It was full of things that drew the eye and captivated the senses. Even the more mundane shops on Diagon Alley seemed full of the promise of more mysteries to be unravelled. There was an aura of wonder and impossibility about it, a fairytale given form and motion. It was as if every common myth and flight of fancy had risen to life amongst the stalls and windows to sparkle and amuse.
Scott Kharan was intrigued, but also cautious. Tourism wasn't his focus. He had a job to do.
That wasn’t to say that he found the hidden magical side of the United Kingdom to be unappealing. It had a certain charm, to be sure. The downside of that homey sort of comfort was that it resulted from what he saw as a stagnant culture. They were well into the 1990’s; he’d have thought by this point they would have discovered, like the rest of the world, that candles were only for making your house smell funky when you had dinner guests and setting the mood for romantic baths. And what was this nonsense about having to use a quill and ink pot?
Of course, that was hardly the worst of it. The dress code sent something very close to physical pain stabbing through him. He had unobtrusively scoped out some of the witches and wizards who scurried their way past him on the streets. Robes were so prominent that they might as well have turned on their wearers and become the dominant species.
It bothered him, this obsession with robes. He wasn’t a monk, he wasn’t a Hare Krishna, and he wasn’t a fucking Jedi. Why not just drape a bed sheet over himself? It’d be much easier to get ready for the day. At least a sheet would make a decent toga. Togas were hardly the pinnacle of casual fashion, but they looked good on chicks. With all these damn robes you couldn’t tell what, if anything, the witches had going on. It was positively Victorian.
It was some small measure of comfort that everyone else at Hogwarts would be forced into the same ensemble.
The streets were less crowded than he supposed they usually were. People huddled together in groups and moved quickly to their destinations. Several shops were boarded up and a plethora of posters from the Ministry for Magic seemed to cover every square inch of available surface. It assured him that his presence was, if not necessary, then at least warranted. That vague undercurrent of societal panic meant that he wasn’t completely wasting his time.
Flourish and Blotts had been worth the trip. His first visit to a real wizarding book shop had awakened within him the scholar that was often forced to lie dormant in the face of more pressing matters. He had scanned several books on Magical Theory before collecting the volumes on his school list. The school texts that concerned Defence Against the Dark Arts held the most interest for him. Scott had always subscribed to the adage ‘know thy enemy’. An understanding of Voldemort’s abilities would be inherently useful.
After grabbing everything that he needed to, he amused himself by passing an hour or so in the section of the store reserved for books containing weighty pondering on the nature of the universe and its possible surrounds. He received several odd looks from other patrons as he laughed his way through Condensed Dimensional Theory and Its Practical Applications in Local Space. These morons hadn’t even figured out that time and space were the same thing.
His next stop was much less pleasant: an extended fitting session in Madam Malkin’s. He purchased the mandatory set of black school robes and a pointed black hat that he hoped would never be necessary.
His wand had presented a problem. Ollivander had disappeared and his shop was accordingly closed. It was imperative that he get his hands on a wand for his schoolwork and, while there were other wand-makers around, Ollivander was the best. A little midnight mischief the night before had solved that quandary, and he was now the proud owner of a fine, if stolen, wand.
He passed up the Menagerie, having no interest in owning any sort of magical pet. Likewise with Quality Quidditch Supplies — he knew that such a view wouldn’t endear him to the local populace, but he thought that a broomstick was just about the stupidest looking form of transportation conceivable. There had to be some kind of protective magic involved, or no self-respecting male would ever mount one of those things.
The sight of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes lifted his flagging spirits. Next to the other buildings on the row, the Weasley twins’ shop resembled nothing so much as a house fire, and the outrageous colours called to him with a multitude of promises — Scott had to admire good showmanship when he saw it. Despite the generally repressed atmosphere of the alley, the shop was doing an obviously brisk business as a steady stream of customers came and went.
He was about to approach the shop and enter when something even more interesting caught his eye.
Three familiar teens were huddled under an Invisibility Cloak, trying to slip through the crowd at the exit. Succeeding, they moved quickly down the street. Shouldering the large backpack into which he had crammed his school supplies, he began following them at an unobtrusive distance. He didn’t know what was going on, but anything that required such measures of stealth was probably important and therefore of immediate interest to him.
They disappeared into an alleyway; it seemed deserted, but his eyes told him there were at least two people observing the street from behind darkened windows. It wasn’t hard to avoid their line of sight as he pressed himself into alcoves and sidestepped underneath eaves.
The trio had stopped outside of a shop called ‘Borgin and Burkes’, according to the sign set over the entrance. He stepped partway down a set of cellar stairs and flattened himself against the wall nearest to them, listening in. They said nothing until a blond boy that Scott didn’t recognise stepped out and hurried back down the alleyway.
The three teens beneath the Cloak were talking to each other, intently discussing the purpose behind the other fourth teen’s visit to the shop. Scott was already capable of recognising Harry’s voice, so it wasn’t hard to put names to the other two. A female voice, and therefore Hermione’s, instructed the boys to wait behind. Obviously she intended to enter the shop, which was probably a mistake, judging by the looks of it.
A moment of indecision arrived. Interference might prove to be a mistake, but so might refraining from doing so. His initial instincts told him to take a hands-off approach for the time being. On the other hand, allowing Hermione to take action alone could be dangerous. When she bent down to slip out from under the Cloak, Scott made his decision.
“Wait!” Scott hissed from his concealed spot. He dropped his backpack on the steps. The three teens froze underneath the Cloak.
Careful not to expose himself to view from the front window of Borgin and Burkes, Scott crossed the street and leaned against the opposite side next to the hidden trio, as if he were waiting for someone. Rather than look directly at them he stared at the ground, giving the impression that he didn’t know exactly where they were. “Harry. So, what are you trying to do here?”
The ensuing silence was somehow audibly stunned.
Harry broke it. “Scott.” His tone was a mixture of surprise and wariness. “We wanted to know what Draco Malfoy was talking about.”
“What did he say?”
“He was reserving something — and he wanted something else fixed. But we couldn’t see what.” Harry sounded frustrated at this. “Hermione was going to go in and try to find out, I think.”
The most probable outcomes of Hermione attempting to do such a thing were, without exception, undesirable. Scott shook his head. “I don’t know about that. Why don’t you let me go in?”
“No offence,” came Ron’s voice, “but who the bloody hell are you?”
“Ron!” Hermione again.
“My name’s Scott Kharan, I’m a transfer student. From America,” he added as an afterthought. “Aren’t the three of you a little tall to be running around under that Cloak?”
“Did anybody else see us?” Harry asked.
“I don’t think so. I saw you leave the shop and followed you.”
“A new student!” Hermione had not moved beyond the point of the conversation that had touched upon school. “Oh, that must be exciting! When did you meet Harry?&rdqu