Despite the failure of the Hogwarts mission, the council decided to proceed with the London target. They weren’t going to learn anything by sitting at home, after all.
Now that they knew what to look for, finding anomalies in London was easy. There were several. Having little more to go on, the strike team decided to start with the largest. They formed a circle, facing outward, ready for trouble and Willow air-traveled them all right inside.* * *
It didn’t look like a secret headquarters. It looked like an open-air market.
Under their feet was a wide, winding cobblestone street. It was lined with shops, most of which had large glass windows offering a variety of merchandise: robes, cauldrons, astrolabes, herbs (many of which Willow recognized as magical) and stranger things. Many of the shops also had tables set in front of them, with similar wares. An ice cream parlor seemed a brief spot of normality, except that it listed tuna fish and celery root alongside chocolate and strawberry as flavors.
The street wasn’t crowded, but there were a few people there, some walking with purpose and others seemingly browsing. A few looked up at the new arrivals, and then went back to what they had been doing. Teleportation clearly didn’t faze these people at all. Some did seem a bit surprised at their weapons and general appearance, though.
Slowly, Buffy sheathed her knife. When nothing happened, she spoke softly to the others, “Stand down. It looks like we haven’t come to a fight this time.”
The others sheathed their weapons as well, and re-arranged into a more comfortable posture. Attention wandered away from them.
“So, what now?” Willow asked.
“We clearly need better information,” Molly said, “and this might be a good place to get it.”
“Let’s start with that,” Vi said, pointing to a poster on one wall.
The poster read “MOST WANTED” and showed ten photos. The photos blinked and occasionally shifted posture, but did nothing more dramatic. They glared or sneered at the world. Under each photo was a name and a list of crimes. At the bottom it offered a thousand galleon reward for information leading to their recapture.
“I’m not sure about the names, but these crimes weren’t on the list Voldemort gave us,” Willow said.
A bystander gasped.
“What?” Buffy asked.
“You said his name!” the bystander said.
“So?” Buffy said, “It’s how he introduced himself to us.”
“Introduced?” The bystander said, backing away slowly and drawing his wand, “He’s dead! He has to be dead!” The wand began to shake.
Willow stepped in front of the others and raised her hands in a placating gesture that also readied her to block any incoming magic. “He seemed pretty alive to me.”
“He was definitely breathing,” Buffy added, “I notice these things.”
The bystander shrieked and vanished with a loud crack.
“You get the feeling there’s more going on here than we know?” Vi asked.
“Way more,” Molly said.
Buffy looked around for more people to question, but everyone who hadn’t vanished outright was studiously ignoring them.
“With all these shops,” Willow said, “I wonder if there’s a bookshop. Maybe we could buy a tourist’s guide to wizarding England, and a recent history book.”
“And a textbook on magical theory as these people practice it,” Molly said.
“And a book on fighting dementors,” Vi said.
“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy said, “so which way?”
Molly raised her hand, palm upward and concentrated. There was a small burst of light. “That way” she said.* * *
Finding the bookstore proved comparatively simple. They just walked until they saw it. The street twisted, but it didn’t fork. “Flourish and Blotts” the sign read, and the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were visible through the window. They walked in and began to browse. No one took any particular notice.
There wasn’t a tourist’s guide, but there was a book Concealment and Integration: How Important Wizarding Buildings are Hidden
. On a quick skim, it gave them a long list of interesting points. They also picked up Quirks of Diagon Alley
, which apparently was where they were. The book listed all the shops along with trivia and anecdotes. Buffy was relieved to learn that the name of the alley had nothing whatsoever to do with the Babylonian fish god Dagon.
A recent history book turned into several recent history books when they saw the display “Dumbledore: Heroic Sage or Obsolete Dingbat?” over two biographies of the same man that disagreed on almost every important point. Picking the truth out of the varying narratives would clearly take some time.
There was no guide to fighting dementors, but there was a three-volume Encyclopedia of Dark Creatures that looked like a worthy addition to the council library. The entry for dementors described what they could do in great detail, but said little about their vulnerabilities.
A text on magical theory took longest. The entire vocabulary for discussing magic wasn’t what Willow and Molly were used to. But after several hours of skimming, cross-referencing and pulling even more books off shelves, they had a large stack of books that they thought covered things.
Making the purchase was slightly problematic, as the clerk didn’t know how to accept a credit card. Fortunately, the other salesperson on duty did, and after a few spells to determine legitimacy, he ran the card through an old-style imprint machine. Since they were making such a large purchase, he even threw in a book bag -- charmed to hold ten times its own volume and never weigh more than it did empty.
“So,” Buffy said, “Home to read?”
“No,” Willow said, her mind on the theory she had skimmed, “I want to try to buy a wand.”* * *
“Good afternoon,” the old man (Mr. Ollivander, Willow presumed) said, “I don’t believe I’ve sold you a wand before.”
“No,” Willow said cheerfully, “I’m just getting started on the whole wand thing.”
“Just getting started? At your age?”
“Afraid so. I’ve gotten by pretty well without one, but you’re never to old to learn new tricks, right?”
“New tricks, perhaps, but starting magic altogether at your age-”
“Oh, I’ve done lots of magic, just not with a wand.”
with wandless magic? That’s...” He trailed off, then shook himself, “Well we’ll see. Let’s get you measured and then try some things."
He tossed his measuring tape at her and turned to pull boxes off of shelves. The measuring tape then set to work measuring random pieces of Willow’s body, but Ollivander seemed to pay it no attention. As it finished, he handed her a wand.
“Try this. Unicorn hair and maple, medium thickness. A generalist wand.”
Willow picked up the wand and nothing happened. “How do I try it?” she asked.
Ollivander looked on in confusion. “Normally,” he said, “when a new witch picks up a wand, her magic and the wand’s reach toward each other, test each other. But that isn’t happening here.” He began to look suspicious. “Can I see you do some magic?”
“Sure,” Willow said, gesturing at the box the wand had come out of with her free hand. It rose gently in the air and spun once, then returned to the table.
“Hmm. It seems your magic is very focused. Can you ... direct your magic into the wand? Not to do anything, and not forcefully, just to make contact?”
“A little more intensely than that. Still more. Yes, like that. Now I can see that’s the wrong core. Try this one, phoenix feather and elm, eight inches.”
Willow took the new wand and sent magic into it. It seemed pretty forceful to her, but perhaps standards were different here.
“Yes, phoenix feather definitely. Probably not elm.” He tilted his head side to side looking at the wand. “It seems as though you have two strains in your magic. This might even require a mixed wood.”
“Two strains. Yeah. I’m trying to stick to the lighter one. Hang on a moment.” She set the wand down on the table, took a deep breath, touched the earth’s magic and purified herself. It was the same ritual she performed every morning. A reminder to her magical core that the darkness she had touched was not who she was. Ollivander’s eyes bulged, as he watched the energies swirl and shift through her aura. Then she took up the wand again and sent her purer magic into it.
“That ... is clearer, yes. And not elm. Let’s try...” the shelves re-arranged themselves and he pulled another box off “... this one. phoenix feather and hawthorn, ten inches, rigid.”
This time as Willow sent her magic into the wand, it responded with a tall narrow flame. She quickly pulled back her energy before the ceiling caught, but Ollivander didn’t seem concerned at all.
“Perfect!” he declared, “The wand has chosen you. This wand is especially suited to energy-intensive magics such as healing and combat. And, being hawthorn, it is exceptionally effective against dark creatures, especially vampires. Though I suppose the likelihood of your encountering any of those is quite small.”
Willow just smiled at that. They completed the purchase (another imprint machine, but Ollivander seemed a bit more comfortable with it) and went home.* * *
After the four women left, Garrick Ollivander took a moment to consider what he’d just done. He’d thought he recognized two of them from the Daily Prophet article about Azkaban, and now that he had time to dig up the issue, he was sure of it.
Should he not have sold her the wand? If she could break Azkaban wandless, what would she do now? But he had never denied a wand. Never.
Not fifty years ago, when a 13 inch wand of yew (an ominous combination to begin with) chose a frightening young boy named Tom Riddle. Even then, Garrick had seen the darkness in the boy’s soul. And for a moment, he had considered pretending the wand had not chosen, and finding a lesser implement for the boy. He could have fooled the child, who was then completely unschooled in wandlore. But he hadn’t. He’d followed the path of the wandmaker.
Because if he tried to enforce his judgment, where would he stop? Deny Lucius Malfoy? Deny James Potter, who had shown great darkness as a child, but later risen above himself and become a hero? Would a world ruled by Garrick’s judgment really be better than one in which everyone had a fair chance? It was the tradition of wandmakers to serve all wizardkind. To make all strong. And despite the Tom Riddles of the world, it was good for people to be strong.
Many nights, Garrick had stared into his fireplace and relived that fateful memory, never sure if he had chosen wrong or right. And some instinct told him that in fifty years he’d be remembering this sale. But then he thought about how determined she’d been to keep her magic to the light. Maybe in fifty years he’d reflect how making this sale, and keeping quiet about it, had finally redeemed him for the sale fifty years before.* * *
Neither of the clerks at Flourish and Blotts recognized their strange customers. One was not particularly good at matching faces, and the other simply didn’t read the Daily Prophet. And the polite, bookish women who had paid by muggle credit card seemed the farthest thing in the world from whatever powerful mage had broken Azkaban.* * *
It took a few long minutes for Alex Hopkirk to stop panicking after he apparated home. Four strange women had apparated into Diagon Alley ready for a fight, and then had spoken casually of he-who-must-not-be-named! Worse, in the present tense!
And they looked familiar. Had he seen them somewhere? In the Daily Prophet, maybe?
Was you-know-who back? Was this some new plan to spread terror? Should he inform the ministry? Inform the public?
No. Any action would only call attention to him.
Alex Hopkirk was a pureblood but not of an ancient family. He was neither rich nor poor. His political views were always in the middle of respectable opinion. If anyone, dark or light, drew up a list of people to kill, he’d be very far down it if he was on it at all. Right now, that was a thing to treasure.
So he would re-enforce his wards, stock up his healing potions, and keep his mouth shut. He’d get through this, no matter what this turned out to be.