The twins would never speak to me again if they knew just why I went to Germany, as it was largely in thanks to their more wild stories that gave me the idea in the first place. Listen to Fred and George for ten minutes, and Germany is a paradise for every thief, drunkard, scoundrel and all round mischief maker in the magical world, a place filled with nothing but busty bar wenches and never ending glasses of homebrew that would make a giant cough twice before taking another pint.
Sirius, in one of the few times we'd ever had a real conversation, had been a little more realistic, though that's really not saying much. Apparently, in the summer between sixth and seventh year, the Marauder's had spent a week in Hamburg, and had by all accounts a rather wild time, including a bar fight with a vampire if Sirius is to be believed. Peter fainted in a brothel, and Remus pulled me aside later and let me know that Sirius, eager to please as he was, had downed a full pint of a rather questionable growth potion beforehand, only to find himself still flying full mast six very painful hours later. Good times, I'm sure.
With such storied in mind, I stumbled out into Berlin around midnight two days after leaving London. Magic aside, without drawing far too much attention to myself, I was forced to go muggle a fair bit of the time - crowded train stations aren't the safest place to be utterly invisible, and no spell work was going to magnificently clear my path without bringing local magical law enforcement into the area. It's the little rules that you have to follow.
So there I was, almost bankrupt and god knows how many miles from home. Taking a deep breath, Icame to two very, very horrible revelations.
I had no idea how to find the local magical district and more importantly, the Order would be expecting my three day note any time now. Flying by the seat of your pants always has drawbacks. Fuck.
Nothing to be done for it, and I came to the conclusion that if the Order wasn't already on my tail, they weren't going to find me before morning, so a good nights sleep was in order, instead of crammed in a third class seat for far too many hours than was healthy. I found a cheap hotel quickly enough, snuck past the night clerk and opened up an unoccupied room. Not glamorous, but a damn sight better than what I'm used to, so who am I to complain?
It wasn't until much later that I realized just how organized the German magical underground was. At the time, I still in my arrogance thought that I just had a knack of finding what I was looking for. Germany, unlike the rest of Europe, doesn't actually have a real full-time magical community. Centuries of muggle and wizarding wars as well as the rise of Grindenwald and the muggle Cold War have left wizards thin on the ground here. Legally, the entire region, minus the core of Prussia, is part of Austria-Hungary.
That however, is solely on paper - the Austrian's turn a blind eye to what really happens in Germany, and in return the local bigwigs make sure the government gets a cut out of the business. Everyone wins.
The latest muggle tensions ended a few years ago, and with it came a downtime for magical business in the area. For half a century, wizards willing to dirty their hands in muggle affairs had made a tidy profit smuggling goods and people between East and West Germany, and as the business has all but disappeared, so did anumber of the local opportunists. In short, it was nowhere as glamorous as the twins make it out to be, and not quite as wild as Sirius liked to tell, but there was nonetheless a current of organized chaos that would have warmed the hearts of all three in question, and served perfectly for my purposes.
As to how I found it...rather, it found me. As I've said, most areas still in business were of negotiable reputation, and there wasn't a friendly barkeep willing to put his name on the line to let you into the German equivalent of Diagon Alley. Rather the magic sensed you, your intent. Like a city size room of requirement. It didn't create anything new, but rather led you where you wanted to go. It was still a pain in the ass, but at the time, I was very, /very /impressed with myself after only three hours of walking through Berlin, I stumbled down aquiet alley, to suddenly find myself staring at a smaller copy of the London's Gringott Branch.
I won't bore you with the details of what amounted to a bank withdrawal. Needless to say, I got myself enough gold to keep myself comfortable for a few weeks, and assured that my business was and always had been strictly confidential, left Gringotts feeling absurdly proud of myself. Harry Potter, boy-who-can-run-basic-errands.
The road was far less crowded than Diagon Alley; hell, it wouldn't have stood out in Hogsmeade. One of the shop keepers, once I'd doshed out ten galleons for a guidebook, let me know free of charge that the city's enchantments only allowed access to any one "block" at a time. I needed to leave, think about what I wanted, and I'd go to the most appropriate point, provided I didn't have a specific destination in mind. Annoying and time consuming as hell, but it did wonders for security.
... In all fairness that isn't entirely true. At the time, it was cool as hell. Walk to the end of the alley and /flash /back in muggle Berlin. Pause for a minute, think about quidditch and step back into the alley /flash /a brand new selection of stores, including one stocked full of non regulation brooms. I won't be trading in my Firebolt any time soon, but a broom that sends out a destabilization and turbulence jinx to anything that gets within fifty yards? Very, very awesome.
I'll confess that Iplayed that trick a few times, idly picking things from the top of my head just to see where it would take me. Eventually, I picked up a few things that would be useful, clothes that fit for instance, and a trunk for my now not entirely miniscule collection of things. Plain wooden trunk, none of the hundred galleon monstrosities that promise they'll hold the moon and still have enough extra space for a private garden. This place is the filled with shady figures for areason, and they're all looking for the idiots with more money than brains.
That was more than enough shopping than I could handle, and really, just walking around the muggle city was more than enough of a marvel. I've never really seen anything in England, and it was marvelous to simply be able to walk where I pleased, aimlessly traveling down crowded boulevards through the chilly afternoon. Fantastic.
The guidebook I'd purchased was fairly minimal, though I suppose you can't just hand over a few galleons and expect a fully detailed list of all the shady dealings going on in the city. It did however, provide directions to the scores of entrances into the magical community, and it was then that I realized the foolishness of my original pride - even a wizard of Crabbe or Goyle's intellect would have soon enough found what they wanted. So at around seven that evening, and picturing atavern resembling the Leaky Cauldron, I walked into Berlin Hauptbahn-something-or-other and entered an out-of-order bathroom stall, appearing an instant later not fifty yards from a bight lit pub: Der Zahn Des Wolfs. Wolf something or other - I should have brought Remus.
Looking back, the night was rather funny, in a shit-your-pants sort of way. I'll say this though, any concepts I still held of being the tragic hero died that evening, and what Cedric and Sirius' deaths hadn't forced me to realize came rushing into the foreground with all the grace of a rampaging Hippogriff. And relying on luck or friendship or anything else but my own wand flew right out the window, perhaps on the aforementioned hippogriff.
For the moment, Iwas still looking forward to my little runaway, and the inside of the pub was rowdy and rambunctious, a happy chaos that couldn't help but bring a great grin to my face. Forget the twins, Ron was going to be pissed he'd missed this/. /I shuffled through the crowd, looking not too out of place in Sirius' cloak, and took a seat in the closest booth, back to the door. I may not talk tough with Dean and Seamus in the dorm room, but I can appreciate anice rack as well as the next bloke, and the waitress who moved amongst the leering patrons left little to the imagination. Like I said, Ron was going to go ape that he'd been left out.
One fantastic steak pie and a forced first ever pint of real ale later, and I was ready to take on the world, what Hermione calls my 'saving people thing'. Heh, irony's a bitch. There I was content and full, when a group of wizards sat down in the booth behind mine. I didn't do anything at first, but the conversation was too...hushed- one of them had a voice that even in whispers seems to drown out the rest of the noise in the room. Another perk, they spoke English.
After swearing at my own shortsightedness to seat myself in such an awkward manner, I ordered abutter beer, which only showed how little I'd learnt from my previous mistake of sitting with my back to the entrance. Espionage - it's something you learn as you go, if it doesn't kill you first.
I must have sat there for well over three hours, trying to make out snippets of their conversation. They didn't use privacy charms, but among the din it wasn't easy to hear what was being said anyway. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't what you'd call polite conversation, and the loud whisperer, most commonly referred to by his comrades as 'asshole' seemed to have gotten them into trouble with what passed for the local authorities.
Finally, long since bored with spying for the sake of spying, the group mercifully stood up to leave, and I peeked around the booth, counting four cloaked figures walking out the entrance, the shortest taking a moment to not so subtly grope the buxom waitress's bum, earning him a hiss and jerked headshakes from his companions. Call me presumptions, but I'm guessing that was 'asshole'.
And again, I reveal just how magnificently stupid, just how remarkably naïve I well and truly was. Never mind my poor seating choice or ordering a butter beer in a real bar. No, what almost got me killed was not what I did, but what I didn’t do. Had I spent those hours leering at the waitress or pretending to get sloshed, or even gone up to the bar and joined the chaos, I would have gotten away clear. As it was, I spent almost three hours sitting alone in a booth, occasionally ordering the beverage of choice for teenage witches everywhere. Really, I’m impressed that I actually waited those five minutes before following them out.
Five minutes later, and out I went, taking in a deep breath of the crisp evening air and planning to sneak into another hotel when I hear a shuffle from behind.
It was that shuffle that probably saved my life, I was turning towards the noise when what felt like an oversized bludger came down across my left shoulder with a sickening crack. I let out a pained cry – a feeble shriek before I was pushed back – stumbling into the shrouded corner of the tavern, away from any watching eyes. I fought for breath, head spinning as my back hit upon the stone wall behind me, taking in a ragged breath before turning an eye towards my attackers,
Asshole and a friend, the other two were out of sight, though whether they’d left or were lurking behind, I had no idea. “Who are you boy?” The taller one, ‘friend’, whispered. “What the hell were you doing in there, listening in on a private conversation.” Ah..anger, definite anger there.
Trying to hide my trembling, I let out a yell, tried to charge past the pair of them. I failed, miserably, and found myself in a grapple with Asshole, fat clammy hands clawing at my face, while the other one tried to grab me from behind.
“You’re finished kid, you shouldn’t have done that,” Asshole growled, grabbing my left wrist in one hand, wrenching it away. “Not gonna go easy on you now.” I laughed, nothing suave, just a reaction to keep from falling apart completely. My left arm burned, Asshole’s treatment doing nothing to sooth the already burning sensations that were traveling through it. As I felt another pair of arms, bonier than Asshole’s, but just as strong, I thrust my free arm into my cloak, pulled out Bella’s wand and while attempting to keep my voice level, bellowed, “Reducto”.
Asshole let out a wheezy splutter, and for a moment his grief loosened, before he turned on me with a burning rage. “You’re dead kid, you’ve got to be an idiot if you’d attack another person with a spell like that, but you’re a dead idiot now.” Did I say he was angry before? No he wasn’t, because now – that was anger in its purest form, and I was on the short end of the stick.
He let go of my left hand, immediately grabbing me by the throat with both hands, and with a look towards his accomplice behind me, slammed me once again up against the wall.
I’m still horrified of what happened next, and the only comfort I can take is that I truly didn’t want to do what I did, it was an accident, really. Still, McGonagall always says that magic primarily acts upon intent, and it was certainly my goal to get out of that forsaken alley the quickest way possible.
So physically, in an act of self defense, my natural reaction was to flail my wand arm towards my attacker. I did not anticipate the sickening yellow slash that came from the wand, nor did I plan the bright flash of orange light that seemed to explode from the contact between my wand and my assailant’s ear. I had no prior knowledge of the nauseating smell that followed – like a rotten egg that was then doused in chlorine, to be quickly replaced with the metallic smell of fresh blood.
I closed my eyes, tight, not opening them until several moments later, when I felt the hands go slack around my neck. When I did, I jumped back, banged my head on the wall, before stumbling forward, away from…away from that.
I didn’t make in ten feet before I fell to my knees, my whole body convulsing as I threw up everything I had consumed in the last two days, and more besides. I actually looked back over my shoulder, taking in the horrifying scene before me, as if needing to confirm that such an atrocity had taken place.
Asshole lay on the ground, as if groveling on all fours, though his cloak now had a shine to it, the weak moon shimmering off the ever increasing puddle of blood collecting in the corner of the alley. His head was non existence, a mess of flesh, indistinguishable in detail. From a distance, I couldn’t tell, but when I’d first fled, it had been impossible not to notice that chunks of flesh had been clearly ripped from his arms, and I realized that through the ordeal, I had somehow ignored the mist of red droplets that covered my glasses.
Fighting down the urge to heave once more, I grabbed my glasses, furiously rubbing them on my cloak. Putting them back on, I spared a look at the ‘friend’, his limbs hanging at awkward, impossible angles, even if his body was thankfully in one piece, slumped against the wall.
It was too much, really too much, and I found myself again upon my knees, wretching uncontrollably, before fleeing the alley, pausing only to put on my invisibility cloak over my body before returning to the muggle city. It was one of the only two rational actions I took for the remainder of the evening, the other being to carefully, almost tenderly, wipe the blood from Bella’s…my wand before slowly returning it to my front pocket.
Harry paused, clearly unable to continue, collapsing wearily into the couch. The room was silent, before Ginny let out a harsh sob, moving across the room and slamming herself into the weary boy.
“Oh, Harry…I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” she sniffed into his shirt. “You’re so brave…”
Harry, clearly uncomfortable with the turn of events, pushed the girl gently off him. “Err…thanks Ginny, I appreciate your concern.” His voice turned soft. “Really, Ginny, your friendship means so much to me and…” he paused, looking up towards the other occupants of the room. “I want to thank all of you for just…for just being here for me.”
Later, when all had voiced their own sympathy and support for the traumatized boy, Dumbledore spoke in his grandfatherly tone. “Harry my boy, no doubt you are exhausted enough for the evening, and we will continue tomorrow if you are able. Let me say this though, to all of you. To be forced to watch as another is murdered in cold blood…it is something I would not wish upon Voldemort himself. Harry, my boy, you must not hold yourself accountable for what other’s did in your presence, especially when you had no way of preventing the atrocities you were forced to witness. Do you understand?”
With a grim smile, Harry looked up at the Headmaster, though his eyes betrayed his seriousness. “Yes sir, I understand. But sir, those two ministry employees that I saw murdered, they deserve justice…and if I ever find those responsible…I won’t hesitate to bring them down.”
Dumbledore nodded, his face weary. “You’ve experienced far too much pain for someone your age Harry, and I hope you will not ever forget the necessity of mercy and restraint.” The room fell into gloomy silence, until the headmaster spoke again, his voice distinctively chipper. “I believe we have all had enough excitement for one evening. Let us call it a night, I myself fully intend to finish Nathan Grabble’s From Sphinx to Swallow, a most entertaining read about the unlikely adventures a bumbling animagus. And I’ve just received a new order of lemon drops…”