Chapter 13 : Unfamiliarity
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Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own HP or the wonderful world these characters live in, that all belongs to JK Rowling. And as for Beauty and the Beast, the credit for that either goes to Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont or Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
The familiar sensation was nearly overpowering and before I knew it, we were grounded. I glanced around and found that I didn't recognize anything.
Malfoy and I were standing outside an older looking building with a sign that read 'The Bat's Wing'. He opened the door for me and I stepped through the doorway, not quite sure what to expect. The inside looked ordinary enough. A small pub with a bar that stretched along to the left of us, with several stools. To our right sat several tables and booths, many of which were occupied.
The whole thing reminded me of the Leaky Cauldron, aside from the people who sat at the stools and tables. While at the Leaky Cauldron it was all happy looking witches or wizards, or at least a somewhat lighthearted atmosphere, here was quite the opposite. There seemed to be an air of dread and sadness hanging in the pub. Everyone was dressed in dark colors and it all seemed so drab.
An old haggard looking woman stood behind the bar, wiping glasses and staring at us with a shockingly green eye. It seemed to glow in the dim lighting while her other eye appeared to be an empty socket. She smiled at me and I tried not to flinch back upon seeing a row of yellowed, rotting teeth. A gave her a curt nod before facing forward once more and taking a deep breath, grabbing Malfoy's arm in my own and pulling him towards me.
He stiffened momentarily before leading me across the room, not making eye contact with anyone as he did so. A door stood in the back right corner and he opened it, revealing a long staircase that descended into darkness. He paused for a moment before pulling his wand out and tapping the wall.
The staircase became illuminated by eery looking, cobweb covered candles that lined the wall. They cast an orange glow over the staircase and the shadow beyond what we could see. The staircase went around a corner and seemed to disappear into darkness. Malfoy gestured me forward and I took a deep breath before holding my head high and taking the first step.
The staircase was cool and witch each step, the temperature decreased. When we were about halfway down the stairs I could make out, the door closed behind me and I felt myself gasp.
"Relax, you're fine." Malfoy said, coaxing me to continue. Silence resumed between us and the only sound was our footsteps on the stone steps and my now somewhat labored breathing.
We came around the bend and there were only a few steps before a large room opened up in front of us. There was nothing in the room aside from two large crates that stood stacked just to the left of center on the far back wall.
I turned to Malfoy, not knowing what he was up to. I opened my mouth to say something but he held his hand up.
"Not now." he said and I found myself staring after him in confusion as he pulled out his wand and released my arm.
He made his way to the wall on the right of us and tapped a sequence of five bricks.
Almost at the exact moment he tapped the last brick, the crates began to noisily sink into the floor. As they descended, I could see a door appear behind them and I found myself gaping at Malfoy. He offered his arm to me as he'd done so many times today and I took it gratefully.
"Take a deep breath." he whispered to me as we approached the door and I obeyed. He glanced at me, eyes wide, "you can release that breath you know, Granger." he said tauntingly as he smirked and faced forward once more.
I opened my mouth and felt the familiar whoosh of air escape past my lips before I immediately gulped in another breath. Malfoy glanced at me once more and stopped walking, releasing my arm and turning tis tabs directly in front of me.
He placed one hand on each of my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
"Relax, Granger." he said, looking concerned. "You'll be fine. You're doing great so far. Take a couple deep breaths and another sip of the potion." he said, nearly whispering.
He dropped his hands from my shoulders and I nodded, opening the bag and reaching into it and almost immediately finding the cool metal of the flask. I pulled it from the bag and opened it, hastily taking a sip and grimacing before closing it and slipping it back into the bag.
I took Malfoy's arm once more, without hesitation. We walked towards the door and pushed it open, stepping out onto a paved path. It was still gloomy out, but I noticed it was no longer raining. He began walking once more and I nearly stopped in my tracks upon seeing a sign that read, 'Borgin and Burkes'.
Malfoy saw my hesitation, "come on, nearly there." he said calmly and I took a shaky breath before continuing forward. We were in Knockturn Alley. The last time I was here was when Harry, Ron, and I were following Malfoy off Harry's suspicion. It seemed like so long ago but I realized it hadn't even been a year.
As we made our way through Knockturn Alley, several people seemed to shrink away from the sight of us. I realized how truly terrified some people were of this family and I couldn't help but wonder why that was.
I was lost in thought when a pleasant noise filled my ears and I was suddenly surrounded by blurs of color. I glanced around and realized we were now standing in Diagon Alley. I exhaled a breath I hadn't even known I was holding as Malfoy began steering me down the street.
It was far less crowded than I was used to seeing it but I knew the main reason for that was that everyone was scared. Like the last time I was here, people seemed to walk in huddles and not really glance at others. People kept to themselves.
I realized the noises I had heard was coming from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and my heart gave a painful throb. I stared longingly down the Alley towards it as Malfoy continued to lead me away, his grip now more firm.
He led me to Eeylops Own Emporium and stepped inside. I had to bite my tongue upon seeing the shopkeeper, for fear of acting on my urge to thank her for Crookshanks all this years ago. Malfoy cleared his throat as we approached the front counter and she finished writing something before glancing up.
Her eyes grew wide momentarily but she tied to hide her shock as quickly as possible. She cleared her throat and flipped her hair back.
The door opened and a man stepped in. Malfoy and I glanced at him before turning back to her as she spoke.
"How can I be of service?" she asked, eying us cautiously.
"We need a small transport cage for a cat. We found a stray and mother here insists on keeping the bloody thing. We have to take it to get checked out but the creature won't exactly travel well without something to carry it in. Father said mother is to soft-hearted and nearly killed the cat but I told him we'd keep it away from him. He agreed but only if I went with her." Malfoy drawled and I nearly felt my jaw drop. He must have been working on that story for some time.
She nodded and quickly disappeared amongst the piles of cages and animal food.
"Litter box? And litter!" I whispered and Malfoy nodded. The woman returned a few moments later with a small black cage, setting it on the counter.
"We'll need a litter box as well. Don't want the disgusting creature going on the carpet now, do we?" he spat. I flinched back. I almost believed him.
"Of course not," she said dryly, "self cleaning?"
"Obviously." Malfoy deadpanned. "And a bag of litter of course." he called after her as she disappeared once more. A few moments later, she returned with a white litter box and a bag of litter.
"Anything else?" she asked hesitantly.
"That'll be all." Malfoy replied, looking bored.
"Your total is 8 galleons and 2 sickles." she said calmly, looking expectant. Malfoy glanced at me and I realized with a jolt that I held all the money. I opened the bag and began rummaging around as Malfoy pulled his wand out to shrink our purchases.
I found a handful of coins and pulled them out, counting out 9 galleons. I handed them to her as Malfoy slid the shrunken objects into the bag.
"Keep the rest." I said and placed the remainder of the money in the bag.
"Very well," she said, smiling, "have a nice day." she shrunk into the corner as we left the store.
I kept my head held high as we made our way back to Knockturn Alley and back through The Bat's Wing. When we finally made it back to Muggle London, I turned to Malfoy, "Why through there?"
"That's the way mother and I always go. I would look a little odd had we gone waltzing through the Leaky Cauldron." he replied calmly.
"Oh. I suppose you're right. My house now?" I asked, suddenly growing more excited and more anxious all at once.
"Lead the way, Granger." Malfoy said, smirking.
I rattled off my address and he gave me a quizzical look.
"It's my home address." I said rather quietly, not quite knowing why I'd said it in the first place.
"If you say so. Apparating or Muggle transportation?" he asked, wincing slightly upon having suggested Muggle transportation.
"Muggle. I was lucky enough no one saw me with the portkey. Apparating would be risking it. Besides, I live in the outskirts of London." I said, though I honestly wanted to use Muggle transportation in hopes of stretching my time out of the house as long as possible.
Malfoy nodded. "You have Muggle money?" I nodded, grateful I'd remembered to take some before I left my house and then again to grab it from the bag as we'd left the Manor.
I began walking, towing a reluctant Malfoy behind me. Neither of us taking notice of the man who had been following us all day.
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