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Rayya Borage-Brown

Of Wands and...cores.

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Rayya Borage-Brown

It was all well and good that people took the Ministry statement about suspicious wands seriously but it had resulted in a mass of letters, more than a few were Howlers, being dumped on her desk. The only really good bit about this was at least the letters were hauled in from a central collection point and she didn’t have to deal with the actual owls themselves. The downside...well…

 

“I bought a box of wands from Weasley’s, they’re supposed to be fake! But try telling that to my nosey neighbour! The crazy bat has reported me! I had two Aurors on my doorstep for near an hour! It’s a disgrace. My neighbour should be arrested…”

 

...the downside was clear for the entire department to hear. Rayy sighed and shot a glance around the room and coupled it with a helpless shrug. The harpyish screeching was still going on and showed no sign of stopping and Rayya found herself muttering along with more truthful statements, “it was ten minutes not the hour you claimed at the start, nor the two hours you’ve just changed it to...we didn’t make a scene...Ruth never suggested that your neighbour was right or that she is a sneaking, snooping hag...that was probably me saying that about you after we’d left and were back in the office...knew we ought to have stopped for a drink…” and then in a louder, relieved voice, “Thank Merlin that’s over!”, as the Howler burnt up and created a mess of ash in her coffee.

 

As silence descended around her, Rayy reached for another letter, opened it, took a distracted sip of her cold coffee and let out an excited yelp. This one had promise and whilst it didn’t sound like much of a lead, it sounded better than waiting for the next Howler.

 

“We’re out of here Ruth, let’s go!”

 

*    *    *    *


 

The shop, in an exclusive area of Diagon Alley looked high-brow and expensive; not at all a shop that Rayy would have chosen to buy a wand from - she was an Ollivander’s girl all the way! Inside it was too small, too brightly lit from the large glass frontage and from the dozens of richly scented candles. There was way too much in the way of decorations and not enough in the way of dust and age and...properness.

 

The owner, a prissy looking witch with not a single hair out of place and a pince-nez held in her hand, stood behind the glass counter and waved her free hand over some really fine looking wands that rested in pristine white boxes. “These are not my wands!” she explained, waspishly, “These were returned two days ago but Tamsyn didn’t process them correctly…”

 

Rayy took great delight in cutting the woman off before the poor shopgirl could be blamed for more, “Madam, if you could step away so we can examine these wands...thank you...would you be a dear and fetch Tamsyn in?” The words ‘she’s going to be more use than you’ left unsaid.

 

“Not possible!”

 

The reply was prompt and curt and Rayya’s eyebrow hiked up as she looked first to her partner and then back to the shop’s owner. Her expression narrowed into a look that would have sent her kids scrambling to get away, “...and why’s that?”

 

Sadly the explanation was all too predictable - one small error and the girl was fired.  Rayy stepped round the counter and gave the woman no alternative but to lead the way to the private office. “Start checking those wands, Ruth, I’ve got to have a look at staff records and have a chat with Madam about unfair dismissal laws.”

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Ruth Champlin

 

She was living in a never-ending nightmare; though precisely the type wasn’t what Ruth Champlin had expected when she’d signed on to this job. Letters started swarming in by the hundreds from the very instant the ministry sent out their notice. ‘Do your civic duty’ they’d told the public, ‘come forth with any information on fake wands…’ Had they mentioned a reward, too? She had to imagine they must’ve, given the sheer number of reports that’d landed in their laps as of late. If one took the notices at face-value only, they might be led to believe that a criminal outbreak was on the horizon. Neighbors were reporting neighbors, mother-in-laws their undesired daughter-in-laws, the list went on. And they had to check out every last one of them, just in case.

 

The intuitive witch was rapidly growing tired of the rage shared by each household and shop they went to visit. “Who reported me?!” one particularly angry manager had spat. Ruth tried to remain calm and civil. Insisted that they weren’t there to make accusations and just wanted to look around… but none of it mattered. They were foul, intrusive, unprofessional idiots whose only job was to slow production and nothing more. Obviously. Oh—and let her not forget, she deserved to be fired, too.

 

Ruth tried not to let the complaints get to her, but the more they grew in frequency, the more too her nerves were struck. A howler making its way into their department was the icing on the cake, really. Its deafening shriek made her wince, and for a moment she lowered the letter she’d been inspecting to take in the complaint at it’s fullest.   At the very least, her partner’s commentary made it more bearable to take. The smallest of smirks slipped onto her features as she watched Rayya grumble along, and then the monstrosity had finally given its final word she offered a shake of her head. “You’d think we were torturing people” sighed the woman. “So sorry for the inconvenience…”

 

For a moment, she returned back to the note in her hand, but she only managed to just barely read the first line when Rayya re-captured her attention with a yelp. ‘Let’s go!

 

“You found something? For real this time?!” the rare glimmer very much present in the woman’s eyes gave her hope. “Thank Merlin from above.”

 

*    *    *    *

 

They arrived a short while later at a quaint little boutique within Diagon Alley. The entire vibe of the place was quite a bit far off from anywhere she normally frequented; brightly colored photos decorated the walls alongside beaded garland. Glass frames displayed what she assumed was wands of ‘the latest fashion’ and the woman who owned it all… if she’d not known any better, she might’ve thought she were off on a mission to sell the latest dress robes, not wands. Ruth quietly took the space in while her partner busied herself with speaking to the woman. A couple of wands sat discarded over a glass table and, as luck would have it, they seemed to be of particular relevance to the case at hand. Returned two days ago… but not her wands?

 

Interesting.

 

Ruth silently examined the details etched into the woods, the designs of the handles, until her attention was drawn back to the store owner again with the sounding of a rather loud proclamation. Not… possible?

 

She turned, met Rayya’s displeased gaze, and a small shrug was offered to her before her attention was turned back to the owner.

 

The woman was all too willing to get to work inspecting the wands when her partner dismissed her. She hadn’t any interest in getting involved with employee affairs, but if what the woman said was true and the wands returned to her indeed, weren’t hers, that posed the question—why were they brought back there? The shop looked legit enough; hardly the sort to willingly tangle itself in the black market. This was an angle they’d yet to ponder… and it interested her greatly.

 

Withdrawing her own wand, Ruth waved it over the wands in question, muttering quiet incantations under her breath in the hopes that something interesting would come to light.

 

And indeed, something did.

 

A mere five minutes passed before she was tapping on Rayya’s shoulder. “Seems we might really be onto something” Ruth chimed at her. “We’ve got ourselves some fakes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rayya Borage-Brown

It was with quiet relief that Rayy turned from the staff records that had reluctantly been handed over by ; there really shouldn’t have been more than a couple of names on this list but apparently Madeleine, the owner, went through employees like her kids went through Butterbeer, and there was the better part of a dozen ex-employees on the list.

 

”We do?” Rayy asked, knowing full well that Ruth was certainly not mistaken. “Hmmmm...well that’s certainly interesting...” She broke off, tucking the hastily copied list of names into a pocket in her robes and went back to where the offending wands waited. “...now I wonder whether this is just a case of disgruntled ex-employees or if it’s more serious...you can never be too careful these days, some witches can be quite spiteful...especially if they feel they’ve been maligned or ill-treated...I’ve worked in a shop, I know how it goes...it’s all peaches and cream until someone pinches your lunch or eats the last chocolate biscuit or makes a cuppa and doesn’t make you one...and then it’s on...it gets very...heated...

 

Every word she uttered had poor Madeleine’s face grow ever paler but, the guilt trip aside, her little ramble gave Rayy the chance to silently summon every other wand in the store until they lay on the counter in a sad collection: not more than two dozen little white boxes with a goodly amount of space between them and the known fakes.

 

”How many customers do you normally get in, say, a week? There doesn’t seem to be much stock here to support a very large number...bespoke maybe? Custom orders with specific cores and woods? Where do you source your stock? You certainly don’t have the facilities to make them here...”

 

The answers were mumbled and Rayy was well aware that she was being less than friendly; probably from being around Richard too much and being of a similar vintage...older and crabby came with the territory sad to say. Rayy slipped a pair of thin dragonhide gloves on and gently lifted one of the fakes up to examine it in closer detail.  “Impressive,” she said, placing it back and taking up one of the recently summoned ones, “I’m not sure the average person would be able to tell the difference...Madeleine...stop repeating your answers to my previous questions...this one’s much more important than knowing you get a few wealthy witches and wizards a week and they are delighted with your selections and have never complained...I have no doubt that the real wands you have are well-made...nor are we interested in your finest sale to the prince of wherever...Oh! For pity’s sake!”

 

Rayya sighed as she realised her hubby might well have a point in that she could be quite terrifying when she got on a roll. A quick flick of her wand saw a tea tray came towards them and she got busy making the poor owner a cuppa and then deciding that they could probably all do with one. Handing cups round, she asked more gently, “I’m sure that we’d be satisfied with hearing about the oddest customers you’ve had recently, right Ruth. The odd ducks that really stick out...and the ones who were unsatisfied with your offerings.”

 

If anyone could get anything more than whimpers from the woman it would be Ruth because, unlike Rayy, she was a whole lot nicer and a lot less scary...and way more delicate and tactful in her questioning technique.

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Ruth Champlin

The brunette’s eyebrows lifted as she caught sight of her partner slipping a sheet of parchment into her robes. She didn’t pry, the worry clearly etched in the shop woman’s expression preventing her from wanting to do anything that might increase it more so, but she was curious. What information had Rayya managed to gather? She mentally stored the question away for later as words of contemplation filled the air between them, every syllable causing the face of their host to drain further of color. Ruth reached out to attentively place a hand on Madeleine’s shoulder. Haphazard employment practices aside, she had just been robbed and it was usually much harder for small businesses to get over such an ordeal than it was the bigger ones.

 

It could’ve very well been the stress of the whole thing that’d caused her to act so hastily -- and at that time, letting the person responsible go likely felt like the best thing to do. For herself and all others involved.

 

More questions were asked, and answers given. The two aurors learned that the little boutique specialized in custom wands of various woods and cores; some of which that were rare in nature.  The wands put out on display were some of Madeleine’s more popular models; there for people to peruse as a basis and example for their own custom wand or even purchase, if they so wished. The wands themselves were made within another facility. One, she assured them, where they use only the best materials available.

 

Nothing came across as out of the ordinary, especially for a shop such as this one.

 

Then, finally, Rayya seemed to think it time to give the poor woman a break. Ruth gave a quiet shake of her head. She’d been a member of this auror team for a year now, and yet still she couldn’t quite understand the lack of patience some of her co-workers held. They weren’t bound to get much out of anyone but more fear at this rate, and that wouldn’t be productive or helpful to anyone. “You can relax, you know” she offered Madeleine with a kind smile. “We’re not here to investigate you. We just want to get to the bottom of what’s happened here.”

 

It was a lie, in a sense. The case very well could turn in her direction depending on what sorts of details were uncovered, but keeping the woman calm was crucial.

 

Madeleine still appeared quite stressed; she repeated several of her answers over and over again as if terrified she might get arrested for something, but at the very least they had a better understanding of her shop now. Drinks were summoned, and it was with Rayya’s next statement that Ruth smiled kindly at the woman again. “Yes… is there anyone in particular you feel might want to steal from you? Or any customers you’ve noticed acting off? Any little bit of information you might have in that regard could be helpful.”

 

“Well… there was one person. A man” Madeleine replied thoughtfully. “He visited a while back. Was very… odd. Cold. Wouldn’t say more than a word or two to anyone. And he…”

 

Her face seemingly grew paler; if that were even possible.

 

“…he what?”

 

“He wanted to see my wands. All of them.”

 

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Rayya Borage-Brown

“All of them?” Rayy repeated, the question snapping out, sounding harsh. In her former occupation such a request from a customer was guaranteed to mean that they were a time-waster who wouldn’t purchase anything. “And you p...accommodated him?” Okay, she had really wanted to say ‘pandered’ but managed to stop herself and use a less confrontational word. The look she shot the now deathly white Madeleine was clearly perplexed as it really didn’t add up; no shopkeeper worth their salt would waste their time like that. No, the only ones were those who were completely desperate to make a sale.

 

”Why on earth would you have done that?” she asked in a kinder tone, “Surely you’d have drawn the line after the first few? I know the whole ‘wand chooses the wizard’ thing but still! Just how many wands did he examine before he left?”

 

It was a safe assumption that the odd duck had left and hadn’t been kicked out on his rear but the flaming blush confirmed it all and Rayy was left wondering just how this woman ever became the owner of a boutique store when she didn’t seem to have any affinity for it.

 

”He...he..he...”

 

Rayy forced herself to stay silent and aim her glower at the teapot as she refilled their cups. Handing the shaking woman a refill, she even managed a sincere smile and a wink, “You’re doing fine and you’re not in any trouble from us.”

 

”...he...kept shaking his head once he’d tried a wand...I wanted to make him happy...I explained each wand, the wood and cores, what sort of combinations would work for charms or potions...”

 

Listening to the hesitant explanation was enough to make Rayy go pale and feel sick. The very fact that there were grown witches out there who were still hooked into the delusion that they had to make people happy was enough to make her want to shake some common sense into the latest innocent victim. Sadly though she wasn’t quite able to keep the glower off...okay, so there was not even the attempt to keep her face pleasant. Through gritted teeth she finally managed to growl, “This wasn’t your fault...please believe me when I say that...but...”

 

Rayy stopped, pinched at the bridge of her nose and shook her head. No, she wouldn’t be finishing that thought aloud. Instead she lifted her pained expression to Ruth and silently begged to be saved. The last time she’d felt this angry and frustrated, she’d arrested a kid and then dumped him on her best friend. It wouldn’t go down well with her superiors if she now did something equally as stupid.

 

”So he wasn’t the person who bought the wands that were returned?” she managed to eventually say in a tone that was more even.  Madeleine shook her head as Rayy asked the necessary follow up question that would tell them if the two events were linked or just random, “And he saw those wands as well? And these are your best ones...in as much as they’re standard and not bespoke?”

 

”Yes.”

 

”Have some more tea, Madeleine; that cup must be cold by now. You’re doing very well to recall so much. I’m sure Ruth has more questions though.”

 

There was a good chance that they’d be stuck here for a while as it seemed highly likely the two events were linked - one person casing the joint and the other doing the stealing - and Rayy didn’t fancy misplacing the list of names in the meantime.  Retrieving it from her pocket she placed several wards on it and a runic inscription on the back before vanishing it to her locked box in her desk drawer. Then seeing someone hesitate at the window, she moved to cut them off, popping out the front door in her efficient clerk manner, wearing her best smile and using her nicest ‘shop voice’.

 

”Sorry...family emergency...the store will reopen probably tomorrow...maybe the day after. Can I notify you when that will be ma’am?” Rayy took down the lady’s details and nodded to several minor questions before offering, “Yes, I will pass on your best wishes to Madam. Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.”  She shut and locked the door before flicking the sign to read ‘closed’ and closing the blinds.

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Ruth Champlin

All of them?

 

The words settled into the root of Ruth’s thoughts, toying with her curiosity like a cat with a yarn ball. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a person to try out one, two, even three wands before finding the exact wood and core which best fit  their own unique needs, but for them to want to see all of them was just… odd. The woman stood back and pondered quietly to herself while Rayya went forward with her own questioning.  The mere tone of her voice prompted the younger auror to shoot a pointed look in her direction, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Madeleine was beyond help; her own face red as fire as she clearly fought to keep whatever remaining bearings she held with her.

 

And her cup steady on its saucer.

 

The glass clanked against each another while the shop owner sputtered out her story. So the man had inspected each of her wands, looking for something specific, no doubt, and the descriptions provided helped him along the way. Once he found what he was looking for, he purchased the wands and then brought back fakes a while later to get his money back and be able to hold onto the true wands for free.  It was an easy enough conclusion to draw. Most thieves worked the same way.

 

Only… he wasn’t the one to purchase the wands? Ruth turned to meet Rayya’s stare, and then took a sip from her own cup. This was going to be a very long day – she could sense it already.

 

Soon enough, the floor was turned back to her. Swallowing down her mouthful, the brunette sucked in a breath and let it out again slowly.

 

“If this man wasn’t the one who purchased the wands, do you have any record of who did? A receipt, name, anything at all?”

 

“I… well… she wasn’t anything special” Madeleine replied, a small bit of strength returning to her tone. “Richly-dressed like many of my customers. Though … her hair, I remember, was a very striking shade of gold. She was so fair… almost inhuman.”

 

A veela? Or partly, at least, it sounded like.

 

Ruth turned to search for Rayya, and when she didn’t immediately spot her motioned for the woman to stay put where she was. “Have yourself a bit of a breather” Ruth offered, “I know this all must be hard on you. But, rest assured, it’ll all get sorted.”

 

 She went to find her partner then, and managed to spot her just as she was shutting closed the blinds of the little shop. “So… do tell” Ruth inquired, “What do you think a ‘cold’ man and beautiful woman might have in common?”  

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Rayya Borage-Brown

“Hmmmm?” Rayy asked, finishing up with the last blind. “Depends on what the question behind it is. I think that the mail will be piling up on our desks and the Howlers will self explode,” she turned and grinned at her partner. “That’ll be something I won’t miss. As for the investigation I think we might have stumbled into the first stop in nabbing those behind the fake wand scam.”

 

Seeing the dejected Madeleine sobered her up fast and the relief of getting out of the office for longer ended faster than she liked. “I doubt that either the man or the woman are the brains behind this but they’re certainly our way in to cracking it open. They’re probably patsys though, very little knowledge and fewer connections...the chances are they don’t even know each other...but the person who minds them will know more. And it’s no wonder they targeted this shop: precious little in the way of security, inept workers, an owner who is desperate to make sales and who doesn’t know the meaning of the term ‘trade secrets’. Does she have any records on who bought the wands, other than what she just answered? I doubt she got anything useful on the man.”

 

Rayy walked back to the pile of wands and started testing them in much the same way as Ruth had done. She was two in when she stopped and grabbed one of the known fake ones, eyes narrowing as she studied it carefully. “Madeleine, do you mark every wand you make with a runic signature.”

 

”Oh yes, it’s how I knew those weren’t mine,” Madeleine replied around a mouthful of biscuit.

 

”Hmmmm...good! That’ll make this go a lot faster. See Ruth, this is what we’re looking for; tiny linked Mannaz runes...next time Seb complains I don’t pay attention to his work, here’s the evidence that I do...love the wizard dearly but really!”

 

It didn’t take long before they had a larger pile of suspect wands and only slightly longer before they’d worked together to magically test each of the suspect ones. Sadly for Madeleine, she had a bigger problem than four returned wands and a wrongly sacked shopgirl. The screech of horror when she saw the pile of fakes made Rayy’s skin crawl.

 

”That’s like nearly a third of my stock! Years of work! I’ll be ruined!” she cried.

 

”No, you won’t,” Rayy assured her. “You’ll have our report, the case file number and your insurance will cover this. You’ll be set back a bit but not ruined but we really do need all the information you can give us on the woman who bought and returned the wands, the man who inspected them all and, regrettably more than just names and addresses of former employees in order to make it comprehensive. I’ve a hunch that one of them might be in league with your odd gent and blonde lady.”

 

The poor woman broke down in a flood of tears and Rayy’s heart went out to her, “It’ll be alright, here, have some more tea. I’ll get your paperwork started while you drink that.” She nipped into the back room and returned with insurance claim forms which she started filling out. “I don’t have any further questions just now, do you Ruth?”

 

 

 

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