The Prancing Prince of Peril
Gentle Into that Good Night
Chapter Two: The Prancing Prince of Peril
"Conceit is incompatible with understanding." - Leo Tolstoy
Noah had finished the window display and was restocking the Witches' Studies shelves when Mr. Rankling rushed up behind him, wheezing and puffing. "Chappell, I'm truly sorry to do this, but you're the only man working today. Let someone else stock shelves. I need you on crowd control."
Noah opened his mouth to protest, but Mr. Rankling raised a warning finger, nodded solemnly and retreated toward the back of the shop. Noah glanced down at the paperback copy of The Muggle and Me: Magical Mixed Marriages in his hand. In frustration, he swatted it against his other hand and set it back on the shelf, where it teetered and fell over.
He turned his head to look at the crowd of women gathered near the front of the store. It was clear from their giggly excitement that they were not there to browse the Witches' Studies section. Most of them had two or more of Lockhart's books in their arms, holding them close to their chests like cherished infants. Although many of them appeared to be a comfortable distance past his own age of twenty-eight, they whispered and fidgeted like schoolgirls.
"Best hurry up, love," Madam Flourish said gently from the frame above his head. "Mr. Rankling is not in his best humor today and there'll be hell to pay if you're not over there soon."
Noah looked back toward the back of the shop and saw the manager, loaded down with magazines, attempting to navigate his way through the throng of women. "Thanks for the tip, Madam." His eyes narrowed. "Hey, this is Mister Blotts' portrait. What are you doing over here?"
Madam Flourish rolled her eyes and smiled. "I just wanted a quick word with him and his portrait is usually the best place to find him. But I see that he has made himself scarce, much like the rest of your gender today. And I was quite unaware that you were so involved in my comings and goings, love. Next time, I'll be sure to seek your permission before I leave the confines of my own frame."
Noah grinned sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Madam, I didn't mean to imply..."
"I know that, foolish boy. Now go get busy with crowd control before you get a talking-to."
"Believe me, I'd rather stay here and chat with you than play nanny for the Prancing Prince of Peril." He rolled his eyes and left, heading reluctantly toward the growing crowd of eager females. He heard Madam Flourish laughing as he walked away and felt certain that she shared his opinion of Lockhart.
As he got closer, he could hear the voice of Lockhart himself over the gaggle of girls. "Ladies! I assure you that there is enough of me to go around...please, let's not resort to hysterics."
Noah was fairly certain that no one was anywhere even remotely close to anything he would call hysterics. He made his way into the center of a group of witches, who were all holding knapsacks filled with books. "Ladies, if you'll form an orderly queue against the wall over here...we'd like to keep the aisle open for other customers."
They shuffled back like sheep against the wall, forming a neat queue that ran into the front hall and out the door, still craning their necks for a glimpse of the blond wizard awaiting them. Noah watched the door, prepared to direct any newcomers to the end of the line, but his attention was drawn back to Lockhart.
Gilderoy Lockhart stood on a raised platform in a corner of the shop. Behind him was a table littered with copies of his various books and autographed pictures of his smiling face. Olivia sat on a stool by the table, attempting to organize the books and pictures into stacks.
As Noah watched, she finished a tidy stack of volumes and had just turned away when Lockhart, posing for a picture, bumped the side of the table and sent the stack toppling to the floor. He casually glanced over his shoulder. "Apologies, Ophelia. This autograph area is somewhat cramped, isn't it?"
She smiled up at him, but he had already looked away. She started to reply but Noah saw the realization creep into her eyes that he wasn't listening. She gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment and then returned to the task of organizing the table.
Angered, Noah turned away from the book signing and surveyed the throng of women. A pretty witch dressed entirely in lilac robes had gathered a small group together and they were singing songs from a notebook. Curious, he moved closer to listen. He recognized the tune as being from a popular song, but the words seemed to have been rewritten.
"Better than the best of boys
No one's eyes match Gilderoy's,
Anything he'd ask, I'd do
Even face down You-Know-Who..."
Noah rolled his eyes and moved along, turning around again when Lockhart's voice boomed out again.
"Olympia, I could use a new quill. I believe this one is beginning to droop." Lockhart waved the quill in front of Olivia's face. Noah wondered if he just imagined seeing Olivia's shoulders sag slightly.
"Here you are, Mr. Lockhart." She handed him a long silvery quill, which he took without looking at her. "And my name is Olivia."
"Yes, of course." With a flourish, he signed the inside cover of a book, which he presented to a chubby witch with two disinterested young sons. "There you are, Madam...and thank you so much for coming by!"
Grinning broadly, he struck a pose for a giggly witch with a camera. Then, speaking back over his shoulder, he said "Pardon me, Lydia, but my signature color is blue and this quill is definitely silver. Would you be a lamb and fetch me a proper blue one?"
It was not his imagination. Olivia's mouth pressed into a thin line of dismay and her eyes seemed to darken in the soft light of the bookshop. She stepped away from the signing area and picked up a bright blue quill. As she turned to walk back, her eyes caught Noah's and he pointed surreptitiously to a witch in the queue who was reapplying her lipstick for the third time. He grinned and pulled an exasperated face. Olivia gave him back a slight smile and returned her attention to Lockhart.
Lockhart accepted the quill without a glance again, chatting loudly with a trio of blushing teenage girls. "And which of my books is your favorite, miss?"
Uninterested in the answer, Noah retreated toward the door, stopping only when he had to politely explain to a pair of garishly dressed witches that Mr. Lockhart was only able to sign books. The young ladies seemed disappointed, but Noah was relieved when they placed their knickers back in their bags without incident.
"Haven't read it, indeed!" A hush came over the crowd as Lockhart's shocked voice rose over the din. "My dear, what do you mean you've never read it?"
Noah saw that the tallest of the teenage girls was clutching a copy of Voyages with Vampires to her chest and slightly cowering from the author. "No offense meant, sir. It's just that I really don't care for horror books and the cover is so frightening."
Lockhart lifted the girl's chin to beam his smile at her. "Remember what they say, dear...you cannot judge a book by its cover." He stepped back, posing for another photo, accidentally elbowing Olivia in the face as she was stacking more copies of the book on the table beside him. Noah watched her hand fly up to the spot on her cheek, as she winced in pain. She looked up at Lockhart expectantly, but he was already engaged with the next customer.
Noah looked from her disappointment to Lockhart's cheery face, believing that some books were easily judged indeed.