Disclaimer: Characters and places which belong to J.K. Rowling do, in fact, belong to J.K. Rowling. Also, the character herein which Joss owns is similarly owned by Joss.
Author's Note: There's this chapter early on in Chamber of Secrets, where Harry makes a wrong turn in the Floo network, ends up in the dark magic shoppe, overhears Lucius and Draco Malfoy talking to the shopkeeper while he hides in the conviently placed (and empty) cabinet... remember?
Okay, take all that as given, and let's pick up the action as Harry dashes from the shop.
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Muttering darkly, Mr. Borgin disappeared into a back room. Harry waited for a minute in case he came back, then, quietly as he could, slipped out of the cabinet, past the glass cases, and out of the shop door.
Harry's glasses had been broken during his rough and tumble arrival via the hearth, so he clutched them in one hand as he squinted and peered all around, trying to orient himself. This place was definitely not
Diagon Alley, though it wasn't any sort of muggle street, either. The dingy, narrow passage was barely wide enough for a single small car to manage, if there had been any cars around that cared to try.
Instead, the filthy cobbles were tread by a few scattered pedestrians, all of whom seemed just as shabby as the run-down buildings fronting the street. Across the way was a dirt-filmed window that held a display of shrunken heads, and a hand-lettered sign a bit further down boasted of the shop's wide selection of 'Tame Vermin most insidious'.
Harry shuddered, but had no other choice, unless he wanted to turn around and re-enter Borgin and Burkes, which he most certainly did not. Bracing himself, he stepped into the street, chose a direction at random (left, as it so happened), and started walking. His hope was that his misadventure with the floo network hadn't landed him too
far distant from where he'd meant to go, and that he could quickly find his way there. A dilapidated sign hanging from a street lamp proclaimed this to be 'Knock Turn Alley', which was of no help at all since he'd never heard of such a place. He kept going, trying hard not to show his nervousness.
His determination to appear brave, however, lasted less than a minute, for he was quickly accosted by one of the street's ragged denizens.
"Not lost, are you my dear?" asked the bent and infirm-looking witch who hobbled over to block his path. Her tattered hat obscured most of her face, though Harry saw enough to know that she was old, missing most of her teeth, and seemed to have eyes that were very mismatched in size.
"Care for a little something?" she continued, when he proved unable to find any words with which to respond. Raising the tray she held before her, she offered him tiny bowls of what appeared to be human fingernails--whole ones, not clippings. Her leer, combined with her 'wares', combined to send him stumbling backwards in dismay, and he stared all around in fuzzy-sighted panic, searching for some path of escape.
"All right, Shar; that's enough," someone said, virtually in Harry's ear. He whirled violently, afraid that someone even uglier and more terrifying had managed to sneak up on him.
That wasn't the case at all, at least, not the part about being ugly and terrifying.
The newcomer was a young woman, probably in her early twenties, and even without his glasses Harry could plainly see that she was very pretty, even beautiful. Her hair was of a darkly reddish hue, fell to the middle of her back, and looked both stylish and silky-soft. She wore a largish amount of perfectly-applied makeup, which combined with her well-coiffed hair to give her a glossy, magazine-model sort of beauty. Her attractiveness was almost as intimidating to the boy as the hag's ugliness had been, if in a completely different sort of way.
Harry gaped at her, and she smiled down at him somewhat condescending fashion, though not unkindly for all that.
"Are you okay, sweetie?" she asked him, laying one flawlessly-manicured hand on his arm as she did so. Smiling, the woman nodded past at the old witch, who was now looking somewhat abashed. "Shareena, here, has a little too much fun, sometimes, with her scary old lady act. It does help keep the brightsiders out where they belong, though."
His heart still beating rapidly, Harry gave the hag another look, squinting even harder to be sure he wasn't seeing things. 'Shareena', the newcomer had called her, which didn't seem like a proper name for an ugly hag, somehow, and indeed, his second look showed that she wasn't quite what she had first appeared to be. Setting her tray aside (where it hovered, quite steadily, in midair), she pulled her tattered hat from her head. Instantly there was a shimmer, and her features blurred and reformed, as though several thick panes of cloudy glass were being pulled away, one after the other. Her eyes shifted, one growing larger and the other shrinking until they were both exactly the same size, and instead of a muddy brown color they were now dark blue. Her skin lost its pocked, diseased look, smoothing until it was a perfectly nice (if slightly freckled) sun-kissed bronze. Her hair, too, grew thicker, smoother, and longer, until it was a brown/bronze/blonde-streaked mane that reminded Harry of the American television show with the improbably-attractive female lifeguards that his cousin Dudley enjoyed so much.
Her transformation complete, Shareena stood revealed to be less than half the age he'd first thought, and actually quite attractive. She grinned at him, punched him lightly on one shoulder, and shrugged.
"Sorry about that, kiddo," she said, her voice not nearly so screechy and frightening now that she wasn't acting the crone. "Didn't mean to make you pee yourself or anything, but the look on your face--! She was very obviously trying not to laugh aloud, and Harry wasn't especially keen to be the butt of more jokes; not when every summer was spent enduring the mocking and taunts dished out by the Dursley family.
The second woman had been watching him closely all this time, and she seemed to sense his sullen anger, because she put her arm across his shoulders and turned him gently away.
"It's not her fault, really," she told him softly as she led the way further down the street. "Her and some of the others are paid to hang around here and act scary and crazy; it keeps out people who don't have any business being here."
A last look behind them showed Shareena stretching her arms up and twisting from side to side in an effort to relieve a stiff back. Then, with a look of obvious reluctance, she tugged her ragged hat back down on top of her head. Her pleasant features blurred and shifted once more, and she bent over to shuffle off with her tray of fingernails (which had obligingly floated back into her hands at her gesture).
Harry's eyes were beginning to ache from all the squinting he was doing, and he rubbed at them before looking up at the woman.
"You said that before," he said, unsure of how to feel towards the stranger. On the one hand, she had stepped in just as he had been about to flee, screaming. On the other hand, he had no idea who she was, or why she had taken this sudden interest in him. Accordingly, he decided to try and brazen his way through. "You said that before," he repeated. "Something about keeping people out, out where they belong. What does that mean?"
The glossy-beautiful maybe-model beside him smiled (very prettily, yet also somewhat smugly and disdainfully).
"It means keeping the oh-so-pure goody-good locals away from anything that might confuse or upset them," she said, with a tiny trace of a sneer in her otherwise bright and friendly voice. "This world is divided up into mundanes and magicals, right?" She looked down at Harry, and when he nodded acknowledgement she nodded too. "Well, that's not the only dividing line. There's also a... I suppose 'stigma' is the best word to describe it, a stigma attached to a large percentage of the magicals here. The brightsiders don't like what the others do, and they don't like how they do it, either, but there's too many of us here in the shadows for them to do much about it. So they pretend we're not worth noticing--that we're all crazed, or poor, or twisted and ugly," she waved a delicate hand back towards the play-actors behind them. "If that's all they see, then it's much easier for them to ignore us, and to be perfectly honest, we're happy if they just stay out of our way and let us get on with our lives."
Harry frowned, trying to follow all of that while simultaneously keep an eye on their surroundings. As they walked, the street had been slowly widening, while the buildings on either side grew both cleaner and more solidly-built.
"So...." he murmured, almost to himself. "You mean... these are the people who wanted Voldemort to rule everything?"
The woman gave him a sideways look at the mention of that name, though she didn't flinch.
"Not exactly," she said. "What you'll see here are the people who aren't afraid to say that name, and they're the ones who aren't afraid to admit that he's trying for a comeback... which is more than you can say about all those idiots over on the sunny side of the street."
Speaking of streets, Harry saw that the one they were following made an abrupt left-hand turn just ahead. Also, somehow, it was getting on towards evening in a very strange way, despite the fact that it couldn't be later than nine in the morning. At the turning ahead the lamps atop the widely-spaced poles were already burning with pale mage-fire, illuminating the street in which dusk was starting to settle. Turning about, he saw that the way behind them was still brightly lit, though this end was noticeably dimmer than the section at the limit of his blurred vision. With a fresh feeling of unease and confusion he looked up, and saw another street sign posted at the turning. This one read 'Nocturne Way', which he assumed was some misspelling of 'Knock Turn', which was of course the proper name. The woman followed the direction of his gaze and gave him another of those unsettlingly-attractive smiles.
"Do you know what 'Nocturne' means? No?" Linking her arm through his, she led him to the turning. "A nocturne is a piece of music; music that sweeps you off into the night when you listen, to where all the mysterious, magical, beautiful things are just waiting for you to discover them."
At the turning of the way, Harry froze in place, and fumbled for the broken halves of his glasses. Holding them up so that he could see through them, he saw that the street wound its way up a steep slope that could never be mistaken for any part of London. This was clearly Somewhere Else, and what he saw stunned him. The darkness of the sky wasn't absolute; this wasn't full night, as he'd feared it would be. Rather, twilight held dominion over the wide, clear sweep of cobblestones, with deep scarlet and purple tones glowing over the rooftops. The magical lamps kept the street lit well enough, though pools of darker shadow lingered in some doorways and in the mouths of smallish alleys here and there. The fronts of the buildings were lit with magical lights also, in every color of the spectrum and a few more besides, and bustling among them were figures that were literally beyond his comprehension.
His mouth agape, Harry looked up at the woman who had brought him there. Her eyes sparkling, she laughed aloud, and he dazedly realized that even the sound of her laughter was glossy and perfect.
"Oh, honey," she said, smiling down at him. "I thought this was going to be just one more annoying business trip." Tousling his hair affectionately, she tugged him forward. "Come on, let me show you around."
Harry dug in his heels, a little belatedly, true, yet a little caution coming late was surely better than none at all.
"I shouldn't," he told her, fumbling his broken glasses back into his pocket before he lost them. "I'm here to buy my school supplies." At her level, green-eyed stare he flushed, and fought not to stammer. "I mean, I was supposed to be going to Diagon Alley, to buy things for school, only I didn't know how to use the floo, and I ended up--"
"--In Borgin and Burkes," she finished for him, nodding agreeably. "Yes, I saw you the moment you walked out the door." Bending down far enough to put her face level with his, she stared deeply into his eyes. Harry couldn't help noticing that whatever she wore on her lips did more than color them a deep red, it also gave them a moist, pearly luster utterly unlike any other lips he'd ever seen... not that he'd ever paid that much attention to a person's lips before....
"I'm, ah, on-only twelve years old," he managed, losing his struggle not to stammer, and blushing even more intensely. The woman smiled faintly.
"I can see that." Her eyes were looking at him, looking through
him, and he wondered what else she saw. "You are
a little young for me," she admitted a moment later. "And I'm quite a bit older than I look, believe me. Still," she tilted her head fractionally sideways, as if to let her peer into another, more obscure portion of his insides. "I'm a very, very patient lady, so I'd be willing to wait, if something were worth waiting for...." Harry blinked, unsure of how to interpret that, and she smiled more widely, showing predictably perfect, very white teeth.
"The thing is, I'm here by myself this time around, and I could use some company." Seeing his distress, she gave his cheek a light caress with the long, flawless nails of one hand. "Don't worry, it won't take long. I'll take you back to Diagon when we're done. And in the meantime, I can guarantee that you'll see some very interesting things, the sort of things that most people from your side never see." Turning slightly, gesturing gracefully at the street that stretched off into the impossible twilight she arched one delicate brow at him. "Aren't you even a little curious to see what's really here, just around the corner from what you know?"
Harry swallowed painfully, looked behind him, then squinted at the way that lay ahead. Even blurred, it called to him. Diagon Alley was wondrous enough; how much more was waiting to be discovered here, in this place that no one had ever even mentioned to him? Looking up at the strange, beautiful woman, he finally nodded.
"All right, I'll come," he said, forcing himself to speak clearly, past the lump of unease still perched in his throat. "So long as I'm back in an hour or two, the Weasleys won't have time to be too worried about me."
Her soft laughter rang out again, like silvery bells that someone had polished and polished until they glittered cold and lovely.
"Oooh, I love
it when someone gives in to temptation like that," she told him, even as she took his arm again and started them forward into the throng. "If I had an apple handy I'd give it to you; it's sort of traditional." At his blank look she shook her head and smiled mysteriously. "Never mind; I'll get you one later. In the meantime, I have to pick up some things, and then we can do a little sightseeing." Something seemed to occur to her, and she nudged him lightly in the ribs with her elbow. "By the way, handsome, you haven't told me your name."
He probably should have made something up, or used someone else's, like Ron, or Neville. That would have been the clever thing, when being asked by someone he didn't know, and didn't particularly trust. Strangely, though, her voice seemed to bypass all the clever, suspicious parts of his brain, and end up right in the center of the part that had no guile whatsoever.
"My name's Harry," he said, though he did at least manage not to spill the 'Potter'. She nodded, and took a deep breath after he said it, as if she were breathing his identity in along with the air. Apparently the scent of his name met with her approval, as she flashed him a brilliant smile in return.
"Nice to meet you, Harry. You can call me Eve."
"Eve," he repeated, fitting the name to the rest of the woman. It seemed to suit her. They moved down the street, arm in arm.
It was several long minutes before he made the connection between her name and what she'd said about an apple, but by then the wonders she was pointing out in the first of the shops swept away any of the unease he would otherwise have felt.
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