13th October, 1826.
The ink pot tumbled over, spilling its contents in a black flood over a page of loopy, excitable handwriting. Combeferre swore.
Behind him the cause of the accident winced. "Sorry. Did I startle you?"
"Not at all," Combeferre replied, making futile dabs at the pooling ink with his fingers, and wiping those on his robe in turn. This coat of ink, in fact, only served to make him blend in with his surroundings: the small rooms which comprised his lodging were a shambles of books and papers; immaculate volumes lining the rickety shelves on the walls, their finger print smudged comrades cluttering every article of furniture from the desk to the bed. Aeschylus vied more fiercely with Euripides for a spot on the limp pillow than he had for a ticket-of-leave from the underworld. "It's my policy to complete every assignment by rendering it utterly unreadable. Don't you know better than to sneak up on people, Courfeyrac?"
"I wasn't sneaking," Courfeyrac objected. "There was not one stealthy movement to my entrance; I merely Apparated in and said 'bonjour.' You were engrossed. Is it important?"
"Only an essay that's taken me the better part of a month to research. On the relative effectiveness of potions and spells used to mend broken bones. What's fascinating is that in some cases the physical application of a salve--"
"Oh, hell," Courfeyrac interrupted him, and, uninvited, displaced a pile of ink bespattered books and papers to perch on the edge of the desk, for want of a spare chair. "Something you're going to miss, then. Can't you charm it clean?"
"No, I can't. If I do that, they'll detect the magic and assume I cheated."
"That's something I've never understood. What's the use of teaching these charms if there's never a practical use for them? Don't magically calculate the accounts, they'll think we've doctored them, don't repair your essay, they'll think you took it straight from a text. Still, I'll owe you a dinner for the extra work I've caused you. But the principle is still infuriating." Courfeyrac thumped the desk to emphasise his point, causing the droplets of ink to bounce like falling raindrops on impact. He was a good looking youth, in an unremarkable sort of way, with chestnut hair and merry green eyes and an infectious grin. Quintessentially bourgeois in his well tailored turquoise robes, neither extravagant enough for a bohemian nor elegant enough for an aristocrat, with an attention to hair and hands and well polished boots that stopped just shy of foppish and impeccable drawing room manners that were somehow never in evidence when he wasn't in a drawing room, it was difficult to determine whether his looks and mannerisms served as a subtle, satirical rebellion against the stolid existence of his class, or whether he was an ordinary young pup who hadn't found his feet yet.
"Utterly," agreed Combeferre, now shaking the marred paper dry, if not clean. "Though it would have been less so had my essay not been spoiled in the first place. To what dire need has my academic reputation been sacrificed, then?"
"Now that is interesting," Courfeyrac settled himself on the desk with the air of a man about to embark on a recount of epic proportions. "Not three days ago, I was slaving away at my desk like some latter day secretary to Crassus when I became aware that my fire was hissing at me. Now, as fascinating as the column of figures I was adding up was, this seemed intriguing enough to warrant further investigation, and when I turned my head to carry this out, what should I see gazing at me from the flames but the head of old Jean Prouvaire."
That, evidently, got Combeferre's attention, as the scholar allowed the essay to crumple like a wet rag on the desk, and looked up at his visitor with mingled curiosity and apprehension. "Oui, and?"
"Just that seemed anomalous enough, I should think. Monsieur Prouvaire and I have never been especially close--"
"Aurelien, you terrified him; you and Lucien both."
"Be that as it may, it was still an exceedingly strange visitor to have.
"'Hello, m'sieur,' said I. 'What brings you here?'
"'News,' quoth he. 'Enjolras has been found, I've a letter from Combeferre.'
"'Has he?' I asked. 'But I heard otherwise from Madame Enjolras only yesterday.'
"'Well,' he said, 'I can't say I'm surprised; it was Combeferre who found him. And they're both being very mysterious about something.'
"Then he told me that you had asked him, with no explanation, not to tell anyone about Monsieur Enjolras' whereabouts but to come with all possible speed to Paris, as you had something to discuss with him. Which, I must say, hurt my pride a little-- accio," Courfeyrac produced his wand, and two apples came hurtling through the window to be caught, with a slight fumble, in his hand and the crook of his arm; one was tossed to Combeferre. "Why wasn't I invited to this reunion?"
"Possibly because you do things like that," Combeferre rebuked mildly, though he took a bite out of the apple. "Discretion, mon ami. How many Muggles will tell their grandchildren that they saw the fruit first molested by Adam and his mate soaring across the sky, intent on having its revenge on some particular descendant of that unfortunate couple? Though, if Prouvaire related the contents of my letter to you, perhaps he wasn't so circumspect as I'd hoped he would be."
"Precisely what I thought," Courfeyrac absentmindedly polished his fruit on his sleeve. "So I asked him: 'What the devil are you telling me this for, if you've been sworn to secrecy?'
"'Well,' he replied, 'does this seem like them, to you?'
"That gave me a moment's pause, I grant you. You've never been the conspiratorial type, but one can never be sure with an Enjolras. They imbibe intrigue with their mother's milk, even when they're not suckled on Malfoy venom. Still, recalling what I could of this particular scion, in the end I had to admit that it wasn't especially; our Enjolras was generally the candid type, to the best of my recollection."
"I see," Combeferre sounded wryly amused. "And between you, you decided we were far too suspicious to associate with, and you've come to deliver his regrets and your own chastisements."
The hand that Courfeyrac had half lifted to bring the apple to his mouth again dropped abruptly to his lap. "By that do you infer that you haven't seen Prouvaire?"
"No, I haven't. Haven't you?"
"Not since that conversation." There was no laughter in Courfeyrac now, and he tossed the gnawed on apple from hand to hand in sudden agitation. "He said he'd like me to keep an eye open, in case there was some sort of unanticipated trouble, something about Imperius curses and political abductions, and I thought-- well, it's Prouvaire, and everything's bound to be either a romance or a conspiracy-- but I promised and, true to my word, I put in an appearance at his lodgings this morning. No sign. After looking about a bit, I learned where he was studying and asked there. They're a vacuous lot, I can tell you, the nineteenth century might as well never have happened, but eventually his mentor informed me that he'd asked for leave at some indeterminate point in the recent past and hadn't been seen since. My immediate thought was that he had met up with you and forgotten all about me amidst the reminiscences, but I thought I'd better make certain and-- damn. You did write to him, didn't you?"
"Of course I did, you heard me say so." Combeferre rubbed a hand across his face, smudging his cheeks and forehead blue-black. "Two weeks ago. A couple of days back, he was supposed to meet us and didn't, but we thought he simply preferred not to become involved, or that his owl had got lost again."
"What in God's name have you got mixed up in?"
"Nothing. I haven't, anyway; I can't vouch for Lucien completely, but he gave the impression that he'd been avoiding the Wizarding community entirely."
"Has he? Why?"
"That is a very long story, and not entirely mine to tell," Combeferre got up, causing another avalanche of paper. "Oh for God's sake-- give me a hand with these? Since you're here, you'd better come and talk to him; he'll want to question you."
His companion regarded him with frank bewilderment, but slid off the desk to assist collecting the pages into an indecipherable, and certainly not consecutive, jumble. "Question me? Have you become a legate to General Enjolras since last we spoke, Combeferre? Is there a uniform?"
"Indeed there is, and you'll need one too, if you're going to pass unnoticed," and the scholar set down his armload of work and removed from a hook on the wall a shabby brown suit of clothes distinguishable from his present outfit only by the separation of trousers from coat, and the division of the lower garment into two legs.
Courfeyrac promptly choked on a mouthful of apple and the carelessly collated paper slithered back onto the floor. "And what," he forced out between splutters, "d'you call that?"
"A suit, such as a Muggle student might wear," Combeferre released the waistcoat he was wrestling from its hook in order to have a free hand to thump his friend on the back. "Don't asphyxiate, Aurelien, you have seen such things before."
"Yes," retorted the other, with tears welling in his eyes, either from want of air, or laughter, "but I wasn't aware of quite how ridiculous they look, never having had the opportunity to study a set at close hand before."
"Get used to the sight, mon ami," said Combeferre. "You'll have to find an outfit before we go out, and as the Legate Combeferre feels responsible for the miles Prouvaire, he will definitely be escorting the errant centurion who has just reported to him to the imperator, so out we must go."
"If Enjolras is to be a second Caesar, by your analogy, you make a poor Mark Antony, friend Combeferre," Courfeyrac quipped. "Unless Cleopatra is hiding in one of these books."
"It was your analogy, to begin with," Combeferre shrugged. "And I think I should have said Brutus, not Caesar."
"Ahh, but Brutus lost."
"It depends on which you refer to."
"True enough," Courfeyrac held up his hands, or rather one hand and an apple core, in defeat. "And Enjolras, I should hope, knows enough to heed a soothsayer in a prophetic fit. Do I really have to dress like you?"
"Absolutely; we can't Apparate to Enjolras' quarters, or he'll have every auror in Paris chasing after him. We can only go as far as the city, and walk the rest of the way. And to be inconspicuous, you'll need to look like something other than a wizard."
"It's a pity I wasn't a better student of transfiguration," sighed Courfeyrac, eyeing the clothes his friend had exchanged his robe for with more chagrin than mirth, now that he was imagining himself in them. "Then I could have looked like a duck. Is that coat the fashion of Paris?"
"Probably not," Combeferre admitted. "I can't say I paid all that much mind to the cut of my coat. But does it really matter? It isn't as though you're going to make a habit of being seen in Paris in Moldu costume. Just-- improvise."
"Improvise," Courfeyrac repeated sourly. "All right, all right, I'll find something. I hope Prouvaire appreciates the pains I'm taking for him."
"No doubt he will immortalise your labours in verse, if nothing untoward's happened to him."
"A limerick, perhaps, and I'll find myself ignominiously rhymed with an underdressed hack-- yes, I'm going, I'll be as quick as I can."
Evidently, Courfeyrac kept his word and dressed with some alacrity, because after a matter of minutes he returned, attired appropriately, if one was attending a carnival. His waistcoat was a most unfortunate purple, with gold stitching, the trousers were a dull red, like the nauseating colour of the cloak of the Red Death and the coat, while decent enough in itself, was an alarmingly sombre grey in contrast with the rest of the ensemble. In place of a necktie, for which nothing could be found, he had wound a heavy scarf around his neck to conceal his collar; if nobody thought he was mad, this touch might lead them to think he was delirious from fever.
This time, it was Combeferre's turn to laugh, and the generally sober young man suffered such peals of it that he fell out of his chair, to be caught by a volume of some letters by Cicero.
Being generally good humoured, there was nothing Courfeyrac could do but grin back, and adjust his scarf artistically. "My penance for mocking you, m'sieur," he said with a bow, and extended a hand to his friend to haul him from the floor and from antiquity. "But if one dresses from cast offs and costume chests, one must expect at least a passing resemblance to Harlequin."
"If you go out like that, you'll be spotted for a wizard for sure," once he had caught his breath Combeferre allowed himself to be pulled up. "And you forgot your hat."
"So I did," admitted Courfeyrac, pulling out his wand. "Something was bound to go by the wayside. But I'll see what I can do with this."
After fifteen minutes of experimenting, the trousers were approximately the same colour as the coat, and while the waistcoat refused to transmute itself into either grey or black, it did at length manage a dark green; the gold embroidery he kept, having a penchant for the extravagant. Since he professed to be inept at transfiguration, Combeferre worked on the scarf, and eventually produced something not wholly unlike a cravat, though his friend, in tying it on, albeit not without careful directions, remarked on a vague resemblance to a hangman's noose.
"There!" said Courfeyrac, admiring the final result while settling Combeferre's spare hat on his head. "Not bad for improvisation, as you call it. If we fail at intellectual pursuits, mon ami, we could always set ourselves up as tailors."
"Provided we're only asked to alter the colour of our customers' clothes."
"Everyone has their limitations. Where are we headed, then?"
"There's a café on the Place Saint-Michel we have reserved for comings and goings. Musain, I think it's called. Do you know it?"
"Why would I know it?"
"You'll have to follow me, then. Take care not to miss the mark; if you appear in the middle of the street, all our precautions are undone."
"I think I know better than that," said Courfeyrac scornfully, and clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Your medical ambitions are misplaced; you lecture enough for a professor."
Mercifully, the transference took place without incident, and the pair slipped out the back door with rather more caution than aided in being inconspicuous, and set off through the streets, smug at the dearth of curious glances at their persons.
Enjolras had lodged himself in an improbably teetering building that balanced itself on one of the streets of the Latin Quarter. It had been selected, no doubt, for its penurious appearance, the loose shutters and crumbling stonework being a constructed disguise for a wealthy wizard in hiding amongst Muggle folk, but it leaned and tottered and wobbled to such a degree that Courfeyrac, eyeing it for the first time with a degree of incredulity hissed to his companion: "Are you sure that isn't held up by magic?"
"I shouldn't think so," Combeferre murmured, scrutinising the stonework . "Look at the construction; it's relatively recent. Built long after the division, anyway."
Courfeyrac rolled his eyes. "You take everything literally, mon ami. If I said a man was a veritable Horatius, you wouldn't believe me until he'd burned a bridge."
"Horatius is a man long dead, and I wouldn't expect to see an exact replica. There are, however, numerous Parisian buildings with magic in their mortar; sometime, if you can bear the indignity of trousers for the length of such an excursion, I'll give you a tour. But let us go up."
They mounted the stairs with no more trouble than they had managed the Apparation, though Courfeyrac wore up all three flights the studied nonchalance of a man who expects the whole structure to collapse under him at any moment, and doesn't want to mention the fact; he did, however, note as they ascended to the final landing that it was just like an Enjolras to insist on living right under the rafters. "Soaring ever upwards with his sacred swans."
"Hush, Aurelien, you know he doesn't like to be reminded of his Pythian ancestry. Any more than you like to be called de Courfeyrac." Combeferre rapped sharply on the door.
There was a long pause, like an apprehensive indrawn breath, before the door was opened, as if the inhabitant feared that doing so might set off some chain of events that would end with him in manacles. However, opened it was, and Lucien Enjolras peered out, wearing the same rumpled suit he had met Combeferre in, albeit minus the coat and with the cravat tugged irritably loose at his throat. Moreover, he wore the distracted expression of a man abruptly shaken from deep thought, and his right hand was still curled around a quill. "Jérémie..?"
"Luc," Combeferre chided gently, "do you really think aurors would knock before they dragged you back to the bosom of your family?"
"I suppose not." Somehow, Enjolras contrived to make the admission without looking in the least bit sheepish. "What brings you here? I thought we'd arranged to meet at Musain?"
"Yes, but something's come up," Combeferre moved aside a little, to reveal the grinning face of Courfeyrac. "We appear to have lost a poet, but gained a bourgeois."
"Bonjour, Enjolras," Courfeyrac announced himself, no more offended by the description than Enjolras had been abashed at his excess of caution, and pushed past both him and Combeferre into the former's lodgings. "Mon Dieu, m'sieur, have you become a Cynic since last we spoke?"
Enjolras' room was certainly Spartan enough to warrant the remark. For furnishings he had nothing but bed, desk, chair and a little chest of drawers and as he lived right under the eaves, the ceiling so tapered down over the bed that a sleeper who sat up suddenly could concuss himself badly enough as to be rendered unconscious for a week. Nominally, the floor was covered by a carpet, but this was so threadbare that it was more as if somebody had flung a handful of woollen thread on the floor for decorative purposes, and it had more or less tangled itself into a single object. Certainly he possessed no fewer books than Combeferre had, but whereas the philosopher allowed his to roam freely about the room-- sometimes quite literally, where the magical volumes were concerned-- Enjolras' collection stood in stiff regimental form along the shelves and backed against the wall on the desk; similarly his papers had been stacked in so orderly a fashion that one might have suffered a paper cut from them at ten paces distance. Every book, legal, historical, philosophical was by a Muggle author, and about Muggle concerns. Not even the Classical wizards had been granted a place. Indeed there was not the faintest whiff of magic in the place, not even an owl or a broomstick.
Enjolras ignored the friendly raillery, but looked quizzically at Combeferre. "What do you mean 'lost a poet?'"
"It seems Prouvaire indicated to Aurelien here that he intended to meet with us-- then vanished en route."
"How long ago was this?" For the first time, Enjolras turned his attention to Courfeyrac.
"Three days, since I saw him, but I didn't become alarmed until today. He has left, absconded, escaped and disappeared, as Cicero would have it, but since Prouvaire's no Catiline, I'm more worried than infuriated. Just what have you done with him, Enjolras?"
"Nothing," Enjolras' pale brows drew together in a frown. "But it sounds as though somebody's done something. Damn. We'd best keep clear of Musain, then. For all we know, my grandfather's having it watched."
"If it was his family that had stopped him," Combeferre reasoned, "I'm sure we'd have heard something by now-- your mother would have had us all turned into horseshoes and sent to a smith to be hammered for one thing. Besides, Jean's father isn't known for marking his son's comings and goings."
"True, and since we've done nothing as yet, and Prouvaire knows the least of any of us, I can't see that they'd have held him for questioning. And even now, I doubt they could hold a Prouvaire long, no matter what evidence they had against him. The name's too old, and their disgrace too ill defined."
"All the same, we'll have to find out what's become of him. It may be our fault."
"D'accord." Thoughtfully, Enjolras shook his head. "Where to begin, though, that's the question-- Courfeyrac, have you any idea what might have happened to him?"
"Your courtesy only grows more marked by the year, Lucien," retorted Courfeyrac dryly, albeit not answering the question.
"Do you know, it's been ten minutes since I bad you good day, and you've not given me so much as a nod of greeting yet? Not to mention the fact that until a couple of days ago, I was quite sure you were dead."
"Forgive me, Aurelien, I was distracted," and now Enjolras had the grace to look at least a little ashamed, and proffered his hand. "How have you been?"
"Until this morning, I would have said 'bored,'" replied Courfeyrac, taking Enjolras' hand with as much ease as if it had been promptly offered at the moment of their meeting. "Since I understand about as much of my daily toil of accounts and records as a medieval copyist did of Plato, but now you've piqued my curiosity-- what are you doing, you and Combeferre?"
"Can I rely on you?" asked Enjolras, regarding his severely, and withdrawing his hand.
"Don't get your back up, Lucien. Am I really the sort you think likely to go running to anybody's parents with tales of their indiscretions? When Prouvaire didn't turn up, I came to you, after all, not the aurors."
"That's fair," said Enjolras repentantly, and ran a hand through his hair. "To be honest, there's not much to tell, but this business with Jean Prouvaire has made me worry. We haven't done anything, barring talking a bit, and that only with each other. I've an idea that some changes need to be made-- of the sort my illustrious clan, among others, wouldn't like."
"You want to depose the oligarchs," said Courfeyrac, with a mischievous light glinting in his green eyes, giving him a look that wouldn't have been alien on a leprechaun. "Well, why didn't you say so? Down with the Pisistratids, the Caesars and the Medicis."
"Be serious, Courfeyrac-- I'm talking about undoing the Secrecy Statute."
"Oh." Courfeyrac's mirth was whisked away in a mercurial whirlwind, and, rather wide eyed, he tugged at his improvised necktie; despite Combeferre's best efforts, it still tended towards fuzzy and was inclined to itch. "No, they wouldn't like that."
"So you see why we're a bit on edge," explained Combeferre from the vantage point the had taken up, leaning against the desk; unfortunately he had also knocked askew a precious set of papers in doing so and, noticing this, Enjolras stepped aside to straighten them.
"What's your opinion on the matter, Courfeyrac?"
"I think," said Courfeyrac seriously, "that I want to hear more about how you've come to the conclusion that something so drastic is necessary, when we've less emergency and more leisure. But I can't say I'm appalled. My family scraped in over the census, and over a hundred years later, the aristocrats still look at us as though our parents were Muggles. We haven't done so well under it, and there are others who've done far worse; though the Muggles don't seem to miss us much." He looked out the window at the bustling city with a sort of wry amusement. "Right now, I want to know where Prouvaire's got to. I promised him I'd step in if there was trouble. And this may all be coincidence, but it looks like trouble's what he's found himself in, unless he's just succeeded in splinching himself."
"First thing's first," said Enjolras, looking up from his freshly arranged notes. "Perhaps you weren't the only one he asked to keep a look out, and maybe he left word with them and forgot you."
Combeferre bit his lip in thought. "Does anyone remember who he was fond of at school?"
"Mon Dieu," Courfeyrac laughed. "What a question. Wrote sonnets to a different mademoiselle in the girls' wing every month, and never found the courage to get most of them delivered. They'd all be respectable matrons by now, with the next generation of wizarding pride gurgling at their breasts. Such a tragic waste of charm and beauty, the shackles of respectability."
"Never mind that," said Enjolras, a trifle testily; he was never quite comfortable where talk of women was concerned. "Wasn't he friends with that Delacour boy?"
A sharp whistle escaped Courfeyrac's lips. "You've been in exile too long, Enjolras. Roland Delacour was killed in a dragon hunt a year ago. Prouvaire was inconsolable-- I saw him at the funeral, the poor boy had a fair turn out. But unless you're suggesting necromancy, you'll get no information from that quarter."
"Damn. Who else?"
There was a long, considering silence, before a brief, delighted laugh burst out of Combeferre: "Oh, I remember: Bahorel."
Courfeyrac looked amazed. "You don't mean Joseph Bahorel? When were they ever friendly?"
"Oh, you remember what he was like," said Combeferre with the tolerance of nostalgia. "Never could manage Ancient Runes, so he used to bully we younger boys into doing his for him, if one of us showed even a glimmer of aptitude. Then he tried it on Jean, and got the shock of his life. Prouvaire gave him a lecture on profaning the Mysteries, and called him a plethora of names-- all in Greek, I doubt he understood a word, and challenged him to a duel over the matter. Whether they ever had one, I don't know, but Bahorel held him in high esteem after that, though I don't think they ever spent much time in each other's company. I've heard they exchange letters occasionally, though."
"Jean Prouvaire did that?" said Courfeyrac, amazed. "I wouldn't have thought he had it in him."
"Then you've never heard him argue the cult of Eleusis as being the basis of some of our euphoria inducing charms. He's not as mild mannered as he seems."
"All right, that's a start," said Enjolras. "Where is Bahorel?"
Both Combeferre and Courfeyrac looked blank.
"I see." A note of exasperation crept into Enjolras' voice. "So in order to locate one missing man, we must first find another."
"Yes, I do see the irony," Courfeyrac's grin flitted back across his face. "But come now, how hard could hunting a Bahorel be? We'll just follow the trail of broken glass and bruises."
"I'd recommend starting with the more elite Wizarding cafés," suggested Combeferre reflectively. "Don't you remember how, back at school, he used to hover around the Malfoys with his ears pricked, just waiting for one of them to sneer, or use the word 'giant?' I can just see him lurking at a table, daring the management to suggest that he leave."
"Shall we split up?" enquired Courfeyrac. "There are a fair few to cover."
"No," said Enjolras, "I'm not mislaying anyone else. We'll work our way around together tonight-- yes, me as well, Jérémie. I know I can't stay in hiding forever. If I'm summoned for a parental reprimand as a result, so be it. Perhaps I'll get a chance to ask Grandfather about Prouvaire."
"D'accord," said Combeferre. "Though I can't help feeling this whole enterprise has a curse on it, given that we've already lost a man before he's been properly recruited."
"Nonsense," Courfeyrac contradicted him cheerfully. "You've gained me, as a replacement, at least temporarily. Fate is keeping your odds well balanced, for the moment. Save your judgement on her favour until you've heard Prouvaire's opinion. You may find you've two more men, instead of one."
But it was Enjolras who had the last word on the matter, unsurprisingly: "Your help is certainly welcome, Aurelien, and I'm confident we'll at least manage to unearth Jean Prouvaire. But that is nothing like the point of the matter. It's not the Parcae I'm interested in. It's Libertas."