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Chapter 3 : A New Place in the World
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Barabelle awoke with a jolt when the bus came to an abrupt halt that sent her bed teetering dangerously off-kilter.
“Leaky Cauldron! Stopping at the Leaky Cauldron, London!” Ernie bellowed rudely from the front of the bus.
Barabelle shook her head to clear it of sleep before smoothing down her dress and jumping out of bed. She then followed her luggage out the door as Ernie levitated it for her. Stepping off the absurd-looking vehicle and giving a little wave to Ernie, Barabelle exited the bus to find herself in a grimy London alleyway.
Before she had time to wonder how the bus could have squeezed into such a confined area, the purple monstrosity made its departure with a cacophonous BANG and a whirl of light. She raised her eyebrows a bit chuckled to herself, gathered her things and headed into the bar area of the inn from the side-door.
Everything about the Leaky Cauldron was dingy and looked as if it was secondhand, but an endearing kind of way, like a favorite diner. A twenty-something man with a dirty old apron and an honest look about him was scrubbing a table clean as the bell hanging from the door announced her arrival. He absentmindedly pointed his wand in the direction of the bar as the glasses on the countertop washed themselves one by one in the sink. He looked up and noticed the small, slight girl in the corner with a travel trunk in her arms.
“Oh, ‘scuse me, miss,” he said, realizing she had come for a place to stay as he put down the washrag and headed over to her. “Lemme get those fer you,” he said kindly, taking her things and putting them on a small table nearby. “You’ll be wantin’ a room for the night, I s’pose?” he inquired, whipping out a guest book and a quill as he poised to fill her in.
“Well, yes,” Barabelle said, surprised by how in control her voice seemed. “For a week, until the first of September. I’m starting my first year at Hogwarts,” she finished coolly, noting the slightly alarmed look of the innkeeper as he realized she had no adult with her. “My name is Barabelle Smallwick, by the way,” she said, seeing the man’s expectant look as he glanced up from his ledger.
“And mine’s Tom,” he said, as he finished writing her in with a small smile. “That’ll be eight Galleons fer a week, meals included. You’ll have…” he quickly scanned a list of rooms. “Room eighteen. Here’s yer key,” he said, tossing her a miniature fob with a mangled old key on it. “Oh, and an owl came in ‘ere earlier. Any chance ‘e’s yers?” Tom called to her.
As if on cue, Odin swooped down from the rafters of the ceiling with a small screech and landed gracefully on Barabelle’s shoulder, nipping her ear affectionately.
“Yes, he is,” she remarked proudly, stroking her owl’s feathers. She bid the innkeeper good night after paying him and allowing him to move her baggage up to her room.
She was filled with a strange sense of maturity and belonging as she changed into her bedclothes and got Odin settled in his cage. Ironic, she thought dryly to herself, I feel more at home and comfortable in a place I’ve never been and calling myself a name I wasn’t born with than I ever did at that house under that musty old family name.
She suddenly remembered all the times her mother and father had simply passed her over to praise her older brother Conan or her cousins for all the “remarkable” things they had done, typically having something to do with vicious pranks played on Muggleborns at school or marrying up.
In fact, she recalled, one of her first memories was her as a little girl of four years, tugging at her mother’s robes and vying for the simple attention any normal child craves. Well, maybe it’s not so strange.
Lying down in her bed, Barabelle planned out the next day in her mind. She would go into Diagon Alley, buy whatever she needed from the list of supplies, get fitted for her new school robes, and buy a wand. A wand, she thought, a little thrill going up her spine. Like a real witch.
The next day, Diagon Alley was as busy and as full of life as she expected. Everywhere she turned, there were more odd and wonderful things to behold. She could have sworn she saw a real phoenix preening its feathers in the window of a magical creature shop, surveying the idle shoppers in the street with mild interest.
Her arms filled with newly bought school supplies and her body clothed in new school robes, she pushed the door to the potion supply store open. The tinkle of the bell attached to the door rang through the shop. There were curiously few customers in the store, she noticed upon glancing around. A witch cautiously compared the quality of two dried roots in the back while a young boy looked adoringly at a very expensive gold weighing scale on display.
The boy caught her attention immediately. He looked about her age, only much taller, his skin an almost sickly shade of pale. A curtain of black hair surrounded his face, obscuring his eyes from view. Even through his hair, Barabelle saw his eyebrows knot in stress and his fists clench and unclench nervously at his sides.
Finally deciding it would not be wise to splurge on the golden scale, he turned around sharply, only to see Barabelle looking at him in fascination, her head cocked slightly.
“What are you looking at?” he snarled at her as he stormed out of the store, his black robes swishing dramatically. He slammed the door forcefully on the way out. In his determination to glare venomously at everyone around him outside, Barabelle saw him trip rather fantastically on the stone steps leading down to the street. Snickering at the boy’s foolishness, Barabelle bought what few items remained on her list of supplies and exited the store.
All in all, she was satisfied with her purchases of the day. She had her wand (dragon heartstring, rosewood, eleven inches), her decadent new school robes and all her supplies taken care of already, and it was only dusk. She was pleasantly surprised at how together and mature she could deceive every adult and shopkeeper into believing she was. A deep breath and an authoritative tone can work wonders, she smiled to herself.
A deep, cold voice sliced through her thoughts like a silver knife from somewhere beyond her corner of the cobbled street. Barabelle halted abruptly and dashed into the shelter of a narrow alleyway for fear of being seen. She could feel her blood drumming through her veins with every beat of her terrified heart. Taking a shaky breath, she collected herself and concentrated on the familiar voice.
“…not give us any advantage to pursue her just yet. The operation would be much cleaner if we let her believe she has won for the time being,” intoned Vladimir Karkaroff in a dingy alcove just ahead of her hiding spot. He sounded as if he was trying to avoid the suspicion of the passerby, as his tone was breezy and almost carefree. She could just imagine the hint of a smirk about his lips.
“But, Master Karkaroff, Aiden wants her back in his possession yesterday. She could very well be dangerous on her own. I expect Conan has imparted to you of her – ahem – unpredictability.” The other man, whose voice wheezed in and out like wind through a ragged coat, seemed infinitely more anxious than his much younger counterpart and was under obligation to hide it.
“Mr. Burke, I assure you, her ‘unpredictability’ is the chief reason I have decided to take this particular course of action. If we move in on her now, her little quirk will be even more troublesome. She has not yet received any magical education, and that will not serve us well,” Vladimir explained, his voice dripping with condescension as if he was speaking to a small child.
There was a short pause. Barabelle imagined Mr. Burke struggling with his decision for a few moments.
“As you say, Master Karkaroff,” the older man wheezed grudgingly.
“Excellent. We shall meet again at the shop in a fortnight to discuss specifics,” Vladimir commanded.
Barabelle heard the short clicks of his expensive boots as he left the alcove. She stayed rooted to the spot until her betrothed’s steps faded completely into the hubbub of Diagon Alley and Mr. Burke’s labored breathing disappeared with the pop of Apparition.
The girl they were speaking of must be me, she thought worriedly as she checked the street one and once again for the co-conspirators and stepped out on the cobbles, her robes billowing in the summer breeze. But what did they mean when they spoke of a “quirk” or “unpredictability”? She never remembered experiencing anything abnormal for a growing Pureblood witch to be. I had best be on my guard at Hogwarts. They all could be watching.
As she strolled down the cobbled street back to her accommodation at the Leaky Cauldron, lost in her whirling thoughts, she stopped for a moment. I’m here of my own volition. The thought occurred to her spontaneously as a slow grin spread across her face, banishing the closed worry that had taken residence there. There is no one here telling me what to do, where to do it and with whom. This is the world, dear.
Adjusting her grip on her many bags, she broke into a spontaneous run. Her parcels smacked against her legs as she sprinted to the warm Butterbeer she knew Tom would leave out for her at the bar table.
A/N: Chapter image by FairyQueen at The Dark Arts. Beta'd by silverfox at Betas R Us. Leave a review and make a girl happy!
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