The Sugar Quill
Author: Thing1 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Goblin Market  Chapter: Prologue
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Somebody asked JK Rowling in an interview how the goblins get the Muggle money back into circulation, after it is exchanged at Gringotts. Her reply intrigued me - she stated that the goblins were rather crafty, and in fact sort of 'fenced' the money back. We know the goblins to be rather testy and shady characters anyway - exactly how many 'goblin uprisings' have they been forced to write about in 'History of Magic' anyway?

DISCLAIMER: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, JK Rowling, and all that are hers belong to her, and I thank the gods for her continued good humour that all of us who love those things may play with them. Other quotes used in the chapter headings are attributed as appropriate.

 

***

Prologue

ŸŒłø

This has got to be the stupidest thing I ever agreed to do.

Billy Stockwell crushed his cigarette out with a vengeance even as he pulled his coat more tightly around him. He had envisioned life as part of Europe's most prestigious gem cutting organization to be a little more, well, upscale, than waiting on a decidedly foggy and getting-colder-by-the-second corner somewhere in The City late at night in the heart of winter. The street where he stood was practically deserted at this hour. Some rather dingy looking tiny old pub across the street was open and seemed to be doing some business, but judging by the rather eccentric look of the customers he'd seen, Billy highly doubted that he would want to go in and have a look about. He'd seen at least three men enter wearing, well, dresses of some sort, he was sure of it.

Maybe it's just an English thing; don't they seem to have this weird obsession with 'fancy dress' parties?

After living in London for a year Billy had been invited to approximately 4 cocktail parties but 6 of the dreaded 'fancy dress' parties. He shuddered at the memory of spending four hours making small talk with people dressed in mermaid and frog costumes while resisting the urge to throw his wig into the fire with his painfully goofy 'breeches' right behind. He wasn't even sure what a footman was, but it seemed the most harmless outfit he could find.

Billy sighed, and decided that in fact this situation was the perfect coda to a long and wretched day. His cutting was improving, but this morning he had misjudged the lie of a crack on a rather large and nice sapphire, and had subsequently destroyed it. Certainly they would get two or three smaller stones, but they had hoped to have a nice three-carat emerald cut, not a few half carat 'chips' as his teacher had pointed out testily. Billy felt so awful as he went to explain what had happened to the Master Cutter, he could barely speak. But the Master had just smiled and commented that they all made mistakes. Then he asked if Billy was busy that evening. Billy had shaken his head miserably, and the Master had asked if that were the case, would he mind very much running an errand for him. Billy had agreed without asking what the errand was, desperate to redeem himself slightly. He didn't really take heed of the smirk on the master's face at the time, but now he understood.

Billy lit another cigarette and leaned back against the wall again. He actually had no idea when this buyer was going to show up. He had been stunned when it was explained to him that he was going to be meeting a buyer that evening and delivering him his latest order. The Master had assured him that the buyer was an eccentric and always did his business late in the evening, and always sent a car to the same corner to pick up the seller and take him to whatever hotel he happened to be staying at that visit to London. Billy couldn't help but think this was all a little shady, but opted to keep his mouth shut and took the parcel handed to him. It was wrapped in standard brown parcel paper, but it was sealed with a red ribbon and a rather dodgy looking piece of metal with a strange looking symbol that had reminded Billy of the 'love medallion' his uncle had worn during his unfortunate mid-life crisis in the seventies. He had run a finger over the small circle, but instantly pulled his hand away as it strangely seemed to fill him with a strong sense of dread. The parcel was quickly dropped it into an inside pocket of Billy's greatcoat where it sat for the rest of the day.

Billy subconsciously patted his chest to check once more that the package was there, wondering exactly what gems might be inside. None of your business; just wait here like a good doggie and get this over with. With nothing better to do besides defy the increasingly intense and obnoxious health warnings on the effects of tobacco, Billy examined the strange and ancient looking pub across the street in more detail.

It didn't seem particularly large, but Billy kept getting the odd feeling that he was missing something as he looked at the old plastered walls shimmering in the sulphur glow of the nearest streetlight. Only the right side of the front was really visible, the left cast in shadow as the light sort of seemed to fade away just before it cleared the small wooden front door. Billy dragged on his cigarette and huffed out a large cloud of smoke and chill.

A tall man came out of the pub without a sound, wrapping a long black cloak tightly around him as he moved into the night. The man seemed to almost prowl down the opposite side of the road, out of the glare of the streetlight. Billy watched him, feeling an odd chill come over him and all the hair on the back of his neck stand up, despite the fact that the figure seemed completely uninterested in him and was moving quickly away. Billy blinked for a moment, and then the figure vanished completely into the fog.

Great. Not only am I freezing, I have now managed to give myself a serious case of the creeps. Wonderful job; excellent life. What's next?

Billy continued to stare nervously in the direction the man had disappeared, and actually found himself hoping that someone else came out of the pub and soon, dress or no dress. He tired to make out some of the advertisements in the window of the record shop across the way, but it was too dark. Billy couldn't help but be drawn back to look at the pub, and glanced up at the small windows of the upstairs rooms. A few were lit, but most were dark. As his eyes came to rest on the very top window in the darkest corner of the building, he thought, for a moment, that he saw two little bald heads and four little red eyes staring back down at him. He did jump back this time, and flattened himself against the wall. He closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds, silently vowing never to watch 'The Amityville Horror' ever again, then looked back at the window. Nothing.

Exactly how old are you, idiot?

He started to pace now, straining to hear if any of the distant traffic noises were going to come his direction. Billy supposed he was expected to stand here all night if necessary, but was becoming less and less confident by the minute that this was something he was up to.

As he turned to pace back in the direction of the pub, he thought for an instant that he saw the door opening, but it closed and nobody emerged. Someone decided not to leave just yet, I guess. His heart rate had almost settled back down completely when a voice behind him nearly finished him on the spot.

"A very good, good evening, Sir," came a little growling voice.

Billy tripped over himself as he turned and staggered on the pavement, slipping off the curb and landing hard in the gutter. He ignored the fact he was now soaked in the remains of that afternoon's rain shower, and tried to see who had spoken to him.

In the shadow he himself had been standing in most of the night he could just make out two small figures. They each wore absurdly large hats pulled low over their eyes, and black coats with high collars that covered most of their faces. He could make out two identical grins, faintly, and four eyes twinkling at him. I'm just imagining that those teeth look…sharp….

"I do believe you have something we want."

Billy decided being mugged by two psycho midgets really was going to be the low point of his existence. Without argument, he reached into his pocket and held out his wallet. The two figures looked at it curiously, then giggled. It was an atrocious sound.

"No, no. We've no need of that. Your other possession, yes?"

Billy managed to get to his feet.

"Oh, oh, I'm…sorry. Yeah, um, I thought you were coming here in a car…."

They shook their heads vigorously in tandem with each other, then halted as one, as if on cue, and stared at him again. There was silence for a few moments, until Billy felt compelled to reach into his coat again, and this time bring out the package with its odd wrappings. He held it towards them, but was surprised to see they drew back slightly, and their grins faded a bit. Billy was certain he heard one of them mumble something that had to be a curse from the inflection, but he couldn't place the language.

"Would you mind, very much, removing that silly little bauble from the package for us?"

Billy stared at the dark figures again for a few moments, and then in somewhat of a daze reached to untie the ribbon and remove the disk it held. As before, the metal felt like ice when he brushed it and filled him with a dreadful feeling, but he continued. The two little men leaned towards him now, staring at the package and their grins returning.

Just as he managed to untie the last of the knots, Billy heard the low hum of a car coming from the distance. He hesitated a moment, but let out a gasp as the two men leapt forward just as the ribbon fell away from the package, taking the medal with it. Long fingers reached out and snatched the package, then vanished back into the shadows, even as the headlights of the approaching car became visible.

"Thanks," came the voice once more, giddy with laughter, then the two figures seemed to simply vanish. Billy reached forward and tried to grab them. Not to save the package, but to ascertain that they really hadn't simply disappeared into thin air. He was actually groping at the wall behind the spot where they had stood when the car came to halt next to him. Billy turned and gaped as three men wearing black dresses emerged from the car, followed by another little man, dressed in the same funny hat and coat as the other two had been. The little man immediately looked down at the medallion and the ribbon lying on the sidewalk and gave an enraged shriek.

Billy turned as he felt someone grab his arm. He stared into the face of one of the men in the dresses.

"Well, Mr. Stockwell, you haven't had a good day, have you? Stupefy…."

The last thing Billy remembered before he passed out was the freak in the dress waving a stick in his face.

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