Chapter 2 ~ Why Hello Mr. Borgin, Fancy Hexing You Here

"He will win who knows when to fight, and when not to."
~ Sun Tzu


Blood and skull and brains and blood; every time she shut her eyes they were there.

Every time she shut her eyes she wanted to scream.

Every time she closed her eyes she saw them.

But they were dead; she should have been too.

It'd been six weeks since that night and she still was waking up shaking, trembling, unable to stop.

That teenage girl sat tiredly down on the stairs outside Hagrid's hut, listlessly shifting her bare feet in the grass. The dew and blades of green tickled pleasantly between her toes, the early morning air just cool enough to enjoy before the summer heat settled in. The first shafts of sunlight had already touched down, throwing horizontal streaks of bright yellow across the stairs to the unassuming hut, and that girl hissed a shaken breath, dragging a hand through her hair as she tried to fight down another wave of panic.

The cause was simple, so incredibly simple.

She was going to Diagon Alley.

She didn't belong there.

Hagrid was dragging her anyway, the key word dragging. She didn't want to be around magic. She didn't want to be around wizards. She wanted to avoid it and them at all costs, even if it meant hiding in the lower level of the giant's hut for the next year.

Ever since they'd found her, brought her to this cursed place, she'd been sleeping there. The hut was small, incredibly so, but it was downright homey. A trapdoor beneath a carpet led to hidden stairs, leading down to an equally homey cellar.

And that was where she'd been staying, more like hiding.

There had been two other beds in that basement, but the others had remained resolutely and wholly unoccupied. She'd been wanting to ask for weeks why they were vacant, who was supposed to be staying there with her, and yet…

She hadn't mustered the energy to try.

She suspected she wouldn't want to know.

A light breeze tousled the thick mane she called hair, the girl wrinkling her nose and brushing the wispy strands back behind her ears.

Hinges creaked behind her as the door opened, the sound resonating out across the empty grounds. Even the birds weren't awake yet. It was just before dawn, only those first hints of sunlight creeping over the horizon, but she felt the slight shaking of the steps as Hagrid clambered tiredly out his front door, two cups of steaming cider in his bear sized hands.

The half-giant sat down alongside her, thumping onto the stone step. The girl said nothing for the longest time, and neither did the giant. Hagrid just shifted the arm as large as her torso and handed her the warm mug, and she took it almost mechanically.

That was nice.

He was nice.

The girl stared dully into the distance. The grounds and lake blurred. The castle shifted out of focus. A pleasant, wonderful detachment swept through her, numbing her straight to the core. The sip of warm apple cider on her tongue helped her forget.

Unfortunately all good things had to end.

That now familiar, rumbling voice broke the silence. "Nightmares keepin' yer up again?"

She nodded, a lock of hair slipping to veil her eyes. "Yeah."

"Same as before then?"

She looked down, turning that giant mug in between her hands, the motion restless. "I that transparent?"

"It'll get easier for yer," he said. She could practically feel him studying her with naked concern. "It'll get easier fer yer, Kal. The time'll help." Her eyes flickered towards him, glinting gold in the morning light, and she watched as his expression creased into a dozen hard lines, his eyes suddenly distant.

"Gets easier fer all of us."

The girl sat there, studying him for several seconds, before tearing her gaze away. A wane, bitter smile touched her lips. "Yeah well, I'm not sure I want it to."

That was true. She didn't want to forget. She didn't want to pretend it hadn't happened. It had. She had lived, and they had all died. That reality was inescapable.

"Kally yer shouldn't be-"

"I know."

Her voice cut him off quickly, almost snappish. Abruptly she stood, wiping one hand off on her jeans and clutching the mug with the other, taking several quick, swift breaths to calm herself. Emotions weren't exactly a privilege she had, not now, not for awhile at least. Not until she got this thing, whatever it was, under control.

Magic.

Dumbledore and Hagrid had both warned her about what happened when emotions and magic were mixed, particularly by those who had no idea how to use it.

And she really had no idea how to use it.

It didn't help that she wasn't really a witch. She wasn't much of anything magic. Not really. One trick, one tiny form of magic, and that was it.

She didn't belong here.

She was stuck here. It wasn't like she had anywhere else to go.

That thought alone could make her cry if she let it, but she didn't. So she stood there, her eyes scrunched closed and the light beating down, the warm mug taut between her hands.

Finally, when her throat unclenched and she could suddenly breathe, she decided to talk. "Why are there two other beds in that room?" The cellar had been made and fortified with magic. It apparently helped conceal uncontrolled bursts of the very same thing. It made it so uncontrolled releases of energy could not hurt anyone else, and that was a good thing. It was good until she stopped having nightmares and waking up to find magic crawling literally on her.

But there were two other beds in that room.

She wasn't supposed to be alone, but she was.

The half-giant released a powerful sigh. "There were others we thought he were lookin' for, Kalliandra," he admitted. "A half-leprechaun and an elf. That kind don't usually go to magical school ye understand, but given circumstance, thought yer three could stay together there until school got up and runnin' and the Order figured it out."

He hadn't lied to her. He hadn't danced around it. A deep, abiding gratitude swarmed through her. Closing her eyes she nodded, hoping he could see that she appreciated him. "Alright," she said quietly, "so…where are they?"

A second passed.

And then another.

"We didn't make it ter them in time."

A cold, hollow pit swelled in her stomach, and suddenly that hot mug of cider didn't feel so warm. She didn't have to ask what he'd meant; she already knew.

Hagrid picked up a rock, stared at it, then dropped it back to the dirt. "To tell yer the truth, we didn't make it ter a lot more in time." He spoke forlornly, sad.

And she knew why.

They hadn't found her in time either. Those masked wizards had already been there and gone. She'd been one of the ones that the Order had been too late for, but they had found her. Eventually. She'd been still alive, but barely.

She had the scars to prove it.

She needed to get away.

"Hagrid, before we leave do you mind if I-"

"Go right ahead."

She set the mug down, taking off across the grounds, her bare feet crunching across the grass. Jacob's ladders now streamed freely from the clouds, forming pools of light on the vibrant grass. It'd be warm later today. Very warm.

But right now that warmth didn't quite reach her.

There had been others, others that had not made it.

She choked down anything she might have felt about that, and managed to make it to the threshold of the Forbidden Forest, staying just outside of it as Hagrid had taught her. Cupping her hands together she blew into them, a whistling coming out, hanging in the air.

It was a wait, a long wait, but finally a stronger breeze bore the sound of approaching hooves.

Through the forest she saw a shadow approaching, the outline of wings folding into a horse's skeletal body signaling Silverthorne's approach. Hagrid and his magical creatures….they were amazing.

It was the one thing about this world that had actually gotten a true, genuine smile out of her: thestrals.

Silverthorne let out a low, guttural grunt as he slowed to a canter, stepping out of the forest and nuzzling her almost viciously with his nose. The force was enough to nearly knock her off her feet, the girl having to grab a hold of his mane to prevent just that from happening.

A creature of the dead. It was one of the more unseemly names thestrals were referred to by, but it explained why she had felt an instant draw to them while the other animals had screeched and howled in her presence.

While clinging to his head she caught sight of his teeth, the sharp things glinting in the red hues of the morning. It probably should have concerned her, especially given that Hagrid had harped on and on and on about some Ministry of Magic X and XX and XXX and XXXX rating system, but instinct again told her there was nothing to fear with this thestral.

At least so long as he gets his morning snack, she reminded herself, picturing how he would tear through a ferret's small bones so eagerly.

Really, it was a wonder he wasn't a hippogriff.

It took awhile, but once Silverthorne had stopped trying to knock her over, all but frisking her for treats that she certainly did not have, she finally got to sit down. The thestral let out a displeased sounding snort, but he bent his legs and dropped down alongside her, her hand reaching out to absently stroke his mane.

She didn't want to go to Diagon Alley.

Hagrid and Dumbledore had filled her in. She was to attend Hogwarts, but she was too far behind to be expected to actually turn in assignments with the rest of the sixth years. But she couldn't stay in the Muggle world either. So instead she was to put up a worthy façade until they figured out what to do with her.

There was another small issue.

She wasn't a sodding witch.

She was completely unable to incant.

Eyes fluttering towards the castle, it quite majestic looking really, she felt a sense of dread well in her stomach.

Dumbledore had concocted a background for her. He, along with Hagrid and apparently the other Professors, would back her if anyone questioned it. That didn't make her feel any better about having to do this.

She'd mentioned that, and had been told quite clearly that she didn't have a choice. Hagrid keeping her as a type of 'pet' in his cellar wasn't exactly a viable life plan after all.

Sighing, she closed her eyes, leaning over and using Silverthorne as a pillow. The thestral grunted in annoyance, sending spittle all over her jeans.

Somehow Kalliandra Kaylens figured that didn't bode well as a good start to the day.


ECOTS


"I can't believe Fred and George, I mean they already got me one set of dress robes, they didn't need to do it again."

Harry managed a weak smirk as he watched Ron squirm uncomfortably, the magical tape measure flying vertically around his friend's no longer gangly torso, magically recording the length of his arms, legs, height, and for some odd reason, the distance between his ears.

He knew exactly why Ron's brothers were getting him dress robes, but he wasn't about to share that piece of information. Not when he was actually enjoying himself for the first time in weeks.

"Well we didn't need them last year," he pointed out truthfully. "And we do this year. Maybe they felt bad your growth spurt rendered your other ones unwearable?"

"Thank God for that," Ron grunted, slouching as the measuring tape flew past his nose, only to be smacked atop the head for not standing tall. It no longer seemed to care about doing its job peacefully. In fact, if Harry hadn't known better, he would have thought it was offended.

"Blimey! Watch it!" Ron exclaimed, ducking another near hit, his feet entangling in the long dress robes trailing past his feet.

"Ron…" Harry warned, but it was too late. Ron had already tumbled over backwards, arms flailing as he took a rack of robes with him, plummeting tumultuously to the ground.

"Oww...bloody... irritable..."

Harry very nearly choked on thin air, quite a feat, had it not been for the peals of laughter he was trying to miserably suppress as he caught the rest of Ron's muttered profanities.

His best mate might not be muttering the colorful metaphors if he could see the look on the sales clerk's face….or the fact that she was storming over from where she had been attempting to size a first year for his Hogwarts robes, face alit, hands on hips, eyes narrowed vindictively at the mess Ron lay in.

Right then, with the impeccably bad timing that only Ron could master, his friend's red head emerged from the fray, a bright pink sheet wrapped around it like a shawl, and a sheepish expression on his face as he stammered apologies. The sight must have been too much for the clerk, because her mouth twitched, her serious expression faltered, and all pretense of anger vanished as she failed to be discreet about her own amusement.

"Oh heavens child!" she exclaimed in exasperation, clutching her side hard. "I dare say you might want to take that off before anyone else sees you in it!"

Ron stood up, disentangling himself from the various fabrics while Harry laughed.

"You know mate, I think Madam Malkin's got it all wrong. I think that's an excellent look for you. Imagine what Hermione would think..."

Suddenly he was finding it impossible to discern Ron's ears from the rest of his tangled matt of hair.

"Oh shut it Harry!"

Harry grinned, enjoying his friend's momentary discomfort. "Speaking of Hermione..." he said, calming down slightly, "she should be here any minute so perhaps you could ask her for her educated opinion..."

A bright pink satin blur flew across the room, and he caught it deftly, holding it out in front of him as he looked at it in mock appraisal. "Ron, I'm touched. But it's really not my color. You however looked absolutely spiffing in it."

"You sure 'bout that Harry? I'd be thinkin' that it'd be clashing with his red hair more than yers."

Now there's another welcome voice! Harry thought. Leaving the Dursleys had been great, but he had sourly missed Hagrid.

It was possibly due to this, that he whirled around in his seat so fast that he nearly slid off, earning several loud snickers from a certain chuckling redhead tangled in fabric.

"Hagrid! When did you get here?" he asked, ignoring Ron's attempted reenactment. He took in his large friend standing awkwardly near the chairs.

They really should make stores more accessible for people his size... Harry made a mental note to mention the idea to Hermione – maybe it'd get her off SPEW for a few weeks - as Hagrid opened his large mouth.

"About five minutes ago Harry. And I stand by what I said." A mischievous grin formed under Hagrid's scruffy brown beard as his eyes landed on Ron. "Hot pink would be clashin' horribly with Ron's hair."

A loud tearing sound tore his attention back to Ron, and he stifled yet another laugh at the horrified expression on Ron's face.

By all appearances, Ron had attempted to walk from the fitting platform to where he and Hagrid sat by the windows, only now Ron was staring down at the ripped fabric hanging raggedly from the hem of his new dress robes.

"Now that's why you're supposed to stay put!" Madam Malkin snipped, spying the new destruction and waving her wand. The fabric flipped up like a snake, a large needle zooming to mend it.

Ron attempted to jump back away from it as if it were a newly unleashed basilisk hell bent on destroying Gryffindor house.

"It won't bite you know!" Madam Malkin yelled, huffily storming over. "Prick maybe..."

Ron did not look relieved at the thought. Of course, the agonized expression might have been from how Madam Malkin grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and yanked him back to the fitting platform, where she immediately began to fuss over the dire state of his robes.

"Better finish you first since you can't stand still," she quipped in her high pitched voice. "And to think that this morning I would have sworn it was the younger students who gave me the most problems..."

Ron shot him a pleading look to which he grinned, chuckling at how Ron reacted to being fussed over. The guy could hardly tolerate his mother's own tending, let alone that of the seamstress!

Probably why he's still squirming come to think of it…

He turned back to Hagrid, leaving Ron to fend for himself. "So did one of your creatures get a hold of your teaching robes or did Fang do it?" he asked, grinning knowingly. Hagrid's creatures were always tearing his clothes, which would explain why half his garments were covered in mismatched patching.

Hagrid grinned and shook his head. "Nah Harry, for once me robes are fine. Right now I'm 'ere with Kalliandra gettin' her some robes of 'er own. Speakin' of 'er, can't wait for yer two to meet 'er. I was hopin' that the three of you might be willin' to show her-" Hagrid stopped, looking around. "Well where's Hermione?"

"Omph her pway," Ron managed in a muffled sound, a robe half-tugged over his head.

Harry spared only a mildly sympathetic look for his friend, before glancing back at Hagrid. "Bookstore," he clarified. "Show her what?" Curiosity did drive the question. The girl must be a first year or really young. He was sure he would have remembered that name at least.

But in the back of his mind he felt a twinge of pity.

Generally there was only one reason for why Hagrid took anyone to get school supplies, and he was all too familiar with such things.

At least Hagrid will show them a good time, he mused, remembering his first trip to Diagon Alley. He opened his mouth to ask if they were from a wizarding or Muggle family, concluding that it must be a first year from the way Hagrid was still babbling on about them.

"Ah there ya are," Hagrid boomed, cutting him off at the pass.

He followed Hagrid's gaze towards the fitting rooms, taking in the relatively busy store as he looked for the first year, only-

Harry got distracted.

Very distracted.

A not unfamiliar sensation hit him like a bludger, his stomach twisting oddly as his gaze landed on a slim figure, golden dress robes cascading loosely down her long legs. The way they clung to her left little to the imagination, a golden cascade of long hair spilling around her shoulders, Harry's mouth suddenly dry.

Harry was fairly certain that he was staring. He needed to stop and focus on the first year Hagrid was with, but-

The girl was glancing around the store hesitantly, looking almost lost, Harry dragging in a quick breath as he contemplated girls. He'd thought Hermione had looked good in dress robes, but damn. This girl was stunning, in an offbeat sort of way. Her features were rather plain, but there was sodding something about her, the way the robes clung to her, the way her delicate hands were lifting the hem of her robes, revealing tanned ankles as she moved towards them.

The hell of it was she wasn't stopping. Ron's grunt was the only thing that kept him from outright gaping as she came to stand right by him, biting her lip nervously, eyes directed at Hagrid.

"So you found some eh?" Hagrid asked, shooting Harry a wide grin, failing to notice that he had become a mute.

The girl nodded slowly, her eyes glancing at him appraisingly for a second before flickering away, so swiftly that Harry barely caught the gesture. "If you could call it finding..." she murmured, glancing at the robes as if she fully didn't trust them. "It was more like being attacked with this..." She lifted the hem of the robe for emphasis, a hint of sarcasm mixing in her otherwise pleasant speaking voice.

"And my assistant did a fine job young lady. That color suits you," Madam Malkin chimed out, shocking him back to his senses. Harry silently thanked her, and glanced over to see that she was still indeed, judging by his friend's pained expression, torturing Ron.

Harry shook his head whimsically at the sight, glancing back at the girl in front of him, thinking that Madam Malkin had a point about the color suiting her. Her dark, golden hair cascaded loosely past her shoulders, several shorter strands framing her face, lightly brushing her collar bone. All of it was barely discernible from the silky robe material clinging to her willowy figure.

Briefly he wondered if it were a blessing or a crime to allow girls out like that.

He pulled his gaze back to Hagrid, loath to be caught staring.

Fortunately Hagrid had not noticed, and the girl was too busy bickering with him.

Spying that his attention was again re-focused, Hagrid shot him a strained grin. "Ah well... Harry, Ron, this 'ere be Kalliandra. She'll be goin' to Hogwarts this fall to."

"Youffa meanuh uh transforra?" Ron's muffled voice called out from under the new cotton sheath that Malkin was vigorously forcing over his head. "Weff neffa haf uh transsfuh befuh."

"What?" Hagrid and him immediately shot out, not understanding one word.

"You have a very...large...head..." Malkin muttered with each subsequent yank, and Hagrid's guffaw of laughter drowned out Ron's indignant retort. Harry glanced back at Kalliandra to see her watching the spectacle, a hint of a smile tracing its way across her lips.

"I asked..." Ron's slightly aggravated voice called out clearly, "if she was a transfer, because we've never had one before."

Harry turned back to Kalliandra, to see the slight smile that had seconds ago graced her features vanish.

The look she now bore stirred something within him...but what? He could not put his finger on it, but he now found himself staring at the top of her head, for she had begun pointedly looking down at the floor.

Maybe she had found Ron' question offensive, though he couldn't imagine why. He shot Hagrid a quizzical look, hoping he'd clarify things since Kalliandra didn't seem about to do so.

"Yev're had transfers, jerst fer other Houses."

Harry frowned, "Then why did we never see them sorted?"

"Yeamph, wuff weff neevah seen 'em..." Ron grumbled, his robe once again muffling his words.

Hagrid eyed Ron with no small amount of amusement. "Well that'd be cause they came in the middle of the year. Can't have erm sorted at the sortin' when they've missed it already."

"Oof!" Ron grunted, extricating himself from the excess fabric. "So why the transfer? Did her parents move or something?"

This time it wasn't Harry's imagination.

The girl glanced up, Harry catching sight of her actual eyes for the first time. They were hazel, almost golden,the coloration matching her hair so perfectly, so dead on that it was almost unnatural. It was like looking at a reverse veela, only instead of the teasing lust that he'd grown so familiar with when looking at Fleur there was something else…

It struck him suddenly, a shock he had been ill prepared for, for her eyes held a trace of the familiar. A shadow, so closely akin to the haunted look of Sirius' swam within her fiery orbs, Harry near shaken to the core at the familiarity.

The girl's gaze caught his, looking like a deer-in-headlights for a long second.

In the next she was looking away, her long lashes already framing almond-shaped eyes, concealing them from his view.

Harry felt like he'd been hit with another bludger, staring blatantly.

"Well," Ron questioned, generally oblivious, "family move?"

"Yeah, somethin' like that," Hagrid said suspiciously, sounding rather similar to the way he had whenever he was keeping something from them.

Like a full grown giant in the woods...

Or a three headed dog...

Or a pet dragon...

Seeing a half giant squirm beneath one's gaze would normally be quite a funny occurrence, but it simply made Harry nervous as Hagrid continued shuffling his feet, mumbling about proper introductions, while the girl remained extremely quiet.

Harry feigned a polite smile, extending his hand to the girl at Hagrid's insistence. "Nice to meet you."

She hesitated for the briefest of seconds, before finally extending her hand as well, eyes flickering back to his again. "Hi…"

Harry's fingers closed around hers, unable to shake the feeling that something within her gaze seemed haunted, his mouth dry.

"Y-yes," he got out, releasing her warm hand quickly, chills shooting through him. "So um…Hogwarts, yeah?"

The blithering imbecile in him around girls had decided to rear its head with a blunt statement of the obvious, complete with stammering. Great.

His idiocy was rewarded by the girl's strained, polite smile flickering, disappearing abruptly. Instead she was now biting down on her lower lip, nodding ever-so-slightly, as if pitying the blithering boy standing in front of her.

"Oh blimey!" Hagrid gasped hurriedly, both startling Harry from his thoughts and sparing him having to say anything. "Kalliandra do ye mind if I leave ye 'ere with them for a minute? I won't be a tick. Just forgot to do somethin' but won't be long."

Damn't. Apparently he would have to try that 'formulating words' thing again.

It was a wonder Hagrid had even asked, because he was already waving goodbye to all three of them, not waiting for a response, and from the malevolent glare that Kalliandra shot him, he really couldn't blame him.

"It's not a choice if he's already run out, is it?" she muttered, her eyes narrowing after Hagrid and no longer holding the haunted quality of before. Maybe it had never been there. Maybe Harry had outright imagined it. He really ought to have slept longer... With all his turbulent thoughts as of late running through his mind he simply wasn't thinking straight.

That had to be it.

"It may have been important," he pointed out awkwardly.

"Yes, you're probably right..." she said faintly, her voice so soft he scarcely heard her, though her surprisingly gentle intonations did nothing to stop the harsh quality of her glare as her narrowed eyes followed Hagrid's retreating form. In fact, she was still shooting daggers out the door as the assistant yanked her over to the open fitting platform besides Ron seconds later.

Harry decided not to dwell on the look he had seen, the one so painfully familiar to Sirius. It had probably been his imagination, so he contented himself with trying to decide which of the two looked more disgruntled. Kalliandra kept shutting her eyes, as if frightened by the enchanted tape measure flicking around her head, while Ron kept shooting scowls at Madam Malkin.

"You know we've never had a transfer before. At least not one that I can remember, right Harry?" Ron stated, glaring down at Malkin as she marked his cuffs with chalk, determining the length of his sleeves.

He was about to agree when Kalliandra bit down on her lower lip, murmuring, "Well you have one now."

He barely heard her. Hell, if he hadn't seen her lips move he'd have thought he'd imagined it.

The assistant flicked her wand, shortening Kalliandra's robes slightly. It was all Harry could do to avoid cursing the assistant. Girl's robes should get no shorter...

"You know that won't bite?"

Harry found that oddly comical, considering that Ron had been ducking the very thing himself, but at least his friend had not been standing chalk still like a deer in headlights.

Kalliandra had though.

She opened her eyes, arching an inquisitive eyebrow at Ron rather than answering him, and Harry noticed her visibly flinch as the flying tape measure zoomed close again.

Ron's brow furrowed slightly at her lack of responsiveness. "The tape measure...that's what I meant," he s stated awkwardly, looking at her as if waiting for confirmation that she had indeed, heard him.

She just nodded, turning her head to look out the door. Ron shot him an annoyed, 'Can you believe this?' look.

He had to admit Ron had a point, she did not seem very personable, and did not seem too excited about talking, so he wasn't about to force her. Yet something about her aroused his curiosity. If only he could put his finger upon it...he was fairly certain it had nothing to do with the fact that he was having trouble not staring at her.

Several minutes passed, the awkward silence broken only by Ron's random outbursts of displeasure, and Kalliandra's quiet responses to the assistant's questions. Unsurprisingly she was the first one done, and he found himself having a hard time not staring again, particularly given that the dress robes were now completely fitted around her form. The thing was classy, elegant, and practically form fitting.

Harry swallowed and cursed Madam Malkin to the seven circles of hell.

"Hey, how come she got done so quick?" Ron asked indignantly, as Kalliandra made her way back to the changing rooms, the bottom of her dress robe gathered in her hands as she walked carefully. She seemed unused to walking in something of the sort.

"Because she, unlike some of my customers, actually held still while we measured her," the seamstress quipped from where she knelt on the floor, using her wand to make minor adjustments to the hem of Ron's robe.

She flashed Harry an inconspicuous wink, and he barely caught it, smiling slightly at her before glancing back to see Kalliandra disappear behind a changing room curtain. He couldn't help but feel slightly relieved. He did not want to be caught staring at her, and he knew he'd be a lot less prone to doing that once she was out of that damnable robe.

Of course he was wrong, because when she re-emerged he found the short sleeved top she wore to be no better than the low cut lines of the robe.

"Ahem."

He tore his eyes away from where she stood by the counter, to see a disapproving Ron shaking his head firmly and gagging. He appeared to be mouthing, 'No' at him.

Come to think of it, Ron seemed to be making a disgusted face as well.

Harry failed to have the chance to so much as shrug in response to Ron's repulsive like gestures in the girl's direction, before a quiet clatter broke the relative silence of the room. He turned to see Kalliandra squatting down on the floor, picking up tiny pins in her hands.

The bemused assistant stood behind the counter, bearing a slight smile. "Oh honey, thank you, but don't worry about that. I'm as clumsy as can be..." The assistant flicked her wand and the little pins scattered all over the place disappeared, reappearing into the pin cushion held in Kalliandra's hand.

"See, I'm knocking stuff over all the time," the assistant continued, while the girl stared at the now filled pin cushion, biting her lower lip, confusion etched into each of her features.

He didn't fail to notice it.

It was like she'd never seen magic before.

There was no time to follow that absurd train of thought, for Kalliandra had already stood, thanked the woman, and disappeared out the front entrance with her bag.

"Wasn't she supposed to wait for Hagrid?" Ron asked after a moment's pause, brow wrinkled confusedly.

Ron was right, she was supposed to wait for Hagrid. Harry hesitated a moment, an internal debate waging until curiosity got the better of him. Wasting no more time he jumped from his seat and went after her.


ECOTS


Traversing her way through the swarming, cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, she let out an unsteady breath.

To her core she had been undeniably, inexplicably shaken. She had been shaken all because of a scattered pile of pins upon the flooring of a garment shop, and her own miserable attempts to rectify a clerk's clumsiness.

Magic.

Yet again it had been unceremoniously thrown in her face.

The sooner she became accustomed to it the better.

She rifled a hand through her hair, her gold-colored eyes darting around the street. She knew where she needed to go. She'd looked at the map. And yet…she hesitated.

This world had a magical government that could sanction killings whenever it wanted. It could decide to kill based on what a person was, based on things they couldn't help. It could kill things like her. And now here she was, in a veiled world of sorcery, surrounded by those who were magical, and she was entirely helpless.

The story Hagrid had told her had honestly made her think of her history courses pertaining to the Third Reich, where those not completely part of the master race were killed for not being 'ideal.'

She certainly wasn't ideal. Unable to draw upon the typical magical reservoirs, she was capable of only doing one magic trick, and somehow she didn't see how it could ever be considered a good thing.

She felt numb, deadened, despite the rhythmic pounding within her chest. It angered her. It angered her to her core. They had died; she had lived. That wasn't fair. Hagrid had talked, at length, about survivor's guilt, but that didn't change anything.

It wasn't fair.

Swallowing, feeling unsteady, she wanted desperately to get away, to somewhere where everything was just a distant nightmare.

She couldn't though.

She couldn't. She couldn't. She couldn't. They'd taken too much from her.

And if she ever wanted to find out more, if she ever wanted to do something about it, to have half a chance, then the adults around her needed to stop protecting her. She needed information, real information. She needed to know what she had in explicit terms, with no soft language.

A mutation they'd called it.

She had half choked on a sob to have something so ugly called something so benign.

At least Hagrid had left her alone for a little while. It was why she'd taken the opportunity to ditch Madam Malkins, fleeing in hopes of traversing her way through the densely packed streets. Making her way towards the looming marble building, the golden words Gringotts Bank emblazoned across its ivory surface, she crumpled the map she had made in one fist. The pillar of the wizarding commercial society emerged over the heads of the crowd, and that was her landmark.

The supporting columns leaned in various directions, the haphazard support of the upper levels strengthened with the sorcery filling the streets, and per her instructions her golden eyes followed the line of the lowest tower's angle.

It pointed her to where she wanted to go.

Turning down the dark alley she noted a rickety sign suspended above its entry bearing the jaggedly carved words Knockturn Alley.

She had been forewarned of its shady characteristics. She had carefully listened to Hagrid's babbling about it, about how he hated to venture down it each time he found himself in need of Flesh Eating Slug Repellent, and about how objects of the illicit variety could be procured there.

Hell, she was an object of the illicit variety. If there was anywhere to find acceptance within the society that demanded swift execution for those of her nature it would be here. No wonder there weren't many recorded ones in wizarding history.

Hagrid had assured her there had probably been, as had Dumbledore, but they had either sensibly stayed hidden or died far too young as a result of the mutation itself.

Well, wasn't natural selection just a real bitch?

The wizarding realm, like nature, was rather unforgiving to half-breeds and mutants.

Hagrid had been none the wiser to why she had been so curious about Knockturn, content to answer her every question about the dingy alleyway. He had even inadvertently supplied her with the name of the man to whom she wished to speak: Mr. Borgin.

Borgin had been kind enough to supply her with everything she needed: directions, assurance of an informational book, and his silence.

Standing in front of the alley, its shadows stretching onto the sun-kissed cobblestone of Diagon Alley, she steeled herself.

Then she walked into the shadows.


ECOTS


"You know Kingsley, loosening up could do you wonders. I mean really, when was the last time you took an honest vacation?"

Kingsley Shacklebolt let out an incensed huff, raucously shoving his way through the thick crowd grunting about insubordination. Tonks only recourse was to roll her eyes, further darkening the reddened hue that her boss' face was beginning to take on.

"Nymp-ha-dora," Kingsley grunted, sounding strained, "if you ever…"

"Kingsley, Harry is perfectly capable of taking care of himself for more than five minutes," she said amicably. "And besides, how was I supposed to pick up Remus' birthday gift for hi.."

"Tonks…

Casting a sidelong glance at the senior Order member she came to a halt in the center of traffic, ignoring the protestations of the witches and wizards around them, who were now being forced to walk a full two feet to the side to avoid them. For all their complaining one would think she was inciting a riot, not stopping for a chat with her slightly formidable boss.

Speaking of Kingsley, he looked like he was either suppressing the desire to throttle her, or in the beginning stages of cardiac arrest.

Frowning she regarded him concernedly. "Are you familiar with hypertension Kingsley?"

A large vein was beginning to pulse in the man's forehead, and he leaned low. "Damn't Tonks!" he hissed. "This is not a game!"

She nodded, squinting up at the taller figure in the bright sunlight. "A fact I'm well aware of," she said pointedly, her previous pretenses of humor vanishing, "but the Order is constantly hovering over Harry, convinced that he is an incompetent sixteen year old. He stunned me for Merlin's sake! Yet I have never heard of a sixteen year old who has survived as mu…"

A rather large hand clamped over her mouth, and she found herself being roughly drug away from the cobblestone streets into a back alley, away from the ears of passersby.

"Tonks you should know better than to…"

"Than to what?" she shot back in frustration. "Then to discuss what Harry has been through in the open?"

She did not even wait for his nod of affirmation before continuing on her tirade. "Why should we be silent Kingsley? Lord knows these ignorant people need a wake-up call, not that the Ministry is giving them one with their censorship of the papers and…"

With an audible crinkling Kingsley shoved a copy of the Daily Prophet into her hands, watching her closely as she unfolded it, discovering it to be the latest issue that she had not yet read.

Twenty Seven Muggles Die Mysteriously in the Span of a Fortnight. Is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named responsible?

Directly below it was another, more disturbing caption.

Thirty Eight Half-Breeds Missing.

Her mouth fell open, forming a small 'O' of understanding.

"That's right," Kingsley stated for her. "They are finally reporting the facts. Fudge can't censor them any longer, not with all the eyewitness accounts of the Ministry employees from…"

"That night," she whispered, knowing full well to what he referred. The scar tissue across her chest would forever serve as a striking reminder to her carelessness in dueling with her aunt. It had taken half of the summer, laid up in St. Mungos, for her to make a full recovery from the blows she had been dealt.

Remus had been her only source of sanity during that time, as he had been on the night they had combed through the grotesquely charred yard of an isolated Muggle home, searching for survivors.

The month old picture of that terrible scene was now burned beneath the front page's blinking headlines, the water pooling upon the pavement darkened with what she knew to be blood.

The poor souls had never had a chance.

Clenching the tabloid between her hands she met her boss' gaze. "Look," she whispered, forcing her voice calm, "I know the Order is concerned about Harry. But he has proven more than competent in situations that most Aurors have yet to face, and he's come out alive and…"

"And in the process put half the Order in grievous danger!" Kingsley boomed angrily. "All due to his impulsive, brash, ill-thought…

"Actions," she supplied, ignoring how his eye twitched. "But how does the Order expect him to learn to make decisions if we are always hovering over him?"

His eyes widened considerably, "In war there is no room for mistakes."

"Who said he was making them?"

Kingsley began pacing up and down the Apothecary's side alley. "No one, but you have to admit the child is…"

"Teenager," she corrected. "Given he'll be of age in less than a year and after all he's experienced one can hardly call him even that."

"Is it possible," he said through gritted teeth. "For you to not interrupt me?"

"I'll take it under consideration," she replied, leaning against the dirty brick wall, content to bask in its shade for a moment of respite from the August heat.

Kingsley's next tirade was unintelligible, though she did catch the words 'irresponsibility', 'insubordinate', and 'damn't girl'.

Slowly she began banging her head against the brick siding.

"…and it was your job to watch over them today. But when I come to check on things what do I find? You! Alone! In the Quidditch shop purchasing some ridiculously pointless Snitch…"

"It is not just a Snitch!" she interjected, halting the assault on her skull. "It's a collector's edition! And Remus ordered it a month ago for Harry, special order! They had to make it to Remus' exact specifications, and we thought it would be a nice surprise to pick it up while out toda…"

"Oh grand!" Kingsley burst out, throwing his hands up. "Perhaps you explain your reasoning to the Order when Death Eaters attack and take them away!"

She groaned, resuming the thumping of her head. "Kingsley the Order would do well to realize that Harry is nearly of age. He's nearly an adult and nothing is going to happen while he and Ron are being fitted for robes."

Kingsley stopped pacing abruptly. "And what of the girl?"

"You mean Ginny?"

The man let out a sound oddly reminiscent of a hippogriff in heat, stomping the ground and sending a slew of dust scattering into the air. "Who do you think I mean!? What other girl were you to chaperone today?! Focus for just a second would you Nympha…"

"We ran into her boyfriend," Tonks hastened to inform, unwilling to hear that cursed name again. "So she is spending the rest of the afternoon with the Finnigans."

"And the boys?"

She smirked. "Being fawned over by Madame Malkin."

Despite his fury Kingsley gave an involuntary shudder. It was a well-known fact in his department that he hated all things related to formal attire, with a particular aversion to those who made such things their profession.

Tonks smile only widened further, her pupils narrowing into small ovular slits, eyes yellowing like a cats. "See Kingsley? They're perfectly safe. No self-respecting Death Eater would venture into there."

Kingsley just groaned, "Tonks because of you I am considering early retirement. Only I can't because as much as I hate to admit it, after me you have seen the most 'action' in the department and would be my successor."

Tonks jaw dropped at the admission, a bellowing laugh resonating from Shacklebolt's large form.

"Speechless are we? Well hell has indeed frozen over; either that or your nose of the day prevents proper breathing."

Her hand flew to her crooked nose, pondering what was wrong with it. She had spied a copy of Witch Weekly earlier that day, and while she was not one for fashion she had seen this week's headline: Crooked Nose Curses, In or Out of Season?

Naturally she had spent the morning wandering around, telling anyone within earshot that Rita Skeeter had cursed her, just to see the mingled reactions.

The boys had at least found it entertaining.

Kingsley's loud cough drew her attention back, where he had adopted a rather exasperated glare.

"You do see my dilemma don't you?"

Eyeing his nose she nodded. "Yup, you've got a crooked nose too. I hear those Muggle nutters have some great techniques for remedying tho…"

Kingsley stomped his foot again. "See? This is exactly what I mean! Your attention span is bordering on the non-existent and you're always usurping authority in favor of whatever your whim of the moment is! In this case it's the, 'the kids can take care of themselves' whim! That's precisely why I can't retire early! You're nowhere near ready for such a position and there is no one else with enough combat experience to recommend!"

She grimaced as his tones went unusually high for a man of his girth.

"Are you even listening?"

"Yes Boss."

"Don't call me that."

"Your Supremacy?"

Kingsley's eye twitched. "Don't…"

"I'm just taking your advice. I thought authority figures liked to be addressed…"

"One more word and a 'Nympadora' sign is going to wind up with a permanent sticking charm on your front door."

She sobered immediately.

"And stop banging your head."

She stopped that to.

"And don't squirm."

Suppressing a groan she resisted the temptation, her discomfort level rising exponentially. Movement was the only thing sufficient for quelling her often frazzled nerves in Shacklebolt's presence. He knew this, and was intentionally depriving her of it.

Good Godric, if he was this bad with her she would hate to be a suspect for some abhorrent crime. No wonder they normally came out of questioning twitching.

Contenting herself with incrementally elongating and shortening her nails, the process concealed by the woven bag her fingers were curled around, she arched a questioning eyebrow to which Kingsley immediately responded.

"I'm going with you."

With an indrawn groan she turned, carefully stepping over the trash that had been carelessly tossed, missing the alley's garbage bin, and stopped dead.

Passing the opening where the side alley converged with Diagon Alley's bustling main avenue was a familiar head of dark hair, and Harry was sprinting along at a healthy gait.

"He can watch out for himself can he?"

Without a word she ignored the sarcastic jibe, taking off after Harry with murderous intent. Of all the ill-fated timing that one could have, she had the worst. Harry just had to pick now to run off, and she had every intention of strangling him once she got a hold of him.

Of course she may have to stun him first, considering he had grown considerably to tower several inches above her, making him significantly faster.

Aw hell, she'd always been good at stunning.

As they shoved their way through the street, Kingley's golden loop earring glinting in the sunshine, she began ticking off the various ways to kill or torture him. For out of all the Order members she was his strongest proponent when it came to the degree of independence he should be afforded. After all, she had attested to Harry's ability to distinguish when it was or was not appropriate to wander off in public places. However, with Kingsley standing behind her, Harry was proving her wrong yet again. She could only imagine the self-satisfied smile crossing Kingsley's face, and after he mentioned this to the Order…

Her appeal to let Harry in on more of the Orders' activities would probably be rejected, yet again.

This little stunt of his was going to cost him more than he knew.

"I'm going to kill him when I get a hold of him," Kingsley grumbled behind her, wrinkling his nose at the mingled scents stemming from the apothecary.

"Not if I get a hold of him first," Tonks grumbled, thinking on how this little stroll of his would probably cost Harry his allowance into the Order, and he would never even know it.

She began muttering in dangerous undertones, for she'd make damn sure he found out.

Fixing her eyes to the back of his head, she shortened her hair up her neck, and began experimenting with noses. It wasn't until she spotted the old woman calmly perusing the selection of animal food on display outside of Eeylops Owl Emporium that she was struck with an excellent idea.

"Excuse me mam, I'm going to need to commandeer that cane of yours."


ECOTS


Harry hadn't caught up to her yet, but the new witch had just ducked into Knockturn Alley.

Harry swore under his breath. Great. Just great. Not only was the witch - one Hagrid had implied he wanted him to watch out for - not the most personable human he'd ever met, but she was clearly insane. He'd ventured down there accidentally in the past, and it wasn't an experience he was eager to repeat.

Then again, judging from the way Hagrid had been treating this girl, it seemed she was new to the hive that was Diagon, and she very well may have just made a grievous, and possibly life threatening, mistake.

Harry swore under his breath and took off after her.

It was a marvel he had seen where she went at all, considering the horde swarming around him. Diagon Alley was a madhouse. Younger years were screaming off items they would need for the start of term to frazzled parents, most of whom were doing admirable balancing acts with newly purchased cauldrons, books, and potions supplies, while others were just bellowing back and forth across the street to try to keep tabs on one another. He had to all but shoulder people aside even to make it to the dark, shadowy entrance to Knockturn.

Harry briefly debated the merits of shouting down it to get her attention, but decided against that just as quickly. Given how loud it was the only thing that would result in would be having either a bunch of Diagon Alley shoppers gawking at the Boy Who Lived, or worse…

He could attract the attention of Death Eaters in Knockturn.

That was assuming the witch even heard him.

Harry pulled out his wand and cast a hasty glamour charm on himself, watching the unruly strand of hair hanging across his forehead and over his eyes lighten to a muted brown. Quickly he brushed as much of it over his forehead as possible, not keen to be recognized within the disreputable area he was now traversing through.

The dark entrance was rather twisted, the space narrow and curving every few feet. He'd lost sight of her, Harry internally swearing. Without any other recourse he actually slowed down, glancing at each shop as he moved past, hoping to remain unnoticed.

A cadaver toe was suddenly shoved in front of his face, Harry balking. Ultimately he had to actually grunt at the haggard looking woman to drive home the point that he indeed did not want to buy the things she'd stolen off corpses at the morgue.

"Maybe next time young lad, next time…" she hawked after him, driving his pace to increase.

And increase it did, just in time for him to see Kalliandra disappearing through the entrance of Borgin & Burkes.

Borgin & Burkes?

Harry flat out paused, not sure what to actually do here. She was clearly new to the school, and had been with Hagrid. That typically wasn't for any good reason. He would know. She probably didn't realize what kind of shop she'd just gone into. But-

Images of the Department of Mysteries assaulted him. Hermione being hexed, Tonks, Sirius.

Making a hasty, possibly bad decision, Harry crept past the shaded windows displaying Borgin & Burkes on 'special' items, casting a surreptitious glance through the dirt covered panes.

In the back of his mind he could already hear Hermione scolding him, but really he had no sodding clue what he was supposed to do in this type of situation. Hagrid had specifically asked them to show her…well he hadn't finished what he had been saying but Harry had figured it'd have something to do with showing her around Hogwarts.

That could extend to Diagon Alley, couldn't it?

Glamour charm or not, he was fairly certain if he stormed into Borgin and Burkes like this that the shopkeeper would still recognize him. That would go badly. That would go very badly.

Cursing under his breath he decided to just hang out and wait. He'd hunker down outside and just…wait it out. He could at least intercept her when she came out.

Then he could haul her ass back to Diagon Alley to provide a quick, verbal history lesson about why Knockturn Alley wasn't a good place to get lost in.

He dropped down to the filthy ground, ducking behind some large crates. Harry's back thudded against one, the window directly in front of his face. The image was vague, distorted by the thick layer of grime coating the glass, but he could actually still see inside it.

Hell he could actually hear too.

Kalliandra was approaching the proprietor; the man knelt behind the counter, his hands rummaging through his glass display case like a rat in a hole. Harry reached into his pocket, gripping his wand just in case.

He really had no idea what he was doing at this juncture, but a combination of paranoia from years past, over-protectiveness of anyone Hagrid liked that was an actual human –with Hagrid that was an important distinction to make, given his non-human friends had a long history of trying to kill him - and fear of having to talk directly to this girl was all encouraging him to just hang out here.

Great. Brave Gryffindor indeed. He would have scoffed if he wasn't already busy trying to be quiet.

Through a rare clear spot in the grime-coated pane he saw Kalliandra talking, an indistinct word falling from her, and with a sudden jolt of movement the man inside stood, mouth spluttering indistinct words in a hoarse fashion.

He'd moved so quickly that Harry had actually gone for his wand, only stopping when he realized that she wasn't getting hexed.

Not that he could tell given how grimy the window was. If she was about to get hexed he wouldn't see in time.

Silently Harry cursed women.

Then he crept forward, getting closer and keeping his head down low, allowing the crates and an overturned cart to conceal him from the majority of the scant traffic upon the alley. There were many things about this particular plan he wasn't a fan of, but then again he didn't exactly have a better one.

Storm in, get recognized, and get hexed.

Storm in, somehow not get recognized, and still probably get hexed when the witch felt all but stalked.

For the thousandth time Harry wondered why he was friends with Hagrid.

Hunkering down, close enough to actually hear pieces of conversation driving through the thin, flaking wood paneling upon the establishment's exterior, Harry hesitated. He could hear but…

Screw it.

He muttered a charm for hearing enhancement, bringing the ill-boded conversation to life. He couldn't tell if she was going to get hexed or making a mistake being there if he couldn't hear.

Later he would consider asking Hermione to hex some generalized common sense into him. Surely there was a way to do that, that would allow him to better deal with these kinds of situations in the future. For now though, through the creaking of aged, rotting wood, Kalliandra's intonations mingled with the proprietor's pacing.

"…ank you for getting this on such short notice. I appreciate your honesty on it."

"I have little use for honesty, and much for business," rasped the man, whose voice Harry now recognized to be that of Borgin's Proprietor, Mr. Borgin himself. "Your correspondence was intriguing."

"Thanks," she replied hesitantly, supplying a half-hearted. "It's a research project for school..."

"Mmhmm," the man sounded skeptical, but the sound of his pacing immediately stopped, the creaking of ill-suited flooring ceasing.

"Of course," Borgin's rattled breath shot out. "And my payment?"

Payment? Despite himself Harry slowly slid up the splintery siding, his eyes reaching the sill in time to see her dropping a velvety bag on the counter. It was small enough to have fit inside her back jean pocket.

Borgin was already opening and inspecting it. "Mmm…" he purred, voice almost rancid. Harry watched in mute horror as the man reached into the bag, his gnarled fingers slowly extracting something long and thread…

It was a thick lock of hair tied with a string.

The golden shade Harry had already seen before that day, it something he'd had a hell of a lot of trouble yanking his eyes off, his gaze already darting from the tendrils in the clutches of Mr. Borgin to Kalliandra's head.

She was tugging at her own hair, at a perfectly matching strand that was still attached, fidgeting.

So this had been a planned meeting. Son of a-

Mr. Borgin extracted a single strand from the bundle, tossing it onto the counter, an eye dropper suddenly appearing in his hand. "You will understand of course," he sneered, "that I will have to test it."

Before Kalliandra's lips could even utter a sound or before Harry had a chance to wonder what the hell he had just stumbled across, the proprietor had held the eye dropper over the strand of hair, Harry barely able to see as a blue fluid dripped out of the eye dropper, falling onto it-

A golden, electric spark fired up on contact, a golden light shooting across the hair along the counter top as if it were an electric wire, cracking loudly.

Harry actually jumped, his back smacking painfully into an overturned crate.

Mr. Borgin looked unsurprised though, his gnarled face twisting into a yellow-toothed smile. "Interesting…"

Harry had grabbed onto the windowsill in time see the shopkeeper fixing Kalliandra with a predatory look. "Hair like this doesn't come with ease, my child." The man was smirking as if he knew something Harry didn't, taking a step out from around the counter. "May I ask…" he drawled in continuation, flicking a finger and sending the girl's hair floating up alongside her head, "how you acquired it?"

Kalliandra's hair floated up alongside her head, making it look as if she were floating underwater.

Harry's breathing grew tense, his grip around his wand tightening.

"Let's not," Kalliandra muttered, swatting at her own hair and knocking it back down into place. She looked nervous. Dead nervous.

Harry tensed, uncertain if he needed to get in there or not. He forced himself to strategize. Ron was always babbling about strategy in chess, and timing things…

Kalliandra had taken another step back away from where Borgin loomed, the wizard's hand still in the air, eyes oddly on her. Her voice sounded hesitant. "And the book, did it come in?"

A racking cough shook the proprietor. "Yes."

Another moment passed, the proprietor leaning down alongside the counter, the sound of things scuffling, being shifted…

He rose holding a small book, one that looked old, the leather cover almost yellowed with age. Borgin blew on it, dust flying off the top and pluming into the air. Harry squinted, trying to read the title through the grime-covered window pane, but he couldn't make out the words.

What he could make out was Borgin lifting a finger, extending it to Kalliandra and curling it in, the 'come here and get it' gesture chilling.

Even through the dirty pane Harry could see her hesitation, witnessing the vulturine glint in Borgin's eye. And despite this…

Kalliandra took a step forward.

Borgin's hand snared out with a speed unexpected for his gnarled, aged state, brutally snagging around her wrist, yanking her forward, the golden haired girl letting out a sudden cry.

He'd been wrong. The girl Hagrid was showing around hadn't known what the hell she was doing here.

Harry was on his feet and bursting through the door in an instant, wand already aimed at the proprietor-

The loud crack barely registered, Borgin's cursing loud as the witch's hand made contact with the greasy proprietor's nose. The shop's door slammed against the wall with Harry's entry, sending dust billowing up out of the wooden planked walls. Harry had time to see Borgin grabbing his nose, to register the dangerous growling of, "You filthy Muggle!" and the sudden hand shooting towards a pocket, going for a wand, Kalliandra stumbling back quickly, the witch backing directly into Harry and thudding against his chest accidentally-

He'd grabbed a hold of the girl and shouted a shielding charm a half-second before Borgin's curse flashed out across the small store front, the hex slamming to a crimson halt a meter in front of their faces. Harry had already snapped, "Stupefy!" straight back, a red bolt flying out and striking the proprietor directly in the chest.

Borgin flew back into the shelving behind the counter, slamming into it, the wooden boards breaking, glass shattering. Liquid from leaking vials and shards from broken casings rained down onto where the bastard disappeared, papers flying up from the counter and scattering wildly, Harry's grip on Kalliandra's arm hard, fast.

It happened fast enough that Harry lacked the time to register that he was absolutely going to kill Hagrid.

Gaze locked on Borgin's, he didn't register that the witch was staring at him until he'd already shoved her aside, taking the four steps forwards to make sure that Borgin's was indeed down and unconscious. He was.

A second later Harry had snapped a locking charm at the doorway, a shading charm at the window to obscure the scene to anyone who might peer in. It didn't take much given how grimy they already were, but he wasn't taking chances.

Kalliandra still hadn't moved, the witch now leaning heavily against the door, blinking at him in the dim, dingy light. For a second Harry stood there, muscles taut, not entirely sure what the hell to say now that he was face-to-face with the witch.

Oddly his mouth felt dry again.

A page from a rather destroyed bookkeeping log floated down, landing on the counter in front of Harry, a list of customers clearly printed on it. He glanced at it for a second.

The entire list was full of the names of known Death Eaters, ones he knew of, even if the Ministry disagreed.

There was only one name on it that failed to match.

Kalliandra Kaylens.

Until then Harry had been preoccupied with whether the witch was getting herself in over her head or not. Now he was just irritated, the sight of her name on a ledger, alongside those of Death Eaters, making something in him twist.

"What," he grated bluntly, a lantern swinging creakily overhead, "were you thinking?"

Those sodding eyes of hers flickered from where Borgin's feet stuck out from behind the counter and back up to him rather abruptly, as if she'd not realized he was even there. The fact that she was still blinking at him, stunned, had him actually growl. "Well?"

The witch actually frowned. "Hagrid's friend…" she stated, as if to herself. "What-what are you doing here?"

"The name's," he ground tersely, "Harry. And apparently saving your ass. Now I repeat…what…were you…doing…here?" He enunciated it very clearly, very slowly, making sure the apparently in-shock witch grasped the very simple question he was tossing out.

Harry considered it a win, given he'd advanced beyond staring and stammering, and could at the very least formulate words in front of her.

A spider-web coated candelabra swung creakily overhead.

There it was again: that shadow he'd caught a glimpse of back at Malkin's. "Picking something up," she murmured by ways of explanation. "But how did you-"

The dust still loomed in the air, something dripping in the background. Harry was listening for her answer, stepping back and over Borgin's unconscious body and peering into the back to make sure there was no one else there.

They were alone. Heaving a breath he stormed back out to the counter, taking care to avoid stepping in any of the spilled substances. Several strange, glowing glass balls that hadn't broken were rolling around on the floor, buzzing like angry flies. "Hagrid told me to watch out for you," he told, answering her truncated sentence. "Only didn't realize he was being quite so literal."

Which reminded him…he now had to add chicks to the list of Hagrid's friends that he had to be suspicious over. He wasn't sure which was worse: her or the spider. At least the spiders were upfront about trying to eat them. This girl just wandered off and started random wand fights. Speaking of…

"Where in the nine hells is your wand?" he demanded, staring at her empty hands. He looked up, catching her gaze. "Were you seriously just planning to stand there and let him hex you?" The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry had been repealed in light of Voldemort's return. It wasn't like she had to be afraid to get arrested.

And even if it hadn't been, they were in Knockturn-freaking-Alley. There was so much magic going on here there would be no way for the Ministry of Magic to tell who had cast what.

A dim voice in the back of his head, one that sounded oddly like Hermione's, pointed out that he should probably be asking if she was okay.

Unfortunately there was still the slightly more pressing matter of getting out of there without anyone realizing they'd hexed Borgin.

The witch was just shaking her head, slowly, as if catching up on things. "I- it's in my pocket."

"Lot of good it'll do you there," Harry grunted.

"At least I hit him!"

The sudden annoyance in her tone was noticeable, Harry dragging a frustrated hand over his head and shoving his hair out of his eyes. "Oh yeah, because a broken nose is really going to stop him from nailing you with an unforgivable in the back."

Her brow furrowed deeply. "A what?"

Harry blinked, staring. "An unforgivable curse."

The witch's expression turned unreadable, her left hand clenching into a fist. "Sure…one of those." Before Harry even had a chance to start in on that she'd narrowed her eyes, a suspicious glare leveled on him. "So wait…Hagrid told you to follow me?"

Harry froze behind the counter. "More," he bit, "or less."

"Well which is it, more or less?"

Pausing as if mulling it over, he grimaced. "I take it a thank you wouldn't be coming anytime soon?" he instead drawled, rather than answering.

Her lips had parted in seeming shock. "You were spying on me."

"More like," he told, "protectively guarding."

"And eavesdropping."

"Yeah well, Mr. Borgin and I aren't exactly close, personal buddies like the two of you. So when you went in here I wasn't exactly jumping at the chance to come in and say hi, so figured I'd wait outside until you two were done." He shot her a wry look and gave Borgin's leg a pointed nudge with his foot. "Obviously that didn't go as planned."

The girl was staring at him, as if she hadn't heard anything else he'd just said. "You weren't," she stated slowly, dangerously, "outside. I looked."

He glanced up from where he'd been glaring at Borgin. The dark wizard's arm had landed in a puddle of purple potion and was starting to develop boils. His head jerked up finally, frowning at her. "You looked?"

"Yes. Out the window, before he even started talking."

It took Harry a second to process what that actually meant, and then he realized… "You were checking to see if anyone would overhear," he stated, dumbfounded. She had been paranoid. She just hadn't seen him since he'd been hunkering down low to wait, so no one in the alley would see him.

Well hell, his desire to not be seen by anyone in Knockturn had resulted in him not being seen by the person he was trying to get the attention of. Unbelievable.

"Un-" she stated, giving voice to his own thoughts, "believable."

Harry ignored that, snatching up the velvety bag of hair. "Is this yours?" he demanded, not giving a sodding damn if he was crossing a boundary. It didn't take a large leap of logic to figure out that it belonged to her. He'd never seen that hair color before so he doubted she had found a random relative and convinced them to hack off some of their own tresses. "Do you have any idea what someone like Borgin could do with this?"

Outside an elderly witch could be heard cackling loudly, Kalliandra still leaning heavily against the door and staring at him. "I cut off the roots," she managed, "so he couldn't get my DNA."

He grimaced, brutally telling, "He doesn't need that to cast a hex on you."

The girl paled considerably, which led him to another pertinent question.

"Why in the hell did he want your hair?"

There were only a few things hair was good for: casting curses and wand making, and he sure as hell doubted wand making was on the agenda given the witch wasn't a unicorn, so he could only imagine that a curse had to be involved. Then again, why she'd hand over her hair dumbly to someone for them to curse her downright baffled him.

The girl's eyes had narrowed. Only the sound of the balls rolling around and the dripping of vials broke the silence for a long, long moment. She didn't move, and neither did he. They both just tensely stood there, staring at one another, Harry's chest thundering oddly.

The next second found the witch stepping towards him, stopping a meter shy and crouching down to pick up the book that Borgin had lured her closer with. In the scuffle it had fallen to the floor. "No offense," she breathed from her crouched position, "but I don't think that's any of your business."

"Oh my mistake," he sarcastically managed, "and here I was thinking that when wand fights were erupting it might be nice to get clued in so I'd know exactly what I was hexing someone over."

Her fingers had wrapped firmly around the leather-binding, the witch now officially full-on glaring at him. Well, this was a record. Harry wasn't sure he'd ever managed to piss off a witch quite this quickly after meeting her, but he'd accomplished it.

Oddly he didn't exactly feel good about that, but he was still too irritated to care.

Hell, he wasn't certain he was actually really standing here, having this conversation. Perhaps he hadn't woken up this morning and was still sleeping. It was quite possible, particularly given he was having a bit of trouble breathing with her looking at him like that.

Harry gulped, shaking himself mentally and abruptly pointing at the ledger, croaking, "Kaylens? Is that your surname?"

The girl's brow furrowed, her eyes flickering from him to the shopkeeper's log, her golden orb's suddenly widening.

Harry nearly balked when she loudly swore, snatching the page and tearing it out of the ledger. It disappeared into her pocket before he'd had a chance to so much as blink.

"I'll take that," he muttered, "as a yes."

"He wasn't supposed to write anything down," she countered, looking like she wished she hadn't disclosed that the instant the words left her mouth.

Harry's mouth opened, only for a loud bang outside the shop to remind him of how bad their current position was. Damn't.

"Look," he forced, turning his attention to the matter at hand, "we need to figure out a way to get out of here without anyone seeing that we assaulted Borgin."

She frowned. "Why? He attacked me."

He actually snorted. He outright snorted. "This is Knockturn Alley. No one's going to care if he tied you up and sliced off your pinkies for resale. They'll just care that I hexed him." Casting a glance down at the body, he winced. The bastard's nose was clearly broken, blood draining sideways down his face. The fact that the witch had resorted to hitting reminded him briefly of Hermione punching Malfoy.

The difference was that Hermione had been smart enough to have her wand out as well.

Harry growled and stepped forward, grabbing her arm and tugging her with him. "Let's go."

Kalliandra snatched up her hair, shoving it into her jeans' pocket as he unlocked the door, a second charm sending a bench sliding in front of the counter to block Borgin's feet. That ought to buy them some time.

He'd hauled her outside a second later, the witch hissing in irritation as they were nearly nailed with a rickety cart.