Author's Note: Well, here it is. The prologue of Shadow Magic, largely unchanged from its first edition though editted here and there for grammar and pace of dialogue with description. The little changes added up over to years, so it's a bit more readable in my opinion. I hope all those who were longing to reread enjoy this.
Disclaimer: As is traditional on if not on other websites, I shall include: I don't own any of these characters or their respective series, it's all just for good fun.
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In all of the UK, surely there was never an Alley so odd or active as Diagon Alley. Indisputably the center of all the wizarding world in the northern hemisphere, it is hard to believe that the famous Alley had once been a mere humble gathering of magical folk trying to escape the Muggle eye. Diagon Alley could now only be described as the largest, most varied conglomeration of magical shops in all of Europe, and of course home to some of the best ice cream around, should Florean Fortesque be asked. In no other place could a person find such a wide variety of magical items. Artifacts from all over the world always seemed to find their way there, ranging from the most exotic of potion ingredients to the most mundane of cleaning products. This unique selection of goods was one of the reasons Diagon Alley suffered such fair patronage by witches, wizards, and creatures from all walks of life (or un-life). And true to style, Diagon Alley was bustling on the fine August day Molly Weasley chose to go shopping on.
The time was drawing near for when Hogwarts would be opening her doors to another year. Like most parents and students Molly had waited until almost the very end of the summer hols before venturing out to buy the yearly school supplies. Some hoped to avoid the press of the crowd by knocking off the shopping early, but Molly believed there was just something so bright and cheerful about the Alley when every nook, cranny, and close were filled with milling peoples and clattering wares.
But this year, something had changed. Shifted just a fraction of a centimeter off kilter, the atmosphere was somehow not so bright, not so cheerful. It was not just in the air. There was something of a muted vigor in the lanes, a hushed whisper in the shops. An aura of unease had settled over the Alley. Though she couldn't quite put her finger on it, it was there, stirred up at each passers-by's heels like dust on a particularly dry day. Like the hurt of one wound agitating the hurt of another, it brought her thoughts almost constantly back to the smothering weight that had settled across her shoulders.
In the press of the crowd, she was buffeted. On the other side, she was shouldered past. No steadying hand found her arm, no arguments waited to be quashed or ruffled feathers to be smoothed. Passing by the Quidditch store, there was no tug at her robe sleeve. On passing Florean Fortesque's ice cream parlour, no voice whined for a raspberry sherbet. Such a lively, lovely day, and she had not a single one of her children at her side. It was unsettling to turn and find herself unaccompanied by anything less than a gaggle of teenagers. The sun shone bright and warm against her shoulders, a last heady thrust of summer, but all she could feel was the ominous, smothering gloom of twelve Grimmauld Place closing in around her. The feeling followed her like an omen, drawn to her just as her mind was drawn to her children, locked away in fear behind closed doors.
The bell above the door of Flourish & Blotts gave a half-hearted jingle when she stepped in, reflecting her mood to a tee. The brightness of the Alley had not touched her. The prospect of returning back to headquarters left her feeling tired and without any form of satisfaction. Today would be the first time in years that the school shopping was completed in under four hours. Any other year, she would have been ecstatic. Now, it was merely a symptom of her children's absence, and for that she could never be grateful. As a mother, locking her children away where they would be safe and protected was her first instinct. But even now, she saw in her mind's eye their faces as they would be on her return, and knew that the answer could not be so simple. Not when it meant returning to grim, unhappy faces.
And Harry, her little black-haired son (for surely he was more hers than he was that disgraceful Dursley woman's!) left her feeling unsettled and hollowed out. He has always been so strong and kind. To think of him shouldering something as terrible as the Diggory boy's death alone could and did drive her to tears. How deeply he suffered it could not be any more plain now that she had him close. Yet Molly stood helpless before the task of comforting him, of making things right, all the years of motherhood gone before for nothing when they could not have prepared her for this. The loss of one of her own children was unthinkable; nothing could ever mend such a loss, and for Harry with the weight of the world on his shoulders...
And when things had felt like they couldn't go any more wrong, of course the Ministry had to come in and hold that farce of a trial! The very memory of the fiasco was enough to make her blood boil. The poor dear was lucky to still have his soul. Any adult wizard suffering the same horrors in their past as her Harry would have fallen before the Dementor's chill without a doubt, and she was sure that it was only his inner strength of will that kept him from collapsing then and there! Her little, strong, wounded son…What that fool of a Minister thought he was doing by putting an innocent boy on trial, she didn't know.
Having him safely at the Order's headquarters helped to ease some of her fears. Molly knew that being safe, however, was not the same as being well or being happy. That she had learned firsthand. His voice had carried down the stairs that first night, though she did not think he knew. Somehow, the hurt and anger had surprised her as she stood listening, there, at the bottom of the stairs. Looking back, it shouldn't have. With the events of the Tournament, to be more or less abandoned with those horrible Muggles without even the comfort and support of letters from his friends, his only true family... well, Molly couldn't fathom it. When she had heard it all those weeks ago crackling so clearly in his voice, Molly had felt a momentary, uncommon emotion; a breath, a second, of dislike for Albus Dumbledore.
In retrospect, she balked at how obediently she had followed his order without question or pause. From the vantage of retrospect, she admitted how unwise and cruel the order had been. Of course, Albus was by no means a cruel wizard, that she would never claim. But all men err, and that included those she respected and trust. It was a hard lesson to swallow, though none so bitter a pill as the silent admission of her own guilt.
These thoughts dogged her through the threshold into her last stop of the day. Had anyone been in Flourish & Blotts to see, she would have fairly radiated gloom.
Rather, until the moment Molly looked up.
She had expected to greet the nondescript middle aged man who usually worked the counter, the one who smelt strongly of mothballs. The scene followed a sort of ritual, a script in her head written with years of experience: she would hand over the (in her opinion, overcharged) amount of money as soon as she named the lengthy shopping list; he would collect her purchase for her with the flick of his wand. This year, a new line formed in the script half-played in her mind. Half-hearted smiles and inquiries would to welcome her back at the Headquarters, and then the hush that seems so inevitable in that house would prevail again. So ingrained was this scenario, and so lost in thought was she, that she was halfway across the shop before she realized something had changed.
The unfamiliar boy stood behind the counter couldn't be day older than her youngest. The sound of the bell had startled him, or so she assumed, as he was trying frantically to re-establish a teetering stack of books at one elbow. Once the immediate danger had passed, he turned his attention to hurriedly clearing away the open tome on the counter, tucked fumbling away and leaving behind only the impression of half-familiar hieroglyphics and worn leather. A rather awkward pause descended, and this time it was her turn to start.
Meeting his eyes as she approached, Molly couldn't have told you their colour. But, as she neared the counter, he shifted and a beam of light from the front window hit his irises side-on, lighting them up the most stunning shade of violet. It was almost enough to give her a moment's falter, though she prided herself on never judging a person based upon their looks (Gilderoy Lockhart excepted, though she tried not to remember that.).
"Hello, dear, I don't believe I've seen you working here before," she greeted with some trepidation. Though often her own clothes were not in the best of repair, she couldn't help but balk slightly at what she could only describe as the scruffy Muggle outfit the teller wore. He couldn't have looked more out of place in the warmly painted, if not moderately dusty, interior of the shop, which from mauve-and-salmon seats to dense velvet curtains could not have been more wizardish. A good amount of her misgivings dissolved momentarily after her observations, however.
"I only started a part time job here last month," he confided, voice light and sheepish. "The owner needed a young set of hands around for the school rush, so I was really lucky." With one hand he swept a swath of curling blond fringe self-consciously out of his face, bright as day though the rest of his hair jutted out in wild black flyaways where it was beginning to escape the tie. For a moment, Molly was reminded forcefully of Harry. It warmed her mood a great deal.
"Well," she said warmly, rather at a loss. (Silently, she vowed never to wheedle Bill about his hair again.) The silence went on a beat.
"Is there anything I can help you with?" he blurted suddenly, and motioned to her list, only to nearly upend the nearby tower of books with his elbow. As he scrambled to stable the teetering disaster, she couldn't help smiling for all her sudden return of melancholy. He flushed in embarrassment right up to the hairline.
"If you wouldn't mind, dear," she said, and held the parchment out of him again. "It's quite the list, I'm afraid." The words were accompanied by a sigh. He blinked unsurely as he scanned it, and by the bottom of the scrap he looked positively frazzled. The crumpled corner folded and unfolded under his fingers. Absently, she noticed how thin and long his hands were, olive and delicate like birds. At odds was the thick leather bracelet around one wrist, flashing with silver studs. Stranger and stranger.
"Um," he began, almost timidly, "that is a large purchase. Would you be interested in our Family Discount, Mrs...?"
The word 'discount' echoed through her head more tantalizingly than a struck brass bell. She offered an enthusiastic hand that he shook a tad awkwardly.
"Molly Weasley, dear. What's this about a family discount? I've not heard of Flourish & Blotts offering one before." She was never one to pass up an opportunity to save money, not with the amount of children she and Arthur had to care for.
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Weasley," he smiled, and then dipped forward in a slight bow like she had seen the oldest wizards do when she was just a child and they still clung to an older times. The juxtaposition of Muggle fashion with old nostalgia was so strange that for a moment, Molly felt as if she were standing in the middle of a very odd dream and hadn't realized until that very moment. He continued without break, "The discount is something new Flourish and Blotts is trying out this year. Large families or parties that come together to purchase their school texts get a thirty percent discount on all texts sold. But," Molly jumped slightly, having suspected there would be a 'but' involved, "at least three students must be present at the time the purchase is made."
Deflating slightly, she smiled weakly at the apologetic smile sent her way.
"I see..." she said.
Put out over the loss, Molly hardly noticed the conspiratorial way the stranger glanced around the empty shop as if searching for eavesdroppers. Her attention was effectively grabbed, however, when he leaned slightly across the counter. Without thinking, she leaned closer to listen as he said in a hushed tone,
"I don't suppose the owner would really approve of me doing this," he smiled, "but you know, Mrs. Weasley, I could happen to say we are out of the texts you're searching for and ask you to return tomorrow..." he caught her eye just as understanding dawned, "...and you could happen to bring your children and thus qualify for the discount..."
He trailed off suggestively with those peculiar eyes of his bright. A warm feeling wormed its way into her chest as her shock melted away under the influence of the infectious grin spreading across his face. A plan was slowly forming itself in the very most back of her head, and she suddenly found herself smiling just as enthusiastically. They both straightened in tandem.
"Well! I'm sorry to hear you're out of stock, Mr...?"
"Mutou. Yugi Mutou. I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience." He folded his hands primly on the counter. Molly flapped a hand.
"That's quite alright, Mr. Mutou. I suppose I'll have to come back tomorrow."
And there they stood, sharing conspirators' smirks, and any unsureness Molly had been harboring about the unusual boy behind the counter vanished. Seeing as the store was empty with the lunch hour and seemed fit to stay that way for a while, Molly shifted to stand a bit more comfortably against the counter.
"That book you were reading before," she prompted. "I take it you're interested in Egypt?"
Yugi ducked his head at the question but dutifully produced the dusty tome she had glimpsed upon arrival. It had obviously been read many, many times, stuffed full with scraps of coloured parchment as placeholders so that it fairly bristled. When she glanced, there was pink settling high in his cheeks. He cleared his throat delicately.
"Very much. I know I shouldn't have been reading on the job, but it's sort of a passion of mine, Egypt. I suppose you could even call me an expert on the matter," he admitted.
Molly took a moment to re-examine him. The heavy gold pendant hanging around his neck certainly appeared Egyptian, decorated with what her memories of Egypt and Bill's excited chatter recalled to be the Eye of Horus. An Egyptian wizard in England? Molly asked as much.
"Are you by any chance Egyptian, Mr. Mutou?" His name surely didn't sound it, but she was no expert.
Something akin to amusement fluttered across his fine-boned features, brief as a passing thought, before he smiled a strange smile, as if he were smiling inward at some private joke. She hardly had time to try and analyze it before he spoke, a well-used laugh on his breath,
"Well, I suppose you could say that, in a way. Though my name is Japanese," he obviously had no problem reading the expression on her face. Molly flushed a bit as her obvious transparency. "I was raised Japanese as well, but something about Egypt seems to have my family captivated."
Conversation after that was easy and pleasant. Molly told him of her son Bill, gallivanting about Egypt as a Curse-Breaker, and then on to their family trip to visit him summer before last. In return, Yugi chronicled his last three years in the land of burning sands, deciphering ancient hieroglyphics and co-discovering a tomb filled with the most fascinating glyphs and treasures. To her delight, he had in fact 'run in to' her son, though she guessed it was more than just that. When she pressed, Yugi flushed a most interesting pink and she let the subject drop, much to his obvious relief. Mentally, she began to compose a letter to her son that read something along the lines of, "Dear Bill, how are you? I ran into the most interesting fellow in Flourish & Blotts the other day. A very charming young man! He says his name is Yugi Mutou…"
Other than that, Molly learned quite a lot about genial Mr. Mutou in the short fifteen minutes she spent chatting with him. Though he was no taller than five feet and six inches (and she was probably being very generous), he was a raring twenty-two years old, which brought her up short. She had thought him no older than sixteen! She was also astonished to find his hair was natural (he had shown her a few pictures of his grandfather that he carried in his wallet, and though the man had been greying in some of them, the evidence was undeniable). He told her of how his grandpa, Sugoroku Mutou, had also spent a lot of his time in Egypt, helping with digs and uncovering artifacts.
He even quite proudly told her that the necklace he wore, dreadfully heavy she would guess, was an artifact his grandfather brought back to him when he was young, and he shortly explained to her how he had put it together after it had been scattered into dozens of pieces (like a puzzle, of all things!). After he stumbled over calling her Mrs. Weasley a few times during the span of the conversation, he finally caved in and bashfully admitted he was still unsure with English honorifics, and thus she was upgraded to Weasley-san. It was after she got a brief lesson on the meanings of the different Japanese suffixes like -san that she found out a particularly interesting piece of information that instantly had her curious.
"I'm actually only working here because of my love of books and because I really need the money before I start my full time job. Come September, I'll be leaving for work." Rather cryptic, she would reflect later.
"Oh? What kind of work, Mr. Mutou?" What, she wondered, would it be this time? Another dig in Egypt? Then why would he be here, in the UK?
Mr. Mutou blushed.
"Please, you don't have to call me Mr. Mutou. Yugi is fine!"
"Only," Molly chuckled, "so long as you call me Molly, dear."
Shyly, he agreed,
"If it's alright, Molly-san." She nodded encouragingly. "And as for my job, I-"
She would not find out, for the bell above the door interrupted him as a couple entered with unsure glances and an active first year in tow. Slightly disappointed, Molly waved off the apologetic look sent her way. It was high time she returned. She had good news to tell, after all, and Molly just loved to be the bearer of good news.
"Thank you for your help, Yugi." She pat his hands, which were folded on the counter, and smiled gently as his features began to resemble a wet weekend. It seemed to her he did not often get the chance for friendly chatter on the job. "I'll be seeing you tomorrow, then."
As she turned to leave, successfully sidestepping the family with a friendly smile, he called after her with some cheerfulness returning to his now familiar voice.
"Good bye, Molly-san. See you soon!"
Sending a last glance back, Molly had time to see the suspicious looks crumble off the parents' faces under the full force of Yugi's cordial smile before the door closed. Anything else she would have seen through the windows was lost as the ever-present crowds of Diagon Alley swept her away in their current.
As she was jostled about, Molly couldn't help but smile to herself. A way to get her children out of the house for a bit of normalcy and fun, and a perfectly viable excuse to veil it, all wrapped up in one leather-clad package. Two birds with one stone had never sounded so true. And, if she wasn't mistaken, Molly was also sure she had made a new friend.
So on that fine August day, Molly left the humming Diagon Alley a tad smug, already planning her talk with Dumbledore and for the expected bunch of gloomy faces to light up when she gave them the news and told them of the strange man working the counter at Flourish and Blotts.
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Yet another author's note: I'm still mildly embarrassed about the quality of the writing and plot of this fic, so I'm hiding my face a little. Hope it was all you remembered, or good fun if it's your first time. Now I've got to work up to rereading the other chapters for posting. Cheers! - Clem