(12th December, 2017: Some minor revisions to punctuation, wording and formatting)
Disclaimer: I am not J.K. Rowling. I do not own Harry Potter.
The main scene in this instalment takes place on October 31st, 1976. The perspective is that of Yolanda Peabody, the wife of a distant (Gnaeus) Prince relative, who along with her husband has been summoned to meet the head of the Prince family and his new assistant.
This piece is rated 'M'.
Yolanda Peabody did not understand why now, of all times, the head of the Prince family had decided to start messing around with the arrangements of who should get what from his last will and testament, after his demise, but she understood well enough that he was a proud old man and that attempting to gainsay him would just rub him up the wrong way. Gnaeus was Yolanda's husband's blood relation, not her own, but she'd had a great-grandfather not that dissimilar in character (at least to her mind) from Gnaeus Octavian Prince, and she understood the need to pander to the foibles of such elderly relatives. She doubted that the Prince patriarch was sufficiently bad-tempered and dark a wizard as to reduce a witch or wizard to a crispy grease spot on the floor (as Yolanda's great-grandfather in question had done to one of her cousins who had made the mistake of saying 'but…' one too many times to him), but she did believe that he had the potential to turn quite nasty if one was less than tactful to him.
That was why Yolanda's husband, Helveticus, currently had her inwardly cringing in intense embarrassment. When Yolanda had married Helveticus, she had considered his 'slow wits' and lack of perceptiveness in most matters ideal traits, which would make him perfectly easy for her to 'manage properly'. Right now, those selfsame qualities were looking extreme liabilities.
"What," Helveticus jabbed a petulant finger to point at the redheaded witch currently sitting to Gnaeus' right, "is she doing here? This is private family business."
Gnaeus was today holding a succession of interviews in the study of his small Edinburgh property (which residence amounted to basically a business-office). They were interviews with the members of his extended family, held with them either singly or with their spouses, to determine what – if anything – they would receive in the forthcoming revised version of his will. The Prince patriarch had already, he had made it crystal clear when issuing the summons to interviews, revised his will once, to leave everything to the muggle Chancellor of the Exchequer in the event of his demise, so it was far too late to get any 'cute' ideas involving attempting to arrange fatal accidents to prevent Gnaeus from reducing a witch or wizards 'expectations' or cutting them out altogether; now all that the various relatives could hope to do was to make a good case that their bequests and legacies should be restored to their previous levels, in the next revision.
Mind you; on the topic of the witch sitting to Gnaeus' right across the paper-stacked desk from where Yolanda and Helveticus were seated, Yolanda had to admit that her husband did have a point – she herself had never seen this redhead before (as far as she knew) and she most definitely wanted to know what the young woman was doing here, but she hoped that she would have found a more tactful way to enquire. The woman was dressed in loose-fitting, plain-but-practical dark robes, of tailoring appropriate to a servant or employee of a man of Gnaeus' station, although she wore her hair loose (although very smartly brushed & combed). She had unusual green eyes, which did their best not to show anything except deference to Gnaeus, and she exuded an impression of being in a good state of physical fitness and of health. Still, whatever qualities she may have, Yolanda couldn't imagine for the life of her – unless this was some previously unknown bastard by-blow of the family – just what the woman was doing at such an intimate family occasion as haggling over the details of who would get what once the Prince patriarch shuffled off this mortal coil.
"Miss Evans," Gnaeus replied, ice positively crackling in his voice, "is here because I require her here, to take notes as I direct."
Oops. That was certainly telling them. Yolanda saw her husband opening his mouth to make what she took to be some even less tactful and more outraged a remark, and she decided that it was time to take matters firmly in hand. She jabbed her husband sharply in the ribs with the elbow closest to him and did her best to pour soothing oil on troubled waters.
"Of course, great-uncle." Yolanda, simpered. "If you need a private secretary to take notes these days, who are we to question it, although I'm sure, if you'd asked around the family, you would have found plenty of eager volunteers – but you have your own reasons for choosing Miss Evans, I'm sure, and very good ones." She had to add that last a touch too hastily, perhaps, having belatedly realised that she needed to head off a possible implication that could turn into a serious social faux-pas all of her own.
Gnaeus saw it of course, though, and narrowed his eyes, apparently deciding whether to take offence or not.
"Take note, Miss Evans, that for the time being I am to keep this particular case under review." he said in a carefully neutral tone. Miss Evans duly jotted something down on a piece of parchment, as Yolanda eyed the Prince patriarch and tried to decide if she should be relieved and that he had apparently decided not to be unduly harsh, or if he was simply saving some stroke up for later, delayed, delivery of humiliation.
"And of course, great-uncle," Yolanda fished for further clues as to whether she should be happy or not, and attempted to carry out further damage repair, "if you think of anything which you would like us to do, then please do not hesitate to contact us at once."
After which doubtful start, the interview proceeded in what Yolanda soon became convinced was a highly unfavourable (for her and Helveticus) direction. Gnaeus wanted to hear about financial things: How much Helveticus and Yolanda spent on average in a year, how reliant they were on the annual allowance that Helveticus received as one of Gnaeus' relations, what other sources of income they possessed, what enterprises they were committed to starting in the future? Helveticus was left floundering by most of these – he knew what he spent money on, but not how much, except in very vague terms, which did not seem to impress his great-uncle – although Gnaeus did accept answers from Yolanda where she had a better grasp of financial details than her husband.
And every so often, Gnaeus would direct 'Miss Evans' to make a note of something, which she dutifully did. And every one of these items to be 'taken note of' were things which his tone and the content of the direction suggested he found distinctly unfavourable and lacking in impressiveness (except, perhaps, in impressiveness of mediocrity).
Yolanda in fact developed a distinct feeling that the interview was running away from her husband and herself, and heading for a very bad destination, prompting her in response to the enquiry about 'future enterprises' (after Helveticus said something pathetic about funding an American magical politician) to add, in desperation:
"And there is of course the cigar business."
"The cigar business?" Gnaeus enquired, as Helveticus turned to gape at Yolanda as if she'd sprouted an extra head.
"Yes, the cigar business. American witches and wizards with an appreciation for them are far too reliant on muggle products for their relaxation." Yolanda said. "We were thinking of manufacturing them for the discerning magical customer."
And that put the focus on her for a twenty minute grilling from Gnaeus about just what she knew about the ins and outs of cigars. Fortunately for her, one of her grandfathers – a dark-wizard but one rather more laid-back about it than his father (who was the one who had dispatched one of Yolanda's cousins), and not at all inclined to reduce people to grease-spots with a couple of wand-waves (or not unless they did something unspeakable to a box of his Havanas) – had a craze for cigars and insisted on holding forth on them at length on any family occasion possible, and so Yolanda actually knew a lot about the subject.
Helveticus looked more and more bewildered, but had the sense to keep his mouth shut, except when offering an occasional comment supportive of Yolanda.
"Send me a report before the end of next month laying out both your expected setting up costs and weekly running expenses thereafter." Gnaeus instructed Yolanda at the end of his interrogation of her. "This is actually quite fortunate for you and my great-nephew who is your husband, since besides revising my will substantially, I'm looking to reduce my own outgoings in most directions, due to a desire to fund a long-term project of my own." Helveticus opened his mouth to make some comment about this, but shut it again, when Yolanda jabbed him again with her elbow in the ribs. "I am looking to reduce Helveticus' monthly allowance substantially, but I believe that I may be able to manage a one-off lump sum payment, if it is required fairly soon, to help setup this proposed enterprise of yours, if you can convince me that it is a reasonable venture."
And that was the first that Yolanda heard as to what may actually be behind this whole will-being-revised business.
It also suggested that Yolanda and her husband might be looking at being thrown into a state of absolute financial penury, unless Yolanda could somehow in a matter of a few weeks assemble a viable business plan for something which she had made up on the spur of a moment to try to impress/please a very proud and cagey old man.
She tried to discreetly probe, during what remained of the interview, to find out more about just what the old man might be up to, but unfortunately, the Prince patriarch was more than capable of keeping his own counsel, and disclosed to her no further clues of what business of his own he might have on his mind, before he politely dismissed Helveticus.
It was always possible – if indeed not highly probable – that his apparently taking on that Evans girl as some sort of secretary or assistant had something to do with it.
Asking around Helveticus' other known relatives in the few days after their interview with Gnaeus, Yolanda discovered that cutbacks of allowances and writings-out of the will entirely – with the notable exception of a young wizard, born the 'wrong side of the blanket', who was a painter in Paris, and whom the old man apparently liked – seemed to be the general rule, with much complaining about destitution, accompanied by a side order of outrage and curiosity about the 'outsider' who had sat at Gnaeus' right hand at every single interview. One possible interpretation of the significance of that 'sat at the right hand' belatedly occurred to Yolanda, although it seemed for now somewhat too fantastic to believe.
And Gnaeus did send Helveticus a note in mid-November, informing him that he and Yolanda would be written back into the next will, 'to some extent' depending on Helveticus and Yolanda first convincing the Prince patriarch that the cigar enterprise was worth funding in the first place and their then 'making a success (in terms of profit of cigar sales and provision of directly related services) of it'.
And that was a lot more, apparently, than some of the others were getting…
Author Notes: (Updated 28th August, 2017)
A loss on enthusiasm on my part for 'Alternate Scene by the Lake 4' and more pressing priorities away from the keyboard (accompanied by illness and computer equipment difficulties) have delayed revisions to this piece, but the deck is for now sufficiently clear for me to attempt to straighten what most needed straightening and to make a last push for the end. On with the notes...
So: Here we have an illustration of the sort of blood-relatives (in the shape of Helveticus Peabody) with whom Gnaeus has been left to deal, after in his pride he quite thoroughly disowned his daughter Eileen, over a matter of her defiance of him. Over the years, they have been becoming more and more a sore point to him, in that they are unlikely to commit the sort of lèse-majesté act that would give him what he considers reasonable grounds to disown them, but they are, in just about every other way, disappointments, unlikely to make the sort of big names for themselves and to make the splashes in the history books which will see them and the family remembered for greatness. And then recently, to add to Gnaeus' discomforts, young Severus Snape, has started to show some promise, only Gnaeus' word (regarding how he disowned his daughter and her heirs) and his pride prevents him from acknowledging or reclaiming Severus as an heir. As Gnaeus observed to Albus in the earlier chapter, 'Descent Through Fire', he sometimes wonders if he's too old and too proud – not that Gnaeus' ability to perceive a problem with his own pride actually allows him to foreswear it; still, Gnaeus thinks that he has a work-around here, that allows him to at least partially assuage his pride and to (indirectly) support Severus. He cannot support or assist Severus except by way of very basic business (such as not interfering with Severus being a tea-trolley assistant in a company Gnaeus part-owns, if Severus is actually good at that), but he can make efforts with regard to someone to whom Severus seems to be attached. And Gnaeus is actually starting to appreciate Lily and the respect that she is prepared to pay him, and the sense that she is able to show...
Yolanda is a witch of Mexican origin. She is assumed to be a 'pure-blood' (by the 'four magical grandparents; two magical parents' British Wizarding 'standard') but not to come from a family sufficiently obsessed with intermarriages to be damaged by her ancestry.
Lily's robes are assumed sufficiently baggy to suffice to conceal what might be otherwise more obvious suggestions of a young woman in a state of pregnancy. Furthermore, although Lily is seated, she is seated close to a desk (one which if I have my technical jargon right could be described as a "large pedestal" or "partner's" desk in form) which further interferes with observations of her 'tummy' region by those on the opposite side of the desk from her.
At the time of writing of this instalment little information was in general circulation about the Wizarding USA. With the release of films in the 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' arc, information about the Wizarding countries and cultures on the western side of the Atlantic may be released which are at odds with details in this instalment.
I do not at this time intend to write any further pieces about Yolanda and Helveticus to post on this website. My enthusiasm for this project disappeared some time ago and I prefer not to start anything else to do with this particular alternate universe.