A Bit of a Scandal
Founded during the First World War, Lloyd’s Funeral Services was an undertakers firm much like any other, based in slightly shabby premises near Holyrood Park. For the most part their customers were Muggles, but the company was owned by Mervyn Lloyd, a Welsh wizard whose grandfather had had the wit to realise how useful magic could be in the business. No matter how mangled a corpse, careful charms and transfiguration, and as a last resort outright illusion, could preserve and beautify it, and restore the outward appearance of health. A small proportion of their business came from Edinburgh’s Wizarding community, and transients like Harry. They didn’t handle traditional Wizarding funerals, which were still a speciality of the undertakers from Hogsmeade, but they were ready to do anything else that was necessary for their clients.
“How long do you think this will take?” Harry asked, once the travelling casket was safely in their workshop, ready to be opened.
“At least an hour,” said Mervyn, a wiry man in his fifties. “No telling how badly the body’s been damaged in nine years, not until we open the transit coffin. Hopefully the Muggles will have embalmed it reasonably well, and the spells the Ministry put on it when it arrived should have helped too, but there’s bound to be some deterioration. Don’t worry; the hearse isn’t due here until four – that ought to be enough time.”
“Can you do anything about it if it’s damaged?”
“I popped up to Hogsmeade at the weekend, old Aberforth gave me a Muggle photo, if the body isn’t too far gone there shouldn’t be a problem. Bit of a surprise, I can tell you.”
“See for yourself.” Mervyn gave Harry a glossy colour picture.
“Merlin, she’s so young. And… um…”
“Black? Yes, bit of a scandal there. It was their dad, of course. What was his name? Percival? Alberforth wasn’t too forthcoming with the details, but the way I understand it, his dad travelled in his youth, met two sisters in Trinidad, or maybe it was Jamaica. They were what they used to call Octaroons, an eighth black with some native American blood. The original Kendra was a Muggle-born witch, the only one in the family. Her sister Rona was a real beauty, even prettier than her, but just a Muggle."
Harry knew all too well how much trouble something like that could cause in a family.
Mervyn sucked in through his teeth. "Thing is, the randy bugger courted both of them. Of course he ended up married to Kendra, and got ready to bring her back to Britain. The fly in the ointment was that Rona was pregnant, and Percival was the father. She threatened to tell Kendra if he didn't see her right. Well, it was bad enough that he’d married a Muggle-born witch, any hint of a scandal beyond that and he would have been disinherited. So he saw to it that she was well set up, gave her a couple of hundred guineas which was a respectable fortune in those days, and buggered off sharpish. So Albus and Aberforth had an older half-sister they didn’t know about, out in foreign parts. After their parents were dead old Albus went through their papers and found out about it somehow, and got in touch with the family, but by then Rona was dead, and so was the half-sister. But he stayed in touch with her children and grandchildren and so forth, gave them a little help from time to time. At the end of it all this girl was an orphan, and Albus was the only living relative anyone could trace when she died.”
“Merlin! You think you know all about someone…”
“Old Albus was full of surprises. Anyway, let’s get on with it.” Mervyn got out a Muggle electric screwdriver and some other tools, then reached into a pocket for his wand. “Let’s see now… Alohomora” He tapped one of the fastenings with his wand, and it popped open, the seals and screws dropping to the bench. “That’s good, looks like they didn’t protect it from being opened. I shouldn’t need the tools. You might want to go into the waiting room until I’ve checked on things, it might not be very nice.”
“I’ve seen bodies before.”
“I’m sure you have, sir, but it’s never pleasant. Alohomora.” Another fastening opened.
“Um…” Harry remembered that he needed to report to the Ministry. “Actually, if you have a Floo connection I should really have a word with my boss.”
“Sorry, there’s some Muggles in viewing room three, and that’s the only fireplace. Alohomora.”
“Not for the next few hours. Alohomora. It’s a big family with lots of relatives and friends, there’ll be people in and out of there until we close. Alohomora.”
“How about a telephone?”
“Alohomora. On the wall there.” Mervyn gestured towards a section of wall covered with Muggle posters about health and safety, biohazards, and the precautions to be taken while handling bodies. The phone was half-covered by a calendar; the illustrations a range of expensive-looking coffins accompanied by grieving widows with implausible figures.
“Thanks.” He dialled Hermione again, got her answering machine again with no hint of call forwarding, and after some thought punched in another number. Behind him Mervyn carried on opening the casket.
“Hello, Grunning’s Drills.”
“Extension 436 please… Hello, Dudley, this is Harry. I need a bit of a favour.”
In a stunning display of nepotism Dudley Dursley had been appointed as Grunnings’ transport manager as soon as he left university. Astonishingly, he was reasonably competent, though his secretary did most of the routine work.
“What sort of favour?” asked a suspicious voice.
“Are you still friends with whats-his-name, Piers? Am I right to think he works for the Ministry of Education, or whatever they call it these days?”
“It’s the DFES. What about him?”
“I’m in Edinburgh, and I need to find out the name and address of a school somewhere in this area. About all I know is that it’s some sort of athletics school for teenagers, and that they use a green bus that would seat about twenty people. All I could see of the name of the place was the letters ‘rial’ followed by ‘School,’ there was a car in front of the rest. I know it isn’t a lot to go on, but there must be some sort of register of schools, on a computer or something, maybe he could narrow it down for me.”
“He’ll want a bottle of Scotch for that. A crate if he knows that you’re the one that’s asking.”
“I’m sure that you can think of a plausible reason for wanting to know.”
“Mmmm… yes, I probably can. Okay, if you’re in Edinburgh you can bring me back a good bottle of Scotch for him. And I’ll want one too.”
“Done. I probably won’t be near a phone for the next couple of days, but I’ll call when I can.”
“I can hardly wait.” The phone clicked, and Harry grinned. He’d have to do something nice for Dudley, although his cousin would probably be insanely suspicious if he did. Maybe get him a haggis or two to go with the Scotch? Something non-magical anyway, that was always a given with Dudley.
“That’s odd,” said Mervyn.
“How does she look?” Harry realised that there was a sudden chemical odour in the air.
“Pretty well preserved, on the whole; you can look if you like, it isn’t at all bad.”
“So what’s so odd?” asked Harry, turning round.
“This,” said Mervyn, gesturing towards the body, which was dressed in a simple white dress, hands clasped on a silver cross. As Mervyn had said, her condition wasn’t too bad considering the time since she had died. The face looked a little sunken, the skin a little yellowed by the preserving chemicals. Mervyn lifted her hair and cautiously tilted her head back a little, revealing a line of stitches across her throat. “That wouldn’t be part of the embalming process, you can see here and here where they put in the needles for that.” He pointed at dark indentations below the line of stitches. “And those stitches are too coarse for a Muggle doctor. I think someone cut her throat.”
“I wonder if Albus knew.”
“No idea. Aberforth didn't say anything if he did. It’s going to be a bit difficult finding out now.”
“There must be records somewhere.”
“Wouldn’t the Ministry have told you if they knew?” asked Mervyn.
“I suppose the records must have been lost when the Death Eaters were running the Ministry. Maybe it can be traced from the Muggle end in America.”
“Good luck with that. Didn’t you notice the shipping address?”
“Somewhere in California. Sunnydale?”
“Exactly. Remember about four years ago, a town that collapsed into caves?”
Comments please before I post to archives.
Monday AM - I've made some changes to the passage describing Kendra's family origins.