Author’s Notes: Again, my thanks to Anka for making some sense out of the grammatical mess of my ramblings. Also thanks to Antonia East who brought this character out into the open.
A “Ginnel” is a colloquialism and means the small alleyways often found between shops.
Six years later:
Rain washed into the gutters and collected in pools between the cobbles. The leaden sky was pregnant with Atlantic storms. Thunder growled overhead and lightning flickered between the clouds.
A man stood with his back leant against the wall of one of the many shops. His hands were buried in his pockets and the end of the cigarette glowed in the darkness as he inhaled. His face was mostly hidden in shadow, but a keen observer would have noticed the grim set of his jaw in the flare of light from the cigarette. He had been watching the huge doors of Gringotts bank for over four hours, waiting for one person to walk down the white steps.
He reached up and removed the cigarette from between his lips as he blew out a stream of smoke. It curled in the air before it was whipped away by the wind. A young woman wrinkled her nose at the smell as she dodged the puddles, but he ignored her expression of distaste. He did not cater to fit the needs of other people. Not unless they paid him to.
The weight of coins in the pocket of his greatcoat was reassuring. His employers had told him where to come and what to look for. He would be gone from this place before the next sunset.
He was known as Marlow to those who required his attention, and it was as good a name as any for his purposes. He looked around the alien street, frowning at the old style shops. It was nothing like the city on the other side of the wall. It looked as though it had been abandoned about four centuries ago and had carried on the same ever since.
The people dressed in strange fashions. Most of them wore robes of every colour and had to lift their hems to prevent them trailing along the road. Some of them, the younger ones, wore more ordinary clothing, but there was always something about their dress to set them apart from the average Muggle. Their leather was dragon-hide and their clothes a different cut, as though they marched to a different fashion beat.
He could feel the pull of magic all around him, and it started a subtle ache deep inside his chest. He dragged on the cigarette again, pulling the fumes in deeper until the feeling passed. He was just another wizard among many. If he died on the job one day there would be no one to shed a tear at his passing, and that was how it would stay.
It was better to be alone, reliant on no one but yourself. He did not depend on anyone.
He threw the cigarette to the ground and crushed the embers beneath his foot before exhaling the last vestiges of smoke from his lungs. He reached up and pulled the brim of his hat down further, ignoring the rain that dripped from its edge. A simple spell would keep him dry, but he rarely wasted his magic on such mundane comforts. Magic was for fighting with, not for every day life. He hardly used his wand anymore, preferring to rely on his wits and stealth instead. Besides, spells could be unreliable at times. He didn’t have time to straighten things out if a wayward curse knocked down a wall rather than its intended victim.
The large doors of the bank opened. Marlow narrowed his eyes, taking in the man who jogged down the steps, whistling to himself. His red hair was tied back in a ponytail and the face seemed distorted somehow. The wizard walked into the glow of one of the lanterns and the scars that raked across the pale skin of his cheeks became visible. It looked like he had been the victim of a werewolf attack a long time past.
This was the one he was looking for.
The wizard looked both ways along the alley before crossing over to one of the few shops still lit from within. The jingle of a bell carried on the wind before it was lost. Marlow paused, considering his options. In all likelihood the information he needed was in the bank, locked safely inside one of the offices. However, the night was still young and he preferred to examine all the possibilities. Facing the complexities of the most secure bank in the world was a last resort.
He straightened up and began to move. His silhouette was little more than a distortion in the darkness and his footsteps were too quiet for a man of his size.
It took only a moment to get close enough to the shop to see what was taking place inside. The long-haired man was talking to two youths behind the counter. The red hair and freckles could have been a coincidence, but Marlow would have bet a job’s pay that they were related. The two on the work side of the counter looked like twins, although one was stockier than the other. It was more obvious in the mannerisms they expressed than their physical appearance. They were both talking animatedly, and with a sigh he settled down to wait in the shadows.
Patience was not something that came naturally to him. He would rather cause a stir and get the job done, but he could not be discovered. England’s shores may be wet and gloomy, but they were known for having the best squad of Aurors in the world.
It was a post-war nation, or so he was told. With that came the paranoia of those who had been attacked and found lacking. Now they were prepared for any eventuality, and if they caught him he would be on his own to defend himself.
His lips twitched in private mirth, and he reached into his pocket for another cigarette. He shut his eyes against the glare of his lighter to preserve his night vision and looked out through another cloud of smoke. The sign above his head squeaked in the gale and a door slammed shut in the distance. The sound echoed off of the alley walls but Marlow did not flinch. His attention was fixed on the window and the scene beyond.
The room was lit with the warm glow of the lamps, and he could just make out shelves of merchandise. Most of it looked like sweets and toys, but a small proportion of it seemed to be more serious inventions.
The three young men were still talking and the older one had put a pile of parchment down on the counter. He tapped it twice and the twin on the left nodded in agreement. He was probably leaving behind some meaningless paperwork, but it was possible that there was something in there that Marlow needed.
In years past his employer’s information had been incorrect and he had found himself looking at the wrong end of a wand as a result. Now he knew that it paid to do his own research. There was little point in risking arrest by challenging the Goblin’s bank when the information he needed might be left on the counter of some two-Knut-and-a-Sickle shop
The two younger men had picked up their jackets and hovered near the doorway. As they opened it their voices carried across the rain-laden air.
‘Has Mum had a go at you yet? She bent our ear about not going home enough,’ one of the twins shouted back to the older man, who shook his head and closed the door behind him.
‘No. She knows I’m not in the country for more than a few days at a time.’
‘Yeah, that’s right,’ the other twin joked gently, ‘Bill Weasley, tomb raider!’
‘It’s “curse breaker” actually, George. I’ve not got the breasts for tomb raiding.’
Their low laughter faded away as they walked back towards the entrance to the alley, and their voices left his earshot.
Marlow cast his cigarette aside and dug into his inside pocket before he raised a thin lens to his eye. Squinting through the glass he could see faint blue light lingering around the doorway. He had seen enough wizard security systems to recognise a simple alarm setup. It had been extended to cover the windows and the transparent panes were tinted sapphire to his trained eye.
He looked both ways along Diagon Alley before approaching the ginnel between the shop and its neighbour. Water poured from the blocked gutter-ways and splashed heavily on the stones of the street. Leaves squelched beneath his boots as he made his way to a back window, half hidden in the gloom.
A quick examination confirmed his suspicions. The owner of this shop was intelligent and had made sure the alarm system didn’t just cover the more ordinary access points. Even the cellar window, only large enough to admit a small child, was covered with the same sapphire magic.
Stowing the lens safely away he peered at the hinges of the window, careful not to physically interrupt the field of the spell. Anything heavier than a falling leaf would trigger a shrill alarm, as well as a simple Petrificus spell. He had no intention of lying paralysed in the gutter until the Aurors found him. It wouldn’t just be an inconvenience; it would be embarrassing.
The buildings looked too old to have metal fixtures made of alloys and, unless he was mistaken, the gnarled pins holding the window in place were made of iron. Natural metals were often used in the construction of magical objects because their purity allowed the magic to flow unimpeded. Iron, corroded from years of exposure to the element, was clogged with impurities. Add to that the intrinsic magnetic field of iron and the result was a damaging weakness in any spell cast on the metal.
The problem was easily overcome with some basic purifying spells, but any wizard thief worth his salt knew to look for the easy way in. Thankfully the hinges hadn’t been treated, and a faint halo surrounded each one. It was barely enough to let a fly through the shields, but he could enlarge a flaw the size of a pinhead to accommodate his shape. Anyone could, if they had the right tools.
He pulled another object from his pocket. It looked like a bunch of keys, each of a different size and made from a variety of metals. After a moment’s consideration he selected a small iron bar, pitted with rust, and applied it to the first hinge.
The security spell hissed and spat. Heat made the night air waver and the iron hinge glowed red. The faint blue spell receded, and a swift application to the second hinge left the window completely unprotected. He did not pause to bask in success. He only had a few minutes before the spell wore off. If he was still inside when the shield around the building closed, he’d be trapped.
He eased his way through the window and landed on the floor, falling into a crouch to minimise the noise. He didn’t straighten up immediately, but removed the lens once more to check the interior for any security systems. The merchandise gave off a multi-coloured halo, but there was nothing else untoward.
Rising, he examined the floor in front of him for physical booby traps before making his way towards the counter. He rifled through the stack of parchment, frowning at the mundane contents of the paperwork. None of it seemed to have any relevance to the job he’d been given. He got to the back page and noticed that the handwriting was different. It was a tidy, looping script rather than the spidery scrawl of the previous documents.
He read it and sucked in a breath of anticipation. It mentioned the object that he had been commissioned to find, but there was no indication of its location or its appearance. He put the page down and drummed his fingers on the counter before scratching at his stubble. He had hoped to avoid going into Gringotts bank, but now it looked like he had no choice. The titbit of information he had found suggested that the man had probably left the particulars in his office.
He hesitated a moment before taking the piece of parchment and folding it neatly into quarters. He slipped it into his pocket and cast another glance around the room. Something in the corner flickered. He turned his head sharply and shifted his weight, only to curse as a loud alarm began to sound.
What kind of wizard installed a Muggle alarm system?
All attempts at subtlety were now useless. He lunged for the window and dove through it just as the wards closed over the shop once more. Another, louder alarm went off as he hit the sharp cobbles of the narrow passageway between the shops.
The Petrificus charm flashed overhead, making the wall opposite creak. He felt pins and needles stab at his right hand side, but a quick assessment showed that he had been spared the worst of it. He rolled his eyes in disbelief at his own clumsiness and got to his feet, rubbing some feeling back into his hand. In seconds the magical alarm would bring the Aurors Apparating to the scene, and he would be in more trouble than he cared to contemplate.
Ignoring the blood that seeped from the grazes on his palms, he walked along the ginnel and away from Diagon Alley. The wizarding part of London was riddled with narrow passageways and hidden backstreets. He was confident that he would easily be able to lose himself in its maze-like depths.
A running figure always attracted attention and resulted in a “chase now, ask questions later” reaction. Nevertheless he kept to the shadows and didn’t traverse the patches of the light cast by the lanterns. Behind him he could hear the sounds of confusion. Spell-light flickered on the walls of the surrounding buildings and he shook his head to himself. No one was shouting after him, and there were no sounds of running footsteps. Perhaps what he had heard about the Aurors of England had been exaggerated.
He rounded a corner and stopped, his breath catching in his throat. Three figures were creeping slowly from the left, and another three were approaching from the right. It was a typical search and destroy pattern. He raised an eyebrow, suitably impressed. Their technique might be basic, but there was thought behind it. Someone in the squad of thief-takers was an individual with a criminal mind.