Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter
Chapter 19: Nox Wrack
They landed in Numberland without a hitch. The Team of disguised Aurors and their guide made their way very swiftly the few miles distance. It surprised Harry just how well Ron managed to navigate despite his seemingly endless handicaps. A few whispered words with random strangers along the way had them being ushered along through barriers that Harry hadn't even realized were there. Yet Somehow Ron knew of them and was able to talk their way through the unspoken tests.
Before Harry knew what was happening, they were at a cliff. 'The final barrier,' as Ron had put it.
Ron walked up to the stone wall and straight through it. He and his fellow Aurors hesitated only a moment before following suit.
Columns. Stretching a dozen feet across and with a height that matched the cliffs they'd been staring at for their journey. Between them was a gaping stairwell into the earth, disappearing into darkness, lit only by sparse bobbing balls of light inside lanterns.
What really caught his attention though, were the two guards. One Goblin and one wizard. Brains and muscle. Ron marched up to them without a word, pulling out a coin and handing it to them. The goblin examined it and nodded before grabbing Ron's wrist and running his wand over the tattoo there. Harry held his breath.
"Trade?" The goblin demanded.
Harry let out the breath, a little unnerved by how quickly their infiltration was being accepted as normal passage.
"Potions," Ron answered. "Messis."
The goblins eyes widened, even the broad-shouldered wizard looked interested now. Harry had never heard of Messis before, but from the rigid stance of Keegan, he guessed it was very rare and very illegal.
The goblin grinned, crooked and intrigued, gesturing for Ron to show him. For a moment, Ron did nothing and Harry realized that Ron couldn't see the arm movements. He noticed the fire fairy lean into Ron's ear and say something which caused Ron to pull out a small black bag. He reached in and from it came a set of vials. A deep honey yellow in color, black tendrils trailing inside of it.
"We didn't get word that any trader was looking to buy," the goblin said slowly, he didn't sound suspicious, but his eyes squinted up at Ron, watching him carefully.
"The buyers are behind me. They wanted to see the potential harvest Travers has. Thinks he's gonna give them a weak necropsy."
"And he's expecting you?" The goblin asked.
"More or less," Ron shrugged. "You know how he can be with people thinkin' his product is funny. Best to just… show up. I got his money and the trade though, so he should behave."
The goblin nodded slowly, the suspicion melting away with the familiarity Ron was showing. He waved his wand and the wizard stepped aside. There was a shift in the air, like rippling glass, and then the stairwell exploded in sound. Haggling. Buying. Selling. A thousand voices near deafening him from down the halls glowing light.
Ron took out his wand and waved it over his head before pointing it at Harry. He almost took a step back, but forced himself to stand still. Suddenly the noise was filtered out. Harry blinked, then nodded his thanks. Ron performed the spell three more times. A small pop too soft to be heard before the spell was cast sounded inside the small bubble of deafened noise.
"Everyone wears this spell here," Ron told them. "You can only hear those who are five feet from you."
They began the long descent, the fire fairy had straightened on Ron's shoulder, sparking madly. Ron was whispering something to her up ahead. He was moving quickly down the stairs, almost running, and Harry had to rush with the others to keep up.
"Maybe later, we can't risk it now!" Ron hissed.
"Risk what?" Harry called.
Ron gestured to the lights around them. Harry looked up and felt a chill go down his spine. Fairies. They sat inside lantern cages, all around them, being used like candles. Faces wilted with despair and pain. The fire fairy on Ron's shoulder sparked angrily, blue hair flaring until it was wild and free, but Ron barely seemed to notice the flames licking at his neck and hair.
"I won't leave them, but you have to behave, don't draw attention to yourself. You know what I have to do, right?" Ron was asking. The fire fairy stomped her foot and snapped something, but then she sat, smothering her flames. Harry edged closer, watching as Ron gingerly pointing his wand at the fairy.
A chain formed. The clink of metal echoing down the stairs from around the fairy's neck to connect with a metal piece now attached to Ron's ear like an earring. The little fire fairy gave Ron a foul look, tugging on the metal in annoyance.
"Sit in my hair so you don't have to look at it. It will be gone soon enough."
She did so, gathering in Ron's hair and almost invisible if not for the blue against black. The group finally exited the stairwell only to see a massive opening of a canyon like wall beneath the earth.
"This," Ron gestured to the thousands roaming the underground, "is Nox Wrack."
On either side of the canyon walls there was a steep, narrow ledge, all that was given to those who wanted to barter with shops on the higher levels. Harry counted them silently, getting to nearly thirty before the levels disappeared, having a hard time believing how easily the buyers were navigating the dangerous walkways.
"That seems ill advised," Aiden observed.
"It's totally in the seller's favor," Ron agreed. "If he doesn't like your haggling, he can just…" Ron made a pushing gesture. "Get rid of you."
"Where were you kept?" Ferris asked.
Ron flinched. Aiden elbowed Ferris, glowering at the older Auror.
"Were you dropped on your head as a babe?" The graduated Ravenclaw hissed.
Keegan stepped in, tone disapproving.
"Just because we're wearing these spells, doesn't mean no one is listening in."
Harry was too busy staring at the shops to add anything. At the owls in too small cages. The griffin feathers and house elf ears openly displayed for sale. Eggs were being examined as if they were jewels, dark objects being passed across stands as often as money, illegal weapon additions to wands along with holsters for easy use. This place was a nightmare.
"Are we sure we want to split up?" Aiden was asking, eyeing the pathway in weariness. "It seems Ron knows this place a lot better than any of us!"
"Names, greeny, names," Keegan snapped.
"The potions level is 36," Ron raised his voice, reminding them of their reason for being there, drowning them out with his rough, but strong baritone. "It's the most likely place Elone will be trying to sell her products or buying merchandise for it. She's probably not having any luck though. Stay clear of levels 40 and above."
Harry finally dragged his eyes away from the shops.
"You'd need special clearance to get up there," Ron gestured to his merchant crest on the wrist, "if you tried without one then you'd be caught immediately. Those levels are for the trafficking of humans, magical creatures, and anything else with a pulse."
Ferris got his answer after all.
Harry nodded, feeling sick to his stomach. He knew they were coming to a black market, but that was completely different from actually being inside a black market. The entire Auror Department wouldn't be able to make a dent in this place if they tried any tactical way to arrest these people. There were too many. They would escape and find a new place to set up.
As they passed a set of vanishing cabinets labelled 'escape routes' Harry, Ferris and Aiden separated from Ron and Keegan. Heading up towards level 36 as they traversed the lower levels. When they were out of ear shot, Ferris moved closer to him and Aiden, voice lowered despite the spell.
"How do you think he got here?"
Harry glared at the man, Aiden looked at the older Auror as if he were insane.
"Don't look at me like that. You want to know too," Ferris speared his finger at them. "I ain't said nothing that's odd if someone hears, either."
Aiden frowned, keeping a lookout of the area as they went to the lifts and stepped inside, they were lucky, catching one as a large group exited and managing to get the lift all to themselves.
"Snatchers, most likely," Aiden finally said. "Probably realized they'd get paid more here."
"For Potter's right hand?" Ferris whispered, incredulous.
Torn between being furious and knowing that he himself had demanded it last night. Caught only a few hundred feet from his brothers after escaping Numberland. So instead, he said.
"They probably didn't know it was him. He's a terrible liar, but he knows how to manipulate people."
Saying the words out loud reminded Harry that it was true. Ron was horrible when it came to outright lying, but he could manipulate the truth like no one's business. He could down play and over-exaggerate and deviate a conversation like no other. It reminded him of how Ron managed to divert Umbridge for so long while Harry was in the woman's office making a fire call. How Ron would try to cheer him up with stories of his family, with over dramatized movements and blown up interpretations of what they said. Not lying, but not the truth. A middle ground.
Ron was always a middle ground.
How had he forgotten that?
The doors opened. The three men stepped out onto floor 36.
"Remember greenies, don't say each other's names," Ferris growled, looking up and down the aisle. "Stick to the story. Looking to trade Messis and heard Elone's looking for some. Got it?"
He was glad this was one of those things that Hermione hadn't come for. Her heading off for law legislation instead of law enforcement had been a good call. She had never willingly wanted to fight on the front lines, but rather had been thrust there.
Here, looking at the disfigured house elves being screamed at to move merchandise faster, he knew she would have been devastated. Not that Harry was handling it well, but… It was handling it better.
He approached the first non-threatening looking man and leaned against the counter next to him, eyeing the illegal potions behind the counter top.
"I hear Elone Pep Trearacel is looking for Merris, you know how far that rumor goes?"
Danny Prang had diagnosed him with it in those first few weeks, but he'd rarely confronted the issue. Anxiety caused by large groups of people. Large spaces did nothing if it was filled with humans and goblins and magical creatures, all pressing in on him. Jostling his shoulders and grazing his sides.
Being inside of Nox Wrack again was like being asked to sit quietly at the front of class with the entire student body made up of Death Eaters, watching your back, and Voldemort as the teacher. Ron knew a hit was coming. Too many eyes following him. Someone was going to attack him, it was just a matter of where. What they would use to take him down.
The first shot would cause a domino effect on the others here. All the shadowy figures would turn as one to bear down on him and Ron wouldn't be able to fight that many. This was the shittiest of shit ideas anyone had ever had. He wasn't sure who was the bigger fool, Tonks for coming up with it, or himself for actually agreeing.
He pulled at his jacket, unzipping, trying to get all the air he was losing back. Leif wasn't doing much better than him. She was rigid atop his head. The little fire fairy tugging harshly at his hair every time one of the figures turned their way. She was whispering fairy curses under her breath, bending down low to make herself as small as possible.
"Try counting to three," Keegan said sternly from beside him. "Take a deep breath and hold it for three seconds before letting it go for three seconds. Repeat that pattern."
Ron jerked his head in something like a nod of acknowledgement before trying it out, knowing full well that his panicking was drawing attention to them even if he couldn't see it. One-Two-Three. He held his breath, the too tight feel of a clothed shoulder brushing against his arm, causing him to lose it a second later. He tried again. One-Two-Three.
Keegan moved away from him. No doubt spotting an ideal place to leave the surveillance charm.
"First time in Nox?" A woman's voice purred.
He lost his breath again.
A small chin landed on his shoulder, soft skin of a cheek sliding against his much rougher one. He tilted his head towards her, giving a tight smile. Hair brushed against his ear, tickling it, as he focused on deepening his shortened breath. Then, Ron reached out and grabbed the feminine wrist inside his coat pocket.
"Not my first, no," Ron wheezed out.
He squeezed her wrist until she was forced to release his wallet before using his free hand to trace around to her other hand that was lingering around his waist, bringing both hands between them. He glanced around, trying to make it look as if he were looking for the second thief. He felt the hand brushing against his ass stiffen. Turning, he glared at the person, the shadowy figure backing away slowly before disappearing into the crowd.
"So, what are you selling?" The woman asked, conversationally, as if Ron wasn't restraining her and they weren't in the middle of one of the most dangerous places in England. He focused on his breathing, not the crowd. He focused on the woman. Not the pressure all around him. One-Two-Three. Ron broadened his smile, stretching the skin until his canines showed. A trick Odin had taught him. Staring down as best he could to where he thought her eyes must be.
"Fur Interfectorum," Ron replied back, "Special brand for the sills of the shops here. Want to try it out?"
Rather than pull away from him, she turned her wrists so that it 'looked' as if they were holding hands. She moved closer, bringing their bodies against each other.
"Maybe some other time," the woman whispered, her voice the subtle rasp of a smokers, just a few years down the road, but still gentle enough for the feminine quality to ring clear. "I've been asked to deliver a message from level 47 for Spitfire."
Ron's blood ran cold.
He jerked backwards, pulling them towards the ledge, five floors of open air one easy step left. The woman's muscles tensed under his hold, but her voice was still the same slippery sweet note as before.
"Jagged Tooth is for sale. Buy him."
So startled by the information was he that his grip slipped. The woman slipped away just as easily. Ron found himself reaching out to her, but there was nothing. Even the shadow figure had disappeared.
A burly bear of a man smiled at him in his memory. Teeth on his right side broken inwards, jagged teeth displayed, battle scars of being captured. Like Miss. Hufflepuff's shoulder, the socket pulled out multiple times from Death Eaters holding her down, raping her. It forever looked crooked, the bone out of line. Like the Old Man's chest, extra skin sagging around his waist from rapid weight loss. The tip of the Old Man's tongue cut off for talking back.
He tried to picture them in front of him, but all that came to mind were nightmares. The Old Man's broken body, brown eyes staring blankly at him in death. Miss. Hufflepuff being dragged away by her hair. Jagged Tooth holding the corpse of his wife in his arms; a woman who'd tried to rescue her husband and instead had been used as a means to break the man.
His foot slipped.
Ron felt air. His hands scrambled to find purchase where there was none. Then hands. Big hands with a strong grip had a tight grip on his shoulders. He was pulled forward into just as strong arms.
"What did she say to you?" Keegan's voice asked. The man tugged him away from the edge. The reminder had him feeling his pouch. Did he even have enough to buy a human? Could the woman be trusted? There was only one thing Ron could say for certain.
"We've been compromised," Ron said shortly. "The woman recognized me."
The Auror Captain dragged him into a hidden alcove, before shooting up a small flare spell. It reached far into the cannon, silent, like a small arrow, heading towards Harry Potter's hand. There it would form the information.
"How many did you get to drop?" Keegan asked.
"Half of the stones I was given," Ron answered.
"That will have to be good enough," Keegan muttered grimly. "We're aborting the mission."
"I need to do one thing before we go," Ron told him.
Harry wandered from potion shop to potion shop. He wasn't good at subtlely dropping the surveillance charms and so had taken the smallest pile. Ferris heading off with a cheery; 'know thy weaknesses' remark. He moved down the line. Only targeting every tenth or so shop, to try to ease off suspicion when he passed within hearing distance of a familiar term.
"…its true? Spitfires resurfaced?"
Spitfire. That was a code name of some kind for the werewolf ally. Harry wasn't convinced it was Mad Eye, though after Ron coming back from the seeming dead, he supposed anything was possible.
"Someone knows who he really is and has been keeping tabs on him. Says Spitfire's laying low. You know he's got a plan though. Been meeting with the wolves. Pulling strings with the Ministry."
"He's not a Boggart, Allen, he was just a stubborn Order member, nothing more. Don't make him out to be something like the dark lord or Potter."
"You never saw him fight," was the sharp reply.
Harry picked up a vial, pretending to read the inscription and its uses.
"I'm telling you, maybe his spells weren't on par with the dark lord, but he moved like a demon and led them beasts like he was some sort of fire creature from the pits of hell."
"I thought he was missing a leg?"
"That's the thing. He is missing a leg. Fucker acted like he never needed on in the first place. A bloody nightmare come to life, it was."
"You're full of shit."
The wizards moved away and Harry lost track of them in the crowd. Maybe Hermione was on to something. Who else was missing a leg and part of the 'Order?' Hope flared in his chest. He missed the gruff, one eyed man.
He missed everyone. Moody. Arthur. Charlie. Bill and Fleur. Seamus. Remus and Sirius. Hagrid. Merlin, he missed Hagrid. The ache in his chest throbbed and Harry forced himself to step away from those thoughts. Keeping busy and moving forward had gotten them this far.
Harry scanned the area before catching site of cages being moved to the floors above. He stilled. A familiar dark skinned man caused him to lose his breath. He grabbed onto the sill next to him, barely believing what he saw. Half of his dreadlocks hacked off and barely recognizable was one of the missing Order members in Hermione's case files. The man who had been going to meet Remus Lupin at his own private safe house.
It was Lee Jordan.