Gorbrin and Meliandra sat on the front wall of the free school eating ice creams with Mortimer Bane.
The boy was a couple of years older than them, part goblin, and had been working hard to catch up on his previously neglected education especially since he had moved into the school as caretaker and as ward of Hawke and Abraxus Malfoy. Hawke particularly was his hero; and he was happy to be friends with these two posh Hogwarts kids, one a full blood goblin dressed in the best of cloth and the other a very posh little girl, because the goblin was the adopted son of Hawke's uncle Lucius and addressed him cheerfully as 'Cousin Mortimer'.
Mortimer sometimes felt almost guilty that he should be so happy now, as a result of his father dying; but the old man hadn't even ever done half as much for him as Professor Hawke did – they had to use first names so as not to have two Professors Malfoy, and now he even knew it was proper to have the plural on the professors not the Malfoy – who not only fed and clothed him better but actually spent time with him sometimes after school, as well as letting him have the run of the library! Mortimer had made good use of the library and had spent time trying to pull up to a stage where he was ready to take OWLs not just the DOE, the Diploma of Ordinary Endeavour that had been invented by his wonderful tutors to give an exam of some sort to those who couldn't hack taking OWLs. Mortimer approved; not all his fellows could reach a level where they could take OWLs, or not more than one or two. But qualifications showed some ability and would mean those who had been to the free school had a better chance of getting a job. He had been nearly fourteen when he started school; the year it had opened, and he doubted many of his peer group would manage even a DOE for another year, maybe two; but it was still better than nothing, and getting a free meal every day meant their parents thought it worthwhile letting them stay to take qualifications rather than go to work.
It was galling that these two third years probably knew as much as him about a lot; but they had admitted to being swotty types. And once Professor Hawke had realised what Mortimer was doing he gave him his own notes to read, and set him holiday assignments to help him catch up!
It had been hard; but Mortimer was taking six OWLs, DADA, Charms, Transfigurations, Potions, Arithmancy – for which he had a talent – and Herbology.
Mortimer had never seen plants grown on purpose before, the odd weed in a pavement perhaps and lawns in front of posher houses, and the idea that you could grow plants especially to brew potions instead of them coming dried was a revelation. He enjoyed potions and was good at it; a subject he loved to talk about with Gorbrin. Charms he struggled with, which disappointed him as it was Professor Hawke's subject. But Professor Hawke was really cool about it and said providing he gave his best effort no-one could ask for more. And if he got more than one OWL at grade 'E' or above, Professor Hawke had promised to pay for him to go to Hogwarts for NEWTs; and then he'd have the chance to boast of a Hogwarts education as well as qualifications above what anybody he knew – bar the Professors of course – had. And it'd be nice to know some of the kids who were already there. Gorbrin and Mel were cool kids, tough enough and not snotty at all! Gorbrin came to this part of town to look over his adoptive father's properties – it was extraordinary to Mortimer that there were people rich enough to own not one but several apartment blocks – and stayed for a chat because Professor Hawke had introduced them. Which was when, discovering that Mortimer was the Professor's ward, Gorbrin called him 'Cousin'.
Gorbrin swallowed the last bit of cone and licked his fingers.
"Well no rest for the wicked" he said "We're over now to the Umbrous Lane complex; coming Mort, or are you too busy?"
"Oh reckon I can find time to come along" said Mortimer.
If truth be known he quite liked the opportunity and excuse to go back to his old haunts to show off the finery Professor Hawke dressed him in; not so fine as these kids wore, (though somehow he knew that even so they were dressed down) not fine enough to get him beaten up over on general principles unless he gloated – which he sometimes did on equally general principles – but fine enough to be suitable for a Schoolmaster's ward or son.
"I still can't get over Romulus being 'Professor Snape' giggled Meliandra.
"Too many Snapes and Malfoys I guess" said Gorbrin.
"MOST people would say more than one of either type constituted too many" she said.
"Most people our age group are Malfoys of one specie or another" said Gorbrin "With cousins and whatnot. Or so it seems sometimes."
"Reckon it must be pretty cool ter be at school wiv a load o' relatives" said Mortimer.
"Kinda" said Gorbrin "Little sisters can be a pain though, and cousin Bella needs firmly sitting on, she managed to lose us the school shield last term by animating the suits of armour and getting them to insist on dancing with people. Mind you" he added "I don't really grudge that, 'cos the amusement value was worth it. Our relatives are okay on the whole; haven't had one who want to whine and follow around bigger cousins but I've heard of those who do, that must be pretty trying. You'll have one cousin in the class you go into when you come for NEWTs, Aurelia Yaxley, oh and I suppose Grigs Havelock is too, he's a cousin of a cousin, muggleborn; his cousin is our Head Boy. He's in for two years at the job 'cos he got chosen in the lower sixth which is s'posed to be rare but we've had three recently, Draco – m'brother – David Fraser the Triwizard champion, and now Lionel Dell. Abraxus only did the year account of being only a year younger than David or he might've as well. We got to have all your professors except Professor Longbottom as upper sixth you know; so we know they're not half as virtuous as they seem all lordly on a dais in academic gowns."
"I wouldn't mind hearing some stories; though I reckon that Professor Hawke is just IT!"
"Yes everyone said it was a really good bunch of prefects across the board, though we're happy enough with the ones we have now too" said Gorbrin "Dell is the fairest chap! He's the one who's Grigs' cousin; and he has a – well, it's more than a gang, they're sort of a self-help group, and it spreads across every house and most of the people chosen as prefects are in it so it shows you they're decent types; and they add people kinda like a family. There's three in our year. Us, we sort of gang with my sister and her numerous friends and my friend Jardak – he lives in Umbrous Place North and his dad works for my dad now on the newspaper – and George and Mardo Monk but it's not really as formal as a gang we just hang out together. And Mel and me are special friends and it's NOT giggle-worthy because we're friends and neither of us is into snogging yet."
"I bet it's girls who giggle and make jokes" said Mortimer wisely "It usually is!"
They crossed the Ravenscourt road and ambled through the wall of the raised railway line to bring them back into wizarding space in the Umbrous Lane network.
It was a little disconcerting to see a muggle vehicle in there.
It was a tipper lorry; and it was depositing what appeared to be a couple of tons of well-matured dragon dung outside a factory that made gardening tools.
There was a goblin standing beside the lorry looking satisfied.
"Dare one ask?" asked Gorbrin.
"Why not? I run Madam Myrtle Malfoy's nursery; and the last shipment of tools we got were substandard and they won't replace them. So we borrowed a muggle vehicle. To this end" he said grinning.
"Madam Myrtle Malfoy? She teaches Herbology as Madam Carmichael" said Mortimer "She's my teacher" he added proudly.
"She' a good woman, her and Madam Prince what also invested in the nursery; it's a good place that has many an indigent wizard and goblin in good employment" said the man "Name's Dokan; give my best to her for me when you see her, hope she won't mind me doing this."
"Shouldn't think so" said Gorbrin laconically "Myrtle was a prefect who believed in making the punishment fit the crime so I shouldn't think that's changed. Reckon she'd be pleased you used your initiative."
"Madam Carmichael doesn't take any crap from no-one" said Mortimer then laughed "Reckon these people have to though!"
"I'll say!" said Dokan "Scuse me kids, want to get this here vehicle outa here before anyone takes too much exception; need to be half in half out o' the wall to direct it through."
Gorbrin did not think there'd be a problem so long as no muggles were injured manoeuvring the thing out; after all, didn't dad regularly bring his Rolls Royce down here?
They left Dokan to it.
Most of Lucius Malfoy's buildings down this end were in Penumbrous Court; the better off end of the complex. Gorbrin had a check list on a clipboard to fill in and was instructed to 'get the feel' which made perfect sense to him as Lucius had known it would. Everything seemed in order; then there was the one on the corner of Umbrous Place North and The Walk, where there were three blocks catering to some of the poorest, one owned by Lucius and one owned by Sirius Black. The third had a landlord whose rent collectors were no social workers but at least displayed some offhand pity over letting rent run so neither had tried to buy it out.
Again there seemed no problems.
Gorbrin called on random residents, most of whom he knew from when he had lived in the neighbourhood; claiming to be employed to check that all was in order if asked rather than bothering to mention who his new father was.
The odd tenant who read newspapers knew; and at his polite questions one crone said,
"Well, now, young Gorbrin, it hasn't spoilt you at all, still a lovely mannered boy despite having got posh!"
"Well you see, now I have THREE mothers to skelp me if I'm not a good boy!"
"The other Madam Malfoys must be right nice ladies then" she said.
"They are" said Gorbrin seriously "And Mum gets on just dandy with them."
"Well I don't grudge you your fortune; there's them as do, but you ignore them. Your mum's a lovely person, always ready with a friendly smile and a kind word. So long as Mr Malfoy treat her right and it ain't just politics reckon that's good"
"Dad is great" said Gorbrin "I've not forgotten my real dad, but Lucius is dad too. He makes no difference between us. And he'd not be happy you know if any of us acted stuck up; 'cept to those people that need taking down a peg or two. Then I can be as Malfoy as I like."
She cackled with laughter and kissed him – which he endured stoically – before heading on his way.
He saw what she meant with one tenant he interviewed who called him MISTER Malfoy with obvious sarcasm and plainly did resent his social rise.
It took all sorts.
What really did upset Gorbrin – as it always did – was seeing the rent collector with a couple of security trolls beating up a goblin while his family stood by sobbing, the mother with her arms around terrified children.
"Oh I know him" said Mortimer "That's the building I lived in wiv me da. Cor, me room in the school's like a bleedin' palace by comparison. There's room all arahnd the bed and room fer a desk and chair and all, it's bigger than the room da and me both 'ad. We 'ad a kitchen too, well it was kinda the size of the stationary cupboard. Eight Galleons a week and you get yer own water from the tap in the yard, shared loo on each landing."
"Crikey!" said Gorbrin "I thought our accommodation down here was bad, nine of us with three rooms; us boys slept in the main room, mum and the girls in the bedroom, loo was shared, we had a kind of alcove with a curtain where we had a bucket for overnight, and we bathed in a tin bath in the kitchen. Which had running water and I was going to say of course but I guess it isn't."
"Not hardly" said Mortimer. "Bastards"
"I can't stand this" said Meliandra and walked over. "Tell them to stop that, my man" she said.
Her manner was surprising enough that the trolls goggled as well as the rent collector staring.
"And what business is it of yours, missy?" he demanded.
"It's the business of anyone who sees a common assault upon the highway" said Meliandra "WHY are your trolls beating on that poor man?"
The rent collector gave a nasty laugh.
"This poor man as you call him is a feckless jerk that's in arrears with the rent for the third time!" he said. "Time for a little vigorish!"
"It's not true! He's been ill!" cried the woman. "It's the fumes in the firework factory, they make him cough!"
"What does he owe?" asked Gorbrin coming over.
"Shove off goblin trash" said the rent collector "Oho, friend of the snotty half breed what got himself someone to sell his arse to I see?"
"Don't talk about his guardian, my cousin Hawke Malfoy like that or I shall report you for slander as I'm not allowed to use my wand yet" said Gorbrin.
"Your cousin? Oh ho ho, funny kid! Beat it!" said the man.
"Madam" said Gorbrin to the goblin woman "There's an empty apartment in my dad's block over there; it's twenty galleons a week but there are jobs in the printing works that would be better for your husband's lungs and I can ask dad to let the rent run until he's fitter. In fact to do that creep down I'll pay several weeks from my pocket money savings just to spite him. He's irritated me; irritated Malfoys don't get mad they get even."
That she would accept as a better reason to take charity than altruism.
Her eyes widened.
"You're the boy who saw his father killed whose mother married Lucius Malfoy? Is he a proper husband to her or is it all politics?"
"He's a brilliant husband to her and a smashing dad" said Gorbrin.
The Rent collector was now looking wary.
Gorbrin WAS wearing a fairly fine robe after all; and it was a robe not the common goblin wear, albeit over jeans and a T-shirt. And such muggle garb was usually only worn by the richest too. Gorbrin had forgotten to dress as a goblin and just dressed in everyday holiday clothes such as he and Meliandra played in while she was staying.
"I'm going to tell Professor Hawke wot you said that he was a pervert" said Mortimer "Very serious accusation to make about a teacher. And in front of witnesses, innit!"
"Quite" said Meliandra "And I say, if you tell those trolls to attack us we ARE allowed to use wands in self defence and I expect we could deal with a couple of trolls and an uneducated oik like you without even working up a sweat. Easier to hit than erklings and the same ministry classification you know. How much do they owe?"
"Ten galleons; one week" said the rent collector.
"Malfoy we shall have to pool resources I only have eight galleons on me" said Meliandra.
"Five each then Bulstrode?" said Gorbrin. Mel was playing all snotty Hogwarts brat; he'd play along.
"And less the equivalent this fellow has had taken from the tenant's hide I think" added Gorbrin "After all, it's an illegal way of collecting rent, this poor chap would get at least six galleons in compensation if we took it to court….maybe we should, to make sure there are no reprisals…"
The rent collector scowled.
He was unaware he was already about to end up before the wizgamot on a charge of livelihood-affecting slander.
"All right, gimme five galleons and we'll call it quits" he said sulkily.
"Good; we'll give it to you AFTER the lady and her kids have packed and vacated the room" said Gorbrin "Just in case you declare it paid off and try to steal their possessions or anything."
The rent collector scowled even more.
Gorbrin had learned during the few years of living in this neighbourhood just WHAT some people were capable of. He knelt down by the injured goblin as Meliandra firmly organised packing.
"I'm not allowed to do healing magic except in a life and death situation" he said "I don't want to be expelled; but I'll ask a grown up to come over from the print works and sort you out. They have some efficient types there."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because dad reckons that if people get a hand up they should pass it on and then the world is a better place. I got several fists full up, not just a hand. And you'll now look to take in someone destitute or help out in some way, won't you, because that's right" said Gorbrin.
The poor fellow was a dreadful colour; he could well believe he was ill from fumes. He didn't smell of drink in the least either. The honest poor; and as such in need of that hand up.
Meliandra came down helping to carry the family's meagre possessions and Gorbrin and Mortimer helped the goblin up.
"Ten galleons a week for one pokey room and a cubby to cook in?" demanded Meliandra "It's daylight robbery! Who owns this block?"
"It's Mr Baddock" said the rent collector sulkily.
"Not Malcolm Baddock?" said Gorbrin who had heard from relatives of the boy expelled from Hogwarts for using polyjuice potion to pretend to be Professor Snape to whip Jade Snape.
"Nah, Mr Wallace Baddock" said the rent collector. "His nephew Malcolm was done to death with his friend Mr Pritchard by a couple of escaped hippogriffs; they never did find out who owned them to sue."
Gorbrin shot a startled look at Meliandra and knew she was thinking, as he was, that the Malfoy twins had been sufficiently indignant about the iniquities of Pritchard and Baddock that it was likely that they were the unidentified hippogriffs.
Poetic to use a transfiguration.
"Wallace Arbuthnot Baddock?" said Meliandra "Oh yes, I remember Mary-Anne Green mentioning the notice in the 'Prophet' to the effect that he'd married her mum, being the one she deserted her dad for. Thank you for the information. Here is your five galleons; and it's still daylight robbery."
And they stalked off – or in the case of the goblin, hobbled.
The apartment in the Malfoy block was both larger and finer; Lucius kept his rents low and his pay fairly high and got thereby far greater productivity from his workers.
And Gorbrin left them settling in, the goblin woman sobbing and kissing his hands in gratitude (which he hated) to send someone over from the printing works both to heal the man and to see what jobs he might do.
Even sweeping the floor had to be better than ruining his health assembling fireworks.
And that meant the whole way fireworks were made had to be looked into.
It was a moment of delightful schardenfreude to see the aftermath of the tipped dung at the garden tools factory where the factory owner, or possibly manager, a tubby little wizard, was literally jumping up and down in anger and anguish.
There was a notice stuck in the pile
"Should have done a fair deal in the first place. Have fun shovelling and watch your substandard spades bend after one shovelful. Have a smelly day"
If his spades were that substandard it served him right; and now he would have to pay to have it carted away.
"Y'know if I can borrow a horse or donkey I reckon I can organise to make a fair few galleons for several kids on this" he said "Mr Hawke he got my cart back that the little creep of a rent collector demanded in rent, though he had to let him keep the donkey to sell in lieu; we can undercut big firms 'cos us kids'll take less pay. Some of it for the school greenhouse and reckon we can shift the rest at the school fer squibs."
"Shall we leave you to cut a deal then?" said Gorbrin. "And I say, don't despise the strengthening potion and feed it to a couple of your friends to pull it instead of a horse, if you shift it at night most muggles won't notice in this part of town!"
"Brilliant! Yeah, I'll do that; cheers, Gorbrin mate. Ta! See you around, see ya, Mel!" said Mortimer.
"He's a tough little swipe but I like him" said Gorbrin.
"Bit like Jack Clements I guess" said Meliandra. "He's all right."
They spoke to Lucius about the firework factory; and Lucius promised to talk to Fred and George Weasley – who had their own small but highly successful firework factory – about the noxious chemicals involved and how best to minimise risks.
With Weasley's Wizard Wheezes ready to hold forth about how it was possible to be safety conscious, he would have more chance of forcing through a law insisting on safety measures, if indeed he could not get them installed with a word to the wise anyway.
Generally speaking the owners of factories in Umbrous Alley were not what one might call scrupulous.
Fred and George were happy to show Lucius round their factory. All their workers wore masks over their mouths and noses.
"You don't have any lung complaints with so simple a measure then?" Lucius indicated the masks.
"None at all" said George.
"We coughed a lot when we were first making them for ourselves" said Fred "And so we tied hankies over out faces. Which helped some."
"And then I had accidentally dropped my hanky in a cauldron full of the antidote to Garrotting Gas; and it worked wonders" said George "We developed an antidote so we could use it on our people if we needed to use the gas to knock deatheaters unconscious in large numbers any time; well actually we planned to use it on Madam Umbridge before we found out she was going to get thrown in Azkaban. And now we sell it to the aurors office because they can just knock people out with the gas, revive any innocent bystanders and bring the culprits to any time they want before it wears of naturally. And we also have fitted masks made soaked in it. What's in it for you Lucius?"
"Cynic" said Lucius "I came across – or rather Gorbrin did – a goblin whose lungs have been badly damaged by making fireworks."
"Not in OUR factory" said Fred.
"No; but I wanted to pick your fertile brains on safety measures. And I like. I like a great deal" said Lucius "I'll talk to the factory manager and owner and see if I can't get them to use these masks voluntarily; and if not I want to propose a law, and I'll ask you to write me a fact sheet."
"Not a problem" said George. "Look, they need re-dipping for the greatest efficacy every, oh, month or so; we do it by hours of use. It adds a knut or two to each firework, no more."
"Excellent" he said "Though I suspect that the firework emporium is rather more likely to think of a way of cutting the cost by a knut or two per firework to have the advantage of cheapness; as you ARE so successful."
"Maybe we should make the owner an offer on his factory and then see about improving safety – and quality, still making budget fireworks for the poorer but with our own unique flair and panache!"
"Perhaps you should" said Lucius "Will you be likely to need a loan or a third partner?"
"Thanks Lucius; but we're fine" said Fred "Harry set us up; and we'd have paid him pack if he'd let us so we put that to starting other people in business instead – when it's paid back, if it is, it goes into a fund, see, ready for budding entrepreneurs. But we're the richest Weasleys ever."
"You might consider looking for entrepreneurs in the Umbrous Lane region as well as out of Hogwarts" said Lucius "Some enterprising young people down there you know."
"Cheers Lucius; great idea" said George. "Oh THAT firework factory. We went to look at that when we were first making fireworks with a thought to hiring out work to them but we weren't impressed. But now we can, we might very well buy it out. It's a definite thought!"
Lucius left feeling cheered.
The Weasley twins were full of the drive and energy the wizarding world needed.
As Lucius suspected the manager of the factory was not amenable to suggestion; nor when he tracked him down was the owner. The owner was a portly and rather greasy goblin who lived well away from the factory in Tangent court off Diagon Alley. The description 'smugly oleaginous' came to mind.
"Oh dear me, Mr Malfoy, what a to-do over nothing!" he beamed fatuously "One of my workers making a big fuss about nothing of course, you know some of these low types, milk a cold and call it a fever, trying to get sympathy for their skiving of course! And troubling your little boy about it, terrible, terrible, DO apologise to the dear little fellow for me, won't you?" he said as he picked up some of the gist of what Lucius was saying.
"Gorbrin is thirteen and not very gullible" said Lucius "And the unfortunate worker of yours did NOT importune him; Gorbrin told me that he was concerned with how ill he looked. I'm not surprised; I wanted to cough when I visited your factory. A simple introduction of a safety measure could improve the health of your workers no end to the cost of no more than a couple of knuts per firework."
"Oh no need, no need; we're men of the world you and me, Mr Malfoy, there's always plenty more where these scum come from."
Lucius regarded him with disfavour
"As you do not choose to carry a wand I shall not call duel on you for your distasteful attitude" he said coldly "I shall however oppose you in any way I can in the financial arena. I consider you loathsome."
"Eh? Wot for? You ain't tellin' me you acksherly care about them scum are yer? C'mon, I know it's only politics, you're a clever man Mr Malfoy, and I appreciate that, but don't give me the hogwash, I'm a man of the world I don't need the crap"
Lucius rarely hit a man smaller than him.
For this creep he made an exception.
Sirius Black and Willow were also inspecting Sirius' properties in the less salubrious parts of London, to make sure his goblin factor was keeping to the straight and narrow, not that Sirius doubted his integrity! Taken from poverty, Gulbrock was grateful to Sirius for giving him a second chance to prove himself. But it was the mark of a good property owner to check his own buildings out and Gulbrock likes Sirius to do so, to cover himself too, especially in one of the buildings where a cantankerous old wizard was always making complaints.
Sirius, having ascertained from the neighbours that the old man just liked to find things to moan about, bethought himself of a song Severus could occasionally be persuaded to sing as a joke against himself from an operetta where a cantankerous man is brought low by being given everything he wants and has everyone smiling and pleasant at him, visited the old grouch with a hamper of luxury food and fine wine.
And everything he complained about as too rich and indigestible, Sirius had Kreacher whisk away so that the 'poor chap' should not be made ill.
The curmudgeon, seeing a treat prepared then whisked away caught on very quickly and promptly discovered he could find no more complaint.
That fixed him.
They were not expecting to run into the dapper figure of Kordach, who now preferred to be known as 'the goblin entrepreneur' rather than 'the goblin crime lord'.
"Professor Black, Madam Black!" he greeted them "I wonder if you can help me? A ticklish problem, you are close friends I believe of my friend Mr Fraser and associated with all the wonderful care Hogwarts offers to unwanted children?"
"More or less" said Sirius "We're peripherally involved in the orphanage if that's what you mean."
"It is indeed, it is" said Kordach. "Devillishly ticklish problem you know; the wife – delicate creature! Exquisite but delicate, you know – is always happy to accept the children of my mistresses to stay or play in the house, but not to live, no, she doesn't like that. And the children of other men from women she has no time for….that's definitely out! So, I was wondering if you could help me…."
"Why don't we go into the Hag's Arse and have a drink and you can tell us about it? I can use a muffling spell if you want it to stay private?"
"Well…..might be better than going home. The wife's not happy. Not happy at all."