This tale refers to an incident that
occurs in ‘The First Rule’ but will stand alone. A certain witch’s
comment will make more sense if you have read TFR beforehand though!
Harry stepped out of the shower and swore under his breath. No
towels. He heard his cousin snigger beyond the door and came to the
conclusion that this was intentional. Was this another of Dudley's
ritual attempts at humiliation? Harry hesitated only a moment
before manfully opening the bathroom door, shooting a glare at Dudley
who was waiting beyond it, and stalking to the airing cupboard along
From the obsessively ordered shelves – a
psychologist's dream – he removed the first towel his hand landed on.
Shaking it out, he discovered it was one of the huge and expensive bath
sheets reserved for Dudley's exclusive use.
"You're a freak!"
towelled his hair first, enjoying the rare luxury of a warm, dry towel
in this house before squinting at his cousin and noticing where his
attention was fixed.
"I'm a freak?" Harry repeated, drying his face.
Dudley nodded emphatically.
Harry snorted and kilted the towel about his waist. It went round him twice. "You're the one staring where you shouldn’t be but I'm the freak? Grow up!" he grumbled and made his way back to the room he used.
off properly, Harry wondered what his cousin was up to now. Probably
trying to make him feel bad by insinuating that he was inadequate in
the underpants department. It would be typical of him. Dropping the
towel, Harry dismissed it from consideration. He had more important
things on his mind, even if sharing a dormitory and bathroom had not
been sufficiently instructive, comparatively speaking. Experience over
the years had shown him that he was average, and as Oliver had
frequently said, "It's not the equipment you've got, but how you play
the game," although Oliver had been talking about Quidditch.
At least, at the time, Harry had been innocently sure that was what he meant.
several years on, and after some interesting 'walks' with a certain
redhead, Harry was starting to think that the sentiment might be just
as applicable to other, equally exhilarating pursuits.
pulled on clothes that still carried the scent of his last refuge,
Hogwarts, and slid the fake Horcrux into his pocket. The cool weight of
the metal against his hip reminded him how far he had yet to go, but he
wouldn't let it make him downhearted.
"The journey of a
thousand miles begins with a single step," Hermione had said to him
when they had parted at King's Cross. Reconsidering many things in the
intervening days, Harry began to understand what she was telling him;
no matter how impossible a thing looked it would be conquered one step
at a time.
Taken as a whole, defeating Voldemort looked
impossible; taken one Horcrux at a time... He heard again Ginny's reply
after he had expressed another near-impossibility to her: You sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.
Thinking of his girlfriend – exgirlfriend
– only revitalised the pangs he had felt at finishing with her; the
ache that made him not want to sleep because he knew she would be in
his dreams and waking from them was to give her up all over again,
honing the hurt.
Dumbledore had said his ability to hurt was one of his strengths and so Harry did what he had always done; made the best of it.
descended the stairs quietly, listening for the Dursleys. Under his arm
was a notebook fat with 'useful snippets' that Hermione had gleaned
from the Hogwarts library. There would be answers in here to questions
he probably hadn't framed yet but, true to the 'thousand miles' image,
he decided to tackle the most pressing need first.
By the time
breakfast was over he needed to have worked out how to 'fly under the
radar', to pinch an expression much abused by the TV newshounds, and
make himself Unplottable.
Aunt Petunia was in the kitchen,
grilling low fat sausages and rashers of bacon so thin they were
translucent. She regarded him, and his book, oddly but placed a
cooked breakfast before him in silence, not even acknowledging Harry's
quiet 'thanks'. Harry rather had the impression she had something she
wanted to say to him and no idea how to begin. Uncle Vernon had already
left the house; Harry had heard the car while he was in the shower and
while this was unusual for a Saturday, to Harry it held no interest.
barged into the kitchen, complaining he'd cut himself shaving, fat
fingers pressed to several nicks on his round face. As Aunt Petunia
switched her attention to ‘her poor darling’, Harry switched his off
them entirely and onto Hermione's notebook. Everything was indexed and
colour-coded; Harry smiled as he turned the pages to the start of the
'U's and ate quickly.
Hermione had seventeen pages on being Unplottable, including lots of theory, and a two page Arithmancic spell diagram of why
it worked that left Harry none the wiser. Towards the end, her writing
was so cramped that Harry was glad, for once in his life, that he was
Having read to the end, he leaned back in the chair and screwed up his aching eyes.
Harry wasn't surprised to discover that a potion would be required, as
well as powerful spells. The Potion work would require a bit of thought
and planning, he could hardly set up in the kitchen or bathroom.
Loading his plate and cutlery into the state-of-the-art dishwasher that
had appeared since he was last at Privet Drive, and ignoring Dudley
whining to his mother, Harry went back upstairs, considering the
options open to him.
evening, and desperate for a pee, Harry burst into the bathroom with
one hand already on his zip. So abruptly did he stop that it was a
wonder he didn't fall over and crack his head on the wash handbowl as
he went down.
Dudley stood there, trousers round his thick ankles, and he had his mother's measuring tape extended and he was trying to…
Harry bit his lip until he tasted his own blood so that he wouldn't break out in howls of laughter.
a split second he and Dudley stared at each other in shock before Harry
choked out, "What you doing?" and ducked the fist that came his
Beetroot and snorting like a broken bellows, his cousin
lashed out with a vicious uppercut that might have broken Harry's jaw,
had it connected, but Harry had been dodging Bludgers whilst flying
faster than the average superbike for over six years, and the outcome
was predictable. Dudley missed.
"Aunt Petunia uses that tape to measure her tatting, you know," Harry sniggered. "She'd probably burn it if she caught you."
lashed out again but Harry danced easily out of his reach.
Harry-with-jeans-up was much more agile than Dudley-with-trousers-down.
instant he crossed the threshold, Dudley took the opportunity to slam
the bathroom door on him and Harry heard his bulk crash against it; it
shuddered but held. Rather urgently reminded of his original reason for
coming upstairs, Harry found himself wondering how long Dudley could
hide in there.
Knowing his cousin's attitude, hours, if it
meant he could land Harry in trouble. Starting to get a pain low down
in his belly, Harry swore and turned to pad softly back downstairs and
peer round the lounge door. Aunt Petunia was perched on the edge of her
armchair, fussing with her tatting threads and workbox and distractedly
watching the television. Harry hoped she was looking for her missing
tape measure; he grinned and then winced as his distended bladder said
'relieve me now'.
Uncle Vernon was not in the lounge; leaning
back and peering round another door, Harry saw the kitchen was empty
too. A few noiseless steps down the hall betrayed the sound of tuneless
whistling in the downstairs lavatory; it had to be Uncle Vernon
'reading the paper'.
Harry decided he would risk a trip into
the garden and hope it was dark enough that he wouldn't get caught
abusing the bushes. He couldn't hang on any longer.
the incident in the bathroom, Dudley perfected his avoidance act of his
'abnormal' cousin, which suited Harry to perfection. During that week,
Harry spent much of his time in his room, reading and re-reading
Hermione's notebook and the Defence books Remus and Sirius had given
him, adding his own notations from these in the margins of Hermione’s
Dudley's birthday came and went unobserved by
Harry; he was waiting for another date on his makeshift calendar. The
day he could become Unplottable.
When midnight became his
seventeenth birthday, he charmed the bedroom door shut and prepared the
Potion in silence, napping through the early hours so that he could
stir it at the required intervals.
With Snape's sarcastic, "Tell me, Potter, can you read?"
in mind, Harry attentively re-read Hermione's neat instructions,
tracing a finger over one particular line; 'Add the blood'. It would be
logical to assume it meant 'the blood of the person desiring to become
Unplottable', in which case…
Transfiguration turned a couple of Dudley's pristine books into wide
necked bottles, enabling him to save two portions of the Potion. Ron
and Hermione could add their own blood and he would Vanish the
remainder. Another Charm transferred Potion to the waiting bottles and
sealed them securely. It was interesting that one bottle contained half
an inch more in it than the other. Harry added an Unbreakable Charm to
each bottle to be on the safe side and turned round on his bony knees
to face his cauldron.
Harry had his obsidian Potion knife
ready when Hedwig astonished him rigid by flipping her empty water dish
in his direction. She hissed and leapt to peer intently into the
cooling Potion and then at him.
"You want to be Unplottable," Harry surmised.
Hedwig whisked her tail feathers as though to say, 'dead right.'
Harry said in a sigh. How could he get through to her? She could be
more stubborn than Ginny when her owlish mind was made up and he'd seen
enough of that behaviour over the years to know.
Hedwig hissed again, flexing her talons on the edge of his cauldron.
are probably the most secretive months I’ll ever live through and apart
from the fact that you're very distinctive and stand out like a -whoa!"
he yelped and grabbed for the cauldron, heart racing. Hedwig nipped at
his hands, continuing her shuffle round the rim, her weight unbalancing
its three legs so that it wobbled. When Harry made to steady it, she
hunched low and hissed.
Harry glared at her through narrowed
eyes while she perched, threatening to waste his hard work and
regarding him almost smugly. The deal was evident; either I get to be
Unplottable and come too or I spill the lot.
"It won't be a
damaged wing this time, Hedwig," he pleaded, trying to sneak an
unobtrusive hand to the cauldron and was glad of his Seeker reflexes
when her snapping beak missed by fractions. "Everyone knows I have a
snowy owl -one sight of a snowy anywhere suspicious and you're dead,
and I really don't want that to happen!"
shuffled and the cauldron rocked again, so that Harry grabbed for it
heedless of her beak, succeeding this time while Hedwig was spreading
her wings for balance. The idea popped in his head like a bulb going on.
could transfigure you…" he murmured thoughtfully and sat up straighter.
"Yeah! Transfigure you so that you'd look like an ordinary owl. How
about that?" he asked eagerly, angling to look into her face.
Harry would have sworn that his owl leaned away, suddenly wary.
is nothing wrong with my Transfiguration!" he snapped in a mutter,
dipping some potion into her water dish and holding it back. "Do you
want to be Unplottable or not? That's the deal. You accept being
transfigured, get to be Unplottable and come with me or you live with
the Weasleys until I come home."
He took her bob for assent.
"Okay. I'll take it first and then we'll finish yours. You'll have to
peck yourself or something," he said, setting Hedwig's water dish
carefully to one side. "I'm not hurting you."
The obsidian was
so sharp he didn't feel the cut. With each drip from his clenched fist,
more of the potion became opaque shiny red and Harry smiled in grim
satisfaction. "I'll show you who's useless at Potions, Snivellus," he
He gave the Potion 'one final anti-clockwise stir
to ensure homogeneity of the solution', as per instructions and felt
slightly less guilty at helping himself to the ingredients in Professor
Slughorn's store cupboard before leaving Hogwarts. One step closer down
that long road.
Taking a deep breath, Harry dipped out the
measure of potion required for a slightly skinny, just-of-age male
wizard and looked back at his reflection. He could have been holding a
tumbler of paint, except that the smell was wrong. It really did
"On three," Harry muttered. It couldn't be
worse than gulping down the lumpy mud that had been Polyjuice Potion.
Or the mouthful of stinging fiery nails that had regrown bones
Harry put the glass to his lips in readiness. "One,
two-" Moving quickly, before he could over-think it, he tipped the
glass and threw his head back. The Potion was cold in his mouth,
decidedly metallic-tasting and he nearly gagged, forcing himself to
Panting slightly, he waited for something to happen,
not entirely sure what he expected. He could feel the chill of the
Potion going down, pooling in his stomach, giving him shivers.
Snatching his wand from his pocket, and still expecting something
untoward to occur, Harry pressed the tip of the holly wand over his
heart and spoke the ancient words that would render him Unplottable.
“Hic sunt Dracones!”
seemed to be any different but Harry knew he had followed Hermione's
instructions accurately, so he didn't waste time worrying over it.
Hedwig gave one of her rattling cackles and hopped awkwardly to his
knee, weaving her head from side to side as she surveyed him.
swallowed away the horrible aftertaste lingering at the back of his
throat. "Yeah, m'okay. Your turn," he said and held out the dish of
potion. One sharp peck later and Hedwig's blood was reacting with her
portion. Harry gave it the final stir and held it steady so she could
gulp the potion down. When she straightened so that her master could
complete the process, the dribble of shiny liquid from her beak
reminded Harry of blood once more.
Owl and master regarded
eachother; Hedwig's beak hung open and her feathers heaved as though
she was panting in distress. With a hand pressed over the icicle in his
own midriff Harry said, "you okay?"
Hedwig gave him the owl equivalent of 'you don't get rid of me that easily!' and Harry shuffled nearer, holding out his arm for her to hop on.
have a word with Hermione when she gets here. Decide what kind of owl
would blend in best and we'll change you then. Okay?"
Hedwig hissed her approval and leaned across to rub her head against his chest in one of her rare displays.
snorted softly, smiling into her yellow eyes as he smoothed her
feathers. "Yeah, I love you too." One of Madame Pomfrey's minor healing
spells took care of Hedwig's foot and another spell Vanished the rest
of the evidence, enabling Harry to contemplate the next step along the
There was no need to glance at his makeshift calendar.
Ron and Hermione would be here in the morning, accompanying him to The
Burrow as they had said they would. They would share the experience of
Bill's wedding, where he would see Ginny again, and then go hunting.
insides exhibiting an interestingly jerky emulation of Fred and
Angelina's dance at the Yule Ball, Harry sorted out his belongings into
two piles; things to take with him and those he would pack in his trunk.
approached his cousin late in the night before he was leaving. He
knocked on the door and waited, in itself an unheard-of occurrence.
Cramming his cauldron down so he could make room for
his Quidditch robes, Harry froze. It sounded like Dudley but if he'd
ever spoken so politely before, then Harry hadn't been around to hear
Harry kept his voice down. "What?"
knob rattled and then Dudley snapped, "Open the door!" A quick breath
and, with more control, "Harry, open the door. I want a word."
Harry hid his bag under the bed and pushed his school trunk shut on his
way to lift the locking spell and open the door a few inches. They
regarded each other in prickly silence.
"Can I come in?" Dudley muttered at last.
was now doubly on his guard and certain that his cousin was up to
something. "You can say what you've got to say from there."
leaned closer into the crack. On the other side, Harry drew his wand
from his back pocket, where he kept it in defiance of Mad-Eye's order.
He trusted Dudders about as far as Hermione could spit.
on the phone in the hall," he muttered. In the light escaping his room,
Harry could see tiny beads of sweat in his cousin's hairline. "Let me
Now Harry was curious; what could Dudders want from him
that he didn't want his mother to overhear? Harry stood aside and let
his cousin barge in. He shut the door in a great waft and lowered
himself to the foot of Harry's bed. The legs of the head end left the
"So what's up that you come to me, the
freak?" Harry asked when Dudley didn't speak, and had a 'light bulb'
moment. "Is it something to do with the other night?"
regarded him sullenly for a minute and raised a meaty fist to threaten
Harry with it. "If you bloody laugh, I swear I'll-"
stared back at his cousin, unimpressed, undaunted. "You mean you'll
try," he said quietly and then, fed up of Dudley's posturing, he
reclined into the other end of the saggy bed. "Spit it out, Big D."
every thirty pounds overweight you are, you lose an inch," Dudley
muttered as though this revelation should make the situation crystal
clear to Harry. His piggy eyes watched intently, clearly daring his
cousin to crack the merest hint of a grin.
Harry frowned. "So?"
"So, that's why... 'Cause I'm a bit overweight."
Harry considered that the first occasion that his cousin had brushed up against the unpalatable truth.
"It's also genetic," he said, thinking of Seamus; poor bloke.
"What?" Dudley looked as though Harry had spoken another language.
runs in families," Harry said promptly. "Didn't you do any science at
that expensive private school or did you just nick stuff from the labs?
Even I've heard about genetics."
"Shut it, freak!" were the first words out of his cousin's mouth as he jumped to his feet.
tossed onto his side in dismissal, wand in hand. "You really know how
to win friends and influence people, don't you, Dud?"
mean expression told Harry that the couch pumpkin was working through
that to find the insult he was sure was in there somewhere. "What?" he
asked at length.
"You came to me looking for something, not
the other way round, but you really can't help being your obnoxious
bloody self, can you?" His cousin was shifting his weight from one foot
to the other, as though readying a jab or a right hook. Harry waited to
see if Dudley would have the nerve to say what was on his mind. Harry
already knew what his cousin wanted.
Dudley's eyes darted around the room before he muttered, "Mum said she could change teacups into rats."
frowned. This was a leap worthy of Lavender Brown. The recollected
piercing squeal of 'Won-Won' gave him shudders. "Who could?"
pretend you don't know what I mean!" Dudley snarled and the minute the
words were out must have remembered he was trying to get his cousin on
his side. Harry watched his expression contort as he tried to rein his
temper back under control. When he spoke again, his tone was tight.
"Your, y’know.” He jerked his head meaningfully and made his extra
“My Mum, you mean?” Harry said quietly. “Your Aunt Lily,” he added, determined to make the point.
shuddered and faced the opposite wall briefly. “I remember hearing Mum
say it in that bloody awful shack. She changed teacups into rats and
her pockets were full of frogspawn."
"So?" Harry remembered
that as well but was surprised his cousin had. He flopped onto his
back, thought that position too vulnerable and trusting – Dudley was
not Ginny – and pushed upright against the wall.
"So, you can do it as well."
Harry snorted. "If I wanted. It's called Transfiguration. But why would you want me to turn a teacup into a rat?"
misunderstanding Dudley had been one of the few bits of fun Harry got
when he was younger and he supposed that this old habit was too
ingrained by now for him to stop it. Dudley clenched his fists, leaning
closer, and Harry was startled to see a vein pulsing in the side of his
cousin's head, in exactly the same place as his Uncle's did when he was
"I don't want a bloody rat, Freak, and you bloody know it," Dudley snarled, sounding remarkably like his father.
temper," Harry tutted, unaware that this was akin to the cauldron
calling the kettle black. "What do you want?" he demanded coolly,
deciding to go straight to the point. "An effortless weight loss so you
can find your tackle again? Or maybe you just expect me to make it
bigger?" He moved the wand in idle circles, drawing Dudley's anxious
eyes. "That would be an Engorgement Charm; learned those back in, er,"
he pretended to consider, "third year." His eyes sparkled at the
memory. "Remember the 'Ton-Tongue Toffee'? Same charm."
white-eyed terror made it abundantly clear that he did remember. His
fat hands went instantly to shield his groin. "No!" he whimpered.
"I suppose I could make a Potion," Harry said, pretending to consider.
Dudley's hands twitched. "What's that?"
"You'd have to drink it."
"Would it be permanent?"
shuffled to the edge of the bed and had his hand on the lid of his
trunk before his blood boiled afresh; he equated potions with Snape and
Snape was a black-hearted traitorous murdering b-.
you so bothered about this suddenly?" Harry demanded, his voice harsh
from the rage evoked thinking about the last time he'd seen that
greasy, cowardly git. The bedside lamp flickered and flared up to an
impossible brightness before dying with a loud 'pop'. The bed moved as
"Lumos!" Harry muttered in the sudden darkness. "Bollocks!"
cousin's face was bloodless in the clear light blazing from the tip of
the holly wand; even his lips were white as he gaped at Harry.
"Yeah, that was me. It happens sometimes when I lose my temper."
"T-the light!" Dudley pointed with a shaking finger.
a basic Charm," Harry said impatiently. "It's magic," he said, when
Dudley continued staring dumbfounded. "Why now? Been bragging have you,
or did your girlfriend have a laughing fit?"
Dudley forgot his
fear of magic and turned threatening again in the blink of an eye. "You
shut it! You know nothing about it! Like anyone would fancy you, you
freak!'' he spat. Instead of giving him a mouthful of lip as he
expected, his cousin leaned back with the corner of his mouth lifting.
Dudley frowned stupidly.
Suddenly, his cousin was a mystery to him. The small, skinny kid had
grown up and turned into the kind of authority figure that Dudley
generally avoided. He stared, trying to make sense of the change he
could sense but not define or understand.
He had spent all his
life thinking of Harry as 'the freak', sure in his own mind that he had
been given the more choice selections from the cornucopia that Life had
to offer. Looking at Harry now, he wasn't so sure and it annoyed him.
Dudley did not like this feeling of being excluded, so he fell back on
old habits; goading the freak.
"You've got no idea, you've
never had a girlfriend," Dudley taunted and felt uneasy when Harry's
thin face softened. What kind of girl would stoop to touch him? It had
to be a wind-up. Yeah -that was it- the freak was jerking his chain.
"Stop bullshitting! You've never been with a girl – no way!"
His cousin grinned good-naturedly. "Yeah?" he said. "You think what you like, Dud, because I'm not going to say a word."
After another five minutes of silent glaring on Dudley's part, Harry began to see a glimmer of understanding in his eyes.
"You're not going to help me at all, are you?"
house was incredibly still, not even the distant quacking of the tv
downstairs could be heard. Harry remembered the sting of Hermione
accusing him of having a ‘saving-people thing'… Except doing what
Dudley wanted wouldn't help him, it would only make his behaviour and
"You chose to hate me because I was different
and you've always treated me with contempt. Give me one good reason why
I should?" Harry replied.
Dudley made a graphic gesture that
Harry assumed was obscene in nature and left the door wide open. Harry
charmed it shut behind him.
His dreams that night were filled with a bewildering array of cups, while a disembodied voice bade him choose and choose wisely.
woke early with an unaccustomed churning sensation in his belly.
Unwilling to lie in bed and think about all the 'what-ifs' he sat up,
found his glasses and got ready, making as little noise as possible.
Even knowing he was walking into the longest darkest journey of his life so far, he couldn't wait to be free of this house.
checked the room one last time, locked his trunk, zipped his backpack
closed and then sat on the edge of the unmade bed, watching the second
hand on the little bedside clock sweep round. There was a hypnotic
quality to it that was soothing.
Five minutes before Ron and
Hermione were due to arrive, Harry sneaked downstairs, perching on the
third stair from the bottom, watching the shadows pass over the
He couldn't risk bringing down his school
trunk in case any of the Dursleys broke the habit of a lifetime and
woke early. Harry knew that most of Little Whinging would be sleeping
in this Sunday morning; sleeping off their Golf Club dinners, or the
Bridge club’s cheese and wine evening, or whatever exercise in
one-upmanship they had attended the previous evening. Uncle Vernon and
Aunt Petunia were no different.
A shadow appeared, setting his
heart faster, and diminished to a lad posting leaflets as it reached
the door. Harry disregarded this post with a grin. He wouldn't get the
Dursleys' post on this day, or any other.
With precisely a
minute to go, another huge shadow appeared in the early light. This
shadow defined more slowly, seeming reluctant to approach. Harry slid
to his feet, blending with the deeper shadows in the corner of the
hall, wand in hand and aware of his pulse bounding.
Had Ron and Hermione been prevented from coming?
Was this Hagrid?
Or someone altogether less welcome?
Watching intently, Harry waited as the seconds ticked on.
few more steps and he could see that what he'd taken for one person was
indeed two, looking around as they approached and he let out a long
slow breath, resting his hip on the wall.
The letterbox opened
with a metallic squeak. "Harry? Harry!" Hermione's voice was a tense
whisper in the growing light. "Are you there?"
Harry sidled closer, keeping to the deepest shadows just the same. "Hermione?"
"Yes! Harry, open the door and let us in!"
Harry had had several hours to mull over this and he said, "Is Ron there?"
was a pause before Hermione agreed that of course he was. The taller
shadow crouched and Ron's terse grumble came through the letterbox.
"Harry? Let us in, it's bloody freezing out here!"
Harry stayed put. "Ron, what's Golpalott's Third law?"
There was a pause.
Ron muttered. "I dunno, ask Hermione!" he replied in exasperation and
the next bit was muffled, as though Ron had turned away from the
letterbox, as indeed, he had. "He's mental! We're bloody freezing out
here and he wants to know what Golpalott's third law is!"
Grinning in satisfaction, Harry heard Hermione exclaim, "Ooo yes -security questions!"
heard Ron's 'oof' as Hermione made him budge over and her smaller
shadow covered the door. Harry could make out the thick folds of her
duffel coat through the glass.
"Yes?" She pushed even closer to the rectangular opening, sounding eager to find out what question he would put to her.
Harry leaned over at an awkward angle and lowered his voice to a bare whisper. "Who was your other choice to annoy Ron?"
cleared her throat and so close did she press it looked as though she
was trying to post her mouth. "Zacharias Smith," she breathed, "now
open the door!"
Harry could hear Ron muttering in the
background, wanting to know whether they shouldn't check that he was
Harry and was reminded of Mad-Eye asking the same thing the previous
"I've thought of that," Hermione said briskly. "Harry, kneel down."
crouched at the letterbox. A second later, a pale folded square plopped
across his knee. Before he had chance to touch it, the floral smell
that Harry equated with only one person filled his head and jolted his
"Ginny," he murmured and obeyed Hermione's repeated instruction to open the door in a daze.
Hermione was beaming at him. Ron wore the same face as he had back in the common-room; if you must.
Hermione started fussing before Ron had shut the front door. "You did pack several layers, like I told you to?"
did pack clothes and not books?" Harry countered, stung by the
assertion he couldn't think for himself and disappointed that Hermione
had taken back Ginny's handkerchief and pocketed it.
"I'm more used to packing for the vagaries of the weather than you are, Harry!"
to avoid any discussion on the state of his wardrobe, Harry put a
finger to his mouth and beckoned them to follow him down the hall.
can talk in here. I'm over the dining room so as long as we keep it
down, they," he pointed at the photographs proudly displayed on the
walls, "won't know anything." Ron and Hermione were frowning around the
room so Harry indicated the table, and the two bottles of potion,
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed softly and then, "did you have any problems?"
I followed your instructions and it turned the right colour, but..."
Harry shrugged. "I've got no way of knowing if it's worked."
"You've taken it already?" Ron asked and looked like he had another handful of questions but Hermione shushed him.
"You could have sent Hedwig out to us. In theory, she shouldn't be able to find you."
she'd just have come back here though, wouldn't she?" Harry said,
pointing out the obvious flaw in this argument before adding, "Besides,
she insisted on being Unplottable and coming too." Harry expected them
to argue the inadvisability of this but Ron and Hermione exchanged a
"What?" Harry asked.
"We didn't think
Hedwig would let you go without her," Ron said. Hermione merely nodded
although Harry could tell she was bursting to add more. He blinked.
“I thought we could transfigure her into something less noticeable than a Snowy. I told her I’d have word with you.”
squeezed Hermione’s hand tightly and she winced instead of saying
whatever she had been about to say. "Yeah, good idea. It’d be dead
useful to have an owl like Hedwig with us.”
"You have to add
your own blood," Harry said quietly and offered Hermione his obsidian
potion blade. She stared at it for what seemed like ages and flinched
when he put it into her hand. She seemed to have some difficulty
gripping the handle; it slid in her hand as though greased.
is clean," Harry said, when Hermione showed no signs of getting on with
it. He and Ron exchanged puzzled faces; Hermione didn’t normally have a
problem in Potions.
With the piece of volcanic glass in one
hand, Hermione raised it once, twice and each time, her hand shook and
dropped away. "I can't do it!" she said in a breathless sob. She
offered the potion knife to Ron. "You do it for me."
his impression of a fish out of water. Her huge eyes were watery,
mesmerising. He took Hermione's hand and became instantly aware of her
He was suddenly aware of how small her hand was as
he held it over the wide necked bottle and felt her recoil as the knife
approached. Her eyes were screwed up, face averted from him, and Harry.
She was trembling and Ron was in awe of the trust she placed in him.
This was the same witch who had chased after a winged key on a
broomstick, the witch who had slapped Malfoy, the witch who had taken
ten different healing potions without a word of complaint and she
couldn't prick her finger?
He held the sharp point poised
over the pale pink curve of her palm and discovered he couldn't bring
himself to cut her, to hurt her on purpose.
He turned to his best friend. "Harry?" he croaked.
could see the desperation in his almost-brother’s face; he knew it had
to be done but couldn't make himself to deliberately hurt her.
The small blade changed hands. "This is why Ginny and I…" he whispered. Ron nodded, looking lost.
her," Harry mouthed and took Hermione's hand, gripping around her lax
fingers and bunching them together. Ron braced himself against the
solid dining table and folded Hermione into a bearhug so that all that
was visible was her wild hair above his crossed arms. He rested his
cheek on her head, turning to put his mouth close to her ear.
once before, Harry did his best not to hear the soothing words his best
friend mumbled to his other best friend but concentrated fiercely on
squeezing blood into Hermione's fingertips until they were dark with it.
a scene from one of the medical dramas Aunt Petunia inflicted on them
twice a week, Harry patted the tips of Hermione's fingers briskly, and
then jabbed the point of the blade into three of them. "Ready? On
three," he lied and held her dripping hand over the potion.
"Do it!" Ron muttered hoarsely, relaying Hermione's muffled instruction.
The Potion became the same opaque shiny red as his own had done and Harry puffed out a long breath. "It's done. Sanatio!" The small punctures healed and Harry let Hermione snatch her hand back.
nodded but Harry wasn’t sure if the gesture was intended for him or
not. Ron was stroking over Hermione's back, reminding Harry of the
funeral when he had done the same thing.
"It tastes of blood.
The Potion," Harry said to the table. Ron's Weasley jumper was not
thick enough to completely muffle Hermione sniffles.
"How d'you know?" Ron asked gruffly as Harry headed to the door.
angled the glassy black blade, following the sliver of light running
along the edge. "When you've been punched in the face as many times as
I have, you get to know." Both their heads came up, staring at him in
shocked silence. "I'll er, I'll…" Harry jerked this thumb at the hall,
holding the blade up and Ron simply nodded.
Harry hurried into
the pristine kitchen and rinsed the knife under the tap, wiping it on
his shirtsleeve rather than disturb the precision folds of Aunt
Petunia’s tea towel. He lingered to give Hermione time to calm down and
to avoid the possibility of seeing a more affectionate exchange. "Wimp,
Potter!" he muttered.
When he judged that Hermione would be
more herself, he made his steps deliberately noisy and returned to the
dining room. Ron was just downing the last of his potion with a
grimace. "I've had worse," he muttered, "but not often!" Another Potion
knife lay discarded, reflected in the high polish of Aunt Petunia's
Together, Ron and Hermione enunciated the ancient spell as Harry made his presence known.
turned immediately to him and although her eyes were red, she was more
composed. "Sorry, Harry. I've always been useless with needles and
things. Mum says I was a nightmare when it was time for inoculations."
waved the apology away; they all had weak spots. He hadn't minded the
jabs; the nurse would sit him on her knee and give him a sweet for
keeping still. "S'okay. Dudley used to scream until he was sick."
"Inoculations?" Ron asked, having followed this exchange.
thought Hermione weighed up what to say before admitting, "It's a
Muggle method doctors use to try and prevent children getting things
like chicken pox and measles." After Ron's reaction to his Dad 'having
his skin sewn back together' and the business over his freckles being
mistaken for 'spattergoit', Harry thought it was probably best to keep
quiet about being injected with bits of diseases designed to stop you
Ron's eyes widened as he digested this. "You mean you've not had First Pox or measles? Neither
of you?" Harry and Hermione shook their heads in unison. "Blimey! Don't
tell Mum!" he snorted. "She'll get you round to play with the next kid
that comes down with it."
Harry smiled but Hermione stared
back in comic disbelief. "Your Mum would deliberately make sure we
caught an infectious disease?"
Ron caught Harry's eye; Harry
shrugged minutely. "Yeah. She reckoned it was easier for the lot of us
to be ill together and that it made you less susceptible to other
germs." Ron's eyes took on the light of challenge. "Or did you never
notice it was always the Muggle-borns queuing up for Pepper Up Potion
when it got to the end of October?"
Hermione took a sharp breath, probably to retaliate with statistics, judging by the light in her eye but Harry got in first.
can we discuss wizarding health issues later? I want to be gone from
here when the Dursleys wake up." There was an awkward silence.
"I'll give you a hand with your stuff," Ron muttered, heading to the foot of the stairs.
"I'll make sure we haven't left any traces behind," Hermione said quickly and ducked back round Harry into the dining room.
are never going to believe what my cousin wanted me to do to him!"
Harry said in a smothered mutter as they carried his trunk along the
Ron leaned nearer, his interest showing in a gleeful grin. "Yeah?"
nodded and looked round for their other best friend; he did not need
Hermione walking in on this recitation. She wasn't on the stairs so she
must still be in the dining room. What on earth was she doing? "Tell
you later, when you can laugh yourself sick. Where's Hermione?"
set his end of the trunk down and leaned over the banister. A glance
showed the Prefect glaring at a fat, blonde newcomer. More prolonged
attention showed she was itching to land another open-handed slap.
"Uh oh," Ron muttered, taking the stairs down in easy twos. Three long strides took him to her side. "S'up, Hermione?"
"Who're you?" Dudley snarled, readying a fist.
"My best friends," Harry said from the top of the stairs. “My cousin, Dudley.”
Dudley mouthed something that sounded like 'freaks' into Hermione's furious glare.
burst out, "I thought he had to be! I caught movement from the corner
of my eye! He's lucky I didn't Stun him, sneaking in to the
conservatory like a burglar!"
Harry smiled darkly. "Yeah, the
lock's broken but Uncle Vernon hasn't noticed yet." His bulky cousin
kept his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket, eyeing them all
belligerently, which made Harry more suspicious of him.
had been a recent spate of unsolved petty thefts that had the local
paper screaming about 'police inadequacy', to Uncle Vernon's complete
agreement, and Harry now wondered how many of them were down to Dudley
and his gang. "Well, I won't be here to take the blame. Ron?"
Ron held up a hand, watching Hermione intently. "What did he say to you?"
wanted to know if Harry's popular at school with 'the birds'!" she said
and her glacial tone was worthy of Professor McGonagall at her most
"What've the owls got to do with it?" Ron
demanded, curiosity taking control of his mouth. Hermione rolled her
eyes and transferred her glare to him.
Harry grinned and leaned over the banister. "He doesn't mean the post, Ron."
glanced back at his best friend and his jaw slipped as he worked it
out. "Oh... Right...!" Recognising Hermione's increasingly irate
expression, Ron thought it best to distract her before she had a go and
woke the adults. He put a hand on Hermione's arm and exerted a gentle
“Hey, it's nearly time… will you check the street
for us, Hermione? Nothing gets past you." His smile and tone, as he
drew he closer, implied the lard-arse was wasted effort and was
gratified to see Hermione's shoulders round down more naturally.
She nodded up at him and after skewering Dudley with a stare implying his emotional range was considerably less than that of a teaspoon, Hermione marched past both wizards to the glass-panelled front door.
took a minute to satisfy himself that Hermione's attention was on the
street, wand at the ready, and then he advanced on Dudley.
gave ground – Ron was taller and therefore had the longer reach for a
punch. Ron stopped at a conspiratorial distance that left Dudley with
the lounge door handle pressing into his back.
"Just so you know... Harry is popular at school; the girls would do anything to go out with him – and I do mean anything –"
he added with a nudge and a wink that only Fred could have carried off
more naturally. "Not only is he popular, but he's got a small fortune
in gold, a ten bedroom mansion in central London, the Minister for
Magic drops round to chat with him-"
"-That's like the Prime Minister," Harry interrupted.
grinned at the look of sick disbelief growing brighter on Dudley's
face. "He's dead loyal, Harry - he'd do anything for his friends... Oh
yeah - and he's a great and powerful wizard. Did I forget
anything?" he added, turning to grin at Harry who was regarding him
with amused scepticism.
"Just the mad megalomaniac hell-bent on killing me."
waved his hand as though this was understood. "Yeah, but he's not
interested in that, just the material stuff that you can flash about.
The kind of things that look good, not what really counts -friends and
loyalty." Ron checked his watch again and became shifty-looking. "Er,
Harry mate, you should check you haven't forgotten anything, y'know, upstairs, in your room. Check the windows are locked and, er, whatnot."
was the hurried and slightly pained tone that suggested another reason
for the would-be casual comment to Harry. Even as he took the stairs,
he heard a 'crack' that could only mean Apparition; his insides leaped
but he still drew his wand.
alone as the tall redhead sauntered away with a final dismissive
glance, Dudley saw the bag slung low over his left shoulder and decided
something was up. Probably the quickest way to get information was to
goad them into spilling it.
"What're you freaks doing here anyway? Some kind of school trip, is it?"
moving from his protective stance at Hermione's back, because Ron knew
that sly glint in the git's wandering eye meant he was a lech, he spoke
over his shoulder. "What did Harry tell you?"
Dudley shrugged, piggy eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Nothing." He watched Ron turn this over.
"Then that's all you need to know."
was furious; the snotty git's tone oozed satisfaction. When he turned
to mutter something to the wild-haired skinny piece that had turned up
with him, Dudley glanced up the stairs, sure he could hear voices.
Suddenly, another explanation for the redhead's odd suggestion to his cousin grew in Dudley's head.
with a nasty smirk, he edged silently – despite his size, Dudley could
move quickly and quietly – to the spot where he could get on foot on
the edge of the balustrade and climb over. It wasn't difficult; no
worse than getting over someone's fence or garden wall really and
Dudley had had plenty of practice at that. Sneaking a look and
satisfied that the two freaks hadn't noticed him, Dudley took the
remaining stairs in pairs.
pushed open the door to his bedroom. Standing with her back to him
looking out of the window, exactly as he had done so many times over
the years, was Ginny.
His breath caught in his throat; only
two weeks since he'd seen her and yet he'd forgotten how lovely she
was. The sight of her was so completely unexpected that he forgot his
"Ginny," he whispered. Her hair was loose and now so long that it scraped over the pockets of her jeans.
turned and regarded him over one shoulder, having heard his voice. "You
sure?" She had that hard, blazing look on her face again as she turned
slowly and sauntered across the carpet to him. "Little Ginny isn't old
enough to Apparate. I could be a Death Eater." Her wand landed with a
'tap' on his left shoulder and trailed diagonally downward across his
chest, stopping at Harry's right hip bone.
Harry watched her, quelling his shivers forcibly. "Okay. Complete the sentence; fish paste and?"
Ginny grinned immediately. "Trust you to remember that! Fish paste and haemorrhoid cream, Harry, you nutcase."
She went to put her arms round him but Harry held her back.
"And where's my mole?"
Ginny frowned, her upper arms firmly restrained by Harry's encircling hands. "Your what? You don't have a mole!"
pushed forward, pressing her cheek to his chest, relaxing into him, and
Harry found his arms had circled her narrow shoulders before he could
stop them. "For future reference, I do actually but it's somewhere you aren't likely to see it."
Ginny pulled out of his embrace while he was still talking and stared at him with intense interest as Harry grinned back at her.
"How did you get here anyway? I thought I heard someone Apparate--"
Ginny waved that away. "Never mind that! Where's your mole?" she demanded. "On your bum?"
"No. Did you Apparate?"
"Yeah, the twins taught me." Ginny tugged her hair free from Harry's caressing hand. "On your belly?"
"No. The twins taught you?"
put her fingertips flat over the lean muscles of Harry's back, right
below his ribcage and moved them in small, slow circles. "Yeah. They
thought it would be a useful skill for me to have, under the
circumstances. Gives me an extra advantage… On your head? Am I getting
"Uh?" Harry mumbled, paying more attention to her hands, circling, very distractingly, over his kidneys. That wasn't fair
"Your mole?" Ginny demanded, bringing him out of it with an impatient shake. "I can't be out too long, Mum'll get suspicious."
anyway," Ginny continued, her mood hardening subtly, "what kind of
'hello' is this for your girlfriend. Anyone would think you weren't
pleased to see me!"
Harry's face, which had run through
various expressions conveying his thoughts and feelings, was now fixed
on vexation as he looked at Ginny's upturned face.
started the questions!" he said hotly, feeling a stab of something
feral at the word
you were being too trusting!" Ginny snapped, jabbing a rigid finger
rather forcefully into his ribs. "You're seventeen now; the blood
protection has ended, hasn't it? So, you have to be more wary!"
liking the way this meeting was going, Harry let her go. "Fine, I'll go
all 'Mad-Eye' then. What does Hermione think of you Apparating?"
looked smug. "She doesn't know. Only the twins know. Ron made a shrewd
guess when he caught me turning in the paddock, and the mindless
snogging with Lav-Lav must have swept his brain of fluff because he
thought it was a good idea as well. He's promised to keep his mouth
"You mean you hexed him this time?" Harry said, recalling that particular spat between brother and sister with no difficulty.
did not!" Ginny retorted. Harry started when she whipped round to face
the door, wand ready. Trusting her instincts, he raised his own and
moved in front of her.
They listened intently, stretching their ears over rapid heartbeats.
on the landing, Dudley froze. The freak definitely had a girl in there
with him and she'd used the word 'girlfriend'. What did she see in his
freak of a cousin? Dudley was a proper man; his dad, Aunt Marge and his
mum had told him so all his life, so why did the freak have the girls
after him and he didn't?
It made no sense. It wasn't fair.
He sidled closer until he could see them through the gap of the partly open door.
They were standing very close and bugger me if she wasn't a redhead too! Sister of the thug downstairs, probably.
wasn't very big, could tuck her head under the freak's chin easily but
she looked pretty enough, with the kind of arse that just begged for a
grope in passing.
They looked pretty cosy… Dudley took another step closer so that he could overhear more clearly.
thought I heard something. I'm getting jumpy," the girl said quietly,
turning back to face the tall, black-haired man watching her.
I need to know that you're safe so I can go and do this," Harry said
and it sounded to Dudley as though he was begging, even as his hands
loosely clasped her shoulders.
The girl – Ginny – was looking
up into his face, her fingers drawing patterns on his shirt. "I know
where the safest place is," she murmured.
Harry stiffened and
inadvertently drew her closer. "You do? Promise me that you'll stay
there! Promise me!" He repeated the demand more firmly when Ginny
The seconds stretched out as they stared into eachother's eyes and the girl backed down first.
promise," Ginny said softly and Harry's taut shoulders dropped
momentarily and then he tensed again. He regarded her more intently,
leaning closer to her eyes.
"You do?" He sounded as though he'd expected more of an argument over this.
She looked into his face. "Yes. I promise you I'll stay in the safest place I know of."
Harry rested his forehead to hers; his eyes closed and his sigh was clear relief until the redhead spoke again.
"You didn't ask where it was, Harry."
Something in her tone made Harry start and pull away; she was trying not to grin up at him.
"Ginny?" Harry demanded warningly, eyes tightening.
''The safest place for me is right by your side," Ginny murmured. "Thanks for encouraging me to come along."
as Dudley watched she stretched up on tiptoe, gliding her hands
familiarly up his chest until she grabbed his face and silenced his
cousin's furious objection with the kind of kiss he'd only ever seen in
Piers's films and never experienced.
Judging where Harry's hands were, it wasn't the first time they'd done this either.
Dudley felt sick, and something else that took several puzzled minutes of observation to identify; jealous.
separated, short of breath. "I told you once before, Harry. I didn't
give up on you last time and I'm not about to give up on you now."
watched her place one last, more chaste, kiss on his mouth and then she
disappeared from sight with a noise like a cork coming out of a whisky
Frozen in place by everything he had seen and heard,
Dudley failed to notice the door opening. The next thing he knew, Harry
had him hard against the airing cupboard door, with a handful of his
clothes twisted in a white-knuckled fist and that bloody wand in his
"How long were you standing there? Well?" Harry jabbed
the wand harder into Dudley's fat neck, not really caring that he was
causing him pain. His only concern was for Ginny and that, to save his
own carcass, Dudley would blab everything he knew to any Death Eater
who cared to come enquiring, politely or otherwise.
minutes," Dudley wheezed. He knew how to handle himself in the boxing
ring, or behind the garages in a free-for-all, and he'd always been
able to thrash Harry whenever he wanted but this time… For the third
time in his life, Dudley was terrified.
He shivered, feeling
the air chill with menace and power, and tried to avoid his cousin's
eyes. He might as well have tried to fly.
"If you breathe one
word and Ginny comes to any harm because of it, I swear by the magic
running in my veins, you will spend the rest of your life wishing -praying- you'd stayed downstairs and seen nothing. Do we understand eachother?"
cousin was shaking as he leaned into him, wild-eyed and dangerous. He
looked capable of anything. Dudley was too shocked and awed to do
anything other than nod. Harry's blazing eyes calmed gradually and
returned to their normal shade.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" Dudley mumbled as Harry released him warily and took a step away.
"Yeah. Never coming back to darken this doorstep again. You're getting what you always wanted."
The Muggle and the Wizard regarded eachother.
"Was he having me on before?"
Harry frowned while Dudley gingerly examined his neck. "Who? Ron?"
"He said the girls would do anything to go out with you."
thought of Romilda Vane's attempt to drug him with a love potion and
poor Merope, who had once tried the same thing with disastrous results,
and wondered if Romilda had learned sense in the meantime. "What about
it?" he asked wearily. His legs were starting to tremble with reaction;
seeing Ginny here, where he least expected her to be, his cousin's plea
for help; again, the last thing he expected of him, and the enormity of
the dimly sketched future growing clearly on the horizon with each
second that ticked away.
He rested his shoulder on the wall to
give his legs a chance. "I don't have time to humour you, Dud," he
added with a hint of asperity when Dudley remained silent. "Just tell
me what you want."
"How do I get a girlfriend like her?"
renewed stare was incisive, sharper than any drill Grunnings were
capable of manufacturing. Dudley got the sick feeling that his skinny
cousin could read all his resentment and unhappiness at seeing his
mates pair off while he, always the ringleader in whatever they did,
was left behind.
Harry sighed and the feeling in his head
vanished as quickly as it had come. Dudley watched him take one final
look around the bedroom he had been given so grudgingly, and close the
door, leaving them both standing in a kind of half-light filtering up
from the hall below.
A loud snort attracted Dudley’s attention to the closed door of the master bedroom; a sure sign Dad would wake soon.
have to stop being a spoilt, selfish, arrogant bully and learn to think
about other people first." His cousin looked sideways at him, over the
tops of his glasses in a way that reminded Dudley of someone he
couldn't exactly place. "I don't think it's possible. Just find
yourself a doting doormat who'll be happy for you to treat her badly
and before you have any kids, remember that my mum and yours were
sisters and that magic is a strong and resilient gene."
mouth fell open as Harry spoke and although his cousin had spoken
frankly -bluntly- even, a small part of Dudley, deep inside, knew that
every word was true. Then the last sentence made its way through his
He lunged to grab hold of Harry even as he
moved to the head of the stairs. "You mean I could have -that one of my
kids could be…"
"A freak?" Harry said quietly, looking down
the stairs. "Yeah." He took the first step down, breaking free from
Dudley's now limp hold. It was the work of a few seconds to couch his
thoughts in term his cousin would understand; he'd overheard enough of
it at school.
"And don't think that you could pick a Muggle
girl and stay safe that way. The witch downstairs -my best friend,
Hermione? Her family is Muggle for as many generations as you care to
look but there isn't a spell that she can't work. If magic decides to
show itself, you won't stop it."
Harry stared out of the
landing window. "A freak for a grandchild… I can hear Uncle Vernon now…
If you want to avoid that I can only see one way out, Dudley, and,
well, it's a bit extreme. It means no sex. Ever. At least with a girl,
I don't think you could get a bloke pregnant," he added thoughtfully.
took a horrified breath but Harry seemed to have read his mind. He
opened his mouth, appeared to reconsider and said, “I presume that was
why you removed the bathroom towels while I was in the shower?” He
shook his head. “Look, forget all the rubbish your mates tell you. A
man is defined by what’s in his heart and his head, not anything else.”
was leaning heavily against the wall, gaping, when Harry glanced at
him. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but then it never had been.
day, you’ll learn that other people judge you by every action, every
choice you make and that they don’t think the sun shines out of you the
way Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon do… If you want a girlfriend who’s
even a tenth of the woman that Ginny is now, you’d better learn to
think about others before yourself.”
He moved forward and all that remained was the slight sound of his descending footsteps on the expensive carpet.
last image Harry had of his cousin was of him sitting in a slumped
position, slack-mouthed, against the door to the airing cupboard.
At the foot of the stairs, Ron was waiting to help him on with his backpack. "That was very 'Slytherin', Harry."
shrugged. "If it gets him thinking and turns on his conscience, I
couldn't care less. If I've saved some poor woman from his crappy
attitude and prejudices, I think it's a job well done." He met Ron's
eyes and admitted something that had bothered him when he was younger.
"The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin and you know what they
say, 'it takes one to know one'. You ready for this?"
Ron grinned bravely. "Nah, but let's do it anyway." He turned to the witch. "Okay?"
nodded, her pack already in place, opened the door and slipped out
first. Ron followed and stood beside her, his right hand under his
jacket. Harry was reminded of his Dad the day he had escorted him,
Harry, to the 'trial' at the Ministry.
"I sent your trunk and Hedwig's cage to Mrs Weasley."
said he'll find a quiet spot in The Burrow to hide it from Mum until
she calms down, or we get back, whichever comes first," Ron volunteered
Harry nodded, grateful for Bill's help. If anyone
understood why he had to do this and could bring Mrs Weasley round it
He was coming back; he had decided, just not to
this house. He closed the door for the last time, adjusted the straps
of his pack and looked up and down the skies over Privet Drive.
Hermione looked around; she seemed a little
flustered. "Hedwig? Erm, I'm not exactly sure." Her voice was higher
pitched than usual. “I don’t think she’ll be far away.”
eyed Ron, who was silently chortling and surmised there was a
hitch. He stood straighter and wrapped both hands round the
straps of his pack. "Hermione," he started firmly, "what kind of owl
did you Transfigure Hedwig into?"
scrunched up. "Which way, Harry, left or right?" she asked, fiddling
with her own straps and evidently reluctant to confess.
leaned past Harry and ran his hands down her sleeves. "Come on,
Hermione, you know he has to find out sooner or later. Get it over with
"You'll laugh," Hermione said in a small voice to her shoes.
"I won't," Harry assured her. "And Ron won’t. Will you?" he added significantly to his other best friend. Ron shook his head.
held up her arm and a large black bird with white flashes shot from the
bushes nearby and landed awkwardly, the raucous calls harsh on the
ears. The beady eye was baleful.
Having promised not to laugh,
Harry had to bite the inside of his mouth again. A glance showed Ron
wore a similarly smothered expression.
Hedwig was a magpie and obviously very unhappy about it.
thought she'd be less obvious," Hermione said huffily. "I mean, they're
indigenous birds and you see them in the towns as much as the country!"
wizards hastened to agree with this assessment. With a final cry,
Hedwig took to the skies again. As they walked down the pavement, Harry
suggested that Hermione put her hood up.
"Just in case she
decides to express her feelings in true avian fashion," he said
straightfaced when Hermione shot him an interrogative glance.
Bet you're sorry you didn't let me do it now, aren't you, girl? he thought.
the cul-de-sac and heading for the main road, his two best friends on
either side of him, Harry grinned mischievously at the cracked flags
under his trainers. Never again would he have to listen to Uncle Vernon
rant loudly about the 'inferior materials and shoddy workmanship' of
the local council.
Harry could have told them Dudley hadn't
tripped over an uneven flag and fallen; drunk out of his skull would
have been closer to the truth.
Wherever in the country this
search took them, the thought that he would never again have to walk
down this road, unless he chose to, gave Harry an immense feeling of
satisfaction. Another step on his journey of a thousand miles.
A large potted Poinsetta to my Beta, the eagle-eyed Katieay, for her
insightful comments and ‘LOL’ in all the right places! Further seasonal
blooms go to the lovely Asli, who pre-betaed this and offered
constructive pruning advice! Cheers m’dears!
is from a lyric by U2. The original line speaks of ‘science and the
human heart’ but I amended it to suit the Potterverse and my own