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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / -

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows /      -

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / -
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2010
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J. K. Rowling / . .
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Stephen Fry / ( )
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Upper-Intermediate
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128 kbps.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / :

audiobook (MP3) : part 1, part 2.


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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J. K. Rowling CHAPTER ONE The Dark Lord Ascending The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each others chests; then, recognising each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction. News? asked the taller of the two. The best, replied Severus Snape. The lane was bordered on the left by wild, low-growing brambles, on the right by a high, neatly manicured hedge. The mens long cloaks flapped around their ankles as they marched. Thought I might be late, said Yaxley, his blunt features sliding in and out of sight as the branches of overhanging trees broke the moonlight. It was a little trickier than I expected. But I hope he will be satisfied. You sound confident that your reception will be good? Snape nodded, but did not elaborate. They turned right, into a wide driveway that led off the lane. The high hedge curved with them, running off into the distance beyond the pair of impressive wrought-iron gates barring the mens way. Neither of them broke step: in silence both raised their left arms in a kind of salute and passed straight through as though the dark metal were smoke. The yew hedges muffled the sound of the mens footsteps. There was a rustle somewhere to their right: Yaxley drew his wand again, pointing it over his companions head, but the source of the noise proved to be nothing more than a pure white peacock, strutting majestically along the top of the hedge. He always did himself well, Lucius. Peacocks ... Yaxley thrust his wand back under his cloak with a snort. A handsome manor house grew out of the darkness at the end of the straight drive, lights glinting in the diamond-paned downstairs windows. Somewhere in the dark garden beyond the hedge, a fountain was playing. Gravel crackled beneath their feet as Snape and Yaxley sped towards the front door, which swung inwards at their approach, though nobody had visibly opened it. The hallway was large, dimly lit and sumptuously decorated, with a magnificent carpet covering most of the stone floor. The eyes of the pale-faced portraits on the walls followed Snape and Yaxley as they strode past. The two men halted at a heavy wooden door leading into the next room, hesitated for the space of a heartbeat, then Snape turned the bronze handle. The drawing room was full of silent people, sitting at a long and ornate table. The rooms usual furniture had been pushed carelessly up against the walls. Illumination came from a roaring fire beneath a handsome marble mantelpiece surmounted by a gilded mirror. Snape and Yaxley lingered for a moment on the threshold. As their eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light they were drawn upwards to the strangest feature of the scene: an apparently unconscious human figure hanging upside down over the table, revolving slowly as if suspended by an invisible rope, and reflected in the mirror and in the bare, polished surface of the table below. None of the people seated underneath this singular sight was looking at it except for a pale young man sitting almost directly below it. He seemed unable to prevent himself from glancing upwards every minute or so. Yaxley. Snape, said a high, clear voice from the head of the table. You are very nearly late. The speaker was seated directly in front of the fireplace, so that it was difficult, at first, for the new arrivals to make out more than his silhouette. As they drew nearer, however, his face shone through the gloom, hairless, snake-like, with slits for nostrils and gleaming red eyes whose pupils were vertical. He was so pale that he seemed to emit a pearly glow. Severus, here, said Voldemort, indicating the seat on his immediate right. Yaxley beside Dolohov. The two men took their allotted places. Most of the eyes around the table followed Snape and it was to him that Voldemort spoke first. So? My Lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall. The interest around the table sharpened palpably: some stiffened, others fidgeted, all gazing at Snape and Voldemort. Saturday ... at nightfall, repeated Voldemort. His red eyes fastened upon Snapes black ones with such intensity that some of the watchers looked away, apparently fearful that they themselves would be scorched by the ferocity of the gaze. Snape, however, looked calmly back into Voldemorts face and, after a moment or two, Voldemorts lipless mouth curved into something like a smile. Good. Very good. And this information comes From the source we discussed, said Snape. My Lord. Yaxley had leaned forward to look down the long table at Voldemort and Snape. All faces turned to him. My Lord, I have heard differently. Yaxley waited, but Voldemort did not speak, so he went on, Dawlish, the Auror, let slip that Potter will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns seventeen. Snape was smiling. My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it. No doubt a Confundus Charm has been placed upon Dawlish. It would not be the first time, he is known to be susceptible. I assure you, my Lord, Dawlish seemed quite certain, said Yaxley. If he has been Confunded, naturally he is certain, said Snape. I assure you, Yaxley, the Auror Office will play no further part in the protection of Harry Potter. The Order believes that we have infiltrated the Ministry. The Orders got one thing right, then, eh? said a squat man sitting a short distance from Yaxley; he gave a wheezy giggle that was echoed here and there along the table. Voldemort did not laugh. His gaze had wandered upwards, to the body revolving slowly overhead, and he seemed to be lost in thought. My Lord, Yaxley went on, Dawlish believes an entire party of Aurors will be used to transfer the boy Voldemort held up a large, white hand and Yaxley subsided at once, watching resentfully as Voldemort turned back to Snape. Where are they going to hide the boy next? At the home of one of the Order, said Snape. The place, according to the source, has been given every protection that the Order and Ministry together could provide. I think that there is little chance of taking him once he is there, my Lord, unless, of course, the Ministry has fallen before next Saturday, which might give us the opportunity to discover and undo enough of the enchantments to break through the rest. Well, Yaxley? Voldemort called down the table, the firelight glinting strangely in his red eyes. Will the Ministry have fallen by next Saturday? Once again, all heads turned. Yaxley squared his shoulders. My Lord, I have good news on that score. I have with difficulty, and after great effort succeeded in placing an Imperius Curse upon Pius Thicknesse. Many of those sitting around Yaxley looked impressed; his neighbour, Dolohov, a man with a long, twisted face, clapped him on the back. It is a start, said Voldemort. But Thicknesse is only one man. Scrimgeour must be surrounded by our people before I act. One failed attempt on the Ministers life will set me back a long way. Yes my Lord, that is true but you know, as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Thicknesse has regular contact not only with the Minister himself, but also with the Heads of all the other Ministry departments. It will, I think, be easy, now that we have such a high-ranking official under our control, to subjugate the others, and then they can all work together to bring Scrimgeour down. As long as our friend Thicknesse is not discovered before he has converted the rest, said Voldemort. At any rate, it remains unlikely that the Ministry will be mine before next Saturday. If we cannot touch the boy at his destination, then it must be done while he travels. We are at an advantage there, my Lord, said Yaxley, who seemed determined to receive some portion of approval. We now have several people planted within the Department of Magical Transport. If Potter Apparates or uses the Floo Network, we shall know immediately. He will not do either, said Snape. The Order is eschewing any form of transport that is controlled or regulated by the Ministry; they mistrust everything to do with the place. All the better, said Voldemort. He will have to move in the open. Easier to take, by far. Again, Voldemort looked up at the slowly revolving body as he went on, I shall attend to the boy in person. There have been too many mistakes where Harry Potter is concerned. Some of them have been my own. That Potter lives is due more to my errors, than to his triumphs. The company round the table watched Voldemort apprehensively, each of them, by his or her expression, afraid that they might be blamed for Harry Potters continued existence. Voldemort, however, seemed to be speaking more to himself than to any of them, still addressing the unconscious body above him. I have been careless, and so have been thwarted by luck and chance, those wreckers of all but the best laid plans. But I know better now I understand those things that I did not understand before. I must be the one to kill Harry Potter, and I shall be. At these words, seemingly in response to them, a sudden wail sounded, a terrible, drawn-out cry of misery and pain. Many of those at the table looked downwards, startled, for the sound had seemed to issue from below their feet. Wormtail, said Voldemort, with no change in his quiet, thoughtful tone, and without removing his eyes from the revolving body above, have I not spoken to you about keeping our prisoner quiet? Yes m my Lord, gasped a small man halfway down the table, who had been sitting so low in his chair that it had appeared, at first glance, to be unoccupied. Now he scrambled from his seat and scurried from the room, leaving nothing behind him but a curious gleam of silver. As I was saying, continued Voldemort, looking again at the tense faces of his followers, I understand better now. I shall need, for instance, to borrow a wand from one of you before I go to kill Potter. The faces around him displayed nothing but shock; he might have announced that he wanted to borrow one of their arms. No volunteers? said Voldemort. Lets see ... Lucius, I see no reason for you to have a wand any more. Lucius Malfoy looked up. His skin appeared yellowish and waxy in the firelight and his eyes were sunken and shadowed. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. My Lord? Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand. I ... Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, quite as pale as he was, her long, blonde hair hanging down her back, but beneath the table her slim fingers closed briefly on his wrist. At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes, withdrew a wand and passed it along to Voldemort, who held it up in front of his red eyes, examining it closely. What is it? Elm, my Lord, whispered Malfoy. And the core? Dragon dragon heartstring. Good, said Voldemort. He drew out his own wand and compared the lengths. Lucius Malfoy made an involuntary movement; for a fraction of a second, it seemed he expected to receive Voldemorts wand in exchange for his own. The gesture was not missed by Voldemort, whose eyes widened maliciously. Give you my wand, Lucius? My wand? Some of the throng sniggered. I have given you your liberty, Lucius, is that not enough for you? But I have noticed that you and your family seem less than happy of late ... what is it about my presence in your home that displeases you, Lucius? Nothing nothing, my Lord! Such lies, Lucius ... The soft voice seemed to hiss on even after the cruel mouth had stopped moving. One or two of the wizards barely repressed a shudder as the hissing grew louder; something heavy could be heard sliding across the floor beneath the table. The huge snake emerged to climb slowly up Voldemorts chair. It rose, seemingly endlessly, and came to rest across Voldemorts shoulders: its neck the thickness of a mans thigh; its eyes, with their vertical slits for pupils, unblinking. Voldemort stroked the creature absently with long, thin fingers, still looking at Lucius Malfoy. Why do the Malfoys look so unhappy with their lot? Is my return, my rise to power, not the very thing they professed to desire for so many years? Of course, my Lord, said Lucius Malfoy. His hand shook as he wiped sweat from his upper lip. We did desire it we do. To Malfoys left, his wife made an odd, stiff nod, her eyes averted from Voldemort and the snake. To his right, his son Draco, who had been gazing up at the inert body overhead, glanced quickly at Voldemort and away again, terrified to make eye contact. My Lord, said a dark woman halfway down the table, her voice constricted with emotion, it is an honour to have you here, in our familys house. There can be no higher pleasure. She sat beside her sister, as unlike her in looks, with her dark hair and heavily lidded eyes, as she was in bearing and demeanour; where Narcissa sat rigid and impassive, Bellatrix leaned towards Voldemort, for mere words could not demonstrate her longing for closeness. No higher pleasure, repeated Voldemort, his head tilted a little to one side as he considered Bellatrix. That means a great deal, Bellatrix, from you. Her face flooded with colour; her eyes welled with tears of delight. My Lord knows I speak nothing but the truth! No higher pleasure ... even compared with the happy event that, I hear, has taken place in your family this week? She stared at him, her lips parted, evidently confused. I dont know what you mean, my Lord. Im talking about your niece, Bellatrix. And yours, Lucius and Narcissa. She has just married the werewolf, Remus Lupin. You must be so proud. There was an eruption of jeering laughter from around the table. Many leaned forward to exchange gleeful looks; a few thumped the table with their fists. The great snake, disliking the disturbance, opened its mouth wide and hissed angrily, but the Death Eaters did not hear it, so jubilant were they at Bellatrix and the Malfoys humiliation. Bellatrixs face, so recently flushed with happiness, had turned an ugly, blotchy red. She is no niece of ours, my Lord, she cried over the outpouring of mirth. We Narcissa and I have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood. This brat has nothing to do with either of us, nor any beast she marries. What say you, Draco? asked Voldemort, and though his voice was quiet, it carried clearly through the catcalls and jeers. Will you babysit the cubs? The hilarity mounted; Draco Malfoy looked in terror at his father, who was staring down into his own lap, then caught his mothers eye. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, then resumed her own deadpan stare at the opposite wall. Enough, said Voldemort, stroking the angry snake. Enough. And the laughter died at once. Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time, he said, as Bellatrix gazed at him, breathless and imploring. You must prune yours, must you not, to keep it healthy? Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest. Yes, my Lord, whispered Bellatrix, and her eyes swam with tears of gratitude again. At the first chance! You shall have it, said Voldemort. And in your family, so in the world ... we shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain Voldemort raised Lucius Malfoys wand, pointed it directly at the slowly revolving figure suspended over the table and gave it a tiny flick. The figure came to life with a groan and began to struggle against invisible bonds. Do you recognise our guest, Severus? asked Voldemort. Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face. All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said, in a cracked and terrified voice, Severus! Help me! Ah, yes, said Snape, as the prisoner turned slowly away again. And you, Draco? asked Voldemort, stroking the snakes snout with his wand-free hand. Draco shook his head jerkily. Now that the woman had woken, he seemed unable to look at her any more. But you would not have taken her classes, said Voldemort. For those of you who do not know, we are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently, taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched woman with pointed teeth cackled. Yes ... Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles ... how they are not so different from us ... One of the Death Eaters spat on the floor. Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape again. Severus ... please ... please ... Silence, said Voldemort, with another twitch of Malfoys wand, and Charity fell silent as if gagged. Not content with corrupting and polluting the minds of wizarding children, last week Professor Burbage wrote an impassioned defence of Mudbloods in the Daily Prophet. Wizards, she says, must accept these thieves of their knowledge and magic. The dwindling of the pure-bloods is, says Professor Burbage, a most desirable circumstance ... she would have us all mate with Muggles ... or, no doubt, werewolves Nobody laughed this time: there was no mistaking the anger and contempt in Voldemorts voice. For the third time, Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape. Tears were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again. Avada Kedavra. The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a resounding crash, on to the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several of the Death Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his on to the floor. Dinner, Nagini, said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders on to the polished wood. ? CHAPTER TWO In Memoriam Harry was bleeding. Clutching his right hand in his left and swearing under his breath, he shouldered open his bedroom door. There was a crunch of breaking china: he had trodden on a cup of cold tea that had been sitting on the floor outside his bedroom door. What the ? He looked around; the landing of number four, Privet Drive, was deserted. Possibly the cup of tea was Dudleys idea of a clever booby trap. Keeping his bleeding hand elevated, Harry scraped the fragments of cup together with the other hand and threw them into the already crammed bin just visible inside his bedroom door. Then he tramped across to the bathroom to run his finger under the tap. It was stupid, pointless, irritating beyond belief, that he still had four days left of being unable to perform magic ... but he had to admit to himself that this jagged cut in his finger would have defeated him. He had never learned how to repair wounds and now he came to think of it particularly in light of his immediate plans this seemed a serious flaw in his magical education. Making a mental note to ask Hermione how it was done, he used a large wad of toilet paper to mop up as much of the tea as he could, before returning to his bedroom and slamming the door behind him. Harry had spent the morning completely emptying his school trunk for the first time since he had packed it six years ago. At the start of the intervening school years, he had merely skimmed off the topmost three quarters of the contents and replaced or updated them, leaving a layer of general debris at the bottom old quills, desiccated beetle eyes, single socks that no longer fitted. Minutes previously Harry had plunged his hand into this mulch, experienced a stabbing pain in the fourth finger of his right hand and withdrawn it to see a lot of blood. He now proceeded a little more cautiously. Kneeling down beside the trunk again, he groped around in the bottom and, after retrieving an old badge that flickered feebly between Support CEDRIC DIGGORY and POTTER STINKS, a cracked and worn-out Sneakoscope and a gold locket inside which a note signed R.A.B. had been hidden, he finally discovered the sharp edge that had done the damage. He recognised it at once. It was a two-inch-long fragment of the enchanted mirror that his dead godfather, Sirius, had given him. Harry laid it aside and felt cautiously around the trunk for the rest, but nothing more remained of his godfathers last gift except powdered glass, which clung to the deepest layer of debris like glittering grit. Harry sat up and examined the jagged piece on which he had cut himself, seeing nothing but his own bright green eye reflected back at him. Then he placed the fragment on top of that mornings Daily Prophet, which lay unread on the bed, and attempted to stem the sudden upsurge of bitter memories, the stabs of regret and of longing the discovery of the broken mirror had occasioned, by attacking the rest of the rubbish in the trunk. It took another hour to empty it completely, throw away the useless items and sort the remainder in piles according to whether or not he would need them from now on. His school and Quidditch robes, cauldron, parchment, quills and most of his textbooks were piled in a corner, to be left behind. He wondered what his aunt and uncle would do with them; burn them in the dead of night, probably, as if they were the evidence of some dreadful crime. His Muggle clothing, Invisibility Cloak, potion-making kit, certain books, the photograph album Hagrid had once given him, a stack of letters and his wand had been repacked into an old rucksack. In a front pocket were the Marauders Map and the locket with the note signed R.A.B. inside it. The locket was accorded this place of honour not because it was valuable in all usual senses it was worthless but because of what it had cost to attain it. This left a sizeable stack of newspapers sitting on his desk beside his snowy owl, Hedwig: one for each of the days Harry had spent at Privet Drive this summer. He got up off the floor, stretched and moved across to his desk. Hedwig made no movement as he began to flick through the newspapers, throwing them on to the rubbish pile one by one; the owl was asleep, or else faking; she was angry with Harry about the limited amount of time she was allowed out of her cage at the moment. As he neared the bottom of the pile of newspapers, Harry slowed down, searching for one particular edition which he knew had arrived shortly after he had returned to Privet Drive for the summer; he remembered that there had been a small mention on the front about the resignation of Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies teacher at Hogwarts. At last he found it. Turning to page ten, he sank into his desk chair and reread the article he had been looking for. ALBUS DUMBLEDORE REMEMBERED by Elphias Doge I met Albus Dumbledore at the age of eleven, on our first day at Hogwarts. Our mutual attraction was undoubtedly due to the fact that we both felt ourselves to be outsiders. I had contracted dragon pox shortly before arriving at school, and while I was no longer contagious, my pockmarked visage and greenish hue did not encourage many to approach me. For his part, Albus had arrived at Hogwarts under the burden of unwanted notoriety. Scarcely a year previously, his father, Percival, had been convicted of a savage and well-publicised attack upon three young Muggles. Albus never attempted to deny that his father (who was to die in Azkaban) had committed this crime; on the contrary, when I plucked up courage to ask him, he assured me that he knew his father to be guilty. Beyond that, Dumbledore refused to speak of the sad business, though many attempted to make him do so. Some, indeed, were disposed to praise his fathers action and assumed that Albus, too, was a Muggle-hater. They could not have been more mistaken: as anybody who knew Albus would attest, he never revealed the remotest anti-Muggle tendency. Indeed, his determined support for Muggle rights gained him many enemies in subsequent years. In a matter of months, however, Albuss own fame had begun to eclipse that of his father. By the end of his first year, he would never again be known as the son of a Muggle-hater, but as nothing more or less than the most brilliant student ever seen at the school. Those of us who were privileged to be his friends benefited from his example, not to mention his help and encouragement, with which he was always generous. He confessed to me in later life that he knew even then that his greatest pleasure lay in teaching. He not only won every prize of note that the school offered, he was soon in regular correspondence with the most notable magical names of the day, including Nicolas Flamel, the celebrated alchemist, Bathilda Bagshot, the noted historian, and Adalbert Waffling, the magical theoretician. Several of his papers found their way into learned publications such as Transfiguration Today, Challenges in Charming and The Practical Potioneer. Dumbledores future career seemed likely to be meteoric, and the only question that remained was when he would become Minister for Magic. Though it was often predicted in later years that he was on the point of taking the job, however, he never had Ministerial ambitions. Three years after we had started at Hogwarts Albuss brother, Aberforth, arrived at school. They were not alike; Aberforth was never bookish and, unlike Albus, preferred to settle arguments by duelling rather than through reasoned discussion. However, it is quite wrong to suggest, as some have, that the brothers were not friends. They rubbed along as comfortably as two such different boys could do. In fairness to Aberforth, it must be admitted that living in Albuss shadow cannot have been an altogether comfortable experience. Being continually outshone was an occupational hazard of being his friend and cannot have been any more pleasurable as a brother. When Albus and I left Hogwarts, we intended to take the then traditional tour of the world together, visiting and observing foreign wizards, before pursuing our separate careers. However, tragedy intervened. On the very eve of our trip, Albuss mother, Kendra, died, leaving Albus the head, and sole breadwinner, of the family. I postponed my departure long enough to pay my respects at Kendras funeral, then left for what was now to be a solitary journey. With a younger brother and sister to care for, and little gold left to them, there could no longer be any question of Albus accompanying me. That was the period of our lives when we had least contact. I wrote to Albus, describing, perhaps insensitively, the wonders of my journey from narrow escapes from Chimaeras in Greece to the experiments of the Egyptian alchemists. His letters told me little of his day-to-day life, which I guessed to be frustratingly dull for such a brilliant wizard. Immersed in my own experiences, it was with horror that I heard, towards the end of my years travels, that yet another tragedy had struck the Dumbledores: the death of his sister, Ariana. Though Ariana had been in poor health for a long time, the blow, coming so soon after the loss of their mother, had a profound effect on both of her brothers. All those closest to Albus and I count myself one of that lucky number agree that Arianas death and Albuss feeling of personal responsibility for it (though, of course, he was guiltless) left their mark upon him forever more. I returned home to find a young man who had experienced a much older persons suffering. Albus was more reserved than before, and much less light-hearted. To add to his misery, the loss of Ariana had led, not to a renewed closeness between Albus and Aberforth, but to an estrangement. (In time this would lift in later years they re-established, if not a close relationship, then certainly a cordial one.) However, he rarely spoke of his parents or of Ariana from then on, and his friends learned not to mention them. Other quills will describe the triumphs of the following years. Dumbledores innumerable contributions to the store of wizarding knowledge, including his discovery of the twelve uses of dragons blood, will benefit generations to come, as will the wisdom he displayed in the many judgements he made while Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. They say, still, that no wizarding duel ever matched that between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in 1945. Those who witnessed it have written of the terror and the awe they felt as they watched these two extraordinary wizards do battle. Dumbledores triumph, and its consequences for the wizarding world, are considered a turning point in magical history to match the introduction of the International Statute of Secrecy or the downfall of He Who Must Not Be Named. Albus Dumbledore was never proud or vain; he could find something to value in anyone, however apparently insignificant or wretched, and I believe that his early losses endowed him with great humanity and sympathy. I shall miss his friendship more than I can say, but my loss is as nothing compared to the wizarding worlds. That he was the most inspiring and the best loved of all Hogwarts headmasters cannot be in question. He died as he lived: working always for the greater good and, to his last hour, as willing to stretch out a hand to a small boy with dragon pox as he was on the day that I met him. Harry finished reading but continued to gaze at the picture accompanying the obituary. Dumbledore was wearing his familiar, kindly smile, but as he peered over the top of his half-moon spectacles he gave the impression, even in newsprint, of X-raying Harry, whose sadness mingled with a sense of humiliation. He had thought he knew Dumbledore quite well, but ever since reading this obituary he had been forced to recognise that he had barely known him at all. Never once had he imagined Dumbledores childhood or youth; it was as though he had sprung into being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old. The idea of a teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt. He had never thought to ask Dumbledore about his past. No doubt it would have felt strange, impertinent even, but after all, it had been common knowledge that Dumbledore had taken part in that legendary duel with Grindelwald, and Harry had not thought to ask Dumbledore what that had been like, nor about any of his other famous achievements. No, they had always discussed Harry, Harrys past, Harrys future, Harrys plans ... and it seemed to Harry now, despite the fact that his future was so dangerous and so uncertain, that he had missed irreplaceable opportunities when he had failed to ask Dumbledore more about himself, even though the only personal question he had ever asked his Headmaster was also the only one he suspected that Dumbledore had not answered honestly: What do you see when you look in the Mirror? I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks. After several minutes thought, Harry tore the obituary out of the Prophet, folded it carefully and tucked it inside the first volume of Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts. Then he threw the rest of the newspaper on to the rubbish pile and turned to face the room. It was much tidier. The only things left out of place were todays Daily Prophet, still lying on the bed and, on top of it, the piece of broken mirror. Harry moved across the room, slid the mirror fragment off todays Prophet and unfolded the newspaper. He had merely glanced at the headline when he had taken the rolled-up paper from the delivery owl early that morning and thrown it aside, after noting that it said nothing about Voldemort. Harry was sure that the Ministry was leaning on the Prophet to suppress news about Voldemort. It was only now, therefore, that he saw what he had missed. Across the bottom half of the front page, a smaller headline was set over a picture of Dumbledore striding along looking harried: DUMBLEDORE THE TRUTH AT LAST? Coming next week, the shocking story of the flawed genius considered by many to be the greatest wizard of his generation. Stripping away the popular image of serene, silver-bearded wisdom, Rita Skeeter reveals the disturbed childhood, the lawless youth, the lifelong feuds and the guilty secrets that Dumbledore carried to his grave. WHY was the man tipped to be Minister for Magic content to remain a mere headmaster? WHAT was the real purpose of the secret organisation known as the Order of the Phoenix? HOW did Dumbledore really meet his end? The answers to these, and many more questions are explored in the explosive new biography The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, by Rita Skeeter, exclusively interviewed by Betty Braithwaite, page 13, inside. Harry ripped open the paper and found page thirteen. The article was topped with a picture showing another familiar face: a woman wearing jewelled glasses with elaborately curled, blonde hair, her teeth bared in what was clearly supposed to be a winning smile, wiggling her fingers up at him. Doing his best to ignore this nauseating image, Harry read on. In person, Rita Skeeter is much warmer and softer than her famously ferocious quill-portraits might suggest. Greeting me in the hallway of her cosy home, she leads me straight into the kitchen for a cup of tea, a slice of pound cake and, it goes without saying, a steaming vat of freshest gossip. Well, of course, Dumbledore is a biographers dream, says Skeeter. Such a long, full life. Im sure my book will be the first of very, very many. Skeeter was certainly quick off the mark. Her nine-hundred-page book was completed a mere four weeks after Dumbledores mysterious death in June. I ask her how she managed this super-fast feat. Oh, when youve been a journalist as long as I have, working to a deadline is second nature. I knew that the wizarding world was clamouring for the full story and I wanted to be the first to meet that need. I mention the recent, widely publicised remarks of Elphias Doge, Special Advisor to the Wizengamot and long-standing friend of Albus Dumbledores, that Skeeters book contains less fact than a Chocolate Frog Card. Skeeter throws back her head and laughs. Darling Dodgy! I remember interviewing him a few years back about merpeople rights, bless him. Completely gaga, seemed to think we were sitting at the bottom of Lake Windermere, kept telling me to watch out for trout. And yet Elphias Doges accusations of inaccuracy have been echoed in many places. Does Skeeter really feel that four short weeks have been enough to gain a full picture of Dumbledores long and extraordinary life? Oh, my dear, beams Skeeter, rapping me affectionately across the knuckles, you know as well as I do how much information can be generated by a fat bag of Galleons, a refusal to hear the word no and a nice sharp Quick-Quotes Quill! People were queuing to dish the dirt on Dumbledore, anyway. Not everyone thought he was so wonderful, you know he trod on an awful lot of important toes. But old Dodgy Doge can get off his high Hippogriff, because Ive had access to a source most journalists would swap their wands for, one who has never spoken in public before and who was close to Dumbledore during the most turbulent and disturbing phase of his youth. The advance publicity for Skeeters biography has certainly suggested that there will be shocks in store for those who believe Dumbledore to have led a blameless life. What were the biggest surprises she uncovered, I ask. Now, come off it, Betty, Im not giving away all the highlights before anybodys bought the book! laughs Skeeter. But I can promise that anybody who still thinks Dumbledore was white as his beard is in for a rude awakening! Lets just say that nobody hearing him rage against You-Know-Who would have dreamed that he dabbled in the Dark Arts himself in his youth! And for a wizard who spent his later years pleading for tolerance, he wasnt exactly broad-minded when he was younger! Yes, Albus Dumbledore had an extremely murky past, not to mention that very fishy family, which he worked so hard to keep hushed up. I ask whether Skeeter is referring to Dumbledores brother, Aberforth, whose conviction by the Wizengamot for misuse of magic caused a minor scandal fifteen years ago. Oh, Aberforth is just the tip of the dungheap, laughs Skeeter. No, no, Im talking about much worse than a brother with a fondness for fiddling about with goats, worse even than the Muggle-maiming father Dumbledore couldnt keep either of them quiet, anyway, they were both charged by the Wizengamot. No, its the mother and the sister that intrigued me, and a little digging uncovered a positive nest of nastiness but, as I say, youll have to wait for chapters nine to twelve for full details. All I can say now is, its no wonder Dumbledore never talked about how his nose got broken. Family skeletons notwithstanding, does Skeeter deny the brilliance that led to Dumbledores many magical discoveries? He had brains, she concedes, although many now question whether he could really take full credit for all of his supposed achievements. As I reveal in chapter sixteen, Ivor Dillonsby claims he had already discovered eight uses of dragons blood when Dumbledore borrowed his papers. But the importance of some of Dumbledores achievements cannot, I venture, be denied. What of his famous defeat of Grindelwald? Oh, now, Im glad you mentioned Grindelwald, says Skeeter, with a tantalising smile. Im afraid those who go dewy-eyed over Dumbledores spectacular victory must brace themselves for a bombshell or perhaps a Dungbomb. Very dirty business indeed. All Ill say is, dont be so sure that there really was the spectacular duel of legend. After theyve read my book, people may be forced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly! Skeeter refuses to give any more away on this intriguing subject, so we turn instead to the relationship that will undoubtedly fascinate her readers more than any other. Oh yes, says Skeeter, nodding briskly, I devote an entire chapter to the whole PotterDumbledore relationship. Its been called unhealthy, even sinister. Again, your readers will have to buy my book for the whole story, but there is no question that Dumbledore took an unnatural interest in Potter from the word go. Whether that was really in the boys best interests well, well see. Its certainly an open secret that Potter has had a most troubled adolescence. I ask whether Skeeter is still in touch with Harry Potter, whom she so famously interviewed last year: a break-through piece in which Potter spoke exclusively of his conviction that You-Know-Who had returned. Oh, yes, weve developed a close bond, says Skeeter. Poor Potter has few real friends, and we met at one of the most testing moments of his life the Triwizard Tournament. I am probably one of the only people alive who can say that they know the real Harry Potter. Which leads us neatly to the many rumours still circulating about Dumbledores final hours. Does Skeeter believe that Potter was there when Dumbledore died? Well, I dont want to say too much its all in the book but eye witnesses inside Hogwarts Castle saw Potter running away from the scene moments after Dumbledore fell, jumped or was pushed. Potter later gave evidence against Severus Snape, a man against whom he has a notorious grudge. Is everything as it seems? That is for the wizarding community to decide once theyve read my book. On that intriguing note I take my leave. There can be no doubt that Skeeter has quilled an instant bestseller. Dumbledores legions of admirers, meanwhile, may well be trembling at what is soon to emerge about their hero. Harry reached the bottom of the article, but continued to stare blankly at the page. Revulsion and fury rose in him like vomit; he balled up the newspaper and threw it, with all his force, at the wall, where it joined the rest of the rubbish heaped around his overflowing bin. He began to stride blindly around the room, opening empty drawers and picking up books only to replace them on the same piles, barely conscious of what he was doing, as random phrases from Ritas article echoed in his head: an entire chapter to the whole PotterDumbledore relationship ... its been called unhealthy, even sinister ... he dabbled in the Dark Arts himself in his youth ... Ive had access to a source most journalists would swap their wands for ... Lies! Harry bellowed, and through the window he saw the next-door neighbour, who had paused to restart his lawnmower, look up nervously. Harry sat down hard on the bed. The broken bit of mirror danced away from him; he picked it up and turned it over in his fingers, thinking, thinking of Dumbledore and the lies with which Rita Skeeter was defaming him ... A flash of brightest blue. Harry froze, his cut finger slipping on the jagged edge of the mirror again. He had imagined it, he must have done. He glanced over his shoulder, but the wall was a sickly peach colour of Aunt Petunias choosing: there was nothing blue there for the mirror to reflect. He peered into the mirror fragment again, and saw nothing but his own bright green eye looking back at him. He had imagined it, there was no other explanation; imagined it, because he had been thinking of his dead Headmaster. If anything was certain, it was that the bright blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore would never pierce him again. ? CHAPTER THREE The Dursleys Departing The sound of the front door slamming echoed up the stairs and a voice yelled, Oi! You! Sixteen years of being addressed thus left Harry in no doubt whom his uncle was calling; nevertheless, he did not immediately respond. He was still gazing at the mirror fragment in which, for a split second, he had thought he saw Dumbledores eye. It was not until his uncle bellowed BOY! that Harry got slowly to his feet and headed for the bedroom door, pausing to add the piece of broken mirror to the rucksack filled with things he would be taking with him. You took your time! roared Vernon Dursley when Harry appeared at the top of the stairs. Get down here, I want a word! Harry strolled downstairs, his hands deep in his jeans pockets. When he reached the living room, he found all three Dursleys. They were dressed for travelling: Uncle Vernon in a fawn zip-up jacket, Aunt Petunia in a neat, salmon-coloured coat and Dudley, Harrys large, blond, muscular cousin, in his leather jacket. Yes? asked Harry. Sit down! said Uncle Vernon. Harry raised his eyebrows. Please! added Uncle Vernon, wincing slightly as though the word was sharp in his throat. Harry sat. He thought he knew what was coming. His uncle began to pace up and down, Aunt Petunia and Dudley following his movements with anxious expressions. Finally, his large, purple face crumpled with concentration, Uncle Vernon stopped in front of Harry and spoke. Ive changed my mind, he said. What a surprise, said Harry. Dont you take that tone began Aunt Petunia in a shrill voice, but Vernon Dursley waved her down. Its all a lot of claptrap, said Uncle Vernon, glaring at Harry with piggy little eyes. Ive decided I dont believe a word of it. Were staying put, were not going anywhere. Harry looked up at his uncle and felt a mixture of exasperation and amusement. Vernon Dursley had been changing his mind every twenty-four hours for the past four weeks, packing and unpacking and repacking the car with every change of heart. Harrys favourite moment had been the one when Uncle Vernon, unaware that Dudley had added his dumb-bells to his case since the last time it had been unpacked, had attempted to hoist it back into the boot and collapsed with roars of pain and much swearing. According to you, Vernon Dursley said now, resuming his pacing up and down the living room, we Petunia, Dudley and I are in danger. From from Some of my lot, right, said Harry. Well, I dont believe it, repeated Uncle Vernon, coming to a halt in front of Harry again. I was awake half the night thinking it all over, and I believe its a plot to get the house. The house? repeated Harry. What house? This house! shrieked Uncle Vernon, the vein in his forehead starting to pulse. Our house! House prices are sky-rocketing round here! You want us out of the way and then youre going to do a bit of hocus-pocus and before we know it the deeds will be in your name and Are you out of your mind? demanded Harry. A plot to get this house? Are you actually as stupid as you look? Dont you dare ! squealed Aunt Petunia, but again, Vernon waved her down: slights on his personal appearance were, it seemed, as nothing to the danger he had spotted. Just in case youve forgotten, said Harry, Ive already got a house, my godfather left me one. So why would I want this one? All the happy memories? There was silence. Harry thought he had rather impressed his uncle with this argument. You claim, said Uncle Vernon, starting to pace yet again, that this Lord Thing Voldemort, said Harry impatiently, and weve been through this about a hundred times already. This isnt a claim, its fact, Dumbledore told you last year, and Kingsley and Mr Weasley Vernon Dursley hunched his shoulders angrily, and Harry guessed that his uncle was attempting to ward off recollections of the unannounced visit, a few days into Harrys summer holidays, of two fully grown wizards. The arrival on the doorstep of Kingsley Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley had come as a most unpleasant shock to the Dursleys. Harry had to admit, however, that as Mr Weasley had once demolished half of the living room, his reappearance could not have been expected to delight Uncle Vernon. Kingsley and Mr Weasley explained it all as well, Harry pressed on remorselessly. Once Im seventeen, the protective charm that keeps me safe will break, and that exposes you as well as me. The Order is sure Voldemort will target you, whether to torture you to try and find out where I am, or because he thinks by holding you hostage Id come and try to rescue you. Uncle Vernons and Harrys eyes met. Harry was sure that in that instant they were both wondering the same thing. Then Uncle Vernon walked on and Harry resumed, Youve got to go into hiding and the Order wants to help. Youre being offered serious protection, the best there is. Uncle Vernon said nothing, but continued to pace up and down. Outside, the sun hung low over the privet hedges. The next-door neighbours lawnmower stalled again. I thought there was a Ministry of Magic? asked Vernon Dursley abruptly. There is, said Harry, surprised. Well, then, why cant they protect us? It seems to me that, as innocent victims, guilty of nothing more than harbouring a marked man, we ought to qualify for government protection! Harry laughed; he could not help himself. It was so very typical of his uncle to put his hopes in the establishment, even within this world that he despised and mistrusted. You heard what Mr Weasley and Kingsley said, Harry replied. We think the Ministry has been infiltrated. Uncle Vernon strode to the fireplace and back, breathing so heavily that his great, black moustache rippled, his face still purple with concentration. All right, he said, stopping in front of Harry yet again. All right, lets say, for the sake of argument, we accept this protection. I still dont see why we cant have that Kingsley bloke. Harry managed not to roll his eyes, but with difficulty. This question had also been addressed half a dozen times. As Ive told you, he said, through gritted teeth, Kingsley is protecting the Mug I mean, your Prime Minister. Exactly hes the best! said Uncle Vernon, pointing at the blank television screen. The Dursleys had spotted Kingsley on the news, walking along discreetly behind the Muggle Prime Minister as he visited a hospital. This, and the fact that Kingsley had mastered the knack of dressing like a Muggle, not to mention a certain reassuring something in his slow, deep voice, had caused the Dursleys to take to Kingsley in a way that they had certainly not done with any other wizard, although it was true that they had never seen him with his earring in. Well, hes taken, said Harry. But Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle are more than up to the job If wed even seen CVs ... began Uncle Vernon, but Harry lost patience. Getting to his feet, he advanced on his uncle, now pointing at the TV set himself. These accidents arent accidents the crashes and explosions and derailments and whatever else has happened since we last watched the news. People are disappearing and dying and hes behind it Voldemort. Ive told you this over and over again, he kills Muggles for fun. Even the fogs theyre caused by Dementors, and if you cant remember what they are, ask your son! Dudleys hands jerked upwards to cover his mouth. With his parents and Harrys eyes upon him, he slowly lowered them again and asked, There are ... more of them? More? laughed Harry. More than the two that attacked us, you mean? Of course there are, there are hundreds, maybe thousands by this time, seeing as they feed off fear and despair All right, all right, blustered Vernon Dursley. Youve made your point I hope so, said Harry, because once Im seventeen, all of them Death Eaters, Dementors, maybe even Inferi, which means dead bodies enchanted by a Dark wizard will be able to find you and will certainly attack you. And if you remember the last time you tried to outrun wizards, I think youll agree you need help. There was a brief silence in which the distant echo of Hagrid smashing down a wooden front door seemed to reverberate through the intervening years. Aunt Petunia was looking at Uncle Vernon; Dudley was staring at Harry. Finally Uncle Vernon blurted out, But what about my work? What about Dudleys school? I dont suppose those things matter to a bunch of layabout wizards Dont you understand? shouted Harry. They will torture and kill you like they did my parents! Dad, said Dudley in a loud voice, Dad Im going with these Order people. Dudley, said Harry, for the first, time in your life, youre talking sense. He knew that the battle was won. If Dudley was frightened enough to accept the Orders help, his parents would accompany him: there could be no question of being separated from their Diddykins. Harry glanced at the carriage clock on the mantelpiece. Theyll be here in about five minutes, he said, and when none of the Dursleys replied, he left the room. The prospect of parting probably forever from his aunt, uncle and cousin was one that he was able to contemplate quite cheerfully, but there was nevertheless a certain awkwardness in the air. What did you say to one another at the end of sixteen years solid dislike? Back in his bedroom, Harry fiddled aimlessly with his rucksack, then poked a couple of owl nuts through the bars of Hedwigs cage. They fell with dull thuds to the bottom, where she ignored them. Were leaving soon, really soon, Harry told her. And then youll be able to fly again. The doorbell rang. Harry hesitated, then headed back out of his room and downstairs: it was too much to expect Hestia and Dedalus to cope with the Dursleys on their own. Harry Potter! squeaked an excited voice, the moment Harry had opened the door; a small man in a mauve top hat was sweeping him a deep bow. An honour, as ever! Thanks, Dedalus, said Harry, bestowing a small and embarrassed smile upon the dark-haired Hestia. Its really good of you to do this ... theyre through here, my aunt and uncle and cousin ... Good day to you, Harry Potters relatives! said Dedalus happily, striding into the living room. The Dursleys did not look at all happy to be addressed thus; Harry half expected another change of mind. Dudley shrank nearer to his mother at the sight of the witch and wizard. I see you are packed and ready. Excellent! The plan, as Harry has told you, is a simple one, said Dedalus, pulling an immense pocket watch out of his waistcoat and examining it. We shall be leaving before Harry does. Due to the danger of using magic in your house Harry being still under-age, it could provide the Ministry with an excuse to arrest him we shall be driving, say ten miles or so, before Disapparating to the safe location we have picked out for you. You know how to drive, I take it? he asked Uncle Vernon politely. Know how to ? Of course I ruddy well know how to drive! spluttered Uncle Vernon. Very clever of you, sir, very clever, I personally would be utterly bamboozled by all those buttons and knobs, said Dedalus. He was clearly under the impression that he was flattering Vernon Dursley, who was visibly losing confidence in the plan with every word Dedalus spoke. Cant even drive, he muttered under his breath, his moustache rippling indignantly, but fortunately neither Dedalus nor Hestia seemed to hear him. You, Harry, Dedalus continued, will wait here for your guard. There has been a little change in the arrangements What dyou mean? said Harry at once. I thought Mad-Eye was going to come and take me by Side-Along-Apparition? Cant do it, said Hestia tersely. Mad-Eye will explain. The Dursleys, who had listened to all of this with looks of utter incomprehension on their faces, jumped as a loud voice screeched: Hurry up! Harry looked all around the room before realising that the voice had issued from Dedaluss pocket watch. Quite right, were operating to a very tight schedule, said Dedalus, nodding at his watch and tucking it back into his waistcoat. We are attempting to time your departure from the house with your familys Disapparition, Harry; thus, the charm breaks at the moment you all head for safety. He turned to the Dursleys. Well, are we all packed and ready to go? None of them answered him: Uncle Vernon was still staring, appalled, at the bulge in Dedaluss waistcoat pocket. Perhaps we should Wait outside in the hall, Dedalus, murmured Hestia: she clearly felt that it would be tactless for them to remain in the room while Harry and the Dursleys exchanged loving, possibly tearful farewells. Theres no need, Harry muttered, but Uncle Vernon made any further explanation unnecessary by saying loudly, Well, this is goodbye, then, boy. He swung his right arm upwards to shake Harrys hand, but at the last moment seemed unable to face it, and merely closed his fist and began swinging it backwards and forwards like a metronome. Ready, Diddy? asked Aunt Petunia, fussily checking the clasp of her handbag so as to avoid looking at Harry altogether. Dudley did not answer, but stood there with his mouth slightly ajar, reminding Harry a little of the giant, Grawp. Come along, then, said Uncle Vernon. He had already reached the living-room door when Dudley mumbled, I dont understand. What dont you understand, Popkin? asked Aunt Petunia, looking up at her son. Dudley raised a large, ham-like hand to point at Harry. Why isnt he coming with us? Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia froze where they stood, staring at Dudley as though he had just expressed a desire to become a ballerina. What? said Uncle Vernon loudly. Why isnt he coming too? asked Dudley. Well, he he doesnt want to, said Uncle Vernon, turning to glare at Harry and adding, you dont want to, do you? Not in the slightest, said Harry. There you are, Uncle Vernon told Dudley. Now come on, were off. He marched out of the room: they heard the front door open, but Dudley did not move and after a few faltering steps Aunt Petunia stopped too. What now? barked Uncle Vernon, reappearing in the doorway. It seemed that Dudley was struggling with concepts too difficult to put into words. After several moments of apparently painful internal struggle, he said, But wheres he going to go? Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon looked at each other. It was clear that Dudley was frightening them. Hestia Jones broke the silence. But ... surely you know where your nephew is going? she asked, looking bewildered. Certainly we know, said Vernon Dursley. Hes off with some of your lot, isnt he? Right, Dudley, lets get in the car, you heard the man, were in a hurry. Again, Vernon Dursley marched as far as the front door, but Dudley did not follow. Off with some of our lot? Hestia looked outraged. Harry had met this attitude before: witches and wizards seemed stunned that his closest living relatives took so little interest in the famous Harry Potter. Its fine, Harry assured her. It doesnt matter, honestly. Doesnt matter? repeated Hestia, her voice rising ominously. Dont these people realise what youve been through? What danger you are in? The unique position you hold in the hearts of the anti-Voldemort movement? Er no, they dont, said Harry. They think Im a waste of space, actually, but Im used to I dont think youre a waste of space. If Harry had not seen Dudleys lips move, he might not have believed it. As it was, he stared at Dudley for several seconds before accepting that it must have been his cousin who had spoken; for one thing, Dudley had turned red. Harry was embarrassed and astonished himself. Well ... er ... thanks, Dudley. Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression before mumbling, You saved my life. Not really, said Harry. It was your soul the Dementor would have taken ... He looked curiously at his cousin. They had had virtually no contact during this summer or last, as Harry had come back to Privet Drive so briefly and kept to his room so much. It now dawned on Harry, however, that the cup of cold tea on which he had trodden that morning might not have been a booby trap at all. Although rather touched, he was nevertheless quite relieved that Dudley appeared to have exhausted his ability to express his feelings. After opening his mouth once or twice more, Dudley subsided into scarlet-faced silence. Aunt Petunia burst into tears. Hestia Jones gave her an approving look which changed to outrage as Aunt Petunia ran forwards and embraced Dudley rather than Harry. S So sweet, Dudders ... she sobbed into his massive chest, s such a lovely b boy ... s saying thank you But he hasnt said thank you at all! said Hestia indignantly. He only said he didnt think Harry was a waste of space! Yeah, but coming from Dudley thats like I love you, said Harry, torn between annoyance and a desire to laugh as Aunt Petunia continued to clutch at Dudley as if he had just saved Harry from a burning building. Are we going or not? roared Uncle Vernon, reappearing yet again at the living-room door. I thought we were on a tight schedule! Yes yes, we are, said Dedalus Diggle, who had been watching these exchanges with an air of bemusement and now seemed to pull himself together. We really must be off. Harry He tripped forwards and wrung Harrys hand with both of his own. good luck. I hope we meet again. The hopes of the wizarding world rest upon your shoulders. Oh, said Harry, right. Thanks. Farewell, Harry, said Hestia, also clasping his hand. Our thoughts go with you. I hope everythings OK, said Harry, with a glance towards Aunt Petunia and Dudley. Oh, Im sure we shall end up the best of chums, said Diggle brightly, waving his hat as he left the room. Hestia followed him. Dudley gently released himself from his mothers clutches and walked towards Harry, who had to repress an urge to threaten him with magic. Then Dudley held out his large, pink hand. Blimey, Dudley, said Harry, over Aunt Petunias renewed sobs, did the Dementors blow a different personality into you? Dunno, muttered Dudley. See you, Harry. Yeah ... said Harry, taking Dudleys hand and shaking it. Maybe. Take care, Big D. Dudley nearly smiled, then lumbered from the room. Harry heard his heavy footfalls on the gravelled drive, and then a car door slammed. Aunt Petunia, whose face had been buried in her handkerchief, looked round at the sound. She did not seem to have expected to find herself alone with Harry. Hastily stowing her wet handkerchief into her pocket she said, Well goodbye, and marched towards the door without looking at him. Goodbye, said Harry. She stopped and looked back. For a moment Harry had the strangest feeling that she wanted to say something to him: she gave him an odd, tremulous look and seemed to teeter on the edge of speech, but then, with a little jerk of her head, she bustled out of the room after her husband and son. ? CHAPTER FOUR The Seven Potters Harry ran back upstairs to his bedroom, arriving at the window just in time to see the Dursleys car swinging out of the drive and off up the road. Dedaluss top hat was visible between Aunt Petunia and Dudley in the back seat. The car turned right at the end of Privet Drive, its windows burned scarlet for a moment in the now setting sun, and then it was gone. Harry picked up Hedwigs cage, his Firebolt and his rucksack, gave his unnaturally tidy bedroom one last sweeping look and then made his ungainly way back downstairs to the hall, where he deposited cage, broomstick and bag near the foot of the stairs. The light was fading rapidly now, the hall full of shadows in the evening light. It felt most strange to stand here in the silence and know that he was about to leave the house for the last time. Long ago, when he had been left alone while the Dursleys went out to enjoy themselves, the hours of solitude had been a rare treat: pausing only to sneak something tasty from the fridge he had rushed upstairs to play on Dudleys computer, or put on the television and flicked through the channels to his hearts content. It gave him an odd, empty feeling to remember those times; it was like remembering a younger brother whom he had lost. Dont you want to take a last look at the place? he asked Hedwig, who was still sulking with her head under her wing. Well never be here again. Dont you want to remember all the good times? I mean, look at this doormat. What memories ... Dudley puked on it after I saved him from the Dementors ... Turns out he was grateful after all, can you believe it? ... And last summer, Dumbledore walked through that front door ... Harry lost the thread of his thoughts for a moment and Hedwig did nothing to help him retrieve it, but continued to sit with her head under her wing. Harry turned his back on the front door. And under here, Hedwig Harry pulled open a door under the stairs is where I used to sleep! You never knew me then blimey, its small, Id forgotten ... Harry looked around at the stacked shoes and umbrellas, remembering how he used to wake every morning looking up at the underside of the staircase, which was more often than not adorned with a spider or two. Those had been the days before he had known anything about his true identity; before he had found out how his parents had died or why such strange things often happened around him. But Harry could still remember the dreams that had dogged him, even in those days: confused dreams involving flashes of green light and, once Uncle Vernon had nearly crashed the car when Harry had recounted it a flying motorbike ... There was a sudden, deafening roar from somewhere nearby. Harry straightened up with a jerk and smacked the top of his head on the low door frame. Pausing only to employ a few of Uncle Vernons choicest swear words, he staggered back into the kitchen, clutching his head and staring out of the window into the back garden. The darkness seemed to be rippling, the air itself quivering. Then, one by one, figures began to pop into sight as their Disillusionment Charms lifted. Dominating the scene was Hagrid, wearing a helmet and goggles and sitting astride an enormous motorbike with a black sidecar attached. All around him other people were dismounting from brooms and, in two cases, skeletal, black winged horses. Wrenching open the back door, Harry hurtled into their midst. There was a general cry of greeting as Hermione flung her arms around him, Ron clapped him on the back and Hagrid said, All righ, Harry? Ready fer the off? Definitely, said Harry, beaming around at them all. But I wasnt expecting this many of you! Change of plan, growled Mad-Eye, who was holding two enormous, bulging sacks and whose magical eye was spinning from darkening sky to house to garden with dizzying rapidity. Lets get undercover before we talk you through it. Harry led them all back into the kitchen where, laughing and chattering, they settled on chairs, sat themselves upon Aunt Petunias gleaming work-surfaces or leaned up against her spotless appliances: Ron, long and lanky; Hermione, her bushy hair tied back in a long plait; Fred and George, grinning identically; Bill, badly scarred and long-haired; Mr Weasley, kind-faced, balding, his spectacles a little awry; Mad-Eye, battle-worn, one-legged, his bright blue magical eye whizzing in its socket; Tonks, whose short hair was her favourite shade of bright pink; Lupin, greyer, more lined; Fleur, slender and beautiful, with her long, silvery blonde hair; Kingsley, bald, black, broad-shouldered; Hagrid, with his wild hair and beard, standing hunchbacked to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling, and Mundungus Fletcher, small, dirty and hangdog, with his droopy, basset hounds eyes and matted hair. Harrys heart seemed to expand and glow at the sight: he felt incredibly fond of all of them, even Mundungus, whom he had tried to strangle the last time they had met. Kingsley, I thought you were looking after the Muggle Prime Minister? he called across the room. He can get along without me for one night, said Kingsley. Youre more important. Harry, guess what? said Tonks from her perch on top of the washing machine, and she wiggled her left hand at him; a ring glittered there. You got married? Harry yelped, looking from her to Lupin. Im sorry you couldnt be there, Harry, it was very quiet. Thats brilliant, congrat All right, all right, well have time for a cosy catch-up later! roared Moody over the hubbub, and silence fell in the kitchen. Moody dropped the sacks at his feet and turned to Harry. As Dedalus probably told you, we had to abandon Plan A. Pius Thicknesse has gone over, which gives us a big problem. Hes made it an imprisonable offence to connect this house to the Floo Network, place a Portkey here or Apparate in or out. All done in the name of your protection, to prevent You-Know-Who getting in at you. Absolutely pointless, seeing as your mothers charm does that already. What hes really done is to stop you getting out of here safely. Second problem: youre under-age, which means youve still got the Trace on you. I dont The Trace, the Trace! said Mad-Eye impatiently. The charm that detects magical activity around under-seventeens, the way the Ministry finds out about under-age magic! If you, or anyone around you, casts a spell to get you out of here, Thicknesse is going to know about it, and so will the Death Eaters. We cant wait for the Trace to break, because the moment you turn seventeen youll lose all the protection your mother gave you. In short: Pius Thicknesse thinks hes got you cornered good and proper. Harry could not help but agree with the unknown Thicknesse. So what are we going to do? Were going to use the only means of transport left to us, the only ones the Trace cant detect, because we dont need to cast spells to use them: brooms, Thestrals and Hagrids motorbike. Harry could see flaws in this plan; however, he held his tongue to give Mad-Eye the chance to address them. Now, your mothers charm will only break under two conditions: when you come of age, or Moody gestured around the pristine kitchen you no longer call this place home. You and your aunt and uncle are going your separate ways tonight, in the full understanding that youre never going to live together again, correct? Harry nodded. So this time, when you leave, therell be no going back, and the charm will break the moment you get outside its range. Were choosing to break it early, because the alternative is waiting for You-Know-Who to come and seize you the moment you turn seventeen. The one thing weve got on our side is that You-Know-Who doesnt know were moving you tonight. Weve leaked a fake trail to the Ministry: they think youre not leaving until the thirtieth. However, this is You-Know-Who were dealing with, so we cant just rely on him getting the date wrong; hes bound to have a couple of Death Eaters patrolling the skies in this general area, just in case. So, weve given a dozen different houses every protection we can throw at them. They all look like they could be the place were going to hide you, theyve all got some connection with the Order: my house, Kingsleys place, Mollys Auntie Muriels you get the idea. Yeah, said Harry, not entirely truthfully, because he could still spot a gaping hole in the plan. Youll be going to Tonkss parents. Once youre within the boundaries of the protective enchantments weve put on their house, youll be able to use a Portkey to The Burrow. Any questions? Er yes, said Harry. Maybe they wont know which of the twelve secure houses Im heading for at first, but wont it be sort of obvious once he performed a quick headcount fourteen of us fly off towards Tonkss parents? Ah, said Moody, I forgot to mention the key point. Fourteen of us wont be flying to Tonkss parents. There will be seven Harry Potters moving through the skies tonight, each of them with a companion, each pair heading for a different safe house. From inside his cloak Moody now withdrew a flask of what looked like mud. There was no need for him to say another word; Harry understood the rest of the plan immediately. No! he said loudly, his voice ringing through the kitchen. No way! I told them youd take it like this, said Hermione, with a hint of complacency. If you think Im going to let six people risk their lives ! because its the first time for all of us, said Ron. This is different, pretending to be me Well, none of us really fancy it, Harry, said Fred earnestly. Imagine if something went wrong and we were stuck as specky, scrawny gits forever. Harry did not smile. You cant do it if I dont cooperate, you need me to give you some hair. Well, thats that plan scuppered, said George. Obviously theres no chance at all of us getting a bit of your hair unless you cooperate. Yeah, thirteen of us against one bloke whos not allowed to use magic; weve got no chance, said Fred. Funny, said Harry. Really amusing. If it has to come to force, then it will, growled Moody, his magical eye now quivering a little in its socket as he glared at Harry. Everyone heres over-age, Potter, and theyre all prepared to take the risk. Mundungus shrugged and grimaced; the magical eye swerved sideways to glare at him out of the side of Moodys head. Lets have no more arguments. Times wearing on. I want a few of your hairs, boy, now. But this is mad, theres no need No need! snarled Moody. With You-Know-Who out there and half the Ministry on his side? Potter, if were lucky, hell have swallowed the fake bait and hell be planning to ambush you on the thirtieth, but hed be mad not to have a Death Eater or two keeping an eye out, its what Id do. They might not be able to get at you or this house while your mothers charm holds, but its about to break and they know the rough position of the place. Our only chance is to use decoys. Even You-Know-Who cant split himself into seven. Harry caught Hermiones eye and looked away at once. So, Potter some of your hair, if you please. Harry glanced at Ron, who grimaced at him in a just-do-it sort of way. Now! barked Moody. With all of their eyes upon him, Harry reached up to the top of his head, grabbed a hank of hair and pulled. Good, said Moody, limping forwards as he pulled the stopper out of the flask of Potion. Straight in here, if you please. Harry dropped the hair into the mud-like liquid. The moment it made contact with its surface the Potion began to froth and smoke then, all at once, it turned a clear, bright gold. Ooh, you look much tastier than Crabbe and Goyle, Harry, said Hermione, before catching sight of Rons raised eyebrows, blushing slightly and saying, oh, you know what I mean Goyles Potion looked like bogies. Right then, fake Potters line up over here, please, said Moody. Ron, Hermione, Fred, George and Fleur lined up in front of Aunt Petunias gleaming sink. Were one short, said Lupin. Here, said Hagrid gruffly, and he lifted Mundungus by the scruff of the neck and dropped him down beside Fleur, who wrinkled her nose pointedly and moved along to stand between Fred and George instead. Ive toldjer, Id sooner be a protector, said Mundungus. Shut it, growled Moody. As Ive already told you, you spineless worm, any Death Eaters we run into will be aiming to capture Potter, not kill him. Dumbledore always said You-Know-Who would want to finish Potter in person. Itll be the protectors who have got the most to worry about, the Death Eatersll want to kill them. Mundungus did not look particularly reassured, but Moody was already pulling half a dozen egg-cup-sized glasses from inside his cloak, which he handed out, before pouring a little Polyjuice Potion into each one. Altogether, then ... Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Fleur and Mundungus drank. All of them gasped and grimaced as the Potion hit their throats: at once, their features began to bubble and distort like hot wax. Hermione and Mundungus were shooting upwards; Ron, Fred and George were shrinking; their hair was darkening, Hermiones and Fleurs appearing to shoot backwards into their skulls. Moody, quite unconcerned, was now loosening the ties of the large sacks he had brought with him: when he straightened up again, there were six Harry Potters gasping and panting in front of him. Fred and George turned to each other and said together, Wow were identical! I dunno, though, I think Im still better-looking, said Fred, examining his reflection in the kettle. Bah, said Fleur, checking herself in the microwave door, Bill, dont look at me Im ideous. Those whose clothes are a bit roomy, Ive got smaller here, said Moody, indicating the first sack, and vice versa. Dont forget the glasses, theres six pairs in the side pocket. And when youre dressed, theres luggage in the other sack. The real Harry thought that this might just be the most bizarre thing he had ever seen, and he had seen some extremely odd things. He watched as his six doppelgangers rummaged in the sacks, pulling out sets of clothes, putting on glasses, stuffing their own things away. He felt like asking them to show a little more respect for his privacy as they all began stripping off with impunity, clearly much more at ease with displaying his body than they would have been with their own. I knew Ginny was lying about that tattoo, said Ron, looking down at his bare chest. Harry, your eyesight really is awful, said Hermione, as she put on glasses. Once dressed, the fake Harrys took rucksacks and owl cages, each containing a stuffed snowy owl, from the second sack. Good, said Moody, as at last seven dressed, bespectacled and luggage-laden Harrys faced him. The pairs will be as follows: Mundungus will be travelling with me, by broom Whym I with you? grunted the Harry nearest the back door. Because youre the one that needs watching, growled Moody, and sure enough, his magical eye did not waver from Mundungus as he continued, Arthur and Fred Im George, said the twin at whom Moody was pointing. Cant you even tell us apart when were Harry? Sorry, George Im only yanking your wand, Im Fred really Enough messing around! snarled Moody. The other one George or Fred or whoever you are youre with Remus. Miss Delacour Im taking Fleur on a Thestral, said Bill. Shes not that fond of brooms. Fleur walked over to stand beside him, giving him a soppy, slavish look that Harry hoped with all his heart would never appear on his face again. Miss Granger with Kingsley, again by Thestral Hermione looked reassured as she answered Kingsleys smile; Harry knew that Hermione, too, lacked confidence on a broomstick. Which leaves you and me, Ron! said Tonks brightly, knocking over a mug-tree as she waved at him. Ron did not look quite as pleased as Hermione. An youre with me, Harry. That all righ? said Hagrid, looking a little anxious. Well be on the bike, brooms an Thestrals cant take me weight, see. Not a lot o room on the seat with me on it, though, so youll be in the sidecar. Thats great, said Harry, not altogether truthfully. We think the Death Eaters will expect you to be on a broom, said Moody, who seemed to guess how Harry was feeling. Snapes had plenty of time to tell them everything about you hes never mentioned before, so if we do run into any Death Eaters, were betting theyll choose one of the Potters who look at home on a broomstick. All right then, he went on, tying up the sack with the fake Potters clothes in it and leading the way back to the door, I make it three minutes until were supposed to leave. No point locking the back door, it wont keep the Death Eaters out when they come looking ... Come on ... Harry hurried into the hall to fetch his rucksack, Firebolt and Hedwigs cage before joining the others in the dark back garden. On every side broomsticks were leaping into hands; Hermione had already been helped up on to a great, black Thestral by Kingsley; Fleur on to the other by Bill. Hagrid was standing ready beside the motorbike, goggles on. Is this it? Is this Siriuss bike? The very same, said Hagrid, beaming down at Harry. An the last time you was on it, Harry, I could fit yeh in one hand! Harry could not help but feel a little humiliated as he got into the sidecar. It placed him several feet below everybody else: Ron smirked at the sight of him sitting there like a child in a bumper car. Harry stuffed his rucksack and broomstick down by his feet and rammed Hedwigs cage between his knees. It was extremely uncomfortable. Arthurs done a bit o tinkerin, said Hagrid, quite oblivious to Harrys discomfort. He settled himself astride the motorcycle, which creaked slightly and sank inches into the ground. Its got a few tricks up its handlebars now. Tha one was my idea. He pointed a thick finger at a purple button near the speedometer. Please be careful, Hagrid, said Mr Weasley, who was standing beside them, holding his broomstick. Im still not sure that was advisable and its certainly only to be used in emergencies. All right then, said Moody. Everyone ready, please; I want us all to leave at exactly the same time or the whole point of the diversions lost. Everybody mounted their brooms. Hold tight, now, Ron, said Tonks, and Harry saw Ron throw a furtive, guilty look at Lupin before placing his hands on either side of her waist. Hagrid kicked the motorbike into life: it roared like a dragon and the sidecar began to vibrate. Good luck, everyone, shouted Moody. See you all in about an hour at The Burrow. On the count of three. One ... two ... THREE. There was a great roar from the motorbike and Harry felt the sidecar give a nasty lurch: he was rising through the air fast, his eyes watering slightly, hair whipped back off his face. Around him brooms were soaring upwards too: the long, black tail of a Thestral flicked past. His legs, jammed into the sidecar by Hedwigs cage and his rucksack, were already sore and starting to go numb. So great was his discomfort that he almost forgot to take a last glimpse of number four, Privet Drive; by the time he looked over the edge of the sidecar, he could no longer tell which one it was. Higher and higher they climbed into the sky And then, out of nowhere, out of nothing, they were surrounded. At least thirty hooded figures, suspended in mid-air, formed a vast circle in the midst of which the Order members had risen, oblivious Screams, a blaze of green light on every side: Hagrid gave a yell and the motorbike rolled over. Harry lost any sense of where they were: street lights above him, yells around him, he was clinging to the sidecar for dear life. Hedwigs cage, the Firebolt and his rucksack slipped from beneath his knees No HEDWIG! The broomstick spun to earth, but he just managed to seize the strap of his rucksack and the top of the cage as the motorbike swung the right way up again. A seconds relief, and then another burst of green light. The owl screeched and fell to the floor of the cage. No NO! The motorbike zoomed forwards; Harry glimpsed hooded Death Eaters scattering as Hagrid blasted through their circle. Hedwig Hedwig But the owl lay motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage. He could not take it in, and his terror for the others was paramount. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a mass of people moving, flares of green light, two pairs of people on brooms soaring off into the distance, but he could not tell who they were Hagrid, weve got to go back, weve got to go back! he yelled over the thunderous roar of the engine, pulling out his wand, ramming Hedwigs cage on to the floor, refusing to believe that she was dead. Hagrid, TURN ROUND! My jobs ter get you there safe, Harry! bellowed Hagrid, and he opened the throttle. Stop STOP! Harry shouted. But as he looked back again two jets of green light flew past his left ear: four Death Eaters had broken away from the circle and were pursuing them, aiming for Hagrids broad back. Hagrid swerved, but the Death Eaters were keeping up with the bike; more curses shot after them, and Harry had to sink low into the sidecar to avoid them. Wriggling round, he cried, Stupefy! and a red bolt of light shot from his own wand, cleaving a gap between the four pursuing Death Eaters as they scattered to avoid it. Hold on, Harry, thisll do for em! roared Hagrid, and Harry looked up just in time to see Hagrid slamming a thick finger into a green button near the fuel gauge. A wall, a solid brick wall, erupted out of the exhaust pipe. Craning his neck, Harry saw it expand into being in mid-air. Three of the Death Eaters swerved and avoided it, but the fourth was not so lucky: he vanished from view and then dropped like a boulder from behind it, his broomstick broken into pieces. One of his fellows slowed up to save him, but they and the airborne wall were swallowed by darkness as Hagrid leaned low over the handlebars and sped up. More Killing Curses flew past Harrys head from the two remaining Death Eaters wands; they were aiming for Hagrid. Harry responded with further Stunning Spells: red and green collided in mid-air in a shower of multi-coloured sparks and Harry thought wildly of fireworks, and the Muggles below who would have no idea what was happening Here we go again, Harry, hold on! yelled Hagrid, and he jabbed at a second button. This time a great net burst from the bikes exhaust, but the Death Eaters were ready for it. Not only did they swerve to avoid it, but the companion who had slowed to save their unconscious friend had caught up: he bloomed suddenly out of the darkness and now three of them were pursuing the motorbike, all shooting curses after it. Thisll do it, Harry, hold on tight! yelled Hagrid, and Harry saw him slam his whole hand on to the purple button beside the speedometer. With an unmistakable bellowing roar, dragon fire burst from the exhaust, white-hot and blue, and the motorbike shot forwards like a bullet with a sound of wrenching metal. Harry saw the Death Eaters swerve out of sight to avoid the deadly trail of flame, and at the same time felt the sidecar sway ominously: its metal connections to the bike had splintered with the force of acceleration. Its all righ, Harry! bellowed Hagrid, now thrown flat on to his back by the surge of speed; nobody was steering now, and the sidecar was starting to twist violently in the bikes slipstream. Im on it, Harry, don worry! Hagrid yelled, and from inside his jacket pocket he pulled his flowery pink umbrella. Hagrid! No! Let me! REPARO! There was a deafening bang and the sidecar broke away from the bike completely: Harry sped forwards, propelled by the impetus of the bikes flight, then the sidecar began to lose height In desperation Harry pointed his wand at the sidecar and shouted, Wingardium Leviosa! The sidecar rose like a cork, unsteerable but at least still airborne: he had but a split seconds relief, however, as more curses streaked past him: the three Death Eaters were closing in. Im comin, Harry! Hagrid yelled from out of the darkness, but Harry could feel the sidecar beginning to sink again: crouching as low as he could, he pointed at the middle of the oncoming figures and yelled, Impedimenta! The jinx hit the middle Death Eater in the chest: for a moment the man was absurdly spread-eagled in mid-air as though he had hit an invisible barrier: one of his fellows almost collided with him Then the sidecar began to fall in earnest, and the remaining Death Eater shot a curse so close to Harry that he had to duck below the rim of the car, knocking out a tooth on the edge of his seat Im comin, Harry, Im comin! A huge hand seized the back of Harrys robes and hoisted him out of the plummeting sidecar; Harry pulled his rucksack with him as he dragged himself on to the motorbikes seat and found himself back to back with Hagrid. As they soared upwards, away from the two remaining Death Eaters, Harry spat blood out of his mouth, pointed his wand at the falling sidecar, and yelled, Confringo! He knew a dreadful, gut-wrenching pang for Hedwig as it exploded; the Death Eater nearest it was blasted off his broom and fell from sight; his companion fell back and vanished. Harry, Im sorry, Im sorry, moaned Hagrid, I shouldnta tried ter repair it meself yehve got no room Its not a problem, just keep flying! Harry shouted back, as two more Death Eaters emerged out of the darkness, drawing closer. As the curses came shooting across the intervening space again, Hagrid swerved and zigzagged: Harry knew that Hagrid did not dare use the dragon-fire button again, with Harry seated so insecurely. Harry sent Stunning Spell after Stunning Spell back at their pursuers, barely holding them off. He shot another blocking jinx at them: the closest Death Eater swerved to avoid it and his hood slipped, and by the red light of his next Stunning Spell, Harry saw the strangely blank face of Stanley Shunpike Stan Expelliarmus! Harry yelled. Thats him, its him, its the real one! The hooded Death Eaters shout reached Harry even above the thunder of the motorbikes engine: next moment, both pursuers had fallen back and disappeared from view. Harry, whats happened? bellowed Hagrid. Whereve they gone? I dont know! But Harry was afraid: the hooded Death Eater had shouted its the real one; how had he known? He gazed around at the apparently empty darkness and felt its menace. Where were they? He clambered round on the seat to face forwards and seized hold of the back of Hagrids jacket. Hagrid, do the dragon fire thing again, lets get out of here! Hold on tight, then, Harry! There was a deafening, screeching roar again and the white-blue fire shot from the exhaust: Harry felt himself slipping backwards off what little of the seat he had, Hagrid flung backwards upon him, barely maintaining his grip on the handlebars I think weve lost em Harry, I think weve done it! yelled Hagrid. But Harry was not convinced: fear lapped at him as he looked left and right for pursuers he was sure would come ... why had they fallen back? One of them had still had a wand ... Its him, its the real one ... they had said it right after he had tried to Disarm Stan ... Were nearly there, Harry, weve nearly made it! shouted Hagrid. Harry felt the bike drop a little, though the lights down on the ground still seemed remote as stars. Then the scar on his forehead burned like fire: as a Death Eater appeared on either side of the bike, two Killing Curses missed Harry by millimetres, cast from behind And then Harry saw him. Voldemort was flying like smoke on the wind, without broomstick or Thestral to hold him, his snakelike face gleaming out of the blackness, his white fingers raising his wand again Hagrid let out a bellow of fear and steered the motorbike into a vertical dive. Clinging on for dear life, Harry sent Stunning Spells flying at random into the whirling night. He saw a body fly past him and knew he had hit one of them, but then he heard a bang and saw sparks from the engine; the motorbike spiralled through the air, completely out of control Green jets of light shot past them again. Harry had no idea which way was up, which down: his scar was still burning; he expected to die at any second. A hooded figure on a broomstick was feet from him, he saw it raise its arm NO! With a shout of fury, Hagrid launched himself off the bike at the Death Eater; to his horror, Harry saw both Hagrid and the Death Eater falling out of sight, their combined weight too much for the broomstick Barely gripping the plummeting bike with his knees, Harry heard Voldemort scream, Mine! It was over: he could not see or hear where Voldemort was; he glimpsed another Death Eater swooping out of the way and heard Avada As the pain from Harrys scar forced his eyes shut, his wand acted of its own accord. He felt it drag his hand round like some great magnet, saw a spurt of golden fire through his half-closed eyelids, heard a crack and a scream of fury. The remaining Death Eater yelled; Voldemort screamed, No!: somehow, Harry found his nose an inch from the dragon-fire button: he punched it with his wand-free hand and the bike shot more flames into the air, hurtling straight towards the ground. Hagrid! Harry called, holding on to the bike for dear life, Hagrid accio Hagrid! The motorbike sped up, sucked towards the earth. Face level with the handlebars, Harry could see nothing but distant lights growing nearer and nearer: he was going to crash and there was nothing he could do about it. Behind him came another scream Your wand, Selwyn, give me your wand! He felt Voldemort before he saw him. Looking sideways, he stared into the red eyes and was sure they would be the last thing he ever saw: Voldemort preparing to curse him once more And then Voldemort vanished. Harry looked down and saw Hagrid spread-eagled on the ground below him: he pulled hard at the handlebars to avoid hitting him, groped for the brake, but with an ear-splitting, ground-trembling crash, he smashed into a muddy pond. ? CHAPTER FIVE Fallen Warrior Hagrid? Harry struggled to raise himself out of the debris of metal and leather that surrounded him; his hands sank into inches of muddy water as he tried to stand. He could not understand where Voldemort had gone and expected him to swoop out of the darkness at any moment. Something hot and wet was trickling down his chin and from his forehead. He crawled out of the pond and stumbled towards the great, dark mass on the ground that was Hagrid. Hagrid? Hagrid, talk to me But the dark mass did not stir. Whos there? Is it Potter? Are you Harry Potter? Harry did not recognise the mans voice. Then a woman shouted, Theyve crashed, Ted! Crashed in the garden! Harrys head was swimming. Hagrid, he repeated stupidly, and his knees buckled. The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back on what felt like cushions, with a burning sensation in his ribs and right arm. His missing tooth had been regrown. The scar on his forehead was still throbbing. Hagrid? He opened his eyes and saw that he was lying on a sofa in an unfamiliar, lamplit sitting room. His rucksack lay on the floor a short distance away, wet and muddy. A fair-haired, big-bellied man was watching Harry anxiously. Hagrids fine, son, said the man, the wifes seeing to him now. How are you feeling? Anything else broken? Ive fixed your ribs, your tooth and your arm. Im Ted, by the way, Ted Tonks Doras father. Harry sat up too quickly: lights popped in front of his eyes and he felt sick and giddy. Voldemort Easy, now, said Ted Tonks, placing a hand on Harrys shoulder and pushing him back against the cushions. That was a nasty crash you just had. What happened, anyway? Something go wrong with the bike? Arthur Weasley overstretch himself again, him and his Muggle contraptions? No, said Harry, as his scar pulsed like an open wound. Death Eaters, loads of them we were chased Death Eaters? said Ted sharply. What dyou mean, Death Eaters? I thought they didnt know you were being moved tonight, I thought They knew, said Harry. Ted Tonks looked up at the ceiling as though he could see through it to the sky above. Well, we know our protective charms hold, then, dont we? They shouldnt be able to get within a hundred yards of the place in any direction. Now Harry understood why Voldemort had vanished; it had been at the point when the motorbike crossed the barrier of the Orders charms. He only hoped they would continue to work: he imagined Voldemort, a hundred yards above them as they spoke, looking for a way to penetrate what Harry visualised as a great, transparent bubble. He swung his legs off the sofa; he needed to see Hagrid with his own eyes before he would believe that he was alive. He had barely stood up, however, when a door opened and Hagrid squeezed through it, his face covered in mud and blood, limping a little but miraculously alive. Harry! Knocking over two delicate tables and an aspidistra, he covered the floor between them in two strides and pulled Harry into a hug that nearly cracked his newly repaired ribs. Blimey, Harry, how did yeh get out o that? I thought we were both goners. Yeah, me too. I cant believe Harry broke off: he had just noticed the woman who had entered the room behind Hagrid. You! he shouted, and he thrust his hand into his pocket, but it was empty. Your wands here, son, said Ted, tapping it on Harrys arm. It fell right beside you, I picked it up. And thats my wife youre shouting at. Oh, Im Im sorry. As she moved forwards into the room, Mrs Tonkss resemblance to her sister Bellatrix became much less pronounced: her hair was a light, soft brown and her eyes were wider and kinder. Nevertheless, she looked a little haughty after Harrys exclamation. What happened to our daughter? she asked. Hagrid said you were ambushed; where is Nymphadora? I dont know, said Harry. We dont know what happened to anyone else. She and Ted exchanged looks. A mixture of fear and guilt gripped Harry at the sight of their expressions; if any of the others had died, it was his fault, all his fault. He had consented to the plan, given them his hair ... The Portkey, he said, remembering all of a sudden. Weve got to get back to The Burrow and find out then well be able to send you word, or or Tonks will, once shes Dorall be OK, Dromeda, said Ted. She knows her stuff, shes been in plenty of tight spots with the Aurors. The Portkeys through here, he added to Harry. Its supposed to leave in three minutes, if you want to take it. Yeah, we do, said Harry. He seized his rucksack, swung it on to his shoulders. I He looked at Mrs Tonks, wanting to apologise for the state of fear in which he left her and for which he felt so terribly responsible, but no words occurred to him that did not seem hollow and insincere. Ill tell Tonks Dora to send word, when she ... thanks for patching us up, thanks for everything. I He was glad to leave the room and follow Ted Tonks along a short hallway and into a bedroom. Hagrid came after them, bending low to avoid hitting his head on the door lintel. There you go, son. Thats the Portkey. Mr Tonks was pointing to a small, silver-backed hairbrush lying on the dressing table. Thanks, said Harry, reaching out to place a finger on it, ready to leave. Wait a moment, said Hagrid, looking around. Harry, wheres Hedwig? She ... she got hit, said Harry. The realisation crashed over him: he felt ashamed of himself as the tears stung his eyes. The owl had been his companion, his one great link with the magical world whenever he had been forced to return to the Dursleys. Hagrid reached out a great hand and patted him painfully on the shoulder. Never mind, he said gruffly. Never mind. She had a great old life Hagrid! said Ted Tonks warningly, as the hairbrush glowed bright blue, and Hagrid only just got his forefinger to it in time. With a jerk behind the navel as though an invisible hook and line had dragged him forwards, Harry was pulled into nothingness, spinning uncontrollably, his finger glued to the Portkey as he and Hagrid hurtled away from Mr Tonks: seconds later Harrys feet slammed on to hard ground and he fell on his hands and knees in the yard of The Burrow. He heard screams. Throwing aside the no longer glowing hairbrush, Harry stood up, swaying slightly, and saw Mrs Weasley and Ginny running down the steps by the back door as Hagrid, who had also collapsed on landing, clambered laboriously to his feet. Harry? You are the real Harry? What happened? Where are the others? cried Mrs Weasley. What dyou mean? Isnt anyone else back? Harry panted. The answer was clearly etched in Mrs Weasleys pale face. The Death Eaters were waiting for us, Harry told her. We were surrounded the moment we took off they knew it was tonight I dont know what happened to anyone else. Four of them chased us, it was all we could do to get away, and then Voldemort caught up with us He could hear the self-justifying note in his voice, the plea for her to understand why he did not know what had happened to her sons, but Thank goodness youre all right, she said, pulling him into a hug he did not feel he deserved. Havent go any brandy, have yeh, Molly? asked Hagrid a little shakily. Fer medicinal purposes? She could have summoned it by magic, but as she hurried back towards the crooked house Harry knew that she wanted to hide her face. He turned to Ginny and she answered his unspoken plea for information at once. Ron and Tonks should have been back first, but they missed their Portkey, it came back without them, she said, pointing at a rusty oilcan lying on the ground nearby. And that one, she pointed at an ancient plimsoll, should have been Dad and Freds, they were supposed to be second. You and Hagrid were third and, she checked her watch, if they made it, George and Lupin ought to be back in about a minute. Mrs Weasley reappeared carrying a bottle of brandy, which she handed to Hagrid. He uncorked it and drank it straight down in one. Mum! shouted Ginny, pointing to a spot several feet away. A blue light had appeared in the darkness: it grew larger and brighter, and Lupin and George appeared, spinning and then falling. Harry knew immediately that there was something wrong: Lupin was supporting George, who was unconscious and whose face was covered in blood. Harry ran forwards and seized Georges legs. Together, he and Lupin carried George into the house and through the kitchen to the sitting room, where they laid him on the sofa. As the lamplight fell across Georges head, Ginny gasped and Harrys stomach lurched: one of Georges ears was missing. The side of his head and neck were drenched in wet, shockingly scarlet blood. No sooner had Mrs Weasley bent over her son than Lupin grabbed Harry by the upper arm and dragged him, none too gently, back into the kitchen, where Hagrid was still attempting to ease his bulk through the back door. Oi! said Hagrid indignantly. Le go of him! Le go of Harry! Lupin ignored him. What creature sat in the corner, the first time that Harry Potter visited my office at Hogwarts? he said, giving Harry a small shake. Answer me! A a Grindylow in a tank, wasnt it? Lupin released Harry and fell back against a kitchen cupboard. Wha was tha about? roared Hagrid. Im sorry, Harry, but I had to check, said Lupin tersely. Weve been betrayed. Voldemort knew that you were being moved tonight and the only people who could have told him were directly involved in the plan. You might have been an impostor. So why aren you checkin me? panted Hagrid, still struggling to fit through the door. Youre half-giant, said Lupin, looking up at Hagrid. The Polyjuice Potion is designed for human use only. None of the Order would have told Voldemort we were moving tonight, said Harry: the idea was dreadful to him, he could not believe it of any of them. Voldemort only caught up with me towards the end, he didnt know which one I was in the beginning. If hed been in on the plan, hed have known from the start I was the one with Hagrid. Voldemort caught up with you? said Lupin sharply. What happened? How did you escape? Harry explained, briefly, how the Death Eaters pursuing them had seemed to recognise him as the true Harry, how they had abandoned the chase, how they must have summoned Voldemort, who had appeared just before he and Hagrid had reached the sanctuary of Tonkss parents. They recognised you? But how? What had you done? I ... Harry tried to remember; the whole journey seemed like a blur of panic and confusion. I saw Stan Shunpike ... you know, the bloke who was the conductor on the Knight Bus? And I tried to Disarm him instead of well, he doesnt know what hes doing, does he? He must be Imperiused! Lupin looked aghast. Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill you! At least Stun if you arent prepared to kill! We were hundreds of feet up! Stans not himself, and if I Stunned him and hed fallen hed have died the same as if Id used Avada Kedavra! Expelliarmus saved me from Voldemort two years ago, Harry added defiantly. Lupin was reminding him of the sneering Hufflepuff Zacharias Smith, who had jeered at Harry for wanting to teach Dumbledores Army how to Disarm. Yes, Harry, said Lupin with painful restraint, and a great number of Death Eaters witnessed that happening! Forgive me, but it was a very unusual move then, under imminent threat of death. Repeating it tonight in front of Death Eaters who either witnessed or heard about the first occasion was close to suicidal! So you think I should have killed Stan Shunpike? said Harry angrily. Of course not, said Lupin, but the Death Eaters frankly, most people! would have expected you to attack back! Expelliarmus is a useful spell, Harry, but the Death Eaters seem to think it is your signature move, and I urge you not to let it become so! Lupin was making Harry feel idiotic, and yet there was still a grain of defiance inside him. I wont blast people out of my way just because theyre there, said Harry. Thats Voldemorts job. Lupins retort was lost: finally succeeding in squeezing through the door, Hagrid staggered to a chair and sat down; it collapsed beneath him. Ignoring his mingled oaths and apologies, Harry addressed Lupin again. Will George be OK? All Lupins frustration with Harry seemed to drain away at the question. I think so, although theres no chance of replacing his ear, not when its been cursed off There was a scuffling from outside. Lupin dived for the back door; Harry leapt over Hagrids legs, and sprinted into the yard. Two figures had appeared in the yard and as Harry ran towards them he realised they were Hermione, now returning to her normal appearance, and Kingsley, both clutching a bent coat hanger. Hermione flung herself into Harrys arms, but Kingsley showed no pleasure at the sight of any of them. Over Hermiones shoulder Harry saw him raise his wand and point it at Lupins chest. The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us? Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him, said Lupin calmly. Kingsley turned his wand on Harry, but Lupin said, Its him, Ive checked! All right, all right! said Kingsley, stowing his wand back beneath his cloak. But somebody betrayed us! They knew, they knew it was tonight! So it seems, replied Lupin, but apparently they did not realise that there would be seven Harrys. Small comfort! snarled Kingsley. Who else is back? Only Harry, Hagrid, George and me. Hermione stifled a little moan behind her hand. What happened to you? Lupin asked Kingsley. Followed by five, injured two, mightve killed one, Kingsley reeled off, and we saw You-Know-Who as well, he joined the chase halfway through, but vanished pretty quickly. Remus, he can Fly, supplied Harry. I saw him too, he came after Hagrid and me. So thats why he left to follow you! said Kingsley. I couldnt understand why hed vanished. But what made him change targets? Harry behaved a little too kindly to Stan Shunpike, said Lupin. Stan? repeated Hermione. But I thought he was in Azkaban? Kingsley let out a mirthless laugh. Hermione, theres obviously been a mass breakout which the Ministry has hushed up. Traverss hood fell off when I cursed him, hes supposed to be inside too. But what happened to you, Remus? Wheres George? He lost an ear, said Lupin. Lost an ? repeated Hermione in a high voice. Snapes work, said Lupin. Snape? shouted Harry. You didnt say He lost his hood during the chase. Sectumsempra was always a speciality of Snapes. I wish I could say Id paid him back in kind, but it was all I could do to keep George on the broom after he was injured, he was losing so much blood. Silence fell between the four of them as they looked up at the sky. There was no sign of movement; the stars stared back, unblinking, indifferent, unobscured by flying friends. Where was Ron? Where were Fred and Mr Weasley? Where were Bill, Fleur, Tonks, Mad-Eye and Mundungus? Harry, give us a hand! called Hagrid hoarsely from the door, in which he was stuck again. Glad of something to do, Harry pulled him free, then headed through the empty kitchen and back into the sitting room, where Mrs Weasley and Ginny were still tending to George. Mrs Weasley had staunched his bleeding now, and by the lamplight Harry saw a clean, gaping hole where Georges ear had been. How is he? Mrs Weasley looked round and said, I cant make it grow back, not when its been removed by Dark Magic. But it could have been so much worse ... hes alive. Yeah, said Harry. Thank God. Did I hear someone else in the yard? Ginny asked. Hermione and Kingsley, said Harry. Thank goodness, Ginny whispered. They looked at each other; Harry wanted to hug her, hold on to her; he did not even care much that Mrs Weasley was there, but before he could act on the impulse there was a great crash from the kitchen. Ill prove who I am, Kingsley, after Ive seen my son, now back off if you know whats good for you! Harry had never heard Mr Weasley shout like that before. He burst into the living room, his bald patch gleaming with sweat, his spectacles askew, Fred right behind him, both pale but uninjured. Arthur! sobbed Mrs Weasley. Oh thank goodness! How is he? Mr Weasley dropped to his knees beside George. For the first time since Harry had known him, Fred seemed to be lost for words. He gaped over the back of the sofa at his twins wound as if he could not believe what he was seeing. Perhaps roused by the sound of Fred and their fathers arrival, George stirred. How do you feel, Georgie? whispered Mrs Weasley. Georges fingers groped for the side of his head. Saint-like, he murmured. Whats wrong with him? croaked Fred, looking terrified. Is his mind affected? Saint-like, repeated George, opening his eyes and looking up at his brother. You see ... Im holy. Holey, Fred, geddit? Mrs Weasley sobbed harder than ever. Colour flooded Freds pale face. Pathetic, he told George. Pathetic! With the whole wide world of ear-related humour before you, you go for holey? Ah well, said George, grinning at his tear-soaked mother. Youll be able to tell us apart now, anyway, Mum. He looked round. Hi Harry you are Harry, right? Yeah, I am, said Harry, moving closer to the sofa. Well, at least we got you back OK, said George. Why arent Ron and Bill huddled round my sickbed? Theyre not back yet, George, said Mrs Weasley. Georges grin faded. Harry glanced at Ginny and motioned to her to accompany him back outside. As they walked through the kitchen, she said in a low voice, Ron and Tonks should be back by now. They didnt have a long journey; Auntie Muriels not that far from here. Harry said nothing. He had been trying to keep fear at bay ever since reaching The Burrow, but now it enveloped him, seeming to crawl over his skin, throbbing in his chest, clogging his throat. As they walked down the back steps into the dark yard, Ginny took his hand. Kingsley was striding backwards and forwards, glancing up at the sky every time he turned. Harry was reminded of Uncle Vernon pacing the living room a million years ago. Hagrid, Hermione and Lupin stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing upwards in silence. None of them looked round when Harry and Ginny joined their silent vigil. The minutes stretched into what might as well have been years. The slightest breath of wind made them all jump and turn towards the whispering bush or tree in the hope that one of the missing Order members might leap unscathed from its leaves And then a broom materialised directly above them and streaked towards the ground Its them! screamed Hermione. Tonks landed in a long skid that sent earth and pebbles everywhere. Remus! Tonks cried as she staggered off the broom into Lupins arms. His face was set and white: he seemed unable to speak. Ron tripped dazedly towards Harry and Hermione. Youre OK, he mumbled, before Hermione flew at him and hugged him tightly. I thought I thought M all right, said Ron, patting her on the back. M fine. Ron was great, said Tonks warmly, relinquishing her hold on Lupin. Wonderful. Stunned one of the Death Eaters, straight to the head, and when youre aiming at a moving target from a flying broom You did? said Hermione, gazing up at Ron with her arms still around his neck. Always the tone of surprise, he said a little grumpily, breaking free. Are we the last back? No, said Ginny, were still waiting for Bill and Fleur and Mad-Eye and Mundungus. Im going to tell Mum and Dad youre OK, Ron She ran back inside. So what kept you? What happened? Lupin sounded almost angry at Tonks. Bellatrix, said Tonks. She wants me quite as much as she wants Harry, Remus, she tried very hard to kill me. I just wish Id got her, I owe Bellatrix. But we definitely injured Rodolphus ... then we got to Rons Auntie Muriels and wed missed our Portkey and she was fussing over us A muscle was jumping in Lupins jaw. He nodded, but seemed unable to say anything else. So what happened to you lot? Tonks asked, turning to Harry, Hermione and Kingsley. They recounted the stories of their own journeys, but all the time the continued absence of Bill, Fleur, Mad-Eye and Mundungus seemed to lie upon them like a frost, its icy bite harder and harder to ignore. Im going to have to get back to Downing Street. I should have been there an hour ago, said Kingsley finally, after a last sweeping gaze at the sky. Let me know when theyre back. Lupin nodded. With a wave to the others, Kingsley walked away into the darkness towards the gate. Harry thought he heard the faintest pop as Kingsley Disapparated just beyond The Burrows boundaries. Mr and Mrs Weasley came racing down the back steps, Ginny behind them. Both parents hugged Ron before turning to Lupin and Tonks. Thank you, said Mrs Weasley, for our sons. Dont be silly, Molly, said Tonks at once. Hows George? asked Lupin. Whats wrong with him? piped up Ron. Hes lost But the end of Mrs Weasleys sentence was drowned in a general outcry: a Thestral had just soared into sight and landed a few feet from them. Bill and Fleur slid from its back, windswept but unhurt. Bill! Thank God, thank God Mrs Weasley ran forwards, but the hug Bill bestowed upon her was perfunctory. Looking directly at his father, he said, Mad-Eyes dead. Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Harry felt as though something inside him was falling, falling through the earth, leaving him forever. We saw it, said Bill; Fleur nodded, tear tracks glittering on her cheeks in the light from the kitchen window. It happened just after we broke out of the circle: Mad-Eye and Dung were close by us, they were heading north too. Voldemort he can fly went straight for them. Dung panicked, I heard him cry out, Mad-Eye tried to stop him, but he Disapparated. Voldemorts curse hit Mad-Eye full in the face, he fell backwards off his broom and there was nothing we could do, nothing, we had half a dozen of them on our own tail Bills voice broke. Of course you couldnt have done anything, said Lupin. They all stood looking at each other. Harry could not quite comprehend it. Mad-Eye dead; it could not be ... Mad-Eye, so tough, so brave, the consummate survivor ... At last it seemed to dawn on everyone, though nobody said it, that there was no point waiting in the yard any more, and in silence they followed Mr and Mrs Weasley back into The Burrow, and into the living room, where Fred and George were laughing together. Whats wrong? said Fred, scanning their faces, as they entered. Whats happened? Whos ? Mad-Eye, said Mr Weasley. Dead. The twins grins turned to grimaces of shock. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Tonks was crying silently into a handkerchief: she had been close to Mad-Eye, Harry knew, his favourite and his prot?g?e at the Ministry of Magic. Hagrid, who had sat down on the floor in the corner where he had most space, was dabbing at his eyes with his tablecloth-sized handkerchief. Bill walked over to the sideboard and pulled out a bottle of Firewhisky and some glasses. Here, he said, and with a wave of his wand he sent twelve full glasses soaring through the room to each of them, holding the thirteenth aloft. Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye, they all said, and drank. Mad-Eye, echoed Hagrid, a little late, with a hiccough. The Firewhisky seared Harrys throat: it seemed to burn feeling back into him, dispelling the numbness and sense of unreality, firing him with something that was like courage. So Mundungus disappeared? said Lupin, who had drained his own glass in one. The atmosphere changed at once: everybody looked tense, watching Lupin, both wanting him to go on, it seemed to Harry, and slightly afraid of what they might hear. I know what youre thinking, said Bill, and I wondered that too, on the way back here, because they seemed to be expecting us, didnt they? But Mundungus cant have betrayed us. They didnt know there would be seven Harrys, that confused them the moment we appeared, and in case youve forgotten, it was Mundungus who suggested that little bit of skullduggery. Why wouldnt he have told them the essential point? I think Dung panicked, its as simple as that. He didnt want to come in the first place, but Mad-Eye made him, and You-Know-Who went straight for them: it was enough to make anyone panic. You-Know-Who acted exactly as Mad-Eye expected him to, sniffed Tonks. Mad-Eye said hed expect the real Harry to be with the toughest, most skilled Aurors. He chased Mad-Eye first, and when Mundungus gave them away he switched to Kingsley Yes, and zat eez all very good, snapped Fleur, but still eet does not explain ow zey knew we were moving Arry tonight, does eet? Somebody must ave been careless. Somebody let slip ze date to an outsider. Eet eez ze only explanation for zem knowing ze date but not ze ole plan. She glared around at them all, tear tracks still etched on her beautiful face, silently daring any of them to contradict her. Nobody did. The only sound to break the silence was that of Hagrid hiccoughing from behind his handkerchief. Harry glanced at Hagrid, who had just risked his own life to save Harrys Hagrid, whom he loved, whom he trusted, who had once been tricked into giving Voldemort crucial information in exchange for a dragons egg ... No, Harry said aloud, and they all looked at him, surprised: the Firewhisky seemed to have amplified his voice. I mean ... if somebody made a mistake, Harry went on, and let something slip, I know they didnt mean to do it. Its not their fault, he repeated, again a little louder than he would usually have spoken. Weve got to trust each other. I trust all of you, I dont think anyone in this room would ever sell me to Voldemort. More silence followed his words. They were all looking at him; Harry felt a little hot again, and drank some more Firewhisky for something to do. As he drank, he thought of Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye had always been scathing about Dumbledores willingness to trust people. Well said, Harry, said Fred unexpectedly. Yeah, ear, ear, said George, with half a glance at Fred, the corner of whose mouth twitched. Lupin was wearing an odd expression as he looked at Harry: it was close to pitying. You think Im a fool? demanded Harry. No, I think youre like James, said Lupin, who would have regarded it as the height of dishonour to mistrust his friends. Harry knew what Lupin was getting at: that his father had been betrayed by his friend, Peter Pettigrew. He felt irrationally angry. He wanted to argue, but Lupin had turned away from him, set down his glass upon a side table and addressed Bill, Theres work to do. I can ask Kingsley whether No, said Bill at once, Ill do it, Ill come. Where are you going? said Tonks and Fleur together. Mad-Eyes body, said Lupin. We need to recover it. Cant it ? began Mrs Weasley, with an appealing look at Bill. Wait? said Bill. Not unless youd rather the Death Eaters took it? Nobody spoke. Lupin and Bill said goodbye and left. The rest of them now dropped into chairs, all except for Harry, who remained standing. The suddenness and completeness of death was with them like a presence. Ive got to go too, said Harry. Ten pairs of startled eyes looked at him. Dont be silly, Harry, said Mrs Weasley. What are you talking about? I cant stay here. He rubbed his forehead: it was prickling again; it had not hurt like this for more than a year. Youre all in danger while Im here. I dont want But dont be so silly! said Mrs Weasley. The whole point of tonight was to get you here safely, and thank goodness it worked. And Fleurs agreed to get married here rather than in France, weve arranged everything so that we can all stay together and look after you She did not understand; she was making him feel worse, not better. If Voldemort finds out Im here But why should he? asked Mrs Weasley. There are a dozen places you might be now, Harry, said Mr Weasley. Hes got no way of knowing which safe house youre in. Its not me Im worried for! said Harry. We know that, said Mr Weasley quietly, but it would make our efforts tonight seem rather pointless if you left. Yer not goin anywhere, growled Hagrid. Blimey, Harry, after all we wen through ter get you here? Yeah, what about my bleeding ear? said George, hoisting himself up on his cushions. I know that Mad-Eye wouldnt want I KNOW! Harry bellowed. He felt beleaguered and blackmailed: did they think he did not know what they had done for him, didnt they understand that it was for precisely that reason that he wanted to go now, before they had to suffer any more on his behalf? There was a long and awkward silence in which his scar continued to prickle and throb, and which was broken at last by Mrs Weasley. Wheres Hedwig, Harry? she said coaxingly. We can put her up with Pigwidgeon and give her something to eat. His insides clenched like a fist. He could not tell her the truth. He drank the last of his Firewhisky to avoid answering. Wait til it gets out yeh did it again, Harry, said Hagrid. Escaped him, fought him off when he was right on top of yeh! It wasnt me, said Harry flatly. It was my wand. My wand acted of its own accord. After a few moments, Hermione said gently, But thats impossible, Harry. You mean that you did magic without meaning to; you reacted instinctively. No, said Harry. The bike was falling, I couldnt have told you where Voldemort was, but my wand spun in my hand and found him and shot a spell at him, and it wasnt even a spell I recognised. Ive never made gold flames appear before. Often, said Mr Weasley, when youre in a pressured situation you can produce magic you never dreamed of. Small children often find, before theyre trained It wasnt like that, said Harry through gritted teeth. His scar was burning: he felt angry and frustrated; he hated the idea that they were all imagining him to have power to match Voldemorts. No one said anything. He knew that they did not believe him. Now that he came to think of it, he had never heard of a wand performing magic on its own before. His scar seared with pain; it was all he could do not to moan aloud. Muttering about fresh air, he set down his glass and left the room. As he crossed the dark yard, the great, skeletal Thestral looked up, rustled its enormous bat-like wings, then resumed its grazing. Harry stopped at the gate into the garden, staring out at its overgrown plants, rubbing his pounding forehead and thinking of Dumbledore. Dumbledore would have believed him, he knew it. Dumbledore would have known how and why Harrys wand had acted independently, because Dumbledore always had the answers; he had known about wands, had explained to Harry the strange connection that existed between his wand and Voldemorts ... but Dumbledore, like Mad-Eye, like Sirius, like his parents, like his poor owl, all were gone where Harry could never talk to them again. He felt a burning in his throat that had nothing to do with Firewhisky ... And then, out of nowhere, the pain in his scar peaked. As he clutched his forehead and closed his eyes, a voice screamed inside his head. You told me the problem would be solved by using anothers wand! And into his mind burst the vision of an emaciated old man lying in rags upon a stone floor, screaming, a horrible, drawn-out scream, a scream of unendurable agony ... No! No! I beg you, I beg you ... You lied to Lord Voldemort, Ollivander! I did not ... I swear I did not ... You sought to help Potter, to help him escape me! I swear I did not ... I believed a different wand would work Explain, then, what happened. Luciuss wand is destroyed! I cannot understand ... the connection ... exists only ... between your two wands ... Lies! Please ... I beg you And Harry saw the white hand raise its wand and felt Voldemorts surge of vicious anger, saw the frail old man on the floor writhe in agony Harry? It was over as quickly as it had come: Harry stood shaking in the darkness, clutching the gate into the garden, his heart racing, his scar still tingling. It was several moments before he realised that Ron and Hermione were at his side. Harry, come back in the house, Hermione whispered. You arent still thinking of leaving? Yeah, youve got to stay, mate, said Ron, thumping Harry on the back. Are you all right? Hermione asked, close enough now to look into Harrys face. You look awful! Well, said Harry shakily, I probably look better than Ollivander ... When he had finished telling them what he had seen, Ron looked appalled, but Hermione downright terrified. But it was supposed to have stopped! Your scar it wasnt supposed to do this any more! You mustnt let that connection open up again Dumbledore wanted you to close your mind! When he did not reply, she gripped his arm. Harry, hes taking over the Ministry and the newspapers and half the wizarding world! Dont let him inside your head too! ? CHAPTER SIX The Ghoul in Pyjamas The shock of losing Mad-Eye hung over the house in the days that followed; Harry kept expecting to see him stumping in through the back door like the other Order members, who passed in and out to relay news. Harry felt that nothing but action would assuage his feelings of guilt and grief and that he ought to set out on his mission to find and destroy Horcruxes as soon as possible. Well, you cant do anything about the Ron mouthed the word Horcruxes, til youre seventeen. Youve still got the Trace on you. And we can plan here as well as anywhere, cant we? Or, he dropped his voice to a whisper, dyou reckon you already know where the you-know-whats are? No, Harry admitted. I think Hermiones been doing a bit of research, said Ron. She said she was saving it for when you got here. They were sitting at the breakfast table; Mr Weasley and Bill had just left for work, Mrs Weasley had gone upstairs to wake Hermione and Ginny, while Fleur had drifted off to take a bath. The Tracell break on the thirty-first, said Harry. That means I only need to stay here four days. Then I can Five days, Ron corrected him firmly. Weve got to stay for the wedding. Theyll kill us if we miss it. Harry understood they to mean Fleur and Mrs Weasley. Its one extra day, said Ron, when Harry looked mutinous. Dont they realise how important ? Course they dont, said Ron. They havent got a clue. And now you mention it, I wanted to talk to you about that. Ron glanced towards the door into the hall to check that Mrs Weasley was not returning yet, then leaned in closer to Harry. Mums been trying to get it out of Hermione and me. What were off to do. Shell try you next, so brace yourself. Dad and Lupinve both asked as well, but when we said Dumbledore told you not to tell anyone except us, they dropped it. Not Mum, though. Shes determined. Rons prediction came true within hours. Shortly before lunch, Mrs Weasley detached Harry from the others by asking him to help identify a lone mans sock that she thought might have come out of his rucksack. Once she had him cornered in the tiny scullery off the kitchen, she started. Ron and Hermione seem to think that the three of you are dropping out of Hogwarts, she began in a light, casual tone. Oh, said Harry. Well, yeah. We are. The mangle turned of its own accord in a corner, wringing out what looked like one of Mr Weasleys vests. May I ask why you are abandoning your education? said Mrs Weasley. Well, Dumbledore left me ... stuff to do, mumbled Harry. Ron and Hermione know about it, and they want to come too. What sort of stuff? Im sorry, I cant Well, frankly, I think Arthur and I have a right to know, and Im sure Mr and Mrs Granger would agree! said Mrs Weasley. Harry had been afraid of the concerned parent attack. He forced himself to look directly into her eyes, noticing as he did so that they were precisely the same shade of brown as Ginnys. This did not help. Dumbledore didnt want anyone else to know, Mrs Weasley. Im sorry. Ron and Hermione dont have to come, its their choice I dont see that you have to go, either! she snapped, dropping all pretence now. Youre barely of age, any of you! Its utter nonsense, if Dumbledore needed work doing, he had the whole Order at his command! Harry, you must have misunderstood him. Probably he was telling you something he wanted done, and you took it to mean that he wanted you I didnt misunderstand, said Harry flatly. Its got to be me. He handed her back the single sock he was supposed to be identifying, which was patterned with golden bulrushes. And thats not mine, I dont support Puddlemere United. Oh, of course not, said Mrs Weasley, with a sudden and rather unnerving return to her casual tone. I should have realised. Well, Harry, while weve still got you here, you wont mind helping with the preparations for Bill and Fleurs wedding, will you? Theres still so much to do. No I of course not, said Harry, disconcerted by this sudden change of subject. Sweet of you, she replied, and she smiled as she left the scullery. From that moment on, Mrs Weasley kept Harry, Ron and Hermione so busy with preparations for the wedding that they hardly had time to think. The kindest explanation of this behaviour would have been that Mrs Weasley wanted to distract them all from thoughts of Mad-Eye, and the terrors of their recent journey. After two days of non-stop cutlery cleaning, of colour-matching favours, ribbons and flowers, of de-gnoming the garden and helping Mrs Weasley cook vast batches of canap?s, however, Harry started to suspect her of a different motive. All the jobs she handed out seemed to keep him, Ron and Hermione away from one another; he had not had a chance to speak to the two of them, alone, since the first night, when he had told them about Voldemort torturing Ollivander. I think Mum thinks that if she can stop the three of you getting together and planning, shell be able to delay you leaving, Ginny told Harry in an undertone, as they laid the table for dinner on the third night of his stay. And then what does she thinks going to happen? Harry muttered. Someone else might kill off Voldemort while shes holding us here making vol-au-vents? He had spoken without thinking, and saw Ginnys face whiten. So its true? she said. Thats what youre trying to do? I not I was joking, said Harry evasively. They stared at each other, and there was something more than shock in Ginnys expression. Suddenly Harry became aware that this was the first time that he had been alone with her since those stolen hours in secluded corners of the Hogwarts grounds. He was sure she was remembering them too. Both of them jumped as the door opened, and Mr Weasley, Kingsley and Bill walked in. They were often joined by other Order members for dinner now, because The Burrow had replaced number twelve, Grimmauld Place as the Headquarters. Mr Weasley had explained that after the death of Dumbledore, their Secret Keeper, each of the people to whom Dumbledore had confided Grimmauld Places location had become a Secret Keeper in turn. And as there are around twenty of us, that greatly dilutes the power of the Fidelius Charm. Twenty times as many opportunities for the Death Eaters to get the secret out of somebody. We cant expect it to hold much longer. But surely Snape will have told the Death Eaters the address by now? asked Harry. Well, Mad-Eye set up a couple of curses against Snape in case he turns up there again. We hope theyll be strong enough both to keep him out and to bind his tongue if he tries to talk about the place, but we cant be sure. It would have been insane to keep using the place as Headquarters now that its protection has become so shaky. The kitchen was so crowded that evening it was difficult to manoeuvre knives and forks. Harry found himself crammed beside Ginny; the unsaid things that had just passed between them made him wish they had been separated by a few more people. He was trying so hard to avoid brushing her arm he could barely cut his chicken. No news about Mad-Eye? Harry asked Bill. Nothing, replied Bill. They had not been able to hold a funeral for Moody, because Bill and Lupin had failed to recover his body. It had been difficult to know where he might have fallen, given the darkness and the confusion of the battle. The Daily Prophet hasnt said a word about him dying, or about finding the body, Bill went on. But that doesnt mean much. Its keeping a lot quiet these days. And they still havent called a hearing about all the under-age magic I used escaping the Death Eaters? Harry called across the table to Mr Weasley, who shook his head. Because they know I had no choice or because they dont want me to tell the world Voldemort attacked me? The latter, I think. Scrimgeour doesnt want to admit that You-Know-Who is as powerful as he is, nor that Azkabans seen a mass breakout. Yeah, why tell the public the truth? said Harry, clenching his knife so tightly that the faint scars on the back of his right hand stood out, white against his skin: I must not tell lies. Isnt anyone at the Ministry prepared to stand up to him? asked Ron angrily. Of course, Ron, but people are terrified, Mr Weasley replied, terrified that they will be next to disappear, their children the next to be attacked! There are nasty rumours going round; I, for one, dont believe the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts resigned. She hasnt been seen for weeks now. Meanwhile, Scrimgeour remains shut up in his office all day: I just hope hes working on a plan. There was a pause in which Mrs Weasley magicked the empty plates on to the side, and served apple tart. We must decide ow you will be disguised, Arry, said Fleur, once everyone had pudding. For ze wedding, she added, when he looked confused. Of course, none of our guests are Death Eaters, but we cannot guarantee zat zey will not let something slip after zey ave ad champagne. From this, Harry gathered that she still suspected Hagrid. Yes, good point, said Mrs Weasley from the top of the table, where she sat, spectacles perched on the end of her nose, scanning an immense list of jobs that she had scribbled on a very long piece of parchment. Now, Ron, have you cleaned out your room yet? Why? exclaimed Ron, slamming his spoon down and glaring at his mother. Why does my room have to be cleaned out? Harry and I are fine with it the way it is! We are holding your brothers wedding here in a few days time, young man And are they getting married in my bedroom? asked Ron furiously. No! So why in the name of Merlins saggy left Dont talk to your mother like that, said Mr Weasley firmly. And do as youre told. Ron scowled at both his parents, then picked up his spoon and attacked the last few mouthfuls of his apple tart. I can help, some of its my mess, Harry told Ron, but Mrs Weasley cut across him. No, Harry, dear, Id much rather you helped Arthur muck out the chickens, and Hermione, Id be ever so grateful if youd change the sheets for Monsieur and Madame Delacour, you know theyre arriving at eleven tomorrow morning. But as it turned out, there was very little to do for the chickens. Theres no need to, er, mention it to Molly, Mr Weasley told Harry, blocking his access to the coop, but, er, Ted Tonks sent me most of what was left of Siriuss bike and, er, Im hiding thats to say, keeping it in here. Fantastic stuff: theres an exhaust gaskin, as I believe its called, the most magnificent battery, and itll be a great opportunity to find out how brakes work. Im going to try and put it all back together again when Mollys not I mean, when Ive got time. When they returned to the house, Mrs Weasley was nowhere to be seen, so Harry slipped upstairs to Rons attic bedroom. Im doing it, Im doing ! Oh, its you, said Ron in relief, as Harry entered the room. Ron lay back down on the bed, which he had evidently just vacated. The room was just as messy as it had been all week; the only change was that Hermione was now sitting in the far corner, her fluffy ginger cat Crookshanks at her feet, sorting books, some of which Harry recognised as his own, into two enormous piles. Hi, Harry, she said, as he sat down on his camp bed. And how did you manage to get away? Oh, Rons mum forgot that she asked Ginny and me to change the sheets yesterday, said Hermione. She threw Numerology and Grammatica on to one pile and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts on to the other. We were just talking about Mad-Eye, Ron told Harry. I reckon he might have survived. But Bill saw him hit by the Killing Curse, said Harry. Yeah, but Bill was under attack too, said Ron. How can he be sure what he saw? Even if the Killing Curse missed, Mad-Eye still fell about a thousand feet, said Hermione, now weighing Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland in her hand. He could have used a Shield Charm Fleur said his wand was blasted out of his hand, said Harry. Well, all right, if you want him to be dead, said Ron grumpily, punching his pillow into a more comfortable shape. Of course we dont want him to be dead! said Hermione, looking shocked. Its dreadful that hes dead! But were being realistic! For the first time, Harry imagined Mad-Eyes body, broken as Dumbledores had been, yet with that one eye still whizzing in its socket. He felt a stab of revulsion mixed with a bizarre desire to laugh. The Death Eaters probably tidied up after themselves, thats why no ones found him, said Ron wisely. Yeah, said Harry. Like Barty Crouch, turned into a bone and buried in Hagrids front garden. They probably Transfigured Moody and stuffed him Dont! squealed Hermione. Startled, Harry looked over just in time to see her burst into tears over her copy of Spellmans Syllabary. Oh, no, said Harry, struggling to get up from the old camp bed. Hermione, I wasnt trying to upset But with a great creaking of rusty bedsprings Ron bounded off the bed and got there first. One arm around Hermione, he fished in his jeans pocket and withdrew a revolting-looking handkerchief that he had used to clean out the oven earlier. Hastily pulling out his wand, he pointed it at the rag and said, Tergeo. The wand siphoned off most of the grease. Looking rather pleased with himself, Ron handed the slightly smoking handkerchief to Hermione. Oh ... thanks, Ron ... Im sorry ... She blew her nose and hiccoughed. Its just so awf ful, isnt it? R Right after Dumbledore ... I j just n-never imagined Mad-Eye dying, somehow, he seemed so tough! Yeah, I know, said Ron, giving her a squeeze. But you know what hed say to us if he was here? C Constant vigilance, said Hermione, mopping her eyes. Thats right, said Ron, nodding. Hed tell us to learn from what happened to him. And what Ive learned is not to trust that cowardly little squit Mundungus. Hermione gave a shaky laugh and leaned forwards to pick up two more books. A second later, Ron had snatched his arm back from around her shoulders; she had dropped The Monster Book of Monsters on his foot. The book had broken free from its restraining belt and snapped viciously at Rons ankle. Im sorry, Im sorry! Hermione cried, as Harry wrenched the book from Rons leg and retied it shut. What are you doing with all those books, anyway? Ron asked, limping back to his bed. Just trying to decide which ones to take with us, said Hermione. When were looking for the Horcruxes. Oh, of course, said Ron, clapping a hand to his forehead. I forgot well be hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library. Ha ha, said Hermione, looking down at Spellmans Syllabary. I wonder ... will we need to translate runes? Its possible ... I think wed better take it, to be safe. She dropped the syllabary on to the larger of the two piles and picked up Hogwarts: A History. Listen, said Harry. He had sat up straight. Ron and Hermione looked at him with similar mixtures of resignation and defiance. I know you said, after Dumbledores funeral, that you wanted to come with me, Harry began. Here he goes, Ron said to Hermione, rolling his eyes. As we knew he would, she sighed, turning back to the books. You know, I think I will take Hogwarts: A History. Even if were not going back there, I dont think Id feel right if I didnt have it with Listen! said Harry again. No, Harry, you listen, said Hermione. Were coming with you. That was decided months ago years, really. But Shut up, Ron advised him. are you sure youve thought this through? Harry persisted. Lets see, said Hermione, slamming Travels with Trolls on to the discarded pile with a rather fierce look. Ive been packing for days, so were ready to leave at a moments notice, which for your information has included doing some pretty difficult magic, not to mention smuggling Mad-Eyes whole stock of Polyjuice Potion right under Rons mums nose. Ive also modified my parents memories so that theyre convinced theyre really called Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and that their lifes ambition is to move to Australia, which they have now done. Thats to make it more difficult for Voldemort to track them down and interrogate them about me or you, because unfortunately, Ive told them quite a bit about you. Assuming I survive our hunt for the Horcruxes, Ill find Mum and Dad and lift the enchantment. If I dont well, I think Ive cast a good enough charm to keep them safe and happy. Wendell and Monica Wilkins dont know that theyve got a daughter, you see. Hermiones eyes were swimming with tears again. Ron got back off the bed, put his arm around her once more and frowned at Harry as though reproaching him for lack of tact. Harry could not think of anything to say, not least because it was highly unusual for Ron to be teaching anyone else tact. I Hermione, Im sorry I didnt Didnt realise that Ron and I know perfectly well what might happen if we come with you? Well, we do. Ron, show Harry what youve done. Nah, hes just eaten, said Ron. Go on, he needs to know! Oh, all right. Harry, come here. For the second time, Ron withdrew his arm from around Hermione and stumped over to the door. Cmon. Why? Harry asked, following Ron out of the room on to the tiny landing. Descendo, muttered Ron, pointing his wand at the low ceiling. A hatch opened right over their heads and a ladder slid down to their feet. A horrible half-sucking, half-moaning sound came out of the square hole, along with an unpleasant smell like open drains. Thats your ghoul, isnt it? asked Harry, who had never actually met the creature that sometimes disrupted the nightly silence. Yeah, it is, said Ron, climbing the ladder. Come and have a look at him. Harry followed Ron up the few short steps into the tiny attic space. His head and shoulders were in the room before he caught sight of the creature curled up a few feet from him, fast asleep in the gloom with its large mouth wide open. But it ... it looks ... Do ghouls normally wear pyjamas? No, said Ron. Nor have they usually got red hair or that number of pustules. Harry contemplated the thing, slightly revolted. It was human in shape and size, and was wearing what, now Harrys eyes became used to the darkness, was clearly an old pair of Rons pyjamas. He was also sure that ghouls were generally rather slimy and bald, rather than distinctly hairy and covered in angry purple blisters. Hes me, see? said Ron. No, said Harry. I dont. Ill explain it back in my room, the smells getting to me, said Ron. They climbed back down the ladder, which Ron returned to the ceiling, and rejoined Hermione, who was still sorting books. Once weve left, the ghouls going to come and live down here in my room, said Ron. I think hes really looking forward to it well, its hard to tell, because all he can do is moan and drool but he nods a lot when you mention it. Anyway, hes going to be me with spattergroit. Good, eh? Harry merely looked his confusion. It is! said Ron, clearly frustrated that Harry had not grasped the brilliance of the plan. Look, when we three dont turn up at Hogwarts again, everyones going to think Hermione and I must be with you, right? Which means the Death Eaters will go straight for our families to see if theyve got information on where you are. But hopefully itll look like Ive gone away with Mum and Dad; a lot of Muggle-borns are talking about going into hiding at the moment, said Hermione. We cant hide my whole family, itll look too fishy and they cant all leave their jobs, said Ron. So were going to put out the story that Im seriously ill with spattergroit, which is why I cant go back to school. If anyone comes calling to investigate, Mum or Dad can show them the ghoul in my bed, covered in pustules. Spattergroits really contagious, so theyre not going to want to go near him. It wont matter that he cant say anything, either, because apparently you cant once the fungus has spread to your uvula. And your mum and dad are in on this plan? asked Harry. Dad is. He helped Fred and George transform the ghoul. Mum ... well, youve seen what shes like. She wont accept were going til weve gone. There was silence in the room, broken only by gentle thuds, as Hermione continued to throw books on to one pile or the other. Ron sat watching her, and Harry looked from one to the other, unable to say anything. The measures they had taken to protect their families made him realise, more than anything else could have done, that they really were going to come with him and that they knew exactly how dangerous that would be. He wanted to tell them what that meant to him, but he simply could not find words important enough. Through the silence came the muffled sounds of Mrs Weasley shouting from four floors below. Ginnys probably left a speck of dust on a poxy napkin ring, said Ron. I dunno why the Delacours have got to come two days before the wedding. Fleurs sisters a bridesmaid, she needs to be here for the rehearsal and shes too young to come on her own, said Hermione, as she pored indecisively over Break with a Banshee. Well, guests arent going to help Mums stress levels, said Ron. What we really need to decide, said Hermione, tossing Defensive Magical Theory into the bin without a second glance and picking up An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe, is where were going after we leave here. I know you said you wanted to go to Godrics Hollow first, Harry, and I understand why, but ... well ... shouldnt we make the Horcruxes our priority? If we knew where any of the Horcruxes were, Id agree with you, said Harry, who did not believe that Hermione really understood his desire to return to Godrics Hollow. His parents graves were only part of the attraction: he had a strong, though inexplicable, feeling that the place held answers for him. Perhaps it was simply because it was there that he had survived Voldemorts Killing Curse; now that he was facing the challenge of repeating the feat, Harry was drawn to the place where it had happened, wanting to understand. Dont you think theres a possibility that Voldemorts keeping a watch on Godrics Hollow? Hermione asked. He might expect you to go back and visit your parents graves once youre free to go wherever you like? This had not occurred to Harry. While he struggled to find a counter-argument, Ron spoke up, evidently following his own train of thought. This R.A.B. person, he said. You know, the one who stole the real locket? Hermione nodded. He said in his note he was going to destroy it, didnt he? Harry dragged his rucksack towards him and pulled out the fake Horcrux in which R.A.B.s note was still folded. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can, Harry read out. Well, what if he did finish it off? said Ron. Or she, interposed Hermione. Whichever, said Ron, itd be one less for us to do! Yes, but were still going to have to try and trace the real locket, arent we? said Hermione. To find out whether or not its destroyed. And once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux? asked Ron. Well, said Hermione, Ive been researching that. How? asked Harry. I didnt think there were any books on Horcruxes in the library? There werent, said Hermione, who had turned pink. Dumbledore removed them all, but he he didnt destroy them. Ron sat up straight, wide-eyed. How in the name of Merlins pants have you managed to get your hands on those Horcrux books? It it wasnt stealing! said Hermione, looking from Harry to Ron with a kind of desperation. They were still library books, even if Dumbledore had taken them off the shelves. Anyway, if he really didnt want anyone to get at them, Im sure he would have made it much harder to Get to the point! said Ron. Well ... it was easy, said Hermione in a small voice. I just did a Summoning Charm. You know accio. And they zoomed out of Dumbledores study window right into the girls dormitory. But when did you do this? Harry asked, regarding Hermione with a mixture of admiration and incredulity. Just after his Dumbledores funeral, said Hermione, in an even smaller voice. Right after we agreed wed leave school and go and look for the Horcruxes. When I went back upstairs to get my things, it it just occurred to me that the more we knew about them, the better it would be ... and I was alone in there ... so I tried ... and it worked. They flew straight in through the open window and I I packed them. She swallowed and then said imploringly, I cant believe Dumbledore would have been angry, its not as though were going to use the information to make a Horcrux, is it? Can you hear us complaining? said Ron. Where are these books, anyway? Hermione rummaged for a moment and then extracted from the pile a large volume, bound in faded, black leather. She looked a little nauseated and held it as gingerly as if it were something recently dead. This is the one that gives explicit instructions on how to make a Horcrux. Secrets of the Darkest Art its a horrible book, really awful, full of evil magic. I wonder when Dumbledore removed it from the library ... if he didnt do it until he was Headmaster, I bet Voldemort got all the instruction he needed from here. Why did he have to ask Slughorn how to make a Horcrux, then, if hed already read that? asked Ron. He only approached Slughorn to find out what would happen if you split your soul into seven, said Harry. Dumbledore was sure Riddle already knew how to make a Horcrux by the time he asked Slughorn about them. I think youre right, Hermione, that could easily have been where he got the information. And the more Ive read about them, said Hermione, the more horrible they seem, and the less I can believe that he actually made six. It warns in this book how unstable you make the rest of your soul by ripping it, and thats just by making one Horcrux! Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said, about Voldemort moving beyond usual evil. Isnt there any way of putting yourself back together? Ron asked. Yes, said Hermione, with a hollow smile, but it would be excruciatingly painful. Why? How do you do it? asked Harry. Remorse, said Hermione. Youve got to really feel what youve done. Theres a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I cant see Voldemort attempting it, somehow, can you? No, said Ron, before Harry could answer. So does it say how to destroy Horcruxes in that book? Yes, said Hermione, now turning the fragile pages as if examining rotting entrails, because it warns Dark wizards how strong they have to make the enchantments on them. From all that Ive read, what Harry did to Riddles diary was one of the few really foolproof ways of destroying a Horcrux. What, stabbing it with a Basilisk fang? asked Harry. Oh, well, lucky weve got such a large supply of Basilisk fangs, then, said Ron. I was wondering what we were going to do with them. It doesnt have to be a Basilisk fang, said Hermione patiently. It has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux cant repair itself. Basilisk venom only has one antidote, and its incredibly rare phoenix tears, said Harry, nodding. Exactly, said Hermione. Our problem is that there are very few substances as destructive as Basilisk venom, and theyre all dangerous to carry around with you. Thats a problem were going to have to solve, though, because ripping, smashing or crushing a Horcrux wont do the trick. Youve got to put it beyond magical repair. But even if we wreck the thing it lives in, said Ron, why cant the bit of soul in it just go and live in something else? Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being. Seeing that Harry and Ron looked thoroughly confused, Hermione hurried on, Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldnt damage your soul at all. Which would be a real comfort to me, Im sure, said Ron. Harry laughed. It should be, actually! But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched, said Hermione. But its the other way round with a Horcrux. The fragment of soul inside it depends on its container, its enchanted body, for survival. It cant exist without it. That diary sort of died when I stabbed it, said Harry, remembering ink pouring like blood from the punctured pages, and the screams of the piece of Voldemorts soul as it vanished. And once the diary was properly destroyed, the bit of soul trapped in it could no longer exist. Ginny tried to get rid of the diary before you did, flushing it away, but, obviously, it came back good as new. Hang on, said Ron, frowning. The bit of soul in that diary was possessing Ginny, wasnt it? How does that work, then? While the magical container is still intact, the bit of soul inside it can flit in and out of someone if they get too close to the object. I dont mean holding it for too long, its nothing to do with touching it, she added, before Ron could speak. I mean close emotionally. Ginny poured her heart out into that diary, she made herself incredibly vulnerable. Youre in trouble if you get too fond of or dependent on the Horcrux. I wonder how Dumbledore destroyed the ring? said Harry. Why didnt I ask him? I never really His voice tailed away: he was thinking of all the things he should have asked Dumbledore, and of how, since the Headmaster had died, it seemed to Harry that he had wasted so many opportunities, when Dumbledore had been alive, to find out more ... to find out everything ... The silence was shattered as the bedroom door flew open with a wall-shaking crash. Hermione shrieked and dropped Secrets of the Darkest Art; Crookshanks streaked under the bed, hissing indignantly; Ron jumped off the bed, skidded on a discarded Chocolate Frog wrapper and smacked his head on the opposite wall, and Harry instinctively dived for his wand before realising that he was looking up at Mrs Weasley, whose hair was dishevelled and whose face was contorted with rage. Im so sorry to break up this cosy little gathering, she said, her voice trembling. Im sure you all need your rest ... but there are wedding presents stacked in my room that need sorting out and I was under the impression that you had agreed to help. Oh, yes, said Hermione, looking terrified as she leapt to her feet, sending books flying in every direction, we will ... were sorry ... With an anguished look at Harry and Ron, Hermione hurried out of the room after Mrs Weasley. Its like being a house-elf, complained Ron in an undertone, still massaging his head as he and Harry followed. Except without the job-satisfaction. The sooner this weddings over, the happier Ill be. Yeah, said Harry, then well have nothing to do except find Horcruxes ... itll be like a holiday, wont it? Ron started to laugh, but at the sight of the enormous pile of wedding presents waiting for them in Mrs Weasleys room, stopped quite abruptly. The Delacours arrived the following morning at eleven oclock. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were feeling quite resentful towards Fleurs family by this time, and it was with an ill grace that Ron stumped back upstairs to put on matching socks, and Harry attempted to flatten his hair. Once they had all been deemed smart enough, they trooped out into the sunny backyard to await the visitors. Harry had never seen the place looking so tidy. The rusty cauldrons and old Wellington boots that usually littered the steps by the back door were gone, replaced by two new Flutterby Bushes standing either side of the door in large pots; though there was no breeze, the leaves waved lazily, giving an attractive rippling effect. The chickens had been shut away, the yard had been swept and the nearby garden had been pruned, plucked and generally spruced up, although Harry, who liked it in its overgrown state, thought that it looked rather forlorn without its usual contingent of capering gnomes. He had lost track of how many security enchantments had been placed upon The Burrow by both the Order and the Ministry; all he knew was that it was no longer possible for anybody to travel by magic directly into the place. Mr Weasley had therefore gone to meet the Delacours on top of a nearby hill, where they were to arrive by Portkey. The first sound of their approach was an unusually high-pitched laugh, which turned out to be coming from Mr Weasley, who appeared at the gate moments later, laden with luggage and leading a beautiful, blonde woman in long, leaf-green robes, who could only be Fleurs mother. Maman! cried Fleur, rushing forwards to embrace her. Papa! Monsieur Delacour was nowhere near as attractive as his wife; he was a head shorter and extremely plump, with a little, pointed, black beard. However, he looked good-natured. Bouncing towards Mrs Weasley on high-heeled boots, he kissed her twice on each cheek, leaving her flustered. You ave been to much trouble, he said in a deep voice. Fleur tells us you ave been working very ard. Oh, its been nothing, nothing! trilled Mrs Weasley. No trouble at all! Ron relieved his feelings by aiming a kick at a gnome who was peering out from behind one of the new Flutterby Bushes. Dear lady! said Monsieur Delacour, still holding Mrs Weasleys hand between his own two plump ones and beaming. We are most honoured at the approaching union of our two families! Let me present my wife, Apolline. Madame Delacour glided forwards and stooped to kiss Mrs Weasley too. Enchant?e, she said. Your usband as been telling us such amusing stories! Mr Weasley gave a maniacal laugh; Mrs Weasley threw him a look, upon which he became immediately silent and assumed an expression appropriate to the sickbed of a close friend. And, of course, you ave met my leetle daughter, Gabrielle! said Monsieur Delacour. Gabrielle was Fleur in miniature; eleven years old, with waist-length hair of pure, silvery blonde, she gave Mrs Weasley a dazzling smile and hugged her, then threw Harry a glowing look, batting her eyelashes. Ginny cleared her throat loudly. Well, come in, do! said Mrs Weasley brightly, and she ushered the Delacours into the house, with many No, please!s and After you!s and Not at all!s. The Delacours, it soon transpired, were helpful, pleasant guests. They were pleased with everything and keen to assist with the preparations for the wedding. Monsieur Delacour pronounced everything from the seating plan to the bridesmaids shoes charmant! Madame Delacour was most accomplished at household spells and had the oven properly cleaned in a trice; Gabrielle followed her elder sister around, trying to assist in any way she could and jabbering away in rapid French. On the downside, The Burrow was not built to accommodate so many people. Mr and Mrs Weasley were now sleeping in the sitting room, having shouted down Monsieur and Madame Delacours protests and insisted they take their bedroom. Gabrielle was sleeping with Fleur in Percys old room and Bill would be sharing with Charlie, his best man, once Charlie arrived from Romania. Opportunities to make plans together became virtually non-existent, and it was in desperation that Harry, Ron and Hermione took to volunteering to feed the chickens just to escape the overcrowded house. But she still wont leave us alone! snarled Ron, as their second attempt at a meeting in the yard was foiled by the appearance of Mrs Weasley carrying a large basket of laundry in her arms. Oh, good, youve fed the chickens, she called as she approached them. Wed better shut them away again before the men arrive tomorrow ... to put up the tent for the wedding, she explained, pausing to lean against the hen house. She looked exhausted. Millamants Magic Marquees ... theyre very good. Bills escorting them ... youd better stay inside while theyre here, Harry. I must say it does complicate organising a wedding, having all these security spells around the place. Im sorry, said Harry humbly. Oh, dont be silly, dear! said Mrs Weasley at once. I didnt mean well, your safetys much more important! Actually, Ive been wanting to ask you how you want to celebrate your birthday, Harry. Seventeen, after all, its an important day ... I dont want a fuss, said Harry quickly, envisaging the additional strain this would put on them all. Really, Mrs Weasley, just a normal dinner would be fine ... its the day before the wedding ... Oh, well, if youre sure, dear. Ill invite Remus and Tonks, shall I? And how about Hagrid? Thatd be great, said Harry. But please dont go to loads of trouble. Not at all, not at all ... its no trouble She looked at him, a long, searching look, then smiled a little sadly, straightened up and walked away. Harry watched as she waved her wand near the washing line, and the damp clothes rose into the air to hang themselves up, and suddenly he felt a great wave of remorse for the inconvenience and the pain he was giving her. ? CHAPTER SEVEN The Will of Albus Dumbledore He was walking along a mountain road in the cool, blue light of dawn. Far below, swathed in mist, was the shadow of a small town. Was the man he sought down there? The man he needed so badly he could think of little else, the man who held the answer, the answer to his problem ... Oi, wake up. Harry opened his eyes. He was lying again on the camp bed in Rons dingy attic room. The sun had not yet risen and the room was still shadowy. Pigwidgeon was asleep with his head under his tiny wing. The scar on Harrys forehead was prickling. You were muttering in your sleep. Was I? Yeah. Gregorovitch. You kept saying Gregorovitch. Harry was not wearing his glasses; Rons face appeared slightly blurred. Whos Gregorovitch? I dunno, do I? You were the one saying it. Harry rubbed his forehead, thinking. He had a vague idea he had heard the name before, but he could not think where. I think Voldemorts looking for him. Poor bloke, said Ron fervently. Harry sat up, still rubbing his scar, now wide awake. He tried to remember exactly what he had seen in the dream, but all that came back was a mountainous horizon and the outline of the little village cradled in a deep valley. I think hes abroad. Who, Gregorovitch? Voldemort. I think hes somewhere abroad, looking for Gregorovitch. It didnt look like anywhere in Britain. You reckon you were seeing into his mind again? Ron sounded worried. Do me a favour and dont tell Hermione, said Harry. Although how she expects me to stop seeing stuff in my sleep ... He gazed up at little Pigwidgeons cage, thinking ... why was the name Gregorovitch familiar? I think, he said slowly, hes got something to do with Quidditch. Theres some connection, but I cant I cant think what it is. Quidditch? said Ron. Sure youre not thinking of Gorgovitch? Who? Dragomir Gorgovitch, Chaser, transferred to the Chudley Cannons for a record fee two years ago. Record-holder for most Quaffle drops in a season. No, said Harry. Im definitely not thinking of Gorgovitch. I try not to, either, said Ron. Well, happy birthday, anyway. Wow thats right, I forgot! Im seventeen! Harry seized the wand lying beside his camp bed, pointed it at the cluttered desk where he had left his glasses and said, Accio glasses! Although they were only around a foot away, there was something immensely satisfying about seeing them zoom towards him, at least until they poked him in the eye. Slick, snorted Ron. Revelling in the removal of his Trace, Harry sent Rons possessions flying around the room, causing Pigwidgeon to wake up and flutter excitedly around his cage. Harry also tried tying the laces of his trainers by magic (the resultant knot took several minutes to untie by hand) and, purely for the pleasure of it, turned the orange robes on Rons Chudley Cannons posters bright blue. Id do your flies by hand, though, Ron advised Harry, sniggering when Harry immediately checked them. Heres your present. Unwrap it up here, its not for my mothers eyes. A book? said Harry, as he took the rectangular parcel. Bit of a departure from tradition, isnt it? This isnt your average book, said Ron. Its pure gold: Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches. Explains everything you need to know about girls. If only Id had this last year, Id have known exactly how to get rid of Lavender and I wouldve known how to get going with ... well, Fred and George gave me a copy, and Ive learned a lot. Youd be surprised, its not all about wandwork, either. When they arrived in the kitchen, they found a pile of presents waiting on the table. Bill and Monsieur Delacour were finishing their breakfast, while Mrs Weasley stood chatting to them over the frying pan. Arthur told me to wish you a happy seventeenth, Harry, said Mrs Weasley, beaming at him. He had to leave early for work, but hell be back for dinner. Thats our present on top. Harry sat down, took the square parcel she had indicated and unwrapped it. Inside was a watch very like the one Mr and Mrs Weasley had given Ron for his seventeenth; it was gold, with stars circling round the face instead of hands. Its traditional to give a wizard a watch when he comes of age, said Mrs Weasley, watching him anxiously from beside the cooker. Im afraid that one isnt new like Rons, it was actually my brother Fabians and he wasnt terribly careful with his possessions, its a bit dented on the back, but The rest of her speech was lost; Harry had got up and hugged her. He tried to put a lot of unsaid things into the hug and perhaps she understood them, because she patted his cheek clumsily when he released her, then waved her wand in a slightly random way, causing half a pack of bacon to flop out of the frying pan on to the floor. Happy birthday, Harry! said Hermione, hurrying into the kitchen and adding her own present to the top of the pile. Its not much, but I hope you like it. What did you get him? she added to Ron, who seemed not to hear her. Come on, then, open Hermiones! said Ron. She had bought him a new Sneakoscope. The other packages contained an enchanted razor from Bill and Fleur (Ah yes, zis will give you ze smoothest shave you will ever ave, Monsieur Delacour assured him, but you must tell it clearly what you want ... ozzerwise you might find you ave a leetle less hair zan you would like ...), chocolates from the Delacours and an enormous box of the latest Weasleys Wizard Wheezes merchandise from Fred and George. Harry, Ron and Hermione did not linger at the table, as the arrival of Madame Delacour, Fleur and Gabrielle made the kitchen uncomfortably crowded. Ill pack these for you, Hermione said brightly, taking Harrys presents out of his arms as the three of them headed back upstairs. Im nearly done, Im just waiting for the rest of your pants to come out of the wash, Ron Rons splutter was interrupted by the opening of a door on the first-floor landing. Harry, will you come in here a moment? It was Ginny. Ron came to an abrupt halt, but Hermione took him by the elbow and tugged him on up the stairs. Feeling nervous, Harry followed Ginny into her room. He had never been inside it before. It was small, but bright. There was a large poster of the wizarding band the Weird Sisters on one wall, and a picture of Gwenog Jones, Captain of the all-witch Quidditch team the Holyhead Harpies, on the other. A desk stood facing the open window, which looked out over the orchard where he and Ginny had once played two-a-side Quidditch with Ron and Hermione, and which now housed a large, pearly-white marquee. The golden flag on top was level with Ginnys window. Ginny looked up into Harrys face, took a deep breath and said, Happy seventeenth. Yeah ... thanks. She was looking at him steadily; he, however, found it difficult to look back at her; it was like gazing into a brilliant light. Nice view, he said feebly, pointing towards the window. She ignored this. He could not blame her. I couldnt think what to get you, she said. You didnt have to get me anything. She disregarded this too. I didnt know what would be useful. Nothing too big, because you wouldnt be able to take it with you. He chanced a glance at her. She was not tearful; that was one of the many wonderful things about Ginny, she was rarely weepy. He had sometimes thought that having six brothers must have toughened her up. She took a step closer to him. So then I thought, Id like you to have something to remember me by, you know, if you meet some Veela when youre off doing whatever youre doing. I think dating opportunities are going to be pretty thin on the ground, to be honest. Theres the silver lining Ive been looking for, she whispered, and then she was kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than Firewhisky; she was the only real thing in the world, Ginny, the feel of her, one hand at her back and one in her long, sweet-smelling hair The door banged open behind them and they jumped apart. Oh, said Ron pointedly. Sorry. Ron! Hermione was just behind him, slightly out of breath. There was a strained silence, then Ginny said in a flat little voice, Well, happy birthday anyway, Harry. Rons ears were scarlet; Hermione looked nervous. Harry wanted to slam the door in their faces, but it felt as though a cold draught had entered the room when the door opened and his shining moment had popped like a soap bubble. All the reasons for ending his relationship with Ginny, for staying well away from her, seemed to have slunk inside the room with Ron, and all happy forgetfulness was gone. He looked at Ginny, wanting to say something, though he hardly knew what, but she had turned her back on him. He thought that she might have succumbed, for once, to tears. He could not do anything to comfort her in front of Ron. Ill see you later, he said, and followed the other two out of the bedroom. Ron marched downstairs, through the still crowded kitchen and into the yard, and Harry kept pace with him all the way, Hermione trotting along behind them looking scared. Once he reached the seclusion of the freshly mown lawn, Ron rounded on Harry. You ditched her. What are you doing now, messing her around? Im not messing her around, said Harry, as Hermione caught up with them. Ron But Ron held up a hand to silence her. She was really cut up when you ended it So was I. You know why I stopped it, and it wasnt because I wanted to. Yeah, but you go snogging her now and shes just going to get her hopes up again Shes not an idiot, she knows it cant happen, shes not expecting us to to end up married, or As he said it, a vivid picture formed in Harrys mind of Ginny in a white dress, marrying a tall, faceless and unpleasant stranger. In one spiralling moment it seemed to hit him: her future was free and unencumbered, whereas his ... he could see nothing but Voldemort ahead. If you keep groping her every chance you get It wont happen again, said Harry harshly. The day was cloudless, but he felt as though the sun had gone in. OK? Ron looked half-resentful, half-sheepish; he rocked backwards and forwards on his feet for a moment, then said, Right then, well, thats ... yeah. Ginny did not seek another one-to-one meeting with Harry for the rest of the day, nor by any look or gesture did she show that they had shared more than polite conversation in her room. Nevertheless, Charlies arrival came as a relief to Harry. It provided a distraction, watching Mrs Weasley force Charlie into a chair, raise her wand threateningly and announce that he was about to get a proper haircut. As Harrys birthday dinner would have stretched The Burrows kitchen to breaking point even before the arrival of Charlie, Lupin, Tonks and Hagrid, several tables were placed end to end in the garden. Fred and George bewitched a number of purple lanterns, all emblazoned with a large number 17, to hang in mid-air over the guests. Thanks to Mrs Weasleys ministrations, Georges wound was neat and clean, but Harry was not yet used to the dark hole in the side of his head, despite the twins many jokes about it. Hermione made purple and gold streamers erupt from the end of her wand and drape themselves artistically over the trees and bushes. Nice, said Ron, as with one final flourish of her wand, Hermione turned the leaves on the crab-apple tree to gold. Youve really got an eye for that sort of thing. Thank you, Ron! said Hermione, looking both pleased and a little confused. Harry turned away, smiling to himself. He had a funny notion that he would find a chapter on compliments when he found time to peruse his copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches; he caught Ginnys eye and grinned at her, before remembering his promise to Ron and hurriedly striking up a conversation with Monsieur Delacour. Out of the way, out of the way! sang Mrs Weasley, coming through the gate with what appeared to be a giant, beach-ball-sized Snitch floating in front of her. Seconds later Harry realised that it was his birthday cake, which Mrs Weasley was suspending with her wand rather than risk carrying it over the uneven ground. When the cake had finally landed in the middle of the table, Harry said, That looks amazing, Mrs Weasley. Oh, its nothing, dear, she said fondly. Over her shoulder, Ron gave Harry the thumbs up and mouthed, Good one. By seven oclock, all the guests had arrived, led into the house by Fred and George, who had waited for them at the end of the lane. Hagrid had honoured the occasion by wearing his best, and horrible, hairy brown suit. Although Lupin smiled as he shook Harrys hand, Harry thought he looked rather unhappy. It was all very odd; Tonks, beside him, looked simply radiant. Happy birthday, Harry, she said, hugging him tightly. Seventeen, eh! said Hagrid, as he accepted a bucket-sized glass of wine from Fred. Six years ter the day since we met, Harry, dyeh remember it? Vaguely, said Harry, grinning up at him. Didnt you smash down the front door, give Dudley a pigs tail and tell me I was a wizard? I forge the details, Hagrid chortled. All righ, Ron, Hermione? Were fine, said Hermione. How are you? Ar, not bad. Bin busy, we got some newborn unicorns, Ill show yeh when yeh get back Harry avoided Ron and Hermiones gaze as Hagrid rummaged in his pocket. Here, Harry couldn think what ter get yeh, but then I remembered this. He pulled out a small, slightly furry drawstring pouch with a long string, evidently intended to be worn around the neck. Mokeskin. Hide anythin in there an no one but the owner can get it out. Theyre rare, them. Hagrid, thanks! Snothin, said Hagrid, with a wave of a dustbin-lid-sized hand. An theres Charlie! Always liked him hey! Charlie! Charlie approached, running his hand slightly ruefully over his new, brutally short haircut. He was shorter than Ron, thickset, with a number of burns and scratches up his muscly arms. Hi, Hagrid, hows it going? Bin meanin ter write fer ages. Hows Norbert doin? Norbert? Charlie laughed. The Norwegian Ridgeback? We call her Norberta now. Wha Norberts a girl? Oh yeah, said Charlie. How can you tell? asked Hermione. Theyre a lot more vicious, said Charlie. He looked over his shoulder and dropped his voice. Wish Dad would hurry up and get here. Mums getting edgy. They all looked over at Mrs Weasley. She was trying to talk to Madame Delacour while glancing repeatedly at the gate. I think wed better start without Arthur, she called to the garden at large after a moment or two. He must have been held up at oh! They all saw it at the same time: a streak of light that came flying across the yard and on to the table, where it resolved itself into a bright silver weasel, which stood on its hind legs and spoke with Mr Weasleys voice. Minister for Magic coming with me. The Patronus dissolved into thin air, leaving Fleurs family peering in astonishment at the place where it had vanished. We shouldnt be here, said Lupin at once. Harry Im sorry Ill explain another time He seized Tonkss wrist and pulled her away; they reached the fence, climbed over it and vanished from sight. Mrs Weasley looked bewildered. The Minister but why ? I dont understand But there was no time to discuss the matter; a second later, Mr Weasley had appeared out of thin air at the gate, accompanied by Rufus Scrimgeour, instantly recognisable by his mane of grizzled hair. The two newcomers marched across the yard towards the garden and the lantern-lit table, where everybody sat in silence, watching them draw closer. As Scrimgeour came within range of the lantern light, Harry saw that he looked much older than the last time they had met, scraggy and grim. Sorry to intrude, said Scrimgeour, as he limped to a halt before the table. Especially as I can see that I am gatecrashing a party. His eyes lingered for a moment on the giant Snitch cake. Many happy returns. Thanks, said Harry. I require a private word with you, Scrimgeour went on. Also with Mr Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger. Us? said Ron, sounding surprised. Why us? I shall tell you that when we are somewhere more private, said Scrimgeour. Is there such a place? he demanded of Mr Weasley. Yes, of course, said Mr Weasley, who looked nervous. The, er, sitting room, why dont you use that? You can lead the way, Scrimgeour said to Ron. There will be no need for you to accompany us, Arthur. Harry saw Mr Weasley exchange a worried look with Mrs Weasley as he, Ron and Hermione stood up. As they led the way back to the house in silence, Harry knew that the other two were thinking the same as he was: Scrimgeour must, somehow, have learned that the three of them were planning to drop out of Hogwarts. Scrimgeour did not speak as they all passed through the messy kitchen and into The Burrows sitting room. Although the garden had been full of soft, golden evening light, it was already dark in here: Harry flicked his wand at the oil lamps as he entered and they illuminated the shabby but cosy room. Scrimgeour sat himself in the sagging armchair that Mr Weasley normally occupied, leaving Harry, Ron and Hermione to squeeze side by side on the sofa. Once they had done so, Scrimgeour spoke. I have some questions for the three of you, and I think it will be best if we do it individually. If you two, he pointed at Harry and Hermione, can wait upstairs, I will start with Ronald. Were not going anywhere, said Harry, while Hermione nodded vigorously. You can speak to us together, or not at all. Scrimgeour gave Harry a cold, appraising look. Harry had the impression that the Minister was wondering whether it was worthwhile opening hostilities this early. Very well, then, together, he said, shrugging. He cleared his throat. I am here, as Im sure you know, because of Albus Dumbledores will. Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at one another. A surprise, apparently! You were not aware, then, that Dumbledore had left you anything? A all of us? said Ron. Me and Hermione too? Yes, all of But Harry interrupted. Dumbledore died over a month ago. Why has it taken this long to give us what he left us? Isnt it obvious? said Hermione, before Scrimgeour could answer. They wanted to examine whatever hes left us. You had no right to do that! she said, and her voice trembled slightly. I had every right, said Scrimgeour dismissively. The Decree for Justifiable Confiscation gives the Ministry the power to confiscate the contents of a will That law was created to stop wizards passing on Dark artefacts, said Hermione, and the Ministry is supposed to have powerful evidence that the deceaseds possessions are illegal before seizing them! Are you telling me that you thought Dumbledore was trying to pass us something cursed? Are you planning to follow a career in Magical Law, Miss Granger? asked Scrimgeour. No Im not, retorted Hermione. Im hoping to do some good in the world! Ron laughed. Scrimgeours eyes flickered towards him and away again as Harry spoke. So why have you decided to let us have our things now? Cant think of a pretext to keep them? No, itll be because the thirty-one days are up, said Hermione at once. They cant keep the objects longer than that unless they can prove theyre dangerous. Right? Would you say you were close to Dumbledore, Ronald? asked Scrimgeour, ignoring Hermione. Ron looked startled. Me? Not not really ... it was always Harry who ... Ron looked round at Harry and Hermione, to see Hermione giving him a stop-talking-now! sort of look, but the damage was done: Scrimgeour looked as though he had heard exactly what he had expected, and wanted, to hear. He swooped like a bird of prey upon Rons answer. If you were not very close to Dumbledore, how do you account for the fact that he remembered you in his will? He made exceptionally few personal bequests. The vast majority of his possessions his private library, his magical instruments and other personal effects were left to Hogwarts. Why do you think you were singled out? I ... dunno, said Ron. I ... when I say we werent close ... I mean, I think he liked me ... Youre being modest, Ron, said Hermione. Dumbledore was very fond of you. This was stretching the truth to breaking point; as far as Harry knew, Ron and Dumbledore had never been alone together, and direct contact between them had been negligible. However, Scrimgeour did not seem to be listening. He put his hand inside his cloak and drew out a drawstring pouch much larger than the one Hagrid had given Harry. From it he removed a scroll of parchment, which he unrolled and read aloud. The Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore ... yes, here we are ... to Ronald Bilius Weasley, I leave my Deluminator, in the hope that he will remember me when he uses it. Scrimgeour took from the bag an object that Harry had seen before: it looked something like a silver cigarette lighter but it had, he knew, the power to suck all light from a place, and restore it, with a simple click. Scrimgeour leaned forward and passed the Deluminator to Ron, who took it and turned it over in his fingers, looking stunned. That is a valuable object, said Scrimgeour, watching Ron. It may even be unique. Certainly it is of Dumbledores own design. Why would he have left you an item so rare? Ron shook his head, looking bewildered. Dumbledore must have taught thousands of students, Scrimgeour persevered. Yet the only ones he remembered in his will are you three. Why is that? To what use did he think you would put his Deluminator, Mr Weasley? Put out lights, I spose, mumbled Ron. What else could I do with it? Evidently Scrimgeour had no suggestions. After squinting at Ron for a moment or two, he turned back to Dumbledores will. To Miss Hermione Jean Granger, I leave my copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in the hope that she will find it entertaining and instructive. Scrimgeour now pulled out of the bag a small book that looked as ancient as the copy of Secrets of the Darkest Art upstairs. Its binding was stained and peeling in places. Hermione took it from Scrimgeour without a word. She held the book in her lap and gazed at it. Harry saw that the title was in runes; he had never learned to read them. As he looked, a tear splashed on to the embossed symbols. Why do you think Dumbledore left you that book, Miss Granger? asked Scrimgeour. He ... he knew I liked books, said Hermione in a thick voice, mopping her eyes with her sleeve. But why that particular book? I dont know. He must have thought Id enjoy it. Did you ever discuss codes, or any means of passing secret messages, with Dumbledore? No, I didnt, said Hermione, still wiping her eyes on her sleeve. And if the Ministry hasnt found any hidden codes in this book in thirty-one days, I doubt that I will. She suppressed a sob. They were wedged together so tightly that Ron had difficulty extracting his arm to put it around Hermiones shoulders. Scrimgeour turned back to the will. To Harry James Potter, he read, and Harrys insides contracted with a sudden excitement, I leave the Snitch he caught in his first Quidditch match at Hogwarts, as a reminder of the rewards of perseverance and skill. As Scrimgeour pulled out the tiny, walnut-sized golden ball, its silver wings fluttered rather feebly and Harry could not help feeling a definite sense of anticlimax. Why did Dumbledore leave you this Snitch? asked Scrimgeour. No idea, said Harry. For the reasons you just read out, I suppose ... to remind me what you can get if you ... persevere and whatever it was. You think this a mere symbolic keepsake, then? I suppose so, said Harry. What else could it be? Im asking the questions, said Scrimgeour, shifting his chair a little closer to the sofa. Dusk was really falling outside, now; the marquee beyond the windows towered ghostly white over the hedge. I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch, Scrimgeour said to Harry. Why is that? Hermione laughed derisively. Oh, it cant be a reference to the fact Harrys a great Seeker, thats way too obvious, she said. There must be a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the icing! I dont think theres anything hidden in the icing, said Scrimgeour, but a Snitch would be a very good hiding place for a small object. You know why, Im sure? Harry shrugged. Hermione, however, answered: Harry thought that answering questions correctly was such a deeply ingrained habit she could not suppress the urge. Because Snitches have flesh memories, she said. What? said Harry and Ron together; both considered Hermiones Quidditch knowledge negligible. Correct, said Scrimgeour. A Snitch is not touched by bare skin before it is released, not even by the maker, who wears gloves. It carries an enchantment by which it can identify the first human to lay hands upon it, in case of a disputed capture. This Snitch, he held up the tiny golden ball, will remember your touch, Potter. It occurs to me that Dumbledore, who had prodigious magical skill, whatever his other faults, might have enchanted this Snitch so that it will open only for you. Harrys heart was beating rather fast. He was sure that Scrimgeour was right. How could he avoid taking the Snitch with his bare hand in front of the Minister? You dont say anything, said Scrimgeour. Perhaps you already know what the Snitch contains? No, said Harry, still wondering how he could appear to touch the Snitch without really doing so. If only he knew Legilimency, really knew it, and could read Hermiones mind; he could practically hear her brain whirring beside him. Take it, said Scrimgeour quietly. Harry met the Ministers yellow eyes and knew he had no option but to obey. He held out his hand and Scrimgeour leaned forwards again and placed the Snitch, slowly and deliberately, into Harrys palm. Nothing happened. As Harrys fingers closed around the Snitch, its tired wings fluttered and were still. Scrimgeour, Ron and Hermione continued to gaze avidly at the now partially concealed ball, as if still hoping it might transform in some way. That was dramatic, said Harry coolly. Both Ron and Hermione laughed. Thats all, then, is it? asked Hermione, making to prise herself off the sofa. Not quite, said Scrimgeour, who looked bad-tempered now. Dumbledore left you a second bequest, Potter. What is it? asked Harry, excitement rekindling. Scrimgeour did not bother to read from the will this time. The sword of Godric Gryffindor, he said. Hermione and Ron both stiffened. Harry looked around for a sign of the ruby-encrusted hilt, but Scrimgeour did not pull the sword from the leather pouch which, in any case, looked much too small to contain it. So where is it? Harry asked suspiciously. Unfortunately, said Scrimgeour, that sword was not Dumbledores to give away. The sword of Godric Gryffindor is an important historical artefact, and as such, belongs It belongs to Harry! said Hermione hotly. It chose him, he was the one who found it, it came to him out of the Sorting Hat According to reliable historical sources, the sword may present itself to any worthy Gryffindor, said Scrimgeour. That does not make it the exclusive property of Mr Potter, whatever Dumbledore may have decided. Scrimgeour scratched his badly shaven cheek, scrutinising Harry. Why do you think ? Dumbledore wanted to give me the sword? said Harry, struggling to keep his temper. Maybe he thought it would look nice on my wall. This is not a joke, Potter! growled Scrimgeour. Was it because Dumbledore believed that only the sword of Godric Gryffindor could defeat the Heir of Slytherin? Did he wish to give you that sword, Potter, because he believed, as do many, that you are the one destined to destroy He Who Must Not Be Named? Interesting theory, said Harry. Has anyone ever tried sticking a sword in Voldemort? Maybe the Ministry should put some people on to that, instead of wasting their time stripping down Deluminators, or covering up breakouts from Azkaban. So is this what youve been doing, Minister, shut up in your office, trying to break open a Snitch? People are dying, I was nearly one of them, Voldemort chased me across three counties, he killed Mad-Eye Moody, but theres been no word about any of that from the Ministry, has there? And you still expect us to cooperate with you! You go too far! shouted Scrimgeour, standing up; Harry jumped to his feet too. Scrimgeour limped towards Harry and jabbed him hard in the chest with the point of his wand: it singed a hole in Harrys T-shirt like a lit cigarette. Oi! said Ron, jumping up and raising his own wand, but Harry said, No! Dyou want to give him an excuse to arrest us? Remembered youre not at school, have you? said Scrimgeour, breathing hard into Harrys face. Remembered that I am not Dumbledore, who forgave your insolence and insubordination? You may wear that scar like a crown, Potter, but it is not up to a seventeen-year-old boy to tell me how to do my job! Its time you learned some respect! Its time you earned it, said Harry. The floor trembled; there was a sound of running footsteps, then the door to the sitting room burst open and Mr and Mrs Weasley ran in. We we thought we heard began Mr Weasley, looking thoroughly alarmed at the sight of Harry and the Minister virtually nose to nose. raised voices, panted Mrs Weasley. Scrimgeour took a couple of steps back from Harry, glancing at the hole he had made in Harrys T-shirt. He seemed to regret his loss of temper. It it was nothing, he growled. I ... regret your attitude, he said, looking Harry full in the face once more. You seem to think that the Ministry does not desire what you what Dumbledore desired. We ought to be working together. I dont like your methods, Minister, said Harry. Remember? For the second time, he raised his right fist, and displayed to Scrimgeour the scars that still showed white on the back of it, spelling I must not tell lies. Scrimgeours expression hardened. He turned away without another word and limped from the room. Mrs Weasley hurried after him; Harry heard her stop at the back door. After a minute or so, she called, Hes gone! What did he want? Mr Weasley asked, looking around at Harry, Ron and Hermione, as Mrs Weasley came hurrying back to them. To give us what Dumbledore left us, said Harry. Theyve only just released the contents of his will. Outside in the garden, over the dinner tables, the three objects Scrimgeour had given them were passed from hand to hand. Everyone exclaimed over the Deluminator and The Tales of Beedle the Bard and lamented the fact that Scrimgeour had refused to pass on the sword, but none of them could offer any suggestion as to why Dumbledore would have left Harry an old Snitch. As Mr Weasley examined the Deluminator for the third or fourth time, Mrs Weasley said tentatively, Harry, dear, everyones awfully hungry, we didnt like to start without you ... shall I serve dinner now? They all ate rather hurriedly and then, after a hasty chorus of Happy Birthday and much gulping of cake, the party broke up. Hagrid, who was invited to the wedding the following day, but was far too bulky to sleep in the overstretched Burrow, left to set up a tent for himself in a neighbouring field. Meet us upstairs, Harry whispered to Hermione, while they helped Mrs Weasley restore the garden to its normal state. After everyones gone to bed. Up in the attic room, Ron examined his Deluminator and Harry filled Hagrids Mokeskin purse, not with gold, but with those items he most prized, apparently worthless though some of them were: the Marauders Map, the shard of Siriuss enchanted mirror and R.A.B.s locket. He pulled the strings tight and slipped the purse around his neck, then sat holding the old Snitch and watching its wings flutter feebly. At last, Hermione tapped on the door and tiptoed inside. Muffliato, she whispered, waving her wand in the direction of the stairs. Thought you didnt approve of that spell? said Ron. Times change, said Hermione. Now, show us that Deluminator. Ron obliged at once. Holding it up in front of him, he clicked it. The solitary lamp they had lit went out at once. The thing is, whispered Hermione through the dark, we could have achieved that with Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. There was a small click, and the ball of light from the lamp flew back to the ceiling and illuminated them all once more. Still, its cool, said Ron, a little defensively. And from what they said, Dumbledore invented it himself! I know, but surely he wouldnt have singled you out in his will just to help us turn out the lights! Dyou think he knew the Ministry would confiscate his will and examine everything hed left us? asked Harry. Definitely, said Hermione. He couldnt tell us in the will why he was leaving us these things, but that still doesnt explain ... ... why he couldnt have given us a hint when he was alive? asked Ron. Well, exactly, said Hermione, now flicking through The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If these things are important enough to pass on right under the nose of the Ministry, youd think hed have let us know why ... unless he thought it was obvious? Thought wrong, then, didnt he? said Ron. I always said he was mental. Brilliant, and everything, but cracked. Leaving Harry an old Snitch what the hell was that about? Ive no idea, said Hermione. When Scrimgeour made you take it, Harry, I was so sure that something was going to happen! Yeah, well, said Harry, his pulse quickening as he raised the Snitch in his fingers. I wasnt going to try too hard in front of Scrimgeour, was I? What do you mean? asked Hermione. The Snitch I caught in my first ever Quidditch match? said Harry. Dont you remember? Hermione looked simply bemused. Ron, however, gasped, pointing frantically from Harry to the Snitch and back again until he found his voice. That was the one you nearly swallowed! Exactly, said Harry, and with his heart beating fast, he pressed his mouth to the Snitch. It did not open. Frustration and bitter disappointment welled up inside him: he lowered the golden sphere, but then Hermione cried out. Writing! Theres writing on it, quick, look! He nearly dropped the Snitch in surprise and excitement. Hermione was quite right. Engraved upon the smooth golden surface, where seconds before there had been nothing, were five words written in the thin slanting handwriting that Harry recognised as Dumbledores: I open at the close. He had barely read them when the words vanished again. I open at the close ... Whats that supposed to mean? Hermione and Ron shook their heads, looking blank. I open at the close ... at the close ... I open at the close ... But no matter how often they repeated the words, with many different inflections, they were unable to wring any more meaning from them. And the sword, said Ron finally, when they had at last abandoned their attempts to divine meaning in the Snitchs inscription. Why did he want Harry to have the sword? And why couldnt he just have told me? Harry said quietly. It was there, it was right there on the wall of his office during all our talks last year! If he wanted me to have it, why didnt he just give it to me then? He felt as though he were sitting in an examination with a question he ought to have been able to answer in front of him, his brain slow and unresponsive. Was there something he had missed in the long talks with Dumbledore last year? Ought he to know what it all meant? Had Dumbledore expected him to understand? And as for this book, said Hermione, The Tales of Beedle the Bard ... Ive never even heard of them! Youve never heard of The Tales of Beedle the Bard? said Ron incredulously. Youre kidding, right? No, Im not! said Hermione in surprise. Do you know them, then? Well, of course I do! Harry looked up, diverted. The circumstance of Ron having read a book that Hermione had not was unprecedented. Ron, however, looked bemused by their surprise. Oh, come on! All the old kids stories are supposed to be Beedles, arent they? The Fountain of Fair Fortune ... The Wizard and the Hopping Pot ... Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump ... Excuse me? said Hermione, giggling. What was that last one? Come off it! said Ron, looking in disbelief from Harry to Hermione. You mustve heard of Babbitty Rabbitty Ron, you know full well Harry and I were brought up by Muggles! said Hermione. We didnt hear stories like that when we were little, we heard Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella Whats that, an illness? asked Ron. So these are childrens stories? asked Hermione, bending again over the runes. Yeah, said Ron uncertainly, I mean, thats just what you hear, you know, that all these old stories came from Beedle. I dunno what theyre like in the original versions. But I wonder why Dumbledore thought I should read them? Something creaked downstairs. Probably just Charlie, now Mums asleep, sneaking off to regrow his hair, said Ron nervously. All the same, we should get to bed, whispered Hermione. It wouldnt do to oversleep tomorrow. No, agreed Ron. A brutal triple murder by the bridegrooms mother might put a bit of a damper on the wedding. Ill get the lights. And he clicked the Deluminator once more as Hermione left the room. ? CHAPTER EIGHT The Wedding Three oclock on the following afternoon found Harry, Ron, Fred and George standing outside the great, white marquee in the orchard, awaiting the arrival of the wedding guests. Harry had taken a large dose of Polyjuice Potion and was now the double of a redheaded Muggle boy from the local village, Ottery St Catchpole, from whom Fred had stolen hairs using a Summoning Charm. The plan was to introduce Harry as Cousin Barny and trust to the great number of Weasley relatives to camouflage him. All four of them were clutching seating plans, so that they could help show people to the right seats. A host of white-robed waiters had arrived an hour earlier, along with a golden-jacketed band, and all of these wizards were currently sitting a short distance away under a tree; Harry could see a blue haze of pipe smoke issuing from the spot. Behind Harry, the entrance to the marquee revealed rows and rows of fragile golden chairs set either side of a long, purple carpet. The supporting poles were entwined with white and gold flowers. Fred and George had fastened an enormous bunch of golden balloons over the exact point where Bill and Fleur would shortly become husband and wife. Outside, butterflies and bees were hovering lazily over the grass and hedgerow. Harry was rather uncomfortable. The Muggle boy whose appearance he was affecting was slightly fatter than him, and his dress robes felt hot and tight in the full glare of a summers day. When I get married, said Fred, tugging at the collar of his own robes, I wont be bothering with any of this nonsense. You can all wear what you like, and Ill put a full Body-Bind Curse on Mum until its all over. She wasnt too bad this morning, considering, said George. Cried a bit about Percy not being here, but who wants him? Oh blimey, brace yourselves here they come, look. Brightly coloured figures were appearing, one by one, out of nowhere at the distant boundary of the yard. Within minutes a procession had formed, which began to snake its way up through the garden towards the marquee. Exotic flowers and bewitched birds fluttered on the witches hats, while precious gems glittered from many of the wizards cravats; a hum of excited chatter grew louder and louder, drowning the sound of the bees as the crowd approached the tent. Excellent, I think I see a few Veela cousins, said George, craning his neck for a better look. Theyll need help understanding our English customs, Ill look after them ... Not so fast, Lugless, said Fred, and darting past the gaggle of middle-aged witches heading the procession he said, Here permettez-moi to assister vous, to a pair of pretty French girls, who giggled and allowed him to escort them inside. George was left to deal with the middle-aged witches and Ron took charge of Mr Weasleys old Ministry colleague, Perkins, while a rather deaf old couple fell to Harrys lot. Wotcher, said a familiar voice as he came out of the marquee again and found Tonks and Lupin at the front of the queue. She had turned blonde for the occasion. Arthur told us you were the one with the curly hair. Sorry about last night, she added in a whisper, as Harry led them up the aisle. The Ministrys being very anti-werewolf at the moment and we thought our presence might not do you any favours. Its fine, I understand, said Harry, speaking more to Lupin than Tonks. Lupin gave him a swift smile, but as they turned away, Harry saw Lupins face fall again into lines of misery. He did not understand it, but there was no time to dwell on the matter: Hagrid was causing a certain amount of disruption. Having mis-understood Freds directions, he had sat himself, not upon the magically enlarged and reinforced seat set aside for him in the back row, but on five seats that now resembled a large pile of golden matchsticks. While Mr Weasley repaired the damage and Hagrid shouted apologies to anybody who would listen, Harry hurried back to the entrance to find Ron face to face with a most eccentric-looking wizard. Slightly cross-eyed, with shoulder-length white hair the texture of candyfloss, he wore a cap whose tassel dangled in front of his nose and robes of an eye-watering shade of egg-yolk yellow. An odd symbol, rather like a triangular eye, glistened from a golden chain around his neck. Xenophilius Lovegood, he said, extending a hand to Harry, my daughter and I live just over the hill, so kind of the good Weasleys to invite us. But I think you know my Luna? he added to Ron. Yes, said Ron. Isnt she with you? She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation! How few wizards realise just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes or, to give them their correct name, the Gernumbli gardensi. Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words, said Ron, but I think Fred and George taught them those. He led a party of warlocks into the marquee as Luna rushed up. Hello, Harry! she said. Er my names Barny, said Harry, flummoxed. Oh, have you changed that too? she asked brightly. How did you know ? Oh, just your expression, she said. Like her father, Luna was wearing bright yellow robes, which she had accessorised with a large sunflower in her hair. Once you got over the brightness of it all, the general effect was quite pleasant. At least there were no radishes dangling from her ears. Xenophilius, who was deep in conversation with an acquaintance, had missed the exchange between Luna and Harry. Bidding the wizard farewell, he turned to his daughter, who held up her finger and said, Daddy, look one of the gnomes actually bit me! How wonderful! Gnome saliva is enormously beneficial! said Mr Lovegood, seizing Lunas outstretched finger and examining the bleeding puncture marks. Luna, my love, if you should feel any burgeoning talent today perhaps an unexpected urge to sing opera or to declaim in Mermish do not repress it! You may have been gifted by the Gernumblies! Ron, passing them in the opposite direction, let out a loud snort. Ron can laugh, said Luna serenely, as Harry led her and Xenophilius towards their seats, but my father has done a lot of research on Gernumbli magic. Really? said Harry, who had long since decided not to challenge Luna or her fathers peculiar views. Are you sure you dont want to put anything on that bite, though? Oh, its fine, said Luna, sucking her finger in a dreamy fashion and looking Harry up and down. You look smart. I told Daddy most people would probably wear dress robes, but he believes you ought to wear sun colours to a wedding, for luck, you know. As she drifted off after her father, Ron reappeared with an elderly witch clutching his arm. Her beaky nose, red-rimmed eyes, and feathery pink hat gave her the look of a bad-tempered flamingo. ... and your hairs much too long, Ronald, for a moment I thought you were Ginevra. Merlins beard, what is Xenophilius Lovegood wearing? He looks like an omelette. And who are you? she barked at Harry. Oh yeah, Auntie Muriel, this is our Cousin Barny. Another Weasley? You breed like gnomes. Isnt Harry Potter here? I was hoping to meet him. I thought he was a friend of yours, Ronald, or have you merely been boasting? No he couldnt come Hmm. Made an excuse, did he? Not as gormless as he looks in press photographs, then. Ive just been instructing the bride on how best to wear my tiara, she shouted at Harry. Goblin-made, you know, and been in my family for centuries. Shes a good-looking girl, but still French. Well, well, find me a good seat, Ronald, I am a hundred and seven and I ought not to be on my feet too long. Ron gave Harry a meaningful look as he passed and did not reappear for some time: when next they met at the entrance Harry had shown a dozen more people to their places. The marquee was nearly full now, and for the first time there was no queue outside. Nightmare, Muriel is, said Ron, mopping his forehead on his sleeve. She used to come for Christmas every year, then, thank God, she took offence because Fred and George set off a Dungbomb under her chair at dinner. Dad always says shell have written them out of her will like they care, theyre going to end up richer than anyone in the family, rate theyre going ... wow, he added, blinking rather rapidly as Hermione came hurrying towards them. You look great! Always the tone of surprise, said Hermione, though she smiled. She was wearing a floaty, lilac-coloured dress with matching high heels; her hair was sleek and shiny. Your Great Aunt Muriel doesnt 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. Dont take it personally, shes rude to everyone, said Ron. Talking about Muriel? enquired George, re-emerging from the marquee with Fred. Yeah, shes 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. Wasnt he the one who saw a Grim and died twenty-four hours later? asked Hermione. Well, yeah, he went a bit odd towards 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 on to 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 didnt know you were goodness its lovely to see how are you? Rons ears had turned bright red again. After glancing at Krums invitation as if he did not believe a word of it, he said, much too loudly, How come youre 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 Rons 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 Harrys 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 were 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 Rons ears were still scarlet. After a few moments, he muttered to Harry, Did you see hes grown a stupid little beard? Harry gave a non-committal 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-coloured robes with a matching hat. A moment later Bill and Charlie stood up at the front of the marquee, both wearing dress robes, with large, 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, swivelling round 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 him, Bill did not look as though he had ever met Fenrir Greyback. Ladies and gentlemen, said a slightly sing-song voice, and with a slight shock Harry saw the same small, tufty-haired wizard who had presided at Dumbledores 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 sets off the whole thing nicely, said Auntie Muriel in a rather carrying whisper. But I must say, Ginevras dress is far too low-cut. Ginny glanced round, grinning, winked at Harry, then quickly faced the front again. Harrys mind wandered a long way from the marquee, back to 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 persons 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. Trumpet-like sounds from the back of the marquee told everyone that Hagrid had taken out one of his own tablecloth-sized handkerchiefs. Hermione turned and beamed at Harry; her eyes, too, were full of tears. ... then I declare you bonded for life. The tufty-haired wizard raised his wand high over the heads of Bill and Fleur and a shower of silver stars fell upon them, spiralling 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. The seats 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 centre 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 around it, and the golden-jacketed band trooped towards a podium. Smooth, said Ron approvingly, as the waiters popped up on all sides, some bearing 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. Well have time later, shrugged Ron, snatching three Butterbeers from a passing tray and handing one to Harry. Hermione, cop hold, lets 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. Daddys just gone to give Bill and Fleur our present. What is it, a lifetimes supply of Gurdyroots? asked Ron. Hermione aimed a kick at him under the table, but caught Harry instead. Eyes watering in pain, Harry lost track of the conversation for a few moments. The band had begun to play. Bill and Fleur took to the dance floor first, to great applause; after a while, Mr Weasley led Madame Delacour on to the floor, followed by Mrs Weasley and Fleurs father. I like this song, said Luna, swaying in time to the waltz-like tune, and a few seconds later she stood up and glided on to the dance floor, where she revolved on the spot, quite alone, eyes closed and waving her arms. Shes great, isnt she? said Ron admiringly. Always good value. But the smile vanished from his face at once: Viktor Krum had dropped into Lunas vacant seat. Hermione looked pleasurably flustered, but this time Krum had not come to compliment her. With a scowl on his face he said, Who is that man in the yellow? Thats Xenophilius Lovegood, hes the father of a friend of ours, said Ron. His pugnacious tone indicated that they were not about to laugh at Xenophilius, despite the clear provocation. Come and dance, he added abruptly to Hermione. She looked taken aback, but pleased too, and got up: they vanished together into the growing throng on the dance floor. Ah, they are together now? asked Krum, momentarily distracted. Er sort of, said Harry. Who are you? Krum asked. Barny Weasley. They shook hands. You, Barny you know this man Lovegood vell? No, I only met him today. Why? Krum glowered over the top of his drink, watching Xenophilius, who was chatting to several warlocks on the other side of the dance floor. Because, said Krum, if he vos not a guest of Fleurs, I vould duel him, here and now, for vearing that filthy sign upon his chest. Sign? said Harry, looking over at Xenophilius too. The strange, triangular eye was gleaming on his chest. Why? Whats wrong with it? Grindelvald. That is Grindelvalds sign. Grindelwald ... the Dark wizard Dumbledore defeated? Exactly. Krums jaw muscles worked as if he were chewing, then he said, Grindelvald killed many people, my grandfather, for instance. Of course, he vos never poverful in this country, they said he feared Dumbledore and rightly, seeing how he vos finished. But this He pointed a finger at Xenophilius. This is his symbol, I recog-nised it at vunce: Grindelvald carved it into a vall at Durmstrang ven he vos a pupil there. Some idiots copied it on to their books and clothes, thinking to shock, make themselves impressive until those of us who had lost family members to Grindelvald taught them better. Krum cracked his knuckles menacingly and glowered at Xenophilius. Harry felt perplexed. It seemed incredibly unlikely that Lunas father was a supporter of the Dark Arts, and nobody else in the tent seemed to have recognised the triangular, rune-like shape. Are you er quite sure its Grindelwalds ? I am not mistaken, said Krum coldly. I valked past that sign for several years, I know it vell. Well, theres a chance, said Harry, that Xenophilius doesnt actually know what the symbol means. The Lovegoods are quite ... unusual. He could easily have picked it up somewhere and think its a cross-section of the head of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack or something. The cross-section of a vot? Well, I dont know what they are, but apparently he and his daughter go on holiday looking for them Harry felt he was doing a bad job explaining Luna and her father. Thats her, he said, pointing at Luna, who was still dancing alone, waving her arms around her head like someone attempting to beat off midges. Vy is she doing that? asked Krum. Probably trying to get rid of a Wrackspurt, said Harry, who recognised the symptoms. Krum did not seem to know whether or not Harry was making fun of him. He drew his wand from inside his robes and tapped it menacingly on his thigh; sparks flew out of the end. Gregorovitch! said Harry loudly, and Krum started, but Harry was too excited to care: the memory had come back to him at the sight of Krums wand: Ollivander taking it and examining it carefully before the Triwizard Tournament. Vot about him? asked Krum suspiciously. Hes a wandmaker! I know that, said Krum. He made your wand! Thats why I thought Quidditch Krum was looking more and more suspicious. How do you know Gregorovitch made my vand? I ... I read it somewhere, I think, said Harry. In a a fan magazine, he improvised wildly and Krum looked mollified. I had not realised I ever discussed my vand vith fans, he said. So ... er ... where is Gregorovitch these days? Krum looked puzzled. He retired several years ago. I vos one of the last to purchase a Gregorovitch vand. They are the best although I know, of course, that you Britons set much store by Ollivander. Harry did not answer. He pretended to watch the dancers, like Krum, but he was thinking hard. So Voldemort was looking for a celebrated wandmaker, and Harry did not have to search far for a reason: it was surely because of what Harrys wand had done on the night that Voldemort had pursued him across the skies. The holly and phoenix feather wand had conquered the borrowed wand, something that Ollivander had not anticipated or understood. Would Gregorovitch know better? Was he truly more skilled than Ollivander, did he know secrets of wands that Ollivander did not? This girl is very nice-looking, Krum said, recalling Harry to his surroundings. Krum was pointing at Ginny, who had just joined Luna. She is also a relative of yours? Yeah, said Harry, suddenly irritated, and shes seeing someone. Jealous type. Big bloke. You wouldnt want to cross him. Krum grunted. Vot, he said, draining his goblet and getting to his feet again, is the point of being an international Quidditch player if all the good-looking girls are taken? And he strode off, leaving Harry to take a sandwich from a passing waiter and make his way round the edge of the crowded dance floor. He wanted to find Ron, to tell him about Gregorovitch, but Ron was dancing with Hermione out in the middle of the floor. Harry leaned up against one of the golden pillars and watched Ginny, who was now dancing with Fred and Georges friend Lee Jordan, trying not to feel resentful about the promise he had given Ron. He had never been to a wedding before, so he could not judge how wizarding celebrations differed from Muggle ones, though he was pretty sure that the latter would not involve a wedding cake topped with two model phoenixes that took flight when the cake was cut, or bottles of champagne that floated unsupported through the crowd. As evening drew in and moths began to swoop under the canopy, now lit with floating golden lanterns, the revelry became more and more uncontained. Fred and George had long since disappeared into the darkness with a pair of Fleurs cousins; Charlie, Hagrid and a squat wizard in a purple pork-pie hat were singing Odo the Hero in a corner. Wandering through the crowd so as to escape a drunken uncle of Rons who seemed unsure whether or not Harry was his son, Harry spotted an old wizard sitting alone at a table. His cloud of white hair made him look rather like an aged dandelion clock, and was topped by a moth-eaten fez. He was vaguely familiar: racking his brains Harry suddenly realised that this was Elphias Doge, member of the Order of the Phoenix, and the writer of Dumbledores obituary. Harry approached him. May I sit down? Of course, of course, said Doge; he had a rather high-pitched, wheezy voice. Harry leaned in. Mr Doge, Im Harry Potter. Doge gasped. My dear boy! Arthur told me you were here, disguised ... I am so glad, so honoured! In a flutter of nervous pleasure Doge poured Harry a goblet of champagne. I thought of writing to you, he whispered, after Dumbledore ... the shock ... and for you, I am sure ... Doges tiny eyes filled with sudden tears. I saw the obituary you wrote for the Daily Prophet, said Harry. I didnt realise you knew Professor Dumbledore so well. As well as anyone, said Doge, dabbing his eyes with a napkin. Certainly I knew him longest, if you dont count Aberforth and somehow, people never do seem to count Aberforth. Speaking of the Daily Prophet ... I dont know whether you saw, Mr Doge ? Oh, please call me Elphias, dear boy. Elphias, I dont know whether you saw the interview Rita Skeeter gave about Dumbledore? Doges face flooded with angry colour. Oh, yes, Harry, I saw it. That woman, or vulture might be a more accurate term, positively pestered me to talk to her. I am ashamed to say that I became rather rude, called her an interfering trout, which resulted, as you may have seen, in aspersions cast upon my sanity. Well, in that interview, Harry went on, Rita Skeeter hinted that Professor Dumbledore was involved in the Dark Arts when he was young. Dont believe a word of it! said Doge at once. Not a word, Harry! Let nothing tarnish your memories of Albus Dumbledore! Harry looked into Doges earnest, pained face and felt not reassured, but frustrated. Did Doge really think it was that easy, that Harry could simply choose not to believe? Didnt Doge understand Harrys need to be sure, to know everything? Perhaps Doge suspected Harrys feelings, for he looked concerned and hurried on, Harry, Rita Skeeter is a dreadful But he was interrupted by a shrill cackle. Rita Skeeter? Oh, I love her, always read her! Harry and Doge looked up to see Auntie Muriel standing there, the plumes dancing on her hat, a goblet of champagne in her hand. Shes written a book about Dumbledore, you know! Hello, Muriel, said Doge. Yes, we were just discussing You there! Give me your chair, Im a hundred and seven! Another redheaded Weasley cousin jumped off his seat, looking alarmed, and Auntie Muriel swung it round with surprising strength and plopped herself down upon it between Doge and Harry. Hello again, Barry, or whatever your name is, she said to Harry. Now, what were you saying about Rita Skeeter, Elphias? You know shes written a biography of Dumbledore? I cant wait to read it, I must remember to place an order at Flourish and Blotts! Doge looked stiff and solemn at this, but Auntie Muriel drained her goblet and clicked her bony fingers at a passing waiter for a replacement. She took another large gulp of champagne, belched and then said, Theres no need to look like a pair of stuffed frogs! Before he became so respected and respectable and all that tosh, there were some mighty funny rumours about Albus! Ill-informed sniping, said Doge, turning radish-coloured again. You would say that, Elphias, cackled Auntie Muriel. I noticed how you skated over the sticky patches in that obituary of yours! Im sorry you think so, said Doge, more coldly still. I assure you I was writing from the heart. Oh, we all know you worshipped Dumbledore; I daresay youll still think he was a saint even if it does turn out that he did away with his Squib sister! Muriel! exclaimed Doge. A chill that had nothing to do with the iced champagne was stealing through Harrys chest. What do you mean? he asked Muriel. Who said his sister was a Squib? I thought she was ill? Thought wrong, then, didnt you, Barry! said Auntie Muriel, looking delighted at the effect she had produced. Anyway, how could you expect to know anything about it? It all happened years and years before you were even thought of, my dear, and the truth is that those of us who were alive then never knew what really happened. Thats why I cant wait to find out what Skeeters unearthed! Dumbledore kept that sister of his quiet for a long time! Untrue! wheezed Doge. Absolutely untrue! He never told me his sister was a Squib, said Harry, without thinking, still cold inside. And why on earth would he tell you? screeched Muriel, swaying a little in her seat as she attempted to focus upon Harry. The reason Albus never spoke about Ariana, began Elphias, in a voice stiff with emotion, is, I should have thought, quite clear. He was so devastated by her death Why did nobody ever see her, Elphias? squawked Muriel. Why did half of us never even know she existed, until they carried the coffin out of the house and held a funeral for her? Where was saintly Albus, while Ariana was locked in the cellar? Off being brilliant at Hogwarts, and never mind what was going on in his own house! What dyou mean locked in the cellar? asked Harry. What is this? Doge looked wretched. Auntie Muriel cackled again and answered Harry. Dumbledores mother was a terrifying woman, simply terrifying. Muggle-born, though I heard she pretended otherwise She never pretended anything of the sort! Kendra was a fine woman, whispered Doge miserably, but Auntie Muriel ignored him. proud and very domineering, the sort of witch who would have been mortified to produce a Squib Ariana was not a Squib! wheezed Doge. So you say, Elphias, but explain, then, why she never attended Hogwarts! said Auntie Muriel. She turned back to Harry. In our day Squibs were often hushed up. Though to take it to the extreme of actually imprisoning a little girl in the house and pretending she didnt exist I tell you, thats not what happened! said Doge, but Auntie Muriel steamrollered on, still addressing Harry. Squibs were usually shipped off to Muggle schools and encouraged to integrate into the Muggle community ... much kinder than trying to find them a place in the wizarding world, where they must always be second class; but naturally Kendra Dumbledore wouldnt have dreamed of letting her daughter go to a Muggle school Ariana was delicate! said Doge desperately. Her health was always too poor to permit her To permit her to leave the house? cackled Muriel. And yet she was never taken to St Mungos and no healer was ever summoned to see her! Really, Muriel, how you can possibly know whether For your information, Elphias, my cousin Lancelot was a healer at St Mungos at the time, and he told my family in strictest confidence that Ariana had never been seen there. All most suspicious, Lancelot thought! Doge looked to be on the verge of tears. Auntie Muriel, who seemed to be enjoying herself hugely, snapped her fingers for more champagne. Numbly Harry thought of how the Dursleys had once shut him up, locked him away, kept him out of sight, all for the crime of being a wizard. Had Dumbledores sister suffered the same fate in reverse: imprisoned for her lack of magic? And had Dumbledore truly left her to her fate while he went off to Hogwarts, to prove himself brilliant and talented? Now, if Kendra hadnt died first, Muriel resumed, Id have said that it was she who finished off Ariana How can you, Muriel? groaned Doge. A mother kill her own daughter? Think what you are saying! If the mother in question was capable of imprisoning her daughter for years on end, why not? shrugged Auntie Muriel. But as I say, it doesnt fit, because Kendra died before Ariana of what, nobody ever seemed sure Oh, no doubt Ariana murdered her, said Doge, with a brave attempt at scorn. Why not? Yes, Ariana might have made a desperate bid for freedom and killed Kendra in the struggle, said Auntie Muriel thoughtfully. Shake your head all you like, Elphias! You were at Arianas funeral, were you not? Yes, I was, said Doge, through trembling lips. And a more desperately sad occasion I cannot remember. Albus was heartbroken His heart wasnt the only thing. Didnt Aberforth break Albuss nose halfway through the service? If Doge had looked horrified before this, it was nothing to how he looked now. Muriel might have stabbed him. She cackled loudly and took another swig of champagne, which dribbled down her chin. How do you ? croaked Doge. My mother was friendly with old Bathilda Bagshot, said Auntie Muriel happily. Bathilda described the whole thing to Mother while I was listening at the door. A coffin-side brawl! The way Bathilda told it, Aberforth shouted that it was all Albuss fault that Ariana was dead and then punched him in the face. According to Bathilda, Albus did not even defend himself, and thats odd enough in itself, Albus could have destroyed Aberforth in a duel with both hands tied behind his back. Muriel swigged yet more champagne. The recitation of these old scandals seemed to elate her as much as they horrified Doge. Harry did not know what to think, what to believe: he wanted the truth, and yet all Doge did was sit there and bleat feebly that Ariana had been ill. Harry could hardly believe that Dumbledore would not have intervened if such cruelty was happening inside his own house, and yet there was undoubtedly something odd about the story. And Ill tell you something else, Muriel said, hiccoughing slightly as she lowered her goblet. I think Bathilda has spilled the beans to Rita Skeeter. All those hints in Skeeters interview about an important source close to the Dumbledores goodness knows she was there all through the Ariana business and it would fit! Bathilda would never talk to Rita Skeeter! whispered Doge. Bathilda Bagshot? Harry said. The author of A History of Magic? The name was printed on the front of one of Harrys textbooks, though admittedly not one of the ones he had read most attentively. Yes, said Doge, clutching at Harrys question like a drowning man at a lifebelt. A most gifted magical historian and an old friend of Albuss. Quite gaga these days, Ive heard, said Auntie Muriel cheerfully. If that is so, it is even more dishonourable for Skeeter to have taken advantage of her, said Doge, and no reliance can be placed on anything Bathilda may have said! Oh, there are ways of bringing back memories, and Im sure Rita Skeeter knows them all, said Auntie Muriel. But even if Bathildas completely cuckoo, Im sure shed still have old photographs, maybe even letters. She knew the Dumbledores for years ... well worth a trip to Godrics Hollow, Id have thought. Harry, who had been taking a sip of Butterbeer, choked. Doge banged him on the back as Harry coughed, looking at Auntie Muriel through streaming eyes. Once he had control of his voice again, he asked, Bathilda Bagshot lives in Godrics Hollow? Oh yes, shes been there forever! The Dumbledores moved there after Percival was imprisoned, and she was their neighbour. The Dumbledores lived in Godrics Hollow? Yes, Barry, thats what I just said, said Auntie Muriel testily. Harry felt drained, empty. Never once, in six years, had Dumbledore told Harry that they had both lived and lost loved ones in Godrics Hollow. Why? Were Lily and James buried close to Dumbledores mother and sister? Had Dumbledore visited their graves, perhaps walked past Lily and Jamess to do so? And he had never once told Harry ... never bothered to say ... And why it was so important, Harry could not explain, even to himself, yet he felt it had been tantamount to a lie not to tell him that they had this place, and these experiences, in common. He stared ahead of him, barely noticing what was going on around him, and did not realise that Hermione had appeared out of the crowd until she drew up a chair beside him. I simply cant dance any more, she panted, slipping off one of her shoes and rubbing the sole of her foot. Rons gone looking to find more Butterbeers. Its a bit odd, Ive just seen Viktor storming away from Lunas father, it looked like theyd been arguing She dropped her voice, staring at him. Harry, are you OK? Harry did not know where to begin, but it did not matter. At that moment, something large and silver came falling through the canopy over the dance floor. Graceful and gleaming, the lynx landed lightly in the middle of the astonished dancers. Heads turned, as those nearest it froze, absurdly, in mid-dance. Then the Patronuss mouth opened wide and it spoke in the loud, deep, slow voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone / .
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / .
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / .
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / .
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix / .
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince / -.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / .


  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix /      -   Harry Potter and the Order of
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire /      -   Harry Potter and the Goblet
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone /      -   Harry Potter and the
  • Collection The tales of Peter Rabbit /       (7 ) Collection The tales of Peter
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