to you."
"Not forward at all." Anders closed his eyes and felt himself start to regain control over his shaking limbs. Too much too soon. Wilf had warned him, but he hadn't listened.
The latter looked as though it was held together with an elastic band and good intentions, and after a few moments of very carefully paging through it, Nathan turned up a dogeared card.
"Thank you," said Anders who'd noted the turning out of the pockets with interest. "Herbologist, huh? Never really my best lesson - I was an Ancient Runes and Defence Against the Dark Arts kinda guy."
Nathan smiled very self-consciously. "Herbologist and Florimancer. Growing things seems to be a gift of mine."
"Killing plants stone cold dead is mine. I had a Christmas Cactus once. I looked at it funny, and it curled up. Mam was quite the gardener, though.
Before she got sick. The garden's sort of gone to rack and ruin over the last two years." Anders pocketed the card that Nathan had given him. "I should probably get it tidied up if I'm going to sell the place."
"What kind of garden? Four square metres of concrete or a big old kitchen garden?"
"Kitchen garden. It's mostly Welsh wildness that has a vague fence around it." For a moment, the nostalgia of sitting on the patio that he had actually built himself, with his own hands for his mother, washed over him.
"It's south facing. Lovely in summer."
"Fruit trees? Red brick wall?" Nathan seemed animated by the thought.
"You been there?" Anders laughed, lightly.
"Oh, I don't get old fashioned kitchen gardens nearly as often as I'd love to. My project team deal with a lot of the initial design and rebuild work for most of the work that comes my way, but I love seeing to kitchen gardens and atriums myself."
Anders had a sudden thought. It wouldn't hurt to get a quote from this guy, who'd been nothing but helpful. "You don't fancy taking a look and seeing what it'd set me back to get it straightened up, do you?"
"God, I'd love to." The smile that crossed Nathan's face was warm and genuine.
"OK, well. Um. I have some family business to attend to tomorrow..." His mother's funeral. "...and I'll need to go and clear some stuff out at the weekend. Could you pop by then, maybe?"
"Absolutely. Saturday or Sunday good for you?" Nathan flicked through the notebook to a page, rooted around in his pocket some more until he found the stub of a pencil that looked like the ferret had been gnawing on it, and paused with it poised over the page.
"Saturday? About...I dunno. Four in the afternoon?"
"Four on Saturday is good. Where would you like to meet?" Nathan crossed something out and scribbled something else in.
"You may as well come straight out to the house," said Anders, not for one second seeing any problem in this. He gave Nathan the address. "I should really get going, I need to slip into Muggle London and buy myself a decent black suit. I don't own one."
"Are you going to be alright, Anders?"
"I think so, yes." He smiled at Nathan. "Just a momentary wobble. Plus, nobody in Muggle London will know who the heck I am."
"Ok." A boyish grin. "I'll give you my business card, in case anything comes up and you need to cancel."
Nathan Greenley, Herbologist & Florimancer.
Nurseries, landscaping, floristry.
No project too large, none too small.
Greenley Manor, Uffington.
There were also contact telephone numbers.
"Thanks, Nathan." Anders pocketed that card as well, and on an impulse stuck out his hand to shake the other man's. "You've been really helpful this morning."
"No," Nathan's grip was warm and firm. "The pleasure was mine, Professor."
It wasn't until much later, after Anders had returned back to Wilf's house that he realised the implications of giving what was effectively a total stranger his home address. By then, he couldn't undo it.
Not that there was anything to worry about from a florimancer, of course.