Harry closed his History of Magic book with a satisfied snap. It was nearly midnight on 30th July, and he'd just finished all his holiday homework, leaving him with a whole month of freedom. He wasn't quite sure what to do with himself, to tell the truth.
For the first time in his life, the Dursleys had been leaving Harry alone over the summer. Instead of making him do chores all day, he'd mostly been ignored, which he greatly enjoyed. He had no doubt that this was mostly due to Narcissa threatening the Dursleys on the two occasions she'd met them, and resolved to pass along his thanks the next time he wrote to Draco.
Harry felt a pang of loneliness when he thought of Draco. Sure, he may have been exchanging regular letters with his friends this year, but it wasn't the same as seeing them, and he missed Draco most of all.
Shortly after arriving back at Privet Drive, Harry had received a letter from Draco that contained a cut out article from the Daily Prophet. Lucius Malfoy had been convicted of knowingly disseminating a cursed object with intent to murder, and had been sentenced to five years in Azkaban. Draco's letter had sounded fairly upbeat under the circumstances, but he hadn't been writing as often as Harry had expected he would. He didn't want to admit it, but he was worried about Draco. It couldn't be easy having a father who'd nearly caused the death of both of your best friends.
Harry's thoughts were interrupted by an owl flying in through his open window. It wasn't one he recognised, and it took off as soon as he'd removed its letter and fed it an owl treat. He opened the letter curiously.
Sorry it took me so long to reply – but I'm in Egypt! Dad won the Daily Prophet Draw and so we've all come over to visit Bill. He's my eldest brother, and he's a curse breaker for Gringotts working over here for a while. He's shown us all the tombs and they're so cool. All sorts of curses on them. Mum said I was too young to go in the last one, but the twins and I convinced Bill to show me around after she'd gone off to look at some market place. There were skeletons in there that had been messed up by curses – some of them had two heads! Those old Egyptians sure knew how to protect their treasure!
Hope you're having a good summer. Hermione says it's your birthday soon, so happy birthday too!
PS. No, I haven't gotten possessed again. Very funny.
PPS. Although I wouldn't admit it if I had, would I?
PPPS. I think I will try out for the Quidditch team. I've been flying with my brothers and some local kids. My brother Charlie's been giving me tips on flying as a Seeker. You better watch out next season!
PPPPS. The twins say hello.
Harry laughed as he put Ginny's letter down. He was glad she was having a good summer. Her first year at Hogwarts hadn't been much fun as she'd been possessed for nearly half of it, and he thought she deserved a nice holiday. And it sounded like he might finally get to fly against a Gryffindor Seeker who could give him a challenge.
Another owl flew through the window, clutching a letter and large parcel. Like the first, it didn't hang around, and Harry opened the letter alone. It was his book list from Hogwarts, and a permission slip for him to visit Hogsmeade. Harry looked at the permission slip thoughtfully. While the Dursleys hadn't mistreated him this summer, he didn't think the new truce they had would extend to either his aunt or uncle signing this. This would take some work.
He put the paper down and picked up the parcel. The messy scrawl on the front was from Hagrid. He started to unwrap it but froze when whatever was inside moved. Coming from Hagrid, that couldn't be good. Especially when it sounded very much like a set of jaws snapping shut.
Harry looked around his room before his eyes landed on Hedwig's empty cage. Harry shoved the parcel inside and shut the door. He eyed it suspiciously as it continued to move. He grabbed a ruler and a pair of scissors off his desk and awkwardly prised one corner of the wrapping paper up.
Harry was suddenly very happy he'd put the parcel in the cage. As soon as he'd lifted up part of the wrapping, the entire parcel had burst open, revealing a dark green book. The Monster Book of Monsters was written across the cover in golden writing. It lunged forward and bit at the bars of the cage. Harry pulled one of his old robes out of his school trunk and threw it over the cage, and the book fell silent. He picked up the card Hagrid had sent along.
Think you might find this useful for next year. Won't say no more here. Tell you when I see you.
Hope the Muggles are treating you right.
All the best,
“Useful? That?” Harry muttered. With a sinking feeling, he grabbed his book list. Sure enough, The Monster Book of Monsters was on it. Harry frowned at the still silent owl cage. If it was a school book, there had to be a way to render it readable. No one would assign a book that couldn't be read to school kids.
Harry grinned. Now he had something to do for the rest of the summer: figure out how to get his permission slip signed, and figure out how to turn his book into a book he could use. If only Hermione was here. If anyone knew the trick behind a book like this, it would be her. But she was in France, and might not have even gotten her book list yet.
Harry had just resolved to pull his robe off the cage to have a closer look at the book when he heard a familiar hoot behind him. Soaring through the window were Hedwig and Thoth. Both of them were carrying parcels, and looked pleased with themselves as they landed on his bed. When he'd untied their packages, Hedwig made to fly over to her cage and stopped when she saw it was covered. She turned large, accusing eyes on Harry.
“Shit, sorry Hedwig. Here,” Harry said. He gave both owls a treat, then pushed forward the glass of water on his bedside table. Hedwig clicked her beak in reproval as she walked over to have a drink. “I'll show you what's in your cage in a minute,” Harry said as he opened the letter she'd carried, which turned out to be from Hermione.
Happy birthday! I was worrying I wouldn't be able to send you your present on time; the French use pigeons instead of owls, which I'm not sure about. But then Hedwig turned up completely unexpectedly. It doesn't seem very long since she delivered your last letter, I didn't think she'd get back to France so soon. I think she just wanted to make sure you got a birthday present on time for once.
I found your present in a Muggle shop. I'm fairly certain it's authentic, as the tour wasn't that long ago, but I'm not sure. The sales boy was certainly enthusiastic about it, but then he would be in order to make a sale...
I'm still enjoying France, thank you for asking, but I'm not sure you would. There's so much fascinating history here that I've had to completely re-write my essay for Binns to fit it all in, but I know what you're like with that class. You'd like the food, though.
I'll be back in England in the last week of August. Do you want to meet up in Diagon Alley sometime that week? Otherwise, I'll see you at King's Cross on 1st September.
Harry opened the parcel to find a black Pearl Jam t-shirt folded neatly. Under the band name was a stylised picture of some melted candles, and the back contained snatches of lyrics from Black. “Thanks Hermione!” exclaimed Harry as he held it up to check the size. He set it back on the bed and picked up the letter from Draco.
Thank you for the belated birthday present. I'm sure one year, you'll manage to remember in time. This habit of yours of missing it due to fighting the Dark Lord is getting annoying, you prat.
Harry snorted. Last year, he'd been unconscious in the hospital wing on Draco's birthday. This year he'd been possessed by Riddle's diary for months before it, and had forgotten about it altogether. Trust Draco to make it sound deliberate.
Late or not, that linguistics book has given me a few ideas of areas I should look into. I have no doubt that soon I'll be a better Parselmouth than you are.
My holiday has turned out to be quite interesting, despite my earlier doubts. I mean, I love Mother, but I thought we'd get sick of each other fairly quickly with just the two of us. But she's taken me to meet her side of the family, whom I'd never even heard of before. I have a cousin! She's seven years older than us, and is a trainee Auror. She's pretty cool, especially for a Hufflepuff.
It's weird not having my father around, but I expect I'll get used to it. Mother is handling everything very well, of course. Although, if I'm completely honest, she's formed a very strange relationship with Dobby. I know he was weird before he was free, but I think he's certifiably insane now. Mother seems to find it all adorable or some nonsense and usually lets him do whatever he wants. But I'll tell you more about that when I see you in person.
I'm still hoping that Mother will change her mind and let you come visit, but even I have to admit it's not likely. If she's not with me or her sister, she's attending Ministry functions or performing charity work. When she goes out she usually leaves me with my aunt and uncle, which is fine, but I wish she'd, well, I'll tell you in person. Mother is taking me to the Continent for the next few weeks. She won't tell me where, exactly, but it sounds like we'll be moving around a lot. So I won't be able to write to you until we return to England. Maybe when we return you can come visit. Hermione will be back not long before me, so we could all meet up in Diagon Alley.
I hope you enjoy your birthday present. It's holly, like your wand. My cousin tried to convince me you'd prefer it in hot pink, so please tell me I'm right about the colour so I can shut her up.
I miss you,
PS. If the Muggles are mistreating you despite Mother's threats, remember that revenge is a fun, time-honoured pastime, and I'm always happy to help you out with ideas.
Harry frowned briefly at the letter then shrugged. There was something odd about it that he couldn't quite put his finger on, but it was past one o'clock. He could figure it out in the morning. He opened the present instead.
Draco had gotten him a hand-carved easel. There was a card from the maker attached to it, promising that it would fold to fit into any bag or case, and would automatically position itself in the best light for the artist's needs. Harry ran his hand over the polished wood before he carefully folded it up. As promised, it folded up far smaller than he would have thought, taking up nearly no space in his school trunk. He put the letters and his History of Magic work in there, checked he hadn't missed anything, and then locked it and put the key under his loose floor board. Just because the Dursleys were too scared to lock all his possessions in the cupboard under the stairs didn't mean that Dudley wouldn't come in and steal or break anything.
Harry changed his pyjama top for his new t-shirt. It was a little big, but unlike Dudley's old clothes, he should grow into it just fine. He walked over to Hedwig's cage and lifted the robe off it. As soon as he did so, the book started shuffling around and biting the bars. Hedwig and Thoth stared at it.
“I'll sort it out in the morning, and then you can have your cage back,” he said apologetically. Hedwig gave him a distinctly unimpressed look and settled down on his headboard to sleep.
Thank you for the present, it's fantastic. Your cousin is definitely wrong about the colour, though. You were right, as usual. Happy? But seriously, don't ever buy me anything in bright pink. Not only is that not my thing, you know Pansy would end up making me give it to her.
I miss you too, but don't bug your mum too much. The Dursleys have been surprisingly nice to me so far. At least by their standards. Have fun on your trip.
Harry gave the letter to Thoth and carried him to the window before finally going to bed.
Harry's hopes for the week were dashed when he joined the Dursleys for breakfast. They ignored him like they had been all summer, and he settled down to watch the news on the new TV they'd put in the kitchen for Dudley. A story about an escaped convict was ending with an appeal for information.
“Of course he's a criminal, just look at the state of his hair,” Uncle Vernon said angrily, giving half a glance at Harry before thinking better of it.
Harry just smiled into his cornflakes. Mr Malfoy had always been perfectly groomed whenever Harry had seen him, but that hadn't saved him from being sentenced to Azkaban.
Uncle Vernon finished his breakfast and stood up. “I'll be off now, Petunia. Marge's train will be getting in soon.”
Harry's head shot up. “Aunt Marge is coming here?”
Uncle Vernon glared at him before making a visible effort to restrain himself. “Marge'll be here for a week. And while she's here,” he paused to take a deep breath, “I want no funny business from you.”
“Wouldn't dream of it,” Harry murmured, thinking fast.
Uncle Vernon looked at him suspiciously but nodded. “I've told her you board at St Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. You'll be going along with that story while she's here.”
“Fine,” Harry said.
Uncle Vernon nodded. Harry could tell he wanted to threaten Harry like he used to, but Narcissa's threats were clearly well remembered.
Uncle Vernon kissed Aunt Petunia on the cheek and asked Dudley if he wanted to join him.
“No,” Dudley said without taking his eyes off the TV, which he'd now switched over to cartoons.
Uncle Vernon lumbered off into the hallway. Harry sat at the table for a few seconds before he shot off after him.
“I'm not taking you,” Uncle Vernon said.
Harry snorted. “And here I was looking forward to it. I just want to make a deal with you.”
“Third years at, er, my school are allowed to visit the village. If they have a signed permission slip.”
Uncle Vernon smiled nastily. “So? That woman never mentioned anything about us having to sign things for you.”
Harry smiled. “No, but she did tell you that she wanted you all to leave me alone. And that she expected me to write to Draco regularly.”
“So?” Uncle Vernon ground out.
“So, I'll play along with your little story for you, as long as I'm left alone as much as possible, and you sign the form.”
“Marge will expect to see you,” Uncle Vernon replied.
“At dinner, then. One hour a day. The rest of it, I'm to be left alone. Tell her I have a summer job, because I won't be in the house,” Harry said firmly. “I'll sort out my other meals.”
Uncle Vernon narrowed his eyes. “How do we explain that owl of yours?”
Harry shrugged. “Tell her that boys at St Brutus's get given animals to look after as some sort of rehabilitation or something.”
“Fine. You stay out of the way, except for dinners at which you'll behave yourself. In return, you can keep the bird and I'll sign your form.”
Harry ran up the stairs and grabbed his trunk key from under the floor. He quickly took out his Muggle money, Walkman, and a sketchpad and pencil, and threw them all into a backpack. He double checked the trunk was locked again before he pocketed the key. Hedwig was watching his activity with interest.
“I can't give you your cage back just yet,” Harry said as he stroked her. “I'll be back at dinnertime, and I'll do it then.”
Hedwig gave him an affectionate nip before settling back down to sleep. Harry made sure she had water before shutting the door and heading down the stairs. Dudley hadn't moved from the breakfast table, and was now watching music videos as Aunt Petunia fussed around in the kitchen.
Harry quietly slipped out the front door and walked up Privet Drive quickly, heading in the opposite direction to the train station. It was a nice enough day, and he figured he could just hang out in a park until he had to come back home.
Luckily for Harry the weather stayed nice for the whole week. He would get up before dawn, swipe a few pieces of fruit from the kitchen and head out the door while the rest of the house slept. He made sure to stay away from places he knew Dudley and his gang liked to hang out in. He visited the library a few times, but mostly stayed in parks, listening to music and drawing. One day he visited the field behind the high school, and was pleased to find the grass snake he'd met last year. She was quite a bit bigger now, and spent a while telling him happily of all the small animals she had found to eat in the field.
Not even the dreaded dinners were as horrible as Harry had been expecting. The Dursleys were still scared of Narcissa's threats, so instead of encouraging Aunt Marge to criticise Harry, they changed the subject instead. Aunt Marge's bulldog, Ripper, still growled at Harry whenever he moved, but after facing a basilisk, Harry found him far less scary than he had previously.
All in all, Harry classified the week as a success. On the last day he even decided to dip into his Muggle money and treated himself to the new Nirvana tape he'd been hearing about.
His good mood even extended into helping Aunt Petunia with dinner. After two years of Potions, soup was something he could make with his eyes shut.
He should have known it was all too good to last.
In honour of Aunt Marge's last night at Privet Drive, Uncle Vernon had broken out a large bottle of brandy over dessert. He and Aunt Marge were working through it quite quickly, and Aunt Marge in particular was growing very red – and very talkative.
“So, Vernon, you never told me what it is the boy does at work,” she declared.
“I didn't?” Uncle Vernon stalled. “Well, he's, ah, working at a factory. All manual labour, lugging boxes, that sort of thing.”
Aunt Marge turned her beady eyes on Harry. “Manual labour? You don't look like you're working very hard, then. Weedy little thing. I bet you've been slacking off, haven't you.”
“I haven't had any complaints,” Harry said sullenly.
“Don't take that tone with me, boy,” she growled.
“I'm sure it's fine,” Aunt Petunia said nervously.
“Fine? Pah! Look at him!” Aunt Marge gulped down her brandy and held her glass out for a refill. “No muscle on him. Still, that could just be genetics. You get it with dogs, sometimes you just can't train them properly if there's something wrong with the bitch.”
“There was nothing wrong with my mum!” Harry snapped. The dishes started to rattle ominously, making the Dursleys flinch.
Aunt Marge ignored it, smirking at Harry. “She was a disgrace to her family, marrying that Potter.”
“She was a good person and you never knew her so just SHUT UP!” Harry yelled.
“A good person? She married a drunk and died in a car crash – probably their own fault – dumping you here!” snarled Aunt Marge.
“She wasn't a drunk! You seem to be, though,” snapped Harry.
Aunt Marge swelled with anger. “You rude little worm, if you'd been dumped on my doorstep it would've been straight to an orphanage with you!”
“Living in an orphanage would be more fun than living with you, you ignorant old woman!” shouted Harry.
Aunt Marge clambered to her feet with a red face as Ripper growled from beneath the table. “Ignorant? Me? I –” she stopped with a look of confusion as she continued to swell. “Vernon?” she asked in a completely different voice.
Uncle Vernon looked at her in alarm as a button popped off her suddenly too-tight blazer. It whizzed through the air, quickly followed by the rest. One of them smacked Dudley in the forehead, and he gave a small whimper as he climbed under the table.
Uncle Vernon glared at Harry. “What are you doing to her?”
“I'm not doing anything,” Harry said. Not intentionally, he added silently.
“VERNON!” bellowed Aunt Marge as she began to rise off the floor. Ripper started barking furiously as Uncle Vernon tried to grab her arm.
He eventually got hold of her calf, as she was by now bobbing against the ceiling, moving slowly towards the open patio doors. Ripper stopped barking long enough to clamp his jaws down onto Uncle Vernon's ankle, making him bellow in pain.
“Stop it!” Aunt Petunia shrieked at Harry.
Harry ignored her and rushed upstairs into his room. He grabbed his trunk key from under the floorboard, took his wand out of the trunk and locked it again. Apart from Hedwig's cage, which still had the Monster Book of Monsters trapped in it, all his possessions were already in his trunk.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Harry swore: Hedwig was still out hunting.
Hoping she'd be able to find him, wherever he ended up, Harry dragged the trunk and cage downstairs. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were waiting for him in the hallway.
“You're not going anywhere until you fix her, boy!” Uncle Vernon growled.
“Like hell I'm not,” snarled Harry, and brandished his wand. “I'm leaving. You can sort the bitch out yourself. She had it coming.”
“NO!” Harry screamed. The glass in the front door shattered and Aunt Petunia screamed as she ran back into the kitchen.
Uncle Vernon took a step towards Harry, but stopped when red sparks shot out of Harry's wand.
“I'll see you next summer,” Harry said with a sneer before storming out into the night, slamming the door behind him.
Harry walked quickly through the dark streets, swearing under his breath. Occasionally he'd hear Aunt Marge screaming as she floated far above, and he smiled grimly.
He came to a stop on Magnolia Crescent and sat down on a low brick fence as he took stock of his situation. He had a bag of Galleons, but only had a few Muggle pounds left on him, and he bitterly regretted wasting money on a tape now. He might be able to get a bus to London, or at least part of the way, and then make his way to Diagon Alley where he could go to Gringotts, but the buses wouldn't be running until the morning.
At the thought of Diagon Alley he felt a small trickle of fear. Surely the Ministry would be looking for him? Last year they'd sent an owl almost immediately after Dobby's levitation charm. Tonight he'd not only used magic out of Hogwarts, he'd used it in front of a Muggle. He'd be expelled for sure, if not arrested. He looked up and down the street suddenly, half expecting Aurors to Apparate next to him.
He didn't see anyone, but he did feel like someone was watching him. Ignoring the voice in his head – which sounded exactly like Draco – that told him he was being paranoid, he lit his wand. He swept it around him in a slow circle, peering into the shadows.
He caught sight of something very large, with bared teeth, standing in the driveway in front of him. Surely that thing was too big to be a dog? He took a step backward and tripped over his trunk, putting his hands out in front of him as he landed hard in the gutter.
There was a loud bang and a sudden flare of light. Harry yelled inarticulately as he scrambled out of the gutter and looked up. Parked in front of him was a bright purple triple-decker bus. As Harry stared at it, a conductor in a matching purple uniform stepped out and began to address the night.
“Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and –”
The speech came to a sudden stop when Stan looked down and saw Harry sprawled on the ground. Harry quickly got to his feet and brushed himself down.
“What 'choo down there for?”
“Tying my shoelace,” Harry said sarcastically.
“Right then, you want a lift or not?” Stan asked.
“Can you take me to the Leaky Cauldron?” Harry asked.
“Course we can,” Stan said in an injured tone. “We can take you anywhere, we can, 'cept underwater. Eleven Sickles, firteen if you're wantin' 'ot chocolate, fifteen for a-”
“I'm fine, just, er, just the trip, thanks,” Harry muttered, fishing out a Galleon. Stan counted out his change and then ushered him up the stairs, picking up his trunk and owl cage. “Er, don't lift that up,” Harry said when he saw Stan trying to peer under the robe still covering the cage.
Stan lowered the cage. “You wouldn't be carrying nothing illegal now, would you?”
“Of course not,” Harry said.
“What 'choo say your name was?” Stan said suspiciously.
“Theo Nott,” Harry said quickly, glancing out of the bus door to where he'd seen the dog.
Stan followed his gaze. “'Choo looking at?”
“Nothing. Sorry to hold you up,” Harry muttered. He looked down the bus. Instead of seats, the passengers seemed to be reclining on beds, and the driver was sitting in an arm chair.
“Right 'choo are, Theo,” Stan said. He put Harry's things behind the driver's seat and gestured to the closest bed. “This is you. This is our driver, Ernie Prang. Ern, this is Theo Nott.” The elderly driver nodded at Harry, who quickly sat down on his bed and smoothed his hair over his forehead.
“Start 'er up then, Ern,” Stan said as he sat in an armchair next to him.
There was another loud bang as the bus sped off and Harry was thrown against the pillow. He pulled himself upright and gaped out the window. They were no longer in Magnolia Crescent.
“This is where you flagged us down from. Somewhere in Wales, innit, Ern?” Stan asked.
“Ar,” agreed Ernie. “We'll be in Abergavenny soon, Madam Marsh needs waking.”
“Right 'choo are, Ern,” Stan said. As he stood up, Harry saw a copy of the Daily Prophet sitting on his armchair.
“Could I have a look at that?” Harry asked.
Stan handed it over as he made his way down the bus. Harry stared at the cover. There was a picture of Sirius Black, the convict from the Muggle news. Harry read the story as best he could on the bumpy bus. He finished as Stan escorted a ill-looking witch off the bus.
“He murdered thirteen people with one curse?” Harry asked in horror.
“Nasty customer,” Stan shuddered.
Stan shrugged. “He was a Death Eater, weren't he? Was right after You-Know-Who snuffed it, 'spect he was just pissed off.”
Harry looked down at the picture again. Black was staring back at him through long, unwashed hair that hung past his gaunt cheekbones. “He murdered thirteen people because he was pissed off?” Harry repeated.
“Yep. And when 'ed done that, 'choo know what 'e did? 'E laughed,” Stan said. “Blew the whole street apart in the middle o' the day with witnesses and everything, and 'e stood there and laughed until the Aurors got there. And now 'e's out. No one's ever broken out o' Azkaban before, but 'e did it. Still, don't fancy his chances what with the dementors after him.”
Ernie shuddered. “Change the subject, Stan, them dementors give me goosebumps the collywobbles.”
They fell silent at that. Harry looked out the window as trees and fences leapt out of the way of the speeding Knight Bus, trying not to worry about what was going to happen to him. He'd be expelled, he knew, but surely they wouldn't send him to Azkaban? He wished he had someone he could ask about wizarding law. Draco, or at least his mother, would definitely know, but they wouldn't be contactable for another week. How was Harry supposed to evade the Aurors for a week? He realised that maybe going to Diagon Alley wasn't the best idea, but he couldn't think of a way to ask Stan to drop him elsewhere without making him suspicious. He already didn't seem to believe Harry was telling the truth about his name.
Harry was just thinking that maybe he'd be best to just jump off with the next passenger, when his shoulder was jostled.
Stan was frowning down at him. “You deaf, Theo?”
Harry shook his head. “Sorry, I was daydreaming.”
“You 'ave arrived at your destination,” Stan said in his conductor voice.
Harry looked out the window at the Leaky Cauldron. “Right, thanks.”
The two of them carried Harry's things down the steps and set them on the footpath. “Thanks,” Harry said again.
Stan ignored him, staring over his head. Harry turned around in trepidation.
Before him stood Fudge. “Ah, there you are, Harry,” he said in relief.
“What'd 'choo call Theo, Minister?” Stan asked. Ernie was watching the scene from his armchair.
“Theo? No, this is Harry Potter,” Fudge said.
“I knew it!” crowed Stan. “Ern, hey Ern! Theo's 'Arry Potter! You can see the scar!”
Fudge frowned at him. “Yes, well, I'm thankful that he has been delivered here safely by the Knight Bus, but I really must take him inside now.”
Harry grabbed his trunk and Hedwig's cage. “Bye,” he said glumly to Stan and Ernie.
“Bye, Theo!” Stan called. Ernie waved over his shoulder.
Harry followed Fudge into the Leaky Cauldron. At this time of night it was empty apart from Tom, the landlord, who appeared carrying a lantern.
“You found him, Minister! Do you want anything? Beer? Firewhisky?”
“Just a pot of tea,” Fudge said. “And a private parlour, if you would.”
Tom led them to a small room, lit the fire and bowed out the door.
“Sit down, Harry,” Fudge said. He took off his cloak and draped it over a chair.
Harry sat down nervously, looking around for the Aurors he knew must be there somewhere.
“Now, we weren't properly introduced earlier this year, but I'm Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic,” Fudge said.
“I know,” Harry said. Why was Fudge introducing himself politely?
Tom walked back into the room, deposited a tray of tea and crumpets on the table and left, closing the door behind him.
“Well, Harry, I can't tell you how happy I am to have found you safe and sound! Running away from your aunt's like that...” Fudge shook his head and poured himself a cup of tea. “Eat, Harry, you look half dead. Now, you'll be happy to learn that the Accidental Magic Reversal Department has dealt with the situation at Privet Drive. Miss Dursley has been deflated and had her memory modified. She has no recollection of the evening, so it's all well that ends well.”
Fudge beamed at Harry, who stared back.
“Ah, you're worried about your aunt and uncle? I won't lie, they were extremely angry, but they are willing to take you back next summer, as long as you spend the Christmas and Easter holidays at Hogwarts.”
“Of course I will,” Harry said slowly.
“Well, then! All that remains is for you to decide what to do for the rest of your holidays! I suggest you take a room here, that way Tom can look out for you.”
“Aren't I in trouble?” Harry asked.
“Good heavens, no! It was an accident, and it's all sorted now,” Fudge chuckled.
“Last year I got a warning letter from the Ministry when a house elf – not me – used a Levitation Charm at the Dursleys',” Harry said warily. Something seemed very off to him.
Fudge waved a hand. “Times change, and now... Well, given the circumstances... Don't tell me you want to be punished?”
“Of course not,” Harry replied.
“Well, then,” Fudge stood up and brushed his hands. “Let's consider the matter settled, then, shall we? Have some crumpets while I go and see if Tom has a room for you.”
Harry watched him walk out, utterly confused. He had no idea why the Ministry had suddenly changed its mind about his doing magic outside of Hogwarts, but he didn't trust it. He wished again that there was some way he could ask Narcissa what was going on.
“Room eleven's free, Harry, I'm sure you'll find it suitable,” Fudge announced as he returned with Tom. “I just have one request of you, if I may. I'd prefer it if you stayed in Diagon Alley, and don't venture out into Muggle London. And return here before nightfall. Tom can keep an eye on you.”
“All right,” Harry allowed.
“Jolly good,” Fudge smiled before he left.
“If you'll follow me, Mr Potter,” said Tom.
He led Harry upstairs to room eleven, which turned out to have a comfortable looking bed and a bright fire burning in it. Sitting on top of the wardrobe was Hedwig.
“Hedwig!” Harry cried. She clicked her beak and fluttered down onto his outstretched arm.
“Very smart owl, she is, arrived just after you did,” Tom said. “If you need anything, just ask me.”
Harry sat down on the bed, stroking Hedwig. “I'm so glad to see you.”
Now that he had Hedwig, he could ask someone what the hell was up with Fudge. Draco was out; he didn't even know where he was, let alone if Hedwig could get there quickly. Hermione might know, and Hedwig seemed to get to her in France all right, but it would take her a while to get there. Maybe Theo or Tracey?
Harry hit himself in the forehead. “Hedwig, I'm so stupid! I just need to write to Snape. He'll know what's going on. You can get a letter to him, right?”
Hedwig gave him a disbelieving look.
“Right, of course you can,” Harry muttered. He placed Hedwig on the foot of the bed and settled down to write.
Dear Professor Snape,
Harry looked at the parchment. Was that how he should address it? No doubt Draco would have some snide comment to make about his letter writing skills.
Sorry to bother you over the holidays, but I need some advice and don't know who else to ask, as Draco's out of the country.
Tonight I accidentally blew up my aunt and ran away from the Dursleys. I got the Knight Bus to the Leaky Cauldron where I ran into Fudge, who was apparently out looking for me. I thought I was going to be arrested or something, but he's waved the whole thing off as an accident. Which it was, but last year I got an official warning when Dobby used a Levitation Charm at the Dursleys'. When I asked him why I wasn't getting in trouble, he just said 'times change'.
He was acting really shifty, though, and I'm sure there's something I'm missing. Is something going on with the Ministry? He's also told me I need to stay here at the Leaky Cauldron, and not to go into Muggle London. Am I in danger? I know Draco would tell me I'm being paranoid but something seems really off.
I'd really appreciate anything you could tell me.
Harry re-read the letter and shrugged. It'd have to do. Hopefully Snape wouldn't be too mad about having a student pester him during his time off. Thankfully Harry was a Slytherin; he didn't think someone from another house would have the guts to write to Snape, let alone get an answer.
Harry gave the letter to Hedwig and carried her to the window. “Sorry to send you off just after you got here,” he said as he forced the stiff window open. Hedwig butted her head softly against his shoulder before launching herself out the window. Harry watched her disappear over the rooftops before he shut the window and decided to get ready for bed.