Friday, December 3, 2010

After going a dozen yards he halted

After going a dozen yards he halted, peering and listening. Nothing could be seen or heard. He crept slowly on, bent almost double. Then he squatted and listened again. Then he stood up, as if to risk a sudden dash. At that very moment the dark form of a rider loomed up right in front of him. A horse snorted and reared. A man called out.

Grishnbkh flung himself on the ground flat, dragging the hobbits under him; then he drew his sword. No doubt he meant to kill his captives, rather than allow them to escape or to be rescued; but it was his undoing. The sword rang faintly, and glinted a little in the light of the fire away to his left. An arrow came whistling out of the gloom: it was aimed with skill, or guided by fate, and it pierced his right hand. He dropped the sword and shrieked. There was a quick beat of hoofs, and even as Grishnbkh leaped up and ran, he was ridden down and a spear passed through him. He gave a hideous shivering cry and lay still.

The hobbits remained flat on the ground, as Grishnbkh had left them. Another horseman came riding swiftly to his comrade's aid. Whether because of some special keenness of sight, or because of some other sense, the horse lifted and sprang lightly over them; but its rider did not see them, lying covered in their elven-cloaks, too crushed for the moment, and too afraid to move.

At last Merry stirred and whispered softly: 'So far so good: but how are we to avoid being spitted?'

The answer came almost immediately. The cries of Grishnbkh had roused the Orcs. From the yells and screeches that came from the knoll the hobbits guessed that their disappearance had been discovered: Ugl甼 was probably knocking off a few more heads. Then suddenly the answering cries of orc-voices came from the right, outside the circle of watch-fires, from the direction of the forest and the mountains. Mauh畆 had apparently arrived and was attacking the besiegers. There was the sound of galloping horses. The Riders were drawing in their ring close round the knoll, risking the orc-arrows, so as to prevent any sortie, while a company rode off to deal with the newcomers. Suddenly Merry and Pippin realized that without moving they were now outside the circle: there was nothing between them and escape.

'Now,' said Merry, 'if only we had o

'Now,' said Merry, 'if only we had our legs and hands free, we might get away. But I can't touch the knots, and I can't bite them.'

'No need to try,' said Pippin. 'I was going to tell you: I've managed to free my hands. These loops are only left for show. You'd better have a bit of lembas first.'

He slipped the cords off his wrists, and fished out a packet. The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf-wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The taste brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away. For a while they ate thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby. Pippin was the first to come back to the present.

'We must be off,' he said. 'Half a moment!' Grishnbkh's sword was lying close at hand, but it was too heavy and clumsy for him to use; so he crawled forward, and finding the body of the goblin he drew from its sheath a long sharp knife. With this he quickly cut their bonds.

'Now for it!' he said. 'When we've warmed up a bit, perhaps we shall be able to stand again, and walk. But in any case we had better start by crawling.'

They crawled. The turf was deep and yielding, and that helped them: but it seemed a long slow business. They gave the watch-fire a wide berth, and wormed their way forward bit by bit, until they came to the edge of the river, gurgling away in the black shadows under its deep banks. Then they looked back.

The sounds had died away. Evidently Mauh畆 and his 'lads' had been killed or driven off. The Riders had returned to their silent ominous vigil. It would not last very much longer. Already the night was old. In the East, which had remained unclouded, the sky was beginning to grow pale.

'We must get under cover,' said Pippin, 'or we shall be seen. It will not be any comfort to us, if these riders discover that we are not Orcs after we are dead.' He got up and stamped his feet. 'Those cords have cut me like wires; but my feet are getting warm again. I could stagger on now. What about you, Merry?'

Merry got up. 'Yes,' he said, 'I can manage it. Lembas does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too, than the heat of that orc-draught. I wonder what it was made of. Better not to know, I expect. Let's get a drink of water to wash away the thought of it!'

'Not here, the banks are too steep,' said Pippin. 'Forward now!'

They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the East. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again.

'You seem to have been doing well, Master Took,' said Merry. 'You will get almost a chapter in old Bilbo's book, if ever I get a chance to report to him. Good work: especially guessing that hairy villain's little game, and playing up to him. But I wonder if anyone will ever pick up your trail and find that brooch. I should hate to lose mine, but I am afraid yours is gone for good.

'I shall have to brush up my toes, if I am to get level with you. Indeed Cousin Brandybuck is going in front now. This is where he comes in. I don't suppose you have much notion where we are; but I spent my time at Rivendell rather better. We are walking west along the Entwash. The butt-end of the Misty Mountains is in front, and Fangorn Forest.'

Even as he spoke the dark edge

Even as he spoke the dark edge of the forest loomed up straight before them. Night seemed to have taken refuge under its great trees, creeping away from the coming Dawn.

'Lead on, Master Brandybuck!' said Pippin. 'Or lead back! We have been warned against Fangorn. But one so knowing will not have forgotten that.'

'I have not,' answered Merry; 'but the forest seems better to me, all the same, than turning back into the middle of a battle.'

He led the way in under the huge branches of the trees. Old beyond guessing, they seemed. Great trailing beards of lichen hung from them, blowing and swaying in the breeze. Out of the shadows the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.

Far over the Great River, and the Brown Lands, leagues upon grey leagues away, the Dawn came, red as flame. Loud rang the hunting-horns to greet it. The Riders of Rohan sprang suddenly to life. Horn answered horn again.

Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war-horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun's limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear. The Orcs yelled and shot all the arrows that remained to them. The hobbits saw several horsemen fall; but their line held on up the hill and over it, and wheeled round and charged again. Most of the raiders that were left alive then broke and fled, this way and that, pursued one by one to the death. But one band, holding together in a black wedge, drove forward resolutely in the direction of the forest. Straight up the slope they charged towards the watchers. Now they were drawing near, and it seemed certain that they would escape: they had already hewn down three Riders that barred their way.

'We have watched too long,' said Merry. 'There's Ugl甼! I don't want to meet him again.' The hobbits turned and fled deep into the shadows of the wood.

So it was that they did not sec the last stand, when Ugl甼 was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn. There he was slain at last by Jomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark, who dismounted and fought him sword to sword. And over the wide fields the keen-eyed Riders hunted down the few Orcs that had escaped and still had strength to fly.

Then when they had laid their fallen comrades in a mound and had sung their praises, the Riders made a great fire and scattered the ashes of their enemies. So ended the raid, and no news of it came ever back either to Mordor or to Isengard; but the smoke of the burning rose high to heaven and was seen by many watchful eyes.

Then the whole company began to run

Then the whole company began to run with the long loping strides of Orcs. They kept no order, thrusting, jostling, and cursing; yet their speed was very great. Each hobbit had a guard of three. Pippin was far back in the line. He wondered how long he would be able to go on at this pace: he had had no food since the morning. One of his guards had a whip. But at present the orc-liquor was still hot in him. His wits, too, were wide-awake.

Every now and again there came into his mind unbidden a vision of the keen face of Strider bending over a dark trail, and running, running behind. But what could even a Ranger see except a confused trail of orc-feet? His own little prints and Merry's were overwhelmed by the trampling of the iron-shod shoes before them and behind them and about them.

They had gone only a mile or so from the cliff when the land sloped down into a wide shallow depression, where the ground was soft and wet. Mist lay there, pale-glimmering in the last rays of the sickle moon. The dark shapes of the Orcs in front grew dim, and then were swallowed up.

'Ai! Steady now!' shouted Ugl甼 from the rear.

A sudden thought leaped into Pippin's mind, and he acted on it at once. He swerved aside to the right, and dived out of the reach of his clutching guard, headfirst into the mist; he landed sprawling on the grass.

'Halt!' yelled Ugl甼.

There was for a moment turmoil and confusion. Pippin sprang up and ran. But the Orcs were after him. Some suddenly loomed up right in front of him.

'No hope of escape!' thought Pippin. 'But there is a hope that I have left some of my own marks unspoilt on the wet ground.' He groped with his two tied hands at his throat, and unclasped the brooch of his cloak. Just as long arms and hard claws seized him. he let it fall. 'There I suppose it will lie until the end of time,' he thought. 'I don't know why I did it. If the others have escaped, they've probably all gone with Frodo.'

A whip-thong curled round his legs, and he stifled a cry.

'Enough!' shouted Ugl甼 running up. 'He's still got to run a long way yet. Make 'em both run! Just use the whip as a reminder.'

'But that's not all,' he snarled, turning to Pippin. 'I shan't forget. Payment is only put off. Leg it!'

Neither Pippin nor Merry remembered much of the later part of the journey. Evil dreams and evil waking were blended into a long tunnel of misery, with hope growing ever fainter behind. They ran, and they ran, striving to keep up the pace set by the Orcs, licked every now and again with a cruel thong cunningly handled. If they halted or stumbled, they were seized and dragged for some distance.

The warmth of the orc-draught had gone. Pippin felt cold and sick again. Suddenly he fell face downward on the turf. Hard hands with rending nails gripped and lifted him. He was carried like a sack once more, and darkness grew about him: whether the darkness of another night, or a blindness of his eyes, he could not tell.

Dimly he became aware of voices clamouring: it seemed that many of the Orcs were demanding a halt. Ugl甼 was shouting. He felt himself flung to the ground, and he lay as he fell, till black dreams took him. But he did not long escape from pain; soon the iron grip of merciless hands was on him again. For a long time he was tossed and shaken, and then slowly the darkness gave way, and he came back to the waking world and found that it was morning. Orders were shouted and he was thrown roughly on the grass.

There he lay for a while, fighting with despair. His head swam, but from the heat in his body he guessed that he had been given another draught. An Orc stooped over him, and flung him some bread and a strip of raw dried flesh. He ate the stale grey bread hungrily, but not the meat. He was famished but not yet so famished as to eat flesh flung to him by an Orc, the flesh of he dared not guess what creature.

He sat up and looked about. Merry was not far away. They were by the banks of a swift narrow river. Ahead mountains loomed: a tall peak was catching the first rays of the sun. A dark smudge of forest lay on the lower slopes before them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chapter 26 Gringotts

Chapter 26 Gringotts

Their plans were made, their preparations complete; in the smallest bedroom a single long, coarse black hair (plucked from the sweater Hermione had been wearing at Malfoy Manor) lay curled in a small glass phial on the mantelpiece.

“And you’ll be using her actual wand,” said Harry, nodding toward the walnut wand, “so I reckon you’ll be pretty convincing.”

Hermione looked frightened that the wand might sting or bit her as she picked it up.

“I hate that thing,” she said in a low voice. “I really hate it. It feels all wrong, it doesn’t work properly for me… It’s like a bit of her.”

Harry could not help but remember how Hermione has dismissed his loathing of the blackthorn wand, insisting that he was imagining things when it did not work as well as his own, telling him to simply practice. He chose not to repeat her own advice back to her, however, the eve of their attempted assault on Gringotts felt like the wrong moment to antagonize her.

“It’ll probably help you get in character, though,” said Ron. “think what that wand’s done!”

“But that’s my point!” said Hermione. “This is the wand that tortured Neville’s mum and dad, and who knows how many other people? This is the wand that killed Sirius!”

Harry had not thought of that: He looked down at the wand and was visited by a brutal urge to snap it, to slice it in half with Gryffindor’s sword, which was propped against the wall beside him.

“I miss my wand,” Hermione said miserably. “I wish Mr. Ollivander could have made me another one too.”

Mr. Ollivander had sent Luna a new wand that morning. She was out on the back lawn at that moment, testing its capabilities in the late afternoon sun. Dean, who had lost his wand to the Snatchers, was watching rather gloomily.

Harry looked down at the hawthorn wand that had once belonged to Draco Malfoy. He had been surprised, but pleased to discover that it worked for him at least as well as Hermione’s had done. Remembering what Ollivander had told them of the secret workings of wands, Harry thought he knew what Hermione’s problem was: She had not won the walnut wand’s allegiance by taking it personally from Bellatrix.

The door of the bedroom opened and Griphook entered. Harry reached instinctively for the hilt of the sword and drew it close to him, but regretted his action at once. He could tell that the goblin had noticed. Seeking to gloss over the sticky moment, he said, “We’ve just been checking the last-minute stuff, Griphook. We’ve told Bill and Fleur we’re leaving tomorrow, and we’ve told them not to get up to see us off.”

They had been firm on this point, because Hermione would need to transform in Bellatrix before they left, and the less that Bill and Fleur knew or suspected about what they were about to do, the better. They had also explained that they would not be returning. As they had lost Perkin’s old tent on the night that the Snatcher’s caught them, Bill had lent them another one. It was now packed inside the beaded bag, which, Harry was impressed to learn, Hermione had protected from the Snatchers by the simple expedient of stuffing it down her sock.

“You don’t understand,

“You don’t understand, Harry, nobody could understand unless they have lived with goblins. To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.”

“But it was bought –”

“– then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard. You saw Griphook’s face when the tiara passed under his eyes. He disapproves. I believe he thinks, as do the fiercest of his kind, that it ought to have been returned to the goblins once the original purchaser died. They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft.”

Harry had an ominous feeling now; he wondered whether Bill guessed more than he was letting on.

“All I am saying,” said Bill, setting his hand on the door back into the sitting room, “is to be very careful what you promise goblins, Harry. It would be less dangerous to break into Gringotts than to renege on a promise to a goblin.”

“Right,” said Harry as Bill opened the door, “yeah. Thanks. I’ll bear that in mind.”

As he followed Bill back to the others a wry thought came to him, born no doubt of the wine he had drunk. He seemed set on ––– to become just as reckless a godfather to Teddy Lupin as Sirius Black had been to him.

“No… no… I really must get back,

“No… no… I really must get back,” said Lupin at last, declining yet another goblet of wine. He got to his feet and pulled his traveling cloak back around himself.

“Good-bye, good-bye – I’ll try and bring some pictures in a few day’s time – they’ll all be so glad to know that I’ve seen you –”

He fastened his cloak and made his farewells, hugging the women and grasping hands with the men, then, still beaming, returned into the wild night.

“Godfather, Harry!” said Bill as they walked into the kitchen together, helping clear the table. “A real honor! Congratulations!”

As Harry set down the empty goblets he was carrying, Bill pulled the door behind him closed, shutting out the still-voluble voices of the others, who were continuing to celebrate even in Lupin’s absence.

“I wanted a private word, actually, Harry. It hasn’t been easy to get an opportunity with the cottage this full of people.”

Bill hesitated.

“Harry, you’re planning something with Griphook.”

It was a statement, not a question, and Harry did not bother to deny it. He merely looked at Bill, waiting.

“I know goblins,” said Bill. “I’ve worked for Gringotts ever since I left Hogwarts. As far as there can be friendship between wizards and goblins, I have goblin friends – or, at least, goblins I know well, and like.” Again, Bill hesitated.

“Harry, what do you want from Griphook, and what have you promised him in return?”

“I can’t tell you that,” said Harry. “Sorry, Bill.”

The kitchen door opened behind them; Fleur was trying to bring through more empty goblets.

“Wait,” Bill told her, “Just a moment.”

She backed out and he closed the door again.

“Then I have to say this,” Bill went on. “If you have struck any kind of bargain with Griphook, and most particularly if that bargain involves treasure, you must be exceptionally careful. Goblin notions of ownership, payment, and repayment are not the same as human ones.”

Harry felt a slight squirm of discomfort, as though a small snake had stirred inside him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“We are talking about a different breed of being,” said Bill. “Dealings between wizards and goblins have been fraught for centuries – but you’ll know all that from History of Magic. There has been fault on both sides, I would never claim that wizards have been innocent. However, there is a belief among some goblins, and those at Gringotts are perhaps most prone to it, that wizards cannot be trusted in matters of gold and treasure, that they have no respect for goblin ownership.”

“I respect –” Harry began, but Bill shook his head.

“Everything’s fine,” he told Fleur

“Everything’s fine,” he told Fleur. “Ollivander settled in, Mum and Dad say hello. Ginny sends you all her love, Fred and George are driving Muriel up the wall, they’re still operating an Owl-Order business out of her back room. It cheered her up to have her tiara back, though. She said she thought we’d stolen it.”

“Ah, she eez charmant, your aunt,” said Fleur crossly, waving her wand and causing the dirty plates to rise and form a stack in midair. She caught them and marched out of the room.

“Daddy’s made a tiara,” piped up Luna, “Well, more of a crown, really.”

Ron caught Harry’s eye and grinned; Harry knew that he was remembering the ludicrous headdress they had seen on their visit to Xenophilius.

“Yes, he’s trying to re-create the lost diadem of Ravenclaw. He thinks he’s identified most of the main elements now. Adding the billywig wings really made a difference –”

There was a bang on the front door. Everyone’s head turned toward it. Fleur came running out of the kitchen, looking frightened; Bill jumped to his feed, his wand pointing at the door; Harry, Ron, and Hermione did the same. Silently Griphook slipped beneath the table, out of sight.

“Who is it?” Bill called.

“It is I, Remus John Lupin!” called a voice over the howling wind. Harry experienced a thrill of fear; what had happened? “I am a werewolf, married to Nymphadora Tonks, and you, the Secret-Keeper of Shell Cottage, told me the address and bade me come in an emergency!”

“Lupin,” muttered Bill, and he ran to the door and wrenched it open.

Lupin fell over the threshold. He was white-faced, wrapped in a traveling cloak, his graying hair windswept. He straightened up, looked around the room, making sure of who was there, then cried aloud, “It’s a boy! We’ve named him Ted, after Dora’s father!”

Hermione shrieked.

“Wha –? Tonks – Tonks has had the baby?”

“Yes, yes, she’s had the baby!” shouted Lupin. All around the table came cries of delight, sighs of relief: Hermione and Fleur both squealed, “Congratulations!” and Ron said, “Blimey, a baby!” as if he had never heard of such a thing before.

“Yes – yes – a boy,” said Lupin again, who seemed dazed by his own happiness. He strode around the table and hugged Harry; the scene in the basement of Grimmauld Place might never have happened.

“You’ll be godfather?” he said as he released Harry.

“M-me?” stammered Harry.

“You, yes, of course – Dora quite agrees, no one better –”

“I – yeah – blimey –”

Harry felt overwhelmed, astonished, delighted; now Bill was hurrying to fetch wine, and Fleur was persuading Lupin to join them for a drink.

“I can’t stay long, I must get back,” said Lupin, beaming around at them all: He looked years younger than Harry had ever seen him. “Thank you, thank you, Bill”

Bill had soon filled all of their goblets, they stood and raised them high in a toast.

“To Teddy Remus Lupin,” said Lupin, “a great wizard in the making!”

“‘Oo does ‘e look like?” Fleur inquired.

“I think he looks like Dora, but she thinks he is like me. Not much hair. It looked black when he was born, but I swear it’s turned ginger in the hour since. Probably blond by the time I get back. Andromeda says Tonks’s hair started changing color the day that she was born.” He drained his goblet. “Oh, go on then, just one more,” he added, beaming, as Bill made to fill it again.

The wind buffeted the little cottage and the fire leapt and crackled, and Bill was soon opening another bottle of wine. Lupin’s news seemed to have taken them out of themselves, removed them for a while from their state of siege: Tidings of new life were exhilarating. Only the goblin seemed untouched by the suddenly festive atmosphere, and after a while he slunk back to the bedroom he now occupied alone. Harry thought he was the only one who had noticed this, until he saw Bill’s eyes following the goblin up the stairs.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

He rolled sideways

He rolled sideways, narrowly avoiding the snake’s tail, which thrashed down upon the table where he had been a second earlier. Fragments of the glass surface rained upon him as he hit the floor. From below he heard Hermione call, “Harry?”

He could not get enough breath into his lungs to call back: Then a heavy smooth mass smashed him to the floor and he felt it slide over him, powerful, muscular –

“No!” he gasped, pinned to the floor.

“Yes,” whispered the voice. “Yesss… hold you… hold you…”

“Accio… Accio Wand…”

But nothing happened and he needed his hands to try to force the snake from him as it coiled itself around his torso, squeezing the air from him, pressing the Horcrux hard into his chest, a circle of ice that throbbed with life, inches from his own frantic heart, and his brain was flooding with cold, white light, all thought obliterated, his own breath drowned, distant footsteps, everything going…

A metal heart was banging outside his chest, and now he was flying, flying with triumph in his heart, without need of broomstick or thestral…

He was abruptly awake in the sour-smelling darkness; Nagini had released him. He scrambled up and saw the snake outlined against the landing light: It struck, and Hermione dived aside with a shriek; her deflected curse hit the curtained window, which shattered. Frozen air filled the room as Harry ducked to avoid another shower of broken glass and his foot slipped on a pencil-like something – his wand –

He bent and snatched it up, but now the room was full of the snake, its tail thrashing; Hermione was nowhere to be seen and for a moment Harry thought the worst, but then there was a loud bang and a flash of red light, and the snake flew into the air, smacking Harry hard in the face as it went, coil after heavy coil rising up to the ceiling. Harry raised his wand, but as he did so, his scar seared more painfully, more powerfully than it had done in years.

“He’s coming! Hermione, he’s coming!”

As he yelled the snake fell, hissing wildly. Everything was chaos: It smashed shelves from the wall, and splintered china flew everywhere as Harry jumped over the bed and seized the dark shape he knew to be Hermione –

She shrieked with pain as he pulled her back across the bed: The snake reared again, but Harry knew that worse than the snake was coming, was perhaps already at the gate, his head was going to split open with the pain from his scar –

The snake lunged as he took a running leap, dragging Hermione with him; as it struck, Hermione screamed, “Confringo!” and her spell flew around the room, exploding the wardrobe mirror and ricocheting back at them, bouncing from floor to ceiling; Harry felt the heat of it sear the back of his hand. Glass cut his cheek as, pulling Hermione with him, he leapt from bed to broken dressing table and then straight out of the smashed window into nothingness, her scream reverberating through the night as they twisted in midair…

And then his scar burst open and he was Voldemort and he was running across the fetid bedroom, his long white hands clutching at the windowsill as he glimpsed the bald man and the little woman twist and vanish, and he screamed with rage, a scream that mingled with the girl’s, that echoed across the dark gardens over the church bells ringing in Christmas Day…

And his scream was Harry’s scream, his pain was Harry’s pain… that it could happen here, where it had happened before… here, within sight of that house where he had come so close to knowing what it was to die… to die… the pain was so terrible… ripped from his body… But if he had no body, why did his head hurt so badly; if he was dead, how cold he feel so unbearably, didn’t pain cease with death, didn’t it go…

The night wet and windy, two children dressed as pumpkins waddling across the square and the shop windows covered in paper spiders, all the tawdry Muggle trappings of a world in which they did not believe… And he was gliding along, that sense of purpose and power and rightness in him that he always knew on these occasions… Not anger… that was for weaker souls than he… but triumph, yes… He had waited for this, he had hoped for it…

“Nice costume, mister!”

She peered at it solemnly, then up at Harry.

She peered at it solemnly, then up at Harry.

“Do you know who this is?” he repeated in a much slower and louder voice than usual. “This man? Do you know him? What’s he called?”

Bathilda merely looked vague. Harry felt an awful frustration. How had Rita Skeeter unlocked Bathilda’s memories?

“Who is this man?” he repeated loudly.

“Harry, what area you doing?” asked Hermione.

“This picture. Hermione, it’s the thief, the thief who stole from Gregorovitch! Please!” he said to Bathilda. “Who is this?”

But she only stared at him.

“Why did you ask us to come with you, Mrs. – Miss – Bagshot?” asked Hermione, raising her own voice. “Was there something you wanted to tell us?”

Giving no sign that she had heard Hermione, Bathilda now shuffled a few steps closer to Harry. With a little jerk of her head she looked back into the hall.

“You want us to leave?” he asked.

She repeated the gesture, this time pointing firstly at him, then at herself, then at the ceiling.

“Oh, right… Hermione, I think she wants me to go upstairs with her.”

“All right,” said Hermione, “let’s go.”

But when Hermione moved, Bathilda shook her head with surprising vigor, once more pointing first at Harry, then to herself.

“She wants me to go with her, alone.”

“Why?” asked Hermione, and her voice rang out sharp and clear in the candlelit room, the old lady shook her head a little at the loud noise.

“Maybe Dumbledore told her to give the sword to me, and only to me?”

“Do you really think she knows who you are?”

“Yes,” said Harry, looking down into the milky eyes fixed upon his own. “I think she does.”

“Well, okay then, but be quick, Harry.”

“Lead the way,” Harry told Bathilda.

She seemed to understand, because she shuffled around him toward the door. Harry glanced back at Hermione with a reassuring smile, but he was not sure she had seen it; she stood hugging herself in the midst of the candlelit squalor, looking toward the bookcase. As Harry walked out of the room, unseen by both Hermione and Bathilda, he slipped the silver-framed photograph of the unknown thief inside his jacket.

The stairs were steep and narrow; Harry was half tempted to place his hands on stout Bathilda’s backside to ensure that she did not topple over backward on top of him, which seemed only too likely. Slowly, wheezing a little, she climbed to the upper landing, turned immediately right, and led him into a low-ceilinged bedroom.

It was pitch-black and smelled horrible: Harry had just made out a chamber pot protruding from under the bed before Bathilda closed the door and even that was swallowed by the darkness.

“Lumos,” said Harry, and his wand ignited. He gave a start: Bathilda had moved close to him in those few seconds of darkness, and he had not heard her approach.

“You are Potter?” she whispered.

“Yes, I am.”

She nodded slowly, solemnly. Harry felt the Horcrux beating fast, faster than his own heart; It was an unpleasant, agitating sensation.

“Have you got anything for me?” Harry asked, but she seemed distracted by his lit wand-tip.

“Have you got anything for me?” he repeated.

Then she closed her eyes and several things happened at once: Harry’s scar prickled painfully; the Horcrux twitched so that the front of his sweater actually moved; the dark, fetid room dissolved momentarily. He felt a leap of joy and spoke in a high, cold voice: Hold him!

Harry swayed where he stood: The dark, foul-smelling room seemed to close around him again; he did not know what had just happened.

“Have you got anything for me?” he asked for a third time, much louder.

“Over here,” she whispered, pointing to the corner. Harry raised his wand and saw the outline of a cluttered dressing table beneath the curtained window.

This time she did not lead him. Harry edged between her and the unmade bed, his wand raised. He did not want to look away from her.

“What is it?” he asked as he reached the dressing table, which was heaped high with what looked and smelled like dirty laundry.

“There,” she said, pointing at the shapeless mass.

And in the instant that he looked away, his eyes taking the tangled mess for a sword hilt, a ruby, she moved weirdly: He saw it out of the corner of his eye; panic made him turn and horror paralyzed him as he saw the old body collapsing and the great snake pouring from the place where her neck had been.

The snake struck as he raised his wand: The force of the bite to his forearm sent the wand spinning up toward the ceiling; its light swung dizzyingly around the room and was extinguished; Then a powerful blow from the tail to his midriff knocked the breath out of him: He fell backward onto the dressing table, into the mound of filthy clothing –

Beneath the Cloak Harry and Hermione looke

Beneath the Cloak Harry and Hermione looked at each other. Harry raised his eyebrows; Hermione gave a tiny, nervous nod.

They stepped toward the woman and , at once, she turned and hobbled off back the way they had come. Leading them past several houses, she turned in at a gate. They followed her up the front path through a garden nearly as overgrown as the one they had just left. She fumbled for a moment with a key at the front door, then opened it and stepped back to let them pass.

She smelled bad, or perhaps it was her house; Harry wrinkled his nose as they sidled past her and pulled off the Cloak. Now that he was beside her, he realized how tiny she was; bowed down with age, she came barely level with his chest. She closed the door behind them, her knuckles blue and mottled against the peeling paint, then turned and peered into Harry’s face. Her eyes were thick with cataracts and sunken into folds of transparent skin, and her whole face was dotted with broken veins and liver spots. He wondered whether she could make him out at all; even if she could, it was the balding Muggle whose identity he had stolen that she would see.

The odor of old age, of dust, of unwashed clothes and stale food intensified as the unwound a moth-eaten black shawl, revealing a head of scant white hair through which the scalp showed clearly.

“Bathilda?” Harry repeated.

She nodded again. Harry became aware of the locket against his skin; the thing inside it that sometimes ticked or beat had woken; he could feel it pulsing through the cold gold. Did it know, could it sense, that the thing that would destroy it was near?

Bathilda shuffled past them, pushing Hermione aside as though she had not seen her, and vanished into what seemed to be a sitting room.

“Harry, I’m not sure about this,” breathed Hermione.

“Look at the size of her, I think we could overpower her if we had to,” said Harry. “Listen, I should have told you, I knew she wasn’t all there. Muriel called her ‘gaga.’”

“Come!” called Bathilda from the next room.

Hermione jumped and clutched Harry’s arm.

“It’s okay,” said Harry reassuringly, and he led the way into the sitting room.

Bathilda was tottering around the place lighting candles, but it was still very dark, not to mention extremely dirty. Thick dust crunched beneath their feet, and Harry’s nose detected, underneath the dank and mildewed smell, something worse, like meat gone bad. He wondered when was the last time anyone had been inside Bathilda’s house to check whether she was coping. She seemed to have forgotten that she could do magic, too, for she lit the candles clumsily by hand, her trailing lace cuff in constant danger of catching fire.

“Let me do that,” offered Harry, and he took the matches from her. She stood watching him as he finished lighting the candle stubs that stood on saucers around the room, perched precariously on stacks of books and on side tables crammed with cracked and moldy cups.

The last surface on which Harry spotted a candle was a bow-fronted chest of drawers on which there stood a large number of photographs. When the flame danced into life, its reflection wavered on their dusty glass and silver. He saw a few tiny movements from the pictures. As Bathilda fumbled with logs for the fire, he muttered “Tergeo”: The dust vanished from the photographs, and he saw at once that half a dozen were missing from the largest and most ornate frames. He wondered whether Bathilda or somebody else had removed them. Then the sight of a photograph near the back of the collection caught his eye, and he snatched it up.

It was the golden-haired, merry-faced thief, the young man who had perched on Gregorovitch’s windowsill, smiling lazily up at Harry out of the silver frame. And it came to Harry instantly where he had seen the boy before: in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, arm in arm with the teenage Dumbledore, and that must be where all the missing photographs were: in Rita’s book.

“Mrs. – Miss – Bagshot?” he said, and his voice shook slightly. “Who is this?”

Bathilda was standing in the middle of the room watching Hermione light the fire for her.

“Miss Bagshot?“ Harry repeated, and he advanced with the picture in his hands as the flames burst into life in the fireplace. Bathilda looked up at his voice, and the Horcrux beat faster upon his chest.

“Who is this person?“ Harry asked her, pushing the picture forward.

“You’re not going to go inside?

“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 of them, up thorough the tangles of nettles and weeds, like some bizarre, fast-growing flower, and in golden letters upon the wood it said:

On this spot, on this night of 31 October 1981, Lily and James Potter lost their lives. Their son, Harry, remains the only wizard ever to have survived the Killing Curse. This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apart their family.

And all around these neatly lettered words, scribbles had been added by other witches and wizards who had come to see the place where the Boy Who Lived had escaped. Some had merely signed their names in Everlasting Ink; others had carved their initials into the wood, still others had left messages. The most recent of these, shining brightly over sixteen years’ worth of magical graffiti, all said similar things.

Good luck, Harry, wherever you are.

If you read this, Harry, we’re all behind you!

Long live Harry Potter.

“They shouldn’t have written on the sign!“ said Hermione, indignant.

But Harry beamed at her.

“It’s brilliant. I’m glad they did. I…”

He broke off. A heavily muffled figure was hobbling up the lane toward them, silhouetted by the bright lights in the distant square. Harry thought, though it was hard to judge, that the figure was a woman. She was moving slowly, possibly frightened of slipping on the snowy ground. Her stoop, her stoutness, her shuffling gait all gave an impression of extreme age. They watched in silence as she drew nearer. Harry was waiting to see whether she would turn into any of the cottages she was passing, but he knew instinctively that she would not. At last she came to a halt a few yards from them and simply stood there in the middle of the frozen road, facing them.

He did not need Hermione’s pinch to his arm. There was next to no chance that this woman was a Muggle: She was standing there gazing at a house that ought to have been completely invisible to her, if she was not a witch. Even assuming that she was a witch, however, it was odd behavior to come out on a night this cold, simply to look at an old ruin. By all the rules of normal magic, meanwhile, she ought not to be able to see Hermione and him at all. Nevertheless, Harry had the strangest feeling that she knew that they were there, and also who they were. Just as he had reached this uneasy conclusion, she raised a gloved hand and beckoned.

Hermione moved closer to him under the Cloak, her arm pressed against his.

“How does she know?”

He shook his head. The woman beckoned again, more vigorously. Harry could think of many reasons not to obey the summons, and yet his suspicions about her identity were growing stronger every moment that they stood facing each other in the deserted street.

Was it possible that she had been waiting for them all these long months? That Dumbledore had told her to wait, and that Harry would come in the end? Was it not likely that it was she who had moved in the shadows in the graveyard and had followed them to this spot? Even her ability to sense them suggested some Dumbledore-ish power that he had never encountered before.

Finally Harry spoke, causing Hermione to gasp and jump.

“Are you Bathilda?”

The muffled figure nodded and beckoned again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chapter 9 A Place to Hide

Chapter 9 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

“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

“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 it 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.

“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 T-Tongue-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!”

“Your Great-Aunt Muriel doesn’t agree

“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 dark-haired 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.
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Monday, November 29, 2010

“He will only be gone from the school

“He will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him,” said Harry, smiling in spite of himself.

“My dear boy ... even Dumbledore cannot return from the—”

“I am not saying he can. You wouldn't understand. But I've got nothing to tell you.”

Scrimgeour hesitated, then said, in what was evidently supposed to be a tone of delicacy, “The Ministry can offer you all sorts of protection, you know, Harry. I would

be delighted to place a couple of my Aurors at your service—”

Harry laughed.

“Voldemort wants to kill me himself and Aurors won't stop him. So thanks for the offer, but no thanks.”

“So,” said Scrimgeour, his voice cold now, “the request I made of you at Christmas—”

“What request? Oh yeah ... the one where I tell the world what a great job you're doing in exchange for —”

“—for raising everyone's morale!” snapped Scrimgeour.

Harry considered him for a moment.

“Released Stan Shunpike yet?”

Scrimgeour turned a nasty purple colour highly reminiscent of Uncle Vernon.

“I see you are—”

“Dumbledore's man through and through,” said Harry. “That's right.”

Scrimgeour glared at him for another moment, then turned and limped away without another word. Harry could see Percy and the rest of the Ministry delegation waiting for

him, casting nervous glances at the sobbing Hagrid and Grawp, who were still in their seats. Ron and Hermione were hurrying towards Harry, passing Scrimgeour going in

the opposite direction; Harry turned and walked slowly on, waiting for them to catch up, which they finally did in the shade of a beech tree under which they had sat in

happier times.

“What did Scrimgeour want?” Hermione whispered.

“I care,” said Harry.

“I care,” said Harry. “How do you think I'd feel if this was your funeral ... and it was my fault ...”

She looked away from him, over the lake.

“I never really gave up on you,” she said. “Not really. I always hoped ... Hermione told me to get on with life, maybe go out with some other people, relax a bit

around you, because I never used to be able to talk if you were in the room, remember? And she thought you might take a bit more notice if I was a bit more—myself”

“Smart girl, that Hermione,” said Harry, trying to smile. “I just wish I'd asked you sooner. We could've had ages ... months ... years maybe ...”

“But you've been too busy saving the wizarding world,” said Ginny, half-laughing. “Well ... I can't say I'm surprised. I knew this would happen in the end. I knew

you wouldn't be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that's why I like you so much.”

Harry could not bear to hear these things, nor did he think his resolution would hold if he remained sitting beside her. Ron, he saw, was now holding Hermione and

stroking her hair while she sobbed into his shoulder, tears dripping from the end of his own long nose. With a miserable gesture, Harry got up, turned his back on Ginny

and on Dumbledore's tomb and walked away around the lake. Moving felt much more bearable than sitting still: just as setting out as soon as possible to track down the

Horcruxes and kill Voldemort would feel better than waiting to do it ...


He turned. Rufus Scrimgeour was limping rapidly towards him around the bank, leaning on his walking stick.

“I've been hoping to have a word ... do you mind if I walk a little way with you?”

“No,” said Harry indifferently, and set off again.

“Harry, this was a dreadful tragedy,” said Scrimgeour quietly, “I cannot tell you how appalled I was to hear of it. Dumbledore was a very great wizard. We had our

disagreements, as you know, but no one knows better than I—”

“What do you want?” asked Harry flatly.

Scrimgeour looked annoyed but, as before, hastily modified his expression to one of sorrowful understanding.

“You are, of course, devastated,” he said. “I know that you were very close to Dumbledore. I think you may have been his favourite ever pupil. The bond between the

two of you—”

“What do you want?” Harry repeated, coming to a halt.

Scrimgeour stopped too, leaned on his stick and stared at Harry, his expression shrewd now.

“The word is that you were with him when he left the school the night that he died.”

“Whose word?” said Harry.

“Somebody Stupefied a Death Eater on top of the Tower after Dumbledore died. There were also two broomsticks up there. The Ministry can add two and two, Harry.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Harry. “Well, where I went with Dumbledore and what we did is my business. He didn't want people to know.”

“Such loyalty is admirable, of course,” said Scrimgeour, who seemed to be restraining his irritation with difficulty,” but Dumbledore is gone, Harry. He's gone.”

the illusion he ought to have lost at

the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one: that the shelter of a parent's arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from his nightmare, no

comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died and he was more alone than

he had ever been before.

The little man in black had stopped speaking at last and resumed his seat. Harry waited for somebody else to get to their feet; he expected speeches, probably from the

Minister, but nobody moved.

Then several people screamed. Bright, white flames had erupted around Dumbledore's body and the table upon which it lay: higher and higher they rose, obscuring the

body. White smoke spiralled into the air and made strange shapes: Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue, but

next second the fire had vanished. In its place was a white marble tomb, encasing Dumbledore's body and the table on which he had rested.

There were a few more cries of shock as a shower of arrows soared through the air, but they fell far short of the crowd. It was, Harry knew, the centaurs’ tribute: he

saw them turn tail and disappear back into the cool trees. Likewise the merpeople sank slowly back into the green water and were lost from view.

Harry looked at Ginny, Ron and Hermione: Ron's face was screwed up as though the sunlight was blinding him. Hermione's face was glazed with tears, but Ginny was no

longer crying. She met Harry's gaze with the same hard, blazing look that he had seen when she had hugged him after winning the Quidditch Cup in his absence, and he

knew that at that moment they understood each other perfectly, and that when he told her what he was going to do now, she would not say ‘Be careful', or ‘Don't do

it', but accept his decision, because she would not have expected anything less of him. And so he steeled himself to say what he had known he must say ever since

Dumbledore had died.

“Ginny, listen ...” he said very quietly, as the buzz of conversation grew louder around them and people began to get to their feet. “I can't be involved with you

any more. We've got to stop seeing each other. We can't be together.”

She said, with an oddly twisted smile, “It's for some stupid, noble reason, isn't it?”

“It's been like ... like something out of someone else's life, these last few weeks with you,” said Harry. “But I can't ... we can't ... I've got things to do alone


She did not cry, she simply looked at him.

“Voldemort uses people his enemies are close to. He's already used you as bait once, and that was just because you're my best friend's sister. Think how much danger

you'll be in if we keep this up. He'll know, he'll find out. He'll try and get to me through you.”

“What if I don't care?” said Ginny fiercely.

“In there,” whispered Ginny in Harry's ear.

“In there,” whispered Ginny in Harry's ear.

And he saw them in the clear green sunlit water, inches below the surface, reminding him horribly of the Inferi; a chorus of merpeople singing in a strange language he

did not understand, their pallid faces rippling, their purplish hair flowing all around them. The music made the hair on Harry's neck stand up and yet it was not

unpleasant. It spoke very clearly of loss and of despair. As he looked down into the wild faces of the singers he had the feeling that they, at least, were sorry for

Dumbledore's passing. Then Ginny nudged him again and he looked round.

Hagrid was walking slowly up the aisle between the chairs. He was crying quite silently, his face gleaming with tears, and in his arms, wrapped in purple velvet

spangled with golden stars, was what Harry knew to be Dumbledore's body. A sharp pain rose in Harry's throat at this sight: for a moment, the strange music and the

knowledge that Dumbledore's body was so close seemed to take all warmth from the day. Ron looked white and shocked. Tears were falling thick and fast into both Ginny

and Hermione's laps.

They could not see clearly what was happening at the front. Hagrid seemed to have placed the body carefully upon the table. Now he retreated down the aisle, blowing his

nose with loud trumpeting noises that drew scandalised looks from some, including, Harry saw, Dolores Umbridge ... but Harry knew that Dumbledore would not have cared.

He tried to make a friendly gesture to Hagrid as he passed, but Hagrid's eyes were so swollen it was a wonder he could see where he was going. Harry glanced at the back

row to which Hagrid was heading and realised what was guiding him, for there, dressed in a jacket and trousers each the size of a small marquee, was the giant Grawp,

his great ugly boulder-like head bowed, docile, almost human. Hagrid sat down next to his half-brother and Grawp patted Hagrid hard on the head, so that his chair legs

sank into the ground. Harry had a wonderful momentary urge to laugh. But then the music stopped and he turned to face the front again.

A little tufty-haired man in plain black robes had got to his feet and stood now in front of Dumbledore's body. Harry could not hear what he was saying. Odd words

floated back to them over the hundreds of beads. “Nobility of spirit” ... “intellectual contribution” ... “greatness of heart” ... it did not mean very much. It

had little to do with Dumbledore as Harry had known him. He suddenly remembered Dumbledore's idea of a few words: “nitwit", “oddment", “blubber” and “tweak", and

again, had to suppress a grin ... what was the matter with him?

There was a soft splashing noise to his left and he saw that the merpeople had broken the surface to listen, too. He remembered Dumbledore crouching at the water's edge

two years ago, very close to where Harry now sat, and conversing in Mermish with the Merchieftainess. Harry wondered where Dumbledore had learned Mermish. There was so

much he had never asked him, so much he should have said ...

And then, without warning, it swept over him, the dreadful truth, more completely and undeniably than it had until now. Dumbledore was dead, gone ... he clutched the

cold locket in his hand so tightly that it hurt, but he could not prevent hot tears spilling from his eyes: he looked away from Ginny and the others and stared out over

the lake, towards the Forest, as the little man in black droned on ... there was movement among the trees. The centaurs had come to pay their respects, too. They did

not move into the open but Harry saw them standing quite still, half-hidden in shadow, watching the wizards, their bows hanging at their sides. And Harry remembered his

first nightmarish trip into the Forest, the first time he had ever encountered the thing that was then Voldemort, and how he had faced him, and how he and Dumbledore

had discussed fighting a losing battle not long thereafter. It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be

kept at bay, though never quite eradicated ...

And Harry saw very clearly as be sat there under the hot sun how people who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather,

and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon for ever

Thursday, November 25, 2010

They stared at each other for almost a whole minute,

They stared at each other for almost a whole minute, before Harry said, “This is a joke, right? You're joking.”

“I think ... Harry, I think I love her,” said Ron in a strangled voice.

“Okay,” said Harry, walking up to Ron to get a better look at the glazed eyes and the pallid complexion, “okay ... say that again with a straight face.”

“I love her,” repeated Ron breathlessly. “Have you seen her hair, it's all black and shiny and silky ... and her eyes? Her big dark eyes? And her—”

“This is really funny and everything,” said Harry impatiently, “but joke's over, all right? Drop it.”

He turned to leave; he had got two steps towards the door when a crashing blow hit him on the right ear. Staggering, he looked round. Ron's fist was drawn right back,

his face was contorted with rage; he was about to strike again.

Harry reacted instinctively; his wand was out of his pocket and the incantation sprang to mind without conscious thought: Levicorpus!

Ron yelled as his heel was wrenched upwards once more; he dangled helplessly, upside-down, his robes hanging off him.

“What was that for?” Harry bellowed.

“You insulted her, Harry! You said it was a joke!” shouted Ron, who was slowly turning purple in the face as all the blood rushed to his head.

“This is insane!” said Harry. “What's got into—?”

And then he saw the box lying open on Ron's bed and the truth hit him with the force of a stampeding troll.

“Where did you get those Chocolate Cauldrons?”

“They were a birthday present!” shouted Ron, revolving slowly in midair as he struggled to get free. “I offered you one, didn't I?”

“You just picked them up off the floor, didn't you?”

“They'd fallen off my bed, all right? Let me go!”

“They didn't fall off your bed, you prat, don't you understand? They were mine, I chucked them out of my trunk when I was looking for the map. They're the Chocolate

Cauldrons Romilda gave me before Christmas and they're all spiked with love potion!”

But only one word of this seemed to have registered with Ron.

“Romilda?” he repeated. “Did you say Romilda? Harry—do you know her? Can you introduce me?”

Harry stared at the dangling Ron, whose face now looked tremendously hopeful, and fought a strong desire to laugh. A part of him—the part closest to his throbbing

right ear—was quite keen on the idea of letting Ron down and watching him run amok until the effects of the potion wore off ... but on the other hand, they were

supposed to be friends, Ron had not been himself when he had attacked, and Harry thought that he would deserve another punching if he permitted Ron to declare undying

love for Romilda Vane.

“Yeah, I'll introduce you,” said Harry, thinking fast. “I'm going to let you down now, okay?”

He sent Ron crashing back to the floor (his ear did hurt quite a lot), but Ron simply bounded to his feet again, grinning.

He threw the package across on to Ron's bed,

He threw the package across on to Ron's bed, where it joined a small pile of them that must, Harry assumed, have been delivered by house-elves in the night.

“Cheers,” said Ron drowsily, and as he ripped off the paper Harry got out of bed, opened his own trunk and began rummaging in it for the Marauder's Map, which he hid

after every use. He turfed out half the contents of his trunk before he found it hiding beneath the rolled-up socks in which he was still keeping his bottle of lucky

potion, Felix Felicis.

“Right,” he murmured, taking it back to bed with him, tapping it quietly and murmuring, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” so that Neville, who was passing

the foot of his bed at the time, would not hear.

“Nice one, Harry!” said Ron enthusiastically, waving the new pair of Quidditch Keeper's gloves Harry had given him.

“No problem,” said Harry absent-mindedly, as he searched the Slytherin dormitory closely for Malfoy. “Hey ... I don't think he's in his bed ...”

Ron did not answer; he was too busy unwrapping presents, every now and then letting out an exclamation of pleasure.

“Seriously good haul this year!” he announced, holding up a heavy gold watch with odd symbols around the edge and tiny moving stars instead of hands. “See what Mum

and Dad got me? Blimey, I think I'll come of age next year too ...”

“Cool,” muttered Harry, sparing the watch a glance before peering more closely at the map. Where was Malfoy? He did not seem to be at the Slytherin table in the Great

Hall, eating breakfast ... he was nowhere near Snape, who was sitting in his study ... he wasn't in any of the bathrooms or in the hospital wing ...

“Want one?” said Ron thickly, holding out a box of Chocolate Cauldrons.

“No thanks,” said Harry, looking up. “Malfoy's gone again!”

“Can't have done,” said Ron, stuffing a second Cauldron into his mouth as he slid out of bed to get dressed. “Come on. If you don't hurry up you'll have to Apparate

on an empty-stomach ... might make it easier, I suppose ...”

Ron looked thoughtfully at the box of Chocolate Cauldrons, then shrugged and helped himself to a third.

Harry tapped the map with his wand, muttered, “Mischief managed,” though it hadn't been, and got dressed, thinking hard. There had to be an explanation for Malfoy's

periodic disappearances, but he simply could not think what it could be. The best way of finding out would be to tail him, but even with the Invisibility Cloak this was

an impractical idea; he had lessons, Quidditch practice, homework and Apparition; he could not follow Malfoy around school all day wilhout his absence being remarked


“Ready?” he said to Ron.

He was halfway to the dormitory door when he realised that Ron had not moved, but was leaning on his bedpost, staring out of the rain-washed window with a strangely

unfocused look on his face.

“Ron? Breakfast.”

“I'm not hungry.”

Harry stared at him.

“I thought you just said—?”

“—Well, all right, I'll come down with you,” sighed Ron, “but I don't want to eat.”

Harry scrutinised him suspiciously.

“You've just eaten half a box of Chocolate Cauldrons, haven't you?”

“It's not that,” Ron sighed again. “You ... you wouldn't understand.”

“Fair enough,” said Harry, albeit puzzled, as he turned to open the door.

“Harry!” said Ron suddenly.


“Harry, I can't stand it!”

“You can't stand what?” asked Harry, now starling to feel definitely alarmed. Ron was rather pale and looked as though he was about to be sick.

“I can't stop thinking about her!” said Ron hoarsely.

Harry gaped at him. He had not expected this and was not sure he wanted to hear it. Friends they might be, but if Ron started calling Lavender ‘Lav-Lav', he would have

to pui his foot down.

“Why does that stop you having breakfast?” Harry asked, trying to inject a note of common sense into the proceedings.

“I don't think she knows I exist,” said Ron with a desperate gesture.

“She definitely knows you exist,” said Harry, bewildered. “She keeps snogging you, doesn't she?”

Ron blinked.

“Who are you talking about?”

“Who are you talking about?” said Harry, with an increasing sense that all reason had dropped out of the conversation.

“Romilda Vane,” said Ron softly, and his whole face seemed to illuminate as he said it, as though hit by a ray of purest sunlight.

“Well, I'm keeping an eye on him from now on

“Well, I'm keeping an eye on him from now on,” he said firmly. “And the moment I see him lurking somewhere with Crabbe and Goyle keeping watch outside, it'll be on

with the old Invisibility Cloak and off to find out what he's—”

He broke off as Neville entered the dormitory, bringing with him a strong smell of singed material, and began rummaging in his trunk for a fresh pair of pants.

Despite his determination to catch Malfoy out, Harry had no luck at all over the next couple of weeks. Although he consulted the map as often as he could, sometimes

making unnecessary visits to the bathroom between lessons to search it, he did not once see Malfoy anywhere suspicious. Admittedly, he spotted Crabbe and Goyle moving

around the castle on their own more often than usual, sometimes remaining stationary in deserted corridors, but at these times Malfoy was not only nowhere near them,

but impossible to locate on the map at all. This was most mysterious. Harry toyed with the possibility that Malfoy was actually leaving the school grounds, but could

not see how he could be doing it, given the very high leve! of security now operating within the castle. He could only suppose ihat he was missing Malfoy amongst the

hundreds of tiny black dots upon the map. As for the fact that Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle appeared to be going their different ways when they were usually inseparable,

these things happened as people got older—Ron and Hermione, Harry reflected sadly, were living proof.

February moved towards March with no change in the weather except that it became windy as well as wet. To general indignation, a sign went up on all common-room

noticeboards that the next trip into Hogsmeade had been cancelled. Ron was furious.

“It was on my birthday!” he said, “I was looking forward to that!”

“Not a big surprise, though, is it?” said Harry. “Not after what happened to Katie.”

She had still not returned from St. Mungo's. What was more, further disappearances had been reported in the Daily Prophet, including several relatives of students at


“But now all I've got to look forward to is stupid Apparition!” said Ron grumpily. “Big birthday treat ...”

Three lessons on, Apparition was proving as difficult as ever, though a few more people had managed to Splinch themselves. Frustration was running high and there was a

certain amount of ill-feeling towards Wilkie Twycross and his three Ds, which had inspired a number of nicknames for him, the politest of which were Dog-breath and


“Happy birthday, Ron,” said Harry, when they were woken on the first of March by Seamus and Dean leaving noisily for breakfast. “Have a present.”

Twycross stepped forwards,

Twycross stepped forwards, turned gracefully on the spot with his arms outstretched and vanished in a swirl of robes, reappearing at the back of the Hall. ‘Remember

the three Ds,’ he said, “and try again ... one—two—three—”

But an hour later, Susan's Splinching was still the most interesting thing that had happened. Twycross did not seem discouraged. Fastening his cloak at his neck, he

merely said, “Until next Saturday, everybody, and do not forget: Destination. Determination. Deliberation.”

With that, he waved his wand, Vanishing the hoops, and walked out of the Hall accompanied by Professor McGonagall. Talk broke out at once as people began moving towards

the Entrance Hall.

“How did you do?” asked Ron, hurrying towards Harry. “I think I felt something the last time I tried—a kind of tingling in my feet.”

“I expect your trainers are too small, Won-Won,” said a voice behind them, and Hermione stalked past, smirking.

“I didn't feel anything,” said Harry, ignoring this interruption. “But I don't care about that now—”

“What d'you mean, you don't care ... don't you want to learn to Apparate?” said Ron incredulously.

“I'm not fussed, really. I prefer flying,” said Harry, glancing over his shoulder to see where Malfoy was, and speeding up as they came into the Entrance Hall.

“Look, hurry up, will you, there's something I want to do ...”

Perplexed, Ron followed Harry back to Gryffindor Tower at a run. They were temporarily detained by Peeves, who had jammed a door on the fourth floor shut and was

refusing to let anyone pass until they set fire to their own pants, but Harry and Ron simply turned back and took one of their trusted short cuts. Within five minutes,

they were climbing through the portrait hole.

“Are you going to tell me what we're doing, then?” asked Ron, panting slightly.

“Up here,” said Harry, and he crossed the common room and led the way through the door to the boys’ staircase.

Their dormitory was, as Harry had hoped, empty. He flung open his trunk and began to rummage in it, while Ron watched impatiently.

“Harry ...”

“Malfoy's using Crabbe and Goyle as lookouts. He was arguing with Crabbe just now. I want to know ... aha.”

He had found it, a folded square of apparently blank parchment, which he now smoothed out and tapped with the tip of his wand.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good ... or Malfoy is, anyway.”

At once, the Marauder's Map appeared on the parchment's surface. Here was a detailed plan of every one of the castle's floors and, moving around it, the tiny, labelled

black dots that signified each of the castle's occupants.

“Help me find Malfoy,” said Harry urgently.

He laid the map upon his bed and he and Ron leaned over it, searching.

“There!” said Ron, after a minute or so. “He's in the Slytherin common room, look ... with Parkinson and Zabini and Crabbe and Goyle ...”

Harry looked down at the map, disappointed, but rallied almost at once.

He waved his wand. Old-fashioned wooden

He waved his wand. Old-fashioned wooden hoops instantly appeared on the floor in from of every student.

“The important things to remember when Apparating are the three Ds!” said Twycross. “Destination, Determination, Deliberation!

“Step one: fix your mind firmly upon the desired destination,” said Twycross. “In this case, the interior of your hoop. Kindly concentrate upon that destination now.

Everybody looked around furtively, to check that everyone else was staring into their hoop, then hastily did as they were told. Harry gazed at the circular patch of

dusty floor enclosed by his hoop and tried hard to think of nothing else. This proved impossible, as he couldn't stop puzzling over what Malfoy was doing that needed


“Step two,” said Twycross, “focus your determination to occupy the visualised space! Let your yearning to enter it flood from your mind to every particle of your


Harry glanced around surreptitiously. A little way to his left, Ernie Macmillan was contemplating his hoop so hard that his face had turned pink; it looked as though he

was straining to lay a Quaffle-sized egg. Harry bit back a laugh and hastily returned his gaze to his own hoop.

“Step three,” called Twycross, “and only when I give the command ... turn on the spot, feeling your way into nothingness, moving with deliberation. On my command,

now ... one—”

Harry glanced around again; lots of people were looking positively alarmed at being asked to Apparate so quickly.


Harry tried to fix his thoughts on his hoop again; he had already forgotten what the three Ds stood for.


Harry spun on the spot, lost his balance and nearly fell over. He was not the only one. The whole Hall was suddenly full of staggering people; Neville was flat on his

back; Ernie Macmillan, on the other hand, had done a kind of pirouetting leap into his hoop and looked momentarily thrilled, until he caught sight of Dean Thomas

roaring with laughter at him.

“Never mind, never mind,” said Twycross dryly, who did not seem to have expected anything better. “Adjust your hoops, please, and back to your original positions ...

The second attempt was no better than the first. The third was just as bad. Not until the fourth did anything exciting happen. There was a horrible screech of pain and

everybody looked around, terrified, to see Susan Bones of Hufflepuff wobbling in her hoop with her left leg still standing five feet away where she had started.

The Heads of House converged on her; there was a great bang and a puff of purple smoke, which cleared to reveal Susan sobbing, reunited with her leg but looking


“Splinching, or the separation of random body parts,” said Wilkie Twycross dispassionately, “occurs when the mind is insufficiently determined. You must concentrate

continually upon your destination, and move, without haste, but with deliberation ... thus.”