Harry heaved his trunk down the street, hot fury bleeding out in the cold night air.
They died in a car crash, you nasty little liar, and left you a burden on your decent, hardworking relatives -
A fresh wave of anger at Aunt Marge got Harry the last few blocks to the bus stop, and he sat down, exhausted, on his school trunk. He read the schedule by the streetlamp’s light, shoulders slumping down in relief. There was still one more bus of the night; he could still get to the station. Did it even matter if there was a train running or not? At least he wouldn’t be stuck in Privet Drive.
After fumbling a bit with the locks, Harry dug his money pouch out of his trunk; a handful of Muggle coins remained from last summer. Hands shaking, he dropped a few on the sidewalk, swearing as he picked them back up. At least his jacket was still at the top of all the school junk. Harry shrugged into it, shoving the coins in one pocket, before closing and relocking the trunk. When he looked up again, an enormous shaggy black dog was staring at him from across the street.
This one’s got a mean, runty look about him. You get that with dogs. I had Colonel Fubster drown one last year. Ratty little thing it was. Weak. Underbred .
“You’re certainly not underbred,” Harry muttered, eyeing the strange dog. It seemed to take his comment as an invitation, and trotted over. Harry froze, alarmed. He’d just spent a week with Marge’s temperamental French bulldog, memory of it chasing him up a tree when he was small bursting to the front of his mind whenever it growled.
This dog was evidently more like Fang, though; it flopped over on its back once it reached Harry, tongue lolling out, and whined.
“Well that’s friendly,” Harry said, reaching out and rubbing its belly before his common sense could catch up. This was a strange dog, out alone with no collar and no other people in sight. What if it didn’t like being petted? What if it bit him? But the dog wiggled on the sidewalk, tail wagging, evidently enjoying the belly rub. It hadn’t even bothered sniffing him before flopping down; maybe it didn’t have any common sense either.
It’s one of the basic rules of breeding. You see it all the time with dogs. If there’s something wrong with the bitch, there’ll be something wrong with the pup-
Harry’s hand clenched around a handful of fur, and the dog yelped. “Sorry, sorry,” Harry said, as the dog rolled over and looked at him accusingly. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” The dog sat back on its haunches, and pressed its head against Harry’s hip. Harry scratched behind its ears, and the tail-wagging resumed.
Suddenly, brighter light than the streetlamp gave cut across them. Harry stood up, peering down the street; the bus was coming! Quickly, Harry got a few coins back out, and bent down to grab the handle of his trunk.
The dog was gone.
There had turned out to be a train this late. Harry spent the ride from King’s Cross trying to plan what to do next. He’d committed an awful act of underage magic, accidentally blowing Aunt Marge up like a balloon so she was still shrieking up around the ceiling when he bolted. He’d threatened Uncle Vernon with his wand. The letter last summer promised expulsion; where was he going to go, if not Hogwarts?
His stomach rumbled. All right then, stop at the Leaky Cauldron, then figure things out.
Things had gone pretty well over the summer, until now. With the threat of his Quidditch teammate arriving on their doorstep, the Dursleys had decided ignoring Harry was their safest option. He’d been allowed to keep his trunk in his room, let Hedwig fly free, and generally left alone. He’d done his homework in the middle of the day, lying on the floor of his room, and written letters to Hermione and Adrian. He’d even had a nice birthday, receiving a broomstick servicing kit from Hermione, a biting book from Hagrid, and a bright blue knitted hat from Adrian ( Cousin Cecily sent this from Peru , the note read. She says it’s alpaca, which I thought must be in Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them , but they’re not ).
Then Vernon’s sister Marge came to visit.
Harry viciously punched the empty seat next to him, earning a startled look from one of the few other passengers. He turned his head to the window, curling up in his oversized jacket. He’d tried his best, he really had. He’d made a deal with Vernon to sign his Hogsmeade permission slip, if he didn’t let Aunt Marge figure out where he really went to school. He’d bit his tongue when Vernon told Marge that Harry attended St. Brutus’ Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. He’d smiled when Marge said the school ought to beat him more, swallowed down retorts when she criticized his hair, his height, his knobby knees ( going right through those jean you give him, Petunia ).
He’d taken half a year of his classmates hissing nasty things in the hallways, when they thought he was the Heir of Slytherin. He could take one measly week of Marge insulting him.
It all comes down to blood, as I was saying the other day. Bad blood will out.
What he couldn’t take were the insults about his mum and dad.
Your sister was a bad egg. They turn up in the best families. Then she ran off with a wastrel and here’s the result right in front of us.
Harry disembarked at King’s Cross Station in a foul mood, and loaded his trunk onto a trolley. The familiar action seemed… off , somehow. Harry realized with a start that he was missing Hedwig’s cage; he must have left it back in Privet Drive. Fortunately, he’d sent the snowy owl away before Marge arrived, and he could get another cage in Diagon Alley before school started-
Except he probably wasn’t going to school, was he? Not if he got expelled for this.
Anger replaced with despondency, Harry caught a late-night train on the same line Hagrid had once taken him on. He’d get some food, get some money from his Gringott’s vault, and…what?
Still trying to figure his hazy future out, Harry walked right into another wizard when he arrived at the Leaky Cauldron.
“Sorry!” he said automatically, stepping back and hitting his heels on his trunk. He looked up into the surprised face of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic. Oh, no. The last time he’d seen Fudge, from under his invisibility cloak, the man had been arresting Hagrid for the petrifactions, with no evidence whatsoever. Fudge had sent Hagrid off to Azkaban without a trial; what would he do to Harry for blowing up Marge?
“Harry!” Fudge yelped. Before Harry could react, Fudge had grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into the Leaky Cauldron, trunk coming along too. “Tom, I’ve found him, he’s all right!”
Soon settled in a private parlor (Harry hadn’t even known the Leaky Cauldron had private parlors) Harry was fed tea, biscuits, and as far as he could tell, a whopping pack of lies. The Ministry didn’t expel people from Hogwarts for accidentally inflating their aunts? There wasn’t anything to worry about, but please don’t go out into Muggle London again? The Dursleys were perfectly happy to have him back next summer?
The only thing that sounded true was that a team of wizards had undone the magic on Marge, and modified her memory to forget it all. The Ministry of Magic didn’t want Muggles finding out Harry was a wizard any more than Uncle Vernon did, and seemed rather fond of using Obliviate to make problems go away.
Head buzzing with questions after Fudge left, Harry followed Old Tom up the stairs to the same room he’d stayed in before, and decided he’d better find out what was going on before school started again.
It was peculiar to stay in the Leaky Cauldron without Adrian. Harry found himself looking around for her at breakfast, having got used to the sight of her buzzed head sticking up over the Daily Prophet every morning, last August. But according to the letters Hedwig brought (she’d shown up after a few days in Diagon Alley, with a note asking how the visit with Marge had gone) Adrian was still at home, and wouldn’t even be down to do her school shopping until the last week of the summer holiday.
Harry saw plenty of other classmates though. Tracey Davis and Pansy Parkinson arrived together, getting their books under Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson’s watchful eyes. Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan sighed over the newest model of broomstick in a shop window with Harry, and Neville Longbottom introduced Harry to his intimidating grandmother. Once Harry ducked into the Magical Menagerie when he saw the Malfoys coming down the street; Draco’s pride had been sorely wounded when Harry saved the school from the real Heir of Slytherin, making Draco’s earlier attempts at sucking up look extremely foolish, and his father Lucius had even less reason to like Harry.
Theodore Nott, to Harry’s surprise, was also skulking around the Menagerie. He peered past Harry’s shoulder at the door as it swung shut behind him. “You didn’t see my father out there, did you?”
“Dunno,” Harry said, not having any idea what Mr. Nott looked like.
Theodore bit his lip. “He’s picking up my new robes, I’m supposed to be getting owl pellets.” He held up a bag of the avian treats, and glanced at the door again before walking over to the counter. “These, please,” he told the witch who ran the shop. “And…one of them?” Theodore pointed hopefully at the cage of curious rats next to the till. Most of them had shiny black coats, though there were a few brown piebald ones mixed in; those had blue tails.
“First time rat owner?” the witch asked. Theodore nodded, and she pulled a pamphlet out from under the counter, and a small bag of rat food. “Five Galleons for the lot, and read that pamphlet all the way through.” She smiled as Theodore carefully tucked the pamphlet and rat food into his pocket. “Now just stick your arm in here, lad, and one of them will pick you.”
The witch lifted the top of the cage, and Theodore carefully lowered his hand into it. Several rats scurried over, sniffing, and one licked his finger. “It’s soft!” Theodore exclaimed. The witch’s smile grew. The piebald rat that had licked Theodore wandered back to the other side of the cage, returning to a game of skip-rope using another rat’s tail. But a smaller black rat began climbing up Theodore’s sleeve.
“You’ll want to name her soon,” the witch said, carefully re-locking the cage as Theodore goggled at the rat exploring his robes. “These ones are supposed to come when they’re called, but you get some trouble if you just call them ‘rat’.”
“I’ll think of something good,” Theodore promised. He coaxed his new pet into one pocket, and waved good-bye to Harry.
About a week before the start of term, the answer to “why on earth was Fudge so forgiving of Harry’s misuse of magic?” was answered when Harry found a Daily Prophet someone had discarded on the counter of Tom’s bar. Harry thought it was a Muggle paper at first, recognizing the headline SIRIUS BLACK STILL AT LARGE from the television back at Privet Drive, but the photo underneath moved. Curious, he flattened it down in top the counter to read.
“Give yourself nightmares, reading that,” Old Tom told him, wiping the bar down. The breakfast crowd tended to leave a lot of crumbs and syrup, which needed quick work to keep from sticking. “Nasty business.” He walked away to check the eggs boiling back in the kitchen, in preparation for lunch.
An edge of panic ran under the article’s words. No one had escaped from Azkaban before, according to the Daily Prophet, and the wizarding prison’s guards were angry; they advised anyone who saw them out looking for Sirius Black to keep their distance. Black had been imprisoned for the murder of one wizard and a dozen Muggles nearly twelve years ago, hence his presence on the television. Fudge had informed the Muggle Prime Minister, so anyone outside the magical community who spotted Black would know he was dangerous. Harry vaguely remembered the news station had claimed Black was carrying a gun, which he supposed was more likely to frighten Muggles than a wand.
Just as he reached the end of the article, a piece of notepaper with one ripped edge fluttered down on top of the newsprint. In large, bold letters, were the words SOMEONE FINALLY GET YOU READING THE NEWS, HALFPINT?
Harry spun around so fast he nearly fell off the stool. Adrian grinned at him, a ballpoint pen tucked behind her ear, and a dark green moleskin notebook in one hand. Harry gaped at her in shock; her dark hair, usually trimmed back down once it hit an inch in length, was now hanging in a loose braid that went all the way to her hip.
Adrian flipped the notebook open and held it up to him, displaying a message already written on the first page. KNOCKED OVER A CURIO CABINET . She turned the notebook back around, scribbled something on the next page, and held it out again. Her regular handwriting was much smaller and thinner than the first two messages. ‘course that was ‘cause I got hit with a clumsiness jinx. Aunt Liwei got that one off first, but not before I wound up spotty, rainbow, twitching, sneezing, & tapdancing. Adrian rubbed the back of her head, wincing when she snagged her braid.
“She still starts dancing if there’s music,” an unfamiliar voice said. “But some mugwort should take care of that.” Adrian stepped to the side and gestured like a Master of Ceremonies to a tall woman dusting soot off her clothes. Harry noticed that Adrian still had soot on her soft blue robes; they must have both just arrived by Floo, using the fire in the pub Tom always kept going.
“I’m Adrian’s Aunt Liwei,” the tall woman said. She shook Harry’s hand, eyes flicking quickly to the lightning scar on his forehead, and then back to his face. “You must be Harry, it’s nice to meet you.” Like Minister Fudge, Liwei wore a Muggle business attire. But while Fudge’s grey pinstripes might’ve blended in if not for the lime green bowler, Liwei’s dark green suit was sleek and expensive enough to stand out all on it’s own. Juxtaposed over this was a heavy, brown, scarred-leather gauntlet covering most of her left arm.
What drew Harry’s attention the most, however, was her wand, on prominent display in an emerald-studded silver sheath hung from a matching belt. Most people kept their wands in their pockets, or up their sleeves; Harry had never seen someone flaunt their power like this before.
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Harry said. Letting go of his hand, Liwei drew a pair of bronze shears from her jacket pocket, and snipped off the braid just past Adrian’s shoulders. The severed lock turned to dust and blew away, leaving an elastic hair tie in Liwei’s hand. She immediately re-braided what was left of Adrian’s oddly long hair tightly, and secured it with the elastic.
“What happened to your voice?” Harry asked, because surely Adrian wouldn’t be bothering with the notebook if she didn’t have to.
“We had a guest accuse Adrian of…” Liwei trailed off, and turned to her niece. “How did he phrase it?”
Adrian rolled her eyes and held her hand up, smacking her thumb against the other fingers several times.
“Ah, thank you. Of running her mouth .” Liwei ran her hand down Adrian’s braid fondly. “And then warned her to watch her step . Two very effective curses when combined, and I imagine he meant to do more, considering how mad he was when the ottomans chased him back to the fireplace.”
“Ottomans?” Harry asked. Adrian drew a rough sketch of squashily square cushions with little legs, with one side’s seams opened up to reveal pointy teeth.
“The house doesn’t take well to underage family members being hexed,” Liwei said, with a vicious smile Harry had seen on Adrian’s face a few times.
“Madam Lin!” Old Tom had come back from the kitchen, and beamed at the new guests. Adrian hastily shoved the notebook and pen into her pocket. “It’s been too long. Do you have time for a cuppa?”
“Always time for you, Tom,” Liwei said, sliding smoothly onto an empty stool. “Adrian, why don’t you get your school things with Harry, and meet me at the apothecary? Here, you’d better take these.” She handed Adrian the bronze shears. Adrian nodded, and pushed Harry out to the back. A quick tap of her wand on the proper brick, and they were both out on the cobbles of Diagon Alley.
“It’s not permanent, is it?” Harry asked quietly. Adrian shook her head, waving one hand. Her braid swung around and smacked her on the nose; it was already an inch or so longer than it had been after being cut.
Harry glanced around to make sure no one was in hearing distance, and lowered his voice. “Was it Mr. Malfoy?” Adrian nodded, and ruffled his hair. She pulled the notebook out of her pocket and jotted down another message while they walked. Don’t think he’ll do anything else, it’ll look bad for him if my family raises a stink. He’s already on the list of people Liwei won’t uncurse things for now . Adrian covered the note up with more ink once Harry had read it. Even without naming Malfoy, she evidently considered it sensitive information.
The shopkeepers were very understanding when Adrian held up her KNOCKED OVER A CURIO CABINET message, and quickly fetched the items on her school list. At Flourish & Blott’s, the clerk who’d defended Adrian from rude patrons last summer patted her sympathetically on the shoulder, and went to extract a copy of The Monster Book of Monsters from the cage in the front window. Unfortunately, the clerk’s grip wasn’t very good; the gnashing book made a leap for Adrian’s braid and sunk its papery teeth into her hair.
“Oh bugger,” the clerk said, and tried to tug the book off. Adrian winced, started digging frantically at her pocket, and finally handed Harry the bronze shears.
“Hold that still, please?” Harry asked the swearing clerk, who grimly put a hand on Adrian’s shoulder and pulled the book back as far as possible, stretching the braid taut. Harry quickly snipped it like Liwei had, and the book fell to the floor, making angry growling noises as the hair turned to dust. The clerk grabbed it again and wrapped with heavy twine.
“I’m of a mind to write the publisher about these things,” the clerk said, fetching the rest of Adrian’s order while Harry looked around the floor for the elastic. “I swear they were calm when the shipment came in, but now it’s chomp chomp chomp all day long. I’ll be right glad when term starts and we can chuck the spares, I tell you!”
The other school supplies were far more docile than The Monster Book of Monsters , and soon Adrian and Harry were peering through the apothecary window. Adrian spotted Liwei inside, waved, and then turned around to lean against the thick glass. She even put her load of parcels down by her feet.
“Aren’t we going in?” Harry asked.
Adrian shook her head, jerked her thumb back towards the window, and made a circling motion over her wrist with her index finger.
“Er…spinning arm…no…wrist? Circle wrist?”
Adrian pinched her finger and thumb together, so close , and repeated the circling motion.
“Can’t you just write it down?” Harry grumbled. Adrian grinned at him, and kept going. “Fine. Circle…no, wrist. Wrist, wrist…watch? Wristwatch?” That earned him a thumbs-up. “Something about time?” Both thumbs went up, and then she put her hands together, and drew them apart. “Far, distance, long? She takes a long time in the apothecary?”
Adrian applauded, earning a few odd looks from passersby, and patted Harry on the head. Now that he’d finally solved her pantomime, Adrian got her notebook out and started writing in it again. The final message took up an entire page.
I think Aunt Liwei makes fewer potions than we do, since we’ve got class, but she needs rarer ingredients, & if they don’t have them she’ll need to special order, or visit suppliers directly. Don’t want to show up at a client’s needing to change their arm back from a skunk to a limb, & be out of doxy venom. This is our last stop today, but we’ll be back at Tom’s early Tuesday morning to take the Tube to King’s Cross. Want to meet us at 8AM & we’ll all go together? Not good to wander Muggle London alone right now.
“That’d be great, thanks,” Harry said. “That’s three hours before the Express leaves, though. It didn’t take that long last time, even with the delay.”
Better safe than sorry, the next note read. Even Aunt Liwei can’t do much to restart a train. D’you really fancy explaining to Prof. Snape that we need fetching again?
“Suppose not,” Harry said. An awkward question occurred to him, with the reminder that Sirius Black was running around. “Are you…doing all right? With the whole Azkaban-escape thing?”
The notebook abruptly vanished, along with her grin, and Adrian became very interested in watching a flock of witches coming out of the cauldron shop across the street. They both jumped when the bells on the apothecary door jangled behind them. Liwei raised her eyebrows as Adrian hastily retrieved her parcels from the cobbles.
“List done?” Liwei asked. Adrian nodded, and then ducked as a shadow appeared on the street before her. A barn owl swooped over her head and landed on Liwei’s outflung arm, talons grasping the leather gauntlet. “Hold this, please.” Harry took the brown paper sack, stamped with the apothecary’s symbol of a bubbling cauldron, delicately. He and the owl exchanged slow blinks while Liwei read the letter it had brought her. “Adrian, your pen, please.”
After jotting down a reply on the back of the letter one-handed and launching the barn owl back into the air, Liwei turned back towards the Leaky Cauldron as though nothing had happened. “I trust Adrian’s already invited you to travel with us, next week,” she said to Harry, retrieving the paper apothecary sack.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Thanks. I got down here from Surrey all right, but…”
“But it’s always better to travel with a friend,” Liwei said, nodding emphatically. “Alvie disagrees, since he’d much rather do things on his own and tell people about it later.”
“That must be awkward,” Harry said without thinking.
“Why? It suits him.”
“Well, if you’re married…” Harry trailed off. He must have seriously misinterpreted something, because Adrian was now doubled over with silent laughter.
“If we’re…” Liwei looked to Adrian for an explanation, but none, of course, was forthcoming. “Alvie is a friend , but…oh, she calls him ‘uncle’, doesn’t she? I always forget. No, Alvie and I are related to Adrian through completely different sides; our friendship is coincidental. I can see how that was confusing.”
Adrian, through the laughter, had managed to scribble an explanation for Harry in the moleskin notebook. This one was in much larger, shakier letters than the others.
Aunt Liwei = Mother’s Mother’s Cousin. Uncle Alvie = Father’s Father’s Father’s Brother.
“How do you keep track of all these relatives?” Harry muttered, sending Adrian into another spurt of muted mirth. “How do Stephan and Cecily fit in, then? And…Eric?”
“They’re all on her father’s side,” Liwei said. “I think she calls them all ‘cousin’ because it’s simpler than remembering how the tree actually goes.”
“Potter! Potter, over here!”
Harry spun around, and to his delight, saw Hermione Granger and the two youngest Weasleys sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor, waving to him. Ron and Ginny were wearing Muggle t-shirts and cargo shorts. Hermione was in a light blue dress that went past her knees, and looked equally suitable to both the Muggle and wizarding parts of London.
“I thought I wouldn’t see you until the train tomorrow,” Harry said as he sat down at their patio table. “How was France?”
“France was educational,” Hermione said. Ron snorted, and Hermione rolled her eyes. “You could have stood to study more things in Egypt,” she said crossly. “It was an amazing opportunity!”
“Are you still mad I brought you back tourist pamphlets instead of books?” Ron said. He turned to Harry. “Mum won the Daily Prophet’s 700 Galleon Draw, so we took a family trip to Egypt to see Bill, and ‘Mione won’t admit she’s jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” Hermione insisted. “I had a lovely holiday with my parents. I got to see the differences between Muggle and wizarding architectural influences on the cathedrals first hand-”
“We went to the pyramids!” Ginny cut in happily. “Bill showed us his favorite murals!”
“Who’s Bill?” Harry asked, curious.
“Our oldest brother,” Ron said proudly. “He’s a curse-breaker for Gringott’s, so Mum picked Egypt so we’d all get to see him. His boss gave him some time off to show us around, too.” He passed the rest of his sundae to his little sister, who started bouncing in her seat. “Egypt really agreed with Ginny.”
“But not with Scabbers,” Ginny said, around a mouthful of marshmallow. Harry grinned at the mumbled comment. Ginny half-dead in the Chamber of Secrets had joined the older nightmares of his parents’ death; seeing her excited over ice cream, extra freckly from the sun, and teasing Ron about his rat brought back the happier memories of last school year. Like when she’d joined his and Adrian’s team in a snowball fight against her brothers over Christmas break.
“Yeah, he’s not well,” Rat said, gently pulling Scabbers from his pocket, and holding him up to Harry and Hermione. “Hoping he gets his weight back, now we’re not somewhere so hot.”
“And his fur ,” Hermione said in concern. The brownish-grey rat looked quite patchy, thin, and lethargic, a stark contrast to the plump black rat Theodore had bought.
“There’s a pet shop over there,” Harry said, pointing over his shoulder. “I know they’ve got rat supplies, maybe they can make him feel better.”
“Do they have owls?” Hermione asked. “My parents gave me some early birthday money…”
“They do,” Harry said. Ginny finished off Ron’s sundae, and they all stood up to take their dishes to the bussing station. “So does Eyelop’s Owl Emporium, it’s just down the street.”
The Magical Menagerie was a lot more fun to look around in when he wasn’t busy avoiding the Malfoys. Harry and Ginny wandered down the aisle full of Puffskeins while Hermione examined the owls, and Ron went to talk to the witch at the counter about his rat.
“We used to have one of these,” Ginny told Harry, putting her hand up against one cage, so a Puffskein would roll over to her. She scratched it gently, earning a pleased humming in response. “They’ve got this great long tongue in there, it’ll eat your bogies while you’re sleeping.”
“You’re pulling my leg,” Harry said.
“Nope,” Ginny said, trying to look serious. “They really do, ask anyone. The mediwitches keep some at St. Mungos, to help people with hay fever.”
“Now I know you’re pulling my le-”
“ CROOKSHANKS, NO! ”
Ron shrieked loudly and went tearing past them, calling for Scabbers. Harry and Ginny looked at each other in alarm, and bolted out after Ron. They found him trying to coax his rat out from under a garbage bin across the street.
“What happened?” Ginny asked. Ron was bleeding from his forehead.
“Something landed on my head,” Ron said, stuffing the quaking rodent into the front pocket of his t-shirt. “Think it wanted to eat Scabbers, thought he was already done for.”
“You forgot your tonic,” Hermione said from behind them. Everyone spun around. Hermione held out a small red glass bottle to Ron, adjusting her grip on an enormous orange cat that was draped over one shoulder. It was even fluffier than the Puffskeins, and purring like a motor engine.
“You keep that monster away from Scabbers!” Ron said, ducking behind Harry. Ginny rolled her eyes and took the red bottle from Hermione. Hands free, she cradled the cat in her arms.
“Crookshanks isn’t a monster,” Hermione huffed. As the cat was now licking what was probably Ron’s blood from between its claws, Harry didn’t think Ron likely to believe her. “He’s just a cat.”
“A murderous cat,” Ron muttered, too quietly for Hermione to hear. “Oh, hey,” he said, tapping Harry on the shoulder. “I’m supposed to ask, do you want to come with us to the train? The Ministry’s lending Dad a second car ‘cause he mentioned to his boss it’d be crowded in ours, since we’re giving Hermione a lift. They’re meeting us just outside the Leaky Cauldron in the morning, so we’re all staying the night.”
“My dad’s performing an emergency root canal tomorrow,” Hermione said, when Harry automatically glanced at her for an explanation. “And Mum said it’d be better for Mrs. Cheswick to move her appointment up too, if she could.”
“Thanks, but I’ve already got plans,” Harry said. Ginny tugged on Ron’s arm, and they started walking back to the Leaky Cauldron.
Mrs. Weasley didn’t think the Tube was very safe, though, with an Azkaban escapee running around, and insisted Harry join them. “I’m sure the Ministry driver won’t mind two more coming along,” Mrs. Weasley said over dinner that night, when Harry explained that he was already meeting a Quidditch teammate and their guardian. He very carefully avoided Adrian’s name; Mrs. Weasley considered Adrian a bad influence, and he wasn’t sure she’d extend the invitation if she knew who he was meeting. But she wouldn’t take it back once they arrived, surely. If it was too dangerous for him to travel by Muggle train, it was too dangerous for them as well.
The rest of dinner passed in interesting conversation about Egypt and France, with a slight diversion into congratulations to Percy, who’d been named Head Boy of Hogwarts for the year.
“It’s great responsibility,” Percy told Harry solemnly, passing a bowl of potatoes to Mr. Weasley. “The Head Boy and Girl have to organize the prefects, of course, and try to smooth down interhouse disagreements if they get too big, among other things.”
“Must not’ve had very good ones last year,” Harry said, thinking of the tensions Tom Riddle’s shade had caused through Ginny. Down the table, Fred and George began heaping chicken and sautéed vegetables on Ginny’s plate.
“We didn’t,” Percy agreed. “I’m already in correspondence with this year’s Head Girl, to make sure we’re in accord. The Headmaster saw fit to inform us of the presence of dementors guarding the school, and we need to make sure the prefects can keep the younger students away from them.”
“Is that why you kept sending Hermes out, Perce?” Fred asked, before Harry could ask what Percy had meant about dementors .
“Love letters to your girlfriend?” George added. He faked a swoon. “Please, keep writing about staggered curfews and productive study habits-”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Percy said, scowling at them. “Penelope is a prefect, not Head Girl, and she’s got her own owl to correspond with. Hermes carried my letters to Farley.”
“ Gemma Farley?” Harry asked. Percy nodded, and Harry felt a burst of pride that someone from Slytherin was Head Girl. Gemma Farley had been a prefect since his first year at Hogwarts, and he couldn’t think of a more fair (and terrifying) student to be in charge.
Late that night, Ron knocked quietly at Harry’s door.
“Whazzit?” Harry asked, half-asleep. Ron looked both ways down the hall, red bottle from the Magical Menagerie clutched in his hand, and then pushed past Harry into his room.
“I gotta talk to you,” Ron said.
“Yeah, I got that,” Harry said, sitting back down on his bed. He didn’t bother lighting the candelabra, and Ron looked rather ominous, standing in the middle of the room, illuminated from below by the dwindling fire in the grate.
“I left Scabber’s tonic at the bar,” Ron started. He paused, thinking. “Also Percy’s being a prat, thought I stole his Head Boy badge, so I kinda wanted to get out of our room.”
“Did you steal it?” Harry asked.
“No, it was the twins,” Ron said dismissively. He fidgeted with the bottle of rat tonic. “When I got downstairs, I heard my parents talking about you.”
“And after you saved Ginny, I figured we owed you,” Ron went on. He glanced at the half-open door, and lowered his voice. “Mum doesn’t wanna worry you, but the Minister told Dad- that’s who his boss is, Dad’s a department head so he answers to Minister Fudge.” Despite his nervousness over whatever he’d heard, a clear note of pride entered Ron’s voice as he added this last bit. “Before Black broke out, the guards heard him talking in his sleep. He’s after you .”
Ron leaned back, clearly expecting a reaction, but all Harry did was blink. Over half the inmates at Azkaban were from the war with Voldemort, if the gossip among the Slytherins was true, and Harry had been assuming Black was one of them since seeing the Daily Prophet article. Harry was famous for blowing up Voldemort and ending the war; of course Black was after him.
“What…did he say, exactly?” Harry asked.
“Kept muttering ‘he’s at Hogwarts, he’s at Hogwarts’,” Ron said.
“Huh.” Harry rubbed the back of his head. That wasn’t very definitive. “Thanks for telling me.”
“No problem,” Ron said. He gave a nod, and left, closing the door behind him.