Sometimes there is such a thing as coincidence. Sometimes there is something that is almost a coincidence, but something else got in the way. Why Fate plays tricks like this is, to quote the angel Aziraphale, quite ineffable. This is one of the times when there should have been a coincidence, but there wasn't.
Some things never change. The angel Aziraphale, before his bookshop had burned down in that unfortunate Apocalypse business, had been proud to own an extensive collection of esoteric books. A complete set of Infamous Bibles, for example, each with its own unique misprint. He loved first editions of Oscar Wilde's work. He also had more than sixty books containing predictions for the end of the second millennium. It would stand to reason that, despite his new stock of mint condition, first edition children's books, he would begin to rebuild his old collections. Adam Young had put the world to rights, after all. The books were out there somewhere. Quite a bit of searching on Aziraphale's part had produced many of the books he had once had.
Aziraphale had always been more of a collector than a seller. Now, having spent so much time painstakingly reconstructing his collections, he had redoubled his efforts to not sell any of them. He kept even more irregular hours, cultivated a stranger smell around the door, one that lingered, and went so far as to not only not mark the price on the books, but to take an obnoxiously long time looking a price up.
As a consequence, it had been over a year since anyone had set foot in the shop. But it was a bookshop, and there were always some brave souls who could not resist the lure of what an author once termed L-space.1
Some things never change. Remus Lupin had been the bookish Marauder. He was the one who did all of the research for his friends' pranks, not because they forced him to, but for the sheer love of reading to learn. Later, after he'd lost everyone, he'd learned to read to escape. He spent what little surplus money he had (and some money that he really couldn't afford to call surplus) on books, indulging in everything from the mainstream to the esoteric to the highly academic in the hope that something would catch his interest. Time always seemed to pass a little more quickly when he was caught up in research, or even just a good story. He spent a lot of time in secondhand bookshops as a result of his craving for knowledge.
At some point in time, he'd read about L-space. He didn't believe it existed, at least, not in the way it was presented in the novel—he wished he could remember which one.2 If books, magical ones, especially, could really distort time and space, he would have gone to Hogwarts last year simply to get into the library in the hope of finding another world. He hadn't found one. Instead, he'd reread quite a bit of the library in between teaching and full moons. It had taken him away, so he supposed, as a metaphor for something more concrete, L-space could be real enough. The only problem was that when he closed the books, he had to come back.
And now Lupin was out of a job again. It was nothing new. It was the rather unfortunate ground state of his life. He had shrugged on the general gloom of this existence as easily as his threadbare coat, and begun to search for something new to read to occupy his time. He had found books of prophecy.
Lupin was a wizard. He knew that "seers" got by on an uncanny ability to stereotype their customers, a vast knowledge of what each of those stereotypes wanted to hear, a talent for telling stories, and a flair for the melodramatic. It didn't matter if the "seer" was Muggle or magical, that was just the way it worked. Sybil Trelawney was living proof. Books of prophecies, written by people like Trelawney who wanted to make a few quick dollars, were just another type of storybook. Lupin found them amusing in a morbid kind of way. Petty predictions foretold the end of the world alongside general happiness for the average person, broadcasting hope right next to pointing out how futile that hope was. Lupin knew about shattered dreams and the end of the world. There was no point in being bitter about it.
But it was nice to know that others shared his fate.
Some things never change. The bookshop had been there for as long as Remus Lupin could remember. He'd never been inside, because it had never been open. It had been burned down eight years ago, if he recalled correctly. Then again, it was still here, so "burned down" probably wasn't the right phrase…that was what came to mind, though. Maybe it had just been a small fire. The memory was a bit vague.
Lupin had always been curious about the place. He wondered how the owner paid the rent, if he never saw customers. Moreover, he felt that books should be read, the knowledge or the stories they held spread around, not cooped up in a dark, dusty shop. Every time he walked past, he checked to see if it was open. It never was, but it had become habit to look up at the large CLOSED sign in the window. He expected nothing different on this dull August afternoon. To his astonishment, however, the glaring sign had been flipped, whispering in very small letters that the shop was open.
Lupin had nothing better to do, so he turned off the sidewalk and pulled open the door. It creaked loudly; the bell's tinkle was muffled by a thick coat of dust. A strange, vaguely unpleasant smell hit him as soon as he closed the door. Wrinkling his nose, he moved into the dusty silence. The smell lingered, but Lupin had the feeling that some sort of spell was keeping the worst of it, perhaps all of it, in the entrance.
A quiet sniff, loud in the almost complete quiet, brought Lupin up short. He paused in the whirling dust to look at the interior of the shop whose exterior had long held his idle imagination.
This was one of the bookshops that must have inspired the myth of L-space. Though the floor was dusty as the air, the shelves of books were scrupulously clean. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the organization of the shelves. A shadowy staircase led up to a second floor. A very small door at the back of the shop was locked. A counter, also in need of a good dusting, stood to the left, an old-fashioned till rusting on top of it.
A man, presumably the owner of the shop, sat behind the counter. He was rather unremarkable. His hair was short, neat, and his clothes were fairly well-cared for, if out-dated. He was watching Lupin with a miffed expression in his pale eyes, as though vaguely annoyed that a customer had dared to enter his shop. He did not offer Lupin assistance in finding anything. In Lupin's experience, the owners of these kinds of shops generally didn't.
Under the mild rebuke of the shopkeeper's gaze, Lupin wandered around the shop, fingering the old, gilt-embossed leather covers. Some of them were the faux-leather-and-gilt of a book published more recently. The shopkeeper sniffed whenever Lupin had the audacity to pull a book from a shelf. He was very careful to replace them exactly as they had been. There were very few books that he bothered to look at that closely, though.
A sense of disappointment filled him. The shopkeeper only really kept stock in what he was interested in. He would have to, of course, since he was the only one who had access to them for the better part of the time.
Lupin was not a religious man, (no god claiming to be merciful to all people could have allowed Lupin's life to happen) so he skipped over a fine collection of antique Bibles. And while the first editions of much of Oscar Wilde's work were in good condition, they weren't what Lupin was looking for. He'd read some of them, and at a fraction of the cost, no doubt.
About to just give up, Lupin passed yet another jumbled bank of shelves. A title caught his eye: Prophecies of an Unusual Nature by someone calling herself Old Mother Dismass.3 He'd seen that before. It wasn't unusual; it was the normal ramblings about plagues of frogs and other general clichés of destruction and mayhem. Nothing new. But maybe there would be other supposedly prophetic books…
The shopkeeper seemed to grow a bit worried as Lupin browsed the selection closely. One in particular held his attention. Magical Omens: Predictions of Today's Seers. He shook his head in amusement as he flipped through the pages. He knew some of the names on the prophecies: Sybil Trelawney, for one. He didn't think she'd made a real prediction in her life, whatever her great-grandmother or whoever had been. No one knew why Headmaster Dumbledore had hired her. Still, it would be interesting to see.
Lupin took the book up to the counter. The shopkeeper frowned, and said nothing. Lupin waited a moment before prompting, "How much is this? It doesn't say."
"I can look it up," the shopkeeper said stiffly. He made no move to do so.
"Would you?" Lupin asked, a touch of impatience in his voice.
"Oh, very well." The shopkeeper sighed, and dragged a heavy book of listings onto the counter, with a slight glare that said he was doing this under protest. He licked a finger and began to slowly turn the pages, muttering indistinctly under his breath. His genteel but somewhat weak-sounding voice grated on Lupin's nerves. Any minute now, the other man would say something like, "Goodness, this is taking some time, isn't it?"
Five, Lupin began to countdown mentally as the shopkeeper turned another page. Four…three…two…
The shopkeeper began to say, "Goodness—"
"You know what?" Lupin cut him off quietly. "I don't think I need this right now. Thanks anyway." He walked out, leaving the book on the counter.
Try as he might, he never found another copy of the book. He found this slightly strange, but, in the face of the war, he forgot all about it.
Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind the man who would have been a customer. For a few minutes there, he'd thought he would actually have to sell the book. As he got up to change the open sign back to CLOSED, it opened again. He jumped slightly, but it was only the demon, Crowley. In the excitement of almost losing a book, he had forgotten that he owed the demon a lunch, and that he was paying up this afternoon.
"So you didn't sell it?" Crowley said, proving that he had been waiting outside, watching the angel's growing discomfort.
Aziraphale shook his head slightly. "Of course not," he murmured.
Crowley snorted, glancing at the cover of the book in question. "Prophecies again? Anything good?"
"Well, there are a few about some Dark Lord. One of yours, I'm sure."
"Let's hear it, then," Crowley said. "I've got to know what I missed while I was napping."
Aziraphale shook his head again, but opened the book anyway. "Let's see." He ran a finger down the page. "This one sounds promising. 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…''"
1 L-space, or library-space, is the result of having a lot of books in the same place. All that knowledge bunched up together distorts time and space, so that all libraries anywhere are connected. One could read a book that has never been written, or one that will be written, and if one gets lost, one can very easily wander into the past, or into some other world…
2 Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, but one can't expect Lupin to remember that. He'd read the book five years before this story, when it first came out.
3 A witch of the Discworld, who had a detached retina in her Second Sight. No one ever knew what time she was currently occupying. Someone here thought it would be a good joke for a seer's name. Only very zealous fantasy readers understood it, and the book didn't sell any better than all the others of its kind.