Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J. K. Rowling

 

 

 

Chapters

 

One [goto]

 

The Dark Lord Ascending

 

 

 

Two [goto]

 

In Memorandum

 

 

 

Three [goto]

 

The Dursleys Departing

 

 

 

Four [goto]

 

The Seven Potters

 

 

 

Five [goto]

 

Fallen Warrior

 

 

 

Six [goto]

 

The Ghoul in Pajamas

 

 

 

Seven [goto]

 

The Will of Albus Dumbledore

 

 

 

Eight [goto]

 

The Wedding

 

 

 

Nine [goto]

 

A Place to Hide

 


 

 

 

Ten [goto]

 

Kreacher’s Tale

 

 

 

Eleven [goto]

 

The Bribe

 

 

 

Twelve [goto]

 

Magic is Might

 

 

 

Thirteen [goto]

 

The Muggle-born Registration Commission

 

 

 

Fourteen [goto]

 

The Thief

 

 

 

Fifteen [goto]

 

The Goblin’s Revenge

 

 

 

Sixteen [goto]

 

Godric’s Hollow

 

 

 

Seventeen [goto]

 

Bathilda’s Secret

 

 

 

Eighteen [goto]

 

The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore

 

 

 

Nineteen [goto]

 

The Silver Doe

 

 

 

Twenty [goto]

 

Xenophilius Lovegood

 

 

 

Twenty-One [goto]

 

The Tale of the Three Brothers

 

 

 

Twenty-Two [goto]

 

The Deathly Hallows

 

 

 

Twenty-Three [goto]

 

Malfoy Manor

 

 

 

Twenty-Four [goto]

 

The Wandmaker

 

 

 


 

Twenty-Five [goto]

 

Shell Cottage

 

 

 

Twenty-Six [goto]

 

Gringotts

 

 

 

Twenty-Seven [goto]

 

The Final Hiding Place

 

 

 

Twenty-Eight [goto]

 

The Missing Mirror

 

 

 

Twenty-Nine [goto]

 

The Lost Diadem

 

 

 

Thirty [goto]

 

The Sacking of Severus Snape

 

 

 

Thirty-One [goto]

 

The Battle of Hogwarts

 

 

 

Thirty-Two [goto]

 

The Elder Wand

 

 

 

Thirty-Three [goto]

 

The Prince’s Tale

 

 

 

Thirty-Four [goto]

 

The Forest Again

 

 

 

Thirty-Five [goto]

 

King’s Cross

 

 

 

Thirty-Six [goto]

 

The Flaw in the Plan

 

 

 

Epilogue [goto]

 


 

 Chapter One

The Dark Lord Ascending

 

 

The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit

lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each other's chests; then,

recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking

briskly in the same direction.

"News?" asked the taller of the two.

"The best," replied Severus Snape.

The lane was bordered on the left by wild, low-growing brambles, on the right by a high,

neatly manicured hedge. The men's long cloaks flapped around their ankles as they

marched.

"Thought I might be late," said Yaxley, his blunt features sliding in and out of sight as

the branches of overhanging trees broke the moonlight. "It was a little trickier than I

expected. But I hope he will be satisfied. You sound confident that your reception will be

good?"

Snape nodded, but did not elaborate. They turned right, into a wide driveway that led

off the lane. The high hedge curved into them, running off into the distance beyond the

pair of imposing wrought-iron gates barring the men’s way. Neither of them broke step:

In silence both raised their left arms in a kind of salute and passed straight through, as

though the dark metal was smoke.

 

 The yew hedges muffled the sound of the men’s footsteps. There was a rustle

somewhere to their right: Yaxley drew his wand again pointing it over his companion’s

head, but the source of the noise proved to be nothing more than a pure-white peacock,

strutting majestically along the top of the hedge.

 

 “He always did himself well, Lucius. Peacocks …” Yaxley thrust his wand back

under his cloak with a snort.

 

 A handsome manor house grew out of the darkness at the end of the straight drive,

lights glinting in the diamond paned downstairs windows. Somewhere in the dark garden

beyond the hedge a fountain was playing. Gravel crackled beneath their feet as Snape and

Yaxley sped toward the front door, which swung inward at their approach, though

nobody had visibly opened it.

 

 The hallway was large, dimly lit, and sumptuously decorated, with a magnificent

carpet covering most of the stone floor. The eyes of the pale-faced portraits on the wall

followed Snape and Yaxley as they strode past. The two men halted at a heavy wooden

door leading into the next room, hesitated for the space of a heartbeat, then Snape turned

the bronze handle.

 

 The drawing room was full of silent people, sitting at a long and ornate table. The

room’s usual furniture had been pushed carelessly up against the walls. Illumination

came from a roaring fire beneath a handsome marble mantelpiece surmounted by a gilded

mirror. Snape and Yaxley lingered for a moment on the threshold. As their eyes grew

accustomed to the lack of light, they were drawn upward to the strangest feature of the

scene: an apparently unconscious human figure hanging upside down over the table,

revolving slowly as if suspended by an invisible rope, and reflected in the mirror and in

the bare, polished surface of the table below. None of the people seated underneath this

 


 

singular sight were looking at it except for a pale young man sitting almost directly below

it. He seemed unable to prevent himself from glancing upward every minute or so.

 

 “Yaxley. Snape,” said a high, clear voice from the head of the table. “You are

very nearly late.”

 

 The speaker was seated directly in front of the fireplace, so that it was difficult, at

first, for the new arrivals to make out more than his silhouette. As they drew nearer,

however, his face shone through the gloom, hairless, snakelike, with slits for nostrils and

gleaming red eyes whose pupils were vertical. He was so pale that he seemed to emit a

pearly glow.

 

 “Severus, here,” said Voldemort, indicating the seat on his immediate right.

“Yaxley – beside Dolohov.”

 

 The two men took their allotted places. Most of the eyes around the table

followed Snape, and it was to him that Voldemort spoke first.

 

 “So?”

 

 “My Lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current

place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall.”

 

 The interest around the table sharpened palpably: Some stiffened, others fidgeted,

all gazing at Snape and Voldemort.

 

 “Saturday … at nightfall,” repeated Voldemort. His red eyes fastened upon

Snape’s black ones with such intensity that some of the watchers looked away, apparently

fearful that they themselves would be scorched by the ferocity of the gaze. Snape,

however, looked calmly back into Voldemort’s face and, after a moment or two,

Voldemort’s lipless mouth curved into something like a smile.

 

 “Good. Very good. And this information comes –“

 

 “ – from the source we discussed,” said Snape.

 

 “My Lord.”

 

 Yaxley had leaned forward to look down the long table at Voldemort and Snape.

All faces turned to him.

 

 “My Lord, I have heard differently.”

 

 Yaxley waited, but Voldemort did not speak, so he went on, “Dawlish, the Auror,

let slip that Potter will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns

seventeen.”

 

 Snape was smiling.

 

 “My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it. No

doubt a Confundus Charm has been placed upon Dawlish. It would not be the first time;

he is known to be susceptible.”

 

 “I assure you, my Lord, Dawlish seemed quite certain,” said Yaxley.

 

 “If he has been Confunded, naturally he is certain,” said Snape. “I assure you,

Yaxley, the Auror Office will play no further part in the protection of Harry Potter. The

Order believes that we have infiltrated the Ministry.”

 

 “The Order’s got one thing right, then, eh?” said a squat man sitting a short

distance from Yaxley; he gave a wheezy giggle that was echoed here and there along the

table.

 

 Voldemort did not laugh. His gaze had wandered upward to the body revolving

slowly overhead, and he seemed to be lost in thought.

 


 

 “My Lord,” Yaxley went on, “Dawlish believes an entire party of Aurors will be

used to transfer the boy –“

 

 Voldemort held up a large white hand, and Yaxley subsided at once, watching

resentfully as Voldemort turned back to Snape.

 

 “Where are they going to hide the boy next?”

 

 “At the home of one of the Order,” said Snape. “The place, according to the

source, has been given every protection that the Order and Ministry together could

provide. I think that there is little chance of taking him once he is there, my Lord, unless,

of course, the Ministry has fallen before next Saturday, which might give us the

opportunity to discover and undo enough of the enchantments to break through the rest.”

 

 “Well, Yaxley?” Voldemort called down the table, the firelight glinting strangely

in his red eyes. “Will the Ministry have fallen by next Saturday?”

 

 Once again, all heads turned. Yaxley squared his shoulders.

 

 “My Lord, I have good news on that score. I have – with difficulty, and after great

effort – succeeded in placing an Imperius Curse upon Pius Thicknesse.”

 

 Many of those sitting around Yaxley looked impressed; his neighbor, Dolohov, a

man with a long, twisted face, clapped him on the back.

 

 “It is a start,” said Voldemort. “But Thicknesse is only one man. Scrimgeour must

be surrounded by our people before I act. One failed attempt on the Minister’s life will

set me back a long way.”

 

 “Yes – my Lord, that is true – but you know, as Head of the Department of

Magical Law Enforcement, Thicknesse has regular contact not only with the Minister

himself, but also with the Heads of all the other Ministry departments. It will, I think, be

easy now that we have such a high-ranking official under our control, to subjugate the

others, and then they can all work together to bring Scrimgeour down.”

 

 “As long as our friend Thicknesse is not discovered before he has converted the

rest,” said Voldemort. “At any rate, it remains unlikely that the Ministry will be mine

before next Saturday. If we cannot touch the boy at his destination, then it must be done

while he travels.”

 

 “We are at an advantage there, my Lord,” said Yaxley, who seemed determined to

receive some portion of approval. “We now have several people planted within the

Department of Magical Transport. If Potter Apparates or uses the Floo Network, we shall

know immediately.”

 

 “He will not do either,” said Snape. “The Order is eschewing any form of

transport that is controlled or regulated by the Ministry; they mistrust everything to do

with the place.”

 

 “All the better,” said Voldemort. “He will have to move in the open. Easier to

take, by far.”

 

 Again, Voldemort looked up at the slowly revolving body as he went on, “I shall

attend to the boy in person. There have been too many mistakes where Harry Potter is

concerned. Some of them have been my own. That Potter lives is due more to my errors

than to his triumphs.”

 

 The company around the table watched Voldemort apprehensively, each of them,

by his or her expression, afraid that they might be blamed for Harry Potter’s continued

existence. Voldemort, however, seemed to be speaking more to himself than to any of

them, still addressing the unconscious body above him.

 


 

 “I have been careless, and so have been thwarted by luck and chance, those

wreckers of all but the best-laid plans. But I know better now. I understand those things

that I did not understand before. I must be the one to kill Harry Potter, and I shall be.”

 

 At these words, seemingly in response to them, a sudden wail sounded, a terrible,

drawn-out cry of misery and pain. Many of those at the table looked downward, startled,

for the sound had seemed to issue from below their feet.

 

 “Wormtail,” said Voldemort, with no change in his quiet, thoughtful tone, and

without removing his eyes from the revolving body above, “have I not spoken to you

about keeping our prisoner quiet?”

 

 “Yes, m-my Lord,” gasped a small man halfway down the table, who had been

sitting so low in his chair that it appeared, at first glance, to be unoccupied. Now he

scrambled from his seat and scurried from the room, leaving nothing behind him but a

curious gleam of silver.

 

 “As I was saying,” continued Voldemort, looking again at the tense faces of his

followers, “I understand better now. I shall need, for instance, to borrow a wand from one

of you before I go to kill Potter.”

 

 The faces around him displayed nothing but shock; he might have announced that

he wanted to borrow one of their arms.

 

 “No volunteers?” said Voldemort. “Let’s see … Lucius, I see no reason for you to

have a wand anymore.”

 

 Lucius Malfoy looked up. His skin appeared yellowish and waxy in the firelight,

and his eyes were sunken and shadowed. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse.

 

 “My Lord?”

 

 “Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand.”

 

 “I …”

 

 Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, quite as pale

as he was, her long blonde hair hanging down her back, but beneath the table her slim

fingers closed briefly on his wrist. At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes,

withdrew a wand, and passed it along to Voldemort, who held it up in front of his red

eyes, examining it closely.

 

 “What is it?”

 

 “Elm, my Lord,” whispered Malfoy.

 

 “And the core?”

 

 “Dragon – dragon heartstring.”

 

 “Good,” said Voldemort. He drew out his wand and compared the lengths. Lucius

Malfoy made an involuntary movement; for a fraction of a second, it seemed he expected

to receive Voldemort’s wand in exchange for his own. The gesture was not missed by

Voldemort, whose eyes widened maliciously.

 

 “Give you my wand, Lucius? My wand?”

 

 Some of the throng sniggered.

 

 “I have given you your liberty, Lucius, is that not enough for you? But I have

noticed that you and your family seem less than happy of late … What is it about my

presence in your home that displaces you, Lucius?”

 

 “Nothing – nothing, my Lord!”

 

 “Such lies Lucius … “

 


 

 The soft voice seemed to hiss on even after the cruel mouth had stopped moving.

One or two of the wizards barely repressed a shudder as the hissing grew louder;

something heavy could be heard sliding across the floor beneath the table.

 

 The huge snake emerged to climb slowly up Voldemort’s chair. It rose, seemingly

endlessly, and came to rest across Voldemort’s shoulders: its neck the thickness of a

man’s thigh; its eyes, with their vertical slits for pupils, unblinking. Voldemort stroked

the creature absently with long thin fingers, still looking at Lucius Malfoy.

 

 “Why do the Malfoys look so unhappy with their lot? Is my return, my rise to

power, not the very thing they professed to desire for so many years?”

 

 “Of course, my Lord,” said Lucius Malfoy. His hand shook as he wiped sweat

from his upper lip. “We did desire it – we do.”

 

 To Malfoy’s left, his wife made an odd, stiff nod, her eyes averted from

Voldemort and the snake. To his right, his son, Draco, who had been gazing up at the

inert body overhead, glanced quickly at Voldemort and away again, terrified to make eye

contact.

 

 “My Lord,” said a dark woman halfway down the table, her voice constricted with

emotion, “it is an honor to have you here, in our family’s house. There can be no higher

pleasure.”

 

 She sat beside her sister, as unlike her in looks, with her dark hair and heavily

lidded eyes, as she was in bearing and demeanor; where Narcissa sat rigid and impassive,

Bellatrix leaned toward Voldemort, for mere words could not demonstrate her longing for

closeness.

 

 “No higher pleasure,” repeated Voldemort, his head tilted a little to one side as he

considered Bellatrix. “That means a great deal, Bellatrix, from you.”

 

 Her face flooded with color; her eyes welled with tears of delight.

 

 “My Lord knows I speak nothing but the truth!”

 

 “No higher pleasure … even compared with the happy event that, I hear, has

taken place in your family this week?”

 

 She stared at him, her lips parted, evidently confused.

 

 “I don’t know what you mean, my Lord.”

 

 “I’m talking about your niece, Bellatrix. And yours, Lucius and Narcissa. She has

just married the werewolf, Remus Lupin. You must be so proud.”

 

 There was an eruption of jeering laughter from around the table. Many leaned

forward to exchange gleeful looks; a few thumped the table with their fists. The giant

snake, disliking the disturbance, opened its mouth wide and hissed angrily, but the Death

Eaters did not hear it, so jubilant were they at Bellatrix and the Malfoys’ humiliation.

Bellatrix’s face, so recently flushed wit happiness, had turned an ugly, blotchy red.

 

 “She is no niece of ours, my Lord,” she cried over the outpouring of mirth. “We –

Narcissa and I – have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood. This

brat has nothing to do with either of us, nor any beast she marries.”

 

 “What say you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, and though his voice was quiet, it

carried clearly through the catcalls and jeers. “Will you babysit the cubs?”

 

 The hilarity mounted; Draco Malfoy looked in terror at his father, who was

staring down into his own lap, then caught his mother’s eye. She shook her head almost

imperceptibly, then resumed her own deadpan stare at the opposite wall.

 

 “Enough,” said Voldemort, stroking the angry snake. “Enough.”

 


 

 And the laughter died at once.

 

 “Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time,” he said as

Bellatrix gazed at him, breathless and imploring, “You must prune yours, must you not,

to keep it healthy? Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest.”

 

 “Yes, my Lord,” whispered Bellatrix, and her eyes swam with tears of gratitude

again. “At the first chance!”

 

 “You shall have it,” said Voldemort. “And in your family, so in the world … we

shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain …”

 

 Voldemort raised Lucius Malfoy’s wand, pointed it directly at the slowly

revolving figure suspended over the table, and gave it a tiny flick. The figure came to life

with a groan and began to struggle against invisible bonds.

 

 “Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort.

 

 Snape raised his eyes to the upside down face. All of the Death Eaters were

looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show

curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said in a cracked and terrified

voice, “Severus! Help me!”

 

 “Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again.

 

 “And you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, stroking the snake’s snout with his wandfree

hand. Draco shook his head jerkily. Now that the woman had woken, he seemed

unable to look at her anymore.

 

 “But you would not have taken her classes,” said Voldemort. “For those of you

who do not know, we are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently,

taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

 

 There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched

woman with pointed teeth cackled.

 

 “Yes … Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about

Muggles … how they are not so different from us … “

 

 One of the Death Eaters spat on the floor. Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape

again.

 

 “Severus … please … please … “

 

 “Silence,” said Voldemort, with another twitch of Malfoy’s wand, and Charity fell

silent as if gagged. “Not content with corrupting and polluting the minds of Wizarding

children, last week Professor Burbage wrote an impassioned defense of Mudbloods in the

Daily Prophet. Wizards, she says, must accept these thieves of their knowledge and

magic. The dwindling of the purebloods is, says Professor Burbage, a most desirable

circumstance … She would have us all mate with Muggles … or, no doubt, werewolves

… “

 

 Nobody laughed this time. There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in

Voldemort’s voice. For the third time, Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape. Tears

were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as

she turned slowly away from him again.

 

 “Avada Kedavra”

 

 The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a

resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several of the Death

Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his onto the floor.

 


 

 “Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered

from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

In Memorandum

 

 

 

Harry was bleeding. Clutching his right hand in his left and swearing under his

breath, he shouldered open his bedroom door. There was a crunch of breaking china. He

had trodden on a cup of cold tea that had been sitting on the floor outside his bedroom

door.

 

 "What the --?"

 

 He looked around, the landing of number four, Privet Drive, was deserted.

Possibly the cup of tea was Dudley's idea of a clever booby trap. Keeping his bleeding

hand elevated, Harry scraped the fragments of cup together with the other hand and threw

them into the already crammed bin just visible inside his bedroom door. Then he tramped

across to the bathroom to run his finger under the tap.

 

 It was stupid, pointless, irritating beyond belief that he still had four days left of

being unable to perform magic…but he had to admit to himself that this jagged cut in his

finger would have defeated him. He had never learned how to repair wounds, and now he

came to think of it – particularly in light of his immediate plans – this seemed a serious

flaw in his magical education. Making a mental note to ask Hermione how it was done,

he used a large wad of toilet paper to mop up as much of the tea as he could before

returning to his bedroom and slamming the door behind him.

 

 Harry had spent the morning completely emptying his school trunk for the first

time since he had packed it six years ago. At the start of the intervening school years, he

had merely skimmed off the topmost three quarters of the contents and replaced or

updated them, leaving a layer of general debris at the bottom – old quills, desiccated

beetle eyes, single socks that no longer fit. Minutes previously, Harry had plunged his

hand into this mulch, experienced a stabbing pain in the fourth finger of his right hand,

and withdrawn it to see a lot of blood.

 

 He now proceeded a little more cautiously. Kneeling down beside the trunk again,

he groped around in the bottom and, after retrieving an old badge that flickered feebly

between SUPPORT CEDRIC DIGGORY and POTTER STINKS, a cracked and worn-out

Sneakoscope, and a gold locket inside which a note signed R.A.B. had been hidden, he

finally discovered the sharp edge that had done the damage. He recognized it at once. It

was a two-inch-long fragment of the enchanted mirror that his dead godfather, Sirius, had

given him. Harry laid it aside and felt cautiously around the trunk for the rest, but nothing

 


 

more remained of his godfather's last gift except powdered glass, which clung to the

deepest layer of debris like glittering grit.

 

 Harry sat up and examined the jagged piece on which he had cut himself, seeing

nothing but his own bright green eye reflected back at him. Then he placed the fragment

on top of that morning's Daily prophet, which lay unread on the bed, and attempted to

stem the sudden upsurge of bitter memories, the stabs of regret and of longing the

discovery of the broken mirror had occasioned, by attacking the rest of the rubbish in the

trunk.

 

 It took another hour to empty it completely, throw away the useless items, and

sort the remainder in piles according to whether or not he would need them from now on.

His school and Quidditch robes, cauldron, parchment, quills, and most of his textbooks

were piled in a corner, to be left behind. He wondered what his aunt and uncle would do

with them; burn them in the dead of night, probably, as if they were evidence of some

dreadful crime. His Muggle clothing, Invisibility Cloak, potion-making kit, certain books,

the photograph album Hagrid had once given him, a stack of letters, and his wand had

been repacked into an old rucksack. In a front pocket were the Marauder's Map and the

locket with the note signed R.A.B. inside it. The locket was accorded this place of honor

not because it was valuable – in all usual senses it was worthless – but because of what it

had cost to attain it.

 

 This left a sizable stack of newspapers sitting on his desk beside his snowy owl,

Hedwig: one for each of the days Harry had spent at Privet Drive this summer.

 

 He got up off the floor, stretched, and moved across to his desk. Hedwig made no

movement as he began to flick through newspapers, throwing them into the rubbish pile

one by one. The owl was asleep or else faking; she was angry with Harry about the

limited amount of time she was allowed out of her cage at the moment.

 

 As he neared the bottom of the pile of newspapers, Harry slowed down, searching

for one particular issue that he knew had arrived shortly after he had returned to Privet

Drive for the summer; he remembered that there had been a small mention on the front

about the resignation of Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies teacher at Hogwarts. At

last he found it. Turning to page ten, he sank into his desk chair and reread the article he

had been looking for.

 

 

 

 ALBUS DUMBLEDORE REMEMBERED

 

 By Elphias Doge

 

I met Albus Dumbledore at the age of eleven, on our first day at Hogwarts. Our

mutual attraction was undoubtedly due to the fact that we both felt ourselves to be

outsiders. I had contracted dragon pox shortly before arriving at school, and while

 


 

I was no longer contagious, my pock-marked visage and greenish hue did not

encourage many to approach me. For his part, Albus had arrived at Hogwarts

under the burden of unwanted notoriety. Scarcely a year previously, his father,

Percival, had been convicted of a savage and well-publicized attack upon three

young Muggles.

 

Albus never attempted to deny that his father (who was to die in Azkaban) had

committed this crime; on the contrary, when I plucked up courage to ask him, he

assured me that he knew his father to be guilty. Beyond that, Dumbledore refused

to speak of the sad business, though many attempted to make him do so. Some,

indeed, were disposed to praise his father's action and assumed that Albus too was

a Muggle-hater. They could not have been more mistaken: As anybody who knew

Albus would attest, he never revealed the remotest anti-Muggle tendency. Indeed,

his determined support for Muggle rights gained him many enemies in subsequent

years.

 

In a matter of months, however, Albus's own fame had begun to eclipse that

of his father. By the end of his first year he would never again be known as the

son of a Muggle-hater, but as nothing more or less than the most brilliant student

ever seen at the school. Those of us who were privileged to be his friends

benefited from his example, not to mention his help and encouragement, with

which he was always generous. He confessed to me later in life that he knew even

then that his greatest pleasure lay in teaching.

 

He not only won every prize of note that the school offered, he was soon in

regular correspondence with the most notable magical names of the day, including

Nicolas Flamel, the celebrated alchemist; Bathilda Bagshot, the noted historian;

and Adalbert Waffling, the magical theoretician. Several of his papers found their

way into learned publications such as Transfiguration Today, Challenges in

Charming, and The Practical Potioneer. Dumbledore's future career seemed

likely to be meteoric, and the only question that remained was when he would

become Minister of Magic. Though it was often predicted in later years that he

was on the point of taking the job, however, he never had Ministerial ambitions.

 

Three years after we had started at Hogwarts, Albus's brother, Aberforth,

arrived at school. They were not alike: Aberforth was never bookish and, unlike

Albus, preferred to settle arguments by dueling rather than through reasoned

discussion. However, it is quite wrong to suggest, as some have, that the brothers

were not friends. They rubbed along as comfortably as two such different boys

could do. In fairness to Aberforth, it must be admitted that living in Albus's

shadow cannot have been an altogether comfortable experience. Being continually

outshone was an occupational hazard of being his friend and cannot have been

any more pleasurable as a brother. When Albus and I left Hogwarts we intended

to take the then-traditional tour of the world together, visiting and observing

foreign wizards, before pursuing our separate careers. However, tragedy

intervened. On the very eve of our trip, Albus's mother, Kendra, died, leaving

 


 

Albus the head, and sole breadwinner, of the family. I postponed my departure

long enough to pay my respects at Kendra's funeral, then left for what was now to

be a solitary journey. With a younger brother and sister to care for, and little gold

left to them, there could no longer be any question of Albus accompanying me.

 

That was the period of our lives when we had least contact. I wrote to Albus,

describing, perhaps insensitively, the wonders of my journey, from narrow

escapes from chimaeras in Greece to the experiments of the Egyptian alchemists.

His letters told me little of his day-to-day life, which I guessed to be frustratingly

dull for such a brilliant wizard. Immersed in my own experiences, it was with

horror that I heard, toward the end of my year's travels, that another tragedy had

struck the Dumbledores: the death of his sister, Ariana.

 

Though Ariana had been in poor health for a long time, the blow, coming so

soon after the loss of their mother, had a profound effect on both of her brothers.

All those closest to Albus – and I count myself one of that lucky number – agree

that Ariana's death, and Albus's feeling of personal responsibility for it (though, of

course, he was guiltless), left their mark upon him forevermore.

 

I returned home to find a young man who had experienced a much older

person's suffering. Albus was more reserved than before, and much less lighthearted.

To add to his misery, the loss of Ariana had led, not to a renewed

closeness between Albus and Aberforth, but to an estrangement. (In time this

would lift – in later years they reestablished, if not a close relationship, then

certainly a cordial one.) However, he rarely spoke of his parents or of Ariana from

then on, and his friends learned not to mention them.

 

Other quills will describe the triumphs of the following years. Dumbledore's

innumerable contributions to the store of Wizarding knowledge, including his

discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's blood, will benefit generations to come,

as will the wisdom he displayed in the many judgments while Chief Warlock of

the Wizengamot. They say, still, that no Wizarding duel ever matched that

between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in 1945. Those who witnessed it have

written of the terror and the awe they felt as they watched these two extraordinary

wizards to battle. Dumbledore's triumph, and its consequences for the Wizarding

world, are considered a turning point in magical history to match the introduction

of the International Statute of Secrecy or the downfall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-

Named.

 

Albus Dumbledore was never proud or vain; he could find something to value

in anyone, however apparently insignificant or wretched, and I believe that his

early losses endowed him with great humanity and sympathy. I shall miss his

friendship more than I can say, but my loss is nothing compared to the Wizarding

world's. That he was the most inspiring and best loved of all Hogwarts

headmasters cannot be in question. He died as he lived: working always for the

 


 

greater good and, to his last hour, as willing to stretch out a hand to a small boy

with dragon pox as he was on the day I met him.

 

 

 

 Harry finished reading, but continued to gaze at the picture accompanying the

obituary. Dumbledore was wearing his familiar, kindly smile, but as he peered over the

top of his half-moon spectacles, he gave the impression, even in newsprint, of X-raying

Harry, whose sadness mingled with a sense of humiliation.

 

 He had thought he knew Dumbledore quite well, but ever since reading this

obituary he had been forced to recognize that he had barely known him at all. Never once

had he imagined Dumbledore's childhood or youth; it was as though he had sprung into

being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old. The idea of a

teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a

friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt.

 

 He had never thought to ask Dumbledore about his past. No doubt it would have

felt strange, impertinent even, but after all it had been common knowledge that

Dumbledore had taken part in that legendary duel with Grindelwald, and Harry had not

thought to ask Dumbledore what that had been like, nor about any of his other famous

achievements. No, they had always discussed Harry, Harry's past, Harry's future, Harry's

plans… and it seemed to Harry now, despite the fact that his future was so dangerous and

so uncertain, that he had missed irreplaceable opportunities when he had failed to ask

Dumbledore more about himself, even though the only personal question he had ever

asked his headmaster was also the only one he suspected that Dumbledore had not

answered honestly:

 

 "What do you see when you look in the mirror?"

 

 "I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks."

 

 After several minutes' thought, Harry tore the obituary out of the Prophet, folded

it carefully, and tucked it inside the first volume of Practical Defensive Magic and its

Use against the Dark Arts. Then he threw the rest of the newspaper onto the rubbish pile

and turned to face the room. It was much tidier. The only things left out of place were

today's Daily Prophet, still lying on the bed, and on top of it, the piece of broken mirror.

 

 Harry moved across the room, slid the mirror fragment off today's Prophet, and

unfolded the newspaper. He had merely glanced at the headline when he had taken the

rolled-up paper from the delivery owl early that morning and thrown it aside, after noting

that it said nothing about Voldemort. Harry was sure that the Ministry was leaning on the

Prophet to suppress news about Voldemort. It was only now, therefore, that he saw what

he had missed.

 


 

 Across the bottom half of the front page a smaller headline was set over a picture

of Dumbledore striding along, looking harried:

 

 

 

 DUMBLEDORE – THE TRUTH AT LAST?

 

Coming next week, the shocking story of the flawed genius considered by many

to be the greatest wizard of his generation. Striping away the popular image of

serene, silver-bearded wisdom, Rita Skeeter reveals the disturbed childhood, the

lawless youth, the life-long feuds, and the guilty secrets that Dumbledore carried

to his grave, WHY was the man tipped to be the Minister of Magic content to

remain a mere headmaster? WHAT was the real purpose of the secret

organization known as the Order of the Phoenix? HOW did Dumbledore really

meet his end?

 

 The answers to these and many more questions are explored in the

explosive new biography, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, by Rita Skeeter,

exclusively interviewed by Berry Braithwaite, page 13, inside.

 

 

 

 Harry ripped open the paper and found page thirteen. The article was topped with

a picture showing another familiar face: a woman wearing jeweled glasses with

elaborately curled blonde hair, her teeth bared in what was clearly supposed to be a

winning smile, wiggling her fingers up at him. Doing his best to ignore this nauseating

image, Harry read on.

 

 

 

In person, Rita Skeeter is much warmer and softer than her famously

ferocious quill-portraits might suggest. Greeting me in the hallway of her cozy

home, she leads me straight into the kitchen for a cup of tea, a slice of pound cake

and, it goes without saying, a steaming vat of freshest gossip.

 

"Well, of course, Dumbledore is a biographer's dream," says Skeeter. "Such a

long, full life. I'm sure my book will be the first of very, very many."

 

Skeeter was certainly quick off the mark. Her nine-hundred-page book was

completed in a mere four weeks after Dumbledore's mysterious death in June. I

ask her how she managed this superfast feat.

 

"Oh, when you've been a journalist as long as I have, working to a deadline is

second nature. I knew that the Wizarding world was clamoring for the full story

and I wanted to be the first to meet that need."

 


 

I mention the recent, widely publicized remarks of Elphias Doge, Special

Advisor to the Wizengamot and longstanding friend of Albus Dumbledore's, that

"Skeeter's book contains less fact than a Chocolate Frog card."

 

Skeeter throws back her head and laughs.

 

"Darling Dodgy! I remember interviewing him a few years back about

merpeople rights, bless him. Completely gaga, seemed to think we were sitting at

the bottom of Lake Windermere, kept telling me to watch out for trout."

 

And yet Elphias Doge's accusations of inaccuracy have been echoed in many

places. Does Skeeter really feel that four short weeks have been enough to gain a

full picture of Dumbledore's long and extraordinary life?

 

"Oh, my dear," beams Skeeter, rapping me affectionately across the knuckles,

"you know as well as I do how much information can be generated by a fat bag of

Galleons, a refusal to hear the word 'no,' and a nice sharp Quick-Quotes Quill!

People were queuing to dish the dirt on Dumbledore anyway. Not everyone

thought he was so wonderful, you know – he trod on an awful lot of important

toes. But old Dodgy Doge can get off his high hippogriff, because I've had access

to a source most journalists would swap their wands for, one who has never

spoken in public before and who was close to Dumbledore during the most

turbulent and disturbing phase of his youth."

 

The advance publicity for Skeeter's biography has certainly suggested that

there will be shocks in store for those who believe Dumbledore to have led a

blameless life. What were the biggest surprises she uncovered, I ask?

 

"Now, come off it. Betty, I'm not giving away all the highlights before

anybody's bought the book!" laughs Skeeter. "But I can promise that anybody

who still thinks Dumbledore was white as his beard is in for a rude awakening!

Let's just say that nobody hearing him rage against You-Know-Who would have

dreamed that he dabbled in the Dark Arts himself in his youth! And for a wizard

who spent his later years pleading for tolerance, he wasn't exactly broad-minded

when he was younger! Yes, Albus Dumbledore had an extremely murky past, not

to mention that very fishy family, which he worked so hard to keep hushed up."

 

I ask whether Skeeter is referring to Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth, whose

conviction by the Wizengamot for misuse of magic caused a minor scandal fifteen

years ago.

 

"Oh, Aberforth is just the tip of the dung heap,” laughs Skeeter. "No, no, I'm

talking about much worse than a brother with a fondness for fiddling about with

goats, worse even than the Muggle-maiming father – Dumbledore couldn't keep

either of them quiet anyway, they were both charged by the Wizengamot. No, it's

the mother and the sister that intrigued me, and a little digging uncovered a

 


 

positive nest of nastiness – but, as I say, you'll have to wait for chapters nine to

twelve for full details. All I can say now is, it's no wonder Dumbledore never

talked about how his nose got broken."

 

Family skeletons notwithstanding, does Skeeter deny the brilliance that led to

Dumbledore's many magical discoveries?

 

"He had brains," she concedes, "although many now question whether he

could really take full credit for all of his supposed achievements. As I reveal in

chapter sixteen, Ivor Dillonsby claims he had already discovered eight uses of

dragon's blood when Dumbledore 'borrowed' his papers."

 

But the importance of some of Dumbledore's achievements cannot, I venture,

be denied. What of his famous defeat of Grindelwald?

 

"Oh, now, I'm glad you mentioned Grindelwald," says Skeeter with such a

tantalizing smile. "I'm afraid those who go dewy-eyed over Dumbledore's

spectacular victory must brace themselves for a bombshell – or perhaps a

Dungbomb. Very dirty business indeed. All I'll say is, don't be so sure that there

really was a spectacular duel of legend. After they've read my book, people may

be forced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief

from the end of his wand and came quietly!"

 

Skeeter refuses to give any more away on this intriguing subject, so we turn

instead to the relationship that will undoubtedly fascinate her readers more than

any other.

 

"Oh yes," says Skeeter, nodding briskly, "I devote an entire chapter to the

whole Potter-Dumbledore relationship. It's been called unhealthy, even sinister.

Again, your readers will have to buy my book for the whole story, but there is no

question that Dumbledore took an unnatural interest in Potter from the word go.

Whether that was really in the boy's best interests – well, we'll see. It's certainly

an open secret that Potter has had a most troubled adolescence."

 

I ask whether Skeeter is still in touch with Harry Potter, whom she so

famously interviewed last year: a breakthrough piece in which Potter spoke

exclusively of his conviction that You-Know-Who had returned.

 

"Oh, yes, we've developed a closer bond," says Skeeter. "Poor Potter has few

real friends, and we met at one of the most testing moments of his life – the

Triwizard Tournament. I am probably one of the only people alive who can say

that they know the real Harry Potter."

 

Which leads us neatly to the many rumors still circulating about Dumbledore's

final hours. Does Skeeter believe that Potter was there when Dumbledore died?

 


 

"Well, I don't want to say too much – it's all in the book – but eyewitnesses

inside Hogwarts castle saw Potter running away from the scene moments after

Dumbledore fell, jumped, or was pushed. Potter later gave evidence against

Severus Snape, a man against whom he has a notorious grudge. Is everything as it

seems? That is for the Wizarding community to decide – once they've read my

book."

 

On that intriguing note, I take my leave. There can be no doubt that Skeeter

has quilled an instant bestseller. Dumbledore's legion of admirers, meanwhile,

may well be trembling at what is soon to emerge about their hero.

 

 

 

 Harry reached the bottom of the article, but continued to stare blankly at the page.

Revulsion and fury rose in him like vomit; he balled up the newspaper and threw it, with

all his force, at the wall, where it joined the rest of the rubbish heaped around his

overflowing bin.

 

 He began to stride blindly around the room, opening empty drawers and picking

up books only to replace them on the same piles, barely conscious of what he was doing,

as random phrases from Rita's article echoed in his head: An entire chapter to the whole

Potter-Dumbledore relationship ... It's been called unhealthy, even sinister ... He dabbled

in the Dark Arts himself in his youth ... I've had access to a source most journalists would

swap their wands for...

 

 "Lies!" Harry bellowed, and through the window he saw the next-door neighbor,

who had paused to restart his lawn mower, look up nervously.

 

 Harry sat down hard on the bed. The broken bit of mirror danced away from him;

he picked it up and turned it over in his fingers, thinking, thinking of Dumbledore and the

lies with which Rita Skeeter was defaming him ...

 

 A flash of brightest blue. Harry froze, his cut finger slipping on the jagged edge of

the mirror again. He had imagined it, he must have done. He glanced over his shoulder,

but the wall was a sickly peach color of Aunt Petunia's choosing: There was nothing blue

there for the mirror to reflect. He peered into the mirror fragment again, and saw nothing

but his own bright green eye looking back at him.

 

 He had imagined it, there was no other explanation; imagined it, because he had

been thinking of his dead headmaster. If anything was certain, it was that the bright blue

eyes of Albus Dumbledore would never pierce him again.

 


 

Chapter Three

 

The Dursleys Departing

 

The sound of the front door slamming echoed up the stairs and a voice roared,

“Oh! You!”

 

Sixteen years of being addressed thus left Harry in no doubt when his uncle was

calling, nevertheless, he did not immediately respond. He was still at the narrow fragment

in which, for a split second, he had thought he saw Dumbledore’s eye. It was not until his

uncle bellowed, “BOY!” that Harry got slowly out of bed and headed for the bedroom

door, pausing to add the piece of broken mirror to the rucksack filled with things he

would be taking with him.

 

“You took you time!” roared Vernon Dursley when Harry appeared at the top of

the stairs, “Get down here. I want a word!”

 

Harry strolled downstairs, his hands deep in his pants pockets. When he searched

the living room he found all three Dursleys. They were dressed for packing; Uncle

Vernon in an old ripped-up jacket and Dudley, Harry’s, large, blond, muscular cousin, in

his leather jacket.

 

 “Yes?” asked Harry.

 

 “Sit down!” said Uncle Vernon. Harry raised his eyebrows. “Please!” added

Uncle Vernon, wincing slightly as though the word was sharp in his throat.

 

Harry sat. He though he knew what was coming. His uncle began to pace up and down,

Aunt Petunia and Dudley, following his movement with anxious expressions. Finally, his

large purple face crumpled with concentration. Uncle Vernon stopped in front of Harry

and spoke.

 

 "I've changed my mind,” he said.

 

"What a surprise," said Harry.

 

"Don't you take that tone—" began Aunt Petunia in a shrill voice, but Vernon

Dursley waved her down

 

"It's all a lot of claptrap,” said Uncle Vernon, glaring at Harry with piggy little

eyes. "I've decided I don't believe a word of it. We’re staying put, we’re not going

anywhere.”

 

Harry looked up at his uncle and felt a mixture of exasperation and amusement.

Vernon Dursley had been changing his mind every twenty four hours for the past four

weeks, packing and unpacking and repacking the car with every change of heart. Harry’s

favorite moment had been the one when Uncle Vernon, unaware the Dudley had added

his dumbbells to his case since the last time it been repacked, had attempted to hoist it

back into the boot and collapsed with a yelp of pain and much swearing.

 

“According to you,” Vernon Dursley said, now resuming his pacing up and down

the living room, “we – Petunia, Dudley, and I – are in danger. From – from –“

 

“Some of ‘my lot’ right?” said Harry

 

“Well I don’t believe it,” repeated Uncle Vernon, coming to a halt in front of

Harry again. "I was awake half the night thinking it all over, and I believe it's a plot to get

the house."

 

 "The house?" repeated Harry. "What house?"

 

 "This house!" shrieked Uncle Vernon, the vein his forehead starting to pulse.

"Our house! House prices are skyrocketing around here! You want us out of the way and

 


 

then you're going to do a bit of hocus pocus and before we know it the deeds will be in

your name and –"

 

 “Are you out of your mind?" demanded Harry. "A plot to get this house? Are you

actually as stupid as you look?"

 

 "Don't you dare --!" squealed Aunt Petunia, but again Vernon waved her

down. Slights on his personal appearance were it seemed as nothing to the danger he had

spotted.

 

 "Just in case you've forgotten," said Harry, "I've already got a house my godfather

left me one. So why would I want this one? All the happy memories?"

 

 There was silence. Harry thought he had rather impressed his uncle with this

argument.

 

 "You claim," said Uncle Vernon, starting to pace yet again, "that this Lord Thing

–"

 

 "—Voldemort," said Harry impatiently, "and we've been through this about a

hundred times already. This isn't a claim, it's fact. Dumbledore told you last year, and

Kingsley and Mr. Weasley –"

 

Vernon Dursley hunched his shoulders angrily, and Harry guessed that his uncle

was attempting to ward off recollections of the unannounced visit, a few days into Harry's

summer holidays, of two fully grown wizards. The arrival on the doorstep of Kingsley

Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley had come as a most unpleasant shock to the Dursleys.

Harry had to admit, however that as Mr. Weasley had once demolished half of the living

room, his reappearance could not have been expected to delight Uncle Vernon.

 

 "—Kingsley and Mr. Weasley explained it all as well," Harry pressed on

remorselessly, "Once I'm seventeen, the protective charm that keeps me safe will break,

and that exposes you as well as me. The Order is sure Voldemort will target you,

whether to torture you to try and find out where I am, or because he thinks by holding

you hostage I'd come and try to rescue you."

 

 Uncle Vernon's and Harry's eyes met. Harry was sure that in that instant they were

both wondering the same thing. Then Uncle Vernon walked on and Harry resumed,

"You've got to go into hiding and the Order wants to help. You're being offered serious

protection, the best there is."

 

 Uncle Vernon said nothing but continued to pace up and down. Outside the sun

hung low over the privet hedges. The next door neighbor's lawn mower stalled again.

 

 "I thought there was a Ministry of Magic?" asked Vernon Dursley abruptly.

 

 "There is," said Harry, surprised.

 

"Well, then, why can't they protect us? It seems to me that, as innocent victims, guilty of

nothing more than harboring a marked man, we ought to qualify for government

protection!"

 

Harry laughed; he could not help himself. It was so very typical of his uncle to put

his hopes in the establishment, even within this world that he despised and mistrusted.

 

"You heard what Mr. Weasley and Kingsley said," Harry replied.

 

"We think the Ministry has been infiltrated."

 

 Uncle Vernon strode back to the fireplace and back breathing so strongly that his

great black mustache rippled his face still purple with concentration.

 


 

 "All right," he said. Stopping in front of Harry get again. "All right, let's say for

the sake of argument we accept this protection. I still don't see why we can't have that

Kingsley bloke."

 

 Harry managed not to roll his eyes, but with difficulty. This question had also

been addressed half a dozen times.

 

 "As I've told you," he said through gritted teeth, "Kingsley is protecting the Mug

– I mean, your Prime Minister."

 

 "Exactly – he's the best!" said Uncle Vernon, pointing at the blank television

screen. The Dursleys had spotted Kingsley on the news, walking along the Muggle Prime

Minister as he visited a hospital. This, and the fact that Kingsley had mastered the knack

of dressing like a Muggle, not to mention a certain reassuring something in his slow, deep

voice, had caused the Dursleys to take to Kingsley in a way that they had certainly not

done with any other wizard, although it was true that they had never seen him with

earring in.

 

 "Well, he's taken,” said Harry. "But Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle are more

than up to the job –"

 

 "If we'd even seen CVs…" began Uncle Vernon, but Harry lost patience. Getting

to his feet, he advanced on his uncle, not pointing at the TV set himself.

 

 "These accidents aren't accidents – the crashed and explosions and derailments

and whatever else has happened since we last watched the news. People are disappearing

and dying and he's behind it – Voldemort. I've told you this over and over again, he kills

Muggles for fun. Even the fogs – they're caused by dementors, and if you can't remember

what they are, ask your son!"

 

 Dudley's hands jerked upward to tower his mouth. With his parents' and Harry's

eyes upon him, he slowly lowered them again and asked, "There are… more of them?"

 

"More?" laughed Harry. "More than the two that attacked us, you mean? Of course there

are hundreds, maybe thousands by this time, seeing as they feed off fear and despair—"

 

"All right, all right blustered," blustered Vernon Dursley. "You've made your

point –"

 

"I hope so," said Harry, "because once I'm seventeen, all of them – Death Eaters,

elementors, maybe even Inferi – which means dead bodies enchanted by a Dark wizard –

will be able to find you and will certainly attack you. And if you remember the last time

you tried to outrun wizards, I think you'll agree you need help."

 

There was a brief silence in which the distant echo of Hagrid smashing down a

wooden front door seemed to reverberate through the intervening years. Aunt Petunia

was looking at Uncle Vernon; Dudley was staring at Harry. Finally Uncle Vernon

blurted out, "But what about my work? What about Dudley's school? I don't suppose

those things matter to a bunch of layabout wizards –"

 

"Don't you understand?" shouted Harry. "They will torture and kill you like they

did my parents!"

 

"Dad," said Dudley in a loud voice, "Dad – I'm going with these Order people."

 

"Dudley," said Harry, "for the first time in your life, you're talking sense."

 

He knew the battle was won. If Dudley was frightened enough to accept the Order's help,

his parents would accompany him. There could be no question of being separated from

their Duddykins. Harry glanced at the carriage clock on the mantelpiece.

 


 

"They'll be here in about five minutes, he said, and when one of the Dursleys

replied, he left the room. The prospect of parting—probably forever – from his aunt,

uncle, and cousin was one that he was able to contemplate quite cheerfully but there was

nevertheless a certain awkwardness in the air. What did you say to one another at the end

of sixteen years' solid dislike?

 

Back in his bedroom, Harry fiddled aimlessly with his rucksack then poked a

couple of owl nuts through the bats of Hedwig's cage. They fell with dull thuds to the

bottom where she ignored them.

 

"We're leaving soon, really soon," Harry told her. "And then you'll be able to fly

again."

 

The doorbell rang. Harry hesitated, then headed back out of his room and

downstairs. It was too much to expect Hestia and Dedalus to cope with the Dursleys on

their own.

 

"Harry Potter!" squeaked an excited voice, the moment Harry had opened the

door; a small man in a mauve top hat that was sweeping him a deep bow. "An honor as

ever!"

 

"Thanks, Dedalus," said Harry, bestowing a small and embarrassed smile upon

the dark haired Hestia. "It's really good of you to do this… They're through here, my aunt

and uncle and cousin…"

 

"Good day to you, Harry Potter's relatives!" said Dedalus happily striding into the

living room. The Dursleys did not look at all happy to be addressed thus; Harry half

expected another change of mind. Dudley shrank neared to his mother at the sight of the

witch and wizard.

 

"I see you are packed and ready. Excellent! The plan, as Harry has told you, is a

simple one," said Dedalus, pulling an immense pocket watch out of his waistcoat and

examining it. "We shall be leaving before Harry does. Due to the danger of using magic

in your house –Harry being still underage it could provide the Ministry with an excuse to

arrest him – we shall be driving, say, ten miles or so before Disapparating to the safe

location we have picked out for you. You know how to drive, I take it?" He asked Uncle

Vernon politely.

 

"Know how to –? Of course I ruddy well know how to drive!" spluttered Uncle

Vernon.

 

"Very clever of you, sir, very clever. I personally would be utterly bamboozled by

all those buttons and knobs," said Dedalus. He was clearly under the impression that he

was flattering Vernon Dursley, who was visibly losing confidence in the plan with every

word Dedalus spoke.

 

"Can't even drive," he muttered under his breath, his mustache rippling

indignantly, but fortunately neither Dedalus nor Hestia seemed to hear him.

 

"You, Harry," Dedalus continued, "will wait here for your guard. There has been

a little change in the arrangements –"

 

“What d'you mean?" said Harry at once. "I thought Mad-Eye was going to come

and take me by Side Along-Apparition?"

 

"Can't do it," said Hestia tersely, "Mad-Eye will explain."

 

The Dursleys, who had listened to all of this with looks of utter incomprehension

on their faces, jumped as a loud voice screeched, "Hurry up!" Harry looked all around the

room before realizing the voice had issued from Dedalus's pocket watch.

 


 

"Quite right, were operating to a very tight schedule," said Dedalus nodding at his

watch and tucking it back into his waist coat. "We are attempting to time your departure

from the house with your family's Disapparition, Harry thus the charm breaks the

moment you all head for safety." He turned to the Dursleys, "Well, are we all packed and

ready to go?"

 

None of them answered him. Uncle Vernon was still staring appalled at the bulge

in Dedalus's waistcoat pocket.

 

"Perhaps we should wait outside in the hall, Dedalus," murmured Hestia. She

clearly felt that it would be tactless for them to remain the room while Harry and the

Dursleys exchanged loving, possibly tearful farewells.

 

"There's no need," Harry muttered, but Uncle Vernon made any further

explanation unnecessary by saying loudly,

 

"Well, this is good-bye then boy."

 

He swung his right arm upward to shake Harry's hand, but at the last moment

seemed unable to face it, and merely closed his fist and began swinging it backward and

forward like a metronome.

 

 "Ready, Duddy?" asked Petunia, fussily checking the clasp of her handbag so as

to avoid looking at Harry altogether.

 

 Dudley did not answer but stood there with his mouth slightly ajar, reminding

Harry a little of the giant, Grawp.

 

 "Come along, then," said Uncle Vernon.

 

He had already reached the living room door when Dudley mumbled, "I don't

understand."

 

"What don't you understand, popkin?" asked Petunia looking up at her son.

 

Dudley raised a large, hamlike hand to point at Harry.

 

"Why isn't he coming with us?

 

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia froze when they stood staring at Dudley as

though he had just expressed a desire to become a ballerina.

 

"What?" said Uncle Vernon loudly.

 

"Why isn't he coming too?" asked Dudley.

 

"Well, he—doesn't want to," said Uncle Vernon, turning to glare at Harry and

adding, "You don't want to, do you?"

 

"Not in the slightest," said Harry.

 

"There you are," Uncle Vernon told Dudley. "Now come on we're off."

 

He marched out of the room. They heard the front door open, but Dudley did not

move and after a few faltering steps Aunt Petunia stopped too.

 

"What now?" barked Uncle Vernon, reappearing in the doorway.

 

It seemed that Dudley was struggling with concepts too difficult to put into words.

After several moments of apparently painful internal struggle he said, "But where's he

going to go?"

 

Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon looked at each other. It was clear that Dudley

was frightening them. Hestia Jones broke the silence.

 

"But… surely you know where your nephew is going?" she asked looking

bewildered.

 

"Certainly we know," said Vernon Dursley. "He's off with some of your lot, isn't

he? Right, Dudley, let's get in the car, you heard the man, we're in a hurry.

 


 

Again, Vernon Dursley marched as far as the front door, but Dudley did not

follow.

 

 "Off with some of our lot?"

 

 Hestia looked outraged. Harry had met this attitude before Witches and wizards

seemed stunned that his closed living relatives took so little interest in the famous Harry

Potter.

 

"It's fine," Harry assured her. "It doesn't matter, honestly."

 

"Doesn't matter?" repeated Hestia, her voice rising considerably.

 

"Don't these people realize what you've been through? What danger you are in?

The unique position you hold in the hearts of the anti Voldemort movement?"

 

 "Er –no, they don't," said Harry. "They think I'm a waste of space, actually but I'm

used to –"

 

 "I don't think you're a waste of space"

 

 If Harry had not seen Dudley's lips move, he might not have believed it. As it was,

he stared at Dudley for several seconds before accepting that it must have been his cousin

who had spoken; for one thing, Dudley had turned red. Harry was embarrassed and

astonished himself.

 

 "Well... er… thanks, Dudley."

 

 Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression

before mumbling, "You saved my life,"

 

 "Not really," said Harry. "It was your soul the dementor would have taken…"

 

 He looked curiously at his cousin. They had had virtually no contact during this

summer or last, as Harry had come back to Privet Drive so briefly and kept to his room so

much. It now dawned on Harry, however, that the cup of cold tea on which he had

trodden that morning might not have been a booby trap at all. Although rather touched he

was nevertheless quite relieved that Dudley appeared to have exhausted his ability to

express his feelings. After opening his mouth once or twice more, Dudley subsided into

scarlet-faced silence.

 

Aunt Petunia burst into tears. Hestia Jones gave her an approving look that

changed to outrage as Aunt Petunia ran forward and embraced Dudley rather than Harry.

 

"S-so sweet, Dudders…" she sobbed into his massive chest. "S-such a lovely b-boy… ssaying

thank you…"

 

 "But he hasn't said thank you at all!" said Hestia indignantly. "He only said he

didn't think Harry was a waste of space!"

 

"Yea but coming from Dudley that's like 'I love you,'" said Harry, torn between

annoyance and a desire to laugh as Aunt Petunia continued to clutch at Dudley as if he

had just saved Harry from a burning building.

 

"Are we going or not?" roared Uncle Vernon, reappearing yet again at the living

room door. "I thought we were on a tight schedule!"

 

"Yes –yes, we are," said Dedalus Diggle, who had been watching these exchanged

with an air of bemusement and now seemed to pull himself together. "We really must be

off. Harry –"

 

He tripped forward and wrung Harry's hand with both of his own.

 

"—good luck. I hope we meet again. The hopes of the Wizarding world rest upon

your shoulders."

 

"Oh," said Harry, "right. Thanks."

 


 

"Farwell, Harry," said Hestia also clasping his hand. "Our thoughts go with you."

 

"I hope everything's okay," said Harry with a glance toward Aunt Petunia and

Dudley.

 

"Oh I'm sure we shall end up the best of chums," said Diggle slightly, waving his

hat as he left the room. Hestia followed him.

 

Dudley gently released himself from his mother's clutches and walked toward

Harry who had to repress an urge to threaten him with magic. Then Dudley held out his

large, pink hand.

 

"Blimey, Dudley," said Harry over Aunt Petunia's renewed sobs, "did the

dementors blow a different personality into you?"

 

"Dunno," muttered Dudley, "See you, Harry."

 

"Yea …" said Harry, raking Dudley's hand and shaking it. "Maybe. Take care,

Big D."

 

Dudley nearly smiled. They lumbered from the room. Harry heard his heavy

footfalls on the graveled drive, and then a car door slammed.

 

Aunt Petunia whose face had been buried in her handkerchief looked around at

the sound. She did not seem to have expected to find herself alone with Harry. Hastily

stowing her wet handkerchief into her pocket, she said, "Well – good-bye" and marched

towards the door without looking at him.

 

"Good-bye" said Harry.

 

She stopped and looked back. For a moment Harry had the strangest feeling that

she wanted to say something to him; She gave him an odd, tremulous look and seemed to

teeter on the edge of speech, but then, with a little of her head, she hustled out of the

room after he husband and son.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

The Seven Potters

 

 

 

Harry ran back upstairs to his bedroom, arriving at the window just in time to see

the Dursleys' car swinging out of the drive and off up the road. Dedalus’s top hat was

visible between Aunt Petunia and Dudley in the backseat. The car turned right at the end

of Privet Drive, its windows burned scarlet for a moment in the now setting sun, and then

it was gone.

 

 Harry picked up Hedwig’s cage, his Firebolt, and his rucksack, gave his

unnaturally tidy bedroom one last sweeping look, and then made his ungainly way back

downstairs to the hall, where he deposited cage, broomstick, and bag near the foot of the

stairs. The light was fading rapidly, the hall full of shadows in the evening light. It felt

most strange to stand here in the silence and know that he was about to leave the house

for the last time. Long ago, when he had been left alone while the Dursleys went out to

enjoy themselves, the hours of solitude had been a rare treat. Pausing only to sneak

something tasty from the fridge, he had rushed upstairs to play on Dudley’s computer, or

put on the television and flicked through the channels to his heart’s content. It gave him

an odd, empty feeling remembering those times; it was like remembering a younger

brother whom he had lost.

 


 

 “Don’t you want to take a last look at the place?” he asked Hedwig, who was still

sulking with her head under her wing. “We’ll never be here again. Don’t you want to

remember all the good times? I mean, look at this doormat. What memories … Dudley

sobbed on it after I saved him from the dementors … Turns out he was grateful after all,

can you believe it? … And last summer, Dumbledore walked through that front door … “

 

 Harry lost the thread of his thoughts for a moment and Hedwig did nothing to

help him retrieve it, but continued to sit with her head under her wing. Harry turned his

back on the front door.

 

 “And under here, Hedwig” – Harry pulled open a door under the stairs – “is where

I used to sleep! You never knew me then – Blimey, it’s small, I’d forgotten … “

 

 Harry looked around at the stacked shoes and umbrellas remembering how he

used to wake every morning looking up at the underside of the staircase, which was more

often than not adorned with a spider or two. Those had been the days before he had

known anything about his true identity; before he had found out how his parents had died

or why such strange things often happened around him. But Harry could still remember

the dreams that had dogged him, even in those days: confused dreams involving flashes

of green light and once – Uncle Vernon had nearly crashed the car when Harry had

recounted it – a flying motorbike …

 

 There was a sudden, deafening roar from somewhere nearby. Harry straightened

up with a jerk and smacked the top of his head on the low door frame. Pausing only to

employ a few of Uncle Vernon’s choicest swear words, he staggered back into the

kitchen, clutching his head and staring out of the window into the back garden.

 

 The darkness seemed to be rippling, the air itself quivering. Then, one by one,

figures began to pop into sight as their Disillusionment Charms lifted. Dominating the

scene was Hagrid, wearing a helmet and goggles and sitting astride an enormous

motorbike with a black sidecar attached. All around him other people were dismounting

from brooms and, in two cases, skeletal, black winged horses.

 

 Wrenching open the back door, Harry hurtled into their midst. There was a

general cry of greeting as Hermione flung her arms around him, Ron clapped him on the

back, and Hagrid said, “All righ’, Harry? Ready fer the off?”

 

 “Definitely,” said Harry, beaming around at them all. “But I wasn’t expecting this

many of you!”

 

 “Change of plan,” growled Mad-Eye, who was holding two enormous bulging

sacks, and whose magical eye was spinning from darkening sky to house to garden with

dizzying rapidity. “Let’s get undercover before we talk you through it.”

 

 Harry led them all back into the kitchen where, laughing and chattering, they

settled on chairs, sat themselves upon Aunt Petunia’s gleaming work surfaces, or leaned

up against her spotless appliances; Ron, long and lanky; Hermione, her bushy hair tied

back in a long plait; Fred and George, grinning identically; Bill, badly scarred and longhaired;

Mr. Weasley, kind-faced, balding, his spectacles a little awry; Mad-Eye, battleworn,

one-legged, his bright blue magical eye whizzing in its socket; Tonks, whose short

hair was her favorite shade of bright pink; Lupin, grayer, more lined; Fleur, slender and

beautiful, with her long silvery blonde hair; Kingsley, bald and broad-shouldered; Hagrid,

with his wild hair and beard, standing hunchbacked to avoid hitting his head on the

ceiling; and Mundungus Fletcher, small, dirty, and hangdog, with his droopy beady

hound’s eyes and matted hair. Harry’s heart seemed to expand and glow at the sight: He

 


 

felt incredibly fond of all of them, even Mundungus, whom he had tried to strangle the

last time they had met.

 

 “Kingsley, I thought you were looking after the Muggle Prime Minister?” he

called across the room.

 

 “He can get along without me for one night,” said Kingsley, “You’re more

important.”

 

 “Harry, guess what?” said Tonks from her perch on top of the washing machine,

and she wiggled her left hand at him; a ring glistened there.

 

 “You got married?” Harry yelped, looking from her to Lupin.

 

 “I’m sorry you couldn’t be there, Harry, it was very quiet.”

 

 “That’s brilliant, congrat –“

 

 “All right, all right, we’ll have time for a cozy catch-up later,” roared Moody over

the hubbub, and silence fell in the kitchen. Moody dropped his sacks at his feet and

turned to Harry. “As Dedalus probably told you, we had to abandon Plan A. Pius

Thicknesse has gone over, which gives us a big problem. He’s made it an imprisonable

offense to connect this house to the Floo Network, place a Portkey here, or Apparate in or

out. All done in the name of your protection, to prevent You-Know-Who getting in at you.

Absolutely pointless, seeing as your mother’s charm does that already. What he’s really

done is to stop you getting out of here safely.”

 

 “Second problem: You’re underage, which means you’ve still got the Trace on

you.”

 

 “I don’t –“

 

 “The Trace, the Trace!” said Mad-Eye impatiently. “The charm that detects

magical activity around under-seventeens, the way the Ministry finds out about underage

magic! If you, or anyone around you, casts a spell to get you out of here, Thicknesse is

going to know about it, and so will the Death Eaters.”

 

 “We can’t wait for the Trace to break, because the moment you turn seventeen

you’ll lose all the protection your mother gave you. In short, Pius Thicknesse thinks he’s

got you cornered good and proper.”

 

 Harry could not help but agree with the unknown Thicknesse.

 

 “So what are we going to do?”

 

 “We’re going to use the only means of transport left to us, the only ones the Trace

can’t detect, because we don’t need to cast spells to use them: brooms, thestrals, and

Hagrid’s motorbike.”

 

 Harry could see flaws in this plan; however, he held his tongue to give Mad-Eye

the chance to address them.

 

 “Now, your mother’s charm will only break under two conditions: when you

come of age, or” – Moody gestured around the pristine kitchen – “you no longer call this

place home. You and your aunt and uncle are going your separate ways tonight, in the

full understanding that you’re never going to live together again, correct?”

 

 Harry nodded.

 

 “So this time, when you leave, there’ll be no going back, and the charm will break

the moment you get outside its range. We’re choosing to break it early, because the

alternative is waiting for You-Know-Who to come and seize you the moment you turn

seventeen.

 


 

 “The one thing we’ve got on our side is that You-Know-Who doesn’t know we’re

moving you tonight. We’ve leaked a fake trail to the Ministry: They think you’re not

leaving until the thirtieth. However, this is You-Know-Who we’re dealing with, so we

can’t rely on him getting the date wrong; he’s bound to have a couple of Death Eaters

patrolling the skies in this general area, just in case. So, we’ve given a dozen different

houses every protection we can throw at them. They all look like they could be the place

we’re going to hide you, they’ve all got some connection with the Order: my house,

Kingsley’s place, Molly’s Auntie Muriel’s – you get the idea.”

 

 “Yeah,” said Harry, not entirely truthfully, because he could still spot a gaping

hole in the plan.

 

 “You’ll be going to Tonks’s parents. Once you’re within the boundaries of the

protective enchantments we’ve put on their house you’ll be able to use a Portkey to the

Burrow. Any questions?”

 

 “Er – yes,” said Harry. “Maybe they won’t know which of the twelve secure

houses I’m heading for at first, but won’t it be sort of obvious once” – he performed a

quick headcount – “fourteen of us fly off toward Tonks’s parents?”

 

 “Ah,” said Moody, “I forgot to mention the key point. Fourteen of us won’t be

flying to Tonks’s parents. There will be seven Harry Potters moving through the skies

tonight, each of them with a companion, each pair heading for a different safe house.”

 

 From inside his cloak Moody now withdrew a flask of what looked like mud.

There was no need for him to say another word; Harry understood the rest of the plan

immediately.

 

 “No!” he said loudly, his voice ringing through the kitchen. “No way!”

 

 “I told them you’d take it like this,” said Hermione with a hint of complacency.

 

 “If you think I’m going to let six people risk their lives -- !”

 

 “—because it’s the first time for all of us,” said Ron.

 

 “This is different, pretending to be me –“

 

 “Well, none of us really fancy it, Harry,” said Fred earnestly. “Imagine if

something went wrong and we were stuck as specky, scrawny gits forever.”

 

 Harry did not smile.

 

 “You can’t do it if I don’t cooperate, you need me to give you some hair.”

 

 “Well, that’s the plan scuppered,” said George. “Obviously there’s no chance at

all of us getting a bit of your hair unless you cooperate.”

 

 “Yeah, thirteen of us against one bloke who’s not allowed to use magic; we’ve

got no chance,” said Fred.

 

 “Funny,” said Harry, “really amusing.”

 

 “If it has to come to force, then it will,” growled Moody, his magical eye now

quivering a little in its socket as he glared at Harry. “Everyone here’s overage, Potter, and

they’re all prepared to take the risk.”

 

 Mundungus shrugged and grimaced; the magical eye swerved sideways to glance

at him out of the side of Moody’s head.

 

 “Let’s have no more arguments. Time’s wearing on. I want a few of your hairs,

boy, now.”

 

 “But this is mad, there’s no need –“

 

 “No need!” snarled Moody. “With You-Know-Who out there and half the

Ministry on his side? Potter, if we’re lucky he’ll have swallowed the fake bait and he’ll

 


 

be planning to ambush you on the thirtieth, but he’d be mad not to have a Death Eater or

two keeping an eye out, it’s what I’d do. They might not be able to get at you or this

house while your mother’s charm holds, but it’s about to break and they know the rough

position of the place. Our only chance is to use decoys. Even You-Know-Who can’t split

himself into seven.”

 

 Harry caught Hermione’s eye and looked away at once.

 

 “So, Potter – some of your hair, if you please.”

 

 Harry glanced at Ron, who grimaced at him in a just-do-it sort of way.

 

 “Now!” barked Moody.

 

 With all of their eyes upon him, Harry reached up to the top of his head, grabbed

a hank of hair, and pulled.

 

 “Good,” said Moody, limping forward as he pulled the stopper out of the flask of

potion. “Straight in here, if you please.”

 

 Harry dropped the hair into the mudlike liquid. The moment it made contact with

its surface, the potion began to froth and smoke, then, all at once, it turned a clear, bright

gold.

 

 “Ooh, you look much tastier than Crabbe and Goyle, Harry,” said Hermione,

before catching sight of Ron’s raised eyebrows, blushing slightly, and saying, “Oh, you

know what I mean – Goyle’s potion tasted like bogies.”

 

 “Right then, fake Potters line up over here, please,” said Moody.

 

 Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Fleur lined up in front of Aunt Petunia’s

gleaming sink.

 

 “We’re one short,” said Lupin.

 

 “Here,” said Hagrid gruffly, and he lifted Mundungus by the scruff of the neck

and dropped him down beside Fleur, who wrinkled her nose pointedly and moved along

to stand between Fred and George instead.

 

 “I’m a soldier, I’d sooner be a protector,” said Mundungus.

 

 “Shut it,” growled Moody. “As I’ve already told you, you spineless worm, any

Death Eaters we run into will be aiming to capture Potter, not kill him. Dumbledore

always said You-Know-Who would want to finish Potter in person. It’ll be the protectors

who have got the most to worry about, the Death Eaters’ll want to kill them.”

 

 Mundungus did not look particularly reassured, but Moody was already pulling

half a dozen eggcup-sized glasses from inside his cloak, which he handed out, before

pouring a little Polyjuice Potion into each one.

 

 “Altogether, then … “

 

 Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Fleur, and Mundungus drank. All of them gasped

and grimaced as the potion hit their throats; At once, their features began to bubble and

distort like hot wax. Hermione and Mundungus were shooting upward; Ron, Fred, and

George were shrinking; their hair was darkening, Hermione’s and Fleur’s appearing to

shoot backward into their skulls.

 

 Moody, quite unconcerned, was now loosening the ties of the large sacks he had

brought with him. When he straightened up again, there were six Harry Potters gasping

and panting in front of him.

 

 Fred and George turned to each other and said together, “Wow – we’re identical!”

 

 “I dunno, though, I think I’m still better-looking,” said Fred, examining his

reflection in the kettle.

 


 

 “Bah,” said Fleur, checking herself in the microwave door, “Bill, don’t look at me

– I’m ‘ideous.”

 

 “Those whose clothes are a bit roomy, I’ve got smaller here,” said Moody,

indicating the first sack, “and vice versa. Don’t forget the glasses, there’s six pairs in the

side pocket. And when you’re dressed, there’s luggage in the other sack.”

 

 The real Harry thought that this might just be the most bizarre thing he had ever

seen, and he had seen some extremely odd things. He watched as his six doppelgangers

rummaged in the sacks, pulling out sets of clothes, putting on glasses, stuffing their own

things away. He felt like asking them to show a little more respect for privacy as they all

began stripping off with impunity, clearly more at ease with displaying his body than

they would have been with their own.

 

 “I knew Ginny was lying about that tattoo,” said Ron, looking down at his bare

chest.

 

 “Harry, your eyesight really is awful,” said Hermione, as she put on glasses.

 

 Once dressed, the fake Harrys took rucksacks and owl cages, each containing a

stuffed snowy owl, from the second sack.

 

 “Good,” said Moody, as at last seven dressed, bespectacled, and luggage-laden

Harrys faced him. “The pairs will be as follows: Mundungus will be traveling with me,

by broom –“

 

 “Why’m I with you?” grunted the Harry nearest the back door.

 

 “Because you’re the one that needs watching,” growled Moody, and sure enough,

his magical eye did not waver from Mundungus as he continued, “Arthur and Fred –“

 

 “I’m George,” said the twin at whom Moody was pointing. “Can’t you even tell

us apart when we’re Harry?”

 

 “Sorry, George –“

 

 “I’m only yanking your wand, I’m Fred really –“

 

 “Enough messing around!” snarled Moody. “The other one – George or Fred or

whoever you are – you’re with Remus. Miss Delacour –“

 

 “I’m taking Fleur on a thestral,” said Bill. “She’s not that fond of brooms.”

 

 Fleur walked over to stand beside him, giving him a soppy, slavish look that

Harry hoped with all his heart would never appear on his face again.

 

 “Miss Granger with Kingsley, again by thestral –“

 

 Hermione looked reassured as she answered Kingsley’s smile; Harry knew that

Hermione too lacked confidence on a broomstick.

 

 “Which leaves you and me, Ron!” said Tonks brightly, knocking over a mug tree

as she waved at him.

 

 Ron did not look quite as pleased as Hermione.

 

 “An’ you’re with me, Harry. That all righ’?” said Hagrid, looking a little anxious.

“We’ll be on the bike, brooms an’ thestrals can’t take me weight, see. Not a lot o’ room

on the seat with me on it, though, so you’ll be in the sidecar.”

 

 “That’s great,” said Harry, not altogether truthfully.

 

 “We think the Death Eaters will expect you to be on a broom,” said Moody, who

seemed to guess how Harry was feeling. “Snape’s had plenty of time to tell them

everything about you he’s never mentioned before, so if we do run into any Death Eaters,

we’re betting they’ll choose one of the Potters who looks at home on a broomstick. All

right then,” he went on, tying up the sack with the fake Potters’ clothes in it and leading

 


 

the way back to the door, “I make it three minutes until we’re supposed to leave. No

point locking the back door, it won’t keep the Death Eaters out when they come looking.

Come on …”

 

 Harry hurried to gather his rucksack, Firebolt, and Hedwig’s cage and followed

the group to the dark back garden.

 

 On every side broomsticks were leaping into hands; Hermione had already been

helped up onto a great black thestral by Kingsley, Fleur onto the other by Bill. Hagrid

was standing ready beside the motorbike, goggles on.

 

 “Is this it? Is this Sirius’s bike?”

 

 “The very same,” said Hagrid, beaming down at Harry. “An’ the last time yeh

was on it, Harry, I could fit yeh in one hand!”

 

 Harry could not help but feel a little humiliated as he got into the sidecar. It

placed him several feet below everybody else: Ron smirked at the sight of him sitting

there like a child in a bumper car. Harry stuffed his rucksack and broomstick down by his

feet and rammed Hedwig’s cage between his knees. He was extremely uncomfortable.

 

 “Arthur’s done a bit o’ tinkerin’,” said Hagrid, quite oblivious to Harry’s

discomfort. He settled himself astride the motorcycle, which creaked slightly and sank

inches into the ground. “It’s got a few tricks up its sleeves now. Tha’ one was my idea.”

He pointed a thick finger at a purple button near the speedometer.

 

"Please be careful, Hagrid." said Mr. Weasley, who was standing beside them,

holding his broomstick. "I'm still not sure that was advisable and it's certainly only to be

used in emergencies."

 

"All right, then." said Moody. "Everyone ready, please. I want us all to leave at

exactly the same time or the whole point of the diversion's lost."

 

Everybody motioned their heads.

 

"Hold tight now, Ron," said Tonks, and Harry saw Ron throw a forcing, guilty look at

Lupin before placing his hands on each side of her waist. Hagrid kicked the motorbike

into life: It roared like a dragon, and the sidecar began to vibrate.

 

 “Good luck, everyone,” shouted Moody. “See you all in about an hour at the

Burrow. On the count of three. One … two .. THREE.”

 

 There was a great roar from the motorbike, and Harry felt the sidecar give a nasty

lurch. He was rising through the air fast, his eyes watering slightly, hair whipped back off

his face. Around him brooms were soaring upward too; the long black tail of a thestral

flicked past. His legs, jammed into the sidecar by Hedwig’s cage and his rucksack, were

already sore and starting to go numb. So great was his discomfort that he almost forgot to

take a last glimpse of number four Privet Drive. By the time he looked over the edge of

the sidecar he could no longer tell which one it was.

 

And then, out of nowhere, out of nothing, they were surrounded. At least thirty

hooded figures, suspended in midair, formed a vast circle in the middle of which the

Order members had risen, oblivious –

 

Screams, a blaze of green light on every side: Hagrid gave a yell and the

motorbike rolled over. Harry lost any sense of where they were. Streetlights above him,

yells around him, he was clinging to the sidecar for dear life. Hedwig's cage, the Firebolt,

and his rucksack slipped from beneath his knees –

 

"No – HELP!"

 


 

The broomstick spun too, but he just managed to seize the strap of his rucksack

and the top of the cage as the motorbike swung the right way up again. A second's relief,

and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the floor of the cage.

 

"No – NO!"

 

The motorbike zoomed forward; Harry glimpsed hooded Death Eaters scattering

as Hagrid blasted through their circle.

 

"Hedwig – Hedwig –"

 

But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage. He could

not take it in, and his terror for the others was paramount. He glanced over his shoulder

and saw a mass of people moving, flares of green light, two pairs of people on brooms

soaring off into the distance, but he could not tell who they were –

 

"Hagrid, we've got to go back, we've got to go back!" he yelled over the

thunderous roar of the engine, pulling out his wand, ramming Hedwig's cage into the

floor, refusing to believe that she was dead. "Hagrid, TURN AROUND!"

 

"My job's ter get you there safe, Harry!" bellow Hagrid, and he opened the throttle.

 

"Stop – STOP!" Harry shouted, but as he looked back again two jets of green light flew

past his left ear: Four Death Eaters had broken away from the circle and were pursuing

them, aiming for Hagrid's broad back. Hagrid swerved, but the Death Eaters were

keeping up with the bike; more curses shot after them, and Harry had to sink low into the

sidecar to avoid them. Wriggling around he cried, "Stupefy!" and a red bolt of light shot

from his own wand, cleaving a gap between the four pursuing Death Eaters as they

scattered to avoid it.

 

"Hold on, Harry, this'll do for 'em!" roared Hagrid, and Harry looked up just in

time to see Hagrid slamming a thick finger into a green button near the fuel gauge.

 

A wall, a solid black wall, erupted out of the exhaust pipe. Craning his neck, Harry saw it

expand into being in midair. Three of the Death Eaters swerved and avoided it, but the

fourth was not so lucky; He vanished from view and then dropped like a boulder from

behind it, his broomstick broken into pieces. One of his fellows slowed up to save him,

but they and the airborne wall were swallowed by darkness as Hagrid leaned low over the

handlebars and sped up.

 

More Killing Curses flew past Harry's head from the two remaining Death Eaters'

wands; they were aiming for Hagrid. Harry responded with further Stunning Spells: Red

and green collided in midair in a shower of multicolored sparks, and Harry thought

wildly of fireworks, and the Muggles below who would have no idea what was

happening –

 

"Here we go again, Harry, hold on!" yelled Hagrid, and he jabbed at a second

button. This time a great net burst from the bike's exhaust, but the Death Eaters were

ready for it. Not only did they swerve to avoid it, but the companion who had slowed to

save their unconscious friend had caught up. He bloomed suddenly out of the darkness

and now three of them were pursuing the motorbike, all shooting curses after it.

 

"This'll do it, Harry, hold on tight!" yelled Hagrid, and Harry saw him slam his

whole hand onto the purple button beside the speedometer.

 

With an unmistakable bellowing roar, dragon fire burst from the exhaust, whitehot

and blue, and the motorbike shot forward like a bullet with a sound of wrenching

metal. Harry saw the Death Eaters swerve out of sight to avoid the deadly trail of flame,

 


 

and at the same time felt the sidecar sway ominously: Its metal connections to the bike

had splintered with the force of acceleration.

 

"It's all righ', Harry!" bellowed Hagrid, now thrown flat onto the back by the

surge of speed; nobody was steering now, and the sidecar was starting to twist violently

in the bike's slipstream.

 

"I'm on it, Harry, don' worry!" Hagrid yelled, and from inside his jacket pocket he

pulled his flowery pink umbrella.

 

"Hagrid! No! Let me!"

 

"REPARO!"

 

There was a deafening bang and the sidecar broke away from the bike completely.

Harry sped forward, propelled by the impetus of the bike's flight, then the sidecar began

to lose height –

 

In desperation Harry pointed his wand at the sidecar and shouted, "Wingardium

Leviosa!"

 

The sidecar rose like a cork, unsteerable but at least still airborne. He had but a

split second's relief, however, as more curses streaked past him: The three Death Eaters

were closing in.

 

"I'm comin', Harry!" Hagrid yelled from out of the darkness, but Harry could feel

the sidecar beginning to sink again: Crouching as low as he could, he pointed at the

middle of the oncoming figures and yelled, "Impedimenta!"

 

The jinx hit the middle Death Eater in the chest; For a moment the man was

absurdly spread-eagled in midair as though he had hit an invisible barrier: One of his

fellows almost collided with him –

 

Then the sidecar began to fall in earnest, and the remaining Death Eater shot a

curse so close to Harry that he had to duck below the rim of the car, knocking out a tooth

on the edge of his seat –

 

"I'm comin', Harry, I'm comin'!"

 

A huge hand seized the back of Harry's robes and hoisted him out of the

plummeting sidecar; Harry pulled his rucksack with him as he dragged himself onto the

motorbike's seat and found himself back-to-back with Hagrid. As they soared upward,

away from the two remaining Death Eaters, Harry spat blood out of his mouth, pointed

his wand at the falling sidecar, and yelled, "Confringo!"

 

He knew a dreadful, gut-wrenching pang for Hedwig as it exploded; the Death

Eater nearest it was blasted off his broom and fell from sight; his companion fell back

and vanished.

 

"Harry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," moaned Hagrid, "I shouldn'ta tried ter repair it

meself – yeh've got no room –"

 

"It's not a problem, just keep flying!" Harry shouted back, as two more Death

Eaters emerged out of the darkness, drawing closer.

 

As the curses came shooting across the intervening space again, Hagrid swerved

and zigzagged: Harry knew that Hagrid did not dare use the dragon-fire button again,

with Harry seated so insecurely. Harry sent Stunning Spell after Stunning Spell back at

their pursuers, barely holding them off. He shot another blocking jinx at them: The

closest Death Eater swerved to avoid it and his hood slipped, and by the red light of his

next Stunning Spell, Harry saw the strangely blank face of Stanley Shunpike – Stan –

 

"Expelliarmus!" Harry yelled.

 


 

"That's him, it's him, it's the real one!"

 

The hooded Death Eater's shout reached Harry even above the thunder of the

motorbike's engine: Next moment, both pursuers had fallen back and disappeared from

view.

 

"Harry, what's happened?" bellowed Hagrid. "Where've they gone?"

 

"I don't know!"

 

But Harry was afraid: The hooded Death Eater had shouted, "It's the real one!";

how had he known? He gazed around at the apparently empty darkness and felt its

menace. Where were they?

 

He clambered around on the seat to face forward and seized hold of the back of

Hagrid's jacket.

 

"Hagrid, do the dragon-fire thing again, let's get out of here!"

 

"Hold on tight, then, Harry!"

 

There was a deafening, screeching roar again and the white-blue fire shot from the

exhaust: Harry felt himself slipping backwards off what little of the seat he had. Hagrid

flung backward upon him, barely maintaining his grip on the handlebars –

 

"I think we've lost 'em Harry, I think we've done it!" yelled Hagrid.

 

But Harry was not convinced; Fear lapped at him as he looked left and right for

pursuers he was sure would come. . . . Why had they fallen back? One of them had still

had a wand. . . . It's him. . . it's the real one. . . . They had said it right after he had tried to

Disarm Stan. . . .

 

"We're nearly there, Harry, we've nearly made it!" shouted Hagrid.

 

Harry felt the bike drop a little, though the lights down on the ground still seemed

remote as stars.

 

Then the scar on his forehead burned like fire: as a Death Eater appeared on either

side of the bike, two Killing Curses missed Harry by millimeters, cast from behind –

 

And then Harry saw him. Voldemort was flying like smoke on the wind, without

broomstick or thestral to hold him, his snake-like face gleaming out of the blackness, his

white fingers raising his wand again –

 

Hagrid let out a bellow of fear and steered the motorbike into a vertical dive.

Clinging on for dear life, Harry sent Stunning Spells flying at random into the whirling

night. He saw a body fly past him and knew he had hit one of them, but then he heard a

bang and saw sparks from the engine; the motorbike spiraled through the air, completely

out of control –

 

Green jets of light shot past them again. Harry had no idea which way was up,

which down: His scar was still burning; he expected to die at any second. A hooded

figure on a broomstick was feet from him, he saw it raise its arm –

 

"NO!"

 

With a shout of fury Hagrid launched himself off the bike at the Death Eater; to

his horror, Harry saw both Hagrid and the Death Eater, falling out of sight, their

combined weight too much for the broomstick –

 

Barely gripping the plummeting bike with his knees, Harry heard Voldemort

scream, "Mine!"

 

It was over: He could not see or hear where Voldemort was; he glimpsed another

Death Eater swooping out of the way and heard, "Avada –"

 


 

As the pain from Harry's scar forced his eyes shut, his wand acted of its own

accord. He felt it drag his hand around like some great magnet, saw a spurt of golden fire

through his half-closed eyelids, heard a crack and a scream of fury. The remaining Death

Eater yelled; Voldemort screamed, "NO!" Somehow, Harry found his nose an inch from

the dragon-fire button. He punched it with his wand-free hand and the bike shot more

flames into the air, hurtling straight toward the ground.

 

"Hagrid!" Harry called, holding on to the bike for dear life. "Hagrid – Accio

Hagrid!"

 

The motorbike sped up, sucked towards the earth. Face level with the handlebars,

Harry could see nothing but distant lights growing nearer and nearer: He was going to

crash and there was nothing he could do about it. Behind him came another scream,

"Your wand, Selwyn, give me your wand!"

 

He felt Voldemort before he saw him. Looking sideways, he stared into the red

eyes and was sure they would be the last thing he ever saw: Voldemort preparing to curse

him once more –

 

And then Voldemort vanished. Harry looked down and saw Hagrid spread-eagled

on the ground below him. He pulled hard at the handlebars to avoid hitting him, groped

for the brake, but with an earsplitting, ground trembling crash, he smashed into a muddy

pond.

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Fallen Warrior

 

 

 

"Hagrid?"

 

 Harry struggled to raise himself out of the debris of metal and leather that

surrounded him; his hands sank into inches of muddy water as he tried to stand. He could

not understand where Voldemort had gone and expected him to swoop out of the

darkness at any moment. Something hot and wet was trickling down his chin and from

his forehead. He crawled out of the pond and stumbled toward the great dark mass on the

ground that was Hagrid.

 

 "Hagrid? Hagrid, talk to me –"

 

 But the dark mass did not stir.

 

 "Who's there? Is it Potter? Are you Harry Potter?"

 

 Harry did not recognize the man's voice. Then a woman shouted. "They've

crashed. Ted! Crashed in the garden!"

 

 Harry's head was swimming.

 

 "Hagrid," he repeated stupidly, and his knees buckled.

 

 The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back on what felt like cushions, with

a burning sensation in his ribs and right arm. His missing tooth had been regrown. The

scar on his forehead was still throbbing.

 

 "Hagrid?"

 

 He opened his eyes and saw that he was lying on a sofa in an unfamiliar, lamplit

sitting room. His rucksack lay on the floor a short distance away, wet and muddy. A fairhaired,

big-bellied man was watching Harry anxiously.

 


 

 "Hagrid's fine, son," said the man, "the wife's seeing to him now. How are you

feeling? Anything else broken? I've fixed your ribs, your tooth, and your arm. I'm Ted, by

the way, Ted Tonks – Dora's father."

 

 Harry sat up too quickly. Lights popped in front of his eyes and he felt sick and

giddy.

 

 "Voldemort –"

 

 "Easy, now," said Ted Tonks, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder and pushing him

back against the cushions. "That was a nasty crash you just had. What happened,

anyway? Something go wrong with the bike? Arthur Weasley overstretch himself again,

him and his Muggle contraptions?"

 

 "No," said Harry, as his scar pulsed like an open wound. "Death Eaters, loads of

them – we were chased –"

 

 "Death Eaters?" said Ted sharply. "What d'you mean, Death Eaters? I thought

they didn't know you were being moved tonight, I thought –"

 

 "They knew," said Harry.

 

 Ted Tonks looked up at the ceiling as though he could see through it to the sky

above.

 

 "Well, we know our protective charms hold, then, don't we? They shouldn't be

able to get within a hundred yards of the place in any direction."

 

 Now Harry understood why Voldemort had vanished; it had been at the point

when the motorbike crossed the barrier of the Order's charms. He only hoped they would

continue to work: He imagined Voldemort, a hundred yards above them as they spoke,

looking for a way to penetrate what Harry visualized as a great transparent bubble.

 

 He swung his legs off the sofa; he needed to see Hagrid with his own eyes before

he would believe that he was alive. He had barely stood up, however, when a door

opened and Hagrid squeezed through it, his face covered in mud and blood, limping a

little but miraculously alive.

 

 "Harry!"

 

 Knocking over two delicate tables and an aspidistra, he covered the floor between

them in two strides and pulled Harry into a hug that nearly cracked his newly repaired

ribs. "Blimey, Harry, how did yeh get out o' that? I thought we were both goners."

 

 "Yeah, me too. I can't believe –"

 

 Harry broke off. He had just noticed the woman who had entered the room behind

Hagrid.

 

 "You!" he shouted, and he thrust his hand into his pocket, but it was empty.

 

 "Your wand's here, son," said Ted, tapping it on Harry's arm. "It fell right beside

you, I picked it up…And that's my wife you're shouting at."

 

 "Oh, I'm – I'm sorry."

 

 As she moved forward into the room, Mrs. Tonks's resemblance to her sister

Bellatrix became much less pronounced: Her hair was a light’s oft brown and her eyes

were wider and kinder. Nevertheless, she looked a little haughty after Harry's

exclamation.

 

 "What happened to our daughter?" she asked. "Hagrid said you were ambushed;

where is Nymphadora?"

 

 "I don't know," said Harry. "We don't know what happened to anyone else."

 


 

 She and Ted exchanged looks. A mixture of fear and guilt gripped Harry at the

sight of their expressions, if any of the others had died, it was his fault, all his fault. He

had consented to the plan, given them his hair . . .

 

 "The Portkey," he said, remembering all of a sudden. "We've got to get back to

the Burrow and find out – then we'll be able to send you word, or – or Tonks will, once

she's –"

 

 "Dora'll be ok, 'Dromeda," said Ted. "She knows her stuff, she's been in plenty of

tight spots with the Aurors. The Portkey's through here," he added to Harry. "It's

supposed to leave in three minutes, if you want to take it."

 

 "Yeah, we do," said Harry. He seized his rucksack, swung it onto his shoulders. "I

–"

 

 He looked at Mrs. Tonks, wanting to apologize for the state of fear in which he

left her and for which he felt so terribly responsible, but no words occurred to him that he

did not seem hollow and insincere.

 

 "I'll tell Tonks – Dora – to send word, when she . . . Thanks for patching us up,

thanks for everything, I –"

 

 He was glad to leave the room and follow Ted Tonks along a short hallway and

into a bedroom. Hagrid came after them, bending low to avoid hitting his head on the

door lintel.

 

 "There you go, son. That's the Portkey."

 

 Mr. Tonks was pointing to a small, silver-backed hairbrush lying on the dressing

table.

 

 "Thanks," said Harry, reaching out to place a finger on it, ready to leave.

 

 "Wait a moment," said Hagrid, looking around. "Harry, where's Hedwig?"

 

 "She . . . she got hit," said Harry.

 

 The realization crashed over him: He felt ashamed of himself as the tears stung

his eyes. The owl had been his companion, his one great link with the magical world

whenever he had been forced to return to the Dursleys.

 

 Hagrid reached out a great hand and patted him painfully on the shoulder.

 

 "Never mind," he said gruffly, "Never mind. She had a great old life –"

 

 "Hagrid!" said Ted Tonks warningly, as the hairbrush glowed bright blue, and

Hagrid only just got his forefinger to it in time.

 

 With a jerk behind the navel as though an invisible hook and line had dragged

him forward, Harry was pulled into nothingness, spinning uncontrollably, his finger glued

to the Portkey as he and Hagrid hurtled away from Mr. Tonks. Second later, Harry's feet

slammed onto hard ground and he fell onto his hands and knees in the yard of the Burrow.

He heard screams. Throwing aside the no longer glowing hairbrush, Harry stood up,

swaying slightly, and saw Mrs. Weasley and Ginny running down the steps by the back

door as Hagrid, who had also collapsed on landing, clambered laboriously to his feet.

 

 "Harry? You are the real Harry? What happened? Where are the others?" cried

Mrs. Weasley.

 

 "What d'you mean? Isn't anyone else back?" Harry panted.

 

 The answer was clearly etched in Mrs. Weasley's pale face.

 

 "The Death Eaters were waiting for us," Harry told her, "We were surrounded the

moment we took off – they knew it was tonight – I don't know what happened to anyone

 


 

else, four of them chased us, it was all we could do to get away, and then Voldemort

caught up with us –"

 

 He could hear the self-justifying note in his voice, the plea for her to understand

why he did not know what had happened to her sons, but –

 

 "Thank goodness you're all right," she said, pulling him into a hug he did not feel

he deserved.

 

 "Haven't go' any brandy, have yeh, Molly?" asked Hagrid a little shakily, "Fer

medicinal purposes?"

 

 She could have summoned it by magic, but as she hurried back toward the

crooked house, Harry knew that she wanted to hide her face. He turned to Ginny and she

answered his unspoken plea for information at once.

 

 "Ron and Tonks should have been back first, but they missed their Portkey, it

came back without them," she said, pointing at a rusty oil can lying on the ground nearby.

"And that one," she pointed at an ancient sneaker, "should have been Dad and Fred's,

they were supposed to be second. You and Hagrid were third and," she checked her

watch, "if they made it, George and Lupin aught to be back in about a minute."

 

 Mrs. Weasley reappeared carrying a bottle of brandy, which she handed to Hagrid.

He uncorked it and drank it straight down in one.

 

 "Mum!" shouted Ginny pointing to a spot several feet away.

 

 A blue light had appeared in the darkness: It grew larger and brighter, and Lupin

and George appeared, spinning and then falling. Harry knew immediately that there was

something wrong: Lupin was supporting George, who was unconscious and whose face

was covered in blood.

 

 Harry ran forward and seized George's legs. Together, he and Lupin carried

George into the house and through the kitchen to the living room, where they laid him on

the sofa. As the lamplight fell across George's head, Ginny gasped and Harry's stomach

lurched: One of George's ears was missing. The side of his head and neck were drenched

in wet, shockingly scarlet blood.

 

 No sooner had Mrs. Weasley bent over her son that Lupin grabbed Harry by the

upper arm and dragged him, none too gently, back into the kitchen, where Hagrid was

still attempting to ease his bulk through the back door.

 

 "Oi!" said Hagrid indignantly, "Le' go of him! Le' go of Harry!"

 

 Lupin ignored him.

 

 "What creature sat in the corner the first time that Harry Potter visited my office

at Hogwarts?" he said, giving Harry a small shake. "Answer me!"

 

 "A – a grindylow in a tank, wasn't it?"

 

 Lupin released Harry and fell back against a kitchen cupboard.

 

 "Wha' was tha' about?" roared Hagrid.

 

 "I'm sorry, Harry, but I had to check," said Lupin tersely. "We've been betrayed.

Voldemort knew that you were being moved tonight and the only people who could have

told him were directly involved in the plan. You might have been an impostor."

 

 "So why aren' you checkin' me?" panted Hagrid, still struggling with the door.

 

 "You're half-giant," said Lupin, looking up at Hagrid. "The Polyjuice Potion is

designed for human use only."

 

 "None of the Order would have told Voldemort we were moving tonight," said

Harry. The idea was dreadful to him, he could not believe it of any of them. "Voldemort

 


 

only caught up with me toward the end, he didn't know which one I was in the beginning.

If he'd been in on the plan he'd have known from the start I was the one with Hagrid."

 

 "Voldemort caught up with you?" said Lupin sharply. "What happened? How did

you escape?"

 

 Harry explained how the Death Eaters pursuing them had seemed to recognize

him as the true Harry, how they had abandoned the chase, how they must have

summoned Voldemort, who had appeared just before he and Hagrid had reached the

sanctuary of Tonks's parents.

 

 "They recognized you? But how? What had you done?"

 

 "I . . ." Harry tried to remember; the whole journey seemed like a blur of panic

and confusion. "I saw Stan Shunpike . . . . You know, the bloke who was the conductor

on the Knight Bus? And I tried to Disarm him instead of – well, he doesn't know what

he's doing, does he? He must be Imperiused!"

 

 Lupin looked aghast.

 

 "Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill

you! At least Stun if you aren't prepared to kill!"

 

 "We were hundreds of feet up! Stan's not himself, and if I Stunned him and he'd

fallen, he'd have died the same as if I'd used Avada Kedavra! Expelliarmus saved me

from Voldemort two years ago," Harry added defiantly. Lupin was reminding him of the

sneering Hufflepuff Zacharias Smith, who had jeered at Harry for wanting to teach

Dumbledore's Army how to Disarm.

 

 "Yes, Harry," said Lupin with painful restraint, "and a great number of Death

Eaters witnessed that happening! Forgive me, but it was a very unusual move then, under

the imminent threat of death. Repeating it tonight in front of Death Eaters who either

witnessed or heard about the first occasion was close to suicidal!"

 

 "So you think I should have killed Stan Shunpike?" said Harry angrily.

 

 "Of course not," said Lupin, "but the Death Eaters – frankly, most people! –

would have expected you to attack back! Expelliarmus is a useful spell, Harry, but the

Death Eaters seem to think it is your signature move, and I urge you not to let it become

so!"

 

 Lupin was making Harry feel idiotic, and yet there was still a grain of defiance

inside him.

 

 "I won't blast people out of my way just because they're there," said Harry, "That's

Voldemort's job."

 

 Lupin's retort was lost: Finally succeeding in squeezing through the door, Hagrid

staggered to a chair and sat down; it collapsed beneath him. Ignoring his mingled oaths

and apologies, Harry addressed Lupin again.

 

 "Will George be okay?"

 

 All Lupin's frustration with Harry seemed to drain away at the question.

 

 "I think so, although there's no chance of replacing his ear, not when it's been

cursed off –"

 

 There was a scuffling from outside. Lupin dived for the back door; Harry leapt

over Hagrid's legs and sprinted into the yard.

 

 Two figures had appeared in the yard, and as Harry ran toward them he realized

they were Hermione, now returning to her normal appearance, and Kingsley, both

clutching a bent coat hanger, Hermione flung herself into Harry's arms, but Kingsley

 


 

showed no pleasure at the sight of any of them. Over Hermione's shoulder Harry saw him

raise his wand and point it at Lupin's chest.

 

 "The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us!"

 

 "'Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him,'" said Lupin calmly.

 

 Kingsley turned his wand on Harry, but Lupin said, "It's him, I've checked!"

 

 "All right, all right!" said Kingsley, stowing his wand back beneath his cloak,

"But somebody betrayed us! They knew, they knew it was tonight!"

 

 "So it seems," replied Lupin, "but apparently they did not realize that there would

be seven Harrys."

 

 "Small comfort!" snarled Kingsley. "Who else is back?"

 

 "Only Harry, Hagrid, George, and me."

 

 Hermione stifled a little moan behind her hand.

 

 "What happened to you?" Lupin asked Kingsley.

 

 "Followed by five, injured two, might've killed one," Kingsley reeled off, "and we

saw You-Know-Who as well, he joined the chase halfway through but vanished pretty

quickly. Remus, he can –"

 

 "Fly," supplied Harry. "I saw him too, he came after Hagrid and me."

 

 "So that's why he left, to follow you!" said Kingsley, "I couldn't understand why

he'd vanished. But what made him change targets?"

 

 "Harry behaved a little too kindly to Stan Shunpike," said Lupin.

 

 "Stan?" repeated Hermione. "But I thought he was in Azkaban?"

 

 Kingsley let out a mirthless laugh.

 

 "Hermione, there's obviously been a mass breakout which the Ministry has

hushed up. Travers's hood fell off when I cursed him, he's supposed to be inside too. But

what happened to you, Remus? Where's George?"

 

 "He lost an ear," said Lupin.

 

 "lost an -- ?" repeated Hermione in a high voice.

 

 "Snape's work," said Lupin.

 

 "Snape?" shouted Harry. "You didn't say –"

 

 "He lost his hood during the chase. Sectumsempra was always a specialty of

Snape's. I wish I could say I'd paid him back in kind, but it was all I could do to keep

George on the broom after he was injured, he was losing so much blood."

 

 Silence fell between the four of them as they looked up at the sky. There was no

sign of movement; the stars stared back, unblinking, indifferent, unobscured by flying

friends. Where was Ron? Where were Fred and Mr. Weasley? Where were Bill, Fleur,

Tonks, Mad-Eye, and Mundungus?

 

 "Harry, give us a hand!" called Hagrid hoarsely from the door, in which he was

stuck again. Glad of something to do, Harry pulled him free, the headed through the

empty kitchen and back into the sitting room, where Mrs. Weasley and Ginny were still

tending to George. Mrs. Weasley had staunched his bleeding now, and by the lamplight

Harry saw a clean gaping hole where George's ear had been.

 

 "How is he?"

 

 Mrs. Weasley looked around and said, "I can't make it grow back, not when it's

been removed by Dark Magic. But it could've been so much worse . . . . He's alive."

 

 "Yeah," said Harry. "Thank God."

 

 "Did I hear someone else in the yard?" Ginny asked.

 


 

 "Hermione and Kingsley," said Harry.

 

 "Thank goodness," Ginny whispered. They looked at each other; Harry wanted to

hug her, hold on to her; he did not even care much that Mrs. Weasley was there, but

before he could act on the impulse, there was a great crash from the kitchen.

 

 "I'll prove who I am, Kingsley, after I've seen my son, now back off if you know

what's good for you!"

 

 Harry had never heard Mr. Weasley shout like that before. He burst into the living

room, his bald patch gleaming with sweat, his spectacles askew, Fred right behind him,

both pale but uninjured.

 

 "Arthur!" sobbed Mrs. Weasley. "Oh thank goodness!"

 

 "How is he?"

 

 Mr. Weasley dropped to his knees beside George. For the first time since Harry

had known him, Fred seemed to be lost for words. He gaped over the back of the sofa at

his twin's wound as if he could not believe what he was seeing.

 

 Perhaps roused by the sound of Fred and their father's arrival, George stirred.

 

 "How do you feel, Georgie?" whispered Mrs. Weasley.

 

 George's fingers groped for the side of his head.

 

 "Saintlike," he murmured.

 

 "What's wrong with him?" croaked Fred, looking terrified. "Is his mind affected?"

 

 "Saintlike," repeated George, opening his eyes and looking up at his brother.

"You see. . . I'm holy. Holey, Fred, geddit?"

 

 Mrs. Weasley sobbed harder than ever. Color flooded Fred's pale face.

 

 "Pathetic," he told George. "Pathetic! With the whole wide world of ear-related

humor before you, you go for holey?"

 

 "Ah well," said George, grinning at his tear-soaked mother. "You'll be able to tell

us apart now, anyway, Mum."

 

 He looked around.

 

 "Hi, Harry – you are Harry, right?"

 

 "Yeah, I am," said Harry, moving closer to the sofa.

 

 "Well, at least we got you back okay," said George. "Why aren't Ron and Bill

huddled round my sickbed?"

 

 "They're not back yet, George," said Mrs. Weasley. George's grin faded. Harry

glanced at Ginny and motioned to her to accompany him back outside. As they walked

through the kitchen she said in a low voice.

 

 "Ron and Tonks should be back by now. They didn't have a long journey; Auntie

Muriel's not that far from here."

 

 Harry said nothing. He had been trying to keep fear at bay ever since reaching the

Burrow, but now it enveloped him, seeming to crawl over his skin, throbbing in his chest,

clogging his throat. As they walked down the back steps into the dark yard, Ginny took

his hand.

 

 Kingsley was striding backward and forward, glancing up at the sky every time he

turned. Harry was reminded of Uncle Vernon pacing the living room a million years ago.

Hagrid, Hermione, and Lupin stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing upward in silence. None

of them looked around when Harry and Ginny joined their silent vigil.

 


 

 The minutes stretched into what might as well have been years. The slightest

breath of wind made them all jump and turn toward the whispering bush or tree in the

hope that one of the missing Order members might leap unscathed from its leaves –

 

 And then a broom materialized directly above them and streaked toward the

ground –

 

 "It's them!" screamed Hermione.

 

 Tonks landed in a long skid that sent earth and pebbles everywhere.

 

 "Remus!" Tonks cried as she staggered off the broom into Lupin's arms. His face

was set and white: He seemed unable to speak, Ron tripped dazedly toward Harry and

Hermione.

 

 "You're okay," he mumbled, before Hermione flew at him and hugged him tightly.

 

 "I thought – I thought –"

 

 "'M all right," said Ron, patting her on the back. "'M fine."

 

 "Ron was great," said Tonks warmly, relinquishing her hold on Lupin.

"Wonderful. Stunned one of the Death Eaters, straight to the head, and when you're

aiming at a moving target from a flying broom –"

 

 "You did?" said Hermione, gazing up at Ron with her arms still around his neck.

 

 "Always the tone of surprise," he said a little grumpily, breaking free. "Are we the

last back?"

 

 "No," said Ginny, "we're still waiting for Bill and Fleur and Mad-Eye and

Mundungus. I'm going to tell Mum and Dad you're okay, Ron –"

 

 She ran back inside.

 

 "So what kept you? What happened?" Lupin sounded almost angry at Tonks.

 

 "Bellatrix," said Tonks. "She wants me quite as much as she wants Harry, Remus,

She tried very hard to kill me. I just wish I'd got her, I owe Bellatrix. But we definitely

injured Rodolphus . . . . Then we got to Ron's Auntie Muriel's and we missed our Portkey

and she was fussing over us –"

 

 A muscle was jumping in Lupin's jaw. He nodded, but seemed unable to say

anything else.

 

 "So what happened to you lot?" Tonks asked, turning to Harry, Hermione, and

Kingsley.

 

 They recounted the stories of their own journeys, but all the time the continued

absence of Bill, Fleur, Mad-Eye, and Mundungus seemed to lie upon them like a frost, its

icy bite harder and harder to ignore.

 

 "I'm going to have to get back to Downing Street, I should have been there an

hour ago," said Kingsley finally, after a last sweeping gaze at the sky. "Let me know

when they're back,."

 

 Lupin nodded. With a wave to the others, Kingsley walked away into the darkness

toward the gate. Harry thought he heard the faintest pop as Kingsley Disapparated just

beyond the Burrow's boundaries.

 

 Mr. And Mrs. Weasley came racing down the back steps, Ginny behind them.

Both parents hugged Ron before turning to Lupin and Tonks.

 

 "Thank you," said Mrs. Weasley, "for our sons."

 

 "Don't be silly, Molly," said Tonks at once.

 

 "How's George?" asked Lupin.

 

 "What's wrong with him?" piped up Ron.

 


 

 "He's lost –"

 

 But the end of Mrs. Weasley's sentence was drowned in a general outcry. A

thestral had just soared into sight and landed a few feet from them. Bill and Fleur slid

from its back, windswept but unhurt.

 

 "Bill! Thank God, thank God –"

 

 Mrs. Weasley ran forward, but the hug Bill bestowed upon her was perfunctory.

Looking directly at his father, he said, "Mad-Eye's dead."

 

 Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Harry felt as though something inside him was

falling, falling through the earth, leaving him forever.

 

 "We saw it," said Bill; Fleur nodded, tear tracks glittering on her cheeks in the

light from the kitchen window. "It happened just after we broke out of the circle: Mad-

Eye and Dung were close by us, they were heading north too. Voldemort – he can fly –

went straight for them. Dung panicked, I heard him cry out, Mad-Eye tried to stop him,

but he Disapparated. Voldemort's curse hit Mad-Eye full in the face, he fell backward off

his broom and – there was nothing we could do, nothing, we had half a dozen of them on

our own tail –"

 

 Bill's voice broke.

 

 "Of course you couldn't have done anything," said Lupin.

 

 They all stood looking at each other. Harry could not quite comprehend it. Mad-

Eye dead; it could not be . . . . Mad-Eye, so tough, so brave, the consummate survivor . . .

 

 At last it seemed to dawn on everyone, though nobody said it, that there was no

point of waiting in the yard anymore, and in silence they followed Mr. And Mrs. Weasley

back into the Burrow, and into the living room, where Fred and George were laughing

together.

 

 "What's wrong?" said Fred, scanning their faces as they entered, "What's

happened? Who's --?"

 

 "Mad-Eye," said Mr. Weasley, "Dead."

 

 The twins' grins turned to grimaces of shock. Nobody seemed to know what to do.

Tonks was crying silently into a handkerchief: She had been close to Mad-Eye, Harry

knew, his favorite and his protégée at the Ministry of Magic. Hagrid, who had sat down

on the floor in the corner where he had most space, was dabbing at his eyes with his

tablecloth-sized handkerchief.

 

 Bill walked over to the sideboard and pulled out a bottle of fire-whisky and some

glasses.

 

 "Here," he said, and with a wave of his wand, eh sent twelve full glasses soaring

through the room to each of them, holding the thirteenth aloft. "Mad-Eye."

 

 "Mad-Eye," they all said, and drank.

 

 "Mad-Eye," echoed Hagrid, a little late, with a hiccup. The firewhisky seared

Harry's throat. It seemed to burn feeling back into him, dispelling the numbness and

sense of unreality firing him with something that was like courage.

 

 "So Mundungus disappeared?" said Lupin, who had drained his own glass in one.

 

 The atmosphere changed at once. Everybody looked tense, watching Lupin, both

wanting him to go on, it seemed to Harry, and slightly afraid of what they might hear.

 

 "I know what you're thinking," said Bill, "and I wondered that too, on the way

back here, because they seemed to be expecting us, didn't they? But Mundungus can't

have betrayed us. They didn't know there would be seven Harrys, that confused them the

 


 

moment we appeared, and in case you've forgotten, it was Mundungus who suggested

that little bit of skullduggery. Why wouldn't he have told them the essential point? I think

Dung panicked, it's as simple as that. He didn't want to come in the first place, but Mad-

Eye made him, and You-Know-Who went straight for them. It was enough to make

anyone panic."

 

 "You-Know-Who acted exactly as Mad-Eye expected him to," sniffed Tonks.

"Mad-Eye said he'd expect the real Harry to be with the toughest, most skilled Aurors. He

chased Mad-Eye first, and when Mundungus gave them away he switched to

Kingsley. . . . "

 

 "Yes, and zat eez all very good," snapped Fleur, "but still eet does not explain 'ow

zey know we were moving 'Arry tonight, does eet? Somebody must 'ave been careless.

Somebody let slip ze date to an outsider. It is ze only explanation for zem knowing ze

date but not ze 'ole plan."

 

 She glared around at them all, tear tracks still etched on her beautiful face, silently

daring any of them to contradict her. Nobody did. The only sound to break the silence

was that of Hagrid hiccupping from behind his handkerchief. Harry glanced at Hagrid,

who had just risked his own life to save Harry's – Hagrid, whom he loved, whom he

trusted, who had once been tricked into giving Voldemort crucial information in

exchange for a dragon's egg. . . .

 

 "No," Harry said aloud, and they all looked at him, surprised: The firewhisky

seemed to have amplified his voice. "I mean . . . if somebody made a mistake," Harry

went on, "and let something slip, I know they didn't mean to do it. It's not their fault," he

repeated, again a little louder than he would usually have spoken. "We've got to trust each

other. I trust all of you, I don't think anyone in this room would ever sell me to

Voldemort."

 

 More silence followed his words. They were all looking at him; Harry felt a little

hot again, and drank some more firewhisky for something to do. As he drank, he thought

of Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye had always been scathing about Dumbledore's willingness to trust

people.

 

 "Well said, Harry," said Fred unexpectedly.

 

 "Year, 'ear, 'ear," said George, with half a glance at Fred, the corner of whose

mouth twitched.

 

 Lupin was wearing an odd expression as he looked at Harry. It was close to

pitying.

 

 "You think I'm a fool?" demanded Harry.

 

 "No, I think you're like James," said Lupin, "who would have regarded it as the

height of dishonor to mistrust his friends."

 

 Harry knew what Lupin was getting at: that his father had been betrayed by his

friend Peter Pettigrew. He felt irrationally angry. He wanted to argue, but Lupin had

turned away from him, set down his glass upon a side table, and addressed Bill, "There's

work to do. I can ask Kingsley whether –"

 

 "No," said Bill at once, "I'll do it, I'll come."

 

 "Where are you going?" said Tonks and Fleur together.

 

 "Mad-Eye's body," said Lupin. "We need to recover it."

 

 "Can't it -- ?" began Mrs. Weasley with an appealing look at Bill.

 

 "Wait?" said Bill, "Not unless you'd rather the Death Eaters took it?"

 


 

 Nobody spoke. Lupin and Bill said good bye and left.

 

 The rest of them now dropped into chairs, all except for Harry, who remained

standing. The suddenness and completeness of death was with them like a presence.

 

 "I've got to go too," said Harry.

 

 Ten pairs of startled eyes looked at him.

 

 "Don't be silly, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley, "What are you talking about?"

 

 "I can't stay here."

 

 He rubbed his forehead; it was prickling again, he had not hurt like this for more

than a year.

 

 "You're all in danger while I'm here. I don't want –"

 

 "But don't be so silly!" said Mrs. Weasley. "The whole point of tonight was to get

you here safely, and thank goodness it worked. And Fleur's agreed to get married here

rather than in France, we've arranged everything so that we can all stay together and look

after you –"

 

 She did not understand; she was making him feel worse, not better.

 

 "If Voldemort finds out I'm here –"

 

 "But why should he?" asked Mrs. Weasley.

 

 "There are a dozen places you might be now, Harry," said Mr. Weasley. "He's got

no way of knowing which safe house you're in."

 

 "It's not me I'm worried for!" said Harry.

 

 "We know that," said Mr. Weasley quietly, but it would make our efforts tonight

seem rather pointless if you left."

 

 "Yer not goin' anywhere," growled Hagrid. "Blimey, Harry, after all we wen'

through ter get you here?"

 

 "Yeah, what about my bleeding ear?" said George, hoisting himself up on his

cushions.

 

 "I know that –"

 

 "Mad-Eye wouldn't want –"

 

 "I KNOW!" Harry bellowed.

 

 He felt beleaguered and blackmailed: Did they think he did not know what they

had done for him, didn't they understand that it was for precisely that reason that he

wanted to go now, before they had to suffer any more on his behalf? There was a long

and awkward silence in which his scar continued to prickle and throb, and which was

broken at last by Mrs. Weasley.

 

 "Where's Hedwig, Harry?" she said coaxingly. "We can put her up with

Pidwidgeon and give her something to eat."

 

 His insides clenched like a fist. He could not tell her the truth. He drank the last of

his firewhisky to avoid answering.

 

 "Wait till it gets out yeh did it again, Harry," said Hagrid. "Escaped him, fought

him off when he was right on top of yeh!"

 

 "It wasn't me," said Harry flatly. "It was my wand. My wand acted of its own

accord."

 

 After a few moments, Hermione said gently, "But that's impossible, Harry. You

mean that you did magic without meaning to; you reacted instinctively."

 


 

 "No," said Harry. "The bike was falling, I couldn't have told you where

Voldemort was, but my wand spun in my hand and found him and shot a spell at him, and

it wasn't even a spell I recognized. I've never made gold flames appear before."

 

 "Often," said Mr. Weasley, "when you're in a pressured situation you can produce

magic you never dreamed of. Small children often find, before they're trained –"

 

 "It wasn't like that," said Harry through gritted teeth. His scar was burning. He felt

angry and frustrated; he hated the idea that they were all imagining him to have power to

match Voldemort's.

 

 No one said anything. He knew that they did not believe him. Now that he came

to think of it, he had never heard of a wand performing magic on its own before.

 

 His scar seared with pain, it was all he could do not to moan aloud. Muttering

about fresh air, he set down his glass and left the room.

 

 As he crossed the yard, the great skeletal thestral looked up – rustled its enormous

batlike wings, then resumed its grazing. Harry stopped at the gate into the garden, staring

out at its overgrown plants, rubbing his pounding forehead and thinking of Dumbledore.

 

 Dumbledore would have believed him, he knew it. Dumbledore would have

known how and why Harry's wand had acted independently, because Dumbledore always

had the answers; he had known about wands, had explained to Harry the strange

connection that existed between his wand and Voldemort's . . . . But Dumbledore, like

Mad-Eye, like Sirius, like his parents, like his poor owl, all were gone where Harry could

never talk to them again. He felt a burning in his throat that had nothing to do with

firewhisky. . . .

 

 And then, out of nowhere, the pain in his scar peaked. As he clutched his forehead

and closed his eyes, a voice screamed inside his head.

 

 "You told me the problem would be solved by using another's wand!"

 

 And into his mind burst the vision of an emaciated old man lying in rags upon a

stone floor, screaming, a horrible drawn-out scream, a scream of unendurable agony. . . .

 

 "No! No! I beg you, I beg you. . . ."

 

 "You lied to Lord Voldemort, Ollivander!"

 

 "I did not. . . . I swear I did not. . . ."

 

 "You sought to help Potter, to help him escape me!"

 

 "I swear I did not. . . . I believed a different wand would work. . . ."

 

 "Explain, then, what happened. Lucius's wand is destroyed!"

 

 "I cannot understand. . . . The connection . . . exists only . . between your two

wands. . . ."

 

 "Lies!"

 

 "Please . . . I beg you. . . ."

 

 And Harry saw the white hand raise its wand and felt Voldemort's surge of

vicious anger, saw the frail old main on the floor writhe in agony –

 

 "Harry?"

 

 It was over as quickly as it had come: Harry stood shaking in the darkness,

clutching the gate into the garden, his heart racing, his scar still tingling. It was several

moments before he realized that Ron and Hermione were at his side.

 

 "Harry, come back in the house," Hermione whispered, "You aren't still thinking

of leaving?"

 

 "Yeah, you've got to stay, mate," said Ron, thumping Harry on the back.

 


 

 "Are you all right?" Hermione asked, close enough now to look into Harry's face.

"You look awful!"

 

 "Well," said Harry shakily, "I probably look better than Ollivander. . . ."

 

 When he had finished telling them what he had seen, Ron looked appalled, but

Hermione downright terrified.

 

 "But it was supposed to have stopped! Your scar – it wasn't supposed to do this

anymore! You mustn't let that connection open up again – Dumbledore wanted you to

close your mind!"

 

 When he did not reply, she gripped his arm.

 

 "Harry, he's taking over the Ministry and the newspapers and half the Wizarding

world! Don't let him inside your head too!"

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

The Ghoul in Pajamas

 

 

 

The shock of losing Mad-Eye hung over the house in the days that followed;

Harry kept expecting to see him stumping in through the back door like the other Order

members, who passed in and out to relay news. Harry felt that nothing but action would

assuage his feelings of guilt and grief and that he ought to set out on his mission to find

and destroy Horcruxes as soon as possible.

 

“Well, you can’t do anything about the” – Ron mouthed the word Horcruxes –

“till you’re seventeen. You’ve still got the Trace on you. And we can plan here as well as

anywhere, can’t we? Or,” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “d’you reckon you already

know where the You-Know-Whats are?”

 

“No,” Harry admitted.

 

“I think Hermione’s been doing a bit of research,” said Ron. “She said she was

saving it for when you got here.”

 

They were sitting at the breakfast table; Mr. Weasley and Bill had just left for

work. Mrs. Weasley had gone upstairs to wake Hermione and Ginny, while Fleur had

drifted off to take a bath.

 

“The Trace’ll break on the thirty-first,” said Harry. “That means I only need to

stay here four days. Then I can –“

 

“Five days,” Ron corrected him firmly. “We’ve got to stay for the wedding.

They’ll kill us if we miss it.”

 

Harry understood “they” to mean Fleur and Mrs. Weasley.

 

“It’s one extra day,” said Ron, when Harry looked mutinous.

 

“Don’t they realize how important –?”

 

“’Course they don’t,” said Ron. “They haven’t got a clue. And now you mention

it, I wanted to talk to you about that.”

 

Ron glanced toward the door into the hall to check that Mrs. Weasley was not

returning yet, then leaned in closer to Harry.

 

“Mum’s been trying to get it out of Hermione and me. What we’re off to do.

She’ll try you next, so brace yourself. Dad and Lupin’ve both asked as well, but when we

 


 

said Dumbledore told you not to tell anyone except us, they dropped it. Not Mum, though.

She’s determined.”

 

Ron’s prediction came true within hours. Shortly before lunch, Mrs. Weasley

detached Harry from the others by asking him to help identify a lone man’s sock that she

thought might have come out of his rucksack. Once she had him cornered in the tiny

scullery off the kitchen, she started.

 

“Ron and Hermione seem to think that the three of you are dropping out of

Hogwarts,” she began in a light, casual tone.

 

“Oh,” said Harry. “Well, yeah. We are.”

 

The mangle turned of its own accord in a corner, wringing out what looked like

one of Mr. Weasley’s vests.

 

“May I ask why you are abandoning your education?” said Mrs. Weasley.

 

“Well, Dumbledore left me . . . stuff to do,” mumbled Harry. “Ron and Hermione

know about it, and they want to come too.”

 

“What sort of ‘stuff’?”

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t –“

 

“Well, frankly, I think Arthur and I have a right to know, and I’m sure Mr. And

Mrs. Granger would agree!” said Mrs. Weasley. Harry had been afraid of the “concerned

parent” attack. He forced himself to look directly into her eyes, noticing as he did so that

they were precisely the same shade of brown as Ginny’s. This did not help.

 

“Dumbledore didn’t want anyone else to know, Mrs. Weasley. I’m sorry. Ron and

Hermione don’t have to come, it’s their choice –“

 

“I don’t see that you have to go either!” she snapped, dropping all pretense now.

“You’re barely of age, any of you! It’s utter nonsense, if Dumbledore needed work doing,

he had the whole Order at his command! Harry, you must have misunderstood him.

Probably he was telling you something he wanted done, and you took it to mean that he

wanted you–“

 

“I didn’t misunderstand,” said Harry flatly. “It’s got to be me.”

 

He handed her back the single sock he was supposed to be identifying, which was

patterned with golden bulrushes.

 

“And that’s not mine. I don’t support Puddlemere United.”

 

“Oh, of course not,” said Mrs. Weasley with a sudden and rather unnerving return

to her casual tone. “I should have realized. Well, Harry, while we’ve still got you here,

you won’t mind helping with the preparations for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, will you?

There’s still so much to do.”

 

“No – I – of course not,” said Harry, disconcerted by this sudden change of

subject.

 

“Sweet of you,” she replied, and she smiled as she left the scullery.

 

From that moment on, Mrs. Weasley kept Harry, Ron and Hermione so busy with

preparations for the wedding that they hardly had any time to think. The kindest

explanation of this behavior would have been that Mrs. Weasley wanted to distract them

all from thoughts of Mad-Eye and the terrors of their recent journey. After two days of

nonstop cutlery cleaning, of color-matching favors, ribbons, and flowers, of de-gnoming

the garden and helping Mrs. Weasley cook vast batches of canapés, however, Harry

started to suspect her of a different motive. All the jobs she handed out seemed to keep

him, Ron, and Hermione away from one another; he had not had a chance to speak to the

 


 

two of them alone since the first night, when he had told them about Voldemort torturing

Ollivander.

 

“I think Mum thinks that if she can stop the three of you getting together and

planning, she’ll be able to delay you leaving,” Ginny told Harry in an undertone, as they

laid the table for dinner on the third night of his stay.

 

“And then what does she think’s going to happen?” Harry muttered. “Someone

else might kill off Voldemort while she’s holding us here making vol-au-vents?”

 

He had spoken without thinking, and saw Ginny’s face whiten.

 

“So it’s true?” she said. “That’s what you’re trying to do?”

 

“I – not – I was joking,” said Harry evasively.

 

They stared at each other, and there was something more than shock in Ginny’s

expression. Suddenly Harry became aware that this was the first time that he had been

alone with her since those stolen hours in secluded corners of the Hogwarts grounds. He

was sure she was remembering them too. Both of them jumped as the door opened, and

Mr. Weasley, Kingsley, and Bill walked in.

 

They were often joined by other Order members for dinner now, because the

Burrow had replaced number twelve, Grimmauld Place as the headquarters. Mr. Weasley

had explained that after the death of Dumbledore, their Secret-Keeper, each of the people

to whom Dumbledore had confided Grimmauld Place’s location had become a Secret-

Keeper in turn.

 

“And as there are around twenty of us, that greatly dilutes the power of the

Fidelius Charm. Twenty times as many opportunities for the Death Eaters to get the

secret out of somebody. We can’t expect it to hold much longer.”

 

“But surely Snape will have told the Death Eaters the address by now?” asked

Harry.

 

“Well, Mad-Eye set up a couple of curses against Snape in case he turns up there

again. We hope they’ll be strong enough both to keep him out and to bind his tongue if he

tries to talk about the place, but we can’t be sure. It would have been insane to keep using

the place as headquarters now that its protection has become so shaky.”

 

The kitchen was so crowded that evening it was difficult to maneuver knives and

forks. Harry found himself crammed beside Ginny; the unsaid things that had just passed

between them made him wish they had been separated by a few more people. He was

trying so hard to avoid brushing her arm he could barely cut his chicken.

 

“No news about Mad-Eye?” Harry asked Bill.

 

“Nothing,” replied Bill.

 

They had not been able to hold a funeral for Moody, because Bill and Lupin had

failed to recover his body. It had been difficult to know where he might have fallen, given

the darkness and the confusion of the battle.

 

“The Daily Prophet hasn’t said a word about him dying or about finding the

body,” Bill went on. “But that doesn’t mean much. It’s keeping a lot quiet these days.”

 

“And they still haven’t called a hearing about all the underage magic I used

escaping the Death Eaters?” Harry called across the table to Mr. Weasley, who shook his

head.

 

“Because they know I had no choice or because they don’t want me to tell the

world Voldemort attacked me?”

 


 

“The latter, I think. Scrimgeour doesn’t want to admit that You-Know-Who is as

powerful as he is, nor that Azkaban’s seen a mass breakout.”

 

“Yeah, why tell the public the truth?” said Harry, clenching his knife so tightly

that the faint scars on the back of his right hand stood out, white against his skin: I must

not tell lies.

 

“Isn’t anyone at the Ministry prepared to stand up to him?” asked Ron angrily.

 

“Of course, Ron, but people are terrified,” Mr. Weasley replied, “terrified that

they will be next to disappear, their children the next to be attacked! There are nasty

rumors going around; I for one don’t believe the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts

resigned. She hasn’t been seen for weeks now. Meanwhile Scrimgeour remains shut up in

his office all day; I just hope he’s working on a plan.”

 

There was a pause in which Mrs. Weasley magicked the empty plates onto the

work surface and served apple tart.

 

“We must decide ‘ow you will be disguised, ‘Arry,” said Fleur, once everyone

had pudding. “For ze wedding,” she added, when he looked confused. “Of course, none

of our guests are Death Eaters, but we cannot guarantee zat zey will not let something

slip after zey ‘ave ‘ad champagne.”

 

From this, Harry gathered that she still suspected Hagrid.

 

“Yes, good point,” said Mrs. Weasley from the top of the table where she sat,

spectacles perched on the end of her nose, scanning an immense list of jobs that she had

scribbled on a very long piece of parchment. “Now, Ron, have you cleaned out your

room yet?”

 

“Why?” exclaimed Ron, slamming his spoon down and glaring at his mother.

“Why does my room have to be cleaned out? Harry and I are fine with it the way it is!”

 

“We are holding your brother’s wedding here in a few days’ time, young man –“

 

“And are they getting married in my bedroom?” asked Ron furiously. “No! So

why in the name of Merlin’s saggy left –“

 

“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” said Mr. Weasley firmly. “And do as you’re

told.”

 

Ron scowled at both his parents, then picked up his spoon and attacked the last

few mouthfuls of his apple tart.

 

“I can help, some of it’s my mess.” Harry told Ron, but Mrs. Weasley cut across

him.

 

“No, Harry, dear, I’d much rather you helped Arthur much out the chickens, and

Hermione, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d change the sheets for Monsieur and Madame

Delacour; you know they’re arriving at eleven tomorrow morning.”

 

But as it turned out, there was very little to do for the chickens. “There’s no need

to, er, mention it to Molly,” Mr. Weasley told Harry, blocking his access to the coop, “but,

er, Ted Tonks sent me most of what was left of Sirius’s bike and, er, I’m hiding – that’s

to say, keeping – it in here. Fantastic stuff: There’s an exhaust gaskin, as I believe it’s

called, the most magnificent battery, and it’ll be a great opportunity to find out how

brakes work. I’m going to try and put it all back together again when Molly’s not – I

mean, when I’ve got time.”

 

When they returned to the house, Mrs. Weasley was nowhere to be seen, so Harry

slipped upstairs to Ron’s attic bedroom.

 


 

“I’m doing it, I’m doing – ! Oh, it’s you,” said Ron in relief, as Harry entered the

room. Ron lay back down on the bed, which he had evidently just vacated. The room was

just as messy as it had been all week; the only chance was that Hermione was now sitting

in the far corner, her fluffy ginger cat, Crookshanks, at her feet, sorting books, some of

which Harry recognized as his own, into two enormous piles.

 

“Hi, Harry,” she said, as he sat down on his camp bed.

 

“And how did you manage to get away?”

 

“Oh, Ron’s mum forgot that she asked Ginny and me to change the sheets

yesterday,” said Hermione. She threw Numerology and Grammatica onto one pile and

The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts onto the other.

 

“We were just talking about Mad-Eye,” Ron told Harry. “I reckon he might have

survived.”

 

“But Bill saw him hit by the Killing Curse,” said Harry.

 

“Yeah, but Bill was under attack too,” said Ron. “How can he be sure what he

saw?”

 

“Even if the Killing Curse missed, Mad-Eye still fell about a thousand feet,” said

Hermione, now weight Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland in her hand.

 

“He could have used a Shield Charm –“

 

“Fleur said his wand was blasted out of his hand,” said Harry.

 

“Well, all right, if you want him to be dead,” said Ron grumpily, punching his

pillow into a more comfortable shape.

 

“Of course we don’t want him to be dead!” said Hermione, looking shocked. “It’s

dreadful that he’s dead! But we’re being realistic!”

 

For the first time, Harry imagined Mad-Eye’s body, broken as Dumbledore’s had

been, yet with that one eye still whizzing in its socket. He felt a stab of revulsion mixed

with a bizarre desire to laugh.

 

“The Death Eaters probably tidied up after themselves, that’s why no one’s found

him,” said Ron wisely.

 

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Like Barty Crouch, turned into a bone and buried in

Hagrid’s front garden. They probably transfigured Moody and stuffed him –“

 

“Don’t!” squealed Hermione. Startled, Harry looked over just in time to see her

burst into tears over her copy of Spellman’s Syllabary.

 

“Oh no,” said Harry, struggling to get up from the old camp bed. “Hermione, I

wasn’t trying to upset –“

 

But with a great creaking of rusty bedsprings, Ron bounded off the bed and got

there first. One arm around Hermione, he fished in his jeans pocket and withdrew a

revolting-looking handkerchief that he had used to clean out the oven earlier. Hastily

pulling out his wand, he pointed it at the rag and said, “Tergeo.”

 

The wand siphoned off most of the grease. Looking rather pleased with himself,

Ron handed the slightly smoking handkerchief to Hermione.

 

“Oh . . . thanks, Ron. . . . I’m sorry. . . .” She blew her nose and hiccupped. “It’s

just so awf-ful, isn’t it? R-right after Dumbledore . . . I j-just n-never imagined Mad-Eye

dying, somehow, he seemed so tough!”

 

“Yeah, I know,” said Ron, giving her a squeeze. “But you know what he’d say to

us if he was here?”

 

“’C-constant vigilance,’” said Hermione, mopping her eyes.

 


 

“That’s right,” said Ron, nodding. “He’d tell us to learn from what happened to

him. And what I’ve learned is not to trust that cowardly little squit, Mundungus.”

 

Hermione gave a shaky laugh and leaned forward to pick up two more books. A

second later, Ron had snatched his arm back from around her shoulders; she had dropped

The Monster of Monsters on his foot. The book had broken free from its restraining belt

and snapped viciously at Ron’s ankle.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Hermione cried as Harry wrenched the book from Ron’s

leg and retied it shit.

 

“What are you doing with all those books anyway?” Ron asked, limping back to

his bed.

 

“Just trying to decide which ones to take with us,” said Hermione, “When we’re

looking for the Horcruxes.”

 

“Oh, of course,” said Ron, clapping a hand to his forehead. “I forgot we’ll be

hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library.”

 

“Ha ha,” said Hermione, looking down at Spellman’s Syllabary. “I wonder . . .

will we need to translate runes? It’s possible. . . . I think we’d better take it, to be safe.”

 

She dropped the syllabary onto the larger of the two piles and picked up Hogwarts,

A History.

 

“Listen,” said Harry.

 

He had sat up straight. Ron and Hermione looked at him with similar mixtures of

resignation and defiance.

 

“I know you said after Dumbledore’s funeral that you wanted to come with me,”

Harry began.

 

“Here he goes,” Ron said to Hermione, rolling his eyes.

 

“As we knew he would,” he sighed, turning back to the books. “You know, I

think I will take Hogwarts, A History. Even if we’re not going back there, I don’t think

I’d feel right if I didn’t have it with –“

 

“Listen!” said Harry again.

 

“No, Harry, you listen,” said Hermione. “We’re coming with you. That was

decided months ago – years, really.”

 

“But –“

 

“Shut up,” Ron advised him.

 

“– are you sure you’ve thought this through?” Harry persisted.

 

“Let’s see,” said Hermione, slamming Travels with Trolls onto the discarded pile

with a rather fierce look. “I’ve been packing for days, so we’re ready to leave at a

moment’s notice, which for your information has included doing some pretty difficult

magic, not to mention smuggling Mad-Eye’s whole stock of Polyjuice Potion right under

Ron’s mum’s nose.

 

“I’ve also modified my parents’ memories so that they’re convinced they’re really

called Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and that their life’s ambition is to move to Australia,

which they have now done. That’s to make it more difficult for Voldemort to track them

down and interrogate them about me – or you, because unfortunately, I’ve told them quite

a bit about you.

 

“Assuming I survive our hunt for the Horcruxes, I’ll find Mum and Dad and lift

the enchantment. If I don’t – well, I think I’ve cast a good enough charm to keep them

 


 

safe and happy. Wendell and Monica Wilkins don’t know that they’ve got a daughter,

you see.”

 

Hermione’s eyes were swimming with tears again. Ron got back off the bed, put

his arm around her once more, and frowned at Harry as though reproaching him for lack

of tact. Harry could not think of anything to say, not least because it was highly unusual

for Ron to be teaching anyone else tact.

 

“I – Hermione, I’m sorry – I didn’t –“

 

“Didn’t realize that Ron and I know perfectly well what might happen if we come

with you? Well, we do. Ron, show Harry what you’ve done.”

 

“Nah, he’s just eaten,” said Ron.

 

“Go on, he needs to know!”

 

“Oh, all right. Harry, come here.”

 

For the second time Ron withdrew his arm from around Hermione and stumped

over to the door.

 

“C’mon.”

 

“Why?” Harry asked, following Ron out of the room onto the tiny landing.

 

“Descendo,” muttered Ron, pointing his wand at the low ceiling. A hatch opened

right over their heads and a ladder slid down to their feet. A horrible, half-sucking, halfmoaning

sound came out of the square hole, along with an unpleasant smell like open

drains.

 

“That’s your ghoul, isn’t it?” asked Harry, who had never actually met the

creature that sometimes disrupted the nightly silence.

 

“Yeah, it is,” said Ron, climbing the ladder. “Come and have a look at him.”

 

Harry followed Ron up the few short steps into the tiny attic space. His head and

shoulders were in the room before he caught sight of the creature curled up a few feet

from him, fast asleep in the gloom with its large mouth wide open.

 

“But it . . . it looks . . . do ghouls normally wear pajamas?”

 

“No,” said Ron. “Nor have they usually got red hair or that number of pustules.”

 

Harry contemplated the thing, slightly revolted. It was human in shape and size,

and was wearing what, now that Harry’s eyes became used to the darkness, was clearly

an old pair of Ron’s pajamas. He was also sure that ghouls were generally rather slimy

and bald, rather than distinctly hairy and covered in angry purple blisters.

 

“He’s me, see?” said Ron.

 

“No,” said Harry. “I don’t.”

 

“I’ll explain it back in my room, the smell’s getting to me,” said Ron. They

climbed back down the ladder, which Ron returned to the ceiling, and rejoined Hermione,

who was still sorting books.

 

“Once we’ve left, the ghoul’s going to come and live down here in my room,”

said Ron. “I think he’s really looking forward to it – well, it’s hard to tell, because all he

can do is moan and drool – but he nods a lot when you mention it. Anyway, he’s going to

be me with spattergroit. Good, eh?”

 

Harry merely looked his confusion.

 

“It is!” said Ron, clearly frustrated that Harry had not grasped the brilliance of the

plan. “Look, when we three don’t turn up at Hogwarts again, everyone’s going to think

Hermione and I must be with you, right? Which means the Death Eaters will go straight

for our families to see if they’ve got information on where you are.”

 


 

“But hopefully it’ll look like I’ve gone away with Mum and Dad; a lot of Muggleborns

are talking about going into hiding at the moment,” said Hermione.

 

“We can’t hide my whole family, it’ll look too fishy and they can’t all leave their

jobs,” said Ron. “So we’re going to put out the story that I’m seriously ill with

spattergroit, which is why I can’t go back to school. If anyone comes calling to

investigate, Mum or Dad can show them the ghoul in my bed, covered in pustules.

Spattergroit’s really contagious, so they’re not going to want to go near him. It won’t

matter that he can’t say anything, either, because apparently you can’t once the fungus

has spread to your uvula.”

 

“And your mum and dad are in on this plan?” asked Harry.

 

“Dad is. He helped Fred and George transform the ghoul. Mum . . . well, you’ve

seen what she’s like. She won’t accept we’re going till we’re gone.”

 

There was silence in the room, broken only by gentle thuds as Hermione

continued to throw books onto one pile or the other. Ron sat watching her, and Harry

looked from one to the other, unable to say anything. The measure they had taken to

protect their families made him realize, more than anything else could have done, that

they really were going to come with him and that they knew exactly how dangerous that

would be. He wanted to tell them what that meant to him, but he simply could not find

words important enough.

 

Through the silence came the muffled sounds of Mrs. Weasley shouting from four

floors below.

 

“Ginny’s probably left a speck of dust on a poxy napkin ring,” said Ron. “I dunno

why the Delacours have got to come two days before the wedding.”

 

“Fleur’s sister’s a bridesmaid, she needs to be here for the rehearsal, and she’s too

young to come on her own,” said Hermione, as she pored indecisively over Break with a

Banshee.

 

“Well, guests aren’t going to help Mum’s stress levels,” said Ron.

 

“What we really need to decide,” said Hermione, tossing Defensive Magical

Theory into the bin without a second glance and picking up An Appraisal of Magical

Education in Europe, “is where we’re going after we leave here. I know you said you

wanted to go to Godric’s Hollow first, Harry, and I understand why, but . . . well . . .

shouldn’t we make the Horcruxes our priority?”

 

“If we knew where any of the Horcruxes were, I’d agree with you,” said Harry,

who did not believe that Hermione really understood his desire to return to Godric’s

Hollow. His parents’ graves were only part of the attraction: He had a strong, though

inexplicable, feeling that the place held answers for him. Perhaps it was simply because it

was there that he had survived Voldemort’s Killing Curse; now that he was facing the

challenge of repeating the feat, Harry was drawn to the place where it had happened,

wanting to understand.

 

“Don’t you think there’s a possibility that Voldemort’s keeping a watch on

Godric’s Hollow?” Hermione asked. “He might expect you to go back and visit your

parents’ graves once you’re free to go wherever you like?”

 

This had not occurred to Harry. While he struggled to find a counterargument,

Ron spoke up, evidently following his own train of thought.

 

“This R.A.B. person,” he said. “You know, the one who stole the real locket?”

 

Hermione nodded.

 


 

“He said in his note he was going to destroy it, didn’t he?”

 

Harry dragged his rucksack toward him and pulled out the fake Horcrux in which

R.A.B.’s note was still folded.

 

“’I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.’” Harry

read out.

 

“Well, what if he did finish it off?” said Ron.

 

“Or she.” Interposed Hermione.

 

“Whichever,” said Ron. “it’d be one less for us to do!”

 

“Yes, but we’re still going to have to try and trace the real locket, aren’t we?” said

Hermione, “to find out whether or not it’s destroyed.”

 

“And once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux?” asked Ron.

 

“Well,” said Hermione, “I’ve been researching that.”

 

“How?” asked Harry. “I didn’t think there were any books on Horcruxes in the

library?”

 

“There weren’t,” said Hermione, who had turned pink. “Dumbledore removed

them all, but he – he didn’t destroy them.”

Ron sat up straight, wide-eyed.

 

“How in the name of Merlin’s pants have you managed to get your hands on those

Horcrux books?”

 

“It – it wasn’t stealing!” said Hermione, looking from Harry to Ron with a kind of

desperation. “They were still library books, even if Dumbledore had taken them off the

shelves. Anyway, if he really didn’t want anyone to get at them, I’m sure he would have

made it much harder to –“

 

“Get to the point!” said Ron.

 

“Well . . . it was easy,” said Hermione in a small voice. “I just did a Summoning

Charm. You know – Accio. And – they zoomed out of Dumbledore’s study window right

into the girls’ dormitory.”

 

“But when did you do this?” Harry asked, regarding Hermione with a mixture of

admiration and incredulity.

 

“Just after his – Dumbledore’s – funeral,” said Hermione in an even smaller voice.

“Right after we agreed we’d leave school and go and look for the Horcruxes. When I

went back upstairs to get my things it – it just occurred to me that the more we knew

about them, the better it would be . . . and I was alone in there . . . so I tried . . . and it

worked. They flew straight in through the open window and I – I packed them.”

 

She swallowed and then said imploringly, “I can’t believe Dumbledore would

have been angry, it’s not as though we’re going to use the information to make a Horcrux,

is it?”

 

“Can you hear us complaining?” said Ron. “Where are these books anyway?”

 

Hermione rummaged for a moment and then extracted from the pile a large

volume, bound in faded black leather. She looked a little nauseated and held it as gingerly

as if it were something recently dead.

 

“This is the one that gives explicit instructions on how to make a Horcrux. Secrets

of the Darkest Art – it’s a horrible book, really awful, full of evil magic. I wonder when

Dumbledore removed it from the library. . . . if he didn’t do it until he was headmaster, I

bet Voldemort got all the instruction he needed from here.”

 


 

“Why did he have to ask Slughorn how to make a Horcrux, then, if he’d already

read that?” asked Ron.

 

“He only approached Slughorn to find out what would happen if you split your

soul into seven,” said Harry. “Dumbledore was sure Riddle already knew how to make a

Horcrux by the time he asked Slughorn about them. I think you’re right, Hermione, that

could easily have been where he got the information.”

 

“And the more I’ve read about them,” said Hermione, “the more horrible they

seem, and the less I can believe that he actually made six. It warns in this book how

unstable you make the rest of your soul by ripping it, and that’s just by making one

Horcrux!”

 

Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said about Voldemort moving beyond

“usual evil.”

 

“Isn’t there any way of putting yourself back together?” Ron asked.

 

“Yes,” said Hermione with a hollow smile, “but it would be excruciatingly

painful.”

 

“Why? How do you do it?” asked Harry.

 

“Remorse,” said Hermione. “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s

a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can’t see Voldemort attempting it

somehow, can you?”

 

“No,” said Ron, before Harry could answer. “So does it say how to destroy

Horcruxes in that book?”

 

“Yes,” said Hermione, now turning the fragile pages as if examining rotting

entrails, “because it warns Dark wizards how strong they have to make the enchantments

on them. From all that I’ve read, what Harry did to Riddle’s diary was one of the few

really foolproof ways of destroying a Horcrux.”

 

“What, stabbing it with a basilisk fang?” asked Harry.

 

“Oh well, lucky we’ve got such a large supply of basilisk fangs, then,” said Ron.

“I was wondering what we were going to do with them.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be a basilisk fang,” said Hermione patiently. “It has to be

something so destructive that the Horcrux can’t repair itself. Basilisk venom only has one

antidote, and it’s incredibly rare –“

 

“– phoenix tears,” said Harry, nodding.

 

“Exactly,” said Hermione. “Our problem is that there are very few substances as

destructive as basilisk venom, and they’re all dangerous to carry around with you. That’s

a problem we’re going to have to solve, though, because ripping, smashing, or crushing a

Horcrux won’t do the trick. You’ve got to put it beyond magical repair.”

 

“But even if we wreck the thing it lives in,” said Ron, “why can’t the bit of soul in

it just go and live in something else?”

 

“Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being.”

 

Seeing that Harry and Ron looked thoroughly confused, Hermione hurried on.

“Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn’t

damage your soul at all.”

 

”Which would be a real comfort to me, I’m sure,” said Ron. Harry laughed.

 

“It should be, actually! But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your

soul will survive, untouched,” said Hermione. “But it’s the other way round with a

 


 

Horcrux. The fragment of soul inside it depends on its container, its enchanted body, for

survival. It can’t exist without it.”

 

“That diary sort of died when I stabbed it,” said Harry, remembering ink pouring

like blood from the punctured pages, and the screams of the piece of Voldemort’s soul as

it vanished.

 

“And once the diary was properly destroyed, the bit of soul trapped in it could no

longer exist. Ginny tried to get rid of the diary before you did, flushing it away, but

obviously it came back good as new.”

 

“Hang on,” said Ron, frowning. “The bit of soul in that diary was possessing

Ginny, wasn’t it? How does that work, then?”

 

“While the magical container is still intact, the bit of soul inside it can flit in and

out of someone if they get too close to the object. I don’t mean holding it for too long, it’s

nothing to do with touching it,” she added before Ron could speak. “I mean close

emotionally. Ginny poured her heart out into that diary, she made herself incredibly

vulnerable. You’re in trouble if you get too fond of or dependent on the Horcrux.”

 

“I wonder how Dumbledore destroyed the ring?” said Harry. “Why didn’t I ask

him? I never really . . .”

 

His voice trailed away: He was thinking of all the things he should have asked

Dumbledore, and of how, since the headmaster had died, it seemed to Harry that he had

wasted so many opportunities when Dumbledore had been alive, to find out more . . . to

find out everything. . . .

 

The silence was shattered as the bedroom door flew open with a wall-shaking

crash. Hermione shrieked and dropped Secrets of the Darkest Art; Crookshanks streaked

under the bed, hissing indignantly; Ron jumped off the bed, skidded on a discarded

Chocolate Frog wrapper, and smacked his head on the opposite wall; and Harry

instinctively dived for his wand before realizing that he was looking up at Mrs. Weasley,

whose hair was disheveled and whose face was contorted with rage.

 

“I’m so sorry to break up this cozy little gathering,” she said, her voice trembling.

“I’m sure you all need your rest . . . but there are wedding presents stacked in my room

that need sorting out and I was under the impression that you had agreed to help.”

 

“Oh yes,” said Hermione, looking terrified as she leapt to her feet, sending books

flying in every direction. “we will . . . we’re sorry . . .”

 

With an anguished look at Harry and Ron, Hermione hurried out of the room after

Mrs. Weasley.

 

“it’s like being a house-elf,” complained Ron in an undertone, still massaging his

head as he and Harry followed. “Except without the job satisfaction. The sooner this

wedding’s over, the happier, I’ll be.”

 

“Yeah,” said Harry, “then we’ll have nothing to do except find Horcruxes. . . .

It’ll be like a holiday, won’t it?”

 

Ron started to laugh, but at the sight of the enormous pile of wedding presents

waiting for them in Mrs. Weasley’s room, stopped quite abruptly.

 

The Delacours arrived the following morning at eleven o’ clock. Harry, Ron,

Hermione and Ginny were feeling quite resentful toward Fleur’s family by this time; and

it was with ill grace that Ron stumped back upstairs to put on matching socks, and Harry

attempted to flatten his hair. Once they had all been deemed smart enough, they trooped

out into the sunny backyard to await the visitors.

 


 

Harry had never seen the place looking so tidy. The rusty cauldrons and old

Wellington boots that usually littered the steps by the back door were gone, replaced by

two new Flutterby bushes standing either side of the door in large pots; though there was

no breeze, the leaves waved lazily, giving an attractive rippling effect. The chickens had

been shut away, the yard had been swept, and the nearby garden had been pruned,

plucked, and generally spruced up, although Harry, who liked it in its overgrown state,

thought that it looked rather forlorn without its usual contingent of capering gnomes.

 

He had lost track of how many security enchantments had been placed upon the

Burrow by both the Order and the Ministry; all he knew was that it was no longer

possible for anybody to travel by magic directly into the place. Mr. Weasley had

therefore gone to meet the Delacours on top of a nearby hill, where they were to arrive by

Portkey. The first sound of their approach was an unusually high-pitched laugh, which

turned out to be coming from Mr. Weasley, who appeared at the gate moments later,

laden with luggage and leading a beautiful blonde woman in long, leaf green robes, who

could be Fleur’s mother.

 

“Maman!” cried Fleur, rushing forward to embrace her. “Papa!”

 

Monsieur Delacour was nowhere near as attractive as his wife; he was a head

shorter and extremely plumb, with a little, pointed black beard. However, he looked

good-natured. Bouncing towards Mrs. Weasley on high-heeled boots, he kissed her twice

on each cheek, leaving her flustered.

 

“You ‘ave been so much trouble,” he said in a deep voice. “Fleur tells us you ‘ave

been working very ‘ard.”

 

“Oh, it’s been nothing, nothing!” trilled Mrs. Weasley. “No trouble at all!”

 

Ron relieved his feelings by aiming a kick at a gnome who was peering out from

behind one of the new Flutterby bushes.

 

“Dear lady!” said Monsieur Delacour, still holding Mrs. Weasley’s hand between

his own two plump ones and beaming. “We are most honored at the approaching union of

our two families! Let me present my wife, Apolline.”

 

Madame Delacour glided forward and stooped to kiss Mrs. Weasley too.

 

“Enchantée,” she said. “Your ‘usband ‘as been telling us such amusing stories!”

 

Mr. Weasley gave a maniacal laugh; Mrs. Weasley threw him a look, upon which

he became immediately silent and assumed an expression appropriate to the sickbed of a

close friend.

 

“And, of course, you ‘ave met my leetle daughter, Gabrielle!” said Monsieur

Delacour. Gabrielle was Fleur in miniature; eleven years old, with waist-length hair of

pure, silvery blonde, she gave Mrs. Weasley a dazzling smile and hugged her, then threw

Harry a glowing look, batting her eyelashes. Ginny cleared her throat loudly.

 

“Well, come in, do!” said Mrs. Weasley brightly, and she ushered the Delacours

into the house, with many “No, please!”s and “After you!”s and “Not at all!”s.

 

The Delacours, it soon transpired, were helpful, pleasant guests. They were

pleased with everything and keen to assist with the preparations for the wedding.

Monsieur Delacour pronounced everything from the seating plan to the bridesmaids’

shoes “Charmant!” Madame Delacour was most accomplished at household spells and

had the oven properly cleaned in a trice; Gabrielle followed her elder sister around, trying

to assist in any way she could and jabbering away in rapid French.

 


 

On the downside, the Burrow was not built to accommodate so many people. Mr.

and Mrs. Weasley were now sleeping in the sitting room, having shouted down Monsieur

and Madame Delacour’s protests and insisted they take their bedroom. Gabrielle was

sleeping with Fleur in Percy’s old room, and Bill would be sharing with Charlie, his best

man, once Charlie arrived from Romania. Opportunities to make plans together became

virtually nonexistent, and it was in desperation that Harry, Ron and Hermione took to

volunteering to feed the chickens just to escape the overcrowded house.

 

“But she still won’t leave us alone!” snarled Ron, and their second attempt at a

meeting in the yard was foiled by the appearance of Mrs. Weasley carrying a large basket

of laundry in her arms.

 

“Oh, good, you’ve fed the chickens,” she called as she approached them. “We’d

better shut them away again before the men arrive tomorrow . . . to put up the tent for the

wedding,” she explained, pausing to lean against the henhouse. She looked exhausted.

“Millamant’s Magic Marquees . . . they’re very good. Bill’s escorting them. . . . You’d

better stay inside while they’re here, Harry. I must say it does complicate organizing a

wedding, having all these security spells around the place.”

 

“I’m sorry,” said Harry humbly.

 

“Oh, don’t be silly, dear!” said Mrs. Weasley at once. “I didn’t mean – well, your

safety’s much more important! Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask you how you want to

celebrate your birthday, Harry. Seventeen, after all, it’s an important day. . . .”

 

“I don’t want a fuss,” said Harry quickly, envisaging the additional strain this

would put on them all. “Really, Mrs. Weasley, just a normal dinner would be fine. . . . It’s

the day before the wedding. . . .”

 

“Oh, well, if you’re sure, dear. I’ll invite Remus and Tonks, shall I? And how

about Hagrid?”

 

“That’d be great,” said Harry. “But please, don’t go to loads of trouble.”

 

“Not at all, not at all . . . It’s no trouble. . . .”

 

She looked at him, a long, searching look, then smiled a little sadly, straightened

up, and walked away. Harry watched as she waved her wand near the washing line, and

the damp clothes rose into the air to hang themselves up, and suddenly he felt a great

wave of remorse for the inconvenience and the pain he was giving her.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 The Will of Albus Dumbledore

 

 

 

He was walking along a mountain road in the cool blue light of dawn. Far below,

swathed in mist, was the shadow of a small town. Was the man he sought down there, the

man he needed so badly he could think of little else, the man who held the answer, the

answer to his problem...?

 

"Oi, wake up."

 

Harry opened his eyes. He was lying again on the camp bed in Ron's dingy attic

room. The sun had not yet risen and the room was still shadowy. Pigwidgeon was asleep

with his head under his tiny wing. The scar on Harry's forehead was prickling.

 


 

"You were muttering in your sleep."

 

"Was I?"

 

"Yeah. 'Gregorovitch.' You kept saying 'Gregorovitch.'"

 

Harry was not wearing his glasses; Ron's face appeared slightly blurred.

 

"Who's Gregorovitch?"

 

 

 

"I dunno, do I?" You were the one saying it."

 

Harry rubbed his forehead, thinking. He had a vague idea he had heard the name

before, but he could not think where.

 

"I think Voldemort's looking for him."

 

"Poor bloke," said Ron fervently.

 

Harry sat up, still rubbing his scar, now wide awake. He tried to remember

exactly what he had seen in the dream, but all that came back was a mountainous horizon

and the outline of the little village cradled in a deep valley.

 

"I think he's abroad."

 

"Who, Gregorovitch?"

 

"Voldemort. I think he's somewhere abroad, looking for Gregorovitch. It didn't

look like anywhere in Britain."

 

"You reckon you were seeing into his mind again?"

 

Ron sounded worried.

 

"Do me a favor and don't tell Hermione," said Harry. "Although how she expects

me to stop seeing stuff in my sleep..."

 

He gazed up at little Pigwidgeon's cage, thinking...Why was the name

"Gregorovitch" familiar?

 

"I think," he said slowly, "he's got something to do with Quidditch. There's some

connection, but I can't--I can't think what it is."

 

"Quidditch?" said Ron. "Sure you're not thinking of Gorgovitch?"

 

"Who?"

 

"Dragomir Gorgovitch, Chaser, transferred to the Chudley Cannons for a record

fee two years ago. Record holder for most Quaffle drops in a season."

 

"No," said Harry. "I'm definitely not thinking of Gorgovitch."

 

 

 

"I try not to either," said Ron. "Well, happy birthday anyway."

 

"Wow -- that's right, I forgot! I'm seventeen!"

 

Harry seized the wand lying beside his camp bed, pointed it at the cluttered desk

where he had left his glasses, and said, "Accio Glasses!" Although they were only around

a foot away, there was something immensely satisfying about seeing them zoom toward

him, at least until they poked him in the eye.

 

"Slick," snorted Ron.

 

Reveling in the removal of his Trace, Harry sent Ron's possessions flying around

the room, causing Pigwidgeon to wake up and flutter excitedly around his cage. Harry

also tried tying the laces of his trainers by magic (the resultant knot took several minutes

to untie by hand) and, purely for the pleasure of it, turned the orange robes on Ron's

Chudley Cannons posters bright blue.

 


 

"I'd do your fly by hand, though," Ron advised Harry, sniggering when Harry

immediately checked it. "Here's your present. Unwrap it up here, it's not for my mother's

eyes."

 

"A book?" said Harry as he took the rectangular parcel. "Bit of a departure from

tradition, isn't it?"

 

"This isn't your average book," said Ron. "It'd pure gold: Twelve Fail-Safe Ways

to Charm Witches. Explains everything you need to know about girls. If only I'd had this

last year I'd have known exactly how to get rid of Lavender and I would've known how to

get going with... Well, Fred and George gave me a copy, and I've learned a lot. You'd be

surprised, it's not all about wandwork, either."

 

When they arrived in the kitchen they found a pile of presents waiting on the table.

Bill and Monsieur Delacour were finishing their breakfasts, while Mrs. Weasley stood

chatting to them over the frying pan.

 

 

 

"Arthur told me to wish you a happy seventeenth, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley,

beaming at him. "He had to leave early for work, but he'll be back for dinner. That's our

present on top."

 

Harry sat down, took the square parcel she had indicated, and unwrapped it.

Inside was a watch very like the one Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had given Ron for his

seventeenth; it was gold, with stars circling around the race instead of hands.

 

"It's traditional to give a wizard a watch when he comes of age," said Mrs.

Weasley, watching him anxiously from beside the cooker. "I'm afraid that one isn't new

like Ron's, it was actually my brother Fabian's and he wasn't terribly careful with his

possessions, it's a bit dented on the back, but--"

 

The rest of her speech was lost; Harry had got up and hugged her. He tried to put

a lot of unsaid things into the hug and perhaps she understood them, because she patted

his cheek clumsily when he released her, then waved her wand in a slightly random way,

causing half a pack of bacon to flop out of the frying pan onto the floor.

 

"Happy birthday, Harry!" said Hermione, hurrying into the kitchen and adding her

own present to the top of the pile. "It's not much, but I hope you like it. What did you get

him?" she added to Ron, who seemed not to hear her.

 

"Come on, then, open Hermione's!" said Ron.

 

She had bought him a new Sneakoscope. The other packages contained an

enchanted razor from Bill and Fleur ("Ah yes, zis will give you ze smoothest shave you

will ever 'ave," Monsieur Delacour assured him, "but you must tell it clearly what you

want...ozzerwise you might find you 'ave a leetle less hair zan you would like..."),

chocolates from the Delacours, and an enormous box of the latest Weasleys' Wizard

Wheezes merchandise from Fred and George.

 

 

 

Harry, Ron, and Hermione did not linger at the table, as the arrival of Madame

Delacour, Fleur, and Gabrielle made the kitchen uncomfortably crowded.

 

"I'll pack these for you," Hermione said brightly, taking Harry's presents out of his

arms as the three of them headed back upstairs. "I'm nearly done, I'm just waiting for the

rest of your underpants to come out of the wash, Ron--"

 

Ron's splutter was interrupted by the opening of a door on the first-floor landing.

 

"Harry, will you come in here a moment?"

 


 

It was Ginny. Ron came to an abrupt halt, but Hermione took him by the elbow

and tugged him on up the stairs. Feeling nervous, Harry followed Ginny into her room.

 

He had never been inside it before. It was small, but bright. There was a large

poster of the Wizarding band the Weird Sisters on one wall, and a picture of Gwenog

Jones, Captain of the all-witch Quidditch team the Holyhead Harpies, on the other. A

desk stood facing the open window, which looked out over the orchard where he and

Ginny had once played a two-a-side Quidditch with Ron and Hermione, and which now

housed a large, pearly white marquee. The golden flag on top was level with Ginny's

window.

 

Ginny looked up into Harry's face, took a deep breath, and said, "Happy

seventeenth."

 

"Yeah...thanks."

 

She was looking at him steadily; he however, found it difficult to look back at her;

it was like gazing into a brilliant light.

 

"Nice view," he said feebly, pointing toward with window.

 

She ignored this. He could not blame her.

 

"I couldn't think what to get you," she said.

 

 

 

"You didn't have to get me anything."

 

She disregarded this too.

 

"I didn't know what would be useful. Nothing too big, because you wouldn't be

able to take it with you."

 

He chanced a glance at her. She was not tearful; that was one of the many

wonderful things about Ginny, she was rarely weepy. He had sometimes thought that

having six brothers must have toughened her up.

 

She took a step closer to him.

 

"So then I thought, I'd like you to have something to remember me by, you know,

if you meet some veela when you're off doing whatever you're doing."

 

"I think dating opportunities are going to be pretty thin on the ground, to be

honest."

 

"There's the silver lining I've been looking for," she whispered, and then she was

kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it

was blissful oblivion better than firewhisky; she was the only real thing in the world,

Ginny, the feel of her, one hand at her back and one in her long, sweet-smelling hair--

 

The door banged open behind them and they jumped apart.

 

"Oh," said Ron pointedly. "Sorry."

 

"Ron!" Hermione was just behind him, slight out of breath. There was a strained

silence, then Ginny had said in a flat little voice,

 

"Well, happy birthday anyway, Harry."

 

Ron's ears were scarlet; Hermione looked nervous. Harry wanted to slam the door

in their faces, but it felt as though a cold draft had entered the room when the door

opened, and his shining moment had popped like a soap bubble. All the reasons for

ending his relationship with Ginny, for staying well away from her, seemed to have slunk

inside the room with Ron, and all happy forgetfulness was gone.

 


 

He looked at Ginny, wanting to say something, though he hardly knew what, but

she had turned her back on him. He thought that she might have succumbed, for once, to

tears. He could not do anything to comfort her in front of Ron.

 

"I'll see you later," he said, and followed the other two out of the bedroom.

 

Ron marched downstairs, though the still-crowded kitchen and into the yard, and

Harry kept pace with him all the way, Hermione trotting along behind them looking

scared.

 

Once he reached the seclusion of the freshly mown lawn, Ron rounded on Harry.

 

"You ditched her. What are you doing now, messing her around?"

 

"I'm not messing her around," said Harry, as Hermione caught up with them.

 

"Ron--"

 

But Ron held up a hand to silence her.

 

"She was really cut up when you ended it--"

 

"So was I. You know why I stopped it, and it wasn't because I wanted to."

 

"Yeah, but you go snogging her now and she's just going to get her hopes up

again--"

 

"She's not an idiot, she knows it can't happen, she's not expecting us to--to end up

married, or--"

 

As he said it, a vivid picture formed in Harry's mind of Ginny in a white dress,

marrying a tall, faceless, and unpleasant stranger.

 

 

 

In one spiraling moment it seemed to hit him: Her future was free and

unencumbered, whereas his...he could see nothing but Voldemort ahead.

 

"If you keep groping her every chance you get--"

 

"It won't happen again," said Harry harshly. The day was cloudless, but he felt as

though the sun had gone in. "Okay?"

 

Ron looked half resentful, half sheepish; he rocked backward and forward on his

feet for a moment, then said, "Right then, well, that's...yeah."

 

Ginny did not seek another one-to-one meeting with Harry for the rest of the day,

nor by any look or gesture did she show that they had shared more than polite

conversation in her room. Nevertheless, Charlie's arrival came as a relief to Harry. It

provided a distraction, watching Mrs. Weasley force Charlie into a chair, raise her wand

threateningly, and announce that he was about to get a proper haircut.

 

As Harry's birthday dinner would have stretched the Burrow's kitchen to breaking

point even before the arrival of Charlie, Lupin, Tonks, and Hagrid, several tables were

placed end to end in the garden. Fred and George bewitched a number of purple lanterns

all emblazoned with a large number 17, to hang in midair over the guests. Thanks to Mrs.

Weasley's ministrations, George's wound was neat and clean, but Harry was not yet used

to the dark hole in the side of his head, despite the twins' many jokes about it.

 

Hermione made purple and gold streamers erupt from the end of her wand and

drape themselves artistically over the trees and bushes.

 

"Nice," said Ron, as with one final flourish of her wand, Hermione

 

 

 

turned the leaves on the crabapple tree to gold. "You've really got an eye for that sort of

thing."

 


 

"Thank you, Ron!" said Hermione, looking both pleased and a little confused.

Harry turned away, smiling to himself. He had a funny notion that he would find a

chapter on compliments when he found time to peruse his copy of Twelve Fail-Safe

Ways to Charm Witches; he caught Ginny's eye and grinned at her before remembering

his promise to Ron and hurriedly striking up a conversation with Monsieur Delacour.

 

"Out of the way, out of the way!" sang Mrs. Weasley, coming through the gate

with what appeared to be a giant, beach-ball-sized Snitch floating in front of her. Seconds

later Harry realized that it was his birthday cake, which Mrs. Weasley was suspending

with her wand, rather than risk carrying it over the uneven ground. When the cake had

finally landed in the middle of the table, Harry said,

 

"That looks amazing, Mrs. Weasley."

 

"Oh, it's nothing, dear," she said fondly. Over her shoulder, Ron gave Harry the

thumbs-up and mouthed, Good one.

 

By seven o'clock all the guests had arrived, led into the house by Fred and George,

who had waited for them at the end of the lane. Hagrid had honored the occasion by

wearing his best, and horrible, hairy brown suit. Although Lupin smiled as he shook

Harry's hand, Harry thought he looked rather unhappy. It was all very odd; Tonks, beside

him, looked simply radiant.

 

"Happy birthday, Harry," she said, hugging him tightly.

 

"Seventeen, eh!" said Hagrid as he accepted a bucket-sized glass of wine from

Fred. "Six years ter the day since we met, Harry, d'yeh remember it?"

 

 

 

"Vaguely," said Harry, grinning up at him. "Didn't you smash down the front door,

give Dudley a pig's tail, and tell me I was a wizard?"

 

"I forge' the details," Hagrid chortled. "All righ', Ron, Hermione?"

 

"We're fine," said Hermione. "How are you?"

 

"Ar, not bad. Bin busy, we got some newborn unicorns. I'll show yeh when yeh

get back--" Harry avoided Ron's and Hermione's gazes as Hagrid rummaged in his pocket.

"Here. Harry -- couldn't think what ter get teh, but then I remembered this." He pulled out

a small, slightly furry drawstring pouch with a long string, evidently intended to be worn

around the neck. "Mokeskin. Hide anythin' in there an' no one but the owner can get it out.

They're rare, them."

 

"Hagrid, thanks!"

 

"'S'nothin'," said Hagrid with a wave of a dustbin-lid-sized hand. "An' there's

Charlie! Always liked him -- hey! Charlie!"

 

Charlie approached, running his hand slightly ruefully over his new, brutally short

haircut. He was shorter than Ron, thickset, with a number of burns and scratches up his

muscley arms.

 

"Hi, Hagrid, how's it going?"

 

"Bin meanin' ter write fer ages. How's Norbert doin'?"

 

"Norbert?" Charlie laughed. "The Norwegian Ridgeback? We call her Norberta

now."

 

"Wha -- Norbert's a girl?"

 

"Oh yeah," said Charlie.

 

"How can you tell?" asked Hermione.

 


 

"They're a lot more vicious," said Charlie. He looked over his shoulder and

dropped his voice. "Wish Dad would hurry up and get here. Mum's getting edgy."

 

 

 

They all looked over at Mrs. Weasley. She was trying to talk to Madame Delacour

while glancing repeatedly at the gate.

 

"I think we'd better start without Arthur," she called to the garden at large after a

moment or two. "He must have been held up at -- oh!"

 

They all saw it at the same time: a streak of light that came flying across the yard

and onto the table, where it resolved itself into a bright silver weasel, which stood on its

hind legs and spoke with Mr. Weasley's voice.

 

"Minister of Magic coming with me."

 

The Patronus dissolved into thin air, leaving Fleur's family peering in

astonishment at the place where it had vanished.

 

"We shouldn't be here," said Lupin at once. "Harry -- I'm sorry -- I'll explain some

other time--"

 

He seized Tonks’s wrist and pulled her away; they reached the fence, climbed

over it, and vanished from sight. Mrs. Weasley looked bewildered.

 

"The Minister -- but why--? I don't understand--"

 

But there was no time to discuss the matter; a second later, Mr. Weasley had

appeared out of thin air at the gate, accompanied by Rufus Scrimgeour, instantly

recognizable by his mane of grizzled hair.

 

The two newcomers marched across the yard toward the garden and the lantern-lit

table, where everybody sat in silence, watching them draw closer. As Scrimgeour came

within range of the lantern light. Harry saw that he looked much older than the last time

that had met, scraggy and grim.

 

"Sorry to intrude," said Scrimgeour, as he limped to a halt before the table.

"Especially as I can see that I am gate-crashing a party."

 

 

 

His eyes lingered for a moment on the giant Snitch cake.

 

"Many happy returns."

 

"Thanks," said Harry.

 

"I require a private word with you," Scrimgeour went on. "Also with Mr. Ronald

Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger."

 

"Us?" said Ron, sounding surprised. "Why us?"

 

"I shall tell you that when we are somewhere more private," said Scrimgeour. "Is

there such a place?' he demanded of Mr. Weasley.

 

"Yes, of course," said Mr. Weasley, who looked nervous. "The, er, sitting room,

why don't you use that?"

 

"You can lead the way," Scrimgeour said to Ron. "There will be no need for you

to accompany us, Arthur."

 

Harry saw Mr. Weasley exchange a worried look with Mrs. Weasley as he, Ron,

and Hermione stood up. As they led the way back to the house in silence, Harry knew

that the other two were thinking the same as he was; Scrimgeour must, somehow, had

learned that the three of them were planning to drop out of Hogwarts.

 

Scrimgeour did not speak as they all passed through the messed kitchen and into

the Burrow's sitting room. Although the garden had been full of soft golden evening light,

 


 

it was already dark in here; Harry flicked his wand at the oil lamps as he entered and they

illuminated the shabby but cozy room. Scrimgeour sat himself in the sagging armchair

that Mr. Weasley normally occupied, leaving Harry, Ron, and Hermione to squeeze side

by side onto the sofa. Once they had done so, Scrimgeour spoke.

 

"I have some questions for the three of you, and I think it will be best if we do it

individually. If you two" -- he pointed at Harry and Hermione -- "can wait upstairs, I will

start with Ronald."

 

 

 

"We're not going anywhere," said Harry, while Hermione nodded vigorously.

"You can speak to us together, or not at all."

 

Scrimgeour gave Harry a cold, appraising look. Harry had the impression that the

Minister was wondering whether it was worthwhile opening hostilities this early.

 

"Very well then, together," he said, shrugging. He cleared his throat. "I am here,

as I'm sure you know, because of Albus Dumbledore's will."

 

Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another.

 

"A surprise, apparently! You were not aware then that Dumbledore had left you

anything?"

 

"A-all of us?" said Ron, "Me and Hermione too?"

 

"Yes, all of --"

 

But Harry interrupted.

 

"Dumbledore died over a month ago. Why has it taken this long to give us what

he left us?"

 

"Isn't it obvious?" said Hermione, before Scrimgeour could answer. "They wanted

to examine whatever he's left us. You had no right to do that!" she said, and her voice

trembled slightly.

 

"I had every right," said Scrimgeour dismissively. "The Decree for Justifiable

Confiscation gives the Ministry the power the confiscate the contents of a will--"

 

"That law was created to stop wizards passing on Dark artifacts," said Hermione,

"and the Ministry is supposed to have powerful evidence that the deceased's possessions

are illegal before seizing them! Are you telling me that you thought Dumbledore was

trying to pass us something cursed?"

 

"Are you planning to follow a career in Magical Law, Miss Granger?" asked

Scrimgeour.

 

"No, I'm not," retorted Hermione. "I'm hoping to do some good in the world!"

 

Ron laughed. Scrimgeour's eyes flickered toward him and away again as Harry

spoke.

 

"So why have you decided to let us have our things now? Can't think of a pretext

to keep them?"

 

"No, it'll be because thirty-one days are up," said Hermione at once. "They can't

keep the objects longer than that unless they can prove they're dangerous. Right?"

 

"Would you say you were close to Dumbledore, Ronald?" asked Scrimgeour,

ignoring Hermione. Ron looked startled.

 

"Me? Not -- not really... It was always Harry who..."

 

Ron looked around at Harry and Hermione, to see Hermione giving him a stoptalking-

now! sort of look, but the damage was done; Scrimgeour looked as though he had

 


 

heard exactly what he had expected, and wanted, to hear. He swooped like a bird of prey

upon Ron's answer.

 

"If you were not very close to Dumbledore, how do you account for the fact that

he remembered you in his will? He made exceptionally few personal bequests. The vast

majority of his possessions -- his private library, his magical instruments, and other

personal effects -- were left to Hogwarts. Why do you think you were singled out?"

 

"I...dunno," said Ron. "I...when I say we weren't close...I mean, I think he liked

me..."

 

"You're being modest, Ron," said Hermione. "Dumbledore was very fond of you."

 

This was stretching the truth to breaking point; as far as Harry knew, Ron and

Dumbledore had never been alone together, and direct contact between them had been

negligible. However, Scrimgeour did not seem to be listening. He put his hand inside his

cloak and drew out a drawstring pouch much larger than the one Hagrid had given Harry.

From it, he removed a scroll of parchment which he unrolled and read aloud.

 

"'The Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore'...

Yes, here we are... 'To Ronald Bilius Weasley, I leave my Deluminator, in the hope that

he will remember me when he uses it.'"

 

Scrimgeour took from the bag an object that Harry had seen before: It looked

something like a silver cigarette lighter, but it had, he knew, the power to suck all light

from a place, and restore it, with a simple click. Scrimgeour leaned forward and passed

the Deluminator to Ron, who took it and turned it over in the fingers looking stunned.

 

"That is a valuable object," said Scrimgeour, watching Ron. "It may even be

unique. Certainly it is of Dumbledore's own design. Why would he have left you and item

so rare?"

 

Ron shook his head, looking bewildered.

 

"Dumbledore must have taught thousands of students," Scrimgeour persevered.

"Yet the only ones he remembered in his will are you three. Why is that? To what use did

he think you would put to the Deluminator, Mr. Weasley?"

 

"Put out lights, I s'pose," mumbled Ron. "What else could I do with it?"

 

Evidently Scrimgeour had no suggestions. After squinting at Ron for a moment or

tow, he turned back to Dumbledore's will.

 

"'To Miss Hermione Jean Granger, I leave my copy of The Tales of Beedle the

Bard, in the hope that she will find it entertaining and instructive.'"

 

Scrimgeour now pulled out of the bag a small book that looked as ancient as the

copy of Secrets of the Darkest Art upstairs. Its binding was stained and peeling in places.

Hermione took it from Scrimgeour without a word. She held the book in her lap and

gazed at it. Harry saw that the title was in runes; he had never learned to read them. As he

looked, a tear splashed onto the embossed symbols.

 

"Why do you think Dumbledore left you that book, Miss Granger?" asked

Scrimgeour.

 

"He... he knew I liked books," said Hermione in a thick voice, mopping her eyes

with her sleeve.

 

"But why that particular book?"

 

"I don't know. He must have thought I'd enjoy it."

 

"Did you ever discuss codes, or any means of passing secret messages, with

Dumbledore?"

 


 

"No, I didn't," said Hermione, still wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "And if the

Ministry hasn't found any hidden codes in this book in thirty-one days, I doubt that I

will."

 

She suppressed a sob. They were wedged together so tightly that Ron had

difficulty extracting his arm to put it around Hermione's shoulders. Scrimgeour turned

back to the will.

 

"'To Harry James Potter,'" he read, and Harry's insides contracted with a sudden

excitement, "'I leave the Snitch he caught in his first Quidditch match at Hogwarts, as a

reminder of the rewards of perseverance and skill.'"

 

As Scrimgeour pulled out the tiny, walnut-sized golden ball, its silver wings

fluttered rather feebly, and Harry could not help feeling a definite sense of anticlimax.

 

"Why did Dumbledore leave you this Snitch?" asked Scrimgeour.

 

"No idea," said Harry. "For the reasons you just read out, I suppose... to remind

me what you can get if you... persevere and whatever it was."

 

"You think this a mere symbolic keepsake, then?"

 

"I suppose so," said Harry. "What else could it be?"

 

"I'm asking the questions," said Scrimgeour, shifting his chair a little closer to the

sofa. Dusk was really falling outside now; the marquee beyond the windows towered

ghostly white over the hedge.

 

"I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch," Scrimgeour said to

Harry. "Why is that?"

 

Hermione laughed derisively.

 

"Oh, it can't be a reference to the fact Harry's a great Seeker, that's way too

obvious," she said. "There must be a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the

icing!"

 

"I don't think there's anything hidden in the icing," said Scrimgeour, "but a Snitch

would be a very good hiding place for a small object. You know why, I'm sure?"

 

Harry shrugged, Hermione, however, answered: Harry thought that answering

questions correctly was such a deeply ingrained habit she could not suppress the urge.

 

"Because Snitches have flesh memories," she said.

 

"What?" said Harry and Ron together; both considered Hermione's Quidditch

knowledge negligible.

 

"Correct," said Scrimgeour. "A Snitch is not touched by bare skin before it is

released, not even by the maker, who wears gloves. It carries an enchantment by which it

can identify the first human to lay hands upon it, in case of a disputed capture. This

Snitch" -- he held up the tiny golden ball -- "will remember your touch, Potter.

 

It occurs to me that Dumbledore, who had prodigious magical skill, whatever his

other faults, might have enchanted this Snitch so that it will open only for you."

 

Harry's heart was beating rather fast. He was sure that Scrimgeour was right. How

could he avoid taking the Snitch with his bare hand in front of the Minister?

 

"You don't say anything," said Scrimgeour. "Perhaps you already know what the

Snitch contains?"

 

"No," said Harry, still wondering how he could appear to touch the Snitch without

really doing so. If only he knew Legilimency, really knew it, and could read Hermione's

mind; he could practically hear her brain whizzing beside him.

 

"Take it," said Scrimgeour quietly.

 


 

Harry met the Minister's yellow eyes and knew he had no option but to obey. He

held out his hand, and Scrimgeour leaned forward again and place the Snitch, slowly and

deliberately, into Harry's palm.

 

Nothing happened. As Harry's fingers closed around the Snitch, its tired wings

fluttered and were still. Scrimgeour, Ron, and Hermione continued to gaze avidly at the

now partially concealed ball, as if still hoping it might transform in some way.

 

"That was dramatic," said Harry coolly. Both Ron and Hermione laughed.

 

"That's all, then, is it?" asked Hermione, making to raise herself off the sofa.

 

"Not quite," said Scrimgeour, who looked bad tempered now. "Dumbledore left

you a second bequest, Potter."

 

"What is it?" asked Harry, excitement rekindling.

 

Scrimgeour did not bother to read from the will this time.

 

"The sword of Godric Gryffindor," he said. Hermione and Ron both stiffened.

Harry looked around for a sign of the ruby-encrusted hilt, but Scrimgeour did not pull the

sword from the leather pouch, which in any case looked much too small to contain it.

 

"So where is it?" Harry asked suspiciously.

 

"Unfortunately," said Scrimgeour, "that sword was not Dumbledore's to give

away. The sword of Godric Gryffindor is an important historical artifact, and as such,

belongs--"

 

"It belongs to Harry!" said Hermione hotly. "It chose him, he was the one who

found it, it came to him out of the Sorting Hat--"

 

"According to reliable historical sources, the sword may present itself to any

worthy Gryffindor," said Scrimgeour. "That does not make it the exclusive property of

Mr. Potter, whatever Dumbledore may have decided." Scrimgeour scratched his badly

shaven cheek, scrutinizing Harry. "Why do you think--?"

 

"--Dumbledore wanted to give me the sword?" said Harry, struggling to keep his

temper. "Maybe he thought it would look nice on my wall."

 

"This is not a joke, Potter!" growled Scrimgeour. "Was it because Dumbledore

believed that only the sword of Godric Gryffindor could defeat the Heir of Slytherin? Did

he wish to give you that sword, Potter, because he believed, as do many, that you are the

one destined to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"

 

"Interesting theory," said Harry. "Has anyone ever tried sticking a sword in

Voldemort? Maybe the Ministry should put some people onto that, instead of wasting

their time stripping down Deluminators or covering up breakouts from Azkaban. So this

is what you've been doing, Minister, shut up in your office, trying to break open a Snitch?

People are dying – I was nearly one of them – Voldemort chased me across three

countries, he killed Mad-Eye Moody, but there's no word about any of that from the

Ministry, has there? And you still expect us to cooperate with you!"

 

"You go too far!" shouted Scrimgeour, standing up: Harry jumped to his feet too.

Scrimgeour limped toward Harry and jabbed him hard in the chest with the point of his

wand; It singed a hole in Harry's T-shirt like a lit cigarette.

 

"Oi!" said Ron, jumping up and raising his own wand, but Harry said,

 

"No! D'you want to give him an excuse to arrest us?"

 

"Remembered you're not at school, have you?" said Scrimgeour breathing hard

into Harry's face. "Remembered that I am not Dumbledore, who forgave your insolence

 


 

and insubordination? You may wear that scar like a crown, Potter, but it is not up to a

seventeen-year-old boy to tell me how to do my job! It's time you learned some respect!"

 

"It's time you earned it." said Harry.

 

The floor trembled; there was a sound of running footsteps, then the door to the

sitting room burst open and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley ran in.

 

"We --- we thought we heard --" began Mr. Weasley, looking thoroughly alarmed

at the sight of Harry and the Minister virtually nose to nose.

 

"—raised voices," panted Mrs. Weasley.

 

Scrimgeour took a couple of steps back from Harry, glancing at the hole he had

made in Harry's T-shirt. He seemed to regret his loss of temper.

 

"It – it was nothing," he growled. "I … regret your attitude," he said, looking

Harry full in the face once more. "You seem to think that the Ministry does not desire

what you – what Dumbledore – desired. We ought to work together."

 

"I don't like your methods, Minister," said Harry. "Remember?"

 

For the second time, he raised his right fist and displayed to Scrimgeour the scar

that still showed white on the back of it, spelling I must not tell lies . Scrimgeour's

expression hardened. He turned away without another word and limped from the room.

Mrs. Weasley hurried after him; Harry heard her stop at the back door. After a minute or

so she called, "He's gone!"

 

What did he want?" Mr. Weasley asked, looking around at Harry, Ron, and

Hermione as Mrs. Weasley came hurrying back to them.

 

"To give us what Dumbledore left us," said Harry. "They've only just released the

content of his will."

 

Outside in the garden, over the dinner tables, the three objects Scrimgeour had

given them were passed from hand to hand. Everyone exclaimed over the Deluminator

and The Tales of Beedle the Bard and lamented the fact that Scrimgeour had refused to

pass on the sword, but none of them could offer any suggestion as to why Dumbledore

would have left Harry an old Snitch. As Mr. Weasley examined the Deluminator for the

third of fourth time, Mrs. Weasley said tentatively, "Harry, dear, everyone's awfully

hungry we didn't like to start without you… Shall I serve dinner now?"

 

They all ate rather hurriedly and then after a hasty chorus of "Happy Birthday"

and much gulping of cake, the party broke up. Hagrid, who was invited to the wedding

the following day, but was far too bulky to sleep in the overstretched Burrow, left to set

up a tent for himself in a neighboring field.

 

"Meet us upstairs," Harry whispered to Hermione, while they helped Mrs.

Weasley restore the garden to its normal state. "After everyone's gone to bed."

 

Up in the attic room, Ron examined his Deluminator, and Harry filled Hagrid's

mokeskin purse, not with gold, but with those items he most prized, apparently worthless

though some of them were the Marauder's Map, the shard of Sirius's enchanted mirror,

and R.A.B.'s locket. He pulled the string tight and slipped the purse around his neck, then

sat holding the old Snitch and watching its wings flutter feebly. At last, Hermione tapped

on the door and tiptoed inside.

 

"Muffiato," she whispered, waving her wand in the direction of the stairs.

 

"Thought you didn't approve of that spell?" said Ron.

 

"Times change," said Hermione. "Now, show us that Deluminator."

 


 

Ron obliged at once. Holding I up in front of him, he clicked it. The solitary lamp

they had lit went out at once.

 

"The thing is," whispered Hermione through the dark, "we could have achieved

that with Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder."

 

There was a small click, and the ball of light from the lamp flew back to the

ceiling and illuminated them all once more.

 

"Still, it's cool," said Ron, a little defensively. "And from what they said,

Dumbledore invented it himself!"

 

"I know but, surely he wouldn't have singled you out in his will just to help us

turn out the lights!"

 

"D'you think he knew the Ministry would confiscate his will and examine

everything he'd left us?" asked Harry.

 

"Definitely," said Hermione. "He couldn't tell us in the will why he was leaving

us these things, but that will doesn't explain…"

 

"… why he couldn't have given us a hint when he was alive?" asked Ron.

 

"Well, exactly," said Hermione, now flicking through The Tales of Beedle the

Bard. "If these things are important enough to pass on right under the nose of the

Ministry, you'd think he'd have left us know why… unless he thought it was obvious?"

 

"Thought wrong, then, didn't he?" said Ron. "I always said he was mental.

Brilliant and everything, but cracked. Leaving Harry an old Snitch – what the hell was

that about?"

 

"I've no idea," said Hermione. "When Scrimgeour made you take it, Harry, I was

so sure that something was going to happen!"

 

"Yeah, well," said Harry, his pulse quickened as he raised the Snitch in his fingers.

"I wasn't going to try too hard in front of Scrimgeour was I?"

 

"What do you mean?" asked Hermione.

 

"The Snitch I caught in my first ever Quidditch match?" said Harry. "Don't you

remember?"

 

Hermione looked simply bemused. Ron, however, gasped, pointing frantically

from Harry to the Snitch and back again until he found his voice.

 

"That was the one you nearly swallowed!"

 

"Exactly," said Harry, and with his heart beating fast, he pressed his mouth to the

Snitch.

 

It did not open. Frustration and bitter disappointment welled up inside him: He

lowered the golden sphere, but then Hermione cried out.

 

"Writing! There's writing on it, quick, look!"

He nearly dropped the Snitch in surprise and excitement. Hermione was quite right.

Engraved upon the smooth golden surface, where seconds before there had been nothing,

were five words written in the thin, slanted handwriting that Harry recognized as

Dumbledore's

 

I open at the close.

 

He had barely read them when the words vanished again.

 

"I open at the close…." What's that supposed to mean?"

 

Hermione and Ron shook their heads, looking blank.

 

"I open at the close… at the close… I open at the close…"

 


 

But no matter how often they repeated the words, with many different inflections,

they were unable to wring any more meaning from them.

 

"And the sword," said Ron finally, when they had at last abandoned their attempts

to divine meaning in the Snitch's inscription.

 

"Why did he want Harry to have the sword?"

 

"And why couldn't he just have told me?" Harry said quietly. "I was there, it was

right there on the wall of his office during all our talks last year! If he wanted me to have

it, why didn't he just give it to me then?"

 

He felt as thought he were sitting in an examination with a question he ought to

have been able to answer in front of him, his brain slow and unresponsive. Was there

something he had missed in the long talks with Dumbledore last year? Ought he to know

what it all meant? Had Dumbledore expected him to understand?

 

"And as for this book." Said Hermione, "The Tales of Beedle the Bard … I've

never even heard of them!"

 

"You've never heard of The Tales of Beedle the Bard?" said Ron incredulously.

"You're kidding, right?"

 

"No, I'm not," said Hermione in surprise. "Do you know them then?"

 

"Well, of course I do!"

 

Harry looked up, diverted. The circumstance of Ron having read a book that

Hermione had not was unprecedented. Ron, however, looked bemused by their surprise.

 

"Oh come on! All the old kids' stories are supposed to be Beedle's aren't they?

'The Fountain of Fair Fortune' … 'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot'… 'Babbitty Rabbitty

and her Cackling Stump'…"

 

"Excuse me?" said Hermione giggling. "What was the last one?"

 

"Come off it!" said Ron, looking in disbelief from Harry to Hermione. "You

must've heard of Babbitty Rabbitty –"

 

"Ron, you know full well Harry and I were brought up by Muggles!" said

Hermione. "We didn't hear stories like that when we were little, we heard 'Snow White

and the Seven Dwarves' and 'Cinderella' –"

 

"What's that, an illness?" asked Ron.

 

"So these are children's stories?" asked Hermione, bending against over the runes.

 

"Yeah." Said Ron uncertainly. "I mean, just what you hear, you know, that all

these old stories came from Beedle. I dunno what they're like in the original versions."

 

"But I wonder why Dumbledore thought I should read them?"

 

Something cracked downstairs.

 

"Probably just Charlie, now Mum's asleep, sneaking off to regrow his hair," said

Ron nervously.

 

"All the same, we should get to bed," whispered Hermione. "It wouldn't do to

oversleep tomorrow."

 

"No," agreed Ron. "A brutal triple murder by the bridegroom's mother might put a

bit of damper on the wedding. I'll get the light."

 

And he clicked the Deluminator once more as Hermione left the room.

 


 

Chapter Eight

 

The Wedding

 

Three o’clock on the following afternoon found Harry, Ron, Fred and George

standing outside the great white marquee in the orchard, awaiting the arrival of the

wedding guests. Harry had taken a large dose of Polyjuice Potion and was now the

double of a redheaded Muggle boy from the local village, Ottery St. Catchpole, from

whom Fred had stolen hairs using a Summoning Charm. The plan was to introduce

Harry as “Cousin Barny” and trust to the great number of Weasley relatives to

camouflage him.

 

 All four of them were clutching seating plans, so that they could help show people

to the right seats. A host of white-robed waiters had arrived an hour earlier, along with a

golden jacketed band, and all of these wizards were currently sitting a short distance

away under a tree. Harry could see a blue haze of pipe smoke issuing from the spot.

Behind Harry, the entrance to the marquee revealed rows and rows of fragile golden

chairs set on either side of a long purple carpet. The supporting poles were entwined with

white and gold flowers. Fred and George had fastened an enormous bunch of golden

balloons over the exact point where Bill and Fleur would shortly become husband and

wife. Outside, butterflies and bees were hovering lazily over the grass and hedgerow.

Harry was rather uncomfortable. The Muggle boy whose appearance he was affecting

was slightly fatter than him and his dress robes felt hot and tight in the full glare of a

summer’s day.

 

“When I get married,” said Fred, tugging at the collar of his own robes, “I won’t

be bothering with any of this nonsense. You can all wear what you like, and I’ll put a full

Body Bird Curse on Mum until it’s all over.”

 

 “She wasn’t too bad this morning, considering,” said George. “Cried a bit about

Percy not being here, but who wants him. Oh blimey, brace yourselves, here they come,

look.”

 

 Brightly colored figures were appearing, one by one out of nowhere at the distant

boundary of the yard. Within minutes a procession had formed, which began to snake its

way up through the garden toward the marquee. Exotic flowers and bewitched birds

fluttered on the witches’ hats, while precious gems glittered from many of the wizards’

cravats; a hum of excited chatter grew louder and louder, drowning the sound of the bees

as the crowd approached the tent.

 

 “Excellent, I think I see a few veela cousins,” said George, craning his neck for a

better look. “They’ll need help understanding our English customs, I’ll look after

them….”

 

 “Not so fast, Your Holeyness,” said Fred, and darting past the gaggle of middleaged

witches heading for the procession, he said, “Here – permetiez moi to assister

vous,” to a pair of pretty French girls, who giggled and allowed him to escort them inside.

George was left to deal with the middle-aged witches and Ron took charge of Mr.

Weasley’s old Ministry-colleague Perkins, while a rather deaf old couple fell to Harry’s

lot.

 

 “Wotcher,” said a familiar voice as he came out of the marquee again and found

Tonks and Lupin at the front of the queue. She had turned blonde for the occasion.

“Arthur told us you were the one with the curly hair. Sorry about last night,” she added

 


 

in a whisper as Harry led them up the aisle. “The Ministry’s being very anti-werewolf at

the museum and we thought our presence might not do you any favors.”

 

 “It’s fine, I understand,” said Harry, speaking more to Lupin than Tonks. Lupin

gave him a swift smile, but as they turned away Harry saw Lupin’s face fall again into

lines of misery. He did not understand it, but there was no time to dwell on the matter.

Hagrid was causing a certain amount of disruption. Having misunderstood Fred’s

directions as he had sat himself, not upon the magically enlarged and reinforced seat set

aside for him in the back row, but on five sets that now resembled a large pile of golden

matchsticks.

 

 While Mr. Weasley repaired the damage and Hagrid shouted apologies to

anybody who would listen, Harry hurried back to the entrance to find Ron face-to-face

with a most eccentric-looking wizard. Slightly cross-eyed, with shoulder-length white

hair the texture of candyfloss, he wore a cap whose tassel dangled in front of his nose and

robes of an eye-watering shade of egg-yolk yellow. An odd symbol, rather like a

triangular eye, glistened from a golden chain around his neck.

 

 “Xenophilius Lovegood,” he said, extending a hand to Harry, “my daughter and I

live just over the hill, so kind of the good Weasleys to invite us. But I think you know

my Luna?” he added to Ron.

 

 “Yes,” said Ron. “Isn’t she with you?”

 

 “She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a

glorious infestation! How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise

little gnomes – or, to give them their correct name, the Gernumbli gardensi.”

 

 “Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,” said Ron, “but I think Fred and

George taught them those.”

 

 He led a party of warlocks into the marquee as Luna rushed up.

 

 “Hello, Harry!” she said.

 

 “Er – my name’s Barry,” said Harry, flummoxed.

 

 “Oh, have you changed that too?” she asked brightly.

 

 “How did you know -?”

 

 “Oh, just your expression,” she said.

 

 Like her father, Luna was wearing bright yellow robes, which she had

accessorized with a large sunflower in her hair. Once you get over the brightness of it all,

the general effect was quite pleasant. At least there were no radishes dangling from her

ears.

 

 Xenophilius, who was deep in conversation with an acquaintance, had missed the

exchange between Luna and Harry. Biding the wizard farewell, he turned to his daughter,

who held up her finger and said, “Daddy, look – one of the gnomes actually bit me.”

 

 “How wonderful! Gnome saliva is enormously beneficial.” Said Mr. Lovegood,

seizing Luna’s outstretched fingers and examining the bleeding puncture marks. “Luna,

my love, if you should feel any burgeoning talent today – perhaps an unexpected urge to

sing opera or to declaims in Mermish – do not repress it! You may have been gifted by

the Gernumblies!”

 

 Ron, passing them in the opposite direction let out a loud snort.

 

 “Ron can laugh,” said Luna serenely as Harry led her and Xenophilius toward

their seats, “but my father has done a lot of research on Gernumbli magic.”

 


 

 “Really?” said Harry, who had long since decided not to challenge Luna or her

father’s peculiar views. “Are you sure you don’t want to put anything on that bite,

though?”

 

 “Oh, it’s fine,” said Luna, sucking her finger in a dreamy fashion and looking

Harry up and down. “You look smart. I told Daddy most people would probably wear

dress robes, but he believes you ought to wear sun colors to a wedding, for luck, you

know.”

 

 As she drifted off after her father, Ron reappeared with an elderly witch clutching

his arm. Her beaky nose, red-rimmed eyes, and leathery pink hat gave her the look of a

bad-tempered flamingo.

 

 “…and your hair’s much too long, Ronald, for a moment I thought you were

Ginevra. Merlin’s beard, what is Xenophilius Lovegood wearing? He looks like an

omelet. And who are you?” she barked at Harry.

 

 “Oh yeah, Auntie Muriel, this is our cousin Barny.”

 

 “Another Weasley? You breed like gnomes. Isn’t Harry Potter here? I was

hoping to meet him. I thought he was a friend of yours, Ronald, or have you merely been

boasting?”

 

 “No – he couldn’t come –“

 

 “Hmm. Made an excuse, did he? Not as gormless as he looks in press

photographs, then. I’ve just been instructing the bride on how best to wear my tiara,” she

shouted at Harry. “Goblin-made, you know, and been in my family for centuries. She’s a

good-looking girl, but still – French. Well, well, find me a good seat, Ronald, I am a

hundred and seven and I ought not to be on my feet too long.”

 

 Ron gave Harry a meaningful look as he passed and did not reappear for some

time. When next they met at the entrance, Harry had shown a dozen more people to their

places. The Marquee was nearly full now and for the first time there was no queue

outside.

 

 “Nightmare, Muriel is,” said Ron, mopping his forehead on his sleeve. “She used

to come for Christmas every year, then, thank God, she took offense because Fred and

George set off a Dungbomb under her chair at diner. Dad always says she’ll have written

them out of her will – like they care, they’re going to end up richer than anyone in the

family, rate they’re going… Wow,” he added, blinking rather rapidly as Hermione came

hurrying toward them. “You look great!”

 

 “Always the tone of surprise,” said Hermione, though she smiled. She was

wearing a floaty, lilac-colored dress with matching high heels; her hair was sleek and

shiny. “Your Great-Aunt Muriel doesn’t agree, I just met her upstairs while she was

giving Fleur the tiara. She said, ‘Oh dear, is this the Muggle-born?’ and then, ‘Bad

posture and skinny ankles.’”

 

 “Don’t take it personally, she’s rude to everyone,” said Ron.

 

 “Talking about Muriel?” inquired George, reemerging from the marquee with

Fred. “Yeah, she’s just told me my ears are lopsided. Old bat. I wish old Uncle Bilius

was still with us, though; he was a right laugh at weddings.”

 

 “Wasn’t he the one who saw a Grim and died twenty-four hours later?” asked

Hermione.

 

 “Well, yeah, he went a bit odd toward the end,” conceded George.

 


 

 “But before he went loopy he was the life and soul of the party,” said Fred. “He

used to down an entire bottle of firewhisky, then run onto the dance floor, hoist up his

robes, and start pulling bunches of flowers out of his –“

 

 “Yes, he sounds a real charmer,” said Hermione, while Harry roared with laughter.

 

 “Never married, for some reason,” said Ron.

 

 “You amaze me,” said Hermione.

 

 They were all laughing so much that none of them noticed the latecomer, a darkhaired

young man with a large, curved nose and thick black eyebrows, until he held out

his invitation to Ron and said, with his eyes on Hermione, “You look vunderful.”

 

 “Viktor!” she shrieked, and dropped her small beaded bag, which made a loud

thump quite disproportionate to its size. As she scrambled, blushing, to pick it up, she

said “I didn’t know you were – goodness – it’s lovely to see – how are you?”

 

 Ron’s ears had turned bright red again. After glancing at Krum’s invitation as if

he did not believe a word of it, he said, much too loudly, “how come you’re here?”

 

 “Fleur invited me,” said Krum, eyebrows raised.

 

 Harry, who had no grudge against Krum, shook hands; then feeling that it would

be prudent to remove Krum from Ron’s vicinity, offered to show him his seat.

 

 “Your friend is not pleased to see me,” said Krum, as they entered the now

packed marquee. “Or is he a relative?” he added with a glance at Harry’s red curly hair.

 

 “Cousin.” Harry muttered, but Krum was not really listening. His appearance was

causing a stir, particularly amongst the veela cousins: He was, after all, a famous

Quidditch player. While people were still craning their necks to get a good look at him,

Ron, Hermione, Fred, and George came hurrying down the aisle.

 

 “Time to sit down,” Fred told Harry, “or we’re going to get run over by the

bride.”

 

 Harry, Ron and Hermione took their seats in the second row behind Fred and

George. Hermione looked rather pink and Ron’s ears were still scarlet. After a few

moments he muttered to Harry, “Did you see he’s grown a stupid little beard?”

 

 Harry gave a noncommittal grunt.

 

 A sense of jittery anticipation had filled the warm tent, the general murmuring

broken by occasional spurts of excited laughter. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley strolled up the

aisle, smiling and waving at relatives; Mrs. Weasley was wearing a brand-new set of

amethyst colored robes with a matching hat.

 

 A moment later Bill and Charlie stood up at the front of the marquee, both

wearing dress robes, with larger white roses in their buttonholes; Fred wolf-whistled and

there was an outbreak of giggling from the veela cousins. Then the crowd fell silent as

music swelled from what seemed to be the golden balloons.

 

 “Ooooh!” said Hermione, swiveling around in her seat to look at the entrance.

 

 A great collective sigh issued from the assembled witches and wizards as

Monsieur Delacour and Fleur came walking up the aisle, Fleur gliding, Monsieur

Delacour bouncing and beaming. Fleur was wearing a very simple white dress and

seemed to be emitting a strong, silvery glow. While her radiance usually dimmed

everyone else by comparison, today it beautified everybody it fell upon. Ginny and

Gabrielle, both wearing golden dresses, looked even prettier than usual and once Fleur

had reached for him, Bill did not look as though he had ever met Fenrit Greyback.

 


 

 “Ladies and gentlemen,” said a slightly singsong voice, and with a slight shock,

Harry saw the same small, tufty-hired wizard who had presided at Dumbledore’s funeral,

now standing in front of Bill and Fleur. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the

union of two faithful souls…”

 

 “Yes, my tiara set off the whole thing nicely,” said Auntie Muriel in a rather

carrying whisper. “But I must say, Ginevra’s dress is far too low cut.”

 

 Ginny glanced around, grinning, winked at Harry, then quickly faced the front

again. Harry’s mind wandered a long way from the marquee, back to the afternoons

spent alone with Ginny in lonely parts of the school grounds. They seemed so long ago;

they had always seemed too good to be true, as though he had been stealing shining hours

from a normal person’s life, a person without a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead….

 

 “Do you, William Arthur, take Fleur Isabelle…?”

 

 In the front row, Mrs. Weasley and Madame Delacour were both sobbing quietly

into scraps of lace. Trumpetlike sounds from the back of the marquee told everyone that

Hagrid had taken out one of his own tablecloth-sized handkerchiefs. Hermione turned

around and beamed at Harry; her eyes too were full of tears.

 

 “…then I declare you bonded for life.”

 

 The tufty-haired wizard waved his hand high over the heads of Bill and Fleur and

a shower of silver stars fell upon them, spiraling around their now entwined figures. As

Fred and George led a round of applause, the golden balloons overhead burst. Birds of

paradise and tiny golden bells flew and floated out of them, adding their songs and

chimes to the din.

 

 “Ladies and gentlemen!” called the tufty-haired wizard. “If you would please

stand up!”

 

 They all did so, Auntie Muriel grumbling audibly; he waved his wand again. The

scars on which they had been sitting rose gracefully into the air as the canvas walls of the

marquee vanished, so that they stood beneath a canopy supported by golden poles, with a

glorious view of the sunlit orchard and surrounding countryside. Next, a pool of molten

gold spread from the center of the tent to form a gleaming dance floor; the hovering

chairs grouped themselves around small, white-clothed tables, which all floated

gracefully back to earth round it, and the golden-jacketed hand trooped toward a podium.

 

 “Smooth,” said Ron approvingly as the waiters popped up on all sides, some

hearing silver trays of pumpkin juice, butterbeer, and firewhisky, others tottering piles of

tarts and sandwiches.

 

 “We should go and congratulate them!” said Hermione, standing on tiptoe to see

the place where Bill and Fleur had vanished amid a crowd of well-wishers.

 

 “We’ll have time later,” shrugged Ron, snatching three butterbeers from a passing

tray and handing one to Harry. “Hermione, cop hold, let’s grab a table…. Not there!

Nowhere near Muriel –“

 

 Ron led the way across the empty dance floor, glancing left and right as he went;

Harry felt sure that he was keeping an eye out for Krum. By the time they had reached

the other side of the marquee, most of the tables were occupied: The emptiest was the one

where Luna sat alone.

 

 “All right if we join you?” asked Ron.

 

 “Oh yes,” she said happily. “Daddy’s just gone to give Bill and Fleur our

present.”

 


 

 “What is it, a lifetime’s supply of Gurdyroots?” asked Ron.

 

 Hermione aimed a kick at him under the table, but caught Harry instead. Eyes

watering in pain, Harry lost track of the conversation for a few moments.

 

 The band had begun to play, Bill and Fleur took to the dance floor first, to great

applause; after a while, Mr. Weasley led Madame Delacour onto the floor, followed by

Mr. Weasley and Fleur’s father.

 

 “I like this song,” said Luna, swaying in time to the waltzlike tune, and a few

seconds later she stood up and glided onto the dance floor, where she revolved on the

spot, quite alone, eyes closed and waving her arms.

 

 “She’s great isn’t she?” said Ron admiringly. “Always good value.”

 

 But the smile vanished from his face at once: Viktor Krum had dropped into

Luna’s vacant seat. Hermione looked pleasurably flustered but this time Krum had not

come to compliment her. With a scowl on his face he said, “Who is that man in the

yellow?”

 

 “That’s Xenophilius Lovegood, he’s the father of a friend of ours,” said Ron. His

pugnacious tone indicated that they were not about to laugh at Xenophilius, despite the

clear provocation. “Come and dance,” he added abruptly to Hermione.

 

 She looked taken aback, but pleased too, and got up. They vanished together into

the growing throng on the dance floor.

 

 “Ah, they are together now?” asked Krum, momentarily distracted.

 

 “Er – sort of,” said Harry.

 

 “Who are you?” Krum asked.

 

 “Barny Weasley.”

 

 They shook hands.

 

 “You, Barny – you know this man Lovegood well?”

 

 “No, I only met him today. Why?”

 

 Krum glowered over the top of his drink, watching Xenophilius, who was chatting

to several warlocks on the other side of the dance floor.

 

 “Because,” said Krum, “If he vus not a guest of Fleur’s I vould dud him, here and

now, for veering that filthy sign upon his chest.”

 

 “Sign?” said Harry, looking over at Xenophilius too. The strange triangular eye

was gleaming on his chest. “Why? What’s wrong with it?”

 

 “Grindelvald. That is Grindelvald’s sign.”

 

 “Grindelwald… the Dark wizard Dumbledore defeated?”

 

 “Exactly.”

 

 Krum’s jaw muscles worked as if he were chewing, then he said, “Grindelvald

killed many people, my grandfather, for instance. Of course, he vos never powerful in

this country, they said he feared Dumbledore – and rightly, seeing how he vos finished.

But this” – he pointed a finger at Xenophilius – “this is his symbol, I recognized it at

vunce: Grindelvald carved it into a vall at Durmstrang ver he vos a pupil there. Some

idiots copied it onto their books and clothes thinking to shock, make themselves

impressive – until those of us who had lost family members to Grindelvald taught them

better.”

 

 Krum cracked his knuckles menacingly and glowered at Xenophilius. Harry felt

perplexed. It seemed incredibly unlikely that Luna’s father was a supporter of the Dark

Arts, and nobody else in the tent seemed to have recognized the triangular, finlike shape.

 


 

 “Are you – er – quite sure it’s Grindelwald’s -?”

 

 “I am not mistaken,” said Krum coldly. “I walked past that sign for several years,

I know it vell.”

 

 “Well, there’s a chance,” said Harry, “that Xenophilius doesn’t actually know

what the symbol means, the Lovegoods are quite… unusual. He could have easily picked

it up somewhere and think it’s a cross section of the head of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack

or something.”

 

 “The cross section of a vot?”

 

 “Well, I don’t know what they are, but apparently he and his daughter go on

holiday looking for them….”

 

 Harry felt he was doing a bad job explaining Luna and her father.

 

 “That’s her,” he said, pointing at Luna, who was still dancing alone, waving her

arms around her head like someone attempting to beat off midges.

 

 “Vy is she doing that?” asked Krum.

 

 “Probably trying to get rid of a Wrackspurt,” said Harry, who recognized the

symptoms.

 

 Krum did not seem to know whether or not Harry was making fun of him. He

drew his hand from inside his robe and tapped it menacingly on his thighs; sparks flew

out of the end.

 

 “Gregorovitch!” said Harry loudly, and Krum started, but Harry was too excited

to care; the memory had come back to him at the sight of Krum’s wand: Ollivander

taking it and examining it carefully before the Triwizard Tournament.

 

 “Vot about him?” asked Krum suspiciously.

 

 “He’s a wandmaker!”

 

 “I know that,” said Krum.

 

 “He made your wand! That’s why I thought – Quidditch –“

 

 Krum was looking more and more suspicious.

 

 “How do you know Gregorovitch made my wand?”

 

 “I…I read it somewhere, I think,” said Harry. “In a – a fan magazine,” he

improvised wildly and Krum looked mollified.

 

 “I had not realized I ever discussed my vand with fans,” he said.

 

 “So… er… where is Gregorowitch these days?”

 

 Krum looked puzzled.

 

 “He retired several years ago. I was one of the last to purchase a Gregorovitch

vand. They are the best –although I know, of course, that your Britons set much store by

Ollivander.”

 

 Harry did not answer. He pretended to watch the dancers, like Krum, but he was

thinking hard. So Voldemort was looking for a celebrated wandmaker and Harry did not

have to search far for a reason. It was surely because of what Harry’ wand had done on

the night that Voldemort pursued him across the skies. The holly and phoenix feather

wand had conquered the borrowed wand, some thing that Ollivander had not anticipated

or understood. Would Gregorowitch know better? Was he truly more skilled than

Ollivander, did he know secrets of wands that Ollivander did not?

 

 “This girl is very nice-looking,” Krum said, recalling Harry to his surroundings.

Krum was pointing at Ginny, who had just joined Luna. “She is also a relative of yours?”

 


 

 “Yeah,” said Harry, suddenly irritated, “and she’s seeing someone. Jealous type.

Big bloke. You wouldn’t want to cross him.”

 

 Krum grunted.

 

 “Vot,” he said, draining his goblet and getting to his feet again, “is the point of

being an international Quidditch player if all the good-looking girls are taken?”

 

 And he strode off leaving Harry to take a sandwich from a passing waiter and

make his way around the edge of the crowded dance floor. He wanted to find Ron, to tell

him about Gregorovitch, but he was dancing with Hermione out in the middle of the floor.

Harry leaned up against one of the golden pillars and watched Ginny, who was now

dancing with Fred and George’s friend Lee Jordan, trying not to feel resentful about the

promise he had given Ron.

 

 He had never been to a wedding before, so he could not judge how Wizarding

celebrations differed from Muggle ones, though he was pretty sure that the latter would

not involve a wedding cake topped with two model phoenixes that took flight when the

cake was cut, or bottles of champagne that floated unsupported through the crowd. As

the evening drew in, and moths began to swoop under the canopy, now lit with floating

golden lanterns, the revelry became more and more uncontained. Fred and George had

long since disappeared into the darkness with a pair of Fleur’s cousins; Charlie, Hagrid,

and a squat wizard in a purple porkpie hat were singing “Odo the Hero” in the corner.

 

 Wandering through the crowd so as to escape a drunken uncle of Ron’s who

seemed unsure whether or not Harry was his son, Harry spotted an old wizard sitting

alone at a table. His cloud of white hair made him look rather like an aged dandelion

clock and was topped by a moth-eaten fez. He was vaguely familiar: Racking his brains,

Harry suddenly realized that this was Elphias Doge, member of the Order of the Phoenix

and the writer of Dumbledore’s obituary.

 

 Harry approached him.

 

 “May I sit down?”

 

 “Of course, of course,” said Doge; he had a rather high-pitched, wheezy voice.

 

 Harry leaned in.

 

 “Mr. Doge, I’m Harry Potter.”

 

 Doge gasped.

 

 “My dear boy! Arthur told me you were here, disguised…. I am so glad, so

honored!”

 

 In a flutter of nervous pleasure Doge poured Harry a goblet of champagne.

 

 “I thought of writing to you,” he whispered, “after Dumbledore… the shock…

and for you, I am sure…”

 

 Doge’s tiny eyes filled with sudden tears.

 

 “I saw the obituary you wrote for the Daily Prophet,” said Harry. “I didn’t realize

you knew Professor Dumbledore so well.”

 

 “As well as anyone,” said Doge, dabbing his eyes with a napkin. “Certainly I

knew him longest, if you don’t count Aberforth – and somehow, people never do seem to

count Aberforth.”

 

 “Speaking of the Daily Prophet… I don’t know whether you saw, Mr. Doge -?”

 

 “Oh, please call me Elphias, dear boy.”

 

 “Elphias, I don’t know whether you saw the interview Rita Skeeter gave about

Dumbledore?”

 


 

 Doge’s face flooded with angry color.

 

 “Oh yes, Harry, I saw it. That woman, or vulture might be a more accurate term,

positively pestered me to talk to her, I am ashamed to say that I became rather rude,

called her an interfering trout, which resulted, as you my have seen, in aspersions cast

upon my sanity.”

 

 “Well, in that interview,” Harry went on, “Rita Skeeter hinted that Professor

Dumbledore was involved in the Dark Arts when he was young.”

 

 “Don’t believe a word of it!” said Doge at once. “Not a word, Harry! Let nothing

tarnish your memories of Albus Dumbledore!”

 

 Harry looked into Doge’s earnest, pained face, and felt, not reassured, but

frustrated. Did Doge really think it was that easy, that Harry could simply choose not to

believe? Didn’t Doge understand Harry’s need to be sure, to know everything?”

 

 Perhaps Doge suspected Harry’s feelings, for he looked concerned and hurried on,

“Harry, Rita Skeeter is a dreadful –“

 

 But he was interrupted by a shrill cackle.

 

 “Rita Skeeter? Oh, I love her, always read her!”

 

 Harry and Doge looked up to see Auntie Muriel standing there, the plumes

dancing on her hair, a goblet of champagne in her hand. “She’s written a book about

Dumbledore, you know!”

 

“Hello, Muriel,” said Doge, “Yes, we were just discussing –“

 

 “You there! Give me your chair, I’m a hundred and seven!”

 

 Another redheaded Weasley cousin jumped off his seat, looking alarmed, and

Auntie Muriel swung it around with surprising strength and plopped herself down upon it

between Doge and Harry.

 

 “Hello again, Barry or whatever your name is,” she said to Harry, “Now what

were you saying about Rita Skeeter, Elphias? You know, she’s written a biography of

Dumbledore? I can’t wait to read it. I must remember to place an order at Flourish and

Blotts!”

 

 Doge looked stiff and solemn at this but Auntie Muriel drained her goblet and

clicked her bony fingers at a passing waiter for a replacement. She took another large

gulp of champagne, belched and then said, “There’s no need to look like a pair of stuffed

frogs! Before he became so respected and respectable and all that tosh, there were some

mighty funny rumors about Albus!”

 

 “Ill-informed sniping,” said Doge, turning radish-colored again.

 

 “You would say that, Elphias,” cackled Auntie Muriel. “I noticed how you skated

over the sticky patches in that obituary of yours!”

 

 “I’m sorry you think so,” said Doge, more coldly still. “I assure you I was writing

from the heart.”

 

 “Oh, we all know you worshipped Dumbledore; I daresay you’ll still think he was

a saint even if it does turn out that he did away with his Squib sister!”

 

 “Muriel!” exclaimed Doge.

 

 A chill that had nothing to do with the iced champagne was stealing through

Harry’s chest.

 

 “What do you mean?” he asked Muriel. “Who said his sister was a Squib? I

thought she was ill?”

 


 

 “Thought wrong, then, didn’t you, Barry!” said Auntie Muriel, looking delighted

at the effect she had produced. “Anyway, how could you expect to know anything about

it! IT all happened years and years before you were even thought of, my dear, and the

truth is that those of us who were alive then never knew what really happened. That’s

why I can’t wait to find out what Skeeter’s unearthed! Dumbledore kept that sister of his

quiet for a long time!”

 

 “Untrue!” wheezed Doge, “Absolutely untrue!”

 

 “He never told me his sister as a Squib,” said Harry, without thinking, still cold

inside.

 

 “And why on earth would he tell you?” screeched Muriel, swaying a little in her

seat as she attempted to focus upon Harry.

 

 “The reason Albus never spoke about Ariana,” began Elphias in a voice stiff with

emotion, “is, I should have thought, quite clear. He was so devastated by her death –“

 

 “Why did nobody ever see her, Elphias?” squawked Muriel, “Why did half of us

never even know she existed, until they carried the coffin out of the house and held a

funeral for her? Where was saintly Albus while Ariana was locked in the cellar? Off

being brilliant at Hogwarts, and never mind what was going on in his own house!”

 

 “What d’you mean, locked in the cellar?” asked Harry. “What is this?”

 

 Doge looked wretched. Auntie Muriel cackled again and answered Harry.

 

 “Dumbledore’s mother was a terrifying woman, simply terrifying. Muggle-born,

though I heard she pretended otherwise-“

 

 “She never pretended anything of the sort! Kendra was a fine woman,” whispered

Doge miserably, but Auntie Muriel ignored him.

 

 “- proud and very domineering, the sort of witch who would have been mortified

to produce a Squib-“

 

 “Ariana was not a Squib!” wheezed Doge.

 

 “So you say, Elphias, but explain, then, why she never attended Hogwarts!” said

Auntie Muriel. She turned back to Harry. “In our day, Squibs were often hushed up,

thought to take it to the extreme of actually imprisoning a little girl in the house and

pretending she didn’t exist –“

 

 “I tell you, that’s not what happened!” said Doge, but Auntie Muriel

steamrollered on, still addressing Harry.

 

 Squibs were usually shipped off to Muggle schools and encouraged to integrate

into the Muggle community… much kinder than trying to find them a place in the

Wizarding world, where they must always be second class, but naturally Kendra

Dumbledore wouldn’t have dreamed of letting her daughter go to a Muggle school –“

 

 “Ariana was delicate!” said Doge desperately. “Her health was always too poor to

permit her –“

 

 “- to permit her to leave the house?” cackled Muriel. “And yet she was never

taken to St. Mungo’s and no Healer was ever summoned to see her!”

 

 “Really, Muriel, how can you possibly know whether –“

 

 “For your information, Elphias, my cousin Lancelot was a Healer at St. Mungo’s

at the time, and he told my family in strictest confidence that Ariana had never been seen

there. All most suspicious, Lancelot thought!”

 

 Doge looked to be on the verge of tears. Auntie Muriel, who seemed to be

enjoying herself hugely, snapped her fingers for more champagne. Numbly Harry

 


 

thought of how the Dursleys had once shut him up, locked him away, kept him out of

sight, all for the crime of being a wizard. Had Dumbledore’s sister suffered the same fate

in reverse: imprisoned for her lack of magic? And had Dumbledore truly left her to her

fate while he went off to Hogwarts to prove himself brilliant and talented?

 

 “Now, if Kendra hadn’t died first,” Muriel resumed, “I’d have said that it was she

who finished off Ariana –“

 

 “How can you, Muriel!” groaned Doge. “A mother kill her own daughter? Think

what you’re saying!”

 

 “If the mother in question was capable of imprisoning her daughter for years on

end, why not?” shrugged Auntie Muriel. “But as I say, it doesn’t fit, because Kendra died

before Ariana – of what, nobody ever seemed sure-“

 

 “Yes, Ariana might have made a desperate bid for freedom and killed Kendra in

the struggle,” said Auntie Muriel thoughtfully. “Shake your head all you like, Elphias.

You were at Ariana’s funeral, were you not?”

 

 “Yes I was,” said Doge, through trembling lips,” and a more desperately sad

occasion I cannot remember. Albus was heartbroken-“

 

 “His heart wasn’t the only thing. Didn’t Aberforth break Albus’ nose halfway

through the service?”

 

 If Doge had looked horrified before this, it was nothing to how he looked now.

Muriel might have stabbed him. She cackled loudly and took another swig of champagne,

which dribbled down her chin.

 

 “How do you -?” croaked Doge.

 

 “My mother was friendly with old Bathilda Bagshot,” said Auntie Muriel happily.

“Bathilda described the whole thing to mother while I was listening at the door. A

coffin-side brawl. The way Bathilda told it, Aberforth shouted that it was all Albus’ fault

that Ariana was dead and then punched him in the face. According to Bathilda, Albus did

not even defend himself, and that’s odd enough in itself. Albus could have destroyed

Aberforth in a duel with both hands tied behind his back.

 

 Muriel swigged yet more champagne. The recitation of those old scandals

seemed to elate her as much as they horrified Doge. Harry did not know what to think,

what to believe. He wanted the truth and yet all Doge did was sit there and bleat feebly

that Ariana had been ill. Harry could hardly believe that Dumbledore would not have

intervened if such cruelty was happening inside his own house, and yet there was

undoubtedly something odd about the story.

 

 “And I’ll tell you something else,” Muriel said, hiccupping slightly as she lowered

her goblet. “I think Bathilda has spilled the beans to Rita Skeeter. All those hints in

Skeeter’s interview about an important source close to the Dumbledores – goodness

knows she was there all through the Ariana business, and it would fit!”

 

 “Bathilda, would never talk to Rita Skeeter!” whispered Doge.

 

 “Bathilda Bagshot?” Harry said. “The author of A History of Magic?”

 

 The name was printed on the front of one of Harry’s textbooks, though admittedly

not one of the ones he had read more attentively.

 

 “Yes,” said Doge, clutching at Harry’s question like a drowning man at a life heir.

“A most gifted magical historian and an old friend of Albus’s.”

 

 “Quite gaga these days, I’ve heard,” said Auntie Muriel cheerfully.

 


 

 “If that is so, it is even more dishonorable for Skeeter to have taken advantage of

her,” said Doge, “and no reliance can be placed on anything Bathilda may have said!”

 

 “Oh, there are ways of bringing back memories, and I’m sure Rita Skeeter knows

them all,” said Auntie Muriel “But even if Bathilda’s completely cuckoo, I’m sure she’d

still have old photographs, maybe even letters. She knew the Dumbledores for years….

Well worth a trip to Godric’s Hollow, I’d have thought.”

 

 Harry, who had been taking a sip of butterbeer, choked. Doge banged him on the

back as Harry coughed, looking at Auntie Muriel through streaming eyes. Once he had

control of his voice again, he asked, “Bathilda Bagshot lives in Godric’s Hollow?”

 

 “Oh yes, she’s been there forever! The Dumbledores moved there after Percival

was imprisoned, and she was their neighbor.”

 

 “The Dumbledores lived in Godric’s Hollows?”

 

 “Yes, Barry, that’s what I just said,” said Auntie Muriel testily.

 

 Harry felt drained, empty. Never once, in six years, had Dumbledore told Harry

that they had both lived and lost loved ones in Godric’s Hollow. Why? Were Lily and

James buried close to Dumbledore’s mother and sister? Had Dumbledore visited their

graves, perhaps walked past Lily’s and James’s to do so? And he had never once told

Harry … never bothered to say…

 

 And why it was so important, Harry could not explain even to himself, yet he felt

it had been tantamount to a lie not to tell him that they had this place and these

experiences in common. He stared ahead of him, barely noticing what was going on

around him, and did not realize that Hermione had appeared out of the crowd until she

drew up a chair beside him.

 

 “I simply can’t dance anymore,” she panted, slipping of one of her shoes and

rubbing the sole of her foot. “Ron’s gone looking to find more butterbeers. It’s a bit odd.

I’ve just seen Viktor storming away from Luna’s father, it looked like they’d been

arguing –“ She dropped her voice, staring at him. “Harry, are you okay?”

 

 Harry did not know where to begin, but it did not matter, at that moment,

something large and silver came falling through the canopy over the dance floor.

Graceful and gleaming, the lynx landed lightly in the middle of the astonished dancers.

Heads turned, as those nearest it froze absurdly in mid-dance. Then the Patronus’s mouth

opened wide and it spoke in the loud, deep, slow voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt.

 

 “The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.”

 

Chapter Nine

 

A Place to Hide

 

 

 

Everything seemed fuzzy, slow. Harry and Hermione jumped to their feet and

drew their wands. Many people were only just realizing that something strange had

happened; heads were still turning toward the silver cat as it vanished. Silence spread

outward in cold ripples from the place where the Patronus had landed. Then somebody

screamed.

 

 Harry and Hermione threw themselves into the panicking crowd. Guests were

sprinting in all directions; many were Disapparating; the protective enchantments around

the Burrow had broken.

 


 

 “Ron!” Hermione cried. “Ron, where are you?”

 

 As they pushed their way across the dance floor, Harry saw cloaked and masked

figures appearing in the crowd; then he saw Lupin and Tonks, their wands raised, and

heard both of them shout, “Protego!”, a cry that was echoed on all sides –

 

 “Ron! Ron!” Hermione called, half sobbing as she and Harry were buffered by

terrified guests: Harry seized her hand to make sure they weren’t separated as a streak of

light whizzed over their heads, whether a protective charm or something more sinister he

did not know –

 

 And then Ron was there. He caught hold of Hermione’s free arm, and Harry felt

her turn on the spot; sight and sound were extinguished as darkness pressed in upon him;

all he could feel was Hermione’s hand as he was squeezed through space and time, away

from the Burrow, away from the descending Death Eaters, away, perhaps, from

Voldemort himself. . . .

 

 “Where are we?” said Ron’s voice.

 

 Harry opened his eyes. For a moment he thought they had not left the wedding

after all; They still seemed to be surrounded by people.

 

 “Tottenham Court Road,” panted Hermione. “Walk, just walk, we need to find

somewhere for you to change.”

 

 Harry did as she asked. They half walked, half ran up the wide dark street

thronged with late-night revelers and lined with closed shops, stars twinkling above them.

A double-decker bus rumbled by and a group of merry pub-goers ogled them as they

passed; Harry and Ron were still wearing dress robes.

 

 “Hermione, we haven’t got anything to change into,” Ron told her, as a young

woman burst into raucous giggles at the sight of him.

 

 “Why didn’t I make sure I had the Invisibility Cloak with me?” said Harry,

inwardly cursing his own stupidity. “All last year I kept it on me and –“

 

 “It’s okay, I’ve got the Cloak, I’ve got clothes for both of you,” said Hermione,

“Just try and act naturally until – this will do.”

 

 She led them down a side street, then into the shelter of a shadowy alleyway.

 

 “When you say you’ve got the Cloak, and clothes . . .” said Harry, frowning at

Hermione, who was carrying nothing except her small beaded handbag, in which she was

now rummaging.

 

 “Yes, they’re here,” said Hermione, and to Harry and Ron’s utter astonishment,

she pulled out a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, some maroon socks, and finally the silvery

Invisibility Cloak.

 

 “How the ruddy hell – ?”

 

 “Undetectable Extension Charm,” said Hermione. “Tricky, but I think I’ve done it

okay; anyway, I managed to fit everything we need in here.” She gave the fragile-looking

bag a little shake and it echoed like a cargo hold as a number of heavy objects rolled

around inside it. “Oh, damn, that’ll be the books,” she said, peering into it, “and I had

them all stacked by subject. . . . Oh well. . . . Harry, you’d better take the Invisibility

Cloak. Ron, hurry up and change. . . .”

 

 “When did you do all this?” Harry asked as Ron stripped off his robes.

 

 “I told you at the Burrow, I’ve had the essentials packed for days, you know, in

case we needed to make a quick getaway. I packed your rucksack this morning, Harry,

after you changed, and put it in here. . . . I just had a feeling. . . .”

 


 

 “You’re amazing, you are,” said Ron, handing her his bundled-up robes.

 

 “Thank you,” said Hermione, managing a small smile as she pushed the robes into

the bag. “Please, Harry, get that Cloak on!”

 

 Harry threw his Invisibility Cloak around his shoulders and pulled it up over his

head, vanishing from sight. He was only just beginning to appreciate what had happened.

 

 “The others – everybody at the wedding –“

 

 “We can’t worry about that now,” whispered Hermione. “It’s you they’re after,

Harry, and we’ll just put everyone in even more danger by going back.”

 

 “She’s right,” said Ron, who seemed to know that Harry was about to argue, even

if he could not see his face. “Most of the Order was there, they’ll look after everyone.”

 

 Harry nodded, then remembered that they could not see him, and said, “Yeah.”

But he thought of Ginny, and fear bubbled like acid in his stomach.

 

 “Come on, I think we ought to keep moving,” said Hermione.

 

 They moved back up the side street and onto the main road again, where a group

of men on the opposite side was singing and weaving across the pavement.

 

 “Just as a matter of interest, why Tottenham Court Road?” Ron asked Hermione.

 

 “I’ve no idea, it just popped into my head, but I’m sure we’re safer out in the

Muggle world, it’s not where they’ll expect us to be.”

 

 “True,” said Ron, looking around, “but don’t you feel a bit – exposed?”

 

 “Where else is there?” asked Hermione, cringing as the men on the other side of

the road started wolf-whistling at her. “We can hardly book rooms at the Leaky Cauldron,

can we? And Grimmauld Place is out if Snape can get in there. . . . I suppose we could try

my parents’ home, though I think there’s a chance they might check there. . . . Oh, I wish

they’d shut up!”

 

 “All right, darling?” the drunkest of the men on the other pavement was yelling.

“Fancy a drink? Ditch ginger and come and have a pint!”

 

 “Let’s sit down somewhere,” Hermione said hastily as Ron opened his mouth to

shout back across the road. “Look, this will do, in here!”

 

 It was a small and shabby all-night café. A light layer of grease lay on all the

Formica-topped tables, but it was at least empty. Harry slipped into a booth first and Ron

sat next to him opposite Hermione, who had her back to the entrance and did not like it:

She glanced over her shoulder so frequently she appeared to have a twitch. Harry did not

like being stationary; walking had given the illusion that they had a goal. Beneath the

Cloak he could feel the last vestiges of Polyjuice leaving him, his hands returning to their

usual length and shape. He pulled his glasses out of his pocket and put them on again.

 

 After a minute or two, Ron said, “You know, we’re not far from the Leaky

Cauldron here, it’s only in Charing Cross –“

 

 “Ron, we can’t!” said Hermione at once.

 

 “Not to stay there, but to find out what’s going on!”

 

 “We know what’s going on! Voldemort’s taken over the Ministry, what else do

we need to know?”

 

 “Okay, okay, it was just an idea!”

They relapsed into a prickly silence. The gum-chewing waitress shuffled over and

Hermione ordered two cappuccinos: As Harry was invisible, it would have looked odd to

order him one. A pair of burly workmen entered the café and squeezed into the next

booth. Hermione dropped her voice to a whisper.

 


 

 “I say we find a quiet place to Disapparate and head for the countryside. Once

we’re there, we could send a message to the Order.”

 

 “Can you do that talking Patronus thing, then?” asked Ron.

 

 “I’ve been practicing and I think so,” said Hermione.

 

 “Well, as long as it doesn’t get them into trouble, though they might’ve been

arrested already. God, that’s revolting,” Ron added after one sip of the foamy, grayish

coffee. The waitress had heard; she shot Ron a nasty look as she shuffled off to take the

new customers’ orders. The larger of the two workmen, who was blond and quite huge,

now that Harry came to look at him, waved her away. She stared, affronted.

 

 “Let’s get going, then, I don’t want to drink this muck,” said Ron. “Hermione,

have you got Muggle money to pay for this?”

 

 “Yes, I took out all my Building Society savings before I came to the Burrow. I’ll

bet all the change is at the bottom,” sighed Hermione, reaching for her beaded bag.

 

 The two workmen made identical movements, and Harry mirrored them without

conscious thought: All three of them drew their wands. Ron, a few seconds late in

realizing what was going on, lunged across the table, pushing Hermione sideways onto

her bench. The force of the Death Eaters’ spells shattered the tiled wall where Ron’s head

had just been, as Harry, still invisible, yelled, “Stupefy!”

 

 The great blond Death Eater was hit in the face by a jet of red light: He slumped

sideways, unconscious. His companion, unable to see who had cast the spell, fired

another at Ron: Shining black ropes flew from his wand-tip and bound Ron head to foot –

the waitress screamed and ran for the door – Harry sent another Stunning Spell at the

Death Eater with the twisted face who had tied up Ron, but the spell missed, rebounded

on the window, and hit the waitress, who collapsed in front of the door.

 

 “Expulso!” bellowed the Death Eater, and the table behind which Harry was

standing blew up: The force of the explosion slammed him into the wall and he felt his

wand leave his hand as the Cloak slipped off him.

 

 “Petrificus Totalus!” screamed Hermione from out of sight, and the Death Eater

fell forward like a statue to land with a crunching thud on the mess of broken china, table,

and coffee. Hermione crawled out from underneath the bench, shaking bits of glass

ashtray out of her hair and trembling all over.

 

 “D-diffindo,” she said, pointing her wand at Ron, who roared in pain as she

slashed open the knee of his jeans, leaving a deep cut. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Ron, my hand’s

shaking! Diffindo!”

 

 The severed ropes fell away. Ron got to his feet, shaking his arms to regain

feeling in them. Harry picked up his wand and climbed over all the debris to where the

large blond Death Eater was sprawled across the bench.

 

 “I should’ve recognized him, he was there the night Dumbledore died,” he said.

He turned over the darker Death Eater with his foot; the man’s eyes moved rapidly

between Harry, Ron and Hermione.

 

 “That’s Dolohov,” said Ron. “I recognize him from the old wanted posters. I think

the big one’s Thorfinn Rowle.”

 

 “Never mind what they’re called!” said Hermione a little hysterically. “How did

they find us? What are we going to do?”

 

 Somehow her panic seemed to clear Harry’s head.

 

 “Lock the door,” he told her, “and Ron, turn out the lights.”

 


 

 He looked down at the paralyzed Dolohov, thinking fast as the lock clicked and

Ron used the Deluminator to plunge the café into darkness. Harry could hear the men

who had jeered at Hermione earlier, yelling at another girl in the distance.

 

 “What are we going to do with them?” Ron whispered to Harry through the dark;

then, even more quietly, “Kill them? They’d kill us. They had a good go just now.”

 

 Hermione shuddered and took a step backward. Harry shook his head.

 

 “We just need to wipe their memories,” said Harry. “It’s better like that, it’ll

throw them off the scent. If we killed them it’d be obvious we were here.”

 

 “You’re the boss,” said Ron, sounding profoundly relieved. “But I’ve never down

a Memory Charm.”

 

 “Nor have I,” said Hermione, “but I know the theory.”

 

 She took a deep, calming breath, then pointed her wand at Dolohov’s forehead

and said, “Obliviate.”

 

 At once, Dolohov’s eyes became unfocused and dreamy.

 

 “Brilliant!” said Harry, clapping her on the back. “Take care of the other one and

the waitress while Ron and I clear up.”

“Clear up?” said Ron, looking around at the partly destroyed café. “Why?”

 

 “Don’t you think they might wonder what’s happened if they wake up and find

themselves in a place that looks like it’s just been bombed?”

 

 “Oh right, yeah . . .”

 

 Ron struggled for a moment before managing to extract his wand from his pocket.

 

 “It’s no wonder I can’t get it out, Hermione, you packed my old jeans, they’re

tight.”

 

 “Oh, I’m so sorry,” hissed Hermione, and as she dragged the waitress out of sight

of the windows, Harry heard her mutter a suggestion as to where Ron could stick his

wand instead.

 

 Once the café was restored to its previous condition, they heaved the Death Eaters

back into their booth and propped them up facing each other. “But how did they find us?”

Hermione asked, looking from one inert man to the other. “How did they know where we

were?”

 

 She turned to Harry.

 

 “You – you don’t think you’ve still got your Trace on you, do you, Harry?”

 

 “He can’t have,” said Ron. “The Trace breaks at seventeen, that’s Wizarding law,

you can’t put it on an adult.”

 

 “As far as you know,” said Hermione. “What if the Death Eaters have found a

way to put it on a seventeen-year-old?”

 

 “But Harry hasn’t been near a Death Eater in the last twenty-four hours. Who’s

supposed to have put a Trace back on him?”

 

 Hermione did not reply. Harry felt contaminated, tainted: Was that really how the

Death Eaters had found them?

 

 “If I can’t use magic, and you can’t use magic near me, without us giving away

our position – “ he began.

 

 “We’re not splitting up!” said Hermione firmly.

 

 “We need a safe place to hide,” said Ron. “Give us time to think things through.”

 

 “Grimmauld Place,” said Harry.

 

 The other two gaped.

 


 

 “Don’t be silly, Harry, Snape can get in there!”

 

 “Ron’s dad said they’ve put up jinxes against him – and even if they haven’t

worked,” he pressed on as Hermione began to argue “so what? I swear, I’d like nothing

better than to meet Snape!”

 

 “But –“

 

 “Hermione, where else is there? It’s the best chance we’ve got. Snape’s only one

Death Eater. If I’ve still got the Trace on me, we’ll have whole crowds of them on us

wherever else we go.”

 

 She could not argue, though she looked as if she would have liked to. While she

unlocked the café door, Ron clicked the Deluminator to release the café’s light. Then, on

Harry’s count of three, they reversed the spells upon their three victims, and before the

waitress or either of the Death Eaters could do more than stir sleepily, Harry, Ron and

Hermione had turned on the spot and vanished into the compressing darkness once more.

 

 Seconds later Harry’s lungs expanded gratefully and he opened his eyes: They

were now standing in the middle of a familiar small and shabby square. Tall, dilapidated

houses looked down on them from every side. Number twelve was visible to them, for

they had been told of its existence by Dumbledore, its Secret-Keeper, and they rushed

toward it, checking every few yards that they were not being followed or observed. They

raced up the stone steps, and Harry tapped the front door once with his wand. They heard

a series of metallic clicks and the clatter of a chain, then the door swung open with a

creak and they hurried over the threshold.

 

 As Harry closed the door behind them, the old-fashioned gas lamps sprang into

life, casting flickering light along the length of the hallway. It looked just as Harry

remembered it: eerie, cobwebbed, the outlines of the house-elf heads on the wall

throwing odd shadows up the staircase. Long dark curtains concealed the portrait of

Sirius’s mother. The only thing that was out of place was the troll’s leg umbrella stand,

which was lying on its side as if Tonks had just knocked it over again.

 

 “I think somebody’s been in here,” Hermione whispered, pointing toward it.

 

 “That could’ve happened as the Order left,” Ron murmured back.

 

 “So where are these jinxes they put up against Snape?” Harry asked.

 

 “Maybe they’re only activated if he shows up?” suggested Ron.

 

 Yet they remained close together on the doormat, backs against the door, scared

to move farther into the house.

 

 “Well, we can’t stay here forever,” said Harry, and he took a step forward.

 

 “Severus Snape?”

 

 Mad-Eye Moody’s voice whispered out of the darkness, making all three of them

jump back in fright. “We’re not Snape!” croaked Harry, before something whooshed over

him like cold air and his tongue curled backward on itself, making it impossible to speak.

Before he had time to feel inside his mouth, however, his tongue had unraveled again.

 

 The other two seemed to have experienced the same unpleasant sensation. Ron

was making retching noises; Hermione stammered, “That m-must have b-been the TTongue-

Tying Curse Mad-Eye set up for Snape!”

 

 Gingerly Harry took another step forward. Something shifted in the shadows at

the end of the hall, and before any of them could say another word, a figure had risen up

out of the carpet, tall, dust-colored, and terrible; Hermione screamed and so did Mrs.

Black, her curtains flying open; the gray figure was gliding toward them, faster and faster,

 


 

its waist-length hair and beard streaming behind it, its face sunken, fleshless, with empty

eye sockets: Horribly familiar, dreadfully altered, it raised a wasted arm, pointing at

Harry.

 

 “No!” Harry shouted, and though he had raised his wand no spell occurred to him.

“No! It wasn’t us! We didn’t kill you –“

 

 On the word kill, the figure exploded in a great cloud of dust: Coughing, his eyes

watering, Harry looked around to see Hermione crouched on the floor by the door with

her arms over her head, and Ron, who was shaking from head to foot, patting her

clumsily on the shoulder and saying, “It’s all r-right. . . . It’s g-gone. . . .”

 

 Dust swirled around Harry like mist, catching the blue gaslight, as Mrs. Black

continued to scream.

 

 “Mudbloods, filth, stains of dishonor, taint of shame on the house of my fathers –“

 

 “SHUT UP!” Harry bellowed, directing his wand at her, and with a bang and a

burst of red sparks, the curtains swung shut again, silencing her.

 

 “That . . . that was . . . “ Hermione whimpered, as Ron helped her to her feet.

 

 “Yeah,” said Harry, “but it wasn’t really him, was it? Just something to scare

Snape.”

Had it worked, Harry wondered, or had Snape already blasted the horror-figure

aside as casually as he had killed the real Dumbledore? Nerves still tingling, he led the

other two up the hall, half-expecting some new terror to reveal itself, but nothing moved

except for a mouse skittering along the skirting board.

 

 “Before we go any farther, I think we’d better check,” whispered Hermione, and

she raised her wand and said, “Homenum revelio.”

 

 Nothing happened.

 

 “Well, you’ve just had a big shock,” said Ron kindly. “What was that supposed to

do?”

 

 “It did what I meant it to do!” said Hermione rather crossly. “That was a spell to

reveal human presence, and there’s nobody here except us!”

“And old Dusty,” said Ron, glancing at the patch of carpet from which the corpsefigure

had risen.

 

 “Let’s go up,” said Hermione with a frightened look at the same spot, and she led

the way up the creaking stairs to the drawing room on the first floor.

 

 Hermione waved her wand to ignite the old gas lamps, then, shivering slightly in

the drafty room, she perched on the sofa, her arms wrapped tightly around her. Ron

crossed to the window and moved the heavy velvet curtains aside an inch.

 

 “Can’t see anyone out there,” he reported. “And you’d think, if Harry still had a

Trace on him, they’d have followed us here. I know they can’t get in the house, but –

what’s up, Harry?”

 

 Harry had given a cry of pain: His scar had burned against as something flashed

across his mind like a bright light on water. He saw a large shadow and felt a fury that

was not his own pound through his body, violent and brief as an electric shock.

 

 “What did you see?” Ron asked, advancing on Harry. “Did you see him at my

place?”

 

 “No, I just felt anger – he’s really angry –“

 

 “But that could be at the Burrow,” said Ron loudly. “What else? Didn’t you see

anything? Was he cursing someone?”

 


 

 “No, I just felt anger – I couldn’t tell –“

 

 Harry felt badgered, confused, and Hermione did not help as she said in a

frightened voice, “Your scar, again? But what’s going on? I thought that connection had

closed!”

 

 “It did, for a while,” muttered Harry; his scar was still painful, which made it hard

to concentrate. “I – I think it’s started opening again whenever he loses control, that’s

how it used to –“

 

 “But then you’ve got to close your mind!” said Hermione shrilly. “Harry,

Dumbledore didn’t want you to use that connection, he wanted you to shut it down, that’s

why you were supposed to use Occlumency! Otherwise Voldemort can plant false images

in your mind, remember –“

 

 “Yeah, I do remember, thanks,” said Harry through gritted teeth; he did not need

Hermione to tell him that Voldemort had once used this selfsame connection between

them to lead him into a trap, nor that it had resulted in Sirius’s death. He wished that he

had not told them what he had seen and felt; it made Voldemort more threatening, as

though he were pressing against the window of the room, and still the pain in his scar was

building and he fought it: It was like resisting the urge to be sick.

 

 He turned his back on Ron and Hermione, pretending to examine the old tapestry

of the Black family tree on the wall. Then Hermione shrieked: Harry drew his wand again

and spun around to see a silver Patronus soar through the drawing room window and land

upon the floor in front of them, where it solidified into the weasel that spoke with the

voice of Ron’s father.

 

 “Family safe, do not reply, we are being watched.”

 

 The Patronus dissolved into nothingness. Ron let out a noise between a whimper

and a groan and dropped onto the sofa: Hermione joined him, gripping his arm.

 

 “They’re all right, they’re all right!” she whispered, and Ron half laughed and

hugged her.

 

 “Harry,” he said over Hermione’s shoulder, “I –“

 

 “It’s not a problem,” said Harry, sickened by the pain in his head. “It’s your

family, ‘course you were worried. I’d feel the same way.” He thought of Ginny. “I do feel

the same way.”

 

 The pain in his scar was reaching a peak, burning as it had back in the garden of

the Burrow. Faintly he heard Hermione say “I don’t want to be on my own. Could we use

the sleeping bags I’ve brought and camp in here tonight?”

 

 He heard Ron agree. He could not fight the pain much longer. He had to succumb.

 

 “Bathroom,” he muttered, and he left the room as fast as he could without running.

 

 He barely made it: Bolting the door behind him with trembling hands, he grasped

his pounding head and fell to the floor, then in an explosion of agony, he felt the rage that

did not belong to him possess his soul, saw a long room lit only by firelight, and the giant

blond Death Eater on the floor, screaming and writhing, and a slighter figure standing

over him, wand outstretched, while Harry spoke in a high, cold, merciless voice.

 

 “More, Rowle, or shall we end it and feed you to Nagini? Lord Voldemort is not

sure that he will forgive this time. . . . You called me back for this, to tell me that Harry

Potter has escaped again? Draco, give Rowle another taste of our displeasure. . . . Do it,

or feel my wrath yourself!”

 


 

 A log fell in the fire: Flames reared, their light darting across a terrified, pointed

white face – with a sense of emerging from deep water, Harry drew heaving breaths and

opened his eyes.

 

 He was spread-eagled on the cold black marble floor, his nose inches from one of

the silver serpent tails that supported the large bathtub. He sat up. Malfoy’s gaunt,

petrified face seemed burned on the inside of his eyes. Harry felt sickened by what he had

seen, by the use to which Draco was now being put by Voldemort.

 

 There was a sharp rap on the door, and Harry jumped as Hermione’s voice rang

out.

 

 “Harry, do you want your toothbrush? I’ve got it here.”

 

 “Yeah, great, thanks,” he said, fighting to keep his voice casual as he stood up to

let her in.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Kreacher’s Tale

 

Harry woke early next morning, wrapped in a sleeping bag on the drawing room

floor. A chink of sky was visible between the heavy curtains. It was the cool, clear blue

of watered ink, somewhere between night and dawn, and everything was quiet except for

Ron and Hermione’s slow, deep breathing. Harry glanced over at the dark shapes they

made on the floor beside him. Ron had had a fit of gallantry and insisted that Hermione

sleep on the cushions from the sofa, so that her silhouette was raised above his. Her arm

curved to the floor, her fingers inches from Ron’s. Harry wondered whether they had

fallen asleep holding hands. The idea made him feel strangely lonely.

 

 He looked up at the shadowy ceiling, the cobwebbed chandelier. Less than

twenty-four house ago, he had been standing in the sunlight at the entrance to the

marquee, waiting to show in wedding guests. It seemed a lifetime away. What was going

to happen now? He lay on the floor and he thought of the Horcruxes, of the daunting

complex mission Dumbledore had left him… Dumbledore…

 

 The grief that had possessed him since Dumbledore’s death felt different now.

The accusations he had heard from Muriel at the wedding seemed to have nested in his

brain like diseased things, infecting his memories of the wizard he had idolized. Could

Dumbledore have let such things happen? Had he been like Dudley, content to watch

neglect and abuse as long as it did not affect him? Could he have turned his back on a

sister who was being imprisoned and hidden?

 

 Harry thought of Godric’s Hollow, of graves Dumbledore had never mentioned

there; he thought of mysterious objects left without explanation in Dumbledore’s will,

and resentment swelled in the darkness. Why hadn’t Dumbledore told him? Why hadn’t

he explained? Had Dumbledore actually cared about Harry at all? Or had Harry been

nothing more than a tool to be polished and honed, but not trusted, never confided in?

 

 Harry could not stand lying there with nothing but bitter thoughts for company.

Desperate for something to do, for distraction, he slipped out of his sleeping bad, picked

up his wand, and crept out of the room. On the landing he whispered, “Lumos,” and

started to climb the stairs by wandlight.

 


 

 On the second landing was the bedroom in which he and Ron had slept last time

they had been here; he glanced into it. The wardrobe doors stood open and the bedclothes

had been ripped back. Harry remembered the overturned troll leg downstairs. Somebody

had searched the house since the Order had left. Snape? Or perhaps Mundungus, who had

pilfered plenty from this house both before and after Sirius died? Harry’s gaze wandered

to the portrait that sometimes contained Phineas Nigellus Black, Sirius’s great-great

grandfather, but it was empty, showing nothing but a stretch of muddy backdrop. Phineas

Nigellus was evidently spending the night in the headmaster’s study at Hogwarts.

 

 Harry continued up the stairs until he reached the topmost landing where there

were only two doors. The one facing him bore a nameplate reading Sirius. Harry had

never entered his godfather’s bedroom before. He pushed open the door, holding his

wand high to cast light as widely as possible. The room was spacious and must once have

been handsome. There was a large bed with a carved wooden headboard, a tall window

obscured by long velvet curtains and a chandelier thickly coated in dust with candle

scrubs still resting in its sockets, solid wax banging in frostlike drips. A fine film of dust

covered the pictures on the walls and the bed’s headboard; a spiders web stretched

between the chandelier and the top of the large wooden wardrobe, and as Harry moved

deeper into the room, he head a scurrying of disturbed mice.

 

 The teenage Sirius had plastered the walls with so many posters and pictures that

little of the wall’s silvery-gray silk was visible. Harry could only assume that Sirius’s

parents had been unable to remove the Permanent Sticking Charm that kept them on the

wall because he was sure they would not have appreciated their eldest son’s taste in

decoration. Sirius seemed to have long gone out of his way to annoy his parents. There

were several large Gryffindor banners, faded scarlet and gold just to underline his

difference from all the rest of the Slytherin family. There were many pictures of Muggle

motorcycles, and also (Harry had to admire Sirius’s nerve) several posters of bikini-clad

Muggle girls. Harry could tell that they were Muggles because they remained quite

stationary within their pictures, faded smiles and glazed eyes frozen on the paper. This

was in contrast the only Wizarding photograph on the walls which was a picture of four

Hogwarts students standing arm in arm, laughing at the camera.

 

 With a leap of pleasure, Harry recognized his father, his untidy black hair stuck

up at the back like Harry’s, and he too wore glasses. Beside him was Sirius, carelessly

handsome, his slightly arrogant face so much younger and happier than Harry had ever

seen it alive. To Sirius’s right stood Pettigrew, more than a head shorter, plump and

watery-eyed, flushed with pleasure at his inclusion in this coolest of gangs, with the

much-admired rebels that James and Sirius had been. On James’s left was Lupin, even

then a little shabby-looking, but he had the same air of delighted surprise at finding

himself liked and included or was it simply because Harry knew how it had been, that he

saw these things in the picture? He tried to take it from the wall; it was his now, after all,

Sirius had left him everything, but it would not budge. Sirius had taken no chances in

preventing his parents from redecorating his room.

 

 Harry looked around at the floor. The sky outside was growing brightest. A shaft

of light revealed bits of paper, books, and small objects scattered over the carpet.

Evidently Sirius’s bedroom had been reached too, although its contents seemed to have

been judged mostly, if not entirely, worthless. A few of the books had been shaken

roughly enough to part company with the covers and sundry pages littered the floor.

 


 

 Harry bent down, picked up a few of the pieces of paper, and examined them. He

recognized one as a part of an old edition of A History of Magic, by Bathilda Bagshot,

and another as belonging to a motorcycle maintenance manual. The third was

handwritten and crumpled. He smoothed it out.

 

 

 

 Dear Padfoot,

 

 Thank you, thank you, for Harry’s birthday present! It was his favorite by

far. One year old and already zooming along on a toy broomstick, he looked so pleased

with himself. I’m enclosing a picture so you can see. You know it only rises about two feet

off the ground but he nearly killed the cat and he smashed a horrible vase Petunia sent

me for Christmas (no complaints there). Of course James thought it was so funny, says

he’s going to be a great Quidditch player but we’ve had to pack away all the ornaments

and make sure we don’t take our eyes off him when he gets going.

 

 We had a very quiet birthday tea, just us and old Bathilda who has always been

sweet to us and who dotes on Garry. We were so sorry you couldn’t come, but the

Order’s got to come first, and Harry’s not old enough to know it’s his birthday anyway!

James is getting a bit frustrated shut up here, he tries not to show it but I can tell – also

Dumbledore’s still got his Invisibility Cloak, so no chance of little excursions. If you

could visit, it would cheer him up so much. Wormy was here last weekend. I thought he

seemed down, but that was probably the next about the McKinnons; I cried all evening

when I heard.

 

 Bathilda drops in most days, she’s a fascinating old thing with the most amazing

stories about Dumbledore. I’m not sure he’d be pleased if he knew! I don’t know how

much to believe, actually because it seems incredible that Dumbledore

 

 

 

 Harry’s extremities seemed to have gone numb. He stood quite still, holding the

miraculous paper in his nerveless fingers while inside him a kind of quiet eruptions sent

joy and grief thundering its equal measure through his veins. Lurching to the bed, he sat

down.

 

 He read the letter again, but could not take in any more meaning than he had done

the first time, and was reduced to staring at the handwriting itself. She had made her “g”s

the same way he did. He searched through the letter for every one of them, and each felt

like a friendly little wave glimpsed from behind a veil. The letter was an incredible

treasure, proof that Lily Potter had lived, really lived, that her warm hand had once

moved across this parchment, tracing ink into these letters, these words, words about him,

Harry, her son.

 

 Impatiently brushing away the wetness in his eyes, he reread the letter, this time

concentrating on the meaning. It was like listening to a half-remembered voice.

 

 They had a cat… perhaps it had perished, like his parents at Godric’s Hollow… or

else fled when there was nobody left to feed it… Sirius had bought him his first

broomstick… His parents had known Bathilda Bagshot; had Dumbledore introduced

them? Dumbledore’s still got his Invisibility Cloak… there was something funny there…

 

 Harry paused, pondering his mother’s words. Why had Dumbledore taken

James’s Invisibility Cloak? Harry distinctly remembered his headmaster telling him years

before, “I don’t need a cloak to become invisible” Perhaps some less gifted Order

 


 

member had needed its assistance, and Dumbledore had acted as a carrier? Harry passed

on…

 

 Wormy was here… Pettigrew, the traitor, had seemed “down” had he? Was he

aware that he was seeing James and Lily alive for the last time?

 

 And finally Bathilda again, who told incredible stories about Dumbledore. It

seems incredible that Dumbledore ---

 

 That Dumbledore what? But there were any number of things that would seem

incredible about Dumbledore; that he had once received bottom marks in a

Transfiguration test, for instance or had taken up goat charming like Aberforth…

 

 Harry got to his feet and scanned the floor: Perhaps the rest of the letter was here

somewhere. He seized papers, treating them in his eagerness, with as little consideration

as the original searcher, he pulled open drawers, shook out books, stood on a chair to run

his hand over the top of the wardrobe, and crawled under the bed and armchair.

 

 At last, lying facedown on the floor, he spotted what looked like a torn piece of

paper under the chest of drawers. When he pulled it out, it proved to be most of the

photograph that Lily had described in her letter. A black-haired baby was zooming in and

out of the picture on a tiny broom, roaring with laughter, and a pair of legs that must have

belonged to James was chasing after him. Harry tucked the photograph into his pocket

with Lily’s letter and continued to look for the second sheet.

 

 After another quarter of an hour, however he was forced to conclude that the rest

of his mother’s letter was gone. Had it simply been lost in the sixteen years that had

elapsed since it had been written, or had it been taken by whoever had searched the

room? Harry read the first sheet again, this time looking for clues as to what might have

made the second sheet valuable. His toy broomstick could hardly be considered

interesting to the Death Eaters… The only potentially useful thing he could see her was

possible information on Dumbledore. It seems incredible that Dumbledore – what?

 

 “Harry? Harry? Harry!”

 

“I’m here!” he called, “What’s happened?”

 

There was a clatter of footsteps outside the door, and Hermione burst inside.

 

“We woke up and didn’t know where you were!” she said breathlessly. She turned

and shouted over her shoulder, “Ron! I’ve found him”

 

Ron’s annoyed voice echoed distantly from several floors below.

 

“Good! Tell him from me he’s a git!”

 

“Harry don’t just disappear, please, we were terrified! Why did you come up here

anyway?” She gazed around the ransacked room. “What have you been doing?”

 

“Look what I’ve just found”

 

He held out his mother’s letter. Hermione took it out and read it while Harry

watched her. When she reached the end of the page she looked up at him.

 

“Oh Harry…”

“And there’s this too”

 

He handed her the torn photograph, and Hermione smiled at the baby zooming in

and out of sight on the toy broom.

 

“I’ve been looking for the rest of the letter,” Harry said, “but it’s not here.”

 

Hermione glanced around.

 

“Did you make all this mess, or was some of it done when you got here?”

 

“Someone had searched before me,” said Harry.

 


 

“I thought so. Every room I looked into on the way up had been disturbed. What

were they after, do you think?”

 

“Information on the Order, if it was Snape.”

 

“But you’d think he’d already have all he needed. I mean was in the Order, wasn’t

he?”

 

“Well then,” said Harry, keen to discuss his theory, “what about information on

Dumbledore? The second page of the letter, for instance. You know this Bathilda my

mum mentions, you know who she is?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Bathilda Bagshot, the author of –“

 

“A History of Magic,” said Hermione, looking interested. “So your parents knew

her? She was an incredible magic historian.”

 

“And she’s still alive,” said Harry, “and she lives in Godric’s Hollow. Ron’s

Auntie Muriel was talking about her at the wedding. She knew Dumbledore’s family too.

Be pretty interesting to talk to, wouldn’t she?” There was a little too much understanding

in the smile Hermione gave him for Harry’s liking. He took back the letter and the

photograph and tucked them inside the pouch around his neck, so as not to have to look at

her and give himself away. “I understand why you’d love to talk to her about your mum

and dad, and Dumbledore too,” said Hermione. “But that wouldn’t really help us in our

search for the Horcruxes, would it?” Harry did not answer, and she rushed on, “Harry, I

know you really want to go to Godric’s Hollow, but I’m scared. I’m scared at how easily

those Death Eaters found us yesterday. It just makes me feel more than ever that we

ought to avoid the place where your parents are buried, I’m sure they’d be expecting you

to visit it.”

 

“It’s not just that,” Harry said, still avoiding looking at her, “Muriel said stuff

about Dumbledore at the wedding. I want to know the truth…”

 

 He told Hermione everything that Muriel had told him. When he had finished,

Hermione said, “Of course, I can see why that’s upset you, Harry –“

 

 “I’m not upset,” he lied, “I’d just like to know whether or not it’s true or –“

 

 “Harry do you really think you’ll get the truth from a malicious old woman like

Muriel, or from Rita Skeeter? How can you believe them? You knew Dumbledore!”

 

 “I thought I did,” he muttered.

 

 “But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you!

Doge is right, how can you let these people tarnish your memories of Dumbledore?”

 

 He looked away, trying not to betray the resentment he felt. There it was again:

Choose what to believe. He wanted the truth. Why was everybody so determined that he

should not get it?

 

 “Shall we go down to the kitchen?” Hermione suggested after a little pause. “Find

something for breakfast?”

 

 He agreed, but grudgingly, and followed her out onto the landing and past the

second door that led off it. There were deep scratch marks in the paintwork below a small

sign that he had not noticed in the dark. He passed at the top of the stairs to read it. It was

a pompous little sign, neatly lettered by hand the sort of thing that Percy Weasley might

have stuck on his bedroom door.

 

 

 

Do Not Enter

 


 

Without the Express Permission of

 

Regulus Arcturus Black

 

 

 

Excitement trickled through Harry, but he was not immediately sure why. He read the

sign again. Hermione was already a flight of stairs below him.

 

 “Hermione,” he said, and he was surprised that his voice was so calm. “Come

back up here.”

 

 “What’s the matter?”

 

 “R.A.B. I think I’ve found him.”

 

 There was a gasp, and then Hermione ran back up the stairs.

 

 “In your mum’s letter? But I didn’t see –“

 

 Harry shook his head, pointing at Regulus’s sign. She read it, then clutched

Harry’s arm so tightly that he winced.

 

 “Sirius’s brother?” she whispered.

 

 “He was a Death Eater,” said Harry. “Sirius told me about him, he joined up when

he was really young and then got cold feet and tried to leave – so they killed him.”

 

 “That fits!” gasped Hermione. “If he was a Death Eater he had access to

Voldemort, and if he became disenchanted, then he would have wanted to bring

Voldemort down!”

 

 She released Harry, leaned over the banister, and screamed, “Ron! RON! Get up

here, quick!”

 

 Ron appeared, panting, a minute later, his wand ready in his hand.

 

 “What’s up? If it’s massive spiders again I want breakfast before I –“

 

 He frowned at the sign on Regulus’s door, in which Hermione was silently

pointing.

 

 “What? That was Sirius’s brother, wasn’t it? Regulus Arcturus … Regulus …

R.A.B.! The locket – you don’t reckon -- ?”

 

 “Let’s find out,” said Harry. He pushed the door: It was locked. Hermione pointed

her wand at the handle and said, “Alohamora.” There was a click, and the door swung

open.

 

 They moved over the threshold together, gazing around. Regulus’s bedroom was

slightly smaller than Sirius’s, though it had the same sense of former grandeur. Whereas

Sirius had sought to advertise his diffidence from the rest of the family, Regulus had

striven to emphasize the opposite. The Slytherin colors of emerald and silver were

everywhere, draping the bed, the walls, and the windows. The Black family crest was

painstakingly painted over the bed, along with its motto, TOUJOURS PUR. Beneath this

was a collection of yellow newspaper cuttings, all stuck together to make a ragged

collage. Hermione crossed the room to examine them.

 

 “They’re all about Voldemort,” she said. “Regulus seems to have been a fan for a

few years before he joined the Death Eaters …”

 

 A little puff of dust rose from the bedcovers as she sat down to read the clippings.

Harry, meanwhile, had noticed another photograph: a Hogwarts Quidditch team was

smiling and waving out of the frame. He moved closer and saw the snakes emblazoned

on their chests: Slytherins. Regulus was instantly recognizable as the boy sitting in the

middle of the front row: He had the same dark hair and slightly haughty look of his

brother, though he was smaller, slighter, and rather less handsome than Sirius had been.

 


 

 “He played Seeker,” said Harry.

 

“What?” said Hermione vaguely; she was still immersed in Voldemort’s press

clippings.

 

 “He’s sitting in the middle of the front row, that’s where the Seeker … Never

mind,” said Harry, realizing that nobody was listening. Ron was on his hands and knees,

searching under the wardrobe. Harry looked around the room for likely hiding places and

approached the desk. Yet again, somebody had searched before them. The drawers’

contents had been turned over recently, the dust disturbed, but there was nothing of value

there: old quills, out-of-date textbooks that bore evidence of being roughly handled, a

recently smashed ink bottle, its sticky residue covering the contents of the drawer.

 

 “There’s an easier way,” said Hermione, as Harry wiped his inky fingers on his

jeans. She raised her wand and said, “Accio Locket!”

 

 Nothing happened. Ron, who had been searching the folds of the faded curtains,

looked disappointed.

 

 “Is that it, then? It’s not here?”

 

 “Oh, it could still be here, but under counter-enchantments,” said Hermione.

“Charms to prevent it from being summoned magically, you know.”

 

 “Like Voldemort put on the stone basin in the cave,” said Harry, remembering

how he had been unable to Summon the fake locket.

 

 “How are we supposed to find it then?” asked Ron.

 

 “We search manually,” said Hermione.

 

 “That’s a good idea,” said Ron, rolling his eyes, and he resumed his examination

of the curtains.

 

 They combed every inch of the room for more than an hour, but were forced,

finally, to conclude that the locket was not there.

 

 The sun had risen now; its light dazzled them even through the grimy landing

windows.

 

 “It could be somewhere else in the house, though,” said Hermione in a rallying

tone as they walked back downstairs. As Harry and Ron had become more discouraged,

she seemed to have become more determined. “Whether he’d manage to destroy it or not,

he’d want to keep it hidden from Voldemort, wouldn’t he? Remember all those awful

things we had to get rid of when we were here last time? That clock that shot bolts at

everyone and those old robes that tried to strangle Ron; Regulus might have put them

there to protect the locket’s hiding place, even though we didn’t realize it at … at … “

 

 Harry and Ron looked at her. She was standing with one foot in midair, with the

dumbstruck look of one who had just been Obliviated: her eyes had even drifted out of

focus.

 

 “… at the time,” she finished in a whisper.

 

 “Something wrong?” asked Ron.

 

 “There was a locket.”

 

 “What?” said Harry and Ron together.

 

 “In the cabinet in the drawing room. Nobody could open it. And we … we … “

 

 Harry felt as though a brick had slid down through his chest into his stomach. He

remembered. He had even handled the thing as they passed it around, each trying in turn

to pry it open. It had been tossed into a sack of rubbish, along with the snuffbox of

Wartcap powder and the music box that had made everyone sleepy …”

 


 

 “Kreacher nicked loads of things back from us,” said Harry. It was the only

chance, the only slender hope left to them, and he was going to cling to it until forced to

let go. “He had a whole stash of stuff in his cupboard in the kitchen. C’mon.”

 

 He ran down the stairs taking two steps at a time, the other two thundering along

in his wake. They made so much noise that they woke the portrait of Sirius’s mother as

they passed through the hall.

 

 “Filth! Mudbloods! Scum!” she screamed after them as they dashed down into the

basement kitchen and slammed the door behind them. Harry ran the length of the room,

skidded to a halt at the door of Kreacher’s cupboard, and wrenched it open. There was the

nest of dirty old blankets in which the house-elf had once slept, but they were not longer

glittering with the trinkets Kreacher had salvaged. The only thing there was an old copy

of Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy. Refusing to believe his eyes, Harry

snatched up the blankets and shook them. A dead mouse fell out and rolled dismally

across the floor. Ron groaned as he threw himself into a kitchen chair; Hermione closed

her eyes.

 

 “It’s not over yet,” said Harry, and he raised his voice and called, “Kreacher!”

 

 There was a loud crack and the house elf that Harry had so reluctantly inherited

from Sirius appeared out of nowhere in front of the cold and empty fireplace: tiny, half

human-sized, his pale skin hanging off him in folds, white hair sprouting copiously from

his batlike ears. He was still wearing the filthy rag in which they had first met him, and

the contemptuous look he bent upon Harry showed that his attitude to his change of

ownership had altered no more than his outfit.

 

 “Master,” croaked Kreacher in his bullfrog’s voice, and he bowed low; muttering

to his knees, “back in my Mistress’s old house with the blood-traitor Weasley and the

Mudblood –“

 

 “I forbid you to call anyone ‘blood traitor’ or ‘Mudblood,’” growled Harry. He

would have found Kreacher, with his snoutlike nose and bloodshot eyes, a distinctively

unlovable object even if the elf had not betrayed Sirius to Voldemort.

 

 “I’ve got a question for you,” said Harry, his heart beating rather fast as he looked

down at the elf, “and I order you to answer it truthfully. Understand?”

 

 “Yes, Master,” said Kreacher, bowing low again. Harry saw his lips moving

soundlessly, undoubtedly framing the insults he was now forbidden to utter.

 

 “Two years ago,” said Harry, his heart now hammering against his ribs, “there

was a big gold locket in the drawing room upstairs. We threw it out. Did you steal it

back?”

 

 There was a moment’s silence, during which Kreacher straightened up to look

Harry full in the face. Then he said, “Yes.”

 

 “Where is it now?” asked Harry jubilantly as Ron and Hermione looked gleeful.

 

 Kreacher closed his eyes as though he could not bear to see their reactions to his

next word.

 

 “Gone.”

 

 “Gone?” echoed Harry, elation floating out of him, “What do you mean, it’s

gone?”

 

 The elf shivered. He swayed.

 

 “Kreacher,” said Harry fiercely, “I order you –“

 


 

 “Mundungus Fletcher,” croaked the elf, his eyes still tight shut. “Mundungus

Fletcher stole it all; Miss Bella’s and Miss Cissy’s pictures, my Mistress’s gloves, the

Order of Merlin, First Class, the goblets with the family crest, and – and – “

 

 Kreacher was gulping for air: His hollow chest was rising and falling rapidly, then

his eyes flew open and he uttered a bloodcurdling scream.

 

 “—and the locket, Master Regulus’s locket. Kreacher did wrong, Kreacher failed

in his orders!”

 

 Harry reacted instinctively: As Kreacher lunged for the poker standing in the grate,

he launched himself upon the elf, flattening him. Hermione’s scream mingled with

Kreacher’s but Harry bellowed louder than both of them: “Kreacher, I order you to stay

still!”

 

 He felt the elf freeze and released him. Kreacher lay flat on the cold stone floor,

tears gushing from his sagging eyes.

 

 “Harry, let him up!” Hermione whispered.

 

 “So he can beat himself up with the poker?” snorted Harry, kneeling beside the elf.

“I don’t think so. Right. Kreacher, I want the truth: How do you know Mundungus

Fletcher stole the locket?”

 

 “Kreacher saw him!” gasped the elf as tears poured over his snout and into his

mouth full of graying teeth. “Kreacher saw him coming out of Kreacher’s cupboard with

his hands full of Kreacher’s treasures. Kreacher told the sneak thief to stop, but

Mundungus Fletcher laughed and r-ran … “

 

 “You called the locket ‘Master Regulus’s,’” said Harry. “Why? Where did it

come from? What did Regulus have to do with it? Kreacher, sit up and tell me everything

you know about that locket, and everything Regulus had to do with it!”

 

 The elf sat up, curled into a ball, placed his wet face between his knees, and began

to rock backward and forward. When he spoke, his voice was muffled but quite distinct

in the silent, echoing kitchen.

 

 “Master Sirius ran away, good riddance, for he was a bad boy and broke my

Mistress’s heart with his lawless ways. But Master Regulus had proper order; he knew

what was due to the name of Black and the dignity of his pure blood. For years he talked

of the Dark Lord, who was going to bring the wizards out of hiding to rule the Muggles

and the Muggle-borns … and when he was sixteen years old, Master Regulus joined the

Dark Lord. So proud, so proud, so happy to serve …

 

 And one day, a year after he joined, Master Regulus came down to the kitchen to

see Kreacher. Master Regulus always liked Kreacher. And Master Regulus said … he

said …”

 

 The old elf rocked faster than ever.

 

 “… he said that the Dark Lord required an elf.”

 

 “Voldemort needed an elf?” Harry repeated, looking around at Ron and Hermione,

who looked just as puzzled as he did.

 

 “Oh yes,” moaned Kreacher. “And Master Regulus had volunteered Kreacher. It

was an honor, said Master Regulus, an honor for him and for Kreacher, who must be sure

to do whatever the Dark Lord ordered him to do … and then to c-come home.”

 

 Kreacher rocked still faster, his breath coming in sobs.

 


 

 “So Kreacher went to the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord did not tell Kreacher what

they were to do, but took Kreacher with him to a cave beside the sea. And beyond the

cave was a cavern, and in the cavern was a great black lake … “

 

 The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood up. Kreacher’s croaking voice

seemed to come to him from across the dark water. He saw what had happened as clearly

as though he had been present.

 

 “… There was a boat …”

 

 Of course there had been a boat; Harry knew the boat, ghostly green and tiny,

bewitched so as to carry one wizard and one victim toward the island in the center. This,

then, was how Voldemort had tested the defenses surrounding the Horcrux, by borrowing

a disposable creature, a house-elf…

 

 “There was a b-basin full of potion on the island. The D-Dark Lord made

Kreacher drink it …”

 

 The elf quaked from head to foot.

 

 “Kreacher drank, and as he drank he saw terrible thing … Kreacher’s insides

burned … Kreacher cried for Master Regulus to save him, he cried for his Mistress Black,

but the Dark Lord only laughed … He made Kreacher drink all the potion … He dropped

a locket into the empty basin … He filled it with more potion.”

 

 “And then the Dark Lord sailed away, leaving Kreacher on the island … “

 

 Harry could see it happening. He watched Voldemort’s white, snakelike face

vanishing into darkness, those red eyes fixed pitilessly on the thrashing elf whose death

would occur within minutes, whenever he succumbed to the desperate thirst that the

burning poison caused its victim … But here, Harry’s imagination could go no further,

for he could not see how Kreacher had escaped.

 

 “Kreacher needed water, he crawled to the island’s edge and he drank from the

black lake … and hands, dead hands, came out of the water and dragged Kreacher under

the surface … “

 

 “How did you get away?” Harry asked, and he was not surprised to hear himself

whispering.

 

 Kreacher raised his ugly head and looked Harry with his great, bloodshot eyes.

 

 “Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,” he said.

 

 “I know – but how did you escape the Inferi?”

 

 Kreacher did not seem to understand.

 

 “Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,” he repeated.

 

 “I know, but – “

 

 “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it, Harry?” said Ron. “He Disapparated!”

 

 “But … you couldn’t Apparate in and out of that cave,” said Harry, “otherwise

Dumbledore – “

 

 “Elf magic isn’t like wizard’s magic, is it?” said Ron, “I mean, they can Apparate

and Disapparate in and out of Hogwarts when we can’t.”

 

 There was a silence as Harry digested this. How could Voldemort have made such

a mistake? But even as he thought this, Hermione spoke, and her voice was icy.

 

 “Of course, Voldemort would have considered the ways of house-elves far

beneath his notice … It would never have occurred to him that they might have magic

that he didn’t.”

 


 

 “The house-elf’s highest law is his Master’s bidding,” intoned Kreacher.

“Kreacher was told to come home, so Kreacher came home … “

 

 “Well, then, you did what you were told, didn’t you?” said Hermione kindly.

“You didn’t disobey orders at all!”

 

 Kreacher shook his head, rocking as fast as ever.

 

 “So what happened when you got back?” Harry asked. “What did Regulus say

when you told him what happened?”

 

 “Master Regulus was very worried, very worried,” croaked Kreacher. “Master

Regulus told Kreacher to stay hidden and not to leave the house. And then … it was a

little while later … Master Regulus came to find Kreacher in his cupboard one night, and

Master Regulus was strange, not as he usually was, disturbed in his mind, Kreacher could

tell … and he asked Kreacher to take him to the cave, the cave where Kreacher had gone

with the Dark Lord … “

 

 And so they had set off. Harry could visualize them quite clearly, the frightened

old elf and the thin, dark Seeker who had so resembled Sirius … Kreacher knew how to

open the concealed entrance to the underground cavern, knew how to raise the tiny boat:

this time it was his beloved Regulus who sailed with him to the island with its basin of

poison …

 

 “And he made you drink the poison?” said Harry, disgusted.

 

 But Kreacher shook his head and wept. Hermione’s hands leapt to her mouth: She

seemed to have understood something.

 

 “M-Master Regulus took from his pocket a locket like the one the Dark Lord

had,” said Kreacher, tears pouring down either side of his snoutlike nose. “And he told

Kreacher to take it and, when the basin was empty, to switch the lockets …”

 

 Kreacher’s sobs came in great rasps now; Harry had to concentrate hard to

understand him.

 

 “And he order – Kreacher to leave – without him. And he told Kreacher – to go

home – and never to tell my Mistress – what he had done – but to destroy – the first

locket. And he drank – all the potion – and Kreacher swapped the lockets – and watched

… as Master Regulus … was dragged beneath the water … and … “

 

 “Oh, Kreacher!” wailed Hermione, who was crying. She dropped to her knees

beside the elf and tried to hug him. At once he was on his feet, cringing away from her,

quite obviously repulsed.

 

 “The Mudblood touched Kreacher, he will not allow it, what would his Mistress

say?”

 

 “I told you not to call her ‘Mudblood’!” snarled Harry, but the elf was already

punishing himself. He fell to the ground and banged his forehead on the floor.

 

 “Stop him – stop him!” Hermione cried. “Oh, don’t you see now how sick it is,

the way they’ve got to obey?”

 

 “Kreacher – stop, stop!” shouted Harry.

 

 The elf lay on the floor, panting and shivering, green mucus glistening around his

snot, a bruise already blooming on his pallid forehead where he had struck himself, his

eyes swollen and bloodshot and swimming in tears. Harry had never seen anything so

pitiful.

 

 “So you brought the locket home,” he said relentlessly, for he was determined to

know the full story. “And you tried to destroy it?”

 


 

 “Nothing Kreacher did made any mark upon it,” moaned the elf. “Kreacher tried

everything, everything he knew, but nothing, nothing would work … So many powerful

spells upon the casing, Kreacher was sure the way to destroy it was to get inside it, but it

would not open … Kreacher punished himself, he tried again, he punished himself, he

tried again. Kreacher failed to obey orders, Kreacher could not destroy the locket! And

his mistress was mad with grief, because Master Regulus had disappeared and Kreacher

could not tell her what had happened, no, because Master Regulus had f-f-forbidden him

to tell any of the f-f-family what happened in the c-cave …”

 

 Kreacher began to sob so hard that there were no more coherent words. Tears

flowed down Hermione’s cheeks as she watched Kreacher, but she did not dare touch

him again. Even Ron, who was no fan of Kreacher’s, looked troubled. Harry sat back on

his heels and shook his head, trying to clear it.

 

 “I don’t understand you, Kreacher,” he said finally. “Voldemort tried to kill you,

Regulus died to bring Voldemort down, but you were still happy to betray Sirius to

Voldemort? You were happy to go to Narcissa and Bellatrix, and pass information to

Voldemort through them … “

 

 “Harry, Kreacher doesn’t think like that,” said Hermione, wiping her eyes on the

back of her hand. “He’s a slave; house-elves are used to bad, even brutal treatment; what

Voldemort did to Kreacher wasn’t that far out of the common way. What do wizard wars

mean to an elf like Kreacher? He’s loyal to people who are kind to him, and Mrs. Black

must have been, and Regulus certainly was, so he served them willingly and parroted

their beliefs. I know what you’re going to say,” she went on as Harry began to protest,

“that Regulus changed his mind … but he doesn’t seem to have explained that to

Kreacher, does he?” And I think I know why. Kreacher and Regulus’s family were all

safest if they kept to the old pure-blood line. Regulus was trying to protect them all.”

 

 “Sirius – “

 

 “Sirius was horrible to Kreacher, Harry, and it’s no good looking like that, you

know it’s true. Kreacher had been alone for such a long time when Sirius came to live

here, and he was probably starving for a bit of affection. I’m sure ‘Miss Cissy’ and ‘Miss

Bella’ were perfectly lovely to Kreacher when he turned up, so he did them a favor and

told them everything they wanted to know. I’ve said all along that wizards would pay for

how they treat house-elves. Well, Voldemort did … and so did Sirius.”

 

 Harry had no retort. As he watched Kreacher sobbing on the floor, he

remembered what Dumbledore had said to him, mere hours after Sirius’s death: I do not

think Sirius ever saw Kreacher as a being with feelings as acute as a human’s …

 

 “Kreacher,” said Harry after a while, “when you feel up to it, er … please sit up.”

 

 It was several minutes before Kreacher hiccupped himself into silence. Then he

pushed himself into a sitting position again, rubbing his knuckles into his eyes like a

small child.

 

 “Kreacher, I am going to ask you to do something,” said Harry. He glanced at

Hermione for assistance. He wanted to give the order kindly, but at the same time, he

could not pretend that it was not an order. However, the change in his tone seemed to

have gained her approval: She smiled encouragingly.

 

 “Kreacher, I want you, please, to go and find Mundungus Fletcher. We need to

find out where the locket – where Master Regulus’s locket it. It’s really important. We

 


 

want to finish the work Master Regulus started, we want to – er – ensure that he didn’t

die in vain.”

 

 Kreacher dropped his fists and looked up at Harry.

 

 “Find Mundungus Fletcher?” he croaked.

 

 And bring him here, to Grimmauld Place,” said Harry. “Do you think you could

do that for us?”

 

 As Kreacher nodded and got to his feet, Harry had a sudden inspiration. He pulled

out Hagrid’s purse and took out the fake Horcrux, the substitute locket in which Regulus

had placed the note to Voldemort.

 

 “Kreacher, I’d, er, like you to have this,” he said, pressing the locket into the elf’s

hand. “This belonged to Regulus and I’m sure he’d want you to have it as a token of

gratitude for what you—“

 

 “Overkill, mate,” said Ron as the elf took one look at the locket, let out a howl of

shock and misery, and threw himself back onto the ground.

 

 It took them nearly half an hour to calm down Kreacher, who was so overcome to

be presented with a Black family heirloom for his very own that he was too weak at the

knees to stand properly. When finally he was able to totter a few steps they all

accompanied him to his cupboard, watched him tuck up the locket safely in his dirty

blankets, and assured him that they would make its protection their first priority while he

was away. He then made two low bows to Harry and Ron, and even gave a funny little

spasm in Hermione’s direction that might have been an attempt at a respectful salute,

before Disapparating with the usual loud crack.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Bribe

 

 

 

If Kreacher could escape a lake full of Inferi, Harry was confident that the capture

of Mundungus would take a few hours at most, and he prowled the house all morning in a

state of high anticipation. However, Kreacher did not return that morning or even that

afternoon. By nightfall, Harry felt discouraged and anxious, and a supper composed

largely of moldy bread, upon which Hermione had tried a variety of unsuccessful

Transfigurations, did nothing to help.

 

Kreacher did not return the following day, nor the day after that. However, two

cloaked men had appeared in the square outside number twelve, and they remained there

into the night, gazing in the direction of the house that they could not see.

 

“Death Eaters, for sure,” said Ron, as he, Harry, and Hermione watched from the

drawing room windows. “Reckon they know we’re in here?”

 

“I don’t think so,” said Hermione, though she looked frightened, “or they’d have

sent Snape in after us, wouldn’t they?”

 

“D’you reckon he’s been in here and has his tongue tied by Moody’s curse?”

asked Ron.

 

“Yes,” said Hermione, “otherwise he’d have been able to tell that lot how to get in,

wouldn’t he? But they’re probably watching to see whether we turn up. They know that

Harry owns the house, after all.”

 


 

“How do they --?” began Harry.

 

“Wizarding wills are examined by the Ministry, remember? They’ll know Sirius

left you the place.”

 

The presence of the Death Eaters outside increased the ominous mood inside

number twelve. They had not heard a word form anyone beyond Grimmauld Place since

Mr. Weasley’s Patronus, and the strain was starting to tell. Restless and irritable, Ron had

developed an annoying habit of playing with the Deluminator in his pocket; This

particularly infuriated Hermione, who was whiling away the wait for Kreacher by

studying The Tales of Beedle the Bard and did not appreciate the way the lights kept

flashing on and off.

 

“Will you stop it!” she cried on the third evening of Kreacher’s absence, as all the

light was sucked from the drawing room yet again.

 

“Sorry, sorry!” said Ron, clicking the Deluminator and restoring the lights. “I

don’t know I’m doing it!”

 

“Well, can’t you find something useful to occupy yourself?”

 

“What, like reading kids’ stories?”

 

“Dumbledore left me this book, Ron –”

 

“—and he left me the Deluminator, maybe I’m supposed to use it!”

 

Unable to stand the bickering, Harry slipped out of the room unnoticed by either

of them. He headed downstairs toward the kitchen, which he kept visiting because he was

sure that was where Kreacher was most likely to reappear. Halfway down the flight of

stairs into the hall, however, he heard a tap on the front door, then metallic clicks and the

grinding of the chain.

 

Every nerve in his body seemed to tauten: He pulled out his wand, moved into the

shadows beside the decapitated elf heads, and waited. The door opened: He saw a

glimpse of the lamplit square outside, and a cloaked figure edged into the hall and closed

the door behind it. The intruder took a step forward, and Moody’s voice asked, “Severus

Snape?” Then the dust figure rose from the end of the hall and rushed him, raising its

dead hand.

 

“It was not I who killed you, Albus,” said a quiet voice.

 

The jinx broke: The dust-figure exploded again, and it was impossible to make

out the newcomer through the dense gray cloud it left behind.

 

Harry pointed the wand into the middle of it.

 

“Don’t move!”

 

He had forgotten the portrait of Mrs. Black: At the sound of his yell, the curtains

hiding her flew open and she began to scream, “Mudbloods and filth dishonoring my

house –”

 

Ron and Hermione came crashing down the stairs behind Harry, wands pointing,

like his, at the unknown man now standing with his arms raised in the hall below.

 

“Hold your fire, it’s me, Remus!”

 

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Hermione weakly, pointing her wand at Mrs. Black

instead; with a bang, the curtains swished shut again and silence fell. Ron too lowered his

wand, but Harry did not.

 

“Show yourself!” he called back.

 

Lupin moved forward into the lamplight, hands still held high in a gesture of

surrender.

 


 

“I am Remus John Lupin, werewolf, sometimes known as Moony, one of the four

creators of the Marauder’s Map, married to Nymphadora, usually known as Tonks, and I

taught you how to produce a Patronus, Harry, which takes the form of a stag.”

 

“Oh, all right,” said Harry, lowering his wand, “but I had to check, didn’t I?”

 

“Speaking as your ex-Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, I quite agree that

you had to check. Ron, Hermione, you shouldn’t be so quick to lower your defenses.”

 

They ran down the stairs towards him. Wrapped in a thick black traveling cloak,

he looked exhausted, but pleased to see them.

 

“No sign of Severus, then?” he asked.

 

“No,” said Harry. “What’s going on? Is everyone okay?’

 

“Yes,” said Lupin, “but we’re all being watched. There are a couple of Death

Eaters in the square outside –”

 

“We know –”

 

“I had to Apparate very precisely onto the top step outside the front door to be

sure that they would not see me. They can’t know you’re in here or I’m sure they’d have

more people out there; they’re staking out everywhere that’s got any connection with you,

Harry. Let’s go downstairs, there’s a lot to tell you, and I want to know what happened

after you left the Burrow.”

 

They descended into the kitchen, where Hermione pointed her wand at the grate.

A fire sprang up instantly: It gave the illusion of coziness to the stark stone walls and

glistened off the long wooden table. Lupin pulled a few butterbeers from beneath his

traveling cloak and they sat down.

 

“I’d have been here three days ago but I needed to shake off the Death Eater

tailing me,” said Lupin. “So, you came straight here after the wedding?”

 

“No,” said Harry, “only after we ran into a couple of Death Eaters in a café on

Tottenham Court Road.”

 

Lupin slopped most of his butterbeer down his front.

 

“What?”

 

They explained what had happened; when they had finished, Lupin looked aghast.

 

“But how did they find you so quickly? It’s impossible to track anyone who

Apparates, unless you grab hold of them as they disappear.”

 

“And it doesn’t seem likely they were just strolling down Tottenham Court Road

at the time, does it?” said Harry.

 

“We wondered,” said Hermione tentatively, “whether Harry could still have the

Trace on him?”

 

“Impossible,” said Lupin. Ron looked smug, and Harry felt hugely relieved.

“Apart from anything else, they’d know for sure Harry was here if he still had the Trace

on him, wouldn’t they? But I can’t see how they could have tracked you to Tottenham

Court Road, that’s worrying, really worrying.”

 

He looked disturbed, but as far as Harry was concerned, that question could wait.

 

“Tell us what happened after we left, we haven’t heard a thing since Ron’s dad

told us the family was safe.”

 

“Well, Kingsley saved us,” said Lupin. “Thanks to his warning most of the

wedding guests were able to Disapparate before they arrived.”

 

“Were they Death Eaters or Ministry people?” interjected Hermione.

 


 

“A mixture; but to all intents and purposes they’re the same thing now,” said

Lupin. “There were about a dozen of them, but they didn’t know you were there, Harry.

Arthur heard a rumor that they tried to torture your whereabouts out of Scrimgeour before

they killed him; if it’s true, he didn’t give you away.”

 

Harry looked at Ron and Hermione; their expressions reflected the mingled shock

and gratitude he felt. He had never liked Scrimgeour much, but if what Lupin said was

true, the man’s final act had been to try to protect Harry.

 

“The Death Eaters searched the Burrow from top to bottom,” Lupin went on.

“They found the ghoul, but didn’t want to get too close – and then they interrogated those

of us who remained for hours. They were trying to get information on you, Harry, but of

course nobody apart from the Order knew that you had been there.

 

“At the same time that they were smashing up the wedding, more Death Eaters

were forcing their way into every Order-connected house in the country. No deaths,” he

added quickly, forestalling the question, “but they were rough. They burned down

Dedalus Diggle’s house, but as you know he wasn’t there, and they used the Cruciarus

Curse on Tonks’s family. Again, trying to find out where you went after you visited them.

They’re all right – shaken, obviously, but otherwise okay.”

 

“The Death Eaters got through all those protective charms?”

 

Harry asked, remembering how effective these had been on the night he had

crashed in Tonks’s parents’ garden.

 

“What you’ve got to realize, Harry, is that the Death Eaters have got the full

might of the Ministry on their side now,” said Lupin. “They’ve got the power to perform

brutal spells without fear of identification or arrest. They managed to penetrate every

defensive spell we’d cast against them, and once inside, they were completely open about

why they’d come.”

 

“And are they bothering to give an excuse for torturing Harry’s whereabouts out

of people?” asked Hermione, an edge to her voice.

 

“Well,” Lupin said. He hesitated, then pulled out a folded copy of the Daily

Prophet.

 

“Here,” he said, pushing it across the table to Harry, “you’ll know sooner or later

anyway. That’s their pretext for going after you.”

 

Harry smoothed out the paper. A huge photograph of his own face filled the front

page. He read the headline over it:

 

 

 

 WANTED FOR QUESTIONING ABOUT

 

 THE DEATH OF ALBUS DUMBLEDORE

 

 

 

Ron and Hermione gave roars of outrage, but Harry said nothing. He pushed the

newspaper away; he did not want to read anymore: He knew what it would say. Nobody

but those who had been on top of the tower when Dumbledore died knew who had really

killed him and, as Rita Skeeter had already told the Wizarding world, Harry had been

seen running from the place moments after Dumbledore had fallen.

 

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Lupin said.

 

“So Death Eaters have taken over the Daily Prophet too?” asked Hermione

furiously.

 

Lupin nodded.

 


 

“But surely people realize what’s going on?”

 

“The coup has been smooth and virtually silent,” said Lupin.

 

“The official version of Scrimgeour’s murder is that he resigned; he has been

replaced by Pius Thicknesse, who is under the Imperius Curse.”

 

“Why didn’t Voldemort declare himself Minister of Magic?” asked Ron.

 

Lupin laughed.

 

“He doesn’t need to, Ron. Effectively, he is the Minister, but why should he sit

behind a desk at the Ministry? His puppet, Thicknesse, is taking care of everyday

business, leaving Voldemort free to extend his power beyond the Ministry.

 

“Naturally many people have deduced what has happened: There has been such a

dramatic change in Ministry policy in the last few days, and many are whispering that

Voldemort must be behind it. However, that is the point: They whisper. They daren’t

confide in each other, not knowing whom to trust; they are scared to speak out, in case

their suspicions are true and their families are targeted. Yes, Voldemort is playing a very

clever game. Declaring himself might have provoked open rebellion: Remaining masked

has created confusion, uncertainty, and fear.”

 

“And this dramatic change in Ministry policy,” said Harry, “involves warning the

Wizarding world against me instead of Voldemort?”

 

“That’s certainly a part of it,” said Lupin, “and it is a masterstroke. Now that

Dumbledore is dead, you – the Boy Who Lived – were sure to be the symbol and rallying

point for any resistance to Voldemort. But by suggesting that you had a hand in the old

hat’s death, Voldemort has not only set a price upon your head, but sown doubt and fear

amongst many who would have defended you.

 

“Meanwhile, the Ministry has started moving against Muggle-borns.”

 

Lupin pointed at the Daily Prophet.

 

“Look at page two.”

 

Hermione turned the pages with much the same expression of distaste she had

when handling Secrets of the Darkest Art.

 

“Muggle-born Register!” she read aloud. “‘The Ministry of Magic is undertaking

a survey of so-called “Muggle-borns” the better to understand how they came to possess

magical secrets.

 

“‘Recent research undertaken by the Department of Mysteries reveals that magic

can only be passed from person to person when Wizards reproduce. Where no proven

Wizarding ancestry exists, therefore, the so-called Muggle-born is likely to have obtained

magical power by theft or force.

 

“‘The Ministry is determined to root out such usurpers of magical power, and to

this end has issued an invitation to every so-called Muggle-born to present themselves for

interview by the newly appointed Muggle-born Registration Commission.’”

 

“People won’t let this happen,” said Ron.

 

“It is happening, Ron,” said Lupin. “Muggle-borns are being rounded up as we

speak.”

 

“But how are they supposed to have ‘stolen’ magic?” said Ron. “It’s mental, if

you could steal magic there wouldn’t be any Squibs, would there?”

 

“I know,” said Lupin. “Nevertheless, unless you can prove that you have at least

one close Wizarding relative, you are now deemed to have obtained your magical power

illegally and must suffer the punishment.”

 


 

Ron glanced at Hermione, then said, “What if purebloods and halfbloods swear a

Muggle-born’s part of their family? I’ll tell everyone Hermione’s my cousin –”

 

Hermione covered Ron’s hand with hers and squeezed it.

 

“Thank you, Ron, but I couldn’t let you –”

 

“You won’t have a choice,” said Ron fiercely, gripping her hand back. “I’ll teach

you my family tree so you can answer questions on it.”

 

Hermione gave a shaky laugh.

 

“Ron, as we’re on the run with Harry Potter, the most wanted person in the

country, I don’t think it matters. If I was going back to school it would be different.

What’s Voldemort planning for Hogwarts?” she asked Lupin.

 

“Attendance is now compulsory for every young witch and wizard,” he replied.

“That was announced yesterday. It’s a change, because it was never obligatory before. Of

course, nearly every witch and wizard in Britain has been educated at Hogwarts, but their

parents had the right to teach them at home or send them abroad if they preferred. This

way, Voldemort will have the whole Wizarding population under his eye from a young

age. And it’s also another way of weeding out Muggle-borns, because students must be

given Blood Status – meaning that they have proven to the Ministry that they are of

Wizard descent – before they are allowed to attend.”

 

Harry felt sickened and angry: At this moment, excited eleven-year-olds would be

poring over stacks of newly purchased spell-books, unaware that they would never see

Hogwarts, perhaps never see their families again either.

 

“It’s . . . it’s . . .” he muttered, struggling to find words that did justice to the

horror of his thoughts, but Lupin said quietly,

 

“I know.”

 

Lupin hesitated.

 

I’ll understand if you can’t confirm this, Harry, but the Order is under the

impression that Dumbledore left you a mission.”

 

“He did,” Harry replied, “and Ron and Hermione are in on it and they’re coming

with me.”

 

“Can you confide in me what the mission is?”

 

Harry looked into the prematurely lined face, framed in thick but graying hair,

and wished that he could return a different answer.

 

“I can’t, Remus, I’m sorry. If Dumbledore didn’t tell you I don’t think I can.”

 

“I thought you’d say that,” said Lupin, looking disappointed. “But I might still be

of some use to you. You know what I am and what I can do. I could come with you to

provide protection. There would be no need to tell me exactly what you were up to.”

 

Harry hesitated. It was a very tempting offer, though how they would be able to

keep their mission secret from Lupin if he were with them all the time he could not

imagine.

 

Hermione, however, looked puzzled.

 

“But what about Tonks?” she asked.

 

“What about her?” said Lupin.

 

“Well,” said Hermione, frowning, “you’re married! How does she feel about you

going away with us?”

 

“Tonks will be perfectly safe,” said Lupin, “She’ll be at her parents’ house.”

 


 

There was something strange in Lupin’s tone, it was almost cold. There was also

something odd in the idea of Tonks remaining hidden at her parents’ house; she was, after

all, a member of the Order and, as far as Harry knew, was likely to want to be in the thick

of the action.

 

“Remus,” said Hermione tentatively, “is everything all right . . . you know . . .

between you and – ”

 

“Everything is fine, thank you,” said Lupin pointedly.

 

Hermione turned pink. There was another pause, an awkward and embarrassed

one, and then Lupin said, with an air of forcing himself to admit something unpleasant,

“Tonks is going to have a baby.”

 

“Oh, how wonderful!” squealed Hermione.

 

“Excellent!” said Ron enthusiastically.

 

“Congratulations,” said Harry.

 

Lupin gave an artificial smile that was more like a grimace, then said, “So . . . do

you accept my offer? Will three become four? I cannot believe that Dumbledore would

have disapproved, he appointed me your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, after all.

And I must tell you that I believe we are facing magic many of us have never

encountered or imagined.”

 

Ron and Hermione both looked at Harry.

 

“Just – just to be clear,” he said. “You want to leave Tonks at her parents’ house

and come away with us?”

 

“She’ll be perfectly safe there, they’ll look after her,” said Lupin. He spoke with a

finality bordering on indifference: “Harry, I’m sure James would have wanted me to stick

with you.”

 

“Well,” said Harry slowly, “I’m not. I’m pretty sure my father would have wanted

to know why you aren’t sticking with your own kid, actually.”

 

Lupin’s face drained of color. The temperature in the kitchen might have dropped

ten degrees. Ron stared around the room as though he had been bidden to memorize it,

while Hermione’s eyes swiveled backward and forward from Harry to Lupin.

 

“You don’t understand,” said Lupin at last.

 

“Explain, then,” said Harry.

 

Lupin swallowed.

 

“I – I made a grave mistake in marrying Tonks. I did it against my better

judgment and have regretted it very much every since.”

 

“I see,” said Harry, “so you’re just going to dump her and the kid and run off with

us?”

 

Lupin sprang to his feet: His chair toppled over backward, and he glared at them

so fiercely that Harry saw, for the first time ever, she shadow of the wolf upon his human

face.

 

“Don’t you understand what I’ve done to my wife and my unborn child? I should

never have married her, I’ve made her an outcast!”

 

Lupin kicked aside the chair he had overturned.

 

“You have only ever seen me amongst the Order, or under Dumbledore’s

protection at Hogwarts! You don’t know how most of the Wizarding world sees creatures

like me! When they know of my affliction, they can barely talk to me! Don’t you see

what I’ve done?

 


 

Even her own family is disgusted by our marriage, what parents want their only

daughter to marry a werewolf? And the child – the child – ”

 

Lupin actually seized handfuls of his own hair; he looked quite deranged.

 

“My kind don’t usually breed! It will be like me, I am convinced of it – how can I

forgive myself, when I knowingly risked passing on my own condition to an innocent

child? And if, by some miracle, it is not like me, then it will be better off, a hundred times

so, without a father of whom it must always be ashamed!”

 

“Remus!” whispered Hermione, tears in her eyes. “Don’t say that – how could

any child be ashamed of you?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know, Hermione,” said Harry. “I’d be pretty ashamed of him.”

 

Harry did not know where his rage was coming from, but it had propelled him to

his feet too. Lupin looked as though Harry had hit him.

 

“If the new regime thinks Muggle-borns are bad,” Harry said, “what will they do

to a half-werewolf whose father’s in the Order? My father died trying to protect my

mother and me, and you reckon he’d tell you to abandon your kid to go on an adventure

with us?”

 

“How – how dare you?” said Lupin. “This is not about a desire for – for danger or

personal glory – how dare you suggest such a – ”

 

“I think you’re feeling a bit of a daredevil,” Harry said, “You fancy stepping into

Sirius’s shoes –”

 

“Harry, no!” Hermione begged him, but he continued to glare into Lupin’s livid

face.

 

“I’d never have believed this,” Harry said. “The man who taught me to fight

dementors – a coward.”

 

Lupin drew his wand so fast that Harry had barely reached for his own; there was

a loud bang and he felt himself flying backward as if punched; as he slammed into the

kitchen wall and slid to the floor, he glimpsed the tail of Lupin’s cloak disappearing

around the door.

 

“Remus, Remus, come back!” Hermione cried, but Lupin did not respond. A

moment later they heard the front door slam.

 

“Harry!” wailed Hermione. “How could you?”

 

“It was easy,” said Harry. He stood up, he could feel a lump swelling where his

head had hit the wall. He was still so full of anger he was shaking.

 

“Don’t look at me like that!” he snapped at Hermione.

 

“Don’t you start on her!” snarled Ron.

 

“No – no – we mustn’t fight!” said Hermione, launching herself between them.

 

“You shouldn’t have said that stuff to Lupin,” Ron told Harry.

 

“He had it coming to him,” said Harry. Broken images were racing each other

through his mind: Sirius falling through the veil; Dumbledore suspended, broken, in

midair; a flash of green light and his mother’s voice, begging for mercy . . .

 

“Parents,” said Harry, “shouldn’t leave their kids unless – unless they’ve got to.”

 

“Harry –“ said Hermione, stretching out a consoling hand, but he shrugged it off

and walked away, his eyes on the fire Hermione had conjured. He had once spoken to

Lupin out of that fireplace, seeking reassurance about James, and Lupin had consoled

him. Now Lupin’s tortured white face seemed to swim in the air before him. He felt a

 


 

sickening surge of remorse. Neither Ron nor Hermione spoke, but Harry felt sure that

they were looking at each other behind his back, communicating silently.

 

He turned around and caught them turning hurriedly away form each other.

 

“I know I shouldn’t have called him a coward.”

 

“No, you shouldn’t,” said Ron at once.

 

“But he’s acting like one.”

 

“All the same . . .” said Hermione.

 

“I know,” said Harry. “But if it makes him go back to Tonks, it’ll be worth it,

won’t it?”

 

He could not keep the plea out of his voice. Hermione looked sympathetic, Ron

uncertain. Harry looked down at his feet, thinking of his father. Would James have

backed Harry in what he had said to Lupin, or would he have been angry at how his son

had treated his old friend?

 

The silent kitchen seemed to hum with the shock of the recent scene and with Ron

and Hermione’s unspoken reproaches. The Daily Prophet Lupin had brought was still

lying on the table, Harry’s own face staring up at the ceiling from the front page. He

walked over to it and sat down, opened the paper at random, and pretended to read. He

could not take in the words; his mind was still too full of the encounter with Lupin. He

was sure that Ron and Hermione had resumed their silent communications on the other

side of the Prophet. He turned a page loudly, and Dumbledore’s name leapt out at him. It

was a moment or two before he took in the meaning of the photograph, which showed a

family group. Beneath the photograph were the words: The Dumbledore family, left to

right: Albus; Percival, holding newborn Ariana; Kendra, and Aberforth.

 

His attention caught, Harry examined the picture more carefully. Dumbledore’s

father, Percival, was a good-looking man with eyes that seemed to twinkle even in this

faded old photograph. The baby, Ariana, was a little longer than a loaf of bread and no

more distinctive-looking. The mother, Kendra, had jet black hair pulled into a high bun.

Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans he’d

seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed

above a high-necked silk gown. Albus and Aberforth wore matching lacy collared jackets

and had identical, shoulder-length hairstyles. Albus looked several years older, but

otherwise the two boys looked very alike, for this was before Albus’s nose had been

broken and before he started wearing glasses.

 

The family looked quite happy and normal, smiling serenely up out of the

newspaper. Baby Ariana’s arm waved vaguely out of her shawl. Harry looked above the

picture and saw the headline:

 

 

 

 EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM UPCOMING

 

 BIOGRAPHY OF ALBUS DUMBLEDORE

 

 by Rita Skeeter

 

 

 

Thinking it could hardly make him feel any worse than he already did, Harry

began to read:

 

 

 


 

Proud and haughty, Kendra Dumbledore could not bear to remain in Mould-on-the-

Wold after her husband Percival’s well-publicized arrest and imprisonment in

Azkaban. She therefore decided to uproot the family and relocate to Godric’s Hollow,

the village that was later to gain fame as the scene of Harry Potter’s strange escape

from You-Know-Who.

 

 Like Mould-on-the-Wold, Godric’s Hollow was home to a number of Wizarding

families, but as Kendra knew none of them, she would be spared the curiosity about

her husband’s crime she had faced in her former village. By repeatedly rebuffing the

friendly advances of her new Wizarding neighbors, she soon ensured that her family

was left well alone.

 

 “Slammed the door in my face when I went around to welcome her with a batch

of homemade Cauldron Cakes,” says Bathilda Bagshot. “The first year they were

there I only ever saw the two boys. Wouldn’t have known there was a daughter if I

hadn’t been picking Plangentines by moonlight the winter after they moved in, and

saw Kendra leading Ariana out into the back garden. Walked her round the lawn once,

keeping a firm grip on her, then took her back inside. Didn’t know what to make of

it.”

 

 It seems that Kendra thought the move to Godric’s Hollow was the perfect

opportunity to hide Ariana once and for all, something she had probably been

planning for years. The timing was significant. Ariana was barely seven years old

when she vanished from sight, and seven is the age by which most experts agree that

magic will have revealed itself, if present. Nobody now alive remembers Ariana ever

demonstrating even the slightest sign of magical ability. It seems clear, therefore, that

Kendra made a decision to hide her daughter’s existence rather than suffer the shame

of admitting that she had produced a Squib. Moving away from the friends and

neighbors who knew Ariana would, of course, make imprisoning her all the easier.

The tiny number of people who henceforth knew of Ariana’s existence could be

counted upon to keep the secret, including her two brothers, who had deflected

awkward questions with the answer their mother had taught them. “My sister is too

frail for school.”

 

 Next week: Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts – the Prizes and the Pretense.

 

 

 

 Harry had been wrong: What he had read had indeed made him feel worse. He

looked back at the photograph of the apparently happy family. Was it true? How could he

find out? He wanted to go to Godric’s Hollow, even if Bathilda was in no fit state to talk

to him: he wanted to visit the place where he and Dumbledore had both lost loved ones.

He was in the process of lowering the newspaper, to ask Ron’s and Hermione’s opinions,

when a deafening crack echoed around the kitchen.

 

 For the first time in three days Harry had forgotten all about Kreacher. His

immediate thought was that Lupin had burst back into the room, and for a split second, he

did not take in the mass of struggling limbs that had appeared out of thin air right beside

his chair. He hurried to his feet as Kreacher disentangled himself and, bowing low to

Harry, croaked, “Kreacher has returned with the thief Mundungus Fletcher, Master.”

 

 Mundungus scrambled up and pulled out his wand; Hermione, however, was too

quick for him.

 

 “Expelliarmus!”

 


 

 Mundungus’s wand soared into the air, and Hermione caught it. Wild-eyed,

Mundungus dived for the stairs. Ron rugby-tackled him and Mundungus hit the stone

floor with a muffled crunch.

 

 “What?” he bellowed, writhing in his attempts to free himself from Ron’s grip.

“Wha’ve I done? Setting a bleedin’ ‘house-elf on me, what are you playing at, wha’ve I

done, lemme go, lemme go, of – ”

 

 “You’re not in much of a position to make threats,” said Harry. He threw aside

the newspaper, crossed the kitchen in a few strides, and dropped to his knees beside

Mundungus, who stopped struggling and looked terrified. Ron got up, panting, and

watched as Harry pointed his wand deliberately at Mundungus’s nose. Mundungus stank

of stale sweat and tobacco smoke. His hair was matted and his robes stained.

 

 “Kreacher apologizes for the delay in bringing the thief, Master,” croaked the elf.

“Fletcher knows how to avoid capture, has many hidey-holes and accomplices.

Nevertheless, Kreacher cornered the thief in the end.”

 

 “You’ve done really well, Kreacher,” said Harry, and the elf bowed low.

 

 “Right, we’ve got a few questions for you,” Harry told Mundungus, who shouted

at once.

 

 “I panicked, okay? I never wanted to come along, no offense, mate, but I never

volunteered to die for you, an’ that was bleedin’ You-Know-Who come flying at me,

anyone woulda got outta there. I said all along I didn’t wanna do it –”

 

 “For your information, none of the rest of us Disapparated,” said Hermione.

 

 “Well, you’re a bunch of bleedin’ ‘eroes then, aren’t you, but I never pretended I

was up for killing meself –”

 

 “We’re not interested in why you ran out on Mad-Eye,” said Harry, moving his

wand a little closer to Mundungus’s baggy, bloodshot eyes. “We already knew you were

an unreliable bit of scum.”

 

 “Well then, why the ‘ell am I being ‘unted down by ‘ouse-elves? Or is this about

them goblets again? I ain’t got none of ‘em left, or you could ‘ave ‘em –”

 

 “It’s not about the goblets either, although you’re getting warmer,” said Harry.

“Shut up and listen.”

 

 It felt wonderful to have something to do, someone of whom he could demand

some small portion of truth. Harry’s wand was now so close to the bridge of

Mundungus’s nose that Mundungus had gone cross-eyed trying to keep it in view.

 

 “When you cleaned out this house of anything valuable,” Harry began, but

Mundungus interrupted him again.

 

 “Sirius never cared about any of the junk –”

 

 There was the sound of pattering fee, a blaze of shining copper, an echoing clang,

and a shriek of agony; Kreacher had taken a run at Mundungus and hit him over the head

with a saucepan.

 

 “Call ‘im off, call ‘im off, ‘e should be locked up!” screamed Mundungus,

cowering as Kreacher raised the heavy-bottomed pan again.

 

 “Kreacher, no!” shouted Harry.

 

 Kreacher’s thin arms trembled with the weight of the pan, still held aloft.

 

 “Perhaps just one more, Master Harry, for luck?”

 

 Ron laughed.

 


 

 “We need him conscious, Kreacher, but if he needs persuading, you can do the

honors,” said Harry.

 

 “Thank you very much, Master,” said Kreacher with a bow, and he retreated a

short distance, his great pale eyes still fixed upon Mundungus with loathing.

 

 “When you stripped this house of all the valuables you could find,” Harry began

again, “you took a bunch of stuff from the kitchen cupboard. There was a locket there.”

Harry’s mouth was suddenly dry: He could sense Ron and Hermione’s tension and

excitement too. “What did you do with it?”

 

 “Why?” asked Mundungus. “Is it valuable?”

 

 “You’ve still got it!” cried Hermione.

 

 “No, he hasn’t,” said Ron shrewdly. “He’s wondering whether he should have

asked more money for it.”

 

 “More?” said Mundungus. “That wouldn’t have been effing difficult . . .bleedin’

gave it away, di’n’ I? No choice.”

 

 “What do you mean?”

 

 “I was selling in Diagon Alley and she come up to me and asks if I’ve got a

license for trading in magical artifacts. Bleedin’ snoop. She was gonna fine me, but she

took a fancy to the locket an’ told me she’d take it and let me off that time, and to fink

meself lucky.”

 

 “Who was this woman?” asked Harry.

 

 “I dunno, some Ministry hag.”

 

 Mundungus considered for a moment, brow wrinkled.

 

 “Little woman. Bow on top of ‘er head.”

 

 He frowned and then added, “Looked like a toad.”

 

 Harry dropped his wand: It hit Mundungus on the nose and shot red sparks into

his eyebrows, which ignited.

 

 “Aquamenti!” screamed Hermione, and a jet of water streamed from her wand,

engulfing a spluttering and choking Mundungus.

 

 Harry looked up and saw his own shock reflected in Ron’s and Hermione’s faces.

The scars on the back of his right hand seemed to be tingling again.

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Magic is Might

 

 

 

 As August wore on, the square of unkempt grass in the middle of Grimmauld

Place shriveled in the sun until it was brittle and brown. The inhabitants of number

twelve were never seen by anyone in the surrounding houses, and nor was number twelve

itself. The muggles who lived in Grimmauld Place had long since accepted the amusing

mistake in the numbering that had caused number eleven to sit beside number thirteen.

 

 And yet the square was now attracting a trickle of visitors who seemed to find the

anomaly most intriguing. Barely a day passed without one or two people arriving in

Grimmauld Place with no other purpose, or so it seemed, than to lean against the railings

facing numbers eleven and thirteen, watching the join between the two houses. The

lurkers were never the same two days running, although they all seemed to share a dislike

 


 

for normal clothing. Most of the Londoners who passed them were used to eccentric

dressers and took little notice, though occasionally one of them might glance back,

wondering why anyone would wear cloaks in this heat.

 

 The watchers seemed to be gleaning little satisfaction from their vigil.

Occasionally one of them started forward excitedly, as if they had seen something

interesting at last, only to fall back looking disappointed.

 

 On the first day of September there were more people lurking in the square than

ever before. Half a dozen men in long cloaks stood silent and watchful, gazing as ever at

houses eleven and thirteen, but the thing for which they were waiting still appeared

elusive. As evening drew in, bringing with it an unexpected gust of chilly rain for the first

time in weeks, there occurred one of those inexplicable moments when they appeared to

have seen something interesting. The man with the twisted face pointed and his closest

companion, a podgy, pallid man, started forward, but a moment later they had relaxed

into their previous state of inactivity, looking frustrated and disappointed.

 

 Meanwhile, inside number twelve, Harry had just entered the hall. He had nearly

lost his balance as he Apparated onto the top step just outside the front door, and thought

that the Death Eaters might have caught a glimpse of his momentarily exposed elbow.

Shutting the front door carefully behind him, he pulled off the Invisibility Cloak, draped

it over his arm, and hurried along the gloomy hallway toward the door that led to the

basement, a stolen copy of the Daily Prophet clutched in his hand.

 

 The usual low whisper of “Severus Snape” greeted him, the chill wind swept him,

and his tongue rolled up for a moment.

 

 “I didn’t kill you,” he said, once it had unrolled, then held his breath as the dusty

jinx-figure exploded. He waited until he was halfway down the stairs to the kitchen, out

of earshot of Mrs. Black and clear of the dust cloud, before calling, “I’ve got news, and

you won’t like it.”

 

 The kitchen was almost unrecognizable. Every surface now shone; Copper pots

and pans had been burnished to a rosy glow; the wooden tabletop gleamed; the goblets

and plates already laid for dinner glinted in the light from a merrily blazing fire, on which

a cauldron was simmering. Nothing in the room, however, was more dramatically

different than the house-elf who now came hurrying toward Harry, dressed in a snowywhite

towel, his ear hair as clean and fluffy as cotton wool, Regulus’s locket bouncing on

his thin chest.

 

 “Shoes off, if you please, Master Harry, and hands washed before dinner,”

croaked Kreacher, seizing the Invisibility Cloak and slouching off to hang it on a hook on

the wall, beside a number of old-fashioned robes that had been freshly laundered.

 

 “What’s happened?” Ron asked apprehensively. He are Hermione had been

pouring over a sheaf of scribbled notes and hand drawn maps that littered the end of the

long kitchen table, but now they watched Harry as he strode toward them and threw down

the newspaper on top of their scattered parchment.

 

 A large picture of a familiar, hook-nosed, black-haired man stared up at them all,

beneath a headline that read:

 

 

 

 SEVERUS SNAPE CONFIRMED AS HOGWARTS HEADMASTER

 

 

 

 “No!” said Ron and Hermione loudly.

 


 

 Hermione was quickest; she snatched up the newspaper and began to read the

accompanying story out loud.

 

 “Severus Snape, long-standing Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft

and wizardry, was today appointed headmaster in the most important of several staffing

changes at the ancient school. Following the resignation of the previous Muggle Studies

teacher, Alecto Carrow will take over the post while her brother, Amycus, fills the

position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”

 

 “ ‘I welcome the opportunity to uphold our finest Wizarding traditions and values

–‘ Like committing murder and cutting off people’s ears, I suppose! Snape, headmaster!

Snape in Dumbledore’s study – Merlin’s pants!” she shrieked, making both Harry and

Ron jump. She leapt up from the table and hurtled from the room, shouting as she went,

“I’ll be back in a minute!”

 

 “’Merlin’s pants’?” repeated Ron, looking amused. “She must be upset.” He

pulled the newspaper toward him and perused the article about Snape.

 

 “The other teachers won’t stand for this, McGonagall and Flitwick and Sprout all

know the truth, they know how Dumbledore died. They won’t accept Snape as

headmaster. And who are these Carrows?”

 

 “Death Eaters,” said Harry. “There are pictures of them inside. They were at the

top of the tower when Snape killed Dumbledore, so it’s all friends together. And,” Harry

went on bitterly, drawing up a chair, “I can’t see that the other teachers have got any

choice but to stay. If the Ministry and Voldemort are behind Snape it’ll be a choice

between staying and teaching, or a nice few years in Azkaban – and that’s if they’re

lucky. I reckon they’ll stay to try and protect the students.”

 

 Kreacher came bustling to the table with a large curcen in his hands, and ladled

out soup into pristine bowls, whistling between his teeth as he did so.

 

 “Thanks, Kreacher,” said Harry, flipping over the Prophet so as not to have to

look at Snape’s face. “Well, at least we know exactly where Snape is now.”

 

 He began to spoon soup into his mouth. The quality of Kreacher’s cooking had

improved dramatically ever since he had been given Regulus’s locket: Today’s French

onion was as good as Harry had ever tasted.

 

 “There are still a load of Death Eaters watching this house,” he told Ron as he ate,

“more than usual. It’s like they’re hoping we’ll march out carrying our school trunks and

head off for the Hogwarts Express.”

 

 Ron glanced at his watch.

 

 “I’ve been thinking about that all day. It left nearly six hours ago. Weird, not

being on it, isn’t it?”

 

 In his mind’s eye Harry seemed to see the scarlet steam engine as he and Ron had

once followed it by air, shimmering between fields and hills, a rippling scarlet caterpillar.

He was sure Ginny, Neville, and Luna were sitting together at this moment, perhaps

wondering where he, Ron, and Hermione were, or debating how best to undermine

Snape’s new regime.

 

 “They nearly saw me coming back in just now,” Harry said, “I landed badly on

the top step, and the Cloak slipped.”

 

 “I do that every time. Oh, here she is,” Ron added, craning around in his seat to

watch Hermione reentering the kitchen. “And what in the name of Merlin’s most baggy

Y Fronts was that about?”

 


 

 “I remembered this,” Hermione panted.

 

 She was carrying a large, framed picture, which she now lowered to the floor

before seizing her small, beaded bag from the kitchen sideboard. Opening it, she

proceeded to force the painting inside and despite the fact that it was patently too large to

fit inside the tiny bag, within a few seconds it had vanished, like so much ease, into the

bag’s capacious depths.

 

 “Phineas Nigellus,” Hermione explained as she threw the bag onto the kitchen

table with the usual sonorous, clanking crash.

 

 “Sorry?” said Ron, but Harry understood. The painted image of Phineas Nigellus

Black was able to travel between his portrait in Grimmauld Place and the one that hung in

the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts: the circular cower-top room where Snape was no

doubt sitting right now, in triumphant possession of Dumbledore’s collection of delicate,

silver magical instruments, the stone Pensieve, the Sorting Hat and, unless it ad been

moved elsewhere, the sword of Gryffindor.

 

 “Snape could send Phineas Nigellus to look inside this house for him,” Hermione

explained to Ron as she resumed her seat. “But let him try it now, all Phineas Nigellus

will be able to see is the inside of my handbag.”

 

 “Good thinking!” said Ron, looking impressed.

 

 “Thank you,” smiled Hermione, pulling her soup toward her. “So, Harry, what

else happened today?”

 

 “Nothing,” said Harry. “Watched the Ministry entrance for seven hours. No sign

of her. Saw your dad though, Ron. He looks fine.”

 

 Ron nodded his appreciation of this news. The had agreed that it was far too

dangerous to try and communicate with Mr. Weasley while he walked in and out of the

Ministry, because he was always surrounded by other Ministry workers. It was, however,

reassuring to catch these glimpses of him, even if he did look very strained and anxious.

 

 “Dad always told us most Ministry people use the Floo Network to get to work,”

Ron said. “That’s why we haven’t seen Umbridge, she’d never walk, she’d think she’s

too important.”

 

 “And what about that funny old witch and that little wizard in the navy robes?”

Hermione asked.

 

 “Oh yeah, the bloke from Magical Maintenance,” said Ron.

 

 “How do you know he works for Magical Maintenance?” Hermione asked, her

soupspoon suspended in midair.

 

 “Dad said everyone from Magical Maintenance wears navy blue robes.”

 

 “But you never told us that!”

 

 Hermione dropped her spoon and pulled toward her the sheaf of notes and maps

that she and Ron had been examining when Harry had entered the kitchen.

 

 “There’s nothing in here about navy blue robes, nothing!” she said, flipping

feverishly through the pages.

 

 “Well, dies it really matter?”

 

 “Ron, it all matters! If we’re going to get into the Ministry and not give ourselves

away when they’re bound to be on the lookout for intruders, every little detail matters!

We’ve been over and over this, I mean, what’s the point of all these reconnaissance trips

if you aren’t even bothering to tell us –“

 

 “Blimey, Hermione, I forget one little thing – “

 


 

 “You do realize, don’t you, that there’s probably no more dangerous place in the

whole world for us to be right now than the Ministry of –“

 

 “I think we should do it tomorrow,” said Harry.

 

 Hermione stopped dead, her jaw hanging; Ron choked a little over his soup.

 

 “Tomorrow?” repeated Hermione. “You aren’t serious, Harry?”

 

 “I am,” said Harry. “I don’t think we’re going to be much better prepared than we

are now even if we skulk around the Ministry entrance for another month. The longer we

put it off, the farther away that locket could be. There’s already a good chance Umbridge

has chucked it away; the thing doesn’t open.”

 

 “Unless,” said Ron, “she’s found a way of opening it and she’s now possessed.”

 

 “Wouldn’t make any difference to her, she was so evil in the first place,” Harry

shrugged.

 

 Hermione was biting her lip, deep in thought.

 

 “We know everything important,” Harry went on, addressing Hermione. “We

know they’ve stopped Apparition in and out of the Ministry; We know only the most

senior Ministry members are allowed to connect their homes to the Floo Network now,

because Ron heard those two Unspeakables complaining about it. And we know roughly

where Umbridge’s office is, because of what you heard the bearded bloke saying to his

mate –“

 

 “’I’ll be up on level one, Dolores wants to see me,’” Hermione recited

immediately.

 

 “Exactly,” said Harry. “And we know you get in using those funny coins, or

tokens, or whatever they are, because I saw that witch borrowing one from her friend – “

 

 “But we haven’t got any!”

 

 “If the plan works, we will have,” Harry continued calmly.

 

 “I don’t know, Harry, I don’t know … There are an awful lot of things that could

go wrong, so much relies on chance … “

 

 That’ll be true even if we spend another three months preparing,” said Harry. “It’s

time to act.”

 

 He could tell from Ron’s and Hermione’s faces that they were scared; he was not

particularly confident himself, and yet he was sure the time had come to put their plan

into operation.

 

 They had spent the previous four weeks taking it in turns to don the Invisibility

Cloak and spy on the official entrance to the Ministry, which Ron, thanks to Mr. Weasley,

had known since childhood. They had tailed Ministry workers on their way in,

eavesdropped on their conversations, and learned by careful observation which of them

could be relied upon to appear, alone, at the same time every day. Occasionally there had

been a chance to sneak a Daily Prophet out of somebody’s briefcase. Slowly they had

built up the sketchy maps and notes now stacked in front of Hermione.

 

 “All right,” said Ron slowly, “let’s say we go for it tomorrow … I think it should

just be me and Harry.”

 

 “Oh, don’t start that again!” sighed Hermione. “I thought we’d settled this.”

 

 “It’s one thing hanging around the entrances under the Cloak, but this is different.

Hermione,” Ron jabbed a finger at a copy of the Daily Prophet dated ten days previously.

“You’re on the list of Muggle-borns who didn’t present themselves for interrogation!”

 


 

 “And you’re supposed to be dying of spattergroit at the Burrow! If anyone

shouldn’t go, it’s Harry, he’s got a ten-thousand-Galleon price on his head – “

 

 “Fine, I’ll stay here,” said Harry. “Let me know if you ever defeat Voldemort,

won’t you?”

 

 As Ron and Hermione laughed, pain shot through the scar on Harry’s forehead.

His hand jumped to it. He saw Hermione’s eyes narrow, and he tried to pass off the

movement by brushing his hair out of his eyes.

 

 “Well, if all three of us go we’ll have to Disapparate separately,” Ron was saying.

“We can’t all fit under the Cloak anymore.”

 

 Harry’s scar was becoming more and more painful. He stood up. At once,

Kreacher hurried forward.

 

 “Master has not finished his soup, would master prefer the savory stew, or else the

treacle tart to which Master is so partial?”

 

 “Thanks, Kreacher, but I’ll be back in a minute – er – bathroom.”

 

 Aware that Hermione was watching him suspiciously, Harry hurried up the stairs

to the hall and then to the first landing, where he dashed into the bathroom and bolted the

door again. Grunting with pain, he slumped over the black basin with its taps in the form

of open-mouthed serpents and closed his eyes ….

 

 He was gliding along a twilit street. The buildings on either side of him had high,

timbered gables; they looked like gingerbread houses. He approached one of them, then

saw the whiteness of his own long-fingered hand against the door. He knocked. He felt a

mounting excitement …

 

 The door opened: A laughing woman stood there. Her face fell as she looked into

Harry’s face: humor gone, terror replacing it ….

 

 “Gregorovitch?” said a high, cold voice.

 

 She shook her head: She was trying to close the door. A white hand held it steady,

prevented her shutting him out …

 

 “I want Gregorovitch.”

 

 “Er wohnt hier nicht mehr!” she cried, shaking her head. “He no live here! He no

live here! I know him not!”

 

 Abandoning the attempt to close the door, she began to back away down the dark

hall, and Harry followed, gliding toward her, and his long-fingered hand had drawn his

wand.

 

 “where is he?”

 

 “Das weiff ich nicht! He move! I know not, I know not!”

 

 He raised his hand. She screamed. Two young children came running into the hall.

She tried to shield them with her arms. There was a flash of green light –

 

 “Harry! HARRY!”

 

 He opened his eyes; he had sunk to the floor. Hermione was pounding on the door

again.

 

 “Harry, open up!”

 

 He had shouted out, he knew it. He got up and unbolted the door; Hermione

toppled inside at once, regained her balance, and looked around suspiciously. Ron was

right behind her, looking unnerved as he pointed his wand into the corners of the chilly

bathroom.

 

 “What were you doing?” asked Hermione sternly.

 


 

 “What d’you think I was doing?” asked Harry with feeble bravado.

 

 “You were yelling your head off!” said Ron.

 

 “Oh yeah … I must’ve dozed off or – “

 

 “Harry, please don’t insult our intelligence,” said Hermione, taking deep breaths.

“We know your scar hurt downstairs, and you’re white as a sheet.”

 

 Harry sat down on the edge of the bath.

 

 “Fine. I’ve just seen Voldemort murdering a woman. By now he’s probably killed

her whole family. And he didn’t need to. It was Cedric all over again, they were just there

… “

 

 “Harry, you aren’t supposed to let this happen anymore!” Hermione cried, her

voice echoing through the bathroom. “Dumbledore wanted you to use Occlumency! HE

thought the connection was dangerous – Voldemort can use it, Harry! What good is it to

watch him kill and torture, how can it help?”

 

 “Because it means I know what he’s doing,” said Harry.

 

 “So you’re not even going to try to shut him out?”

 

 “Hermione, I can’t. You know I’m lousy at Occlumency. I never got the hang of

it.”

 

 “You never really tried!” she said hotly. “I don’t get it, Harry – do you like having

this special connection or relationship or what – whatever – “

 

 She faltered under the look he gave her as he stood up.

 

 “Like it?” he said quietly. “Would you like it?”

 

 “I – no – I’m sorry, Harry. I just didn’t mean – “

 

 “I hate it, I hate the fact that he can get inside me, that I have to watch him when

he’s most dangerous. But I’m going to use it.”

 

 “Dumbledore –“

 

 “Forget Dumbledore. This is my choice, nobody else’s. I want to know why he’s

after Gregorovitch.”

 

 “Who?”

 

 “He’s a foreign wandmaker,” said Harry. “He made Krum’s wand and Krum

reckons he’s brilliant.”

 

 “But according to you,” said Ron, “Voldemort’s got Ollivander locked up

somewhere. If he’s already got a wandmaker, what does he need another one for?”

 

 “Maybe he agrees with Krum, maybe he thinks Gregorovitch is better … or else

he thinks Gregorovitch will be able to explain what my wand did when he was chasing

me, because Ollivander didn’t know.”

 

 Harry glanced into the cracked, dusty mirror and saw Ron and Hermione

exchanging skeptical looks behind his back.

 

 “Harry, you keep talking about what your wand did,” said Hermione, “but you

made it happen! Why are you so determined not to take responsibility for your own

power?”

 

 “Because I know it wasn’t me! And so does Voldemort, Hermione! We both

know what really happened!”

 

 They glared at each other; Harry knew that he had not convinced Hermione and

that she was marshaling counterarguments, against both his theory on his wand and the

fact that he was permitting himself to see into Voldemort’s mind. To his relief, Ron

intervened.

 


 

 “Drop it,” he advised her. “It’s up to him. And if we’re going to the Ministry

tomorrow, don’t you reckon we should go over the plan?”

 

 Reluctantly, as the other two could tell, Hermione let the matter rest, though

Harry was quite sure she would attack again at the first opportunity. In the meantime,

they returned to the basement kitchen, where Kreacher served them all stew and treacle

tart.

 

 They did not get to bed until late that night, after spending hours going over and

over their plan until they could recite it, word perfect, to each other. Harry, who was now

sleeping in Sirius’s room, lay in bed with his wandlight trained on the old photograph of

his father, Sirius, Lupin, and Pettigrew, and muttered the plan to himself for another ten

minutes. As he extinguished his wand, however, he was thinking not of Polyjuice Potion,

Puking Pastilles, or the navy blue robes of Magical Maintenance; he though of

Gregorovitch the wandmaker, and how long he could hope to remain hidden while

Voldemort sought him so determinedly.

 

 Dawn seemed to follow midnight with indecent haste.

 

 “You look terrible,” was Ron’s greeting as he entered the room to wake Harry.

 

 “Not for long,” said Harry, yawning.

 

 They found Hermione downstairs in the kitchen. She was being served coffee and

hot rolls by Kreacher and wearing the slightly manic expression that Harry associated

with exam review.

 

 “Robes,” she said under her breath, acknowledging their presence with a nervous

nod and continuing to poke around in her beaded bag, “Polyjuice Potion … Invisibiliity

Cloak … Decoy Detonators … You should each take a couple just in case … Puking

Pastilles, Nosebleed Norgat, Extendable Ears …”

 

 They gulped down their breakfast, then set off upstairs, Kreacher bowing them

out and promising to have a steak-and-kidney pie ready for them when they returned.

 

 “Bless him,” said Ron fondly, “and when you think I used to fantasize about

cutting off his head and sticking it on the wall.”

 

 They made their way onto the front step with immense caution. They could see a

couple of puffy-eyed Death Eaters watching the house from across the misty square.

 

 Hermione Disapparated with Ron first, then came back for Harry.

 

 After the usual brief spell of darkness and near suffocation, Harry found himself

in the tiny alleyway where the first phase of their plan was scheduled to take place. It was

as yet deserted, except for a couple of large bins; the first Ministry workers did not

usually appear here until at least eight o’clock.

 

 “Right then,” said Hermione, checking her watch. “she ought to be here in about

five minutes. When I’ve Stunned her –“

 

 “Hermione, we know,” said Ron sternly. “And I thought we were supposed to

open the door before she got here?”

 

 Hermione squealed.

 

 “I nearly forgot! Stand back –“

 

 She pointed her wand at the padlocked and heavily graffitied fire door beside

them, which burst open with a crash. The dark corridor behind it led, as they knew from

their careful scouting trips, into an empty theater. Hermione pulled the door back toward

her, to make it look as thought it was still closed.

 


 

 “And now,” she said, turning, back to face the other two in the alleyway, “we put

on the Cloak again –“

 

 “—and we wait,” Ron finished, throwing it over Hermione’s head like a blanket

over a birdcage and rolling his eyes at Harry.

 

 Little more than a minute later, there was a tiny pop and a little Ministry witch

with flyaway gray hair Apparated feet from them, blinking a little in the sudden

brightness: the sun had just come out from behind a cloud. She barely had time to enjoy

the unexpected warmth, however, before Hermione’s silent Stunning Spell hit her in the

chest and she toppled over.

 

 “Nicely done, Hermione,” said Ron, emerging behind a bin beside the theater

door as Harry took off the Invisibility Cloak. Together they carried the little witch into

the dark passageway that led backstage. Hermione plucked a few hairs from the witch’s

head and added them to a flask of muddy Polyjuice Potion she had taken from the beaded

bag. Ron was rummaging through the little witch’s handbag.

 

 “She’s Mafalda Hopkirk,” he said, reading a small card that identified their victim

as an assistant in the Improper Use of Magic Office. “You’d better take this, Hermione,

and here are the tokens.”

 

 He passed her several small golden coins, all embossed with the letters M.O.M.,

which he had taken from the witch’s purse.

 

 Hermione drank the Polyjuice Potion, which was now a pleasant heliotrope color,

and within seconds stood before them, the double of Mafalda Hopkirk. As she removed

Mafalda’s spectacles and put them on, Harry checked his watch.

 

 “We’re running late, Mr. Magical Maintenance will be here any second.”

 

 They hurried to close the door on the real Mafalda; Harry and Ron threw the

Invisibility Cloak over themselves but Hermione remained in view, waiting. Seconds

later there was another pop, and a small, ferrety looking wizard appeared before them.

 

 “Oh, hello, Mafalda.”

 

 “Hello!” said Hermione in a quavery voice, “How are you today?”

 

 “Not so good, actually,” replied the little wizard, who looked thoroughly

downcast.

 

 As Hermione and the wizard headed for the main road, Harry and Ron crept along

behind them.

 

 “I’m sorry to hear you’re under the weather,” said Hermione, talking firmly over

the little wizard and he tried to expound upon his problems; it was essential to stop him

from reaching the street. “Here, have a sweet.”

 

 “Eh? Oh, no thanks –“

 

 “I insist!” said Hermione aggressively, shaking the bag of pastilles in his face.

Looking rather alarmed, the little wizard took one.

 

 The effect was instantaneous. The moment the pastille touched his tongue, the

little wizard started vomiting so hard that he did not even notice as Hermione yanked a

handful of hairs from the top of his head.

 

 “Oh dear!” she said, as he splattered the alley with sick. “Perhaps you’d better

take the day off!”

 

 “No – no!” He choked and retched, trying to continue on his way despite being

unable to walk straight. “I must – today – must go – “

 


 

 “But that’s just silly!” said Hermione, alarmed. “You can’t go to work in this state

– I think you ought to go to St. Mungo’s and get them to sort you out.”

 

 The wizard had collapsed, heaving, onto all fours, still trying to crawl toward the

main street.

 

 “You simply can’t go to work like this!” cried Hermione.

 

 At last he seemed to accept the truth of her words. Using a reposed Hermione to

claw his way back into a standing position, he turned on the spot and vanished, leaving

nothing behind but the bag Ron had snatched from his hand as he went and some flying

chunks of vomit.

 

 “Urgh,” said Hermione, holding up the skirt of her robe to avoid the puddles of

sick. “It would have made much less mess to Stun him too.”

 

 “Yeah,” said Ron, emerging from under the cloak holding the wizard’s bag, “but I

still think a whole pile of unconscious bodies would have drawn more attention. Keen on

his job, though, isn’t he? Chuck us the hair and the potion, then.”

 

 Within two minutes, Ron stood before them, as small and ferrety as the sick

wizard, and wearing the navy blue robes that had been folded in his bag.

 

 “Weird he wasn’t wearing them today, wasn’t it, seeing how much he wanted to

go? Anyway, I’m Reg Cattermole, according to the label in the back.”

 

 “Now wait here,” Hermione told Harry, who was still under the Invisibility Cloak,

“and we’ll be back with some hairs for you.”

 

 He had to wait ten minutes, but it seemed much longer to Harry, skulking alone in

the sick-splattered alleyway beside the door concealing the Stunned Mafalda. Finally Ron

and Hermione reappeared.

 

 “We don’t know who he is,” Hermione said, passing Harry several curly black

hairs, “but he’s gone home with a dreadful nosebleed! Here, he’s pretty tall, you’ll need

bigger robes …”

 

 She pulled out a set of the old robes Kreacher had laundered for them, and Harry

retired to take the potion and change.

 

 Once the painful transformation was complete he was more than six feet tall and,

from what he could tell from his well-muscled arms, powerfully built. He also had a

beard. Stowing the Invisibility Cloak and his glasses inside his new robes, he rejoined the

other two.

 

 “Blimey, that’s scary,” said Ron, looking up at Harry, who now towered over him.

 

 “Take one of Mafalda’s tokens,” Hermione told Harry, “and let’s go, it’s nearly

nine.”

 

 They stepped out of the alleyway together. Fifty yards along the crowded

pavement there were spiked black railings flanking two flights of stairs, one labeled

GENTLEMEN, the other LADIES.

 

 “See you in a moment, then,” said Hermione nervously, and she tottered off down

the steps to LADIES. Harry and Ron joined a number of oddly dressed men descending

into what appeared to be an ordinary underground public toilet, tiled in grimy black and

white.

 

 “Morning, Reg!” called another wizard in navy blue robes as he let himself into a

cubicle by inserting his golden token into a slot in the door. “Blooming pain in the bum,

this, eh? Forcing us all to get to work this way! Who are they expecting to turn up, Harry

Potter?”

 


 

 The wizard roared with laughter at his own wit. Ron gave a forced chuckle.

 

 “Yeah,” he said, “stupid, isn’t it?”

 

 And he and Harry let themselves into adjoining cubicles.

 

 To Harry’s left and right came the sound of flushing. He crouched down and

peered through the gap at the bottom of the cubicle, just in time to see a pair of booted

feet climbing into the toilet next door. He looked left and saw Ron blinking at him.

 

 “We have to flush ourselves in?” he whispered.

 

 “Looks like it,” Harry whispered back; his voice came out deep and gravelly.

 

 They both stood up. Feeling exceptionally foolish, Harry clambered into the toilet.

 

 He knew at once that he had done the right thing; thought he appeared to be

standing in water, his shoes, feet, and robes remained quite dry. He reached up, pulled the

chain, and next moment had zoomed down a short chute, emerging out of a fireplace into

the Ministry of Magic.

 

 He got up clumsily; there was a lot more of his body than he was accustomed to.

The great Atrium seemed darker than Harry remembered it. Previously a golden fountain

had filled the center of the hall, casting shimmering spots of light over the polished

wooden floor and walls. Now a gigantic statue of black stone dominated the scene. It was

rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and a wizard sitting on ornately carved

thrones, looking down at the Ministry workers toppling out of fireplaces below them.

Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words MAGIC IS MIGHT.

 

 Harry received a heavy blow on the back of the legs. Another wizard had just

flown out of the fireplace behind him.

 

 “Out of the way, can’t y – oh, sorry, Runcorn.”

 

 Clearly frightened, the balding wizard hurried away. Apparently the man who

Harry was impersonating, Runcorn, was intimidating.

 

 “Psst!” said a voice, and he looked around to see a whispy little witch and the

ferrety wizard from Magical Maintenance gesturing to him from over beside the statue.

Harry hastened to join them.

 

 “You got in all right, then?” Hermione whispered to Harry.

 

 “No, he’s still stuck in the hog,” said Ron.

 

 “Oh, very funny … It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she said to Harry, who was staring up

at the statue. “Have you seen what they’re sitting on?”

 

 Harry looked more closely and realized that what he had thought were

decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and

hundreds of naked bodies, men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces,

twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards.

 

 “Muggles,” whispered Hermione, “In their rightful place. Come on, let’s get

going.”

 

 They joined the stream of witches and wizards moving toward the golden gates at

the end of the hall, looking around as surreptitiously as possible, but there was no sign of

the distinctive figure of Dolores Umbridge. They passed through the gates and into a

smaller hall, where queues were forming in front of twenty golden grilles housing as

many lifts. They had barely joined the nearest one when a voice said, “Cattermole!”

 

 They looked around: Harry’s stomach turned over. One of the Death Eaters who

had witnessed Dumbledore’s death was striding toward them. The Ministry workers

beside them fell silent, their eyes downcast; Harry could feel fear rippling through them.

 


 

The man’s scowling, slightly brutish face was somehow at odds with his magnificent,

sweeping robes, which were embroidered with much gold thread. Someone in the crowd

around the lifts called sycophantically, “Morning, Yaxley!” Yaxley ignored them.

 

 “I requested somebody from Magical Maintenance to sort out my office,

Cattermole. It’s still raining in there.”

 

 Ron looked around as though hoping somebody else would intervene, but nobody

spoke.

 

 “Raining … in your office? That’s – that’s not good, is it?”

 

 Ron gave a nervous laugh. Yaxley’s eyes widened.

 

 “You think it’s funny, Cattermole, do you?”

 

 A pair of witches broke away from the queue for the lift and bustled off.

 

 “No,” said Ron, “no, of course –“

 

 “You realize that I am on my way downstairs to interrogate your wife,

Cattermole? In fact, I’m quite surprised you’re not down there holding her hand while

she waits. Already given her up as a bad job, have you? Probably wise. Be sure and

marry a pureblood next time.”

 

 Hermione had let out a little squeak of horror. Yaxley looked at her. She cough

feebly and turned away.

 

 “I – I –“ stammered Ron.

 

 “But if my wife were accused of being a Mudblood,” said Yaxley, “—not that any

woman I married would ever be mistaken for such filth – and the Head of Department of

Magical Law Enforcement needed a job doing, I would make it my priority to do this job,

Cattermole. Do you understand me?”

 

 “Yes,” whispered Ron.

 

 “Then attend to it, Cattermole, and if my office is not completely dry within an

hour, your wife’s Blood Status will be in even greater doubt than it is now.”

 

 The golden grille before them clattered open. With a nod and unpleasant smile to

Harry, who was evidently expected to appreciate this treatment of Cattermole, Yaxley

swept away toward another lift. Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered theirs, but nobody

followed them: It was as if they were infectious. The grilles shut with a clang and the lift

began to move upward.

 

 “What am I going to do?” Ron asked the other two at once; he looked stricken. “If

I don’t turn up, my wife … I mean, Cattermole’s wife – “

 

 “We’ll come with you, we should stick together –“ began Harry, but Ron shook

his head feverishly.

 

 “That’s mental, we haven’t got much time. You two find Umbridge, I’ll go and

sort out Yaxley’s office – but how do I stop a raining?”

 

 “Try Finite Incantatem,” said Hermione at once, “that should stop the rain if it’s a

hex or curse; if it doesn’t something’s gone wrong with an Atmospheric Charm, which

will be more difficult to fix, so as an interim measure try Impervius to protect his

belongings – “

 

 “Say it again, slowly – “ said Ron, searching his pockets desperately for a quill,

but at that moment the lift juddered to a halt. A disembodied female voice said, “Level

four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, incorporating

Beast, Being, and Spirit Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office, and Pest Advisory Bureau,”

 


 

and the grilles slid open again, admitting a couple of wizards and several pale violet

paper airplanes that fluttered around the lamp in the ceiling of the lift.

 

 “Morning, Albert,” said a bushily whiskered man, smiling at Harry. He glanced

over at Ron and Hermione as the lift creaked upward once more; Hermione was now

whispering frantic instructions to Ron. The wizard leaned toward Harry, leering, and

muttering “Dirk Cresswell, eh? From Goblin Liaison? Nice one, Albert. I’m pretty

confident I’ll get his job now!”

 

 He winked. Harry smiled back, hoping that this would suffice. The lift stopped;

the grilles opened once more.

 

 “Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper

Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services,”

said the disembodied witch’s voice.

 

 Harry saw Hermione give Ron a little push and he hurried out of the lift, followed

by the other wizards, leaving Harry and Hermione alone. The moment the golden door

had closed Hermione said, very fast, “Actually, Harry, I think I’d better go after him, I

don’t think he knows what he’s doing and if he gets caught the whole thing – “

 

 “Level one, Minister of Magic and Support Staff.”

 

 The golden grilles slid apart again and Hermione gasped. Four people stood

before them, two of them deep in conversation: a long-haired wizard wearing magnificent

robes of black and gold, and a squat, toadlike witch wearing a velvet bow in her short

hair and clutching a clipboard to her chest.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

The Muggle-Born Registration Commission

 

 

 

 “Ah, Mafalda!” said Umbridge, looking at Hermione. “Travers sent you, did he?”

 

 “Y-yes,” squeaked Hermione.

 

 “God, you’ll do perfectly well.” Umbridge spoke to the wizard in black and gold.

“That’s that problem solved. Minister, if Mafalda can be spared for record-keeping we

shall be able to start straightaway.” She consulted her clipboard. “Ten people today and

one of them the wife of a Ministry employee! Tut, tut… even here, in the heart of the

Ministry!” She stepped into the lift besides Hermione, as did the two wizards who had

been listening to Umbridge’s conversation with the Minister. “We’ll go straight down,

Mafalda, you’ll find everything you need in the courtroom. Good morning, Albert, aren’t

you getting out?”

 

 “Yes, of course,” said Harry in Runcorn’s deep voice.

 

 Harry stepped out of the life. The golden grilles clanged shut behind him.

Glancing over his shoulder, Harry saw Hermione’s anxious face sinking back out of sight,

a tall wizard on either side of her, Umbridge’s velvet hair-bow level with her shoulder.

 

 “What brings you here, Runcorn?” asked the new Minister of Magic. His long

black hair and beard were streaked with silver and a great overhanging forehead

shadowed his glinting eyes, putting Harry in the mind of a crab looking out from beneath

a rock.

 


 

 “Needed a quick word with,” Harry hesitated for a fraction of a second, “Arthur

Weasley. Someone said he was up on level one.”

 

 “Ah,” said Plum Thicknesse. “Has he been caught having contact with an

Undesirable?”

 

 “No,” said Harry, his throat dry. “No, nothing like that.”

 

 “Ah, well. It’s only a matter of time,” said Thicknesse. “If you ask me, the blood

traitors are as bad as the Mudbloods. Good day, Runcorn.”

 

 “Good day, Minister.”

 

 Harry watched Thicknesse march away along the thickly carpeted corridor. The

moment the Minister had passed out of sight, Harry tugged the Invisibility Cloak out

from under his heavy black cloak, threw it over himself, and set off along the corridor in

the opposite direction. Runcorn was so tall that Harry was forced to stoop to make sure

his big feet were hidden.

 

 Panic pulsed in the pit of his stomach. As he passed gleaming wooden door after

gleaming wooden door, each bearing a small plaque with the owner’s name and

occupation upon it, the might of the Ministry, its complexity, its impenetrability, seemed

to force itself upon him so that the plan he had been carefully concocting with Ron and

Hermione over the past four weeks seemed laughably childish. They had concentrated all

their efforts on getting inside without being detected: They had not given a moment’s

thought to what they would do if they were forced to separate. Now Hermione was stuck

in court proceedings, which would undoubtedly last hours; Ron was struggling to do

magic that Harry was sure was beyond him, a woman’s liberty possibly depending on the

outcome, and he, Harry, was wandering around on the top floor when he knew perfectly

well that his quarry had just gone down in the lift.

 

 He stopped walking, leaned against a wall, and tried to decide what to do. The

silence pressed upon him: There was no bustling or talk or swift footsteps here the

purple-carpeted corridors were as hushed as though the Muffliato charm had been cast

over the place.

 

 Her office must be up here, Harry thought.

 

 It seemed most unlikely that Umbridge would keep her jewelry in her office, but

on the other hand it seemed foolish not to search it to make sure. He therefore set off

along the corridor again, passing nobody but a frowning wizard who was murmuring

instructions to a quill that floated in front of him, scribbling on a trail of parchment.

 

 Now paying attention to the names on the doors, Harry turned a corner. Halfway

along the next corridor he emerged into a wide, open space where a dozen witches and

wizards sat in rows at small desks not unlike school desks, though much more highly

polished and free from graffiti. Harry paused to watch them, for the effect was quite

mesmerizing. They were all waving and twiddling their wands in unison, and squares of

colored paper were flying in every direction like little pink kites. After a few seconds,

Harry realized that there was a rhythm to the proceedings, that the papers all formed the

same pattern and after a few more seconds he realized what he was watching was the

creation of pamphlets – that the paper squares were pages, which, when assembled,

folded and magicked into place, fell into neat stacks beside each witch or wizard.

 

 Harry crept closer, although the workers were so intent on what they were doing

that he doubted they would notice a carpet-muffled footstep, and he slid a completed

 


 

pamphlet from the pile beside a young witch. He examined it beneath the Invisibility

Cloak. Its pink cover was emblazoned with a golden title:

 

 

 

Mudbloods

 

and the Dangers They Pose to

 

a Peaceful Pure-Blood Society

 

 

 

 Beneath the title was a picture of a red rose with a simpering face in the middle of

its petals, being strangled by a green weed with fangs and a scowl. There was no author’s

name upon the pamphlet, but again, the scars on the back of his right hand seemed to

tingle as he examined it. Then the young witch beside him confirmed his suspicion as she

said, still waving and twirling her wand, “Will the old hag be interrogating Mudbloods all

day, does anyone know?”

 

 “Careful,” said the wizard beside her, glancing around nervously; one of his pages

slipped and fell to the floor.

 

 “What, has she got magic ears as well as an eye, now?”

 

 The witch glanced toward the shining mahogany door facing the space full of

pamphlet-makers; Harry looked too, and the rage reared in him like a snake. Where there

might have been a peephole on a Muggle front door, a large, round eye with a bright blue

iris had been set into the wood – an eye that was shockingly familiar to anybody who had

known Alastor Moody.

 

 For a split second Harry forgot where he was and what he was doing there: He

even forgot that he was invisible. He strode straight over to the door to examine the eye.

It was not moving. It gazed blindly upward, frozen. The plaque beneath it read:

 

 

 

Dolores Umbridge

 

Senior Undersecretary to the Minister

 

 

 

 Below that a slightly shinier new plaque read:

 

 

 

Head of the Muggle-Born

 

Registration Commission

 

 

 

 Harry looked back at the dozen pamphlet-makers: Though they were intent upon

their work, he could hardly suppose that they would not notice if the door of an empty

office opened in front of them. He therefore withdrew from an inner pocket an odd object

with little waving legs and a rubber-bulbed horn for a body. Crouching down beneath the

Cloak, he placed the Decoy Detonator on the ground.

 

 It scuttled away at once through the legs of the witches and wizards in front of

him. A few moments later, during which Harry waited with his hand upon the doorknob,

there came a loud bang and a great deal of acrid smoke billowed from a corner. The

young witch in the front row shrieked: Pink pages flew everywhere as she and her

fellows jumped up, looking around for the source of the commotion. Harry turned the

doorknob, stepped into Umbridge’s office, and closed the door behind him.

 


 

 He felt he had stepped back in time. The room was exactly like Umbridge’s office

at Hogwarts: Lace draperies, doilies and dried flowers covered every surface. The walls

bore the same ornamental plates, each featuring a highly colored, beribboned kitten,

gamboling and frisking with sickening cuteness. The desk was covered with a flouncy,

flowered cloth. Behind Mad-eye’s eye, a telescopic attachment enabled Umbridge to spy

on the workers on the other side of the door. Harry took a look through it and saw that

they were all still gathered around the Decoy Detonator. He wrenched the telescope out

of the door, leaving a hole behind, pulled the magical eyeball out of it, and placed it in his

pocket. The he turned to face the room again, raised his wand, and murmured, “Accio

Locker.”

 

 Nothing happened, but he had not expected it to; no doubt Umbridge knew all

about protective charms and spells. He therefore hurried behind her desk and began

pulling open all the drawers. He saw quills and notebooks and Spellotape; enchanted

paper clips that coiled snakelike from their drawer and had be beaten back; a fussy little

lace box full of spare hair bows and clips; but no sign of a locket.

 

 There was a filing cabinet behind the desk: Harry set to searching it. Like Filch’s

filing cabinet at Hogwarts, it was full of folders, each labeled with a name. It was not

until Harry reached the bottommost drawer that he saw something to distract him from

the search: Mr. Weasley’s file.

 

 He pulled it out and opened it.

 

 

 

Arthur Weasley

 

Blood Status:

 

Pureblood, but with unacceptable pro-Muggle

leanings. Known member of the Order of the

Phoenix.

 

Family:

 

Wife (pureblood), seven children, two

youngest at Hogwarts. NB: Youngest son

currently at home, seriously ill, Ministry

inspectors have confirmed.

 

Security Status:

 

TRACKED. All movements are being

monitored. Strong likelihood Undesirable No.

1 will contact (has stayed with Weasley

family previously)

 

 

 

 

 

 “Undesirable Number One,” Harry muttered under his breath as he replaced Mr.

Weasley’s folder and shut the drawer. He had an idea he knew who that was, and sure

enough, as he straightened up and glanced around the office for fresh hiding places he

saw a poster of himself on the wall, with the words UNDESIRABLE NO. 1 emblazoned

across his chest. A little pink note was stuck to it with a picture of a kitten in the corner.

Harry moved across to read it and saw that Umbridge had written, “To be punished.”

 

 Angrier than ever, he proceeded to grope in the bottoms of the vases and baskets

of dried flowers, but was not at all surprised that the locket was not there. He gave the

office one last sweeping look, and his heart skipped a beat. Dumbledore was staring at

him from a small rectangular mirror, propped up on a bookcase beside the desk.

 

 Harry crossed the room at a run and snatched it up, but realized that the moment

he touched it that it was not a mirror at all. Dumbledore was smiling wistfully out of the

 


 

front cover of a glossy book. Harry had not immediately noticed the curly green writing

across his hat – The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore – nor the slightly smaller writing

across his chest: “by Rita Skeeter, bestselling author of Armando Dippet: Master or

Moron?”

 

 Harry opened the book at random and saw a full-page photograph of two teenage

boys, both laughing immoderately with their arms around each other’s shoulders.

Dumbledore, now with elbow-length hair, had grown a tiny wispy beard that recalled the

one on Krum’s chin that had so annoyed Ron. The boy who roared in silent amusement

beside Dumbledore had a gleeful, wild look about him. His golden hair fell in curls to his

shoulders. Harry wondered whether it was a young Doge, but before he could check the

caption, the door of the office opened.

 

 If Thicknesse had not been looking over his shoulder as he entered, Harry would

not have had time to pull the Invisibility Cloak over himself. As it was, he thought

Thicknesse might have caught a glimpse of movement, because for a moment or two he

remained quite still, staring curiously at the place where Harry had just vanished. Perhaps

deciding that that all he had seen was Dumbledore scratching his nose on the front of the

book, for Harry had hastily replaced it upon the shelf. Thicknesse finally walked to the

desk and pointed his wand at the quill standing ready in the ink pot. It sprang out and

began scribbling a note to Umbridge. Very slowly, hardly daring to breathe, Harry

backed out of the office into the open area beyond.

 

 The pamphlet-makers were still clustered around the remains of the Decoy

Detonator, which continued to hoot feebly as it smoked. Harry hurried off up the corridor

as the young witch said, “I bet it sneaked up here from Experimental Charms, they’re so

careless, remember that poisonous duck?”

 

 Speeding back toward the lifts, Harry reviewed his options. It had never been

likely that the locket was here at the Ministry, and there was no hope of bewitching its

whereabouts out of Umbridge while she was sitting in a crowded court. Their priority

now had to be to leave the Ministry before they were exposed, and try again another day.

The first thing to do was to find Ron, and then they could work out a way of extracting

Hermione from the courtroom.

 

 The lift was empty when it arrived. Harry jumped in and pulled off the Invisibility

Cloak as it started its descent. To his enormous relief, when it rattled to a halt at level two,

a soaking-wet and wild-eyed Ron got in.

 

 “M-morning,” he stammered to Harry as the lift set off again.

 

 “Ron, it’s me, Harry!”

 

 “Harry! Blimey, I forgot what you looked like – why isn’t Hermione with you?”

 

 “She had to go down to the courtrooms with Umbridge, she couldn’t refuse, and –

 

 But before Harry could finish the lift had stopped again. The doors opened and

Mr. Weasley walked inside, talking to an elderly witch whose blonde hair was teased so

high it resembled an anthill.

 

 “… I quite understand what you’re saying, Wakanda, but I’m afraid I cannot be

party to – “

 

 Mr. Weasley broke off; he had noticed Harry. It was very strange to have Mr.

Weasley glare at him with that much dislike. The lift doors closed and the four of them

trundled downward once more.

 


 

 “Oh hello, Reg,” said Mr. Weasley, looking around at the sound of steady

dripping from Ron’s robes. “Isn’t your wife in for questioning today? Er – what’s

happened to you? Why are you so wet?”

 

 “Yaxley’s office is raining,” said Ron. He addressed Mr. Weasley’s shoulder, and

Harry felt sure he was scared that his father might recognize him if they looked directly

into each other’s eyes. “I couldn’t stop it, so they’ve sent me to get Bernie – Pillsworth, I

think they said –“

 

 “Yes, a lot of offices have been raining lately,” said Mr. Weasley. “Did you try

Meterolojinx Recanto? It worked for Bletchley.”

 

 “Meteolojinx Recanto?” whispered Ron. “No, I didn’t. Thanks, D – I mean,

thanks, Arthur.”

 

 The lift doors opened; the old witch with the anthill hair left, and Ron darted past

her out of sight. Harry made to follow him, but found his path blocked as Percy Weasley

strode into the lift, his nose buried in some papers he was reading.

 

 Not until the doors had clanged shut again did Percy realize he was in a lit with

his father. He glanced up, saw Mr. Weasley, turned radish red, and left the lift the

moment the doors opened again. For the second time, Harry tried to get out, but this time

found his way blocked by Mr. Weasley’s arm.

 

 “One moment, Runcorn.”

 

 The lift doors closed and as they clanked down another floor, Mr. Weasley said,

“I hear you had information about Dirk Cresswell.”

 

 Harry had the impression that Mr. Weasley’s anger was no less because of the

brush with Percy. He decided his best chance was to act stupid.

 

 “Sorry?” he said.

 

 “Don’t pretend, Runcorn,” said Mr. Weasley fiercely. “You tracked down the

wizard who faked his family tree, didn’t you?”

 

 “I – so what if I did?” said Harry.

 

 “So Dirk Cresswell is ten times the wizard you are,” said Mr. Weasley quietly, as

the lift sank ever lower. “And if he survives Azkaban, you’ll have to answer to him, not

to mention his wife, his sons, and his friends –“

 

 “Arthur,” Harry interrupted, “you know you’re being tracked, don’t you?”

 

 “Is that a threat, Runcorn?” said Mr. Weasley loudly.

 

 “No,” said Harry, “it’s a fact! They’re watching your every move –“

 

 The lift doors opened. They had reached the Atrium. Mr. Weasley gave Harry a

scathing look and swept from the lift. Harry stood there, shaken. He wished he was

impersonating somebody other than Runcorn…. The lift doors clanged shut.

 

 Harry pulled out the Invisibility Cloak and put it back on. He would try to

extricate Hermione on his own while Ron was dealing with the raining office. When the

doors opened, he stepped out into a torch-lit stone passageway quite different from the

wood-paneled and carpeted corridors above. As the left rattled away again, Harry

shivered slightly, looking toward the distant black door that marked the entrance to the

Department of Mysteries.

 

 He set off, his destination not the black door, but the doorway he remembered on

the left hand side, which opened onto the flight of stairs down to the court chambers. His

mind grappled with possibilities as he crept down them: He still had a couple of Decoy

Detonators, but perhaps it would be better to simply knock on the courtroom door, enter

 


 

as Runcorn, and ask for a quick word with Mafalda? Of course, he did not know whether

Runcorn was sufficiently important to get away with this, and even if he managed it,

Hermione’s non-reappearance might trigger a search before they were clear of the

Ministry….

 

 Lost in thought, he did not immediately register the unnatural chill that was

creeping over him, as if he were descending into fog. It was becoming colder and colder

with every step he took; a cold that reached right down his throat and tore at his lungs.

And then he felt that stealing sense of despair, or hopelessness, filling him, expanding

inside him….

 

 Dementors, he thought.

 

 And as he reached the foot of the stairs and turned to his right he saw a dreadful

scene. The dark passage outside the courtrooms was packed with tall, black-hooded

figures, their faces completely hidden, their ragged breathing the only sound in the place.

The petrified Muggle-borns brought in for questioning sat huddled and shivering on hard

wooden benches. Most of them were hiding their faces in their hands, perhaps in an

instinctive attempt to shield themselves from the dementors’ greedy mouths. Some were

accompanied by families, others sat alone. The dementors were gliding up and down in

front of them, and the cold, and the hopelessness, and the despair of the place laid

themselves upon Harry like a curse….

 

 Fight it, he told himself, but he knew that he could not conjure a Patronus here

without revealing himself instantly. So he moved forward as silently as he could, and

with every step he took numbness seemed to steal over his brain, but he forced himself to

think of Hermione and of Ron, who needed him.

 

 Moving through the towering black figures was terrifying: The eyeless faces

hidden beneath their hoods turned as he passed, and he felt sure that they sensed him,

sensed, perhaps, a human presence that still had some hope, some resilience….

 

 And then, abruptly and shockingly amid the frozen silence, one of the dungeon

doors on the left of the corridor was flung open and screams echoed out of it.

 

 “No, no, I’m half-blood, I’m half-blood, I tell you! My father was a wizard, he

was, look him up, Arkie Alderton, he’s a well known broomstick designer, look him up, I

tell you – get your hands off me, get your hands off –“

 

 “This is your final warning,” said Umbridge’s soft voice, magically magnified so

that it sounded clearly over the man’s desperate screams. “If you struggle, you will be

subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss.”

 

 The man’s screams subsided, but dry sobs echoed through the corridor.

 

 “Take him away,” said Umbridge.

 

 Two dementors appeared in the doorway of the courtroom, their rotting, scabbed

hands clutching the upper arms of a wizard who appeared to be fainting. They glided

away down the corridor with him, and the darkness they trailed behind them swallowed

him from sight.

 

 “Next – Mary Cattermole,” called Umbridge.

 

 A small woman stood up; she was trembling from head to foot. Her dark hair was

smoothed back into a bun and she wore long plain robes. Her face was completely

bloodless. As she passed the dementors, Harry saw her shudder.

 


 

 “Spare us,” spat Yaxley. “The brats of Mudbloods do not stir our sympathies.”

 

 Mrs. Cattermole’s sobs masked Harry’s footsteps as he made his way carefully

toward the steps that led up to the raised platform. The moment he had passed the place

where the Patronus cat patrolled, he felt the change in temperature: It was warm and

comfortable here. The Patronus, he was sure, was Umbridge’s, and it glowed brightly

because she was so happy here, in her element, upholding the twisted laws she had

helped to write. Slowly and very carefully he edged his way along the platform behind

Umbridge, Yaxley, and Hermione, taking a seat behind the latter. He was worried about

making Hermione jump. He thought of casting the Muffliato charm upon Umbridge and

Yaxley, but even murmuring the word might cause Hermione alarm. Then Umbridge

raised her voice to address Mrs. Cattermole, and Harry seized his chance.

 

 “I’m behind you,” he whispered into Hermione’s ear.

 

 As he had expected, she jumped so violently she nearly overturned the bottle of

ink with which she was supposed to be recording the interview, but both Umbridge and

Yaxley were concentrating upon Mrs. Cattermole, and this went unnoticed.

 

 “A wand was taken from you upon your arrival at the Ministry today, Mrs.

Cattermole,” Umbridge was saying. “Eight-and-three-quarter inches, cherry, unicorn-hair

core. Do you recognize the description?”

 

 Mrs. Cattermole nodded, mopping her eyes on her sleeve.

 

 “Could you please tell us from which witch or wizard you took that wand?”

 

 He did it instinctively, without any sort of plan, because he hated the sight of her

walking alone into the dungeon: As the door began to swing closed, he slipped into the

courtroom behind her.

 

 It was not the same room in which he had once been interrogated for improper use

of magic. This one was much smaller, though the ceiling was quite as high it gave the

claustrophobic sense of being stuck at the bottom of a deep well.

 

 There were more dementors in here, casting their freezing aura over the place;

they stood like faceless sentinels in the corners farthest from the high, raised platform.

Here, behind a balustrade, sat Umbridge, with Yaxley on one side of her, and Hermione,

quite as white-faced as Mrs. Cattermole, on the other. At the foot of the platform, a bightsilver,

long-haired cat prowled up and down, up and down, and Harry realized that it was

there to protect the prosecutors from the despair that emanated from the dementors: That

was for the accused to feel, not the accusers.

 

 “Sit down,” said Umbridge in her soft, silky voice.

 

 Mrs. Cattermole stumbled to the single seat in the middle of the floor beneath the

raised platform. The moment she had sat down, chains clinked out of the arms of the

chair and bound her there.

 

 “You are Mary Elizabeth Cattermole?” asked Umbridge.

 

 Mrs. Cattermole gave a single, shaky nod.

 

 “Married to Reginald Cattermole of the Magical Maintenance Department?”

 

 Mrs. Cattermole burst into tears.

 

 “I don’t know where he is, he was supposed to meet me here!”

 

 Umbridge ignored her.

 

 “Mother to Maisie, Ellie and Alfred Cattermole?”

Mrs. Cattermole sobbed harder than ever.

 

 “They’re frightened, they think that I might not come home –“

 


 

 “T-took?” sobbed Mrs. Cattermole. “I didn’t t-take it from anybody. I b-bought it

when I was eleven years old. It – it – it – chose me.”

 

 She cried harder than ever.

 

 Umbridge laughed a soft girlish laugh that made Harry want to attack her. She

leaned forward over the barrier, the better to observe her victim, and something gold

swung forward too, and dangled over the void: the locket.

 

 Hermione had seen it; she let out a little squeak, but Umbridge and Yaxley, still

intent upon their prey, were deaf to everything else.

 

 “No,” said Umbridge, “no, I don’t think so, Mrs. Cattermole. Wands only choose

witches or wizards. You are not a witch. I have your responses to the questionnaire that

was sent to you here – Mafalda, pass them to me.”

 

 Umbridge held out a small hand: She looked so toadlike at that moment that

Harry was quite surprised not to see webs between the stubby fingers. Hermione’s hands

were shaking with shock. She fumbled in a pile of documents balanced on the chair

beside her, finally withdrawing a sheaf of parchment with Mrs. Cattermole’s name on it.

 

 “That’s – that’s pretty, Dolores,” she said, pointing at the pendant gleaming in the

ruffled folds of Umbridge’s blouse.

 

 “What?” snapped Umbridge, glancing down. “Oh yes – an old family heirloom,”

she said, patting the locket lying on her large bosom. “The S stands for Selwyn…. I am

related to the Selwyns…. Indeed, there are few pure-blood families to whom I am not

related. …A pity,” she continued in a louder voice, flicking through Mrs. Cattermole’s

questionnaire, “that the same cannot be said for you. ‘Parents professions:

greengrocers’.”

 

 Yaxley laughed jeeringly. Below, the fluffy silver cat patrolled up and down, and

the dementors stood waiting in the corners.

 

 It was Umbridge’s lie that brought the blood surging into Harry’s brain and

obliterated his sense of caution – that the locket she had taken as a bribe from a petty

criminal was being used to bolster her own pure-blood credentials. He raised his wand,

not even troubling to keep it concealed beneath the Invisibility Cloak, and said,

“Stupefy!”

 

 There was a flash of red light; Umbridge crumpled and her forehead hit the edge

of the balustrade: Mrs. Cattermole’s papers slid off her lap onto the floor and, down

below, the prowling silver cat vanished. Ice-cold air hit them like an oncoming wind:

Yaxley, confused, looked around for the source of the trouble and saw Harry’s

disembodied hand and wand pointing at him. He tried to draw his own wand, but too late:

“Stupefy!”

 

 Yaxley slid to the ground to lie curled on the floor.

 

 “Harry!”

 

 “Hermione, if you think I was going to sit here and let her pretend –“

 

 “Harry, Mrs. Cattermole!”

 

 Harry whirled around, throwing off the Invisibility Cloak; down below, the

dementors had moved out of their corners; they were gliding toward the woman chained

to the chair: Whether because the Patronus had vanished or because they sensed that their

masters were no longer in control, they seemed to have abandoned restraint. Mrs.

Cattermole let out a terrible scream of fear as a slimy, scabbed hand grasped her chin and

forced her face back.

 


 

 “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

 

 The silver stag soared from the tip of Harry’s wand and leaped toward the

dementors, which fell back and melted into the dark shadows again. The stag’s light,

more powerful and more warming than the cat’s protection, filled the whole dungeon as it

cantered around the room.

 

 “Get the Horcrux,” Harry told Hermione.

 

 He ran back down the steps, stuffing the Invisibility Cloak into his back, and

approached Mrs. Cattermole.

 

 “You?” she whispered, gazing into his face. “But – but Reg said you were the one

who submitted my name for questioning!”

 

 “Did I?” muttered Harry, tugging at the chains binding her arms, “Well, I’ve had

a change of heart. Diffindo!” Nothing happened. “Hermione, how do I get rid of these

chains?”

“Wait, I’m trying something up here –“

 

 “Hermione, we’re surrounded by dementors!”

 

 “I know that, Harry, but if she wakes up and the locket’s gone – I need to

duplicate it – Geminio! There… That should fool her….”

 

 Hermione came running downstairs.

 

 “Let’s see…. Relashio!”

 

 The chains clinked and withdrew into the arms of the chair. Mrs. Cattermole

looked just as frightened as ever before.

 

 “I don’t understand,” she whispered.

 

 “You’re going to leave here with us,” said Harry, pulling her to her feet. “Go

home, grab your children, and get out, get out of the country if you’ve got to. Disguise

yourselves and run. You’ve seen how it is, you won’t get anything like a fair hearing

here.”

 

 “Harry,” said Hermione, “how are we going to get out of here with all those

dementors outside the door?”

 

 “Patronuses,” said Harry, pointing his wand at his own. The stag slowed and

walked, still gleaming brightly, toward the door. “As many as we can muster; do yours,

Hermione.”

 

 “Expec – Expecto patronum,” said Hermione. Nothing happened.

 

 “It’s the only spell she ever has trouble with,” Harry told a completely bemused

Mrs. Cattermole. “Bit unfortunate, really… Come on Hermione….”

 

 ‘Expecto patronum!”

 

 A silver otter burst from the end of Hermione’s wand and swam gracefully

through the air to join the stag.

 

 “C’mon,” said Harry, and he led Hermione and Mrs. Cattermole to the door.

 

 When the Patronuses glided out of the dungeon there were cries of shock from the

people waiting outside. Harry looked around; the dementors were falling back on both

sides of them, melding into the darkness, scattering before the silver creatures.

 

 “It’s been decided that you should all go home and go into hiding with your

families,” Harry told the waiting Muggle-born, who were dazzled by the light of the

Patronuses and still cowering slightly. “Go abroad if you can. Just get well away from the

Ministry. That’s the – er – new official position. Now, if you’ll just follow the Patronuses,

you’ll be able to leave the Atrium.”

 


 

 They managed to get up the stone stops without being intercepted, but as they

approached the lifts Harry started to have misgivings. If they emerged into the Atrium

with a silver stag, and otter soaring alongside it, and twenty or so people, half of them

accused Muggle-borns, he could not help feeling that they would attract unwanted

attention. He had just reached this unwelcome conclusion when the lift clanged to a halt

in front of them.

 

 “Reg!” screamed Mrs. Cattermole, and she threw herself into Ron’s arms.

“Runcorn let me out, he attacked Umbridge and Yaxley, and he’s told all of us to leave

the country. I think we’d better do it, Reg, I really do, let’s hurry home and fetch the

children and – why are you so wet?”

 

 “Water,” muttered Ron, disengaging himself. “Harry, they know there are

intruders inside the Ministry, something about a hole in Umbridge’s office door. I reckon

we’ve got five minutes if that –“

 

 Hermione’s Patronus vanished with a pop as she turned a horror struck face to

Harry.

 

 “Harry, if we’re trapped here – !”

 

 “We won’t be if we move fast,” said Harry. He addressed the silent group behind

them, who were all gawping at him.

 

 “Who’s got wands?”

 

 About half of them raised their hands.

 

 “Okay, all of you who haven’t got wands need to attach yourself to somebody

who has. We’ll need to be fast before they stop us. Come on.”

 

 They managed to cram themselves into two lifts. Harry’s Patronus stood sentinel

before the golden grilles as they shut and the lifts began to rise.

 

 “Level eight,” said the witch’s cool voice, “Atrium.”

 

 Harry knew at once that they were in trouble. The Atrium was full of people

moving from fireplace to fireplace, sealing them off.

 

 “Harry!” squeaked Hermione. “What are we going to – ?”

 

 “STOP!” Harry thundered, and the powerful voice of Runcorn echoed through the

Atrium: The wizards sealing the fireplaces froze. “Follow me,” he whispered to the group

of terrified Muggle-borns, who moved forward in a huddle, shepherded by Ron and

Hermione.

 

 “What’s up, Albert?” said the same balding wizard who had followed Harry out

of the fireplace earlier. He looked nervous.

 

 “This lot need to leave before you seal the exits,” said Harry with all the authority

he could muster.

 

 The group of wizards in front of him looked at one another.

 

 “We’ve been told to seal all exits and not let anyone –“

 

 “Are you contradicting me?” Harry blustered. “Would you like me to have your

family tree examined, like I had Dirk Cresswell’s?”

 

 “Sorry!” gasped the balding wizard, backing away. “I didn’t mean nothing, Albert,

but I thought… I thought they were in for questioning and…”

 

 “Their blood is pure,” said Harry, and his deep voice echoed impressively through

the hall. “Purer than many of yours, I daresay. Off you go,” he boomed to the Muggleborns,

who scurried forward into the fireplaces and began to vanish in pairs. The Ministry

wizards hung back, some looking confused, others scared and fearful. Then:

 


 

 “Mary!”

 

 Mrs. Cattermole looked over her shoulder. The real Reg Cattermole, no longer

vomiting but pale and wan, had just come running out of a lift.

 

 “R- Reg?”

 

 She looked from her husband to Ron, who swore loudly.

 

 The balding wizard gaped, his head turning ludicrously from one Reg Cattermole

to the other.

 

 “Hey – what’s going on? What is this?”

 

 “Seal the exit! SEAL IT!”

 

 Yaxley had burst out of another lift and was running toward the group beside the

fireplaces, into which all of the Muggle-borns but Mrs. Cattermole had now vanished. As

the balding wizard lifted his wand, Harry raised an enormous fist and punched him,

sending him flying through the air.

 

 “He’s been helping Muggle-borns escape, Yaxley!” Harry shouted.

 

 The balding wizard’s colleagues set up and uproar, under cover of which Ron

grabbed Mrs. Cattermole, pulled her into the still-open fireplace, and disappeared.

Confused, Yaxley looked from Harry to the punched wizard, while the real Reg

Cattermole screamed, “My wife! Who was that with my wife? What’s going on?”

 

 Harry saw Yaxley’s head turn, saw an inkling of truth dawn on that brutish face.

 

 “Come on!” Harry shouted at Hermione; he seized her hand and they jumped into

the fireplace together as Yaxley’s curse sailed over Harry’s head. They spun for a few

seconds before shooting up out of a toilet into a cubicle. Harry flung open the door: Ron

was standing there beside the sinks, still wrestling with Mrs. Cattermole.

 

 “Reg, I don’t understand –“

 

 “Let go, I’m not your husband, you’ve got to go home!”

 

 There was a noise in the cubicle behind them; Harry looked around; Yaxley had

just appeared.

 

 “LET’S GO!” Harry yelled. He seized Hermione by the hand and Ron by the arm

and turned on the stop.

 

 Darkness engulfed them, along with the sensation of compressing hands, but

something was wrong…. Hermione’s hand seemed to be sliding out of his grip….

 

 He wondered whether he was going to suffocate; he could not breathe or see and

the only solid things in the world were Ron’s arm and Hermione’s fingers, which were

slowly slipping away….

 

 And then he saw the door to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, with its serpent

door knocker, but before he could draw breath, there was a scream and a flash of purple

light: Hermione’s hand was suddenly vicelike upon his and everything went dark again.

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

The Thief

 

 

 

Harry opened his eyes and was dazzled by gold and green; he had no idea what

had happened, he only knew that he was lying on what seemed to be leaves and twigs.

Struggling to draw breath into lungs that felt flattened, he blinked and realized that the

gaudy glare was sunlight streaming through a canopy of leaves far above him. Then an

 


 

object twitched close to his face. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees, ready to

face some small, fierce creature, but saw that the object was Ron’s foot. Looking around,

Harry saw that they and Hermione were lying on a forest floor, apparently alone.

 

 Harry’s first thought was of the Forbidden Forest, and for a moment, even though

he knew how foolish and dangerous it would be for them to appear in the grounds of

Hogwarts, his heart leapt at the thought of sneaking through the trees to Hagrid’s hut.

However, in the few moments it took for Ron to give a low groan and Harry to start

crawling toward him, he realized that this was not the Forbidden Forest; The trees looked

younger, they were more widely spaced, the ground clearer.

 

 He met Hermione, also on her hands and knees, at Ron’s head. The moment his

eyes fell upon Ron, all other concerns fled Harry’s mind, for blood drenched the whole of

Ron’s left side and his face stood out, grayish-white, against the leaf-strewn earth. The

Polyjuice Potion was wearing off now: Ron was halfway between Cattermole and himself

in appearance, his hair turning redder and redder as his face drained of the little color it

had left.

 

 “What’s happened to him?”

 

 “Splinched,” said Hermione, her fingers already busy at Ron’s sleeve, where the

blood was wettest and darkest.

 

 Harry watched, horrified, as she tore open Ron’s short. He had always thought of

Splinching as something comical, but this . . . His insides crawled unpleasantly as

Hermione laid bare Ron’s upper arm, where a great chunk of flesh was missing, scooped

cleanly away as though by a knife.

 

 “Harry, quickly, in my bag, there’s a small bottle labeled ‘Essence of Dittany’– “

 

 “Bag – right –“

 

 Harry sped to the place where Hermione had landed, seized the tiny beaded bag,

and thrust his hand inside it. At once, object after object began presenting itself to his

touch: He felt the leather spines of books, woolly sleeves of jumpers, heels of shoes –

 

 “Quickly!”

 

 He grabbed his wand from the ground and pointed it into the depths of the

magical bag.

 

 “Accio Dittany!”

 

 A small brown bottle zoomed out of the bag; he caught it and hastened back to

Hermione and Ron, whose eyes were now half-closed, strips of white eyeball all that

were visible between his lids.

 

 “He’s fainted,” said Hermione, who was also rather pale; she no longer looked

like Mafalda, though her hair was still gray in places. “Unstopper it for me, Harry, my

hands are shaking.”

 

 Harry wrenched the stopper off the little bottle, Hermione took it and poured three

drops of the potion onto the bleeding wound. Greenish smoke billowed upward and when

it had cleared, Harry saw that the bleeding had stopped. The wound now looked several

days old; new skin stretched over what had just been open flesh.

 

 “Wow,” said Harry.

 

 “It’s all I feel safe doing,” said Hermione shakily. “There are spells that would put

him completely right, but I daren’t try in case I do them wrong and cause more

damage. . . . He’s lost so much blood already. . . .”

 


 

 “How did he get hurt? I mean” – Harry shook his head, trying to clear it, to make

sense of whatever had just taken place – “why are we here? I thought we were going back

to Grimmauld Place?”

 

 Hermione took a deep breath. She looked close to tears.

 

 “Harry, I don’t think we’re going to be able to go back there.”

 

 “What d’you – ?”

 

 “As we Disapparated, Yaxley caught hold of me and I couldn’t get rid of him, he

was too strong, and he was still holding on when we arrived at Grimmauld Place, and

then – well, I think he must have seen the door, and thought we were stopping there, so

he slackened his grip and I managed to sake him off and I brought us here instead!”

 

 “But then, where’s he? Hang on. . . . You don’t mean he’s at Grimmauld Place?

He can’t get in there?”

 

 Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she nodded.

 

 “Harry, I think he can. I – I forced him to let go with a Revulsion Jinx, but I’d

already taken him inside the Fidelius Charm’s protection. Since Dumbledore died, we’re

Secret-Keepers, so I’ve given him the secret, haven’t I?”

 

 There was no pretending; Harry was sure she was right. It was a serious blow. If

Yaxley could now get inside the house, there was no way that they could return. Even

now, he could be bringing other Death Eaters in there by Apparition. Gloomy and

oppressive though the house was, it had been their one safe refuge; even, now that

Kreacher was so much happier and friendlier, a kind of home. With a twinge of regret

that had nothing to do with food, Harry imagined the house-elf busying himself over the

steak-and-kidney pie that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would never eat.

 

 “Harry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

 

 “Don’t be stupid, it wasn’t your fault! If anything, it was mine. . . .”

 

 Harry put his hand in his pocket and drew out Mad-Eye’s eye. Hermione recoiled,

looking horrified.

 

 “Umbridge had stuck it to her office door, to spy on people. I couldn’t leave it

there . . . but that’s how they knew there were intruders.”

 

 Before Hermione could answer, Ron groaned and opened his eyes. He was still

gray and his face glistened with sweat.

 

 “How d’you feel?” Hermione whispered.

 

 “Lousy,” croaked Ron, wincing as he felt his injured arm. “Where are we?”

 

 “In the woods where they held the Quidditch World Cup,” said Hermione. “I

wanted somewhere enclosed, undercover, and this was –“

 

 “– the first place you thought of,” Harry finished for her, glancing around at the

apparently deserted glade. He could not help remembering what had happened the last

time they had Apparated to the first place Hermione had thought of – how Death Eaters

had found them within minutes. Had it been Legilimency? Did Voldemort or his

henchmen know, even now, where Hermione had taken them?

 

 “D’you reckon we should move on?” Ron asked Harry, and Harry could tell by

the look on Ron’s face that he was thinking the same.

 

 “I dunno.”

Ron still looked pale and clammy. He had made no attempt to sit up and it looked

as though he was too weak to do so. The prospect of moving him was daunting.

 

 “Let’s stay here for now,” Harry said.

 


 

 Looking relieved, Hermione sprang to her feet.

 

 “Where are you going?” asked Ron.

 

 “If we’re staying, we should put some protective enchantments around the place,”

she replied, and raising her wand, she began to walk in a wide circle around Harry and

Ron, murmuring incantations as she went. Harry saw little disturbances in the

surrounding air: It was as if Hermione had cast a heat haze upon their clearing.

 

 “Salvio Hexia . . . Protego Totalum . . . Repello Muggletum . . . Muffliato . . . You

could get out the tent, Harry. . . .”

 

 “Tent?”

 

 “In the bag!”

 

 “In the . . . of course,” said Harry.

 

 He did not bother to grope inside it this time, but used another Summoning Charm.

The tent emerged in a lumpy mass of canvas, ropes, and poles. Harry recognized it, partly

because of the smell of cats, as the same tent in which they had slept on the night of the

Quidditch World Cup.

 

 “I thought this belonged to that bloke Perkins at the Ministry?” he asked, starting

to disentangle the pent pegs.

 

 “Apparently he didn’t want it back, his lumbago’s so bad,” said Hermione, now

performing complicated figure-of-eight movements with her wand. “so Ron’s dad said I

could borrow it. Erecto!” she added, pointing her wand at the misshapen canvas, which in

one fluid motion rose into the air and settled, fully constructed, onto the ground before

Harry, out of whose startled hands a tent peg soared, to land with a final thud at the end

of a guy rope.

 

 “Cave Inimicum,” Hermione finished with a skyward flourish. “That’s as much as

I can do. At the very least, we should know they’re coming; I can’t guarantee it will keep

out Vol –“

 

 “Don’t say the name!” Ron cut across her, his voice harsh.

 

 Harry and Hermione looked at each other.

 

 “I’m sorry,” Ron said, moaning a little as he raised himself to look at them, “but it

feels like a – a jinx or something. Can’t we call him You-Know-Who – please?”

 

 “Dumbledore said fear of a name –“ began Harry.

 

 “In case you hadn’t noticed, mate, calling You-Know-Who by his name didn’t do

Dumbledore much good in the end,” Ron snapped back. “Just – just show You-Know-

Who some respect, will you?”

 

 “Respect?” Harry repeated, but Hermione shot him a warning look; apparently he

was not to argue with Ron while the latter was in such a weakened condition.

 

 Harry and Hermione half carried, half dragged Ron through the entrance of the

tent. The interior was exactly as Harry remembered it; a small flat, complete with

bathroom and tiny kitchen. He shoved aside an old armchair and lowered Ron carefully

onto the lower berth of a bunk bed. Even this very short journey had turned Ron whiter

still, and once they had settled him on the mattress he closed his eyes again and did not

speak for a while.

 

 “I’ll make some tea,” said Hermione breathlessly, pulling kettle and mugs from

the depths of her bag and heading toward the kitchen.

 


 

 Harry found the hot drink as welcome as the firewhisky had been on the night that

Mad-Eye had died; it seemed to burn away a little of the fear fluttering in his chest. After

a minute or two, Ron broke the silence.

 

 “What d’you reckon happened to the Cattermoles?”

 

 “With any luck, they’ll have got away,” said Hermione, clutching her hot mug for

comfort. “As long as Mr. Cattermole had his wits about him, he’ll have transported Mrs.

Cattermole by Side-Along-Apparition and they’ll be fleeing the country right now with

their children. That’s what Harry told her to do.”

 

 “Blimey, I hope they escaped,” said Ron, leaning back on his pillows. The tea

seemed to be doing him good; a little of his color had returned. “I didn’t get the feeling

Reg Cattermole was all that quick-witted, though, the way everyone was talking to me

when I was him. God, I hope they made it. . . . If they both end up in Azkaban because of

us . . .”

 

 Harry looked over at Hermione and the question he had been about to ask – about

whether Mrs. Cattermole’s lack of a wand would prevent her Apparating alongside her

husband – died in his throat. Hermione was watching Ron fret over the fate of the

Cattermoles, and there was such tenderness in her expression that Harry felt almost as if

he had surprised her in the act of kissing him.

 

 “So, have you got it?” Harry asked her, partly to remind her that he was there.

 

 “Got – got what?” she said with a little start.

 

 “What did we just go through all that for? The locket! Where’s the locket?”

 

 “You got it?” shouted Ron, raising himself a little higher on his pillows. “No one

tells me anything! Blimey, you could have mentioned it!”

“Well, we were running for our lives from the Death Eaters, weren’t we?” said

Hermione. “Here.”

 

 And she pulled the locket out of the pocket of her robes and handed it to Ron.

 

 It was as large as a chicken’s egg. An ornate letter S, inlaid with many small green

stones, glinted dully in the diffused light shining through the tent’s canvas roof.

 

 “There isn’t any chance someone’s destroyed it since Kreacher had it?” asked

Ron hopefully. “I mean, are we sure it’s still a Horcrux?”

 

 “I think so,” said Hermione, taking it back from him and looking at it closely.

“There’d be some sign of damage if it had been magically destroyed.”

 

 She passed it to Harry, who turned it over in his fingers. The thing looked perfect,

pristine. He remembered the mangled remains of the diary, and how the stone in the

Horcrux ring had been cracked open when Dumbledore destroyed it.

 

 “I reckon Kreacher’s right,” said Harry. “We’re going to have to work out how to

open this thing before we can destroy it.”

 

 Sudden awareness of what he was holding, of what lived behind the little golden

doors, hit Harry as he spoke. Even after all their efforts to find it, he felt a violent urge to

fling the locket from him. Mastering himself again, he tried to prise the locket apart with

his fingers, then attempted the charm Hermione had used to open Regulus’s bedroom

door. Neither worked. He handed the locket back to Ron and Hermione, each of whom

did their best, but were no more successful at opening it than he had been.

 

 “Can you feel it, though?” Ron asked in a hushed voice, as he held it tight in his

clenched fist.

 


 

 “What d’you mean?”

Ron passed the Horcrux to Harry. After a moment or two, Harry thought he knew

what Ron meant. Was it his own blood pulsing through his veins that he could feel, or

was it something beating inside the locket, like a tiny metal heart?

 

 “What are we going to do with it?” Hermione asked.

 

 “Keep it safe till we work out how to destroy it.” Harry replied, and, little though

he wanted to, he hung the chain around his own neck, dropping the locket out of sight

beneath his robes, where it rested against his chest beside the pouch Hagrid had given

him.

 

 “I think we should take it in turns to keep watch outside the tent,” he added to

Hermione, standing up and stretching. “And we’ll need to think about some food as well.

You stay there,” he added sharply, as Ron attempted to sit up and turned a nasty shade of

green.

 

 With the Sneakoscope Hermione had given Harry for his birthday set carefully

upon the table in the tent, Harry and Hermione spent the rest of the day sharing the role

of lookout. However, the Sneakoscope remained silent and still upon its point all day, and

whether because of the protective enchantments and Muggle-repelling charms Hermione

had spread around them, or because people rarely ventured this way, their patch of wood

remained deserted, apart from occasional birds and squirrels. Evening brought no change;

Harry lit his wand as he swapped places with Hermione at ten o’clock, and looked out

upon a deserted scene, noting the bats fluttering high above him across the single patch of

starry sky visible from their protected clearing.

 

 He felt hungry now, and a little light-headed. Hermione had not packed any food

in her magical bag, as she had assumed that they would be returning to Grimmauld Place

that night, so they had had nothing to eat except some wild mushrooms that Hermione

had collected from amongst the nearest trees and stewed in a Billycan. After a couple of

mouthfuls Ron had pushed his portion away, looking queasy; Harry had only persevered

so as to not hurt Hermione’s feelings.

 

 The surrounding silence was broken by odd rustlings and what sounded like

crackings of twigs: Harry thought that they were caused by animals rather than people,

yet he kept his wand held tight at the ready. His insides, already uncomfortable due to

their inadequate helping of rubbery mushrooms, tingled with unease.

 

 He had though that he would feel elated if they managed to steal back the Horcrux,

but somehow he did not; all he felt as he sat looking out at the darkness, of which his

wand lit only a tiny part, was worry about what would happen next. It was as though he

had been hurtling toward this point for weeks, months, maybe even years, but how he had

come to an abrupt halt, run out of road.

 

 There were other Horcruxes out there somewhere, but he did not have the faintest

idea where they could be. He did not even know what all of them were. Meanwhile he

was at a loss to know how to destroy the only one that they had found, the Horcrux that

currently lay against the bare flesh of his chest. Curiously, it had not taken heat from his

body, but lay so cold against his skin it might just have emerged from icy water. From

time to time Harry thought, or perhaps imagined, that he could feel the tiny heartbeat

ticking irregularly alongside his own. Nameless forebodings crept upon him as he sat

there in the dark. He tried to resist them, push them away, yet they came at him

relentlessly. Neither can live while the other survives. Ron and Hermione, now talking

 


 

softly behind him in the tent, could walk away if they wanted to: He could not. And it

seemed to Harry as he sat there trying to master his own fear and exhaustion, that the

Horcrux against his chest was ticking away the time he had left. . . . Stupid idea, he told

himself, don’t think that. . . .

 

 His scar was starting to prickle again. He was afraid that he was making it happen

by having these thoughts, and tried to direct them into another channel. He thought of

poor Kreacher, who had expected them home and had received Yaxley instead. Would

the elf keep silent or would he tell the Death Eater everything he knew? Harry wanted to

believe that Kreacher had changed towards him in the past month, that he would be loyal

now, but who knew what would happen? What if the Death Eaters tortured the elf? Sick

images swarmed into Harry’s head and he tried to push these away too, for there was

nothing he could do for Kreacher: He and Hermione had already decided against trying to

summon him; what if someone from the Ministry came too? They could not count on

elfish Apparition being free from the same flaw that had taken Yaxley to Grimmauld

Place on the hem of Hermione’s sleeve.

 

 Harry’s scar was burning now. He thought that there was so much they did not

know: Lupin had been right about magic they had never encountered or imagined. Why

hadn’t Dumbledore explained more? Had he thought that there would be time; that he

would live for years, for centuries perhaps, like his friend Nicolas Flamel? If so, he had

been wrong. . . . Snape had seen to that. . . . Snape, the sleeping snake, who had struck at

the top of the tower . . .

 

 And Dumbledore had fallen . . . fallen . . .

 

 “Give it to me, Gregorovitch.”

 

 Harry’s voice was high, clear, and cold, his wand held in front of him by a longfingered

white hand. The man at whom he was pointing was suspended upside down in

midair, though there were no ropes holding him; he swung there, invisibly and eerily

bound, his limbs wrapped about him, his terrified face, on a level with Harry’s ruddy due

to the blood that had rushed to his head. He had pure-white hair and a thick, bushy beard:

a trussed-up Father Christmas.

 

 “I have it not, I have it no more! It was, many years ago, stolen from me!”

 

 “Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Gregorovitch. He knows. . . . He always knows.”

The hanging man’s pupils were wide, dilated with fear, and they seemed to swell,

bigger and bigger until their blackness swallowed Harry whole –

 

 And how Harry was hurrying along a dark corridor in stout little Gregorovitch’s

wake as he held a lantern aloft: Gregorovitch burst into the room at the end of the passage

and his lantern illuminated what looked like a workshop; wood shavings and gold

gleamed in the swinging pool of light, and there on the window ledge sat perched, like a

giant bird, a young man with golden hair. In the split second that the lantern’s light

illuminated him, Harry saw the delight upon his handsome face, then the intruder shot a

Stunning Spell from his wand and jumped neatly backward out of the window with a

crow of laughter.

 

 And Harry was hurtling back out of those wide, tunnellike pupils and

Gregorovitch’s face was stricken with terror.

 

 “Who was the thief, Gregorovitch?” said the high cold voice.

 

 “I do not know, I never knew, a young man – no – please – PLEASE!”

 

 A scream that went on and on and then a burst of green light –

 


 

 “Harry!”

 

 He opened his eyes, panting, his forehead throbbing. He had passed out against

the side of the tent, had slid sideways down the canvas, and was sprawled on the ground.

He looked up at Hermione, whose bushy hair obscured the tiny patch of sky visible

through the dark branches high above them.

 

 “Dream,” he said, sitting up quickly and attempting to meet Hermione’s glower

with a look of innocence. “Must’ve dozed off, sorry.”

 

 “I know it was your scar! I can tell by the look on your face! You were looking

into Vol –“

 

 “Don’t say his name!” came Ron’s angry voice from the depths of the tent.

 

 “Fine,” retorted Hermione, “You-Know-Who’s mind, then!”

“I didn’t mean it to happen!” Harry said. “It was a dream! Can you control what

you dream about, Hermione?”

 

 “If you just learned to apply Occlumency –“

 

 But Harry was not interested in being told off; he wanted to discuss what he had

just seen.

 

 “He’s found Gregorovitch, Hermione, and I think he’s killed him, but before he

killed him he read Gregorovitch’s mind and I saw –“

 

 “I think I’d better take over the watch if you’re so tired you’re falling sleep,” said

Hermione coldly.

 

 “I can finish the watch!”

 

 “No, you’re obviously exhausted. Go and lie down.”

 

 She dropped down in the mouth of the tent, looking stubborn. Angry, but wishing

to avoid a row, Harry ducked back inside.

 

 Ron’s still-pale face was poking out from the lower bunk; Harry climbed into the

one above him, lay down, and looked up at the dark canvas ceiling. After several

moments, Ron spoke in a voice so low that it would not carry to Hermione, huddle in the

entrance.

 

 “What’s You-Know-Who doing?”

 

 Harry screwed up his eyes in the effort to remember every detail, then whispered

into the darkness.

 

 “He found Gregorovitch. He had him tied up, he was torturing him.”

“How’s Gregorovitch supposed to make him a new wand if he’s tied up?”

 

 “I dunno. . . . It’s weird, isn’t it?”

 

 Harry closed his eyes, thinking of all that he had seen and heard. The more he

recalled, the less sense it made. . . . Voldemort had said nothing about Harry’s wand,

nothing about the twin cores, nothing about Gregorovitch making a new and more

powerful wand to beat Harry’s. . . .

 

 “He wanted something from Gregorovitch,” Harry said, eyes still closed tight.

“He asked him to hand it over, but Gregorovitch said it had been stolen from him . . . and

then . . . then . . .”

 

 He remembered how he, as Voldemort, had seemed to hurtle through

Gregorovitch’s eyes, into his memories. . . .

 

 “He read Gregorovitch’s mind, and I saw this young bloke perched on a

windowsill, and he fired a curse at Gregorovitch and jumped out of sight. He stole it, he

stole whatever You-Know-Who’s after. And I . . . I think I’ve seen him somewhere. . . .”

 


 

 Harry wished he could have another glimpse of the laughing boy’s face. The theft

had happened many years ago, according to Gregorovitch. Why did the young thief look

familiar?

 

 The noises of the surrounding woods were muffled inside the tent; all Harry could

hear was Ron’s breathing. After a while, Ron whispered, “Couldn’t you see what the

thief was holding?”

 

 “No . . . it must’ve been something small.”

 

 “Harry?”

 

 The wooden slats of Ron’s bunk creaked as he repositioned himself in bed.

 

 “Harry, you don’t reckon You-Know-Who’s after something else to turn into a

Horcrux?”

 

 “I don’t know,” said Harry slowly. “Maybe. But wouldn’t it be dangerous for him

to make another one? Didn’t Hermione say he had pushed his soul to the limit already?”

 

 “Yeah, but maybe he doesn’t know that.”

 

 “Yeah . . .maybe,” said Harry.

 

 He had been sure that Voldemort had been looking for a way around the problem

of the twin cores, sure that Voldemort sought a solution from the old wandmaker . . . and

yet he had killed him, apparently without asking him a single question about wandlore.

 

 What was Voldemort trying to find? Why, with the Ministry of Magic and the

Wizarding world at his feet, was he far away, intent on the pursuit of an object that

Gregorovitch had once owned, and which had been stolen by the unknown thief?

 

 Harry could still see the blond-haired youth’s face; it was merry, wild; there was a

Fred and George-ish air of triumphant trickery about him. He had soared from the

windowsill like a bird, and Harry had seen him before, but he could not think where. . . .

 

 With Gregorovitch dead, it was the merry-faced thief who was in danger now, and

it was on him that Harry’s thoughts dwelled, as Ron’s snores began to rumble from the

lower bunk and as he himself drifted slowly into sleep once more.

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

The Goblin’s Revenge

 

 

 

 Early next morning, before the other two were awake, Harry left the tent to search

the woods around them for the oldest, most gnarled, and resilient-looking tree he could

find. There in its shadows he buried Mad-Eye Moody's eye and marked the spot by

gouging a small cross in the bark with his wand. It was not much, but Harry felt that

Mad-Eye would have much preferred this to being stuck on Dolores Umbridge's door.

Then he returned to the tent to wait for the others to wake, and discuss what they were

going to do next.

 

 Harry and Hermione felt that it was best not to stay anywhere too long, and Ron

agreed, wit the sole proviso that their next move took them within reach of a bacon

sandwich. Hermione therefore removed the enchantments she had placed around the

clearing, while Harry and Ron obliterated all the marks and impressions on the ground

that might show they had camped there. Then they Disapparated to the outskirts of a

small market town.

 


 

 Once they had pitched the tent in the shelter of a small copse of trees and

surrounded it with freshly cast defensive enchantments. Harry ventured out under the

Invisibility Cloak to find sustenance. This, however, did not go as planned. He had barely

entered the town when an unnatural chill, a descending mist, and a sudden darkening of

the skies made him freeze where he stood.

 

"But you can make a brilliant Patronus!" protested Ron, when Harry arrived back at the

tent empty handed, out of breath, and mouthing the single word, dementors.

 

 "I couldn't . . . make one." he panted, clutching the stitch in his side. "Wouldn't . . .

come."

 

Their expressions of consternation and disappointment made Harry feel ashamed. It had

been a nightmarish experience, seeing the dementors gliding out of the must in the

distance and realizing, as the paralyzing cold choked his lungs and a distant screaming

filled his ears, that he was not going to be able to protect himself. It had taken all Harry's

willpower to uproot himself from the spot and run, leaving the eyeless dementors to glide

amongst the Muggles who might not be able to see them, but would assuredly feel the

despair they cast wherever they went.

 

 "So we still haven't got any food."

 

 "Shut up, Ron," snapped Hermione. "Harry, what happened? Why do you think

you couldn't make your Patronus? You managed perfectly yesterday!"

 

 "I don't know."

 

 He sat low in one of Perkins's old armchairs, feeling more humiliated by the

moment. He was afraid that something had gone wrong inside him. Yesterday seemed a

long time ago: Today me might have been thirteen years old again, the only one who

collapsed on the Hogwarts Express.

 

 Ron kicked a chair leg.

 

 "What?" he snarled at Hermione. "I'm starving! All I've had since I bled half to

death is a couple of toadstools!"

 

 "You go and fight your way through the dementors, then," said Harry, stung.

 

 "I would, but my arm's in a sling, in case you hadn't noticed!"

 

 "That's convenient."

 

 "And what's that supposed to — ?"

 

 "Of course!" cried Hermione, clapping a hand to her forehead and startling both

of them into silence. "Harry, give me the locket! Come on," she said impatiently, clicking

her fingers at him when he did not react," to Horcrux, Harry, you're still wearing it!"

 

 She held out her hands, and Harry lifted the golden chain over his head. The

moment it parted contact with Harry's skin he free and oddly light. He had not even

realized that he was clammy or that there was a heavy weight pressing on his stomach

until both sensations lifted.

 

 "Better?" asked Hermione.

 

 "Yeah, loads better!"

 

 "Harry," she said, crouching down in front of him and using the kind of voice he

associated with visiting the very sick, "you don't think you've been possessed, do you?"

 

 "What? No!" he said defensively, "I remember everything we've done while I've

bee wearing it. I wouldn't know what I'd done if I'd been possessed, would I? Ginny told

me there were times when she couldn't remember anything."

 


 

 "Hmm," said Hermione, looking down at the heavy locket. "Well, maybe we

ought not to wear it. We can just keep it in the tent."

 

 "We are not leaving that Horcrux lying around," Harry stated firmly. "If we lose it,

if it gets stolen—"

 

 "Oh, all right, all right," said Hermione, and she placed it around her own neck

and tucked it out of sight down the front of her shirt. "But we'll take turns wearing it, so

nobody keeps it on too long."

 

 "Great," said Ron irritably, "and now we've sorted that out, can we please get

some food?"

 

 "Fine, but we'll go somewhere else to find it," said Hermione with half a glance at

Harry. "There's no point staying where we know dementors are swooping around."

 

 In the end they settled down for the night in a far flung field belonging to a lonely

farm, from which they had managed to obtain eggs and bread.

 

 "It's not stealing, is it?" asked Hermione in a troubled voice, as they devoured

scrambled eggs on toast. "Not if I left some money under the chicken coo?"

 

 Ron rolled his eyes and said, with his cheeks bulging, "Er-my-nee, 'oo worry 'oo

much. 'Elax!"

 

 And, indeed, it was much easier to relax when they were comfortably well fed.

The argument about the dementors was forgotten in laughter that night, and Harry felt

cheerful, even hopeful, as he took the first of the three night watches.

 

 This was their first encounter with the fact that a full stomach meant good spirits,

an empty one, bickering and gloom. Harry was least surprised by this, because be had

suffered periods of near starvation at the Dursleys’. Hermione bore up reasonably well on

those nights when they managed to scavenge nothing but berries or stale biscuits, her

temper perhaps a little shorter than usual and her silences dour. Ron, however, had

always been used to three delicious meals a day, courtesy of his mother or of the

Hogwarts house-elves, and hunger made him both unreasonable and irascible. Whenever

lack of food coincided with Ron's turn to wear the Horcrux, he became downright

unpleasant.

 

 "So where next?" was his constant refrain. He did not seem to have any ideas

himself, but expected Harry and Hermione to come up with plans while he sat and

brooded over the low food supplies. Accordingly Harry and Hermione spent fruitless

hours trying to decide where they might find the other Horcruxes, and how to destroy the

one they already got, their conversations becoming increasingly repetitive as they got no

new information.

 

 As Dumbledore had told Harry that be believed Voldemort had hidden the

Horcruxes in places important to him, they kept reciting, in a sort of dreary litany, those

locations they knew that Voldemort had lived or visited. The orphanage where he had

been born and raised: Hogwarts, where he had been educated; Borgin and Burks, where

he had worked after completing school; then Albania, where he had spent his years of

exile: These formed the basis of their speculations.

 

 "Yeah, let's go to Albania. Shouldn't take more than an afternoon to search an

entire country," said Ron sarcastically.

 

 "There can't be anything there. He'd already made five of his Horcruxes before he

went into exile, and Dumbledore was certain the snake is the sixth," said Hermione. "We

know the snake's not in Albania, it's usually with Vol—"

 


 

 "Didn't I ask you to stop say that?"

 

 "Fine! The snake is usually with You-Know-Who—happy?"

 

 "Not particularly."

 

 "I can't see him hiding anything at Borgin and Burkes." said Harry, who had made

this point many times before, but said it again simply to break the nasty silence. "Borgin

and Burke were experts at Dark objects, they would've recognized a Horcrux

straightaway."

 

 Ron yawned pointedly. Repressing a strong urge to throw something at him,

Harry plowed on, "I still reckon he might have hidden something at Hogwarts."

 

 Hermione sighed.

 

 "But Dumbledore would have found it, Harry!"

 

 Harry repeated the argument he kept bringing out in favor of this theory.

 

 "Dumbledore said in front of me that he never assumed he knew all of Hogwart's

secrets. I'm telling you, if there was one place Vol—"

 

 "Oi!"

 

 "YOU-KNOW-WHO, then!" Harry shouted, goaded past endurance. "If there was

one place that was really important to You-Know-Who, it was Hogwarts!"

 

 "Oh, come on," scoffed Ron. "His school?"

 

 "Yeah, his school! It was his first real home, the place that meant he was special:

it meant everything to him, and even after he left—"

 

 "This is You-Know-Who we're talking about, right? Not you?" inquired Ron. He

was tugging at the chain of the Horcrux around his neck; Harry was visited by a desire to

seize it and throttle him.

 

 "You told us that You-Know-Who asked Dumbledore to give him a job after he

left," said Hermione.

 

 "That's right," said Harry.

 

 "And Dumbledore thought he only wanted to come back to try and find something,

probably another founder's object, to make into another Horcrux?"

 

 “Yeah,” said Harry.

 

 “But he didn’t get the job, did he?” said Hermione. “So he never got the chance to

find a founder’s object there and hide it in the school!”

 

 “Okay, then,” said Harry, defeated. “Forget Hogwarts.”

 

 Without any other leads, they traveled into London and, hidden beneath the

Invisibility Cloak, search for the orphanage in which Voldemort had been raised.

Hermione stole into a library and discovered from their records that the place had been

demolished many years before. They visited its site and found a tower block of offices.

 

 “We could try digging in to foundations?” Hermione suggested halfheartedly.

 

 “He wouldn’t have hidden a Horcrux here,” Harry said. He had known it all along.

The orphanage had been the place Voldemort had been determined to escape; he would

never have hidden a part of his soul there. Dumbledore had shown Harry that Voldemort

sought grandeur or mystique in his hiding places; this dismal gray corner of London was

as far removed as you could imagine from Hogwarts of the Ministry or a building like

Gringotts, the Wizarding banks, with its gilded doors and marble floors.

 

 Even without any new idea, they continued to move through the countryside,

pitching the tent in a different place each night for security. Every morning they made

sure that they had removed all clues to their presence, then set off to find another lonely

 


 

and secluded spot, traveling by Apparition to more woods, to the shadowy crevices of

cliffs, to purple moors, gorse-covered mountainsides, and once a sheltered and pebbly

cove. Every twelve hours or so they passed the Horcrux between them as though they

were playing some perverse, slow-motion game of pass-the-parcel, where they dreaded

the music stopping because the reward was twelve hours of increased fear and anxiety.

 

 Harry’s scare kept prickling. It happened most often, he noticed, when he was

wearing the Horcrux. Sometimes he could not stop himself reacting to the pain.

 

 “What? What did you see?” demanded Ron, whenever he noticed Harry wince.

 

 “A face,” muttered Harry, every time. “The same face. The thief who stole from

Gregorovitch.”

 

 And Ron would turn away, making no effort to hide his disappointment. Harry

knew that Ron was hoping to bear news of his family or the rest of the Order of the

Phoenix, but after all, he, Harry, was not a television aerial; he could only see what

Voldemort was thinking at the time, not tune in to whatever took his fancy. Apparently

Voldemort was dwelling endlessly on the unknown youth with the gleeful face, whose

name and whereabouts, Harry felt sure, Voldemort knew no better than he did. As

Harry’s scar continued to burn and the merry, blond-haired boy swam tantalizingly in his

memory, he learned to suppress any sign of pain or discomfort, for the other two showed

nothing but impatience at the mention of the thief. He could not entirely blame them,

when they were so desperate for a lean on the Horcruxes.

 

 As the days stretched into weeks, Harry began to suspect that Ron and Hermione

were having conversations without, and about, him. Several times they stopped talking

abruptly when Harry entered the tent, and twice he came accidentally upon them, huddled

a little distance away, heads together and talking fast; both times they fell silent when

they realized he was approaching them and hastened to appear busy collecting wood or

water.

 

 Harry could not help wondering whether they had only agreed to come on what

now felt like a pointless and rambling journey because they thought he had some secret

plan that they would learn in due course. Ton was making no effort to hide his bad mood,

and Harry was starting to fear that Hermione too was disappointed by his poor leadership.

In desperation he tried to think of further Horcrux locations, but the only one that

continued to occur to him was Hogwarts, and as neither of the others thought this at all

likely, he stopped suggesting it.

 

 Autumn rolled over the countryside as they moved through it. They were now

pitching the tent on mulches of fallen leaves. Natural mists joined those cast by the

dementors; wind and rain added to their troubles. The fact that Hermione was getting

better at identifying edible fungi could not altogether compensate for their continuing

isolation, the lack of other people’s company, or their total ignorance of what was going

on in the war against Voldemort.

 

 “My mother,” said Ron on night, as they sat in the tent on a riverbank in Wales,

“can make good food appear out of thin air.”

 

 He prodded moodily at the lumps of charred gray fish on his plate. Harry glanced

automatically at Ron’s neck and saw, as he has expected, the golden chain of the Horcrux

glinting there. He managed to fight down the impulse to swear at Ron, whose attitude

would, he knew, improve slightly when the time came to take off the locket.

 


 

 “Your mother can’t produce food out of thin air,” said Hermione. “no one can.

Food is the first of the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental

Transfigura—”

 

 “Oh, speak English, can’t you?” Ron said, prising a fish out from between his

teeth.

 

 “It’s impossible to make good food out of nothing! You can Summon it if you

know where it is, you can transform it, you can increase the quantity if you’ve already got

some—”

 

 “Well, don’t bother increasing this, it’s disgusting,” said Ron.

 

 “Harry caught the fish and I did my best with it! I notice I’m always the one who

ends up sorting out the food, because I’m a girl, I suppose!”

 

 “No, it’s because you’re supposed to be the best at magic!” shot back Ron.

 

 Hermione jumped up and bits of roast pike slid off her tin plate onto the floor.

 

 “You can do the cooking tomorrow, Ron, you can find the ingredients and try and

charm them into something worth eating, and I’ll sit here and pull faces and moan and

you can see you—”

 

 “Shut up!,” said Harry, leaping to his feet and holding up both hands. “Shut up

now!”

 

 Hermione looked outraged.

 

 “How can you side with him, he hardly ever does the cook—”

 

 “Hermione, be quiet, I can hear someone!”

 

 He was listening hard, his hands still raised, warning them not to talk. Then, over

the rush and gush of the dark river beside them, he heard voices again. He looked around

at the Sneakoscope. It was not moving.

 

 “You cast the Muffliato charm over us, right?” he whispered to Hermione.

 

 “I did everything,” she whispered back, “Muffliato, Muggle-Repelling and

Disillusionment Charms, all of it. They shouldn’t be able to hear of see us, whoever they

are.”

 

 Heavy scuffing and scraping noises, plus the sound of dislodged stones and twigs,

told them that several people were clambering down the steep, wooded slope that

descended to the narrow bank where they had pitched the tent. They drew their wands,

waiting. The enchantments they had cast around themselves ought to be sufficient, in the

near total darkness, to shield them from the notice of Muggles and normal witches and

wizards. If these were Death Eaters, then perhaps their defenses were about to be tested

by Dark Magic for the first time.

 

 The voices became louder but no more intelligible as the group of men reached

the bank. Harry estimated that their owners were fewer than twenty feet away, but the

cascading river made it impossible to tell for sure. Hermione snatched up the beaded bag

and started to rummage; after a moment she drew out three Extendible Ears and threw

one each to Harry and Ron, who hastily inserted the ends of the flesh-colored strings into

their ears and fed the other ends out of the tent entrance.

 

 Within seconds Harry heard a weary male voice.

 

 “There ought to be a few salmon in here, or d’you reckon it’s too early in the

season? Accio Salmon!”

 

 There were several distinct splashes and then the slapping sounds of fish against

flesh. Somebody grunted appreciatively. Harry pressed the Extendable ear deeper into his

 


 

own: Over the murmur of the river he could make out more voices, but they were not

speaking English or any human language he had ever heard. It was a rough and

unmelodious tongue, a string of rattling, guttural noises, and there seemed to be two

speakers, one with a slightly lower, slower voice than the other.

 

 A fire danced into life on the other side of the canvas, large shadows passed

between tent and flames. The delicious smell of baking salmon wafted tantalizingly in

their direction. Then came the clinking of cutlery on plates, and the first man spoke again.

 

 “Here, Griphook, Gornuk.”

 

 Goblins! Hermione mouthed at Harry, who nodded.

 

 “Thank you,” said the goblins together in English.

 

 “So, you three have been on the run how long?” asked a new, mellow, and

pleasant voice; it was vaguely familiar to Harry, who pictured a round-bellied, cheerfulfaced

man.

 

 “Six weeks . . . Seven . . . I forget,” said the tired man. “Met up with Griphook in

the first couple of days and joined forces with Gornuk not long after. Nice to have a but

of company.” There was a pause, while knives scraped plates and tin mugs were picked

up and replaced on the ground. “What made you leave, Ted?” continued the man.

 

 “Knew they were coming for me,” replied mellow-voiced Ted, and Harry

suddenly knew who he was: Tonks’s father. “Heard Death Eaters were in the area last

week and decided I’d better run for it. Refused to register as a Muggle-born on principle,

see, so I knew it was a matter of time, knew I’d have to leave in the end. My wife should

be okay, she’s pure-blood. And then I net Dean here, what, a few days ago, son?”

 

 “Yeah,” said another voice, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione stared at each other,

silent but besides themselves with excitement, sure they recognized the voice of Dean

Thomas, their fellow Gryffindor.

 

 “Muggle-born, eh?” asked the first man.

 

 “Not sure ,” said Dean. “My dad left my mum when I was a kid. I’ve got no proof

he was a wizard, though.”

 

 There was silence for a while, except for the sounds of munching; then Ted spoke

again.

 

 “I’ve got to say, Dirk, I’m surprised to run into you. Pleased, but surprised. Word

was that you’d been caught.”

 

 “I was,” said Dirk. “I was halfway to Azkaban when I made a break for it.

Stunned Dawlish, and nicked his broom. It was easier than you’d think; I don’t reckon

he’s quite right at the moment .Might be Confunded. If so, I’d like to shake the hand of

the witch or wizard who did it, probably saved my life.”

 

 There was another pause in which the fire crackled and the river rushed on. The

Ted said, “And where do you two fit in? I, er, had the impression the goblins were for

You-Know-Who, on the whole.”

 

 “You had a false impression,” said the higher-voiced of the goblins. “We take no

sides. This is a wizards’ war.”

 

 “How come you’re in hiding, then?”

 

 “I deemed in prudent,” said the deeper-voiced goblin. “Having refused what I

considered an impertinent request, I could see that my person safety was in jeopardy.”

 

 “What did they ask you to do?” asked Ted.

 


 

 “Duties ill-befitting the dignity of my race,” replied the goblin, his voice rougher

and less human as he said it. “I am not a house-elf.”

 

 “What about you, Griphook?”

 

 “Similar reasons,” said the higher voiced goblin. “Gringotts is no longer under the

sole control of my race. I recognize no Wizarding master.”

 

 He added something under his breath in Gobbledegook, and Gornuk laughed.

 

 “What’s the joke?” asked Dean.

 

 “He said,” replied Dirk, “that there are things wizards don’t recognize, either.”

 

 There was a short pause.

 

 “I don’t get it,” said Dean.

 

 “I had my small revenge before I left,,” said Griphook in English.

 

 “Good man—goblin, I should say,” amended Ted hastily. “Didn’t manage to lock

a Death Eater up in one of the old high-security vaults, I suppose?”

 

 “If I had, the sword would not have helped him break out,” replied Griphook.

Gornuk laughed again and even Dirk gave a dry chuckle.

 

 “Dean and I are still missing something here,” said Ted.

 

 “So is Severus Snape, though he does not know it,” said Griphook, and the two

goblins roared with malicious laughter. Inside the tent Harry’s breathing was shallow

with excitement: He and Hermione stared at each other, listening as hard as they could.

 

 “Didn’t you hear about that, Ted?” asked Dirk. “About the kids who tried to steal

Gryffindor’s sword out of Snape’s office at Hogwarts?”

 

 An electric current seemed to course through Harry, jangling his every nerve as he

stood rooted to the spot.

 

 “Never heard a word,” said Ted, “Not in the Prophet, was it?”

 

 “Hardly,” chortled Dirk. “Griphook here told me, he heard about it from Bill

Weasley who works for the bank. One of the kids who tried to take the sword was Bill’s

younger sister.”

 

 Harry glanced toward Hermione and Ron, both of whom were clutching the

Extendable Ears as tightly as lifelines.

 

 “She and a couple of friends got into Snape’s office and smashed open the glass

case where he was apparently keeping the sword. Snape caught them as they were trying

to smuggle it down the staircase.

 

 “Ah, God bless ‘em,” said Ted. “What did they think, that they’d be able to use

the sword on You-Know-Who? Or on Snape himself?

 

 “Well, whatever they thought they were going to do with it, Snape decided the

sword wasn’t safe where it was,” said Dirk. “Couple of days later, once he’d got the sayso

from You-Know-Who, I imagine, he sent it down to London to be kept in Gringotts

instead.”

 

 The goblins started to laugh again.

 

 “I’m still not seeing the joke,” said Ted.

 

 “It’s a fake,” rasped Griphook.

 

 “The sword of Gryffindor!”

 

 “Oh yes. It is a copy—en excellent copy, it is true—but it was Wizard-made. The

original was forged centuries ago by goblins and had certain properties only goblin-made

armor possesses. Wherever the genuine sword of Gryffindor is, it is not in a vault at

Gringotts bank.”

 


 

 “I see,” said Ted. “And I take it you didn’t bother telling the Death Eaters this/’

 

 “I saw no reason to trouble them with the information,” said Griphook smugly,

and now Ted and Dean joined in Gornuk and Dirk’s laughter.

 

 Inside the tent, Harry closed his eyes, willing someone to ask the question he

needed answered, and after a minute that seemed ten, Dean obliged: he was (Harry

remembered with a jolt) an ex-boyfriend of Ginny’s too.

 

 “What happened to Ginny and all the others? The ones who tried to steal it?”

 

 “Oh, they were punished, and cruelly,” said Griphook indifferently.

 

 “They’re okay, though?” asked Ted quickly, “I mean, the Weasleys don’t need

any more of their kids injured, do they?”

 

 “They suffered no serious injury, as far as I am aware,” said Griphook.

 

 “Lucky for them,” said Ted. “With Snape’s track record I suppose we should just

be glad they’re still alive.”

 

 “You believe that story, then, do you, Ted?” asked Dirk.” You believe Snape

killed Dumbledore?

 

 “Course I do,” said Ted. “You’re not going to sit there and tell me you think

Potter had anything to do with it?”

 

 “Hard to know what to believe these days,” muttered Dirk.

 

 “I know Harry Potter,” said Dean. “And I reckon he’s the real thing—the Chosen

One, or whatever you want to call it.”

 

 “Yeah, there’s a lot would like to believe he’s that, son,” said Dirk, “me included.

But where is he? Run for it, by the looks of things. You’d think if he knew anything we

don’t, or had anything special going for him, he’d be out there now fighting, rallying

resistance, instead of hiding. And you know, the Prophet made a pretty good case against

him—”

 

 “The Prophet?” scoffed Ted. “You deserve to be lied to if you’re still reading that

much, Dirk. You want the facts, try the Quibbler.”

 

 There was a sudden explosion of choking and retching, plus a good deal of

thumping, by the sound of it. Dirk had swallowed a fish bone. At last he sputtered, “The

Quibbler? That lunatic rag of Xeno Lovegood’s?”

 

 “It’s not so lunatic these days,” said Ted. “You want to give it a look, Xeno is

printing all the stuff the Prophet’s ignoring, not a single mention of Crumple-Horned

Snorkacks in the last issue. How long they’ll let him get with it, mind, I don’t know. But

Xeno says, front page of every issue, that any wizard who’s against You-Know-Who

ought to make helping Harry Potter their number-one priority.”

 

 “Hard to help a boy who’s vanished off the face of the earth,” said Dirk.

 

 “Listen, the fact that they haven’t caught him yet’s one hell of an achievement,”

said Ted. “I’d take tips from him gladly; it’s what we’re trying to do, stay free, isn’t it?”

 

 “Yeah, well, you’ve got a point there,” said Dirk heavily. “With the whole of the

Ministry and all their informers looking for him, I’d have expected him to be caught by

now. Mind, who’s to say they haven’t already caught and killed him without publicizing

it?”

 

 “Ah, don’t say that, Dirk,” murmured Ted.

 

 There was a long pause filled with more clattering of knives and forks. When they

spoke again it was to discuss whether they ought to sleep on the back or retreat back up

 


 

the wooded slope. Deciding the trees would give better cover, they extinguished their fire,

then clambered back up the incline, their voices fading away.

 

 Harry, Ron, and Hermione reeled in the Extendable Ears. Harry, who had found

the need to remain silent increasingly difficult the longer they eavesdropped, now found

himself unable to say more then, “Ginny—the sword—”

 

 “I know!” said Hermione.

 

 She lunged for the tiny beaded bag, this time sinking her arm in it right up to the

armpit.

 

 “Here . . . we . . . are . . .” she said between gritted teeth, and she pulled at

something that was evidently in the depths of the bag. Slowly the edge of an ornate

picture frame came into sight. Harry hurried to help her. As they lifted the empty portrait

of Phineas Nigellus free of Hermione’s bag, she kept her wand pointing at it, ready to

cast a spell at any moment.

 

 “If somebody swapped the real sword for the face while it was in Dumbledore’s

office,” she panted, as they propped the painting against the side of the tent, “Phineas

Nigellus would have seen it happen, he hangs right beside the case!”

 

 “Unless he was asleep,” said Harry, but he still held his breath as Hermione knelt

down in front of the empty canvas, her wand directed at its center, cleared her throat, then

said:

 

 “Er—Phineas? Phineas Nigellus?”

 

 Nothing happened.

 

 “Phineas Nigellus?” said Hermione again. “Professor Black? Please could we talk

to you? Please?”

 

 “’Please’ always helps,” said a cold, snide voice, and Phineas Nigellus slid into

his portrait. At one, Hermione cried:

 

 “Obscura!”

 

 A black blindfold appeared over Phineas Nigellus’s clever, dark eyes, causing

him to bump into the frame and shriek with pain.

 

 “What—how dare—what are you—?”

 

 “I’m very sorry, Professor Black,” said Hermione, “but it’s a necessary

precaution!”

 

 “remove this foul addition at once! Remove it, I say! You are ruining a great work

of art! Where am I? What is going on?”

 

 “Never mind where we are,” said Harry, and Phineas Nigellus froze, abandoning

his attempts to peel off the painted blindfold.

 

 “Can that possible be the voice of the elusive Mr. Potter?”

 

 “Maybe,” said Harry, knowing that this would keep Phineas Nigellus’s interest.

“We’ve got a couple of questions to ask you—about the sword of Gryffindor.”

 

 “Ah,” said Phineas Nigellus, now turning his head this way and that in an effort to

catch sight of Harry, “yes. That silly girl acted most unwisely there—”

 

 “Shut up about my sister,” said Ron roughly, Phineas Nigellus raised supercilious

eyebrows.

 

 “Who else is here?” he asked, turning his head from side to side. “Your tone

displeases me! The girl and her friends were foolhardily in the extreme. Thieving from

the headmaster.”

 

 “They weren’t thieving,” said Harry. “That sword isn’t Snape’s.”

 


 

 “It belongs to Professor Snape’s school,” said Phineas Nigellus. “Exactly what

claim did the Weasley girl have upon it? She deserved her punishment, as did the idiot

Longbottom and the Lovegood oddity!”

 

 “Neville is not an idiot and Luna is not an oddity!” said Hermione.

 

 “Where am I?” repeated Phineas Nigellus, starting to wrestle with the blindfold

again. “Where have you brought me? Why have you removed me from the house of my

forebears?”

 

 “never mind that! How did Snape punish Ginny, Neville, and Luna?” asked Harry

urgently.

 

 “Professor Snape sent them into the Forbidden Forest, to do some work for the

oaf, Hagrid.”

 

 “Hagrid’s not an oaf!” said Hermione shrilly.

 

 “And Snape might’ve though that was a punishment,” said Harry, “buy Ginny,

Neville, and Luna probably had a good laugh with Hagrid. The Forbidden Forest . . .

they’ve faced plenty worse than the Forbidden Forest, big deal!”

 

 He felt relieved; he had been imagining horrors, the Cruciatus Curse at the very

least.

 

 “What we really wanted to know, Professor Black, is whether anyone else has, um,

taken out the sword at all? Maybe it’s been taken away for cleaning—or something!”

 

 Phineas Nigellus paused again in his struggles to free his eyes and sniggered.

 

 “Muggle-born,” he said, “Goblin-made armor does not require cleaning, simple

girl. Goblin’s silver repels mundane dirt, imbibing only that which strengthens it.”

 

 “Don’t call Hermione simple,” said Harry.

 

 “I grow weary of contradiction,” said Phineas Nigellus. “perhaps it is time for me

to return to the headmaster’s office.?”

 

 Still blindfolded, he began groping the side of his frame, trying to feel his way out

of his picture and back into the one at Hogwarts. Harry had a sudden inspiration.

 

 “Dumbledore! Can’t you bring us Dumbledore?”

 

 “I beg your pardon?” asked Phineas Nigellus.

 

 “Professor Dumbledore’s portrait—couldn’t you bring him along, here, into

yours?”

 

 Phineas Nigellus turned his face in the direction of Harry’s voice.

 

 “Evidently it is not only Muggle-borns who are ignorant, Potter. The portraits of

Hogwarts may commune with each other, but they cannot travel outside of the castle

except to visit a painting of themselves elsewhere. Dumbledore cannot come here with

me, and after the treatment I have received at your hands, I can assure you that I will not

be making a return visit!”

 

 Slightly crestfallen, Harry watched Phineas redouble his attempts to leave his

frame.

 

 “Professor Black,” said Hermione, “couldn’t you just tell us, please, when was the

last time the sword was taken out of its case? Before Ginny took it out, I mean?”

 

 Phineas snorted impatiently.

 

 “I believe that the last time I saw the sword of Gryffindor leave its case was when

Professor Dumbledore used it to break open a ring.”

 

 Hermione whipped around to look at Harry. Neither of them dared say more in

front of Phineas Nigellus, who had at least managed to locate the exit.

 


 

 “Well, good night to you,” he said a little waspishly, and he began to move out of

sight again. Only the edge of his hat brim remained in view when Harry gave a sudden

shout.

 

 “Wait! Have you told Snape you saw this?”

 

 Phineas Nigellus stuck his blindfolded head back into the picture.

 

 “Professor Snape has more important things on his mind that the many

eccentricities of Albus Dumbledore. Good-bye, Potter!”

 

 And with that, he vanished completely, leaving behind him nothing but his murky

backdrop.

 

 “Harry!” Hermione cried.

 

 “I know!” Harry shouted. Unable to contain himself, he punched the air; it was

more than he had dared to hope for. He strode up and down the tent, feeling that he could

have run a mile; he did not even feel hungry anymore. Hermione was squashing Phineas

Nigellus’s back into the beaded bag; when she had fastened the clasp she threw the bag

aside and raised a shining face to Harry.

 

 “The sword can destroy Horcruxes! Goblin-made blades imbibe only that which

strengthens them—Harry, that sword’s impregnated with basilisk venom!”

 

 “And Dumbledore didn’t five it to me because he still needed it, he wanted to use

it on the locket—”

 

 “—and he must have realized they wouldn’t let you have it if he put it in his

will—”

 

 “—so he made a copy—”

 

 “—and put a fake in the glass case—”

 

 “—and he left the real one—where?”

 

 They gazed at east other Harry felt that the answer was dangling invisibly in the

air above them, tantalizingly close. Why hadn’t Dumbledore told him? Or had he, in fact,

told Harry, but Harry had not realized it at the time?”

 

 “Think!” whispered Hermione. “Think! Where would he have left it?”

 

 “Not at Hogwarts,” said Harry, resuming his pacing.

 

 “Somewhere in Hogsmeade?” suggested Hermione.

 

 “The Shrieking Shack?” said Harry. “Nobody ever goes in there.”

 

 “But Snape knows how to get in, wouldn’t that be a bit risky?”

 

 “Dumbledore trusted Snape,” Harry reminded her.

 

 “Not enough to tell him that he had swapped the swords,” said Hermione.

 

 “Yeah, you’re right!” said Harry, and he felt even more cheered at the thought

that Dumbledore had had some reservations, however faint, about Snape’s

trustworthiness. “So, would he have hidden the sword well away from Hogsmeade, then?

What d’you reckon, Ron? Ron?”

 

 Harry looked around. For one bewildered moment he thought that Ron had left

the tent, then realized that Ron was lying in the shadow of a bunk, looking stony.

 

 “Oh, remembered me, have you?” he said.

 

 “What?”

 

 Ron snorted as he stared up at the underside of the upper bunk.

 

 “You two carry on. Don’t let me spoil your fun.”

 

 Perplexed, Harry looked to Hermione for help, but she shook her head, apparently

as nonplussed as he was.

 


 

 “What’s the problem?” asked Harry.

 

 “Problem? There’s no problem,” said Ron, still refusing to look at Harry. “Not

according to you, anyways.”

 

 There were several plunks on the canvas over their heads. It had started to rain.

 

 “Well, you’ve obviously got a problem,” said Harry. “Spit it out, will you?”

 

 Ron swung his long legs off the bed and sat up. He looked mean, unlike himself.

 

 “All right, I’ll spit it out. Don’t expect me to skip up and down the tent because

there’s some other damn thing we’ve got to find. Just add it to the list of stuff you don’t

know.”

 

 “I don’t know?” repeated Harry. “I don’t know?”

 

 Plunk, plunk, plunk. The rain was falling harder and heavier; it pattered on the

leaf-strewn bank all around them and into the river chattering through the dark. Dread

doused Harry’s jubilation; Ron was saying exactly what he had suspected and feared him

to be thinking.

 

 “It’s not like I’m not having the time of my life here,” said Ron, “you know, with

my arm mangled and nothing to eat and freezing my backside off every night. I just

hoped, you know, after we’d been running round a few weeks, we’d have achieved

something.”

 

 “Ron,” Hermione said, but in such a quiet voice that Ron could pretend not to

have heard it over the loud tattoo the rain was beating on the tent.

 

 “I thought you knew what you’d signed up for,” said Harry.

 

 “Yeah, I thought I did too.”

 

 “So what part of it isn’t living up to your expectations?” asked Harry. Anger was

coming to his defense now. “Did you think we’d be staying in five-star hotels? Finding a

Horcrux every other day? Did you think you’d be back to Mummy by Christmas?”

 

 “We thought you knew what you were doing!” shouted Ron, standing up, and his

words Harry like scalding knives. “We thought Dumbledore had told you what to do, we

thought you had a real plan!”

 

 “Ron!” said Hermione, this time clearly audible over the rain thundering on the

tent roof, but again, he ignored her.

 

 “Well, sorry to let you down,” said Harry, his voice quite calm even though he

felt hollow, inadequate. “I’ve been straight with you from the start. I told you everything

Dumbledore told me. And in the case you haven’t noticed, we’ve found one Horcrux—”

 

 “Yeah, and we’re about as near getting rid of it as we are to finding the rest of

them—nowhere effing near in other words.”

 

 “take off the locket, Ron,” Hermione said, her voice unusually high. “Please take

it off. You wouldn’t be talking like this if you hadn’t been wearing it all day.”

 

 “Yeah, he would,” said Harry, who did not want excuses made for Ron. “D’you

think I haven’t noticed the two of you whispering behind my back? D’you think I didn’t

guess you were thinking this stuff?

 

 “Harry, we weren’t—”

 

 “Don’t lie!” Ron hurled at her. “You said it too, you said you were disappointed,

you said you’d thought he had a bit more to go on than—”

 

 “I didn’t say it like that—Harry, I didn’t!” she cried.

 

 The rain was pounding the tent, tears were pouring down Hermione’s face, and

the excitement of a few minutes before had vanished as if it had never been, a short-lived

 


 

firework that had flared and died, leaving everything dark, wet, and cold. The sword of

Gryffindor was hidden they knew not where, and their were three teenagers in a tent

whose only achievement was not, yet, to be dead.

 

 “So why are you still here?” Harry asked Ron.

 

 “Search me,” said Ron.

 

 “Go home then,” said Harry.

 

 “Yeah, maybe I will!” shouted Ron, and he took several steps toward Harry, who

did not back away. “Didn’t you hear what they said about my sister? But you don’t give a

rat’s fart, do you, it’s only the Forbidden Forest, Harry I’ve-Faced-Worse Potter doesn’t

care what happened to her in there—well, I do, all right, giant spiders and mental stuff—”

 

 “I was only saying—she was with the others, they were with Hagrid—”

 

 “Yeah, I get it, you don’t care! And what about the rest of my family, ‘the

Weasleys don’t need another kid injured,’ did you hear that?”­ “Yeah, I—”

 

 “Not bothered what it meant, though?”

 

 “Ron!” said Hermione, forcing her way between them. “I don’t think it means

anything new has happened, anything we don’t know about; think, Ron, Bill’s already

scared, plenty of people must have seen that George has lost an ear by now, and you’re

supposed to be on your deathbed with spattergroit, I’m sure that’s all he meant—”

 

 “Oh, you’re sure, are you? Right then, well, I won’t bother myself about them.

It’s all right for you, isn’t it, with your parents safely out of the way—”

 

 “My parents are dead!” Harry bellowed.

 

 “And mine could be going the same way!” yelled Ron.

 

 “Then GO!” roared Harry. “Go back to them, pretend you’re got over your

spattergroit and Mummy’ll be able to feed you up and—”

 

 Ron made a sudden movement: Harry reacted, but before either wand was clear of

its owner’s pocket, Hermione had raised her own.

 

 “Prestego!” she cried, and an invisible shield expanded between her and Harry on

the one side and Ron on the other; all of them were forced backward a few steps by the

strength of the spell, and Harry and Ron glared from either side of the transparent barrier

as though they were seeing each other clearly for the first time. Harry felt a corrosive

hatred toward Ron: Something had broken between them.

 

 “Leave the Horcrux,” Harry said.

 

 Ron wrenched the chain from over his head and cast the locket into a nearby chair.

He turned to Hermione.

 

 “What are you doing?”

 

 “What do you mean?”

 

 “Are you staying, or what?”

 

 “I . . .” She looked anguished. “Yes—yes, I’m staying. Ron, we said we’d go with

Harry, we said we’d help—”

 

 “I get it. You choose him.”

 

 “Ron, no—please—come back, come back!”

 

 She was impeded by her own Shield Charm; by the time she had removed it he

had already stormed into the night. Harry stood quite still and silent, listening to her

sobbing and calling Ron’s name amongst the trees.

 

 After a few minutes she returned, her sopping hair plastered to her face.

 

 “He’s g-g-gone! Disapparated!”

 


 

 She threw herself into a chair, curled up, and started to cry.

 

 Harry felt dazed. He stooped, picked up the Horcrux, and placed it around his

own neck. He dragged blankets off Ron’s bunk and threw them over Hermione. Then he

climbed onto his own bed and stared up at the dark canvas roof, listening to the pounding

of the rain.

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Godric’s Hollow

 

 

 

 When Harry woke the following day it was several seconds before he

remembered what had happened. Then he hoped childishly, that it had been a dream, that

Ron was still there and had never left. Yet by turning his head on his pillow he could see

Ron's deserted bunk. It was like a dead body in the way it seems to draw his eyes. Harry

jumped down from his own bed, keeping his eyes averted from Ron's. Hermione, who

was already busy in the kitchen, did not wish Harry good morning, but turned

 

her face away quickly as he went by. He's gone, Harry told himself. He's gone. He had to

keep thinking it as he washed and dressed as though repetition would dull the shock of it.

He's gone and he's not coming back. And that was the simple truth of it, Harry knew,

because their protective enchantments meant that it would be impossible, once they

vacated this spot, for Ron to find them again. He and Hermione ate breakfast in silence.

Hermione's eyes were puffy and red; she looked as if she had not slept. They packed up

their things, Hermione dawdling. Harry knew why she wanted to spin out their time on

the riverbank; several times he saw her look up eagerly, and he was sure she had deluded

herself into thinking that she heard footsteps through the heavy rain, but no red-haired

figure appeared between the trees. Every time Harry imitated her, looked around ( for he

could not help hoping a little, himself) and saw nothing but rain-swept woods, another

little parcel of fury exploded inside him. He could hear Ron saying, "We thought you

knew what you were doing!", and he resumed packing with a hard knot in the pit of his

stomach.

 

 The muddy river beside them was rising rapidly and would soon spill over onto their

bank. They had lingered a good hour after they would usually have departed their

campsite. Finally having entirely repacked the beaded bag three times, Hermione seemed

unable to find any more reasons to delay: She and Harry gasped hands and Disapparated,

reappearing on a windswept heather-covered hillside. The instant they arrived, Hermione

dropped Harry's hand and walked away from him, finally sitting down on a large rock,

her face on her knees, shaking with what he knew were sobs. He watched her, supposing

that he ought to go and comfort her, but something kept him rooted to the spot.

Everything inside him felt cold and tight: Again he saw the contemptuous expression on

Ron's face. Harry strode off through the heather, walking in a large circle with the

distraught Hermione at its center, casting the spell she usually performed to ensure their

protection.

 

 They did not discuss Ron at all over the next few days. Harry was determined never to

mention his name again and Hermione seemed to know that it was no use forcing the

issue, although sometimes at night when she thought he was sleeping, he would hear her

 


 

crying. Meanwhile Harry had started bringing out the Marauder's map and examining it

by wandlight. He was waiting for the moment when Ron's labeled dot would reappear in

the corridors of Hogwarts, proving that he had returned to the comfortable castle,

protected by his status of pureblood. However, Ron did not appear on the map and after a

while Harry found himself taking it out simply to stare at Ginny's name in the girl's

dormitory, wondering whether the intensity with which he gazed at it might break into

her sleep, that she would somehow know he was thinking about her, hoping that she was

all right.

 

 By day, hey devoted themselves to trying to determine the possible locations of

Gryffindor's sword, but the more they talked about the places in which Dumbledore

might have hidden it, the more desperate and far-fetched their speculation became.

Cudgel his brains though he might, Harry could not remember Dumbledore ever

mentioning a place in which he might hide something. There were moments when he did

not know whether he was angrier with Ron or with Dumbledore. We thought you knew

what you were doing ...We thought Dumbledore had told you what to do ... We thought

you had a real plan!

 

He could not hide it from himself: Ron had been right. Dumbledore had left him

with virtually nothing. They had discovered one Horcrux, but they had no means of

destroying it: The others were as unattainable as they had ever been. Hopelessness

threatened to engulf him. He was staggered now to think of his own presumption in

accepting his friends' offers to accompany him on this meandering, pointless journey. he

knew nothing, he had no ideas, and he was constantly, painfully on the alert for any

indications that Hermione too was about to tell him that she had had enough. That she

was leaving.

 

 They were spending many evenings in near silence and Hermione took to bringing out

Phineas Nigellus's portrait and propping it up in a chair, as though he might fill part of

the gaping hole left by Ron's departure. Despite his previous assertion that he would

never visit them again, Phineas Nigellus did not seem able to resist the chance to find out

more about what Harry was up to and consented to reappear, blindfolded, every few days

of so. Harry was even glad to see him, because he was company, albeit of a snide and

taunting kind. They relished any news about what was happening at Hogwarts, though

Phineas Nigellus was not an ideal informer. He venerated Snape, the first Slytherin

headmaster since he himself had controlled the school, and they had to be careful not to

criticize or ask impertinent questions about Snape, or Phineas Nigellus would instantly

leave his painting.

 

However, he did let drop certain snippets. Snape seemed to be facing a constant,

low level of mutiny from a hard core of students. Ginny had been banned from going into

Hogsmeade. Snape had reinstated Umbridge's old decree forbidding gatherings of three

or more students or any unofficial student societies. From all of these things, Harry

deduced that Ginny, and probably Neville and Luna along with her, had been doing their

best to continue Dumbledore's Army. This scant news made Harry want to see Ginny so

badly it felt like a stomachache; but it also made him think of Ron again, and of

Dumbledore, and of Hogwarts itself, which he missed nearly as much as his ex-girlfriend.

Indeed, as Phineas Niggellus talked about Snape's crackdown, Harry experienced a split

second of madness when he imagined simply going back to school to join the

destabilization of Snape’s regime: Being fed and having a soft bad, and other people

 


 

being in charge, seemed the most wonderful prospect in the world at this moment. But

then he remembered that he was Undesirable Number One, that there was a ten-thousand

Galleon price on his head, and that to walk into Hogwarts these days was just as

dangerous as walking into the Ministry of Magic. Indeed, Phineas Nigellus inadvertently

emphasized this fact my slipping in leading questions about Harry and

Hermione's whereabouts. Hermione shoved him back inside the beaded bag every time

he did this, and Phineas Nigellus invariably refused to reappear for several days after

these unceremonious good-byes.

 

The weather grew colder and colder. They did not dare remain in any area too

long, so rather than staying in the south of England, where a hard ground frost was the

worst of their worries, they continued to meander up and down the country, braving a

mountainside, where sleet pounded the tent; a wide, flat marsh, where the tent was

flooded with chill water; and a tiny island in the middle of a Scottish loch, where snow

half buried the tent in the night. They had already spotted Christmas Trees twinkling

from several sitting room windows before there came an evening when Harry resolved to

suggest again, what seemed to him the only unexplored avenue left to them. They had

just eaten an unusually good meal: Hermione had been to a supermarket under the

Invisibility Cloak (scrupulously dropping the money into an open till as she left), and

Harry thought that she might be more persuadable than usual on a stomach full of

spaghetti Bolognese and tinned pears.

 

He had also had the foresight to suggest that they take a few hours’ break from

wearing the Horcrux, which was hanging over the end of the bunk beside him.

 

 “Hermione?”

 

 “Hmm?” She was curled up in one of the sagging armchairs with The Tales of

Beedle the Bard. He could not imagine how much more she could get out of the book,

which was not, after all, very long, but evidently she was still deciphering something in it,

because Spellman’s Syllabary lay open on the arm of the chair.

 

 Harry cleared his throat. He felt exactly as he had done on the occasion, several

years previously, when he had asked Professor McGonagall whether he could go into

Hogsmeade, despite the fact that he had not persuaded the Dursleys to sign his

permission slip.

 

 “Hermione, I’ve been thinking, and –“

 

 “Harry, could you help me with something?”

Apparently she had not been listening to him. She leaned forward and held out

The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

 

 “Look at that symbol,” she said, pointing to the top of a page. Above what Harry

assumed was the title of the story (being unable to read runes, he could not be sure), there

was a picture of what looked like a triangular eye, its pupil crossed with a vertical line.

 

 “I never took Ancient Runes, Hermione.”

 

 “I know that; but it isn’t a rune and it’s not in the syllabary, either. All along I

thought it was a picture of an eye, but I don’t think it is! It’s been inked in, look,

somebody’s drawn it there, it isn’t really part of the book. Think, have you ever seen it

before?”

“No . . . No, wait a moment.” Harry looked closer. “Isn’t it the same symbol

Luna’s dad was wearing round his neck?”

 


 

 “Well, that’s what I thought too!”

“Then it’s Grindelwald’s mark.”

 

 She stared at him, openmouthed.

 

 “What?”

 

 “Krum told me . . .”

He recounted the story that Viktor Krum had told him at the wedding. Hermione

looked astonished.

 

 “Grindelwald’s mark?”

 

 She looked from Harry to the weird symbol and back again. “I’ve never heard that

Grindelwald had a mark. There’s no mention of it in anything I’ve ever read about him.”

 

 “Well, like I say, Krum reckoned that symbol was carved on a wall at Durmstrang,

and Grindelwald put it there.”

She fell back into the old armchair, frowning.

 

 “That’s very odd. If it’s a symbol of Dark Magic, what’s it doing in a book of

children’s stories?”

 

 “Yeah, it is weird,” said Harry. “And you’d think Scrimgeour would have

recognized it. He was Minister, he ought to have been expert on Dark stuff.”

“I know. . . . Perhaps he thought it was an eye, just like I did. All the other stories

have little pictures over the titles.”

She did not speak, but continued to pore over the strange mark. Harry tried again.

 

 “Hermione?”

 

 “Hmm?”

 

 “I’ve been thinking. I – I want to go to Godric’s Hollow.”

 

 She looked up at him, but her eyes were unfocused, and he was sure she was still

thinking about the mysterious mark on the book.

 

 “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’ve been wondering that too. I really think we’ll have to.”

 

 “Did you hear me right?” he asked.

 

 “Of course I did. You want to go to Godric’s Hollow. I agree. I think we should. I

mean, I can’t think of anywhere else it could be either. It’ll be dangerous, but the more I

think about it, the more likely it seems it’s there.”

“Er – what’s there?” asked Harry.

 

 At that, she looked just as bewildered as he felt.

 

 “Well, the sword, Harry! Dumbledore must have known you’d want to go back

there, and I mean, Godric’s Hollow is Godric Gryffindor’s birthplace –“

 

 “Really? Gryffindor came from Godric’s Hollow?”

“Harry, did you ever even open A History of Magic?”

 

 “Erm,” he said, smiling for what felt like the first time in months: The muscles in

his face felt oddly stiff. “I might’ve opened it, you know, when I bought it . . . just the

once. . . .”

 

 “Well, as the village is named after him I’d have thought you might have made

the connection,” said Hermione. She sounded much more like her old self than she had

done of late; Harry half expected her to announce that she was off to the library. “There’s

a bit about the village in A History of Magic, wait . . .”

 

 She opened the beaded bag and rummaged for a while, finally extracting her copy

of their old school textbook, A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot, which she thumbed

through until finding the page she wanted.

 


 

 “’Upon the signature of the International Statute of Secrecy in 1689, wizards went

into hiding for good. It was natural, perhaps, that they formed their own small

communities within a community. Many small villages and hamlets attracted several

magical families, who banded together for mutual support and protection. The villages of

Tinworsh in Cornwall, Upper Flagley in Yorkshire, and Ottery St. Catchpole on the south

coast of England were notable homes to knots of Wizarding families who lived alongside

tolerant and sometimes Confunded Muggles. Most celebrated of these half-magical

dwelling places is, perhaps, Godric’s Hollow, the West Country village where the great

wizard Godric Gryffindor was born, and where Bowman Wright, Wizarding smith, forged

the first Golden Snitch. The graveyard is full of the names of ancient magical families,

and this accounts, no doubt, for the stories of hauntings that have dogged the little

church beside it for many centuries.’

 

 “You and your parents aren’t mentioned.” Hermione said, closing the book,

“because Professor Bagshot doesn’t cover anything later than the end of the nineteenth

century. But you see? Godric’s Hollow, Godric Gryffindor, Gryffindor’s sword; don’t

you think Dumbledore would have expected you to make the connection?”

 

 “Oh yeah . . .”

 

 Harry did not want to admit that he had not been thinking about the sword at all

when he suggested they go to Godric’s Hollow. For him, the lore of the village lay in his

parents’ graves, the house where he had narrowly escaped death, and in the person of

Bathilda Bagshot.

 

 “Remember what Muriel said?” he asked eventually.

 

 “Who?”

 

 “You know,” he hesitated. He did not want to say Ron’s name. “Ginny’s greataunt.

At the wedding. The one who said you had skinny ankles.”

 

 “Oh,” said Hermione. It was a sticky moment: Harry knew that she had sensed

Ron’s name in the offing. He rushed on:

 

 “She said Bathilda Bagshot still lived in Godric’s Hollow.”

 

 “Bathilda Bagshot,” murmured Hermione, running her index finger over

Bathilda’s embossed name on the front cover of A History of Magic. “Well, I suppose –“

 

 She gasped so dramatically that Harry’s insides turned over; he drew his wand,

looking around at the entrance, half expecting to see a hand forcing its way through the

entrance flap, but there was nothing there.

 

 “What?” he said, half angry, half relieved. “What did you do that for? I thought

you’d seen a Death Eater unzipping the tent, at least –“

 

 “Harry, what if Bathilda’s got the sword? What if Dumbledore entrusted it to

her?”

 

 Harry considered this possibility. Bathilda would be an extremely old woman by

now, and according to Muriel, she was “gaga.” Was it likely that Dumbledore would

have hidden the sword of Gryffindor with her? If so, Harry felt that Dumbledore had left

a great deal to chance: Dumbledore had never revealed that he had replaced the sword

with a fake, nor had he so much as mentioned a friendship with Bathilda. Now, however,

was not the moment to cast doubt on Hermione’s theory, not when she was so

surprisingly willing to fall in with Harry’s dearest wish.

 

 “Yeah, he might have done! So, are we going to go to Godric’s Hollow?”

 


 

 “Yes, but we’ll have to think it through carefully, Harry.” She was sitting up now,

and Harry could tell that the prospect of having a plan again had lifted her mood as much

as his. “We’ll need to practice Disapparating together under the Invisibility Cloak for a

start, and perhaps Disillusionment Charms would be sensible too, unless you think we

should go the whole hog and use Polyjuice Potion? In that case we’ll need to collect hair

from somebody. I actually think we’d better do that, Harry, the thicker our disguises the

better. . . .”

 

 Harry let her talk, nodding and agreeing whenever there was a pause, but his mind

had left the conversation. For the first time since he had discovered that the sword in

Gringotts was a fake, he felt excited.

 

 He was about to go home, about to return to the place where he had had a family.

It was in Godric’s Hollow that, but for Voldemort, he would have grown up and spent

every school holiday. He could have invited friends to his house. . . . He might even have

had brothers and sisters. . . . It would have been his mother who had made his

seventeenth birthday cake. The life he had lost had hardly ever seemed so real to him as

at this moment, when he knew he was about to see the place where it had been taken

from him. After Hermione had gone to bed that night, Harry quietly extracted his

rucksack from Hermione’s beaded bag, and from inside it, the photograph album Hagrid

had given him so long ago. For the first time in months, he perused the old pictures of his

parents, smiling and waving up at him from the images, which were all he had left of

them now.

 

 Harry would gladly have set out for Godric’s Hollow the following day, but

Hermione had other ideas. Convinced as she was that Voldemort would expect Harry to

return to the scene of his parents’ deaths, she was determined that they would set off only

after they had ensured that they had the best disguises possible. It was therefore a full

week later – once they had surreptitiously obtained hairs from innocent Muggles who

were Christmas shopping, and had practiced Apparating and Disapparating while

underneath the Invisibility Cloak together – that Hermione agreed to make the journey.

 

 They were to Apparate to the village under cover of darkness, so it was late

afternoon when they finally swallowed Polyjuice Potion, Harry transforming into a

balding, middle-aged Muggle man, Hermione into his small and rather mousy wife. The

beaded bag containing all of their possessions (apart from the Horcrux, which Harry was

wearing around his neck) was tucked into an inside pocket of Hermione’s buttoned-up

coat. Harry lowered the Invisibility Cloak over them, then they turned into the

suffocating darkness once again.

 

 Heart beating in his throat, Harry opened his eyes. They were standing hand in

hand in a snowy lane under a dark blue sky, in which the night’s first stars were already

glimmering feebly. Cottages stood on either side of the narrow road, Christmas

decorations twinkling in their windows. A short way ahead of them, a glow of golden

streetlights indicated the center of the village.

 

 “All this snow!” Hermione whispered beneath the cloak. “Why didn’t we think of

snow? After all our precautions, we’ll leave prints! We’ll just have to get rid of them –

you go in front, I’ll do it –“

 

 Harry did not want to enter the village like a pantomime horse, trying to keep

themselves concealed while magically covering their traces.

 


 

 “Let’s take off the Cloak,” said Harry, and when she looked frightened, “Oh,

come on, we don’t look like us and there’s no one around.”

 

 He stowed the Cloak under his jacket and they made their way forward

unhampered, the icy air stinging their faces as they passed more cottages. Any one of

them might have been the one in which James and Lily had once lived or where Bathilda

lived now. Harry gazed at the front doors, their snow-burdened roofs, and their front

porches, wondering whether he remembered any of them, knowing deep inside that it was

impossible, that he had been little more than a year old when he had left this place forever.

He was not even sure whether he would be able to see the cottage at all; he did not know

what happened when the subjects of a Fidelius Charm died. Then the little lane along

which they were walking curved to the left and the heart of the village, a small square,

was revealed to them.

 

 Strung all around with colored lights, there was what looked like a war memorial

in the middle, partly obscured by a windblown Christmas tree. There were several shops,

a post office, a pub, and a little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewelbright

across the square.

 

 The snow here had become impacted: It was hard and slippery where people had

trodden on it all day. Villagers were crisscrossing in front of them, their figures briefly

illuminated by streetlamps. They heard a snatch of laughter and pop music as the pub

door opened and closed; then they heard a carol start up inside the little church.

 

 “Harry, I think it’s Christmas Eve!” said Hermione.

 

 “Is it?”

 

 He had lost track of the date; they had not seen a newspaper for weeks.

 

 “I’m sure it is,” said Hermione, her eyes upon the church. “They . . . they’ll be in

there, won’t they? Your mum and dad? I can see the graveyard behind it.”

 

 Harry felt a thrill of something that was beyond excitement, more like fear. Now

that he was so near, he wondered whether he wanted to see after all. Perhaps Hermione

knew how he was feeling, because she reached for his hand and took the lead for the first

time, pulling him forward. Halfway across the square, however, she stopped dead.

 

 “Harry, look!”

 

 She was pointing at the war memorial. As they had passed it, it had transformed.

Instead of an obelisk covered in names, there was a statue of three people: a man with

untidy hair and glasses, a woman with long hair and a kind, pretty face, and a baby boy

sitting in his mother’s arms. Snow lay upon all their heads, like fluffy white caps.

 

 Harry drew closer, gazing up into his parents’ faces. He had never imagined that

there would be a statue. . . . How strange it was to see himself represented in stone, a

happy baby without a scar on his forehead. . . .

 

 “C’mon,” said Harry, when he had looked his fill, and they turned again toward

the church. As they crossed the road, he glanced over his shoulder; the statue had turned

back into the war memorial.

 

 The singing grew louder as they approached the church. It made Harry’s throat

constrict, it reminded him so forcefully of Hogwarts, of Peeves bellowing rude versions

of carols from inside suits of armor, of the Great Hall’s twelve Christmas trees, of

Dumbledore wearing a bonnet he had won in a cracker, of Ron in a hand-knitted

sweater. . . .

 


 

 There was a kissing gate at the entrance to the graveyard. Hermione pushed it

open as quietly as possible and they edged through it. On either side of the slippery path

to the church doors, the snow lay deep and untouched. They moved off through the snow,

carving deep trenches behind them as they walked around the building, keeping to the

shadows beneath the brilliant windows.

 

 Behind the church, row upon row of snowy tombstones protruded from a blanket

of pale blue that was flecked with dazzling red, gold, and green wherever the reflections

from the stained glass hit the snow. Keeping his hand closed tightly on the wand in his

jacket pocket, Harry moved toward the nearest grave.

 

 “Look at this, it’s an Abbott, could be some long-lost relation of Hannah’s!”

 

 “Keep your voice down,” Hermione begged him.

 

 They waded deeper and deeper into the graveyard, gouging dark tracks into the

snow behind them, stooping to peer at the words on old headstones, every now and then

squinting into the surrounding darkness to make absolutely sure that they were

unaccompanied.

 

 “Harry, here!”

 

 Hermione was two rows of tombstones away; he had to wade back to her, his

heart positively banging in his chest.

 

 “Is it – ?”

 

 “No, but look!”

 

 She pointed to the dark stone. Harry stooped down and saw , upon the frozen,

lichen-spotted granite, the words Kendra Dumbledore and, a short way down her dates of

birth and death, and Her Daughter Ariana. There was also a quotation:

 

 

 

 Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

 

 

 So Rita Skeeter and Muriel had got some of their facts right. The Dumbledore

family had indeed lived here, and part of it had died here.

 

 Seeing the grave was worse than hearing about it. Harry could not help thinking

that he and Dumbledore both had deep roots in this graveyard, and that Dumbledore

ought to have told him so, yet he had never thought to share the connection. They could

have visited the place together; for a moment Harry imagined coming here with

Dumbledore, of what a bond that would have been, of how much it would have meant to

him. But it seemed that to Dumbledore, the fact that their families lay side by side in the

same graveyard had been an unimportant coincidence, irrelevant, perhaps, to the job he

wanted Harry to do.

 

 Hermione was looking at Harry, and he was glad that his face was hidden in

shadow. He read the words on the tombstone again. Where your treasure is, there will

your heart be also. He did not understand what these words meant. Surely Dumbledore

had chosen them, as the eldest member of the family once his mother had died.

 

 “Are you sure he never mentioned – ?” Hermione began.

 

 “No,” said Harry curtly, then, “let’s keep looking,” and he turned away, wishing

he had not seen the stone: He did not want his excited trepidation tainted with resentment.

 

 “Here!” cried Hermione again a few moments later from out of the darkness. “Oh

no, sorry! I thought it said Potter.”

 


 

 She was rubbing at a crumbling, mossy stone, gazing down at it, a little frown on

her face.

 

 “Harry, come back a moment.”

 

 He did not want to be sidetracked again, and only grudgingly made his way back

through the snow toward her.

 

 “What?”

 

 “Look at this!”

The grave was extremely old, weathered so that Harry could hardly make out the

name. Hermione showed him the symbol beneath it.

 

 “Harry, that’s the mark in the book!”

 

 He peered at the place she indicated: The stone was so worn that it was hard to

make out what was engraved there, though there did seem to be a triangular mark beneath

the nearly illegible name.

 

 “Yeah . . . it could be. . . .”

 

 Hermione lit her wand and pointed it at the name on the headstone.

 

 “It says Ig – Ignotus, I think. . . .”

“I’m going to keep looking for my parents, all right?” Harry told her, a slight edge

to his voice, and he set off again, leaving her crouched beside the old grave.

 

 Every now and then he recognized a surname that, like Abbott, he had met at

Hogwarts. Sometimes there were several generations of the same Wizarding family

represented in the graveyard: Harry could tell from the dates that it had either died out, or

the current members had moved away from Godric’s Hollow. Deeper and deeper

amongst the graves he went, and every time he reached a new headstone he felt a little

lurch of apprehension and anticipation.

 

 The darkness and the silence seemed to become, all of a sudden, much deeper.

Harry looked around, worried, thinking of dementors, then realized that the carols had

finished, that the chatter and flurry of churchgoers were fading away as they made their

way back into the square. Somebody inside the church had just turned off the lights.

 

 Then Hermione’s voice came out of the blackness for the third time, sharp and

clear from a few yards away.

 

 “Harry, they’re here . . . right here.”

 

 And he knew by her tone that it was his mother and father this time: He moved

toward her, feeling as if something heavy were pressing on his chest, the same sensation

he had had right after Dumbledore had died, a grief that had actually weighed on his heart

and lungs.

 

 The headstone was only two rows behind Kendra and Ariana’s. It was made of

white marble, just like Dumbledore’s tomb, and this made it easy to read, as it seemed to

shine in the dark. Harry did not need to kneel or even approach very close to it to make

out the words engraved upon it.

 

 

 

 JAMES POTTER LILY POTTER

 

 

 

 BORN 27 MARCH 1960 BORN 30 JANUARY 1960

 

 DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981 DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981

 

 

 

 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

 

 


 

 Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in

their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud.

 

 “’The last enemy that shall be defeated is death’ . . .” A horrible thought came to

him, and with a kind of panic. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”

 

 “It doesn’t mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said

Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means . . . you know . . . living beyond death. Living after

death.”

 

 But they were not living, thought Harry. They were gone. The empty words could

not disguise the fact that his parents’ moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone,

indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then

instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending?

He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding

from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust,

not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive

because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under

the snow with them.

 

 Hermione had taken his hand again and was gripping it tightly. He could not look

at her, but returned the pressure, now taking deep, sharp gulps of the night air, trying to

steady himself, trying to regain control. He should have brought something o give them,

and he had not thought of it, and every plant in the graveyard was leafless and frozen. But

Hermione raised her wand, moved it in a circle through the air, and a wreath of Christmas

roses blossomed before them. Harry caught it and laid it on his parents’ grave.

 

 As soon as he stood up he wanted to leave: He did not think he could stand

another moment there. He put his arm around Hermione’s shoulders, and she put hers

around his waist, and they turned in silence and walked away through the snow, past

Dumbledore’s mother and sister, back toward the dark church and the out-of-sight kissing

gate.

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

Bathilda’s Secret

 

 

 

"Harry, stop."

"What's wrong?"

They had only just reached the grave of the unknown Abbott.

"There's someone there. Someone watching us. I can tell. There, over by the bushes."

They stood quite still, holding on to each other, gazing at the dense black boundary of the

graveyard. Harry could not see anything.

"Are you sure?"

 

 


 

"I saw something move. I could have sworn I did..."

She broke from him to free her wand arm.

"We look like Muggles," Harry pointed out.

"Muggles who've just been laying flowers on your parents' grave? Harry, I'm sure there's

someone over there!"

Harry thought of A History of Magic; the graveyard was supposed to be haunted; what if

--? But then he heard a rustle and saw a little eddy of dislodged snow in the bush to

which Hermione had pointed. Ghosts could not move snow.

"It's a cat," said Harry, after a second or two, "or a bird. If it was a Death Eater we'd be

dead by now. But let's get out of here, and we can put the Cloak back on."

They glanced back repeatedly as they made their way out of the graveyard. Harry, who

did not feel as sanguine as he had pretended when reassuring Hermione, was glad to

reach the gate and the slippery pavement. They pulled the Invisibility Cloak back over

themselves. The pub was fuller than before. Many voices inside it were now singing the

carol that they had heard as they approached the church. For a moment, Harry considered

suggesting they take refuge inside it, but before he could say anything Hermione

murmured, "Let's go this way," and pulled him down the dark street leading out of the

village in the opposite direction from which they had entered. Harry could make out the

point where the cottages ended and the lane turned into open country again. They walked

as quickly as they dared, past more windows sparkling with multicolored lights, the

outlines of Christmas trees dark through the curtains.

"How are we going to find Bathilda's house?" asked Hermione, who was shivering a little

and kept glancing back over her shoulder. "Harry? What do you think? Harry?"

She tugged at this arm, but Harry was not paying attention. He was looking toward the

dark mass that stood at the very end of this row of houses. Next moment he sped up,

dragging Hermione along with him, she slipped a little on the ice.

"Harry --"

"Look ... Look at it, Hermione ..."

"I don't ... oh!"

He could see it; the Fidelius Charm must have died with James and Lily. The hedge had

grown wild in the sixteen years since Hagrid had taken Harry from the rubble that lay

scattered amongst the waist-high grass. Most of the cottage was still standing, though

entirely covered in the dark ivy and snow, but the right side of the top floor had been

blown apart; that, Harry was sure, was where the curse had backfired. He and Hermione

 


 

stood at the gate, gazing up at the wreck of what must once have been a cottage just like

those that flanked it.

"I wonder why nobody's ever rebuilt it?" whispered Hermione.

"Maybe you can't rebuild it?" Harry replied. "Maybe it's like the injuries from Dark

Magic and you can't repair the damage?"

He slipped a hand from beneath the Cloak and grasped the snowy and thickly rusted gate,

not wishing to open it, but simply so he'd some part of the house.

"You're not going to go inside? It looks unsafe, it might -- oh, Harry, look!"

His touch on the gate seemed to have done it. A sign had risen out of the ground in front