(1938-11-11) Secret Shopper
Details for Secret Shopper
Summary: Phil goes undercover in Knockturn Alley to learn more about saccharine powder.
Date: 11 November 1938
Location: A dodgy apothecary's shop in Knockturn Alley
Related: Investigative Journalism

It's dark, but isn't it always? A few lanterns line the dilapidated and cobbled street, keeping a few shadows at bay, though the effect isn't entirely successful. A few witches and wizards linger about, a few of them conversing either to themselves or someone nearby. Not many of them are dressed well, and a few display clear signs of abuse - whether self-inflicted, or by another, is unclear. There is also a rather foul stench in the air, though not many denizens seem to take note.

On the right side of the street, and down a rather narrow side-alley, is a cramped store front. The sign reads -gverth's Apothecary, the left-most side of the sign having been broken decades ago. The door is open, and the front step is swept clean of the mire that usually lingers in the alley. Not that it is a completely wholesome establishment - but, apart from the sign, it is reasonably well cared for.

"One must always dress for the part, Philomena," or so Phil's mother always says. Today Phil is dressed for the part, but not a part her mother would ever want her to play. Her brown hair is worn in a servere bun, a style not uncommon amongst witches. Her usual fine and colourful robes have been swapped for a more muted black. Perched on her nose are a pair of spectacles which alter the shape of her face considerably. Padding beneath the robes makes her look plumper in certain places. The fuller figured Phil makes her way slowly towards the apothecary, basket draped over one arm, bit of parchment in her other hand. She steps into the shop after glancing at the parchment again. Her voice, when she speaks, is not her own accent but a more northern one but all she says is, "Hmmm."

The door is quite cramped, and nearly every surface contains merchandise. Small vials, raw ingredients, jars, pots - everything has been placed in a spot where it may fit. There are two display cases, too - each one features a series of rare, and expensive, potions.

As Phil enters, a stooped man with a tall, narrow build emerges from a shadow; rather, he turns, having been examining something, and takes a single step to reveal himself. "Welcome," he breathes, voice soft but not at all pleasant or kind. There is a rather large hump over his right shoulder, and his left leg is crooked in a position that looks altogether impossible - and painful. "Yes, welcome…" he adds, his long face allowing him to smile. When he does, a row of narrow, long, yellow teeth appear. He takes a step towards Phil, his leg bending completely wrong.

With a modicum of grace Phil wriggles herself into the cramped space and with a huff adjusts her glasses. Gone is her beautiful engagement ring from Thomas, her hands are bare of adornment. Knowing she will be unknown to the proprietor in this disguise Phil begins to peruse the items on offer. Allowing a flush to rise to her cheeks she looks at the awkwardly mobile merchant. "I was - am - after something unusual." She giggles with a mock nervousness and then widens her eyes behind the lenses of her spectacles. Saying nothing more she waits, giving him the opportunity to try and lure coins from her and coins she appears to have for from the basket Phil withdraws a bulging looking coin purse bearing the moniker of the Blishwick family.

The man steps into the light, revealing his thickly-lined face. His eyes especially are nearly buried in fine-wrinkles, which are nearly craglike. Despite his age, his gaze has, apparently, not forgotten the appearance of a coin purse. "Oh, yes?" the man asks, his voice hovering just above a whisper. "Unusuality is our specialty," he explains, revealing his row of teeth again. His hands rise and clasp together. "Do tell me, dearest, what it is you are searching for."

Running her tongue over her teeth as if she could taste it still the disguised Phil says in a hushed but anticipatory tone, "Excitement and euphoria." She shivers with the memory, closing her eyes briefly and hugging her coin purse to her chest.

The corners of the man's mouth pull upward after Phil speaks. "Why, little one, this is an apothecary - such delights are merely waiting to be brewed. Though," his smile diminishes, "the specific ingredients, or perhaps merely the name of the potion, are required." He unlaces his fingers and turns quite sharply. His leg, which continues to bend in an incorrect direction, moves forward while he walks. "Shall I make suggestions?" he wonders allowed while his knee pops quite loudly.

Her bun remains secure as her head bobs, eager to have his input or more likely eager to make her purchase and return to that wonderful euphoric feeling she has been speaking of. "I want to see myself at the ball again with all the handsome men and to dance." Phil lets herself sigh wistfully, her accent spot on.

"Eh?" the man asks, looking over his shoulder, with effort, at Phil. One of his eyebrows arches while a thin frown spreads over his lips. "What was that, little one?" he asks. The man turns and continues to walk towards his counter.

Looking a little flustered Phil adjusts her spectacles on her nose. "I am just anxious." She wets her lips nervously and lets her coins jangle in her purse as she lowers it from her pillowy, and entirely covered, bosoms. "What do you suggest?"

"A return to the ball, hm? A good love potion may be in order. I have - yes, oh yes… a special ingredient. Quite powerful, if used properly. Any man at the ball shall be yours." The man reaches his counter and rummages for several seconds. "And yes, of course we have - oh, you may enjoy a simple gverion weed. Makes the skin glow, they tell me," he chortles, but it sounds more like ale escaping a hole in a barrel than laughter. Continuing to rummage, the man finally emits an, "Ahhhh, yes, and then there is this beauty - effects vary wildly, little one, but oh, how lovely they may be. But… you would not be interested, would you? Excitement and euphoria, was it? The perhaps… yes." He holds up a small vial, and inside is a green, powdery substance. His long fingernails clutch the glass container, which he shakes with a menacing grin.

The gasp Phil lets out is genuine, she wasn't sure if she would find what she was after here but is pleased she has. There is seemingly no end to dodgy apothecary working off of Knockturn. Her hand reaches out towards the vial only to pull back just as quickly when she realises how eager she looks. Phil lowers her head, blushing again. Wordlessly she peers up at the hunchbacked apothecary from beneath the lenses of her spectacles.

"Oh yes…" the man says happily, though his altogether foul appearance has difficulty displaying the emotion without a large portion of menace. "Oh yes, indeed, little one. I do believe this is what you sought. Quite new, quite powerful - I received it in the post, with a little note." His free hand rises and gently strokes the vial. It contains about a tablespoon. "It has sold quite well, quite well. I have nearly come to the end."

A touch breathless she queries, "Will there be more? Can you make more?" Desperation drips from her and she opens up the coin purse to withdraw several silver sickles as she looks eagerly at the dentally challenged apothecary.

The man's fingernails click-clack-click upon the glass vial while he watches Phil. "Make? Oh no, no, no, no. No. No one knows how it is made, but there are rumors. Some say it is a powder made from chimera scales, and that the creator has managed to lock one up - an old, tired, half-dead one," the man says with a snicker. "But we do not know what it is or who it comes from, only that it sells." He adds, while eyeing the money politely, and gesturing for her to continue procuring sickles, "I have received assurances that there will be more, but I do not know when the shipment will come."

"Chimera scales?" Phil murmurs it distractedly as she sets the five sickles on the counter then fishes more out of her coin purse. "That isn't very much and it is so…scrummy. Have you not tried to discern it's make up, a clever man like yourself?" With her hand trembling with eagerness five more sickles are added to the counter.

"Chimera scales," the man echoes in a low hiss. He soon adds, "Well yes of course, little one. Who wouldn't? But it is impossible. Quite impossible. I have never seen such a thing. Never." The man watches as five more sickles are added. He holds two fingers up, both long and boney, and taps them against the coins. Two more. "Professionally speaking, it is quite marvelous, and I dare say beyond replication. For now." His mouth twists into a grin.

Making it clear she wants that vial, even if its contents are limited, three more sickles are added bringing it to a total of thirteen. An auspicious number. "How many days has it been since the shipment? Is it worth coming back before the weekend?" Phil snaps her coin purse shut with one hand and reaches out for the vial with the other, her eyes wide behind her spectacles.

The man scoops up the coins, snatching them rather deftly despite his obvious handicaps. A moment later, he answers, "Fifteen days ago, to be precise. That is when the ingredient - saccharine powder, it is called, came to my store. Yes… I was one of the first to receive it. A few tried to purchase my entire stock, but I resisted." He hands Phil the vial and pockets the sickles. "I rather doubt it, little one. We do not know when we will see the powder again. Perhaps… yes. Leave your address, and I shall see that an owl finds you when it has come."

The vial is tucked away safely along with the coin purse and a simple card with the name Miss D. Blishwick is produced and set on the counter. "Discretion of course," she says quietly as if to explain the post office box in Ottery St Catchpole rather than the home address. The disguised Phil hugs her basket closer to her ample person, wanting to keep the precious contents safe.

The man takes the card and studies it briefly. He snaps his fingers, and with a sharp crack the card disappears. "I never forget a number," he explains, his long rows of yellow teeth on full display. "Now, do take care, Miss Blishwick. Never more than half a teaspoon. I will, of course, be in touch."

With her basket huddled against her chest the disguised reporter makes her way back out, wriggling decorously through the narrow and cramped doorway.

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