Grey in the Dark
Part Two: August 1980

by nightfall

Dickon gave the glass counter an absent polish, gazing idly at the dark sheen of chocolates under it, their rich surfaces sugared, gilt with decorative contrasts, spangled with tiny pieces of fruit. Ten o'clock on a Tuesday, and all his young customers bent over their books, all his older ones smiling brightly over counters of their own, or bent over ledgers, or sweating chest-deep under someone's dripping sink. Almost no point in being open today, really, with the rain, but there was always the off-chance…

The bell rang. He looked up with an easy, welcoming smile, which faltered not a bit at the solitary storm-crow, skeletal and drenched to the skin, haggard and staring from under heavy brows, hands standing white and face grey against unrelieved black.

"I've come a long way, Richard Gowan," said his visitor softly, his rich, weary voice making the bright sweets on the shelves hide in their packets for shame at their own gaudiness.

"Severus Prince," Dickon breathed. The Prophet had been full of his troubles. "Reed root and kneazle whisker, eleven and a half inches, with the twisty handle," and he'd come in with that terrifying woman, all pride and backbone and sizzle… "I was sorry to hear about your mam. She were a fine witch, uncommon fine. And your da. No one should go like that."

The lad—a man now, but just barely; it couldn't have been ten years since Dickon had laid the roll before him—bowed his head, wet hair swinging over his eyes, and swallowed. "You've heard it all, then," he uttered, not really a question, and looked up to meet Dickon's eye without really raising his head. His own eyes were burning, banked and slow.

"Don't you worry, lad," Dickon told him, voice joking, eyes not. "We don't mind a brush with the law in the Sherwood. Gives you local colour, like."

The lad wavered in front of him with the release of his shoulders, the sag of his tense hands, with not being kicked out into the dreary rain. Quiet and low, he said, "They broke our wand, Dickon. I was only in pending a hearing, but they broke it anyway, right in front of me. They never wait for trials these days. Snap."

Dickon winced. "She were a beauty," he said quietly.

"Well, they're dead now, the lot of them," young Severus said, harsh and tight. "I need a new one, Dickon. I've bought one for public from Ollivander's so they think they can trace me, the bastards. It's all right for the selection, blackwood and phoenix, but Christ, you'd think they'd just stamp Dark Wizard on me forehead," he finished in disgust, pulling out a stupidly long, snake-black lacquered number with arcane bloody carvings on the handle that made Dickon raise his eyebrows skeptically. Ollivander always had been a swank git. Fifteen inches if it was a centimeter, for a rawboned lad like him who'd never scrape his head on a door. Bollocks. And the hand holding it looked… wrong, he noticed belatedly. Marbled with fading scabs, all around the same age, stiff and swollen at the joints. Bastards. "Or a scarlet D tattooed on my chest. I need one for me. I need one of yours. One that fits."

"Come around back and dry off," Dickon said, putting the bell by the register and coming round to put an arm around the sodden cloak, drawing him in. Five eleven, he reckoned, or thereabouts. A twelve-inch wand if that. But then, the boy had had the look of someone who didn't eat as much as he ought. "I'm sorry to tell you the price has gone up," he said lightly. "Inflation and that, and it's higher for adults anyway. This time I'll be wanting a bottle or two extra, and a full three bags of petals…"

It was a grating caw to his ears, but you didn't much believe your ears in this business. Dickon was sure of it: the godawful noise had been nearly a laugh.

[and back to the wars]