Keep to yourself, don't ask questions, and don't stare at anyone. Following these three simple commandments were the unwritten rules of Knockturn Alley. Follow these and you will be left alone, and in Knockturn Alley the one thing you wanted above all else was to be left alone.
The hooded figure followed these rules to the letter as it slalomed through the waifs and strays of the alleyway, the cowl pulled tight over his face and head bent low so that only the tip of his nose protruded enough to be visible.
"Watch it!" ordered a gruff-looking man buffeted out of the way. The hooded individual ignored him and continued on his single minded journey.
"I said 'watch it'!" reiterated the man, slapping a plate size hand down on the shoulder of the stranger.
The covered person spun around with a surprising speed that caught the man off guard. There was a sudden flash of red, which caused a startled old woman nearby to scream out in shock, and the man crumpled down onto the pavement under the power of the Stunning Spell. Despite a number of people being present, there was silence all around.
The hooded figure looked down at the body of the man, prodding it carefully with a boot, before raising its head to meet the eyes of the old woman, who immediately looked away and tried to seem as if she hadn't noticed any confrontation. Others in the alley did the same as the hooded person turned in their direction, each person suddenly pretended to be very interested in the slab of pavement just below their feet. Satisfied that nothing else was going to happen, the covered figure moved off once again, leaving the prone man behind to have his pockets picked clean by the more opportunistic denizens of the alley.
Turning right the figure left the relative hustle of the main part of Knockturn Alley and disappeared down one of the numerous side streets that branched out from it. A few more turns and he stopped at a dead end, huge imposing walls rearing up in front as well as on either side. Pushing a gloved hand into a pocket to retrieve a worn, folded scrap of parchment with small spidery writing on it, the figure muttered some words from within the confines of the cowl.
A low rumbling sounded as the bricks slowly parted in the wall to reveal a hidden door. A hand reached out and pushed it open.
Stepping through the doorway the figure found itself in a dark hallway. Up ahead was the faint noise of music being played. Ominous pictures hung from the wall, its inhabitants watching the cloaked person warily as it passed by them. At the end of the hall was a large velvet curtain blocking the way, the figure pushed its way through and stepped into the room beyond.
The music was louder now. The figured looked across to the source, an old gramophone, slowly whirling away in the corner of the room, echoing out a slow thoughtful melody.
The room was decorated very lushly. Expensive looking ornaments adorned various shelves and side tables, a dusty collection of books were mounted on one side of the room, while a plush carpet filled the middle of it. Directly ahead was a large desk, intricately carved in the finest detail. Behind the desk, sat a high back chair, it was swivelled away so that the hooded figure could only see one arm of the occupant who was using a gloved hand to conduct in time to the music.
"Ahem," the cough was muffled slightly under the cowl, and drew no response from the resident of the chair. The figure repeated the gesture, slightly louder this time, "ahem."
The hand paused in its conducting and was turned to wave a finger at the figure before returning to its musical role. The figure waited impatiently as the music continued until it gradually faded away.
The occupant of the chair, who was still turned away, reached down onto the table and picked up a wand. A quiet muttering and movement was enough to send the gramophone into a still state.
"You can say what you like about Muggles," said a gravely voice from within in the confines of the chair, "but there are some things that they can get right on occasion. Are you a fan of Mozart?"
"I couldn't really say," replied a male voice evenly.
"No?" asked the seated man, "you should give him a chance, you're missing out. Beethoven is also good, very powerful, but after his openings, to be honest, he does tend to get a little boring…"
"Look," snapped the cloaked man, "I'm here…"
"I know why you are here," the seated man replied coolly cutting him off, "people only come to me for one reason. You have a problem, and you need it taken care of."
"Quite," agreed the hooded man, "in fact, I have three problems."
"As long as you have enough money you can have as many problems as you like."
The hooded man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bag which he threw down onto the table. It gave the unmistakable clink of coins bouncing together as it landed. The chair swivelled slightly and its inhabitant reached a hand out to pick up the coin purse. The sleeve on the arm pulled back a little to reveal a skin of dark green scales. The hooded man shivered slightly at the sight.
"This feels about right," admitted the man in the chair, bouncing the small bag up and down in his hand, "so, what are the three problems?"
"These," there was a soft sound as the hooded man dropped a couple of photographs down on the table, which were immediately scooped up by the owner of the scaled arm, who examined the first one, "that's Enoch Feverence, general treasure hunter and, up until a few months ago, a teacher at Hogwarts."
"Ahh yes," muttered the voice, "I remember this fellow being in the Daily Prophet, complaints of destruction of historic Egyptian artefacts I seem to recall, although I believed he claimed that he stopped some religious sect from destroying the world or some such nonsense. A man like that would step on a lot of toes, and I'm guessing you have sore feet?"
"Yes," replied the hooded man, clenching his jaw.
"Now this is much more interesting," continued the seated man, looking at the second picture, "what could these two have possibly done to you?"
"Does it matter?" asked the hooded man tersely.
"I suppose not," came the reply, "any special instructions?"
"Not with Feverence, but with the other two make it look like an accident."
"Any particular reason?"
"Because I don't have any details on them," explained the hooded man, "other then they are Hogwarts students, so you'd be taking care of them under the nose of Dumbledore."
"Dumbledore eh?" said the voice thoughtfully, "I enjoy a challenge, but it may take a while since it will require extra planning."
"Take all the time you need. Just get it done," with that the man turned on his heel and headed out of the room.
"Just one more thing," said the voice from the chair, causing the man to pause with his hand on the thick velvet curtain, "what exactly did these children do to you that you would send someone like me after them?"
"They stole something from me," replied the man without turning.
"It must have been pretty valuable."
"It was priceless," said the man. The sleeve of the outstretch hand holding the curtain slipped back to reveal a black tattoo of a beetle on his forearm, "they stole my master's future."
"We didn't take anything," complained Fred bitterly, helping himself to some scrambled egg.
"Oh and I suppose it just magically disappeared did it?" countered Percy throwing his hands up.
"Just because you've misplaced something it doesn't mean you should blame us," explained George picking some toast up and starting to butter it.
"It was on the cabinet in my room when I went to bed last night," said Percy through gritted teeth, "and this morning it's suddenly missing."
"Honestly, what is going on?" complained Mrs Weasley stepping into the kitchen of the Burrow and dumping her arm full of potatoes into the sink, "I can hear you three outside."
"Fred and George stole my prefect's badge," Percy informed his mother.
"Fred? George?" sighed Mrs Weasley, "did you take his badge?"
"Mum, does that really sound like something we'd do?" asked George innocently.
"Well let's see shall we," said Mrs Weasley counting on her fingers, "when Bill got his prefect's badge you hid it in your father's packed lunch, and then with Charlie if I recall you pinned his badge on one of the gnomes in the garden. So yes, it does sound like something you'd do."
"You really didn't think through that argument did you?" Fred asked his twin.
"Well?" asked Mrs Weasley tapping her foot, "where is it?"
"I can honestly say I don't know," said George, the picture of purity.
"Fine," said Mrs Weasley taking her wand out from the pocket on the front of her apron, "accio prefect's badge!"
Percy suddenly went from looking decidedly smug to a mixture of panic and surprise as he suddenly jumped up out of his seat. There was a loud ripping sound and a shining piece of metal flew through the air which was caught by Mrs Weasley. She frowned as she looked at the badge, which had some white fabric attached to it. She looked from the badge, to the giggling twins, and finally to Percy who frantically had his hand clamped over the seat of his trousers.
"You attached it to his pants?" asked George laughing.
"Well you said put it in the last place he would look," replied Fred grinning.
"Percy take this, then upstairs and get changed out of those clothes," ordered Mrs Weasley, handing the badge back to him. The new Hogwarts prefect gave a dark look towards his brothers as he disappeared up the stairs. She turned to the twins, "well at least I now have volunteers for peeling the potatoes."
"Mum," complained Fred looking at the pile currently in the sink.
"Don't complain," Mrs Weasley said cutting him off, "or I'll leave you two here when we go to Diagon Alley to collect yours and your brothers' school things."
"So we'll have the place to ourselves?" asked George raising an eyebrow.
"Hmm," Mrs Weasley pictured the house if she'd left the twins unattended, "on second thoughts you'll be coming with me no matter what."
"So this means we can complain about having to peel the potatoes?" Fred clarified.
"Of course," replied Mrs Weasley, "if you want to end up peeling all of the vegetables for every dinner until you go back to school."
Charlie had left home the week before, midst floods of tears from Mrs Weasley, to start his new job in a dragon sanctuary in Romania. This coupled with the fact that Bill had moved out a couple of years previous meant that the Burrow had become less crowded than normal. The downside of this was that it meant there was one less person for the twins to mess around with and Charlie's household chores were divided amongst the rest of the children, although on the plus side it meant larger portions at meal times.
Normally the twins would spend their summer holidays trying to think up new ways to annoy Percy, or some ridiculous scheme that would usual end up with one or both of them nursing a new bruise or cut, but with their youngest brother Ron finally starting at Hogwarts their new past time was to wind him up over what to expect about when he finally started school.
"Don't get me started on Defence Against the Dark Arts," said George shaking his head.
"Why what's wrong with that one?" asked Ron, not really wanting to hear the answer.
"Well basically all that happens is the teacher just shows you all the different hexes and curses by trying them out on you," explained Fred seriously, "and some of those can be quite painful."
"But they can't do that can they?"
"You try telling them that," replied George, "last time we complained we were hung up by our thumbs."
"And then we complained about that," admitted Fred, "so instead they hung us by our ankles."
"Stop talking nonsense," Mrs Weasley said having overheard them, "don't you listen to a word they say, Hogwarts is a wonderful place. You two, make a start on peeling those potatoes will you?"
"Yeah, you two," said George looking at his two brothers, "get on with it."
"Honestly," said Mrs Weasley ushering the twins towards the sink, "if you were that quick witted during your classes you'd be the next Minister of Magic."
"Hey, we got good marks this year," complained Fred starting to get to work.
"Yes your marks were good," admitted Mrs Weasley, "but I was more concerned with the number of letters I received from Professor McGonagall during the year about your general behaviour and the less said about the school holiday in Egypt the better. I would wonder where you get it from but I think after last year we can firmly plant that question at the feet of your uncle."
"Evening Weasleys," bellowed Mr Weasley pushing open the door to the Burrow, Errol the family's owl flew in over his shoulder and landed awkwardly on the table.
"Alright dad," nodded Fred before turning back to peeling the potatoes.
"A nice collection of letters today," said Mr Weasley, kissing his wife on the cheek and flicking through the post he'd collected off the owl, "there are a couple here for you boys."
"Really?" asked George turning around and looking eagerly at a package on the table.
"No, that's mine," said Mr Weasley handing two letters over to him, "these ones are yours."
"You can read those," said Mrs Weasley plucking them out of George's hand, "when you are done with the peeling."
"What's in the package?" asked Fred pointing at the small box on the table.
"Oh this?" beamed Mr Weasley picking up the package, "it's something special I picked up for your mum."
"For me?" smiled a surprised Mrs Weasley.
"I know our anniversary isn't for a while yet but I've been after this for ages. You can open it now."
Mrs Weasley hummed a little happy tune to herself as the pulled the brown paper apart, opened the box and retrieved the contents.
"Oh… it's lovely," said Mrs Weasley slowly, holding her present up for all to see, "what is it?"
"It's a torch," said Mr Weasley triumphantly rummaging around under the skin, until he pulled out a box full of batteries of every size, "watch this."
Mr Weasley took the torch from his wife and unscrewed the top. He fumbled through the box of batteries until he found two that would fit inside. Replacing the top he, flicked the button so that a beam of light shot from the end. He was so excited by the whole thing he almost dropped it.
"That's nice," commented Mrs Weasley carefully.
"That's what I thought," said Mr Weasley pulling the beam of light around the room with a look of childish glee on his face, "now if we get up in the night and we need to look for something in the dark we'll be able to see."
"Can't we just use our wands for that?" Mrs Weasley pointed out diplomatically.
"Ah, but what if you are looking for your wand?" countered Mr Weasley, shining the torch up the chimney, "I'm going to try this out somewhere dark; just popping to the shed."
Mr Weasley bounced out of the door, before quickly sticking his head back in, "you don't mind if I borrow your present for a bit do you dear?"
"No, absolutely not," smiled Mrs Weasley sweetly through clenched teeth. Once her husband's head disappeared from view she let out a long sigh and rolled her eyes.
"I don't know why we have to do this," complained Fred hacking away at a large potato, "you could easily do this in a second with a spell."
"Yes," agreed Mrs Weasley, "and if you'd left Percy alone I would have used magic to peel the potatoes, but seeing as you just had to torment him…"
"Actually when you put it that way…" admitted Fred shrugging.
"…it seems worth it," finished George.
They eventually finished peeling the potatoes, although this would have been done much sooner if they hadn't kept taking breaks from their work to flick the peelings at each other, much to the chagrin of Mrs Weasley who, tired of breaking up the skirmishes, took to knitting at the kitchen table to keep an eye on the pair.
As the warm and fragrant smell of dinner began to envelope the house, the twins retired to their bedroom to read their two letters, one from their best friend Lee Jordan while the other was from their uncle, and former teacher, Enoch.
"How's Lee getting on?" asked Fred who was busy reading their uncle's letter.
"He's doing fine," replied George lying on the floor with his legs propped up against the wall, "stayed the summer with his cousins. What about Enoch?"
"He's heading to South America," Fred informed his brother, "he heard about some buried treasure in a remote part of the Amazon, apparently he would have invited us along but since he couldn't guarantee the safety of the rainforest he decided against it."
"Cheeky git," muttered George, not looking up from Lee's letter, "it's been months since we've broken anything."
"The table in the Gryffindor Common Room," reminded Fred.
"It's been weeks since we've broken anything," said George not missing a beat.
"There was that window at the Egyptian school."
"It's been days…"
"Percy's cauldron," Fred interrupted.
"It's been hours," George said slowly looking at his brother, who nodded in agreement, before finishing his sentence, "since we've broken anything."
"Fred! George!" Mrs Weasley shouted up the stairs, "which one of you did this?"
"It's been minutes…"