Nearly a decade had gone by since Aster Evans woke to find his daughter’s Sending walking the riverbank that bordered his island home, but Abhorsen’s Ait had changed little over the past several centuries never mind a scant ten years. The sun that rose over the ait illuminated the same dwelling that had been there for generations. Agesander Hall as it was called was a multistoried dwelling of pale grey stone that had been constructed on the very spot where the first Abhorsen to come to the British Isles, Silvanus the Wander, had pitched his tent all those years ago.
The number of inhabitants on the island had numbered only three when Lily Potter’s Sending had come to deliver her message. However, the population had grown by one when her son, Harry Potter, had come to live there not long afterwards and it was here that he had remained ever since.
When he had first arrived, he had been a far too solemn baby marked in more ways than one by the murder of his parents, but with patience and love he’d blossomed under the care of his grandfather. In fact, before even a full year had passed Harry had begun to play again and even engage in a bit of mischief. Adding several silver hairs to his grandad’s auburn hair as he delighted in launching himself from the playpark’s swings like a trapeze aerialist; trusting that either his magic or his grandad would save him from a bad fall.
It was this aptitude for heights that had prompted Aster to begin his grandson’s training as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting a bit early – or at least the parts that ensured that Harry knew how to fall and tumble about without hurting himself.
Over the years, Harry’s training as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting had become more strenuous as he was taught unarmed combat and swordplay, music and meditation, and finally – just after his ninth birthday – he was allowed to begin to delve into the secrets of The Book of the Dead under the watchful eyes of his grandfather.
In fact, that was what Harry was doing at this very moment, training in the salle that took up half of the third floor of Agesander Hall. He was working on the physical side of his training at the moment as he squared off against an opponent that had helped to hone the sword skills of the past four generations of Abhorsen.
The opponent was an enchanted wooden mannequin of average height and build that had been animated though the use of several matrixes of runic sigils etched onto every component of its body. Its featureless face was hidden behind a black veil while the rest of its body was obscured by a dark surcoat emblazoned with a pattern of silver keys. In one of its carved hands it wielded a heavy wooden cudgel with which it was attempting to bludgeon the ten, going on eleven-year-old, Harry Potter.
The bludgeon whistled though the air as the training dummy swung it and Harry watch its arc carefully so that he would know the precise moment he needed to duck his opponent’s blow. He could hear the air above his head part with a whoosh as the cudgel was swung, just missing him as he dodged at the last moment. Harry knew that the wind from the sweeping bludgeon would have ruffled his jet-black hair if not for the training helmet currently encasing his skull.
“Good!” His grandad called from his place along the wall of the salle. “Remember to trust your instincts. Don’t overthink.”
The words of encouragement spurred Harry on. Because he was small and skinny for his age, some of the bigger boys at his school and even his cousin, Dudley, thought that Harry would be an easy target for them to bully. But the joke was on them. Harry had learned how to throw a proper punch by the time he was seven, developed a particularly vicious left hook by the time he was eight, and had earned himself a smattering of ropy scars across his knuckles proving so by the time he was nine.
Sure, Grandad had forbidden Harry from starting fights at school, but he’d never scolded him for finishing them.
However, skills learned in a schoolyard scrap were of little good when facing one of the Dead. Or, in this case, a training dummy bewitched by his Great Great-Grandmother Bryony to mimic the inexhaustible strength and stamina of a freshly risen Inferius. And so, mindful of his surroundings, Harry and the enchanted mannequin circled one another. It with its cudgel and him with a gently curving blade that could have either been considered a short-sword or a long-knife. He knew he had to take particular care to watch his footing as random jumbles of blocks and other debris had been strewn across the salle floor to add another element of difficulty to the exercise.
“Keep your guard up,” Fea warned him from her perch high in the rafters. The peculiar creature of magic that served his Grandad was currently in her preferred form of a large raven with pale grey eyes.
Harry obediently raised his sword and rolled to the right as his opponent’s cudgel slammed down into the floor right where he had been standing. Harry used his forward momentum to carry himself back up onto his feet, then leapt backwards over a pile of blocks. He saw his opponent stumble as it reached them too. It’s leaden feet becoming entangled by the obstruction.
A stinging trickle of perspiration ran from his sodden sweatband and into his eyes, but Harry did his best ignored this discomfort. He was also careful to rein in the surge of pleasure he felt as his gambit to unbalance his opponent payed off. It wouldn’t do to get cocky after all.
Nevertheless, in his mind’s eye, Harry could imagine himself a fully trained Abhorsen, doing battle with blade and bells against a Mordicant … a powerful Dead construct made of molded bog-clay and blood that he’d read about in The Book of the Dead. He could see it now in place of the practice dummy, standing tall and ominous with its surreal flesh and eerily glowing marsh-light eyes. Its long fingers tipped with claws made of bone shard that could easily shred human flesh.
Spurred on by his vision, and a fresh wave of adrenalin, Harry darted forward beneath his opponent’s guard. His opponent’s next swing went wide and Harry pressed his advantage. He swung his sword up at his opponent’s weapon arm with all his might, severing the practice dummy’s hand at the wrist and sending both it and the cudgel flying.
While this would have ended the fight with a living opponent, Harry knew that only complete dismemberment or decapitation could stop one of the Dead; and it would work only then if he used an enchanted blade like his grandad’s sword, Nemein. And so, even though his training saber was made of ordinary steel, he made his next move; slamming one booted foot into the side of the mannequin’s knee to send it crashing to the salle floor and lowering its veiled throat to his level.
Harry’s next stroke was a killing blow that send the mannequin’s head flying over to join its hand and weapon. The effect was the same as if he’d used a silver-steel blade that had been burnished in dragon’s flame; the practice dummy that had been struggling to regain its footing dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.
Harry stepped back from its still form, sheathed his sword, and braced his hands against his thighs. His lungs were trying to pull in air like bellows as he panted through the protective facemask of his helmet.
“Good, good,” Grandad praised, pushing off from the wall and approaching. “Very well done.”
Harry’s grandad, Aster Evans, was a tall, powerfully built man in spite of having just celebrated his sixty-ninth birthday the previous winter. He had prominent, leonine features with a patrician nose. His auburn hair, which was liberally streaked with grey, was worn long and tied back in a half-tail, while his beard and mustache were close-cropped.
“Thanks,” Harry gasped, reaching up to remove his helmet. His muscles were trembling with exhaustion and his face was shining with sweat.
“You’d better drink this and take a cool down lap,” Grandad informed him, presenting him with an un-stoppered bottled of bright green electrolyte mix.
Harry pulled a face, but took a sip anyway. No matter what they tried to mix in to improve the flavor, it always tasted like a piece fruit that had been steeped with a used gym sock to him. In this case, sweaty citrus – yuck!
While Harry walked the circumference of the room Grandad busied himself with repairing the battle-scarred practice dummy. With a few flicks of his wand and a murmured Mending Charm both its head and hand were reattached, though with a faint discolored seam where the pieces of its neck met.
“Poor thing’s had to be fixed so many times it’s finally starting to break down and reject the Repairing Charm,” said Grandad as he sent the training dummy to return to its storage place by the salle wall. Next, he removed his watch from his trouser pocket, checked the time and said, “You had best head downstairs and start getting ready for school, Harry. Meanwhile, I’ll see what Pell-Mell has prepared us for breakfast.”
And so, while Grandad – with Fea riding along on his shoulder – headed down to the ground floor, Harry removed his protective padding and returned it and his training sword to the armory across the hall. Afterwards he headed down the central staircase to the second floor then turned down the hall towards his room which lay in the southwestern corner of Agesander Hall.
It wasn’t really his room he was interested in this morning, however. Rather it was the en-suite bathroom that was attached to it.
The tile was pleasantly cool against the soles of his bare feet as he stripped out of his t-shirt and exercise trousers, then lobbed the whole sweat soaked bundle into the laundry hamper in the corner. The icy blast of water that first emerged from the showerhead was less so, but thankfully it soon matched the temperature that he’d actually selected.
For a moment, Harry just stood there beneath the pounding spray. Letting the water knock the worse of the grime from his hair and skin through water pressure alone, but soon enough he seized a flannel and his soap and had managed to coat himself from the top of his head to between his toes in a thick layer of lather.
As he rinsed, he absently watched as the sudsy slurry whisked itself down the drain like a whirlpool in miniature. Now clean he stepped out of the shower and wiped the steam from the lenses of his spectacles, then seized a fluffy bath towel and set about scrubbing himself dry.
The face that met his in the mirror was thin with an almost delicately pointed chin and high cheekbones whose appearance was only softened by the layer of baby fat skill clinging to his bones. His jet-black hair was a flyaway mess of cowlicks and curls that refused to be tamed by anything short of a full bottle of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion, which was something he only bothered with on occasions when he had to look smart. Such as, school pictures or if he had to spend an extended amount of time with his relatives the Dursleys (and the less said about them the better).
Harry wasn’t particularly vane about his looks, but if he had to pick a favorite feature it would most likely be his bright green eyes, which were the exact same shade and shape as his mother’s, his grandad’s, and all of his other ancestors who had had the potential to someday take up the mantel of Abhorsen. His least favorite feature, however, was the thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning.
In general, Harry was rather indifferent towards his scars. They were the marks of an active life. But not this one. It was a permanent physical reminder of the night his parents had been murdered by the Dark Lord Voldemort.
In his waking hours, Harry couldn’t remember the night his parents had died. He’d been little more than a year old that Hallowe’en night, after all. But occasionally in his dreams he encountered terrifying visions of deadly green spell-light and high cold laughter.
Adding his towel to the hamper, Harry returned to his room and began pulling on his uniform, which Pell-Mell had left pressed and ready on the clothes valet by his wardrobe. Boys at Midsomer Mallow Primary School wore white shirts with a green jumper, a violet colored necktie, and grey short trousers in summer – which Harry hated because they showed his knobbly knees.
Once he finished tying the laces of his boots, Harry was out the door and making his way down the stairs to the dining hall on the ground floor.
The dining hall of Agesander Hall was a long, stately room that took up the left-hand side of the ground floor and the room was dominated by the floor to ceiling stained-glass window at the western end. The window depicted the first Abhorsen, Amarantha the Unfading, receiving the Relics of Death from the three Moira in their underworld grotto: from Aisa, she received a cloak of invisibility that would allow her to traverse the River of Death unhindered; from Clotho, she received a stone that would allow her descendants to always call upon those who had come before them for wisdom; and finally from Lachesis, she received a powerful wand that could be passed from wielder to wielder once its former master had passed beyond the Final Gate.
Like many other things around Agesander Hall, it was magical with the image it held moving as it acted out the events it portrayed much like wizarding portrait – only the window could not speak.
The second most dominate feature of the room was the long, highly polished table of some pale wood bisected the hall. However, save for a series of candelabras along its length, the table was bared except for a trio of place settings at the far end of the table. At the place set at the head of the table sat Harry’s grandad in a high-back chair. To his left was a place set before a sturdy stand with Fea perched upon it and to his right was an empty chair waiting for Harry.
“Come on, Fledgling,” Fea called. “The food will get cold if you keep lollygagging.”
Harry mentally rolled his eyes – Fea often threatened to pluck them out if he did it for real – but hurried to his seat nonetheless.
“Master Harry isn’t to be listening to naughty birdie,” squeaked Pell-Mell in her high little voice as she emerged from the kitchen with the breakfast tray levitating in the air before her.
Pell-Mell was the house-elf of Abhorsen’s Ait and was the reason that things ran like a well-oiled machine about the Hall. She was a small, yet powerful magical being with large protuberant amber eyes the size of tennis balls, toffee colored skin, and large bat-like ears that added several inches to her overall height.
With a few clicks of her spindly little fingers she had the plates magicking themselves onto the table in front of their intended recipient. Plates of poached egg, sausage, grilled tomatoes and toast with elderberry jam, which had been made from the berries of the ancient elder that grew in the front garden, settling themselves in front of Harry, his grandad, and Fea.
“As always Pell-Mell it looks delicious,” Grandad complemented the elf.
“I’s glad yous being enjoying it, Sir,” she replied, flashing them a sharp toothed grin as she gave a little curtsy then turned to make her way back into the kitchen. No doubt to see how the pots and pans were coming along with washing themselves.
As they tucked into their breakfast, Harry couldn’t help feeling a surge of gratefulness that he could stomach meat again. He had gone a full year without it once his Death Sense had come online. There was just something disconcerting about sensing how long ago the animals that provided your sausages had died the moment the meat touched your lips.
“So, are you looking forward to your last day of primary school?” Grandad asked overtop his steaming teacup.
“I’m looking forward to the end of term school trip to the zoo,” he replied honestly.
Half an hour later, Harry was peddling his bicycle to north of the river and the ait on his way to Midsomer Mallow Primary School. Privately he wishes he could fly his broomstick instead, but he understood his Grandad’s reasons for not allowing it. For one thing, witches and wizards are required by magical law to use a Disillusionment Charm if they are going to fly over non-magical areas during the day so that the Muggles don’t see them. To do otherwise was to break the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy and risk incurring heavy fines or even time in the wizarding prison of Azkaban depending on the severity of the infraction.
Harry had once asked his grandad why he couldn’t just cast the charm for him, but Grandad had countered with a simple, “And who would dispel it so that people could see you in class?”
He’d replied that he wouldn’t have minded that too much, but he’d finely relented on the whole matter when his Grandad had asked him what he would do if someone took his Scarlet Falcon racing broom from the bicycle rack out front of the school and, not knowing it was magical, decided to use it like a Muggle broom and swept the floor with it.
And so, it was a perfectly normal bicycle that Harry padlocked to the school bicycle rack before he headed into the sprawling brick building that housed Midsomer Mallow Primary School. He then took the shortest route through the meandering corridors to the room his form teacher, Miss Thropp, had instructed everyone in his class to assemble so that they could be assigned to a parent chaperone for the school trip.
“Alright everybody, quiet down. Quiet down,” Miss Thropp called from the front of the room. She was a tall woman, who was more handsome than pretty, with long inky black hair and dark eyes. She waited until the worst of the ruckus had tapered off before going on to say, “I shall be dividing everyone up into four groups of five and one group of six. When you hear me call your name please get up and join your chaperone at the front of the room. I would like you to introduce yourself to them so that they’ll know what you look like and which name they’re supposed to be shouting when one of you inevitably wanders off.”
This drew a weak round of giggles from the students and rather anemic smiles from the assembled parents.
“Now then,” Miss Thropp went on. “Group One will be with Cully Barnaby’s mother –” she gestured to Mrs. Barnaby, who was a slim woman with the same blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes as her daughter – “and the group will be made up of Cully Barnaby, of course, as well as Harry Potter…” Harry got to his feet and join the mother and daughter at the front of the room.
They were joined by the quiet big boned girl who often sat near the back of the room.
“And Cassie and Noel Woods,” Miss Thropp finished, allowing for the Woods twins to make their way to the front of the room before she began calling out the names for Group Two.
Harry liked Cassie well enough. She was a bit of a tomboy with her chestnut hair in a pair of messy plaits and her knees perpetually scabby with scrapes. Her brother Noel was another matter entirely.
As far as Harry was concerned the other boy was a ruddy sneak. He’d act all polite and well-mannered with grown-ups – like he was with Mrs. Barnaby, introducing himself with a cherubic smile and a “Pleased to meet you.” – then he’d just as soon as put a tack in someone’s seat or a frog in the teacher’s desk and then find a way for someone else to get in trouble for his joke.
Then again, Harry mused watching as a girl with honey-blonde hair was sorted into Group Three. At least I’m not going to have to hang around Lynn Morris all day.
If Noel Woods was the class jokester, then Lynn Morris was the class bully. And she was just as sly about it as Noel was his pranks. She could put on a sweet smile, but it never reached her cool blue eyes, and it was best to never let her catch you alone in the coatroom if you had crossed her.
Twenty minutes later, after everyone had made one last stop by the loo, they were all loaded up on the bus that would be taking them to Chessington Zoo. For the ride Group One settled near the middle of the bus with Rachael and Cully sharing a pair of seats on the left-hand side of the aisle with the Woods twins in the row front of them. While Harry was left to share the adjacent row with Mrs. Barnaby, who was nice enough to let Harry have the window seat.
While the bus made its way along the motorway the members of Group One began chatting about the secondary school they would be attending come September. Cully, Rachael, Cassie, and Noel would all be going Causton Comprehensive the local secondary school in the county town.
“Do you know where you’ll be attending secondary school, Harry?” asked Mrs. Barnaby, when he didn’t say anything. She seemed like a kind and thoughtful sort of a grown-up to Harry.
“I won’t know for sure until I get my acceptance letter this summer,” Harry admitted, “but the plan is for me to go to a private school in Scotland.”
“But that’s so far away,” Cully exclaimed across the aisle her eyes going very wide. “Won’t you get homesick?”
Harry could only shrug in response.
Sure, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a long way away from Abhorsen’s Ait, but the benefit would out weight cost in his mind. He found it hard to make friends amongst his Muggle classmates because he was always having to omit bits and pieces of his life since they weren’t allowed to know about magic or the wizarding world.
Thankfully, the conversation turned toward everyone’s plans for the upcoming summer holidays and the rest of ride to the zoo was relatively peaceful.
They had optimal weather for their school trip to the zoo. The sky was a forget-me-not blue with the occasional large fluffy cloud drifting along like a clump of fairy floss. The zoo was also fairly crowded for a weekday with groups of children from at least a half a dozen other schools in attendance if the different uniforms were anything to go by.
Miss Thropp passed out clipboards and a worksheet for everyone to complete as a bit of a last-minute extra credit assignment.
“Pick one animal you encounter today and write down as many facts about it as you can,” she told them. “I would also like for you to make a small sketch of the animal as well – workers at the zoo, classmates, or your chaperone do not count as animals.
“We will all meet back up at the Zufari Restaurant near the entrance to the Trail of the Kings for lunch at noon. And finally,” she went on, eyeing everyone sharply. “while I shan’t ask you to abstain from going on any rides I shall ask that you don’t go on the Dragon Falls flume ride without a rain poncho.”
And so, with that parting remark all of the groups split up and went their own separate ways.
Group One, with Mrs. Barnaby manning the zoo map, headed first to Penguin Bay where they spent a good half an hour watching South American Humboldt penguins swim through the water of their habitat like they were flying. Then they headed over to the children’s zoo where they were allowed to interact with African pygmy goats, chickens, Kunekune pigs, and sheep.
The Woods twins seemed to find the children’s zoo rather boring as their parents owned their own farm, but Cully and Rachael seemed to enjoy feeding the goats some little pellets that Mrs. Barnaby bought from a dispenser. Even Harry was ready to admit that the pygmy goats were sort of cute in their own smelly sort of way – though he still thought that their sideways pupils were kind of creepy.
To make up for the Woods twins’ boredom with the farm animals, Mrs. Barnaby allow everyone to go on the Scorpion Express rollercoaster next. Harry thought that the ride was almost as fun as flying on his broomstick.
All in all, Harry found himself enjoying the school trip. The girls were nice enough company; none of them were the sort to be obsessed with make-up or pink or other frilly girly stuff that had Harry convinced that cooties were in fact a real thing no matter what his Grandad said. And even Noel hadn’t been too bad since Mrs. Barnaby had managed to pluck him off of the back of the sheep he’d been about to try and ride around the pen like miniature horse.
At noon they met up with the rest of their classmates at the zoo restaurant for lunch and Harry chose the vegetarian option since it was best to never learn how long the meat in a fast food burger had been dead.
After lunch they walked along the Trail of the Kings where they saw a pair of Sumatran tigers, a couple of Asiatic lions, and a family of gorillas.
That one looks just like my cousin, Dudley, Harry thought as he finished his sketch of a rather large gorilla who was scratching its head. The only real difference is that it isn’t blond.
From the gorilla enclosure they headed to the Creepy Caves Reptile House and that was where the otherwise perfect day decided to take a turn for the weird.
While Mrs. Barnaby, the girls and Noel walked without a care in the world into cool dark building with its rows of lit windows, Harry lingered near the entrance feeling rather reluctant about following them. His reluctance had nothing to do with the animals housed in the exhibit, but rather with the fact that wizards weren’t supposed to do things that were obviously not normal in front of Muggles. And in Harry’s experience it was not normal for snakes to begin speaking the Queen’s English instead of hissing and making other snaky noises.
But maybe they won’t notice, Harry thought hopefully as Mrs. Barnaby and the girls cooed over a terrarium near the door that was full of brightly colored poison arrow frogs. After all, the building was quite crowded and there was no way they could know for sure that any voices they heard were from the snakes and not from one of the other zoo patrons.
“What’s the matter Potter? Scared of a few the ickle snakies?” Noel sneered at him from the other side of the entrance way. There was an unpleasant gleam in his muddy brown eyes and Harry was sure that if he said, “yes,” that the other boy would have found a way to ensure that a snake – rubber or otherwise – would have found a way into his seat for the bus ride back to school.
Instead, Harry shot the larger boy a smile with far too many teeth to be called in anyway friendly and said breezily, “No, are you?”
Then, before Noel could respond, Harry hurried a long to rejoin the rest of Group One as a wave of low hissing voices began to call out to him from the lit windows along the wall.
As Group One meandered through the reptile house, Cully and Cassie chattered with disgusted glee about the huge, venomous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons that were on display. Meanwhile, Rachael went in search of the largest snake in the building.
“It’s big enough that it could wrap itself twice around my Dad’s car and crush it,” she whispered in awe, staring at the serpent’s glistening coils.
Harry supposed that the snake was big enough that it could have crushed Rachael’s Dad’s car – but at the moment it didn’t seem to be in the mood to crush anything. In fact, judging by the faint snores Harry could hear emerging from behind the glass, it was fast asleep.
“Do you think it would move if you tapped the glass, Mrs. Barnaby,” Rachael asked. Mrs. Barnaby looked a bit uncertain about attempting to disturb the snake, but lightly tapped the glass anyway.
The snake didn’t budge.
“Try again, Mum,” said Cully, as she and the Woods twins joined them. Mrs. Barnaby, indulging her daughter, gave the glass a slightly firmer rap, but the snake just continued to snooze on.
“Ah, just leave it, Rachael,” huffed Cassie, dismissively. “The monitor lizard’s playing in its pool!”
“All right, the snake’s boring anyway,” declared Rachael, turning to follow her friends over to where a large monitor lizard was moving about in its enclosure.
Now alone, Harry moved in front of the window that separated him and the enormous snake from each other and looked at the animal intently. Honestly, he wouldn’t have been surprised if the snake itself had died of boredom – trapped as it was in such a small enclosure with no company except for people plastering their snotty noses against the window to its home all day long.
Suddenly, the snake stopped snoring and yawned widely, giving Harry a good view of the line of backwards facing fangs along the roof of its large mouth. Next, it began to move and slowly lift up its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry’s. It was then, after staring Harry in the eyes for a moment, that something very unexpected happened – the snakes wide mouth curled up at the corners in what could only be described as a fanged parody of a human smile.
Harry looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching – they weren’t – and turned back to the snake and smiled as well.
The snake jerked its head towards Rachael Rose and the other girls, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. The look it leveled at Harry next said quite plainly: “I get that all the time.”
“I figured,” Harry murmured to the snake through the glass. “It must be so annoying.”
The snake nodded its head vigorously.
“So where to you come from, anyway?” Harry asked curiously.
The snake jabbed its glistening brown tail at the little sign next to its window. Harry adjusted his glasses, which had begun to slide down his nose, and looked at it. It read: Boa Constrictor, Brazil.”
“So, you were born in Brazil then,” Harry asked, turning back to the snake, “Was it nice there?”
The boa jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harry read on: This specimen was bred in captivity.
“Oh, I see,” said Harry. “You’re more of a British Boa Constrictor, then?”
The snake had just begun to wriggle its coils in a fair mimicry of a shrug when a deafening shout from behind Harry made the both of them jump, “Cassie! Mrs. Barnaby! Everybody! You’ve got to come and look at this snake! You won’t believe what it’s doing!”
There was a sudden rushing sound and a large group of people stampeded towards the Boa Constrictor’s window. Caught by surprise, Harry was knocked to the side and it was only long hours of training that allowed him to curl his body in a way that prevented his head from being bounced off the hard cement floor like a ball. What happened next occurred so fast that no one was able to say exactly what happened – one second, the crowd of people were leaning right up close to the glass, the next they had all leapt back with cries of horror.
Harry craned his neck to see what had happened, then winced: the glass front of the boa constrictor’s enclosure had vanished into thin air and the enormous snake began to swiftly uncoil itself out onto the floor. Throughout the reptile house people began to scream and run for the exits.
The snake slithered quickly up to Harry and tipped its great head in a rather refined bow.
“Thanksss, my friend,” it – no, she – hissed at him, then she began to slide swiftly away with a cry of, “Brazil, here I come…!”
The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.
“But the glass,” he kept saying, as though that would make it reappear, “where did the glass go?”
It wasn’t long before Group One and the rest of Miss Thropp’s students were bustled back onto the bus and making their way back to Midsomer Mallow. The zoo director himself had apologized to Miss Thropp and all of Group One before they’d got back on the bus and Harry had been left feeling awkward indeed when the man had suggested that the First Aid Attendant should check him over for injuries before they went. As for the rest of Group One, they could only gibber. As far as Harry had seen, the snake hadn’t done anything except snap playfully at their heels as she passed, but by the time they were back on the bus, Noel was telling anyone who would listen about how the snake had nearly bitten off his leg, while Rachael was squealing that it had tried to squeeze her to death. Thankfully no one commented on the fact that Harry had been the one standing by the boa constrictor’s tank when she’d escaped.
Once he was back at Midsomer Mallow Primary School Harry seized his bicycle from the rack in front of the building and began to make his way back home. Peddling like mad the whole way. He needed to get to the ait as fast as possible and warn his Grandad that they could probably be expecting an owl from the Ministry of Magic for a breach of the Statute of Secrecy. However, adrenaline could only carry a body so far and Harry could feel himself flagging by the time he reached the riverbank.
Slipping from the seat of the bicycle he began walking it along the riverbank until he reached the crossing point to Abhorsen’s Ait, which was marked by an ancient oak tree with a hollowed-out trunk.
It wasn’t the tree that would allow Harry to cross the river, however; but, what was stored with the oak’s hollow. And so, Harry extracted the tightly rolled up area rug he’d stuffed into the tree that morning and began rolling it out on the riverbank.
The rug was actually a rather valuable magical artifact in spite of the fact that it was regularly stuffed within the hollowed-out trunk of a tree. It was also quite beautiful as well with a hand-knotted design of a flower centered within a diamond that was surrounded by curved leaves in rich reds, yellows, and blues.
Once the rug had been fully rolled out, Harry laid his bicycle across the front half of it, then seated himself on the center most diamond of the rug’s pattern. Once settled he said, “All right carpet: up, up, up and away!”
The magic carpet gave a small shudder, then began to rise slowly into the air. As always, Harry couldn’t help grinning whenever he had a chance to fly. After the carpet had risen a meter off of the ground Harry leaned his weight forward. The carpet gave a small shiver and began to fly smoothly across the river towards the Ait.
Sadly, the flight to the ait took only a few moments and in no time at all Harry directing the carpet to the small landing pad located on the northern side of the ait.
“Whoa carpet,” Harry called once the carpet was directly over the circular patch of white gravel that served at the carpet’s landing zone. “Down, down, down we go,” he directed the rug and it gently settled itself down on the ait’s beach.
Once on the ground, Harry wheeled his bicycle off of the magic carpet into a nearby copse of trees so that it wouldn’t be easily seen from the bank of the river, then he returned to the carpet and began rolling it back up.
As soon as the magic carpet was rolled up Harry hoisted it up onto one of his shoulders and started off down the flagstone path to Agesander Hall – it was never a good idea to leave magical objects just laying around after all.
When he arrived at the Hall, Harry was greeted by Pell-Mell, who helped him settled the rolled-up carpet in the broom cupboard just off to the right of the foyer.
“Pelly do you know if Grandad’s busy?” Harry asked the house-elf, hoping he didn’t sound as nervous as he felt.
Judging by the piercing look Pell-Mell gave him he hadn’t succeeded.
“Abhorsen is being in his study, Master Harry,” she informed him, then she said, “He received an owl earlier.”
Harry felt his stomach drop. He’d been hoping for a chance to explain what had happened at the zoo without a Ministry of Magic letter thrown into the mix.
He wasn’t too worried about getting into trouble because of a bit of accidental magic. After accidental magic was just that – an accident, but it was still a bit embarrassing that it was basically his fault that the school trip had had to end early.
Harry’s grandad was indeed in his study on the second floor. A room of wall to wall bookcases filled with a wide array of grimoires from around the world and throughout history: from leather bound tomes to papyrus scrolls and everything in between.
While Fea was lounging on her stand, Grandad was seated at the dragon desk examining a letter that had no doubt been delivered by the fierce looking eagle owl perched upon one of the carved wooden dragonheads that gave the desk its name.
There was an especially grave look on the older wizard’s face when he finally set the letter aside and looked up at Harry.
Unable to quell his curiosity Harry couldn’t help asking what the letter was about. His grandad was very tolerant of Harry’s near endless questions and rarely refused to answer. Even when he did he would generally give a reason for not doing so.
“It’s from the Ministry of Magic in Germany,” Grandad replied. “There have been signs of a possible Mordaunt roaming about the Black Forest – animals and people in some of the remote villages found dead with no apparent cause of death. They’ve requested that I come and check things out as soon as possible.”
It was a familiar conversation between the two of them. Harry’s grandad’s duties as Abhorsen often required him to go and deal with the Dead outside of Great Britain and Harry was fairly sure he knew what was coming next.
“I am so sorry about this, Harry,” Grandad said solemnly. “You know I had hoped we would be able to spend the whole summer together since you’ll be going off to Hogwarts in September, but the Ministry has asked that I make my way to the Black Forest as soon as possible.”
Harry found himself nodding absently. He had hoped they would have the entire summer together, too.
“Do you know how long you’ll be gone for?” he asked.
Grandad could only shake his head.
“There’s no telling,” he said. “Even by magical means travel in western Europe is still difficult. It could take me a week just to get there. Never mind how long it could take me to track whatever sort of Dead thing this is.”
Grandad shot Harry an uncomfortable look.
“You know this means you’ll have to stay with your Aunt Petunia, don’t you?”
“I figured,” said Harry, trying hard not to sound as putout by the idea as he was. Judging by the look on his grandad’s face he hadn’t succeeded.
Harry spent his evening packing his trunk with what he would need for a summer with the Dursleys: clothes, toiletries, his training sword, and plenty of books that his magic phobic uncle hopefully wouldn’t find too offensive if he spotted him reading one.
With his trunk packed and ready at the foot of his bed Harry climbed beneath his cream-colored sheets and navy colored summer duvet. He hoped that a summer with the Dursleys wouldn’t be too bad, but he wasn’t holding his breath.