A/N: To new readers,
welcome. To Constant Readers, as Mr. King himself refers to you lot…if you
think you’ve seen this before, you have. It’s a rewrite, preciousssss,
and I hope you’ll find it better than it was before.
I’m warning you now –
when you combine the forces of Knockturn Alley and
the Dark Tower, strange things happen to your head. Especially
when you’re not familiar with the Stephen King canon. If you have any
questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thanks go to Zsenya for
her original beta of this – without her, I’d have a lot more work to do in the
He wears the dull shockface of refugees at border checkpoints and the gates
of deathcamps. His is the emptied visage of someone
who has spent too long in the slippery opopanax
landscape of slippage.
-Stephen King and Peter Straub, Black House
Sherrinford Shiftlet admittedly saw
many strange things as a result of his shop in Knockturn
Alley – with a name like the Lethifold’s Lair, how
could one avoid interesting occurrences?
Shiftlet suspected that many of the strange things he saw
were due to the fact that many of his customers treated him like he was
invisible – a secondary character, always on the edge of things. Shiftlet didn’t mind. He found that he was freer to observe
that way. And the things that one could observe in Knockturn
Alley were most interesting.
For instance, a few years
ago, Lucius Malfoy had come
in the Lethifold’s Lair, wanting to dispose of a few of the former Tom Riddle’s school things. Shiftlet had heard from Albus
Dumbledore about the adventures of young Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets
– as well as what had happened to the Weasley girl because of Lucius Malfoy and his antiques. He was only too happy to
oblige Malfoy – he had given Malfoy
as close to a simpering smile as he could give and taken the dingy old
notebooks in hand as one who was receiving some priceless treasure.
soon as Malfoy had left the Lair, Shiftlet
owled Albus Dumbledore to
make arrangements for the Headmaster to pick up the items. Shiftlet did not choose
to get involved publicly with such activities as Dumbledore organized; that
would be damned foolish in his line of work. Shiftlet
did not really prefer one side or the other – Dark Arts or Otherwise
– but between non-extremist order and a despotic sort of anarchy, Dumbledore’s side won every time.
Besides that, Shiftlet had his own debts to pay.
He straightened as Walden
Macnair entered the shop. Shiftlet
watched Macnair through hooded eyes – seeing the
menacing bulk of the executioner made him feel more gaunt than usual. Macnair said gruffly, “Shiftlet,”
Shiftlet returned. “Is there anything I may do for
you?” Best to be solicitous to an
executioner, he thought with a private, dark quirk of a smile that he
quickly turned into something decidedly more deferential.
“Heard tell that Lucius Malfoy sold a certain
grindstone to you a few weeks back,” Macnair said.
Shiftlet paused, then nodded. The
pause was just for show, of course. He was one up on that old twit Ollivander – Ollivander
remembered everything he’d sold; Sherrinford T. Shiftlet remembered everything he’d ever sold and bought.
Seeing that he would get
no more response out of Shiftlet, Macnair
said, “I’d be interested in buying it.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot
as a student would in front of a particularly frightening professor.
Shiftlet was privately amused at how squeamish customers
became around him – being laconic tended to make most people nervous. He nodded
at Macnair and disappeared into the back room without
a word. Let him stew a bit, Shiftlet thought. He quickly found the grindstone and
levitated it over to his desk. Before lowering his wand, he brushed some
clutter to the side. With great anticipation, he sat down and, pulling out a
telescoping pipe from one of the many cubbyholes in front of him, looked with
interest through the modified periscope.
In the main part of the
shop, Macnair was pacing around nervously, looking at
the shadows of the room as though a lethifold was
about to jump on him. Appropriate,
thought Shiftlet with a small smile.
Macnair backed up – backed up some more – turned around
and saw the collection of death masks lining the wall behind him –
Quick as a flash, Shiftlet levitated the grindstone before him and followed
it into the shop. Right as the first beginnings of horror began to register on Macnair’s face, Shiftlet dropped
the stone. It fell to the floor, striking the boards with a loud clunk. Macnair
“Thirty Galleons,” he
said, leaning on one of the display cases.
Macnair seemed to steel himself
enough to be contemptuous of Shiftlet’s asking price.
“For that thing?”
Shiftlet merely raised an eyebrow. “We both know where it
came from…and what that means.” The unasked question hung in the air: A Dark grindstone for your Dark tendencies, Macnair…and now
that Voldemort’s back on the horizon, he’ll have other uses for your axe
besides the disposal of dangerous creatures. Do you pay thirty Galleons, or do
I tell Lucius Malfoy about
your…reluctance…to serve your Lord?
Macnair, big as he was, wasn’t stupid. He reached in the
pocket of his robes and began to count coins.
Shiftlet made out a receipt and handed it to Macnair with a smile. “A pleasure doing
business with you, Mr. Macnair.”
Macnair looked at him darkly, about to say something.
Shiftlet continued smiling, but raised his eyebrow one
Macnair turned and left the shop quickly, the grindstone
hovering behind him like a malevolent, stony cloud.
Shiftlet quietly locked the door behind him, set several
nasty hexes on it, and disappeared into the back room, running a hand through
his white hair with a deep sigh. The day was over; he could go home. He didn’t
like to admit it, but things were getting nastier. Not as nasty yet as they’d
been during Voldemort’s first garden-party, but still…some things were going on
that he felt too old to deal with.
He let out a short, sharp
bark of self-mocking laughter. If Albus Dumbledore
could deal with almost single-handedly running defense against Voldemort, then
he, Sherrinford Shiftlet,
could certainly handle running a shop in Knockturn
Alley. He would not allow himself to fall into a trap of self-pity.
Shiftlet exited out the back door, mumbling several curses
at the door as he did so. He settled his old, slightly moth-eaten cloak around
his shoulders, and set off, re-entering Knockturn
Alley a good distance away from the Lethifold’s Lair.
He kept close to the
shadows – that was how he’d survived for so many years, after all. He passed Borgin and Burkes, took a right, went up three flights of
stairs, and muttered the various countercurses that
allowed him to enter his small flat.
As he removed his cloak
and tossed it over a three-legged chair that looked like it had been gnawed on
by something vicious, the ragged curtains fluttered, heralding the arrival of
Shiftlet untied his cravat, pulled his shirt collar loose,
and removed the parchment from the owl’s leg. Unfolding it, he read its
contents and cursed quietly under his breath. The owl looked offended. Shiftlet snarled, “Oh, shut up and wait a minute.”
He fumbled around in the
dusty desk by the window and eventually ended up with a flea-bitten, droopy
quill. Dipping the tip in the inkwell on the desk, he scrawled a quick reply on
the reverse side of the parchment and tied it roughly back on the owl’s leg.
“Go back to Dumbledore and give him that, and mind you don’t tarry.” The last
thing he needed was someone catching wind of this – it would kill his business.
And if the wrong someone
got wind of whom he was going to go see on the morrow, it might kill him.
Highly affronted at the
suggestion that it might not finish its job in an expedient fashion, the owl
flew out the window, giving him a last dirty look in farewell.
Shiftlet watched it go, preoccupied.
Strange times, he thought. Strange times,