It was nearing midday, that much Harry was sure. He had spent the better part of the past hour studiously scanning the Prisoner of Azkaban, trying to commit it to memory. He couldn’t very well bring it along with him wherever he went in the Wizarding world, or the Leaky Cauldron at the very least. Not only would people find it strange that he was reading a book about himself, but they would ask questions too.
Besides, Harry did not want people to get any ideas. He had enough books written about him, thank you very much.
Harry paused in his speed reading when he felt a familiar faint twinge in his stomach. It must have registered his thoughts about the Wizarding pub and connected it with the idea of food. Harry grimaced and shared a look with Hedwig. “I suppose it’s time for us to get going, huh?”
Hedwig hooted in reply. Took you long enough, her look seemed to say.
“Oh, shut it, you,” Harry grumbled, standing from his makeshift seat on the ground. He stuffed the Prisoner of Azkaban into his trouser pockets, for once glad that Dudley’s hand-me-downs were large enough to occupy a decent sized book. Harry then followed Book Stan’s instructions on how to summon the Knight Bus.
Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.
Despite already knowing how the purple triple-decker bus would appear, Harry was still surprised and a slightly bit awed upon seeing the Knight Bus. He did not expect how loud the BANG was going to be, plus a triple-decker bus was high. If Harry didn’t know better, he’d suspect it could reach the sky. Turning away from the vehicle’s roof, Harry saw that its name was proudly written in gold letters on the windshield, just as the books described.
A wide grin threatened to spill off of Harry’s face. “Wicked…”
“Yeah, we sometimes have that effect on people.” A purple clad conductor stepped out of the bus and bowed regally. Clearly, he was not Stan Shunpike. “It is rare that a witch or wizard gets stranded during the day,” remarked the man, “but we take what we can get. Welcome, young sir, to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for us Wizard folk. My name is Tim Fawlty, and I will be your conductor this fine day.”
“Er, thank you,” stammered Harry, taken by surprise at the sudden formality of it all. “If you could just…” he gestured lamely behind him at his trunk and Hedwig’s cage, “…help me with my things and I’ll –”
“Of course, of course!” exclaimed Tim. He readily grabbed Harry’s school trunk by the handle and lifted it into the bus. Hedwig’s empty cage, meanwhile, bobbed along behind him. “Is there anything I can get you, Mr…?” Tim asked after stowing Harry’s trunk underneath a spare bed. When Harry made no signs of saying his name, Tim pursed his lips in suspicion and told the bus driver that everything was secure.
Harry wondered if Tim knew what the word secure meant seeing as, when the Knight Bus drove away with another loud BANG, he was dislodged from the bed and landed clumsily on the floor. With a bark of laughter, Tim offered his hand for Harry to take.
Muttering his thanks, Harry sat on the bed again, this time at the very center so that there won’t be any repeat of his fall.
“So you’re from Hogwarts then?” asked Tim, making small talk. He was looking at Harry strangely and, for the second time today, Harry resisted the urge to make sure his scar was covered. He knew it was covered. His hair was long enough. There was no need to draw attention to it.
“I saw the Hogwarts crest on your trunk. Isn’t it a bit early to be getting on the Express?”
“I’m going to the Leaky Cauldron.”
Tim’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not running away from home, are you?”
“Why?” Harry countered. Tim was spot on, but Harry knew better than to admit it. “Do I look like I’m running away?”
Tim rolled his eyes in frustration. “Either you’re hiding something or it’s in your personality. You’re a Slytherin,” he accused.
Harry praised himself for keeping his cool façade while inside, he was screaming.Slytherin! What on earth did I do that came off as Slytherin?! The Gryffindor side of him — that is, the one majority of him — bristled at Tim Fawlty’s accusation. However, the Slytherin part of him — the one the Sorting Hat acknowledged two years ago while he was was being Sorted — preened with something akin to pride.
“But that can’t be,” frowned Tim. “You’re a Muggleborn, right? You dress like a Muggle, anyhow.”
“Not all Slytherins are pureblood,” said Harry coolly, “just like not all purebloods are Slytherins.”
Tim looked stump for a moment. Harry, too, because he was aware that he wasn’t the type to say things Dumbledore might say. Hermione, maybe. She was one of his best friends, along with Ron. Out of the three of them, she was the most likely to say something deep and wise and profound, not Harry.
Feeling uncomfortable at the conductor’s gaze on him, Harry fidgeted on the bed. Finally he decided to get out the elven Sickles that was the fare. The Knight Bus found London without much conversation going on between Harry and Tim, which was what the former preferred. The ride was awkward at the most, but Harry did not dwell on that thought. He had bigger things to worry about… like the Minister for Magic, for instance.
“Am I in deep trouble, Minister Fudge?” asked Harry the moment he stepped on the road in front of the Leaky Cauldron. (He knew this was coming.) Even though there was a purple triple-decker bus on the road, the many Muggles around paid no heed to it. They stared, though, at the portly little man wearing a pinstripe cloak. Who wore cloaks in this summer weather?
“No,” said Fudge, squirming under the Muggles’ scrutiny. “Why don’t we take this inside the Leaky, shall we? We can discuss the predicament we seem find ourselves in over some hearty soup.”
Harry was in no place to decline, so he sent a nod over his shoulder at Tim as a goodbye. The conductor’s complexion matched his uniform when he realized that the odd student — (really, a Muggleborn Slytherin?) — was on talking terms with the Minster of Magic.
Fudge led the way inside the pub as Tom, the landlord, hobbled to the Knight Bus to collect Harry’s things. When everything was settled, Harry found himself sitting opposite Fudge on a particularly large round table, eating crumpets and drinking pumpkin juice. Merlin, did Harry miss pumpkin juice.
“Well, Mr. Potter,” said Fudge, pouring himself a drink from the bottle the waitress just brought in. Upon hearing Harry’s name, the waitress’ head snapped up and her eyes immediately sought out Harry’s scar.
“Please,” interrupted Harry. He had enough formalities today from Tim. “Call me Harry.”
Fudge, looking flustered after being interrupted, nodded his head in understanding and continued whatever it was he was going to say. “I hope you don’t mind me telling you, Harry,” he locked eyes with the boy, “but you’ve had us all in a right flap. You shouldn’t have run away from your aunt and uncle’s house like that!”
Harry placed his knife and fork down and did not tear his eyes away from Fudge’s. “I wasn’t running away as much as I was hiding from their reaction,” he admitted. Feigning concern, he asked the Minister how his relatives were faring with Aunt Marge’s condition.
Meanwhile, the waitress that was staring at him snapped back to reality and scuttled out of the room.
“I won’t deny anything, Harry,” said Fudge. “You’re aunt and uncle are extremely angry with you, but they are prepared to take you back this summer. Unfortunately, you’re required to stay at Hogwarts during the Christmas and Eater holidays.”
“That’s fine with me. And Aunt Marge?”
“She’s perfectly all right, Harry. Two of the Accidental Magic Reversal Department’s most trusted and competent members were dispatched to Privet Drive thirty minutes after the incident happened. Miss Marjorie Dursley is back to her normal self and, taking into account your uncle’s shouts of her being permanently scarred from this affair, her memory is wiped clean as well. She’ll be just like you remembered her, Harry.”
Fudge, not noticing that Harry’s smile was fake, chortled happily and chatted about trivial things as they finished their lunch. “Oh, and by the way, Harry, I’ve booked a room for you here in the Leaky for the last few weeks of the summer holidays. I’m sure you’ll be very comfortable in room eleven. You can go wherever you want in Diagon Alley during the day, Harry. Go to Gringotts and do your school shopping. Check out that new model of broomstick at –”
“The Firebolt, you mean?” interrupted Harry, the Quidditch player in him getting the better of his manners.
“You’ve heard about that, have you?” asked Fudge amusedly. “It’s not even out in the shops yet.” Then his smile slipped off and he grew serious. “I don’t want you wandering off to Muggle London. Keep to Diagon Alley only. Don’t go into Knockturn Alley, either, and make sure you’re to be back here before dark each night. It’s for your safety, Harry. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Are you putting me in some sort of house arrest because of what I did to Aunt Marge?” Harry’s tone, though light, had a hint of seriousness to it. “Because if you are, I can assure you that nothing of that sort would happen again, Minister.”
“No, nothing of that sort!” laughed Fudge obnoxiously. “We just don’t want to lose you again, do we? No, no… best we know where you are… Tom would be keeping an eye on you for me. Well, I think it’s time for me to go!”
Harry watched Fudge stand up and re-hook the silver fastenings of his cloak. “Is this about Black then, Minister?” he asked, unable to contain himself any longer.
“What’s that? Oh, you’ve heard — well, no, not yet, but it’s only a matter of time.” As he spoke, Fudge was encroaching towards the door. As he said his goodbyes, Harry forced his mouth shut from asking any more questions and let the poor man go. He already knew what’s gotten his knickers in a twist: Sirius Black, the man wrongfully imprisoned for a crime one of his trusted friends had committed. What’s more, he was the man whom Harry just met face to face mere hours ago.
Harry Potter woke up from sleep feeling very weary. His face hurt terribly, especially around the side of his face where his glasses pressed uncomfortably against his skin. He had fallen asleep reading again and had forgotten to remove his glasses, or perhaps he had convinced himself that he was just going to rest his eyes before opening them again to finish a chapter. He had done that a lot lately, reading until his eyes couldn’t take it anymore. It had come to a point that his excuses — not to mention his days — just melted into one long mesh of night and day.
But it wasn’t like he could help it. After finishing the Goblet of Fire, Harry found that he couldn’t put the Order of the Phoenix down even if his life depended on it. He wanted to know what Voldemort planned on doing. The Dark Lord had gotten himself a body by the end of the fourth book, and Harry wanted to know how much damage he was causing in book five.
Harry needed to know. He needed to be ready. Opening the thick book to the right page, Harry quickly scanned the paragraphs until he found where he left off last night — or was it earlier in the morning?
‘FOUR WEEKS I’VE BEEN STUCK IN PRIVET DRIVE, NICKING PAPERS OUT OF BINS TO TRY AND FIND OUT WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON –’
‘We wanted to -’
‘I SUPPOSE YOU’VE BEEN HAVING A REAL LAUGH, HAVEN’T YOU, ALL HOLED UP HERE TOGETHER -’
‘No, honest -’
With a disgusted cry, Harry slammed the book shut and threw it across the bed. He wouldn’t grow up to be that much of an self-centered idiot, would he? Shouting at his friends, thinking about only himself and not considering what others must be going through… Two years from now wouldn’t find him like that, right?
“Merlin,” Harry muttered, rubbing the back of his neck to relax the muscles. “I certainly hope not.”
Harry stood up, swayed a bit as he gained his bearings, and made his way to the bathroom where he took a quick shower before going downstairs to eat his breakfast. Tom greeted his cheerfully as was the routine, and Harry smiled and listed what he felt like eating today. Despite Fudge’s ominous warnings to never stray out of Diagon Alley, Harry found himself enjoying his freedom. Never before had been allowed to eat anything he pleased whenever he fancied, and it was novelty every day as his appetite showed his Gryffindor personality.
“I’d like to try something different today, Tom,” Harry told the bartender.
“Don’t you always?” the old man behind the bar said, chuckling. “I take it you’ve grown out of your French cuisine stage?”
Harry grimaced and involuntarily grabbed his stomach. Those frog’s legs did not agree with him. “No, I think I’m done with the French, Tom. How about something more exotic? Indian food, perhaps? I overheard a classmate of mine talking that the spices are exquisite.”
“How about some curry then?” suggested Tom. “It’s not breakfast food, but it’s Indian.”
“Fantastic. I’ll have that, then.”
As Harry ate his so-called breakfast, his eyes scanned the busy pub for a familiar family with red hair. The hours passed and Harry grew anxious. Perhaps he had things wrong. Was he certain that the Weasleys would be in Diagon Alley today of all days? Maybe they had already done their school shopping and Harry had missed them because he was holed up in his room like a vampire afraid of daylight.
A frown marred the young wizard’s face. With butterflies fluttering in his stomach, Harry reached into his robes — he had begun wearing them to blend in to the Wizarding crowd — and took out the Prisoner of Azkaban. He had taken to carrying it with him everywhere, just in case he needed to check up on something. Like the date of the Weasleys’ arrival, for instance.
Harry flipped through the book furiously until his eyes caught the part where Mr. Weasley was warning him against Black. Flipping to the pages before that, Harry scanned the paragraphs until he read over the part where he met up with Ron and Hermione. The scene was at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor.
Should I be there? Harry asked himself. But I wanted to meet them before that, and the books says that they checked the Leaky Cauldron first. Perhaps I should just follow the book’s timeline –
Loud shuffling came from the general direction of the fireplace, and Harry turned on his seat to see what the scuffle was all about. Seeing two familiar heads of hair, a grin tugged on Harry’s lips. Quietly as to not give away his position, Harry crept behind the Weasley twins and, just as the Floo burped out Ginny, Harry tapped the boys’ inside shoulders. They were standing so close together that when they turned around to see who wanted their attention, their heads bumped quite painfully.
“Hello there, Fred, George,” Harry greeted amicably. “I trust you’ve had a fine time in Egypt.”
“It was wonderful, Harry,” said the twin whom Harry assumed was Fred. “You should’ve been there — ow!” Fred winced at George elbowed. “What in Merlin’s name was that for?”
George rolled his eyes dramatically. “Oh, my less intelligent twin, I see you are completely unaware of the prank young Harry has just pulled on us.”
“A prank?” echoed Fred. George nodded sombrely. “You mean the –” George nodded again and this time, Fred understood enough to realize that the reason a part of his head was throbbing was because of the young upstart more popularly known as the Boy Who Lived. “Why you…” he said before proceeding to call Harry a very nasty name.
“My sentiments exactly,” agreed George, reaching out to ruffle Harry’s hair.
“Hey,” shouted Harry, skillfully dodging away. “What I did was completely tame compared to what you lot do! I say it was only fair that I did what I did.”
“And what exactly did you do, Harry?” someone from behind Fred and George asked. The twins dutifully stepped back to reveal a soot covered Ron, flanked by his parents, Percy and Ginny, who was flushed red from laughing, having witnessed Harry’s harmless trick on her brothers.
“Ron!” exclaimed Harry. The two best friends, after weeks of separation, met halfways to engulf each other in a manly hug. The hug in itself wasn’t a hug, but more of a round of back slapping and uttered “glad to see you”, “you look well” and “that was some bloody good magic you did on your aunt!”
The last, of course, was said by Ron. Ignoring his mother’s reprimands, the redhead smiled sheepishly at Harry before asking whether he wanted to come with his family to Diagon Alley. “It’s Hermione,” Ron said. “She said that she’ll be at Fortescue’s after doing her school shopping. You haven’t seen her around, have you?”
“Nah, ‘fraid not. Haven’t seen anyone from Hogwarts, actually.” Harry rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably, debating over whether or not to tell Ron — and Hermione, for that matter — about the books he had received on his birthday. “I’ve uh, I’ve been stuck indoors most of the time.”
Ron grimaced and patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Did the Minister put you on house arrest or something? I heard from Fred and George who heard from Dad that he came and got you from the Muggles.”
Harry doubted that it was in Fudge’s list of responsibilities as Minister of Magic to retrieve Hogwarts students from Muggle relatives for doing accidental magic. “No,” Harry shot down Ron’s assumption. “I wasn’t put on house arrest. I was free to do anything, actually. And I did roam around the Alley the first few days. But then I got caught up in reading and –”
“Those nasty essays killing you, too?” Ron rubbed his ear, deep in thought. “I swear I almost died when Mum threatened to leave me in Egypt if I skipped on my essays.”
Deciding not to correct his friend, Harry hastily bobbed his head up and down. Before long, the two boys passed by Quality Quidditch Supplies and were sufficiently distracted by the Firebolt on display. They found Hermione half an hour later in Florean Fortescue’s, cradling a ball of fluffy orange fur named Crookshanks. The lecturing that followed the brief pleasantries made Harry half wish he was back in his room, but he understood that Hermione meant well.
Boy, was he glad to be among familiar faces again.