A/N: Gah. I've been working on another story recently, when an errant idea struck my fancy. I'm sorry about the update times, but I can't seem to help it. School and all that. But, here it is. Took me long enough.
Harry strode down Diagon Alley, side-by-side with Remus, pondering the events of last night.
Harry watched Dumbledore. His piercing eyes were darting back and forth, between Harry and his supporters. Harry focused completely on the sound of Dumbledore's lecture, his droning voice drowning thoughts, Occluding himself. He thought he caught the words "irresponsible" and "for your own good", but he wasn't paying attention. He was still immensely angry, and he was trying not to show it.
He didn't even really take notice when Moody and Remus started openly arguing with Dumbledore. They seemed to be passionate about whatever they were saying, waving their arms frantically. Dumbledore responded calmly, but his eyes were getting a hard glint to them. More frantic waving. More forced calm. More frantic waving, now accompanied by reddening faces. A crack in the forced calm. It all seemed to bleed together, as Harry watched a debate go on in front of his nose, but paid only token attention.
As Harry turned the corner, into an offshoot of Diagon Alley, not unlike Knockturn Alley, he thought of what he was told had happened. It seemed that Remus had allowed Dumbledore to continue using Grimmauld Place as HQ, in exchange for Harry's freedom. There were more stipulations, but that was the gist of it, anyways.
"We're here." Remus' announcement shook Harry out of his thoughts.
Harry looked at the shop he now knew he was partial owner of. The sign above it had on it a cowering wizard, crouching on the ground with his hands on his head. Around him was a firestorm, and he was desperately seeking a safe haven. Harry felt an irrational feeling of kinship for this painted man well up inside of him.
"I'd like to handle this alone, Moony." Seeing Remus' slightly sad look, Harry continued, "Ah, c'mon. You'll have plenty of chances to help me - more than you'll like. But, I don't want you to know more about my purchases than you have to. Part of the plan and all." Remus nodded shortly, and leaned against the outside wall of the building, keeping watch. Harry knew Remus wasn't really happy he was being so secretive, but there it was. He proceeded inside.
The rest of the building wasn't nearly as vibrant as the sign. The paint was chipping, and it was a bit dusty, but the walls were lined with books, knives, rings, statues, and a multitude of other things. He was about to examine one of the statues - it looked a bit like Buddha, but with designs all over him - when he saw a man at the counter. He had bushy white hair all around his head, like a mane. Upon closer inspection, he seemed to have amber eyes with slit pupils, like a lion's, too. The man noted the curious look he was receiving.
"I got Animalized. Got a professional to give me the traits of the animal that was most like me. Never had the patience to become Animagi, but I was always fond of lions… I understand kids don't do it so much, anymore, but it was popular when it was new." He explained, with the familiarity of someone who gets the same question a lot. "Anyways, anything I can help ya with?"
"I'm not exactly sure. Are you the owner?" He got a nod, and the normal I-see-the-scar look, as well as a slightly perplexed look, as if the man were saying 'And?'. "Well… I have some Serious Doggy Treats." Harry grimaced at the stupid password Sirius had written down for him to say.
The man broke out into a sad smile. "You knew Sirius? He was a good man. Always willin' to help me, when I needed it, and sometimes when I didn't. What'd he send ya here for, though, boy?"
"One second." Harry dug through the pockets of his robe, looking for the paper. He found it, and drew it out. The paper was rumpled and yellowing, with signs of burning on one corner. He took a few steps forward and put the paper on the counter. The man took it up and looked at it curiously. Then he burst out laughing.
"What?" Harry didn't like to be laughed at. The man realized this, and tried to stifle it, but failed pretty miserably. Harry waited for him to finish before asking again. "What?"
"Just thinkin' of when I had Sirius sign this. Practically had to curse him into it. Woulda had to, if he hadn't been drinkin' so much. See," He explained, since Harry was obviously confused. "He just gave me the money to start this place, no questions asked. He flat-out refused to even considered getting any money back from me, even when he was hammered. So I promised him free stuff. Made it sound like he was gettin' women, or somethin' - he was pretty drunk at the time, remember - so he bought it. And there you have it - holder of this paper doesn't pay, here. Not that he ever used it." The man eyed Harry even more curiously than he had been.
"That helps. I have money, but it's not like I'm swimming in it, you know?" Harry said, as he began walking towards the statue he had seen earlier. When he got closer, he saw it was only modeled after Buddha - it was very different in the details. The man was fat, and in the same position, but he had only his third eye; the other two were ripped out, and bleeding. His hands only had three fingers, but he had three arms, with purple tendrils going up them, trailing off at his shoulders. All in all, he was a grotesquely impressive piece of art.
"I see you've seen Die Krüppel." The man called from the counter.
"Is that what it's called? What does it do, anyways? And who made it?"
"Well, that'd be a history lesson…"
"I have time."
"Well, then, it was made by Vlad Dracul - Ya know, Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, all that - before he became a vampire, but after he first began losing himself to what he called Umbra Vorago - means somethin' like 'Shadows of the Abyss'. I got some of his journals if you want 'em. Anyways, he got some German wizard to craft it how he wanted it. Then he killed the man, did the whole head-on-a-pike thing, and used his blood to consecrate the piece. It's supposed to grant the user Arcane Sight, Aura Reading, and supposedly a touch of foresight. 'Cept the price is their real sight. Vlad wasn't too hot on makin' completely benevolent things. Good news is I have his journals, somewhere, and they tell how to reverse the effects…" Harry smiled.
"If it weren't for the fact I didn't have to pay, I'd probably think you were pushing those journal just a bit too hard."
"What! Don't be ridiculous, kid. Any friend of Sirius is worth helpin' as I see it, 'cept for… you know." He started off slightly indignant, but ended up sounding sad. Harry did know, and he was glad the man still trusted Sirius enough to help those who were close to him. Harry was struck with a thought.
"I apologize, but what's your name? Any friend of Sirius is a friend of mine… 'cept for… you know." He said, mimicking him, which brought a smile to the man's face.
"Name's Frederick Wellington. Friends call me Rick, around here, though. I'll go get those journals. They're in the back. I wouldn't touch nothin' here, if I were you. This place is called Pariah's Paradise for a reason. Untouchables and all." And with that the man shuffled off to the back room. The sounds of scraping and papers ruffling could be heard. Harry walked back to the counter and leaned against it.
"Hey, Rick!" He called to the other room. "If you see anything else that's interesting, or any more journals, or anything else you think I might like, could you bring them out here too, please?" He figured he
"Sure, Harry. Just give me a second." Rick's reply was muffled, like he was shouting into a box. He very likely was, actually. Harry looked around from his spot, seeing if anything caught his interest besides the statue. Behind the counter was the jewelry. He was about to stoop down to look at the rings there, when he heard the noise of foot steps coming closer. A moment later, Rick came out from the back of the store, carrying three crates - one red, one black, and one yellow - balanced precariously in his arms. He dropped them on the counter heavily.
"Not as young as I used to be." He finally huffed out, after breathing deeply for a few moments. "Anyways, this one here," he rested a hand on the red crate. "Has Vlad's journals in it. Most of his magic requires human sacrifice, mind, but they're interestin' reads, all the same. Here's the key. Some of the journals are locked." He pulled out what looked more like a 3-inch long pike and handed it to Harry, before opening the yellow crate.
"This has the most interestin' stuff, I think. This," He pulled out a stack of parchments that were extremely yellow, "Is the best informative essay on the Dark Arts I've ever seen. Called The Path Less Traveled: Treatise on the Dark, written by some bloke named Grey Snake." He rummaged through the crate, pulling out odds and ends, before he got to an extremely worn book with the title Broken: Chronicles of a Lonely Hunter.
"Dariaz Zaramais was the most famous Hunter of the early 19th century. Experts say he killed over 70 Dark Wizards durin' his time. Think his own count says it's around 120, but I haven't read this in a while. It's yours." Rick lightly brushed the cover with his fingers, before handing both the book and the parchments to Harry. "You'll take good care of this stuff I'm givin' ya, right? 'Cause these especially are favorites of mine."
"I understand. I won't disappoint you."
"Good, good." The response was distracted, as he had already opened the black crate, and was looking through it. "Now, this isn't the kind of stuff to mess with. Most of this stuff in this one is illegal, or so unknown that it isn't possible for it to be, or it would." He pulled out another two books, a handful of brown pebbles, and strange looking knife and inkwell. Rick moved to forestall Harry's questions.
"The stones are powerful mind-altering devices. They're activated with a code word. The pamphlet that comes with them tells you the different ways they can be used. Depends on which word you use. This book tells you how to truly use Runic Magic… or so it says. Rune magic is a bit dodgy, really. That's what the knife and ink is for. Permanent rune tattoos." The title was Rún Galdur.
"What do you mean, dodgy?"
"No one's really sure it works. It's supposed to subtly affect your life, and I figure it can't hurt to try. You're going to need every advantage you can get." Harry nodded at that; it was simply the truth. "Anyways, I only got one more book from my private stock." He fingered the other book. It was black and green, and had what looked like a real eye set into the cover. The man poked at it, and it opened.
"Oi, this is Harry. I give him permission to open you." Rick said, apparently to the book. The book turned its eye to Harry, then back to Rick, scrutinizing them. The eye closed again, and the book pulsed. "Good. It accepted you."
"Why does that book need an eye? What's it about?" Indeed, Harry was extremely curious.
"Well. You'll read about it, in the book." And with that, he handed the book to Harry. Harry looked at it, and saw the title was Shattered Soul. That just confused him more, but he decided to worry about it later, so he moved on.
"Is there anything in the front of the store I should be interested in?" Rick thought about that for a while, while putting the items back in the proper crates.
"Most of what I have probably wouldn't do anything a wizard as powerful as you can't do just as easily with a wand. But Die Krüppel might be worth your time, if you learn how to use it properly, and the Ring of the Snake would be ideal for someone with your… unique… talents. I'll get it, while you get the statue." Rick got a step ladder, to reach where the ring was, while Harry went to get the statue. He placed it on the counter, and Rick did the same with the ring. It looked to be gold, with fine snake designs carved all over it. There was an emerald set in it, that glowed slightly.
"I have to tell you, I'm not sure how the ring works. It's only activated by Parseltongue, so it should be okay for you to use, if you're careful." Harry shrunk the crates and the statue - making sure it looked like he was using his wand - and pocketed them, along with the ring. Rick rose an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
"Thank you - I'll see you again." Rick merely nodded, so Harry left. Once he was outside, Remus immediately fell into step next to him.
"Next stop?" He inquired, curiously. He knew it was in Knockturn Alley, but not much else.
"It's called the Opulent Beggar. Ever heard of it?" The name did sound quite familiar to Remus, but he couldn't put his finger on how, and he told Harry as much.
"Ah well. We'll see it soon."
"I suppose." Remus muttered, surreptitiously drawing his wand as they entered Knockturn Alley. Its reputation was only partially exaggerated. Next to him, Harry drew his hood up so it partially covered his face, including his scar.
They made their way mostly in silence. Remus could tell Harry was trying to formulate a question by the way he kept turning towards him and then shaking his head, only to repeat the process again soon after. The werewolf made a mental note to talk to Harry about it after they were through here.
"This is the place." Harry said quietly, looking at the place. It was in better condition than many of the buildings in this particular Alley, but it was also still fairly shabby. Some of the windows were broke, there were burn marks scattered across the surface, and what Harry assumed had once been a sign was shattered into pieces, part of it still hanging. It did seem relatively clean, though. "Let's go in, shall we?" With that, Remus and Harry entered.
They were immediately assaulted by a wave of red smoke that smelled and tasted suspiciously like blood. A man in a dark cloak, with the hood up was blowing it out of his nose, his mouth firmly clamped on his pipe.
The next thing they noticed was the Veela waitress, and the fact that none of the patrons seemed to be affected by her at all. After that, Remus noticed why - none of the patrons were human. The pair off in the corner were werewolves, the man blowing smoke was a vampire - obviously - and he suspected the one at the end of the bar was part drow.
"What do you want?" The person behind the bar, the apparent owner and the only human, although his skin was a bit gray, snapped. The others looked over briefly, then went back to their own business, which meant he probably always snapped. Harry withdrew the parchment that held the Oath and discretely showed it to the man. With a quick look around, he led them to a dark corner of the room. With a quick hand signal, one of the werewolves went and sat next to the door, his nostrils widening every once and a while, like he were sniffing.
"I assume you know what this means?" The man asked, still snappishly. Harry and Remus looked at each other uncertainly.
"Er," Harry spoke, "Actually, we don't even know who you are." The man sighed.
"Right, I'm going to make this quick, then. Name's Emras. For reasons you don't need to know, I swore an Oath to Sirius, pledging to help in any way that isn't potentially lethal that I could. He told me he knew people who could use it more than he, so he asked me to sign in and make it so he could give it to them. That was around 15 years ago." Emras looked at them sharply. "I'm going to make it clear to you right now; I'm not especially fond of humans, even if I am one myself. But I said I'd help, so I will."
"I see." Harry wasn't sure how else to respond. He couldn't say he was particularly fond of a lot of the wizard populace, but he also couldn't say he was particularly unfond of them either. "What exactly could you help me with, though."
"Depends what kind of help do you need." Harry weighed his options; he could reveal his identity to this man, even though he would probably be asking him to do illegal things in the very near future. His reaction would probably depend on where he stood about Voldemort. On the one hand, he offered so-called "Magical Beasts" more freedoms than the current establishment. On the other, only a fool would believe everything Voldemort said.
He decided to reveal himself. It was probably inevitable anyways, and the possible benefits were worth the possible risk (really, the Oath would still bind him). He made sure he was angled away from the rest of the people present and pulled off his hood. The man's eyes widened in recognition slightly, before he schooled his expression.
"What do you think of… Magical Beasts, Mr. Potter?" The man said it quietly enough so no one else would hear, but it was said intensely. Harry knew a lot would probably rest on his answer. He swallowed his first response idea (They're people too) and let out a frustrated sigh. He really hadn't planned on having to debate this subject today.
"Well. Currently, two of my best friends include a free house elf named Dobby and a half-giant." Harry almost laughed when he realized it was true; his list of friends was very short. "I've met centaurs I like and centaurs I don't like. Goblins seem a bit grouchy, but I don't know any personally. Overall, I prefer to judge on a case-by-case basis… unless it happens to be a Dementor." The man studied him intently for a moment before shrugging.
"Good enough… I suppose." He finally stated. "But I repeat; it depends on what kind of help you need. Assuming you are against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," Harry nodded and Emras continued, "I suppose I could begin to work on keeping the 'wolves and the vampires and the like neutral. Mind you, I don't exactly hold the ears of any of the higher ups in the Vampire Clans or anything, so I can't work miracles."
"I don't expect miracles. I didn't really expect anything at all so soon; I just came by to see what this was all about. I'm going to need connections in the very near future." Emras nodded.
"Someone comes." The werewolf at the door stated suddenly.
"I want to make sure it looks like nothing strange is going on, so I have to go back behind the bar. Remember the Oath." With that, Emras bustled off, back to work, and Harry put his hood back up and turned around.
"Let's go, Remus. We can go look at some of the stuff I bought at the Pariah." Remus perked up at that.
"Sure, Harry. I don't really like Knockturn Alley, anyways. I never knew what this place was, before, though. Might stop by some time…" He trailed off as the left the Beggar, passing two cloaked and hooded figures on their way out. Apparently, Harry wasn't the only one who prized secrecy.
"We have a lot of work to do, though. Today was an excellent start, assuming whatever you bought is as helpful as what I actually know about. Just training isn't going to beat Voldemort, you know. It's going to take-"
"I know, I know. Can't we worry about that later? At least until we're done at Diagon Alley."
"Well, I was thinking about getting a bite-" Harry was interrupted by a very loud series of pops as they rounded the corner to Diagon Alley proper. Both Harry and Remus tensed at the sight that greeted them. A group of black garbed figures stood in the middle of Diagon Alley, in the middle of the day. The small crowds around them seemed just as stunned; the fear hadn't seemed to sink in yet because of it.
The Alley grew silent with the appearance of the Death Eaters. For a split second, everything stopped, shoppers and shopkeepers staring at the dark-robed killers, who stared right back and as one raised their wands. With the movement, the stillness was shattered, and the people moved as if to make up for it. Mothers got their children away quickly, while fathers stayed behind to fight for their safety. Store-owners, unused to doing anything more dangerous than subduing an aggressive animated book, stood shakily in their places of business, hoping to stay safe, but willing to protect themselves if they had to.
And then the spell casting began. The Death Eaters launched a barrage of multicolored lights. Some burned with purple fire, some formed into a corrosive gas that ate away the people's eyes, one even caused the fingernails of a fat, balding wizard, who had pushed his children away, to curl up his arm, ripping strips of flesh from fingertip to shoulder. The least imaginative ones, either uninterested or unaware of the art of instilling terror, merely used the Killing Curse. Some of the defenders tried to shield themselves, though it was mostly useless. Most responded, though their hexes weren't nearly as intimidating. Harry decided to act. As he moved to help, he realized Remus had already thrown himself into the fray, and was casting curse after curse.
A few well-placed Reductos had blooded the Death Eaters, but now that they were scattered along with the other combatants, they seemed to be gaining an even greater advantage. With the fighting in full-swing, Harry did little actual dueling; he went from cluster of fighters to cluster of fighters, often using tactics as simple as a Stunning Charm to the back to incapacitate Death Eaters, letting the wizards already fighting them finish it from there.
"Stupefy." He whispered, still pretending to use his wand. The chances of the Ministry identifying his wand's signature in this mess was slim, so if they didn't, nothing would be thought out of the ordinary from the people who might have seen him casting. If they did, they would have proof he had done underage magic, and he didn't feel like the headache. He saw the man he stunned fall and was about to turn to look for another group to help, when a voice made him spin around.
"Potter. Yes…" The voice sounded slightly frantic and upset, but managed to be calm at the same time, much like the speaker. He was a bit taller than Harry, his white hair long and gnarled, clumped and tangled. His eyes were narrowed and flitting back and forth frenziedly. His robes were only barely wearable, almost in tatters, and barely clung to his emaciated frame. At the same time, his stance was relaxed, almost lazy, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, wand pointing downwards. Despite his hair, he didn't look old, though he did have the look of someone who had just recovered from a serious illness.
"How embarrassing! Do we know each other? I seem to have forgotten your name, Mr…?" Harry said, the sarcasm almost hidden. He wanted to see what was going on with this Death Eater. The answer was … strange.
"Know each other? Do we now?" The man muttered in a fast voice quietly "I wouldn't say know… no, not know, but yes, maybe something like that, yes, Potter, yes." The man rambled, still almost whispering, taking a single step towards Harry.
"Er… right, well. I was just going to Stupefy!" Harry started casually, then shot his strongest Stunning Charm at the insane Death Eater, who reminded him a lot of a male Bellatrix. The spell hit him right in the chest, but instead of falling over stunned, it burst on contact with him, causing him to take a step back but nothing else.
"Stupefy? Stun, stunning me, me?" The man giggled, a disturbing noise, then turned serious as he seemed to realize something. "Right, right. Fighting, aren't we? I forgot, sorry." He sounded really sincere about the apology. "We can fight now."
Faster than Harry could see, his opponent whipped his wand up and, without saying a word, shot a barrage of spells at him. Harry swore he saw every color of light in the rainbow, and then some, before he hurled himself out of the way. He rolled, getting up quickly, and countered.
"Expelliarmus, Stupefy, Impedimenta!" Harry meant for his spells to be mere distractions while he came up with a plan, but it was not to be. The insane wizard merely stood there, and every spell broke, apparently on contact with him. Each time, the spell would crash back, like waves breaking on a cliff, and then they would disappear, and the wizard would giggle. Growing angry, Harry redoubled his efforts. Ducking under an errant spell, he shouted out a spell. "Levitas!" It was one of the simplest of the spells he had recently added to his repertoire, when he had broken the Ward. It was a magical bolt of lightning. It lanced through the air, the thunder of it's passing causing some of the other combatants to turn and see the commotion. Like the others, it didn't have the intended affect. He did stagger more than when the other spells had hit him, though, and his eyes widened for a second. Then he was back to normal, giggling away.
"Thanks, thanks for the laughs that is, here's one for you! Rictusempra!" Harry, to his horror and embarrassment, was hit by the Tickling Charm. Adding insult to… well, insult, the Death Eater giggled along with Harry's laughing.
"Tarantellegra! Densaugeo! Nunsaeta!" The mad Death Eater managed to get out between fits of laughter. Harry found himself with huge teeth, with a literal bird's nest for hair, dancing, all while laughing uncontrollably.
"Finite Incantatum." And then it all stopped. His hair and teeth were back to normal and he stopped dancing and laughing. Harry was aware, in a detached way, that it was Remus who said it, and that the sounds of dueling were gone, but he didn't really notice. His thoughts were focused on beating his opponent; none of his spells were working, and the man had made him look like a fool. As his desire for revenge reached a fevered pitch, he recalled another spell he had gotten when the Ward broke, one he hadn't remembered earlier.
"Dolens Ingero." Harry hissed from between clenched teeth. The result was wildly different from how the other spells had worked. The man rocketed backwards, flipping and twisting multiple times in the air, before hitting the ground with a thud. He got up quickly, all traces of insanity apparently gone.
"You've been learning, boy." The voice was no longer frantic or calm. It was hard and threatening, if not exactly angry. "I will flay your skin from…" He paused, looking around. He was the single remaining Death Eater; the others had been subdued, or had fled when the center of attention had been the duel between he and Harry.
"Next time." With one last, smoldering glare, he Apparated away.
A/N: That fight scene didn't turn out quite how I'd like. Ah well. Next chapter, Harry has to deal with the repercussions of the battle, we learn how the insane Death Eater remained unharmed, and probably some other stuff. I appreciate reviews, and I would like to continue getting them, but I'll level with you all and admit they won't make me update faster (but then, maybe they will. I dunno)