LIMELIGHT

Only you can choose when to step out from the Shadows...




Follow on from 'a week at Hogwarts' competition winner, 'Standing in the Shadows'
Cover design by Lily Anna Nightshade

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2. Owl Seed

The peculiar thing about Danielle Lupin - which is saying something, considering the girl in question - was not the oversized jumper, third hand and faded, nor the triple pierced ears, with titanium studs and five inch gold hoops. It was not even the fact that she was engrossed in schoolwork, despite it being that uneasy time between midnight and dawn.

The peculiar thing about Danielle Lupin was that the room she was currently occupying - the whole building, indeed, the whole street - did not, technically, exist.

Technically.

The room itself, from the flickering oil lamps to the discoloured patchwork quilt on which she lay, her books spread about her, was unremarkable, if a little old fashioned. The bar below was similarly abused by time and wear, but nonetheless exuded an aura of energy and life. The street outside was dark and abandoned, the hour sending all shoppers home to their beds, but morning would see it a maze of colour as purchases were made and bargains were sought.

Of course, to enter into this chaos regarded quite uncommon skill and knowledge. The street, despite being in the centre of England’s capital, was inaccessible in a manner that takes privacy to the extreme.

Diagon Alley was a place for wizards, and wizards alone.

The aptly named ‘Leaky Cauldron’ was cheap and cheerful, if somewhat lacking in the field of cleanliness. The barman, Alfie, was young and enthusiastic, with limited intelligence but a smile that made the coldest of hearts thaw. The pub had been in his family since the time of Harry Potter, and, at least once in every conversation, Alfie would tell the tale of how his great, great grandfather, Tom, had more than once shaken the boy’s hand.

            It was his knock that startled Dani from her studies.

            She had been so engrossed in the theory of ‘banishing charms’ – Faggy always got crabby with clumsy pronunciation – that she had not noticed the groan of the staircase, struggling to bear weight.

            “’S’cuse me, Miss, but the cab’s coming early tommorrah. Shouldn’t you be gettin’ some sleep?”

            “Right, Alfie. Say goodnight to Betsy for me.”

            The door closed, and Dani listened to his footsteps fade.

            In just five hours, the muggle taxi would arrive outside the Leaky Cauldron to take her back to Hogwarts.

            Back to Hogwarts...

            Back to the ancient castle with its twisting corridors and mysterious, locked rooms. Back to the mismatched timetable, juggling classes, homework and quidditch. Back to the swarm of Hogwarts students, and her best friends, Sophie and Ryan.

            Back to being another nobody.

            Dani loved Hogwarts, she really did – her parents were amazing but they just didn’t quite understand – but a part of her always resented it there. Where she was overlooked, unwanted, and generally invisible.

            Just because she had no house.

          

            “Ouch!”

            Dani awoke with a jolt to see the small, gloved white hand pull back for a second time, ready to give her another smarting blow across the cheek. She grabbed the alarm clock before another slap could be dealt and hurled it from her, where it hit the wall, dropping to the ground and crying shrilly,

            “Up! Up! You’re late! Late!”

            “And whose fault is that?” she muttered. “Pathetic excuse for a clock...” She kept her voice low so the clock wouldn’t hear; while its slaps might sting, they were nothing compared to the mild electric shocks it could deliver when in a bad mood.

            Grumbling under her breath, Dani swung her legs out of bed while the clock waddled its way back to the bedside table. She crossed to the scratched, wall hanging mirror and – scowling at the livid imprint of a tiny hand over her left cheekbone – considered her reflection.

            Dani was not conventionally pretty. She was short and rather skinny, with overlarge eyes and a pointed chin. But somewhere in her short, spiky black hair, porcelain skin and small, sharp features, lurked an eerie beauty, the ethereal kind belonging between the covers of a fairytale. Her eyes were like black marbles, throwing out flecks of brightest gold wherever the light touched them.

            She turned away from the mirror and surveyed the room, searching for the inevitable sock under the bed and hairclips in the cracks between floorboards. The entire contents of the room, aside from the mismatched furniture and bedspread, were now compressed unceremoniously into the battered leather trunk, emblazoned with the initials D.T.L. The alarm clock, having calmed considerably, informed her, from his cosy nest inside her favourite jumper, that the taxi would be arriving in half an hour.

            More than enough time, Dani thought, to have a final stroll through Diagon Alley.

            Depositing her trunk under the faithful eyes of Alfie, Dani stepped out into the feeble, early morning sunlight. She had left her coin purse behind; she had bought her schoolbooks yesterday, and anyway, Dani wasn’t in the mood the buying. She was in the mood for watching. The teeming life flowing down the street provided more than enough entertainment for such young, curious eyes as hers. There was the pair of witches, fretting over an alleged cure for spattergroit, being thrust their way by a pox-faced teen with gangly limbs and acne. Dani was buffeted aside by an agitated looking man highly reminiscent of Professor Cain, and watched as he ran forward to greet a smiling witch in a fuchsia robes, carrying a pumpkin.

             And then there were the shops themselves, eye candy on their own. Ollivanders, still going strong, perched next to a peculiar shop called Bits that were Bob’s. Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour, though Florean himself pushing up the daisies, and the schoolteachers’ favourite, Flourish and Blotts. Dani’s eyes were, however, instantly drawn to the loudest, busiest, most colourful shop of all; Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, run by the Weasley twins.

Not the Weasley twins of course – the legendary Fred and George were long gone, one killed in the Battle of Hogwarts, the other sprouting six children and living to 97. The current shop owners, Holly and Alanis Weasley, were descendants of George Weasley, and took pride in running the shop just as Fred and George had; breaking every law in the book. Every time Dani went to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, she found it had produced fifty more magical, deceitful and sometimes downright dangerous practical jokes. Had the time allowed, she would surely have ventured in, but the clock was ticking, and Dani sighed as she turned on her heel and headed up the street.

            “Hey! Hey, you!” Dani turned to see a tottering stack of boxes making its way down the steps of the nearby Eeylops Owl Emporium. The boxes deposited themselves at Dani’s feet, and from beneath emerged a gasping man with an impressive monobrow. “Dani, it’s you!” For the duration of her recent stay in Diagon Alley, while her parents went on a second honeymoon to a Caribbean island Dani couldn’t pronounce, she had become a regular visitor to the Emporium, and remembered its owner, Harvey Diggle, fondly.

            “Hey Mr Diggle. Do you want a hand with those?” Diggle leant his elbow on the nearest box, and promptly collapsed sideward, disappearing beneath a deluge of sawdust. When he had extricated himself, coughing profusely and smoothing his brow, he said,

            “No, no, thank you dear. But I was wondering, are you in any hurry?” The taxi was expected any minute, but Diggle looked flustered and Dani hadn’t the heart to refuse him. “Would you be able to take a message to Mr Falks for me? The guy who runs Borgin and Burkes. Could you just tell him that the owl seed hasn’t come yet, but it should be here Tuesday, Wednesday latest.”

            “Of course, Mr Diggle, I’ll –“

            Dani was conscious of the time, but Diggle was in full flow.

            “-lord knows why the man wants owl seed – he runs a dark magic shop for heaven’s sake! There’s nothing dark about Eeylop’s finest, no sir! – but that Falk bloke always was a little strange, and that shop of his is even stranger. 4000 kilos, he ordered. 4000 kilos! Who in their right mind orders 4000 kilos of owl seed? It’ll cost him a pretty penny I’ll tell you that, and he better pay up front, not like that Norman Fletcher, thinking he can con me with his ‘I.O.Us’ and whatnot, the little scoundrel....”

            Diggle tottered off, muttering darkly about shady deals and Dani, shaking her head with humoured affection, turned down Knockturn Alley.

            After just 10 paces, Dani realised she had left behind the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley. Here, the paint was peeling, the shutters were bolted, and the empty, dilapidated shop fronts sneered. Borgin and Burkes was the largest of such atrocities, squatting snug and proud, declaring itself with a faded emerald sign. A bell tinkled as Dani pushed open the doors.

            Inside, what dim light penetrated the dusty windows reached no further than three feet, blocked by the tottering towers of things Dani couldn’t, and didn’t want to, name. Weaving between these, she worked her way to the centre of the maze, where a frail, white haired man hunched over a desk.

            “Excuse me, Mr Falks?” Dani ventured.

            “Miss Marlow?” the man started, and began staring widely around him, panic-stricken. I’m sorry, it’s not here yet, not quite, but it will be, I swear, I’ll- ”

            “No, sir, my name’s Danielle. Harvey Diggle asked me to pass on a message.”

            Falks turned toward the sound of her voice, but his milky eyes failed to focus on her face, and Dani realised he was blind.

            “Mr Diggle says the bird seed hasn’t come yet, but it should be here by Tuesday, hopefully. Mr Falks?”

            The old man nodded his head absent-mindedly, muttering, and Dani wondered if he was entirely sane. He disappeared behind a heap of dark artefacts, and she understood herself to be dismissed.

            Pushing open the door, Dani collided with something. Or, more specifically, someone. The someone - who Dani guessed to be a girl - was petite, bundled up in a thick cloak with a long, dark plait peeping from beneath the hood. Before Dani could get a better look at her face, the girl had shoved past her, into the shop, and Dani was left standing in the street.

            Dani shook her head, and was about to return to Diagon Alley when she heard something that made her freeze, and press her ear to the crack in the still-ajar door of Borgin and Burkes.

            “I need it before I go back to Hogwarts. Why do you think...... “

            Dani pressed her eye to the gap, making sure she was pressed up close to the wall so as to be invisible from the window. Inside, the girl was standing hip he hands on her hips in front of Mr Falks, who, if Dani was not mistaken, seemed to be almost...cowering? She was talking in a low, hurried voice which Dani could have sworn she recognised.

“dangerous......quickly.....feed it.....urgent.....want it ready. Soon. Or else.”

The talking stopped, and Dani watched as Falks nodded in submission, and the girl spun on her heel. Dani barely had time to lurch away from the door before it was flung open and the girl stormed out. Her eyes swept the street, mercifully missing Dani, who was crouching in the shadows behind the door. The girl swept past towards the light and noise of Diagon Alley and, as she past, her hood blew down around her shoulders, revealing a face that caused Dani to gasp.

And then she was gone, and Dani was left crouching in the dust, trying to shake off the uneasy sense of premonition that had just settled around her heart.

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