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the entire coast is out of water
February 20th, 1891 - Podmore Zoological Gardens
August and Lysander were in one of the zoo's halls, looking at the reptiles. "Some of these come from South America," August was explaining to his son - they were starting to work on geography, (well, the nanny was starting to work on geography,) and an understanding of continents seemed to him to be a fundamental building block of geography. "It's on the other side of the ocean. You'll go there some day." While not everyone traveled frequently, between finances and social circles August was relatively confident that Lysander would venture across the Atlantic sooner rather than later.

They'd just about wrapped up the hall when a former colleague of August's said hello - it couldn't have been more than a minute of general pleasantries before the man was off. August looked down, ready to apologize to his son for the delay - only to see that Lysander wasn't standing next to him anymore.

The world tilted on his axis; in the second it took him to process that Lysander wasn't next to him, sound rushed through August's ears, and someone could have been screaming at him and August wouldn't have heard them. Just - blind panic.

"Lysander?" August said, spinning around to look the other way. With some additional urgency: "Lysander?"

@Bella Scrimgeour @Holly Scrimgeour
Bella was generally good at taking care of living things. It was sort of her thing. She'd had a green thumb since she was a child and had taken to tending to the Drapers garden at the young age of four, and by her time with the Scrimgeours she was convinced she wanted to take care of sick people. That career had not panned out as she hoped, and by some strike of luck she found herself in a position where she was caring for more living things—creatures, this time.

It was not as intuitive as caring for plants was, nor could creatures tell her what they wanted, but it was a good, well-paying, fulfilling job. But every day was different. Some days she slaved away cleaning cages, while others were spent in the exhibits feeding and tending to the less dangerous creatures. Some days she played unwitting tour guide, other days she answered questions to lone guests, and today - well, it seemed she was being a helper.

"Who's Lysander?" Bella asked, peeking out from behind a tree. She was not hiding, nor was she being nosy; the tree was part of an extensive feeding system that allowed the zookeepers to feed the more dangerous creatures without interacting with them up close. She'd slipped the dead mice off the tray and into the hole, and magic would ensure they found their predator.

The man she saw was tall, blond, fair, and carried a cane. She thought he looked familiar, but did not immediately recognize him.

August recognized her immediately; he would have felt very deeply awkward about it, except that Lysander's absence took precedence over the guilt he felt about representing Miss Scrimgeour's father.

(She was, obviously, Miss Bella Scrimgeour - the other one would have been wearing more expensive clothes, and likely would not have been hiding behind a tree.)

"My " son "ward," August said, voice still urgent, "He's six. He was right here, and I - I looked away for a second - I don't know where he is. He's blonde, he wears glasses."

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   Bella Scrimgeour
His ward. She didn't know many men who kept wards, but even then it seemed like a weird descriptor. Impersonal. Stiff. Not at all fitted to his panic. She didn't think too much of it, though, because one minute she was standing there trying to figure out why he was so familiar and the next she was forming a mental picture of a child. Blond, glasses - six. "Got it," she said, and stepped out from her spot from behind the tree.

She began scanning the exhibits, her gaze lingering on the dark shadows between the cases. "Is he an adventurous boy? Or is he scared of everything?" she asked, because it was an important thing to know. It was not infrequently that children escaped their guardians, and usually the more mischievous ones were found trying to get into an exhibit or standing too close to a dangerous creature. (The scared ones, on the other hand, tended to get lost and freak out.)

"He's curious," August said, because that felt to him to be halfway between the two. His grip on his cane was white-knuckled. "He can't have - he wouldn't have run. His lungs are -" August gestured helplessly with his free hand, meant to imply asthmatic without saying it, but it felt like a key to justifying while Lysander couldn't have run.

Just - slipped away.

August's panic was rising.

A curious boy with bad lungs. Bella might have been more worried if they would have been in the muggle zoos, where merely bars and a moat separated the public from the confined animals, but they were in the reptilian area, where most of the creatures were behind glass.

Clearly her assessment would do nothing to soothe the man; he looked scared. Bella did a little circle, checking in every direction to no avail, and then pointed towards the tunnel that led further into the herpetarium. "I imagine a curious boy would go that way," she said, her eyes glancing down at his cane. She wasn't how fast he could move, and it felt rude to run ahead. "He should be safe, though," she reassured. With a sympathetic smile she motioned for him to follow.

August followed Miss Scrimgeour, still nervous. He was equally, privately nervous that she would recognize him soon and refuse to help - because even though it was business, and even though he had not liked her father, he had defended him. That was the sort of thing that some people could not forgive, and he would be surprised if she could forgive him. He didn't need forgiveness, though; he needed to find Lysander.

"Thank you," August said, simply, because he owed her that much.

Bella had the advantage of being naturally tall and athletic, even if society considered it unfashionable. She had once been groomed about that, only to realize she didn't, and now it played to her advantage in her chosen career. She felt a little bad as the gentleman struggled to keep pace, but she supposed he wouldn't mind. It was his ward she was looking for, after all! By the time he caught up to her, she'd peeked around half a dozen places that seemed like likely hiding spots for a young boy. He wasn't hidden in the areas specifically meant for children, where they could duck down and crawl into a space which would allow them to look up close behind the safety of the glass, and he was not in areas guarded by gates that were short enough for a boy to climb unsupervised, and well - he just wasn't anywhere else she could see.

She resorted to a singsong shout of "Lyyyysander!" as she passed by the individual tanks and the much larger exhibits, hoping the voice of an unfamiliar woman might lure him out of whatever place he'd chosen to put himself in. "Lyyyysanderrrr!" she called again, to no avail.

Finally, she turned and looked back at the man, who looked startlingly worried. She wanted to say something like It's just a zoo. There's no way the creatures here could get to him, but Bella realized only a moment before opening her mouth that she might put worries in his head that were not there.

"Has he mentioned any specific creature he'd like to see?" she asked instead, a helpful (and hopeful) smile on her face.

If he had to tell Lyra he had lost her son, she was never going to forgive him; there was a great deal she was never going to forgive him for, but this was something else. Of course, if he had actually lost Lysander, he was never going to forgive himself; he could not imagine going home without his son. August was nearly too nervous to actually call out for Lysander, now, and it was only the sound of Miss Scrimgeour calling for him that reminded him to do so.

"He likes the Australian creatures," August said; this was good, because as long as he was remembering the zoo's layout correctly, that would keep them in the halls. "Especially the platypus."

Australian creatures? The platypus? If anything, little Lysander had good tastes when it came to mundane creatures; the first time Bella had seen the platypus she'd thought it looked like multiple animals stitched together!

Bella passed the man a weird look, but continued on nevertheless. She redirected them towards the path to the semi-aquatic area, where different environments shared a freshwater system that went beneath the bridge and through the gates that separated them. She slowed down, if only because there was no reason to run; the path was fairly straight, save for short side-paths for viewing the enclosures. There was no where for him to hide elsewhere. The man caught up with her, and Bella walked side-by-side with him down the wooden bridge.

"My name's Miss Scrimgeour, by the way," she said, having realized she'd never actually introduced herself. "They keep me back towards this end of the zoo by myself at this time a day, but don't worry—if he's run off too far ahead then he'll be stopped by another zookeeper eventually." All the while she continued to look both ways as they passed each enclosure, looking for a tinier blond.

Shit, she'd introduced herself. August knew that he ought to tell her the truth, but until they found Lysander he couldn't risk it - he was sure that his nerves would make him useless if she decided to scurry off when she knew who he was, which was of course entirely justified and possible. "That's good to hear," August said; Lysander couldn't have gone too far, although August was feeling worse for having gotten distracted every moment.

He ended up using his mother's maiden name: "I'm Mr. August Hallow. I'd say it's nice to meet you but I suppose these circumstances would make the claim a little dubious."

She smiled and kept on her way, peeking left and right and even up into every tree they passed. The farther they got the more concerned she was growing, but she couldn't show it—not when the man seemed so stressed about it already.

"It's unfortunate to meet you like this too, Mr. Hallow," she replied cheekily, but in the back of her mind something else was itching at her. The name seemed familiar—and the more she thought about it, so did his face—but she ignored it and focused on the task at hand.

They reached an end to the straight path, and the platypus exhibit was up ahead.

He felt a guilty note at hearing her say his name aloud, but it disappeared at the sight of the platypus exhibit ahead of them. "Lysander!" August called, letting his voice carry. What were they going to do if Lysander wasn't here? They couldn't wander around looking for him forever - but he had to be somewhere.

And there - the little boy's head peeked out from behind a bench. "August!" he called back, waving his arms with some amount of frantic energy.

The boy appeared—but any chance to breathe a sigh of relief was destroyed by the sudden sinking of her heart. She did not know what prompted the realization. Maybe it was the way the boy said his name, or maybe it was the fact that the name was said alone, without the inclusion of a surname, but Bella looked up at the man—tall, blond, well-dressed—and suddenly she knew him.

She stayed silent, but had shrunk back into herself. She stared up at him as he paid attention to his ward, unsure of what to do.
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   August Echelon-Arnost

Lysander slid out from behind the bench and trotted over to them, and August was too relieved to see him to worry about asthma. Lysander tugged on the bottom of his coat. "That man was so boring and I just wanted to look at the next thing and then I wasn't sure where I was! And then I came over here and there is a platypus! Who's the lady?"

"That's Miss Scrimgeour," August replied, too pleased by the reappearance of his son to scold him for wandering off right now; his gaze flicked over to her. She seemed smaller than she had a moment ago, or perhaps he was reading into things. "She was very helpful in finding you, we should say thank you."

Bella was chatty by nature—so chatty that she even took notice of how quiet she was being. She normally would have teasingly greeted the young boy, or even flashed him a smile, but she was still caught on Mr. August Hallow being... Mr. August Echelon-Arnost. Not only was he the man who'd defended her father, but he was here, actively lying about his identity. She stiffened at the mention of her name.

"You're welcome," she said, all too quickly, before the boy could even get out his thanks.


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