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            A hush fell over the crowd inside the Oaken Badger Inn and Tavern when she came through the swinging doors from the poorly lit street outside.  She was a real looker, a welcome sight for any of the bar’s patrons, most of whom were dockworkers and fishermen of the loch.  Her black hair was almost blue under the gas lights above as she walked across the rough wooden floor towards the table nearest the bar.

            Every eye turned toward her as she passed by and the looks she received ranged from subtle, appreciative glances to blatant ogling that would make a seasoned showgirl blush brightly.  She never faltered though; seemingly immune to the attention she was receiving, or perhaps oblivious.   Whatever the case, her disposition remained the same as she unswervingly approached the table she was focused on.

            The young woman stood full and tall, her hands on the hips of the strange silver robe she was wearing.  She made no sound or overt move; she merely stood there glaring at the blond, bearded man who was at that moment counting the chips he had won from a hand of cards.   It was clear to anyone watching that he registered her presence there, but his actions never betrayed his notice of her.  It wasn’t until he spoke in a deep, gruff voice that he looked up at the pretty lady.  “Reckon yer later than ye intended t’be, there lass?”

            She glanced at the clock above the bar with a disapproving frown.  “You’d do well to remember that my presence here is at your behest, Grufflin.  And if I am late, it is only the result of the speed of your earlier correspondence.”

“Well ye’ve not got to be ugly about it, girlie.” He began but was cut off by a look of disapproval from the silver-robed lady.  He quickly changed tact: “I was only whilin’ away the time wit’ a bit of grog and a hand or two with these mug...er fellas.”

            The dealer glanced nervously at Grufflin, gesturing at the deck of cards in a seeking way.  The tall, heavy-bearded man slid his chair back as he stood to his very impressive height.  He drained his mug and set it down, tossing a handful of bronze coins into the empty stein.  “That’d be evenin’ to ye, gents.  No fun fer us busy hearts.”

            He strode out of the bar, his spurs jingling, and stepped out on the front deck where he fastened on his cloak and donned his feathered hat.  He was just belting on his jeweled sword and scabbard when she stepped out behind him.  He studied her for a moment as he slowly lit a very black, short cigar with a wooden match.  His words were heavy, punctuated by an exhalation of thick gray smoke when he said “I’d hope them were comfortable shoes missy.  We’ve a bit of a hike.”

            “I had assumed we would be apparating; it would seem quickest.”  She said with a note of frustration.

            “Probly would,” he admitted “but fer the jinxes I found there that’d make it a spotty choice.  Lest’n of course ye’d like to grow wings from yer ears or other such interestin’ things.”  He smiled at her, perhaps hoping for one in return, but she only frowned, damning any such reciprocity.  “But not to worry!” he said with his winningest grin. “We’ve a couple of fast mounts just yonder way, ‘bout a mile from town.

            “I can’t wait.” She handed him the coins he had left inside.  “I settled your bill for you, Professor Grizzlemar.  The muggles didn’t know what to make of your coinage.”  She smiled for the first time, making her even more beautiful than any of the men inside the bar could have imagined.  “I suppose they had never seen bronze knuts before.”

            With a grunt of thanks, he set them in motion, walking north through the small town towards the hills above it.  His uncharacteristic silence screamed loudly of his unhappiness over being pulled away from the game.  The lady’s next statement proved her lack of interest in his sulky manner.

            “The ministry is less than pleased with you, professor.  If the message of your owl was accurate…” She began before he cut her off.

            “Accurate!  How long’ve ye known me Camilda?  If I say ‘twas so, then ye’d do good to believe it. Ye know yer father’d believe me.”  His exasperation passed into somberness quickly.  “Lynore’s dead because of it, and that ain’t the worst part.”

            She seemed to study him for a moment, her demeanor unchanged by his pronouncements.  It was uncomfortably quiet between them for the next quarter mile as they followed the apparently rarely-used path into the densely wooded hills.  Her face betrayed nothing to his repeated brief glances as she followed him.  It was only when he turned, his mouth open to speak what would likely be even greater assertions of his truthfulness that she replied in a slow, emotionless voice. 

            “And the child?”  She paused for the moment with the tiniest hint of emotion: a lump in her throat.  “We need to know everything about the birth.  Did it perish with her?”

            His coffee-colored eyes moved away from hers for a moment towards the path they were following.  He spat his cigar into the grass to their left.  His gaze returned to her stormy blue eyes as he softly whispered “Nay lass, and that’d be the problem yer here to see to.”

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