Chapter 2 Diagon Alley
Harry looked out of the window of Uncle Vernon's car as it entered Charing Cross Road. As they approached the Leaky Cauldron, Harry said, "Stop here, please."
"Why? I can't see the pub," said Uncle Vernon. He didn't know that it was magically hidden from Muggles. However, he stopped the car, wanting to get rid of Harry as soon as he could. He stopped outside a large bookshop, little knowing that it was next to 'The Leaky Cauldron'. Harry lifted Hedwig's cage out of the back seat, and heaved the trunk from the boot. As soon as the boot was closed, Uncle Vernon pulled away without so much as a backward glance.
As Harry looked around, he felt something wet on his hand. He glanced down to see a large, black, shaggy-coated dog nuzzling him.
"Padfoot!" Harry shouted and patted the dog's head affectionately. They both turned and walked towards the Leaky Cauldron.
When they entered, the main bar was almost empty, just one or two regulars sitting at a table playing wizarding chess. Harry walked up to the bar and greeted the landlord. "Hello Tom, nice to see you again. Have you got a spare room for two nights please?"
"Well hello, young Harry," smiled Tom. "It's good to see you. I think I've got your old room free, Room 11. I'll check." He went over to the register and drew his finger down a list of names. "Yes, it's free for the next two nights. What about the dog?"
"Oh, he can stay with me if that's all right - he's fully house trained." Padfoot looked disdainfully at Harry as a low growl escaped from his mouth.
"Well, since it's you, Harry, I'll let him stay - but he won't be allowed in the dining room, mind you," said Tom as he handed the room key over.
"Thanks, Tom. Oh, can I have dinner in my room please? I've got some reading to do for school and I've got a bit behind with it. I'm starving, so I'd appreciate it if I could have a very large meal."
"No problem, Harry. I'll send it up as soon as it's ready. Oh, and I'll send a nice big bone up for the dog."
"Thanks again Tom," grinned Harry over his shoulder as he and Padfoot made their way to the stairs and up to room 11.
As soon as they entered, Padfoot immediately transformed and a stern-looking Sirius glared at Harry. "House trained indeed!" and they both fell into the two easy chairs laughing.
Later that evening, both Harry and Sirius were feeling comfortably full after eating the extremely large meal.
"I'll keep the bone for later, after I've transformed," said Sirius. "Well, Harry, I can't get over the change in you. You're looking great. How have things been since I saw you last? Did you get up to anything interesting?"
"Well, work was great - I was really sorry to leave. They're a great bunch at the factory. Look what they gave me as a leaving present." Harry pulled the paperweight out of his trunk and handed it to Sirius.
"That's great, Harry. It's nice to see you making new friends."
Harry had a pensive look on his face and said, "Uh, Sirius. Can I ask you something? I don't have anyone else to talk to about things like this."
"Well of course you can, Harry. What things?"
"I uh .. well I met this girl living in Privet Drive. Her name's Lara and she's really nice. And ... and she kissed me. She was pretty sad when I left to come here tonight." Sirius' ears pricked up. "I .. well I really like her, but she's a Muggle. What can I do, Sirius?"
'Oh lord,' thought Sirius, 'he really is growing up. But if the girl's a Muggle, she can't be the one.'
"Look, Harry, there's nothing wrong with having Muggle friends. There are quite a few people I know who have even married Muggles - although things don't always work out between them. It seems that Muggles can't always handle it when they find out that their partner is a witch or wizard."
"I'm pretty confused about things, Sirius. Some of the girls at work were trying to get me to go out with them, as well. What do they see in me? I'm not famous to them or anything."
"Look, I'm hardly an expert in such matters, Harry, but I think it's called 'growing up.' I seem to remember that it wasn't an easy time for me, either. The main thing is to be happy - go with the flow. Live a little, you're still very young, after all. You'll probably find that quite a few witches will come onto you - but I can tell you one thing. When the right girl comes along, you'll know beyond any shadow of a doubt."
"Uh, thanks Sirius - I think …but I still don't know why these girls keep coming onto me," said Harry doubtfully.
'Oh my,' thought Sirius, 'there's going to be a few broken hearts strewn around Hogwarts this year!'
"Don't worry about it Harry - just be glad you're so popular. Right - to bed. You want to be fresh tomorrow when you fight your way through the crowds in Diagon Alley."
"Sirius, has there been any news about Voldemort over the summer?"
Sirius frowned. "There haven't been any attacks, but there've been reports that he's building up his strength and recruiting an army. Remus and I spied on one of the Death Eater initiation ceremonies - and I'm afraid that 'You Know Who' looked to be pretty strong then. I think it's only a matter of time before the attacks start. But don't you worry about it. You and your friends will be safe at Hogwarts and Professor Dumbledore has organised quite a powerful spy network to get advance information on any activity."
"I hope you're right, Sirius, but I can't help worrying about what's going to happen."
Sirius smiled. "To bed, Harry. We can talk about this another time." He transformed and curled up on the rug at the foot of the bed to eat his bone.
Harry and Sirius woke early the following morning. They weren't used to the noise of the traffic in Charing Cross Road, which was just below the front window of their room. Harry dressed in his wizarding robes, went downstairs to breakfast and managed to fill a 'doggy bag' of the choicest items on the menu. Harry went back up to room 11 and proudly displayed the bag full of food, which Sirius ate ravenously.
"Will you be all right on your own Harry? I think I'd better stay here in case I'm recognised, and I don't think Diagon Alley is the place for a dog today."
"No problem. I'm meeting Ron, Hermione and Ginny anyway, so I won't be on my own. I'll see you later this afternoon."
Harry went out to the walled courtyard outside the Leaky Cauldron and walked over to the wall that hid the entrance to Diagon Alley. He measured three bricks up and two across, just above the dustbin, then took out his wand from his robes and tapped the brick. A small hole appeared and rapidly became larger to form an archway. Harry smiled at the familiar hustle and bustle which was always the trademark of Diagon Alley, especially just before school when students, accompanied by their parents, stocked up on books and materials for the coming year.
Harry happily walked along the street taking in the sights and the excited chatter of the younger children just about to start their first year at Hogwarts. He made his way to Gringotts bank and entered the cool and somewhat gloomy reception room. He asked a goblin at the desk to take him to his vault, which was way below the floor of the bank. There he took out enough money to last him the school year, and also to buy the books and supplies he needed.
When he walked back out into the warm sunshine, the street had become far more crowded - Sirius had been right - it was certainly no place for a dog. He threaded his way over to Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour and sat outside at a spare table, underneath a brightly coloured sun umbrella. He ordered a chocolate-flavoured ice cream and slowly enjoyed its taste while waiting for his friends to arrive. Feeling warm, he took off his wizarding robes and put them on the seat beside him - he felt far cooler in just his jeans and T-shirt. He closed his eyes and had started to go into a comfortable doze when he heard, "Heelloo Haarryyy," in a young female voice.
He looked up to see three girls grinning and staring at him. He recognised them as third - no fourth year now - Ravenclaws from Hogwarts. "He .. Hello girls."
"What have you been up to during the summer, Harry?" asked the tallest girl. "It looks like you've been working out it a big way." The other two girls giggled.
"Uh, I've been working in my uncle's factory," said Harry feeling very embarrassed at being put under the spotlight. "You haven't seen Ron Weasley have you?"
"No, but I saw Ginny about 10 minutes ago."
"Thanks. Well I suppose he'll be here any time now."
"Byeee Harryyy," said all three girls in concert as they walked away, smiling as they looked back over their shoulders at a pink-faced Harry.
"Harry me old mate! How the devil are you?" shouted a smiling Ron as he approached the table.
Harry stood up, grinning widely, and greeted his best friend. "Hello Ron, it's great to see you. What have you been doing? You look as if you've sprouted about three inches."
"Yeh, well my mother says I'll be the tallest in the family if I keep on growing," said Ron ruefully as the two friends sat down at the table.
"You're looking different," said Ron. "You must have worked your socks off at that factory."
"Uh yes, I suppose I did, Ron. Have you seen Hermione?"
"Yes, and wait till you see her! She's with Ginny looking in one of the clothes shops."
"Why, what's wrong with her?"
"Just wait, Harry," said Ron grinning widely.
About a hundred yards further back along the street, Ginny and Hermione had just emerged from the shop and passed the three Ravenclaws who had spoken to Harry earlier. They couldn't help but listen to their excited chatter.
"Ohh he's so gorgeous…. really hot…. I wonder if he'll be free this year… you wish… You'll have to get in the queue."
"Oh, I wonder who they're drooling over," said Ginny. "Sounds like there's a new stud on the block."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ginny! We go to Hogwarts to study! I don't intend to have any romantic involvements. My schoolwork is far too important!"
"Well I don't know about that, Hermione. Surely you can combine the two? I ... I've decided to forget my old crush on Harry, by the way. He'll never treat me other than a friend, so I won't waste my time any more. I'm going to look around at the other talent, and if I get the chance - well you never know. And anyway, what about you and Viktor?" grinned Ginny.
"Oh … he ... he's just a friend. There's nothing going on between us." But Ginny noticed the pink flush on Hermione's face.
They walked on towards Florean Fortescue's and Ginny suddenly stopped, with her mouth wide open. "Eh, Hermione. I … I think I know who those Ravenclaws were going on about. Look over there ... next to Ron. Wow!"
Hermione looked in the direction Ginny was staring and saw Harry and Ron talking animatedly at one of the tables. Her mouth dropped slightly open as she took in the change in Harry. 'Those girls weren't far wrong,' she thought. She felt something stir deep inside her - it seemed to be more than just seeing a gorgeous boy. She didn't know what it was and shook herself mentally and tried to put it out of her mind.
"You know, Hermione, every girl at Hogwarts is going to fancy Harry - there's going to be a stampede. And they are certainly going to be jealous of us two - you know, being best friends with him and spending so much time with him."
"Honestly, Ginny. Come on, let's go."
Harry glanced up and noticed Ginny and Hermione coming towards their table. He stood up and smiled as they approached. "Hi, Ginny," he said as he hugged her. Ginny held on to Harry longer than she should have for a friendly hug. Harry, however, didn't seem to notice - he'd looked at Hermione and was astounded.
What he saw sent a flush to his cheeks - she had certainly grown up during the summer. Her hair was now smooth and shiny, and neatly fell around her shoulders. She was tanned, and her broad smile lit up her face. She was, in short, beautiful. She was no longer the gawky schoolgirl he first met 4 years ago, she was now rapidly becoming a woman, and even her robes couldn't hide her willowy figure. He couldn't help but compare her with Lara. He suddenly felt cheap at the way he was thinking about his best friend - the one he most respected. 'Come on, Harry, this is Hermione. Get real,' he thought to himself.
When Ginny released Harry her face was almost as red as her lovely hair. But Harry didn't notice. He went over to Hermione. "Hello, Hermione. Great to see you," and they hugged - briefly.
"Hello, Harry. Glad to see you're better." Hermione couldn't help but marvel at the beauty of Harry's eyes. They seemed to have a more mature look and had a sort of mesmerising effect, twinkling with all sorts of emotions as they appraised her. She again felt a jolt deep within her. She shook herself. "Shall we stay here for a while before getting our school stuff?" she said looking around at the other two.
They all sat around the table, and Harry ordered ice creams all round. "Where's Fred and George?" he asked.
Ron grinned. "Oh you know them - they've gone to Gambol & Japes, the joke shop, to eye up the opposition and to stock up for their last year. I think they're planning to go out with a bang."
All four laughed, thinking about the pranks they would be witnessing, mostly on the Slytherins no doubt, in the coming year.
"Well, Hermione," said Ron with a smirk on his face. "How was crumby Viktor this summer?"
Hermione flushed at the jibe. "Oh he's ok. We had a great time"
"Yeah, I'm sure you did," Ron replied with a hint of sarcasm.
"Now look, Ron, what I did in Bulgaria is none of your business. So drop it!"
Harry looked at his two friends and groaned inwardly. They hadn't taken long to start one of their legendary slanging matches. He tried to divert Ron from another frosty reply. "Ron, hey thanks for the Quidditch book - it was great, and the chapters on Seeker tactics were brilliant."
"That's ok, Harry. What else did you get for your birthday?"
Harry told them about the presents he'd received, and they all laughed at Ginny's singing birthday card. He then took hold of the amulet and pulled it outside his T-shirt. "I had this from Hermione - and thanks," he said looking towards her. "It feels warm when I touch it, and I get a feeling of security."
"Yes, I had the same feeling," said Hermione.
Ron and Ginny each took hold of the amulet but they said they could feel nothing out of the ordinary. Harry then looked at Hermione and said, "Lately, I've felt something else when I hold it. It's a sort of feeling of urgency - it's hard to describe. You try it."
Hermione held the amulet. "Well I still get the warm and secure feeling, but I can't feel anything else."
"What do you know about it, Hermione, and where did you get it?"
"I got it at this new shop that hasn't long opened. It's a few doors up from Flourish and Blotts - come on, I'll show you. Perhaps we can ask the old man who sold it to me if he knows anything more."
Harry put his robes back on and the four friends made their way through the crowds to the shop.
Hermione was astonished to see that the sign over the window had now disappeared, and the shop was boarded up. "Well that's odd. Come on, let's ask in the shop next door - they might know when it closed and if he's moved somewhere else."
They walked into the little shop next door and Hermione went up to the lady behind the counter. "Can you tell me when the shop next door closed - El Hamri I think it was called?"
"El Hamri? No dear, the shop next door has been closed for years."
"But I was there about a month ago. A foreign gentleman owned it, and he was selling old curiosities."
"No I think you are mistaken, my dear. I've been here all summer - haven't missed a single day. I pass by that old shop every morning when I open up and I'd have noticed if there was something new there."
"Oh well thanks for your help," said Hermione with a frown on her face, and the four walked back out to the shop next door.
"This is weird," said Hermione. "It's almost as if the shop was there only when I passed by, especially to sell me the amulet. I think there's something odd going on here. Harry, I think you should get rid of the amulet in case it has any more nasty surprises."
"No - I don't think there's anything nasty going on here. All the feelings I've had from it are good feelings. Even the feeling of urgency has a good sort of feel to it. No, I'm keeping it. And anyway, how could I throw away my birthday present from you?" said Harry with a smile on his face.
"I don't know about this. We'll have to do some research when we get back to the school library - I've seen a few books there about magical amulets and there must be something about it I can find. The old man said that it was pretty rare and dated from the Crusades."
The four turned around and walked towards Flourish & Blotts to get their fifth year schoolbooks - except for Ginny, of course, who already had her fourth year books passed down from Ron. They were just about to enter when they heard, "Well if it isn't Potty, the two weasels and the Mudblood - are they letting you rabble back into school this year then?"
They turned to see Draco Malfoy's sneering face flanked by his two minders, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.
"Push off Malfoy," said Harry as Ron bristled beside him. "It's bad enough that we've got to put up with you at school, let alone before it starts."
Draco sneered at them. "Just keep out of my way Potter. I don't want to be near you when 'You Know Who' comes to get you this year." And he and the two heavies sauntered off in the direction of Florean Fortescue's.
Ginny and Hermione grabbed hold of the backs of Ron and Harry's robes as they made to follow. "Hang on you two, just ignore them," said Ginny with a curious smirk on her face. "I know exactly how to teach them a lesson they'll never forget."
They looked at Ginny with astonishment - it was so unlike Ginny to act this way. "Well," said Ron, "she is a Weasley, and she's been pretty close to Fred and George this summer. What have you got up your sleeve, Ginny?"
Ginny just smiled but said nothing.
The next few hours were spent stocking up their supplies for the new school year. The visit to Flourish & Blotts was particularly long, since the book list for Harry, Ron and Hermione's OWLS was quite formidable. And of course Hermione just had to get some extra tomes that weren't on the list. The other three ended up having to drag her out of the shop.
They then went into Madam Malkin's for Ron and Ginny to get new dress robes - they said that Fred and George had given them the money, but they didn't know where it had come from. Harry just grinned at this.
The four friends were pretty tired by the middle of the afternoon, and finished up with another visit to Florean Fortescue's and another round of ice cream. They then walked slowly towards the entrance to The Leaky Cauldron where they were all staying overnight, together with Fred and George. Mr. Weasley had arranged to pick them up in a ministry car the following morning to take them to Kings Cross station.
Six rather noisy and exuberant teens sat at a table in the bar of The Leaky Cauldron that evening. They had just finished a huge meal and were chatting among themselves over a round of butter beer.
Harry dampened the proceedings somewhat. "Have you heard what's happening with Voldemort?" he asked.
The other five cringed at the sound of his name, and shook their heads. Harry proceeded to tell them what he had heard from Sirius. "So we're going to have to be careful this year. I know that the teachers are going to be imposing tight security - so we should be all right as long as we don't do anything stupid - like sneaking off to Hogsmeade." Harry directed his gaze at Fred and George particularly.
They all looked gloomily into their butter beers for a while until Fred put a grin on his face and said, "Come on. Who's for a game of wizarding darts then? George and I will take on any two of you in a game of doubles."
Wizarding darts was a relatively new game at The Leaky Cauldron. It was played like the Muggle variety, but the dartboard was enchanted to revolve as the darts were thrown, as were the darts that tried, not always successfully, to find the place they were aimed at. The game could be quite hilarious at times. Ron and Ginny volunteered to take them on in the first game, and the four siblings went over towards the corner of the room where the dartboard hung on the wall.
Harry and Hermione stayed at the table, sipping their butter beers. Harry told Hermione about the Death Eater attack at the factory and the 'find-me' stone - he pulled it from his pocket to show her. She looked at the stone with some interest, as Harry told her how it worked.
"Uh, Hermione. I haven't thanked you properly for what you did - you know, back at the beginning of the summer. I thought I was going crazy, and I think I would have if you hadn't asked Sirius to speak to me." He squeezed her hand in a friendly gesture of gratitude.
Hermione flushed. "It was the least I could have done. You really worried me when I read your owl." She smiled at Harry and continued, "Thanks for stopping Ron having a go at me about Viktor this afternoon - I really didn't want to get into an argument with him."
"Yeah - I know. He can be a git on times, but you know Ron! So how did your dinner date with Viktor go?"
Hermione flushed slightly and looked down at her hands.
"What's the matter Hermione? Is anything wrong?"
"Oh Harry, I need to tell somebody about this but please promise not to tell Ron - I'll never live it down." Hermione looked imploringly at Harry.
"Of course I won't tell him. What happened?"
"Well, Viktor picked me up from our hotel and took me to this really nice restaurant. We had a lovely dinner, and the atmosphere was so romantic. We were there for about three hours, talking about loads of things - it was nice. When he walked me back to the hotel we stopped outside and talked for a bit. Then he... he... well he kissed me." Hermione face went bright red, but continued, "It was quite cute and charming, I suppose - it was my first kiss. But... but he didn't stop there. He kissed me again, but harder this time and I started to get a bit panicky. You see, Harry, I look on Viktor as a friend - but that's all, despite what Ron keeps saying. There was never anything more to it than that. I pushed him away and told him. Well, he got a bit angry and called me a cheap tease. And then he walked off leaving me standing there. I was mortified, Harry. I... I'm not a cheap tease am I?"
Hermione had a pleading look on her lovely face and Harry felt a sudden burst of anger and stood up as he growled, "That... that dirty sod. I'm going to punch his lights out if I see him again."
"Please, Harry. Calm down." Hermione gently caught hold of his arm and pulled him back into his seat. "Ron and the others will hear!"
"Sorry. But there's no way that you're cheap or a tease. You're one of the nicest people I know. Just don't pay any attention to what Krum said. He was probably feeling the blow to his ego because you didn't give in to him. He just isn't worth it, Hermione."
"Thanks, Harry. I'm glad I spoke to you about it and that you understand. But please, please don't tell Ron."
Harry looked at Hermione and said, "I think you're underestimating Ron. If he knew what happened, he'd react the same way as me I'm sure." He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that the others were still engrossed in their darts game, and continued, "You... err... you weren't the only one to get a first kiss this summer - but for goodness sake don't tell Ron. I think I know how he'll react to that. It would give him at least a month's worth of teasing."
Harry then told her about Lara, and how confused he felt about her.
"So - do you really like her?"
"Yes, I do - but she's a Muggle. I just don't know what to do about her."
As he said this, Hermione felt another jolt deep inside her - and again she couldn't put her finger on what exactly it was. They looked at each other for a few moments, both silent and thinking about what the other had said and both feeling a close bond of friendship with each other. They both jumped at a great shout from the corner of the room, where they saw Fred and George dancing with delight at their victory. Ron and Ginny sat back down at the table and gulped their butter beers, while Fred and George continued to play darts.
"I've got a surprise for you," said Harry with a grin on his face. "Come upstairs to my room - it's up there." He reached down and picked up a bag of food that he had filled during their dinner.
As they entered room 11, they heard a low growl from the foot of the bed, and a large shaggy-haired head with a shiny black nose peeked over the blanket.
"Snuffles!" shouted Ron and Hermione as they ran over and affectionately ruffled his fur.
"Oh I didn't know you had a dog, Harry," said Ginny as she walked over to pat Snuffles. Ginny didn't know about Sirius/Padfoot/Snuffles and still thought, like the vast majority of the wizarding world, that Sirius Black was an escaped killer on the run.
"Uh, Ginny," said Harry. "He isn't my dog, and we've got a surprise for you. Now don't shout out or anything." He looked at Snuffles, who transformed back into his human form.
"SIRIUS BLA…" yelled Ginny, as Harry clamped a hand over her mouth. He turned her round to face him, looking into her lovely brown eyes that had suddenly gone very wide.
"Ginny, Sirius is my godfather. And he didn't do anything wrong. He was framed by Wormtail - Peter Pettigrew." He then told her about what had happened fourteen years ago. He looked over at Ron and Hermione. "And Cornelius Fudge has secretly, but officially, cleared him of those crimes. The only people who know are the four of us, Professor Dumbledore, Remus Lupin of course, and a few other teachers at Hogwarts. Fudge wants to keep quiet about it because otherwise he'd have to admit that Voldemort is back."
Ron and Hermione grinned at the news, and Ron shook his hand. Hermione hugged Sirius and said, "I'm so glad, Sirius. Perhaps Fudge will tell everyone soon - I'm sure 'You Know Who' will surface pretty soon, from what Harry's told us."
"Can I take my hand away now Ginny?" said Harry. Ginny nodded, although her eyes were still wide as she looked at Sirius.
Sirius went over and held his hand out to Ginny. She nervously shook it as Sirius said grinning at her, "It's nice to meet you at last, Ginny. Harry's told me a lot about you."
"Yeh, me too," said Ginny. "Look, I'm sorry if I seem a bit quiet, but I need to get used to this." Sirius nodded and looked at the other three grinning teenagers.
Harry gave Sirius the bag of food, which he ate hungrily as he chatted to the four.
"So, what's happened to Buckbeak?" asked Hermione.
"Oh I flew with him to a forbidden forest in the south of France and he soon settled down with a group of hippogriffs who live there - he seemed happy as Larry when I left. So - you're all off to Hogwarts tomorrow then. Look, I'm going to have to leave now. I've got a meeting in Hogsmeade with a special agent from America. I'll be working with him to try to get a fix on what 'You Know Who' is planning. I'll be back later tonight though, and I'll see you off in the morning."
He waved at them before disappearing with a slight 'pop.'
Harry led the others back down to the bar and joined Fred and George in their discussion of a range of wizard jokes they were planning.
Padfoot was sitting on the pavement outside 'The Three Broomsticks' in Hogsmeade. He looked a miserable sight in the light drizzle that was falling from the grey sky. He shifted, uncomfortably, as he waited for the American to arrive. But the only people he could see on the cobbled street were a witch and wizard, who walked past him and went into the pub.
He let out a growl of frustration and kept looking up and down the street for any sign of his contact. He jumped slightly as he felt a hand on his head.
"Padfoot, I presume?" said a voice that was definitely not that of a man, although it had an American accent. Padfoot looked up and was startled to see a woman in her early to mid thirties. She was very attractive, with dark brown hair, cut to just below her neck, twinkling hazel eyes, and a very pleasant smile on her heart-shaped face. "I'm Ceri Jones. Do you think we can go somewhere more pleasant?"
Padfoot dumbly nodded his head and set off towards the shrieking shack, closely followed by the woman. He looked around before transforming and leading her into the sinister-looking house via a side door.
"Well," said Sirius, "you're a bit of a surprise. I expected to see a man." He beckoned her to a seat by a table that had food and pumpkin juice on it. Sirius had earlier prepared the shack for the meeting.
Ceri laughed. "I always seem to get that response from people I've never met before. Ceri is a Welsh name, as you've probably gathered. In Wales, Ceri is a name given to both boys and girls. My ancestors came over to New England - Maine - a long time ago, and most of the Welsh families have kept up a tradition of naming their kids with Welsh names. Some of us can even speak the language, and we try to teach it to the kids from an early age. In fact, our community is a sort of little Patagonia on the North-East coast."
"Oh you know - the Welsh community in Argentina. Like them, we keep up quite a few of the old traditions. We hold an Eisteddfod every year, and we've even sent a group of singers to the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen - that's in North Wales."
Ceri laughed at Sirius' attempt at the pronunciation. "Yes - an annual competition of traditional music, dancing, and literature. All in the Welsh language, of course."
"Amazing," said Sirius. "Do you still have any relatives left in this country?"
"Oh yes - my family came from a little village in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons Mountains - that's in Mid Wales - and I've got some distant cousins still living there. They're Muggles, but we still keep in touch. The wizarding parts of the family were the ones who emigrated to the States."
"That's interesting, Ceri. Perhaps you'll find some time to visit them?"
"I certainly hope so." Ceri looked at Sirius reflectively. "Uh, It's not a problem that I'm a woman is it?"
"No... no, of course not. I just didn't expect..." Sirius trailed off. "Uh, why don't you get stuck in to some of this food?"
"Ok - thanks. Well, I was pretty surprised as well when I was told I had to meet a dog! What's with that?" said Ceri as she started munching on a chicken sandwich. She appraised the man before her, 'Hmm, quite attractive in a rugged sort of way,' she thought to herself.
"Well, I don't suppose you've heard of Sirius Black in the States, but in this country…" Sirius told Ceri briefly about what had happened fourteen years ago and the recent events that had cleared his name. "So, you see, I still have to act as if I'm a wanted criminal - and it's all down to that filthy scum, Wormtail!" Sirius' eyes blazed as he said the name of his former friend.
Ceri winced. "Sirius, I... I'm an empath and I can feel people's emotions, if they're strong enough. What I felt from you then nearly blew my head off. You really must try to curb that anger - it'll cloud your judgement if you get close to Wormtail, as you surely will given what we're going to be doing."
"Yes, I know that Ceri. But it's difficult. That bastard not only deprived me of my freedom, but also of my godson for twelve years. I feel I've let down my two best friends, his parents. I wasn't there to look after him after they were killed, and at a time when he needed me most."
Ceri winced again and looked at him with sympathy in her eyes. She felt herself warming to this strange man, and she couldn't help but compare his past with her own. She had also been deprived of the ones she loved most. A tear rolled down the side of her face as she thought of her own private agony.
"Ceri, what's the matter? Did I say something to upset you?"
Ceri looked at Sirius. "What you've gone through just reminds me of my own pain."
"Want to talk about it?" said Sirius
She looked at Sirius and before she knew what she was doing, she started to tell him...
"I married Siôn - that's Welsh for John by the way - when I was only seventeen. We soon had a lovely baby daughter - we called her Siân - that's Jane. Well we were sitting having lunch at a restaurant in Portland when about six Death Eaters ran in - 'You Know Who' had some pretty active cells in the States back then, fourteen years ago. They were just intent on killing as many Muggles as they could - they were shouting out slogans like 'long live purebloods.' A few of us witches and wizards who were there tried to fight back and they did run off as soon as they saw they had opposition. But... but not before my husband and daughter were killed." More tears ran down Ceri's face, and Sirius put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Even after all those years, the memory was obviously still very painful.
"Well, I guess I lost it for a while after that. I don't even remember what I did for about two years. Then one of my friends suggested that I fight back. She said there were quite a few female Aurors around, especially since 'You Know Who' was gone and it wasn't so dangerous any more. So I took her advice and joined the U.S. Congress of Magic and started my Auror training. I did reasonably well and I was put in charge of my own team. Then about five years ago we got a lead on the group of Death Eaters that we suspected of carrying out the attack at the restaurant. My team was sent to investigate. When we got to the house, which was in a remote part of Vermont, I set up the team to stake it out. That's when it all went pear-shaped. I recognised one of the men - I'll never forget the face of the man who sent the curse that killed my little girl. That's why I warned you earlier, Sirius, of anger clouding your judgment. It certainly clouded mine back then. I threw the rulebook out of the window and went charging into that house, my wand blazing. My team were thrown into confusion and they ran in after me. In the fight that followed, one of my team was killed. We captured all the Death Eaters, but the damage had been done. If it weren't for me, Jerry would still be alive."
Ceri had to pause for a moment before she continued. "The Death Eaters were convicted and sentenced to life in Demenota - that's your equivalent of Azkaban - all except for the one who killed my daughter. It turned out that he'd also killed my husband and the other person to die that day, a Muggle. He got the Dementor's kiss. I was suspended from duty and had to face an internal enquiry. I don't know why, but I wasn't fired - I guess they had some sympathy for my position. But I was barred from ever again leading my own team. Ever since, I've been given special assignments to do on my own. This is the first job I've had with another agent for five years. Does that make you nervous, Sirius?"
"No it doesn't, Ceri. It seems that I'm the one with things to learn - not you. You know, we've both got pretty strong reasons to hate the Dark Side - we've both lost loved ones and we've both got deep regrets. I think, maybe, we'll make a pretty strong team."
Ceri smiled. "So what's on the agenda, and when do I get to meet Albus Dumbledore? I'm looking forward to meeting the greatest wizard in the world."
"Oh you'll meet him soon enough. But first we've got a bit of spying to do. I've had a tip-off from one of our spies that there's going to be a meeting of 'You Know Who' and his inner circle tomorrow night - he's given me the time and location. I've got an early meeting at Hogwarts tomorrow morning, then we can meet here and talk through the details of the mission. We'll no doubt have to report to Dumbledore after that, so you'll meet him then. He's not far away from where we are at the moment, you know - over at Hogwarts just outside Hogsmeade. My godson will be going there for his fifth year tomorrow."
"You know it's strange that the three most famous wizards in the world are Brits. 'You Know Who' of course, Dumbledore and Harry Potter. I wouldn't like to meet the first one, but I'd love to meet the other two. Isn't Harry at Hogwarts at the moment? He must be about the same age as your godson. Does he know him?"
"Uh, Ceri, I guess I didn't tell you before, but Harry Potter is my godson."
Ceri's mouth dropped open for a moment. "Oh, so that means your two friends who were killed were James and Lily Potter!"
"Yes, that's right. Harry's a great kid. I just don't know how he grew up to be like that. He had to live with some horrible people for ten years. I suppose there's a lot of James and Lily in him. You know, Ceri, he's faced 'You Know Who' several times already - he was even forced to duel with him just over two months ago - and he's survived every time, and he's only just turned 15. Many kids that age would be walking around with a swollen head and full of his own self-importance - but not Harry. Do you know that the biggest thing on his mind at the moment is the safety of his friends?"
"He sounds like a very special person, Sirius. You must be proud of him."
"I certainly am." Sirius laughed. "The other problem he's wrestling with at the moment is 'girls.' He told me last night about a Muggle girl he's met, and he's pretty confused about the way he feels about her. I tried to give him some advice, but I can't help feeling that I've only made things worse. But there, I suppose I'm not too clever myself when it comes to girls."
Ceri smiled. 'Men!' she thought to herself.
"Have you met anyone since you ... well... lost your husband, Ceri?"
"No. And I don't intend to - at least not in that way. I've had more than my share of despair and heartache and I don't intend to put myself in a position where I'll get more of the same!" Her eyes held a hard edge at that moment, so unlike the way they had looked earlier.
Sirius smiled sadly at her. "I lost a lot of my youth in Azkaban. Being that length of time close to Dementors makes you pretty gritty, you know. I doubt if I'll meet anyone - probably no one would want to get too close to me with the sort of baggage I carry around in my head. Anyway, I suggest you stay at 'The Three Broomsticks' tonight. I've got to go back to London and make sure Harry and his friends leave for Hogwarts on time."
"Ok, Sirius, that sounds fine to me." They left the shrieking shack and walked back down to the pub. It was quite dark by then, so there wasn't much risk of anyone recognising Sirius.
"See you tomorrow, Ceri," said Sirius as he Apparated back to London.
The morning of 1st September dawned, and Harry was woken up by a cold wet nose being thrust into his ear. "Ugh, Padfoot, please don't do that so early in the morning." Harry looked at the clock on the wall and said, " And do you know what time it is?"
Sirius transformed and said, "Sorry Harry, but I waited as long as I could. I've got a breakfast meeting with Dumbledore so I have to go shortly."
"Oh. Will I see you at Hogwarts soon, Sirius?"
"Yes, I should think so. I'll be popping in to see Dumbledore at fairly regular intervals."
"How did your meeting with the American agent go? What was he like?"
Sirius grinned. "Well, first off, he is a she. It seems that Ceri can be either a male or female name - it's Welsh. And she's very nice - you'll like her. She wants to meet you, you know. It seems you're quite famous in America."
Harry looked askance at Sirius. "What's that twinkle in your eye, Sirius? Perhaps I'd better meet her to warn her about you!"
Sirius laughed. "Don't you dare! But seriously, this is on a purely professional level. She made it very clear that she's finished with romance forever. She's had a hard life, Harry. She lost her husband and baby daughter to Death Eaters at about the same time you lost your parents. She was only about 18 at the time."
Harry's eyes clouded over. "That's awful. Losing my parents before I really knew them is bad enough, but to lose..." he shook his head.
Sirius put his hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezed. "Before I go, please make sure you look after yourself - keep an eye out for anything strange going on, and if your scar starts to hurt, report it to Dumbledore straight away. Do you promise?"
"Yes Sirius, I promise," said Harry as Padfoot quickly left the room.
Harry did a quick half hour of his exercises and then showered and dressed. He saw that it was now 8.30 and went to wake up his three friends to go to breakfast. Only Ron needed any sort of encouragement to get up and it was only the thought of a good breakfast that eventually roused him.
The ministry car arrived at 10.15 precisely, and they set off for Kings Cross to catch the 11.00 am Hogwarts express. Mr. Weasley chatted happily to Harry and Hermione on the trip, asking them if there had been any new Muggle inventions in the last few months. They arrived with 15 minutes to spare, and proceeded up to platform 9 3/4. Ron and Ginny went through the wall first, followed by Harry and Hermione, and finally by Fred and George. The platform was fairly crowded, with pupils and parents saying their goodbyes until the Christmas holidays. Fred and George went off to find their 7th year friends, and the others found an empty compartment towards the front of the train. They flopped down onto their seats and chatted companionably as the train got into motion towards Hogsmeade.
Earlier that morning, Professor Dumbledore and the others settled down to their meeting.
"I've made contact with the American agent," Sirius reported, "and he's a her, by the way. She seems to be a very capable witch though. I'm meeting her later this morning to plan our spying mission tonight."
"Be very careful Sirius," said Dumbledore, "and bring Ceri to see me afterwards. You can both give me your report on what you see and hear. Now concerning the Anima Summa, I've been researching the school records for any witches with likely birthdays around 31st October 1980, but I haven't come up with anything conclusive. I'm afraid that the two girls most friendly with Harry are not contenders - Ginny Weasley is much too young, and Hermione Granger was born on 19th September - that's about six weeks too early. Of the other girls in year five, only two were born within two weeks of the right date. Hannah Abbott from Hufflepuff was born on 23rd October 1980, and Pansy Parkinson was born on 4th November 1980. That leaves Pansy as the most likely girl."
Sirius raised his eyebrows and mouthed to Remus Lupin, "What's she like?"
Remus let out a loud snort, "You've got to be kidding. Pansy Parkinson is a Slytherin, and she's... well... she's pretty ugly. Not at all Harry's type!"
"Well I never!" said professor McGonagall. "If that's not a typically chauvinist comment then nothing is! Now if Pansy was a beautiful blue-eyed blond then you'd be all for her, wouldn't you? Pansy may not be the prettiest girl in year 5, but she is... eh she is...eh"
"Thanks, Minerva. You've just proved my point," laughed Remus. "You can't think of a single thing going for the poor girl. Now Hannah is a nice little girl, but still not Harry's type. And anyway, she's Ernie McMillan's girlfriend."
"Now, now, there's no need to squabble," said Dumbledore with a devilish twinkle in his eyes. "All we can do is keep an eye on those two girls and make sure no harm comes to them. Severus, you keep an eye on Pansy, and I'll ask Professor Sprout to keep an eye on Hannah. Severus, have there been any more developments with Voldemort?"
"No, Headmaster - only the meeting that I told Black about."
"Right, so if there's nothing more to discuss, you'd better go and meet your American lady, Sirius - be sure to give her my regards. I'll see the rest of you in an hour to go over the opening ceremony tonight."
Padfoot left the school grounds and trotted into Hogsmeade to the shrieking shack. He transformed and went in through the side door. Ceri was already there, brewing a pot of coffee.
"Good morning, Sirius. How did your meeting go?" said Ceri as she poured Sirius a steaming mug of coffee.
"Fine, Ceri. Dumbledore sends his regards and has asked that we both brief him after the spying mission."
Ceri smiled. "Great. So how are we going to go about it tonight? Tell me what you know."
"Well, the meeting will take place at midnight in a clearing at the northern end of the Forbidden Forest. I know where it is - I spent a fair amount of time in the forest as Padfoot when I was hiding out."
"How are we going to get close enough to hear what's going on? They're bound to place some quite powerful wards around the area."
"Yes, but I should get close enough in my Animagus form - Padfoot's ears are very keen, you know, and the wards will only be set for humans - there are loads of animals in the forest, so it wouldn't be practical for them to be interrupted by every creature that'll be scurrying about. You'll have to wait for me a little way off so that you won't be detected."
"Is that so?" said Ceri as she transformed into a rather handsome she-wolf. After a few moments, she transformed back to human form to see Sirius gaping at her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked.
"A woman doesn't go around giving away all her secrets, Sirius - not until it's necessary, anyway."
"Ok, then. So we'll both get close to them. By the way, I don't know if Padfoot will be able to resist your lupine charms." Sirius grinned.
"Oh get real, Sirius. If you know what's good for you, then you'd better try pretty hard to resist," she said grinning, but with a steely look in her eye.
Sirius gulped. "Anything you say Ma'am. Anything you say."
The Hogwarts express was an hour into its journey. Harry and Ron were chatting about the coming Quidditch season, and who would be the new Keeper, now that Oliver Wood had finished school.
Opposite them, Ginny was dozing and Hermione was reading 'Transfiguration for 5th Year Students.' Ron smirked at Harry and glanced across at Hermione - he just couldn't resist it. "Hermione, why are you reading that book? I would think it would get quite boring after reading it six times. Haven't you memorised it all yet?"
Hermione gave a snort. "Bog off Ron It would do you good to get some reading under your belt before the start of school. Don't you know that our OWLS are this year?"
Their banter was interrupted by the rattle of the refreshments trolley outside the compartment. Harry got up and bought enough goodies to keep them going for the rest of the journey - Ginny was woken up when Harry threw a chocolate frog into her lap, and they all settled down to eat.
A little while later, their friendly chatter stopped as the door opened to reveal a smirking Draco Malfoy flanked by his two goons.
"Oh no," said Harry. "What do you want, Malfoy? Have you run out of people to annoy?"
"Shut up, Potter. I just want to take a last look at you lot before 'You Know Who' comes to get you. If I were you I'd pull the emergency cord to stop the train, and start walking back to London. You might be safe there in amongst all the Muggles." He turned and grinned at his cronies. "And while you're at it, take all the weasels with you - they might be able to find jobs. Lord knows they can do with the money!"
Ron and Ginny jumped to their feet, but were restrained by Harry and Hermione. "Ignore the silly git and sit back down," said Harry.
Ginny was having none of it, however. She pulled out her wand and pointed it in the direction of the intruders. "VENTULUS INFLATIO," she shouted.
Nothing seemed to happen, although Ginny had a smirk on her pretty face. Draco blinked and said, "What was that Weasel - I think you'd better brush up on your wand work. Nothing …"
He was interrupted when a loud noise came from behind Goyle. It sounded like the air being slowly let out from a very large balloon. Goyle coloured up, and had an odd look on his face. Then a similar sound erupted from behind Crabbe. Malfoy looked at both boys with a injured look on his face. "You dirty …" But he was stopped in full flow by the loudest noise of all coming from his own backside. For the next minute, the cacophony of rude noises increased both in volume and frequency, until the three turned, rushed out of the compartment, and ran down the corridor.
A red-faced Malfoy shouted over his shoulder, "I'll get you for this." But his words were drowned out by the awful noise.
By this time, Harry, Ron and Hermione were staring in disbelief, but Ginny was rolling on the floor laughing her head off, and clutching her sides.
"Ginny, honestly!" gasped Hermione.
Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Hermione and Hermione looked at Harry. Then they all collapsed onto the floor in uncontrollable fits of laughter.
They remained in this way until Fred and George rushed in, also laughing. "Ginny," said George, "did you use that farting spell we taught you on Malfoy and his mates?"
Ginny could only nod. She was incapable of speech. They were all sent into further bouts of laughter at the ensuing conversation between Fred and George.
"This is a great opportunity, George. That spell will last for about an hour!"
"Yes, Fred, you're right. We know which compartment they're in. We could charge everyone 5 knuts each to go and listen to them."
"Hmmm. Except the Slytherins, of course. Come on, let's go!"
Fred and George rushed down the corridor to make their killing.
An hour later, Fred and George came back into the carriage. "Not bad," said George. "We made over 3 galleons out of that. Here you are Ginny, here's your share." He handed 1 galleon to Ginny - made up of a large number of knuts and sickles.
"This is the best train journey we've ever been on," said Fred. "You're learning, Ginny. When we open our shop, you can have a job there any time you want. You know that Malfoy will never be able to live this down - practically all the kids at school saw it - or should I say heard it. There's only one topic of conversation on the train at the moment - you're famous Ginny! We were planning to go out with a bang, this year, but it seems that Malfoy's beaten us to it."
"Yeah, Malfoy is going to have to keep a pretty low profile for a bit," said Harry, "but we're going to have to keep a close eye on Ginny, too. I don't think Malfoy is going to take it lying down."
Soon, the train started to slow down, and they all put on their robes, ready to get off at Hogsmeade station. When the train stopped, the pupils streamed out onto the platform talking amongst themselves excitedly - a lot of them came up to Ginny and started slapping her on the back.
"Firs' years over 'ere. Firs' years over 'ere." Hagrid shouted, and led the new students down towards the lake, to be taken to the school in a fleet of small boats. The rest of the students clambered into the many horseless carriages that lined the roadway that run alongside the platform.
Harry and the others had seen no sign of Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle on the platform. Harry looked back at the train and caught a glimpse of them crouching down behind one of the doors. It wasn't until most of the students had gone that the red-faced three emerged to run over to a spare horseless carriage.
Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny piled into one of the last free carriages, which soon set off along the road to Hogwarts.