Paul E. Graves (ta_paulgraves) wrote in two_alleys_rpg,
Paul E. Graves

Shopping in Knockturn Alley - early June 1999 (Paul, Apothecary)

Paul sighed as he pored through the last pages of Sir Justin Vyntor's Compendium of Unique Magical Artifacts, Vol LV. The Compendium was the most exhaustive listing of known magical artifacts that Paul was aware of, and it listed new ones each year. The annual compendia were updated with additions of new artifacts created that year and with deletions of artifacts known to have been destroyed.

It didn't list home-made artifacts constructed and used in secrecy, however. Paul was beginning to suspect, after having read four previous volumes of the Compendium, that Piotr Rachinov's pendant was one of those. It only made sense. The wolf's head amulet had almost certainly been constructed for Dark Arts purposes. There were precious few reasons for the average person to want to transfer one person's mind into the body of another, and none of those reasons were particularly sound or healthy ones.

Paul frowned at Volume LV. He had forty-six more to read through before his section of the task was complete; other members of the Ordo were reading other sets of fifty volumes each. If no one found the amulet by Volume MM, the current publication, he would most likely have to search in Knockturn Alley. That notion filled him with distaste.

The only decent bookshop in there is Four Towers--and possibly Borgin & Burke's, Paul thought. The others are likely to be so deeply devoted to the Dark Arts that I will arouse curiosity merely by entering them. I do not want that sort of attention paid to me.

Still, he could use a glamour; plenty of shoppers in Knockturn Alley did that. He sighed and put Volume LV away, then picked up Volume LVI.

* * *

Two weeks later, Paul donned a dark grey cloak, despite the summer heat, and flooed into Knockturn Alley. He stalked past shoppers as if they didn't exist and made the rounds of the shops. He might not be a Dark Arts practitioner himself, but he was quite familiar with the demeanour after seven years of living in the Slytherin dormitory. The world was beneath his notice, and he would not pollute himself with lesser beings.

Still, some beings were not as 'lesser' as others, and Paul was careful to treat them with guarded courtesy. He entered Borgin & Burke's for a look around, but little there caught his interest. He browsed among the archaeology books and the catalogues of museum curioes but found nothing that resembled Piotr's amulet. The only books he could find on lycanthropy were pseudo-science with back cover blurbs reminiscent of the Daily Mail. Still, Paul looked through every last one of them before giving the effort up as a bad job. There was no help for it; he would have to return to Four Towers or visit the bookshop in Diagon Alley.

* * *

Paul left Borgin & Burke's feeling suddenly tired, which reminded him that he needed to replenish his supplies for making the anaemia potion. As he left the curio shop he noticed an apothecary's establishment that was new to him. Paul debated entering. The fatigue was swiftly creeping up on him, but this was Knockturn Alley and thus not the safest place to buy herbs. They could be cut with anything--either inert, filler herbs or else with whatever toxic leftovers an unscrupulous herb-seller might have on hand to add volume to too small a quantity of expensive stock. Only the careful could safely shop for herbs in Knockturn Alley. Careless or ignorant buyers did not live long.

The door jangled and opened. A busy-looking witch exited the apothecary looking surprisingly pleased with her armful of purchases.

The fatigue won out, and the pleased look on the witch's face decided him. Paul walked into the small shop, called Herdman's Herbs, and studied the interior. It looked clean and neat, he saw with mild surprise. The jars of herbs and potion supplies all looked well dusted, and their labels were legible, albeit in a small, cramped handwriting that looked vaguely familiar. Paul nodded to himself in approval and made his way to the counter.

No one was visible, but there was a small bell on the counter with a note saying 'Ring for Attention.' All the drawers and bins in the place looked filled to capacity; there was not a speck of dirt to be seen.

Someone who knows how to keep a laboratory, Paul thought. Vast improvement over the Knockturn usual. Good. He rang the bell.

Several moments passed, and then there was the sound of movement from out the back. A tall but stooped man with long, silver hair and a moustache appeared from out the back of the shop and grunted a greeting.

"I need half a pound each of yellow dock root, dandelion leaf, stinging nettle, and dong quai if you have it, please," Paul said.

The elderly man straightened up slightly, and his glittering, dark eyes fixed on Paul for a few moments, noting the shadows under his eyes, the evident fatigue, and the way he shivered under his cloak in the summer's heat. "I have some ready-concocted anaemia preparations if you prefer; they will save you time."

Observant, and knows his potions, Paul concluded. "A ready-brewed dose would be most welcome. I would also like to get supplies of the herbs themselves so I can brew them at home."

"I have supplies of all the herbs you seek. If you would wait here for just a few moments, I will go out back and fetch them out for you." He sounded almost bored.

"Certainly," Paul replied. A faint smile twitched at one side of his lips. The man was probably used to getting far more unusual and interesting orders.

The apothecary shuffled off, and there was silence in the little shop for a while. After some time passed, he returned, his arm filled with an assortment of packets. "I have brought all you asked for and a few options for you to consider," he said. "Different strains, different origins. Some may interest you."

Paul glanced over the packets, and his eyes widened. "You have huang qi and bai zhu? I don't see too many people selling those." He picked up the two packets and opened them, then sniffed them. "Hm. I'll take these." Paul opened the remaining packets and compared the looks of their contents. To his startlement, they were pure quantities of the correct herbs. In short order, he made his choices. "I think these will do," he said. "Thank you. I notice you have a wide variety of Chinese herbs. How do you find they compare with the European ones?"

"On the whole, the European ones suffice. The Chinese ones are more delicate, yet more potent at the same time. The quality of the potions brewed is far greater. However, they do not come cheap and are, as you rightly say, rare."

"Probably why my physician tends to only prescribe the European ones," Paul agreed. "The dong quai was my own addition. I'm glad to see you carry the foreign ones here."

"I would not dare call myself an apothecary if I did not carry them," the shopkeeper replied in a tone of haughty disdain. He opened one of the packets and showed the contents to Paul. It was evident that he was eager to show off his abilities and knowledge as an apothecary, but he spoke about the subject with a rare passion.

Paul soon found himself discussing the relative merits of English versus Chinese soils and their differing effects on the herbs they produced.. That led to a discussion of harvesting techniques. The more they talked, the more the apothecary warmed to his subject. His enthusiasm for potions brewing was infectious.

Paul could not believe how much he was enjoying the conversation. So many of the people in the Ordo were, well, Ravenclaws through and through. Give them historical issues to research, and they would debate those until the wee hours. Give them anything practical, like a cauldron and supplies, and half of them, though they could describe the correct procedures, were clumsy with the ingredients and had no true feel for why the ingredients were best handled in one way or another, to achieve specific results.

Time passed, as it has a worrying habit of doing when one is not paying close attention, and the shopkeeper eventually shook his head. "My apologies," he murmured. "The hour got late without my noticing."

Paul glanced at his pocketwatch and blinked. "Good God. I have taken up far too much of your time. I apologise. How much do I owe you?"

The man critically surveyed the packets on the counter as well as the pre-brewed potion. "Three Sickles, two Knuts," he said, naming a price that was surprisingly cheaper than Paul had anticipated.

Paul's eyebrows lifted a bit at the low price. He handed the money to the apothecary. "Do you grow some of these on-site?" he asked.

"I have my own greenhouses, yes," came the reply, "but they are not based here at the shop. I can afford to be competitive."

Paul nodded. "It is much better to grow one's own, I agree. Unfortunately, I lack the time to devote to it."

"I have had more time to devote to it since...retiring." There was a distinct hint of bitterness in the voice.

"What sort of work did you do, previously?"

"Oh, you name it, I did it." It was an elusive answer that meant nothing more than 'I do not wish to share that information.' "Do you wish the parcels wrapped into one? It is no trouble."

Paul recognised the evasion for what it was and didn't press further. "Yes, thank you."

The apothecary carefully wrapped Paul's goods and pushed the parcel across the counter top. "I put some of the Chinese herbs in there for you to trial, see how you find them."

"I would have gladly paid you for those," Paul began and then stopped his protest. No Knockturn Alley shopper would pass up a good bargain. "I look forward to trying them, sir. Have you any suggestions for their preparation?"

"In general, you get a better result if you dry them out for a day or so, then soak them in water once more, roll them rather than fold them before you cut them. That is the best advice I can give you."

"I'll do that, then," Paul said with a nod. He gathered up his parcel and glanced about the shop once more. "I'm quite impressed with your establishment, sir. I hope it will be successful for you."

"Indeed. I hope the same," said the apothecary, steepling his fingers briefly under his chin. "And, of course, I do hope you pass the word around to anybody you may hear is looking for my services."

"I would be happy to do so," Paul replied. "Thank you for your time."

"You are most welcome." The man bowed his head politely, then fixed his glittering eyes momentarily on Paul's.

Paul returned the gaze for a moment in farewell and then made his way out of the shop. He forced himself to wait until he entered Diagon Alley before locating a park bench where he could sit and drink the pre-brewed draught. It tasted like ambrosia going down, and Paul drank the entire dose. It left him feeling quite a lot better. At least he didn't have to fear fainting on the way home.

By Chantal and Sarah

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