Harry Potter and the Chained Souls

By Theowyn

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 4: License to Apparate

Moody pushed open the rickety wooden gate and stumped up the moonlit path to the small, run-down house, his magic eye swiveling to take in the overgrown yard and peeling paint. It was very late, but when he'd heard the call come in about trouble at this remote cottage, he couldn't pass up the chance to see it himself. Two young Aurors who were barely out of training were waiting for him, just outside the front door.

"Blakely, Danforth, what do we have?"

"Two this time," Blakely answered. "Looks like they killed each other. Must have had quite a falling out. It's a bloody mess in there and I do mean bloody."

Moody scowled and stepped through the door. Blakely hadn't been exaggerating; the living room was in shambles and there was blood splattered all over the broken furniture and high up the walls. Two large objects, covered with sheets, lay on the floor. Moody approached the closest one and pulled back the covering. The dead man was hardly recognizable. That he could have lived long enough to kill his companion when he had so many injuries himself must have taken fanatical – or perhaps mindless – determination.

Moody replaced the sheet and went to examine the other body which was at least as battered as the first. Then he turned to the Aurors who were waiting patiently by the door.

"Any theories?"

"Neither man lived here, so we're guessing that they were rendezvousing for some reason. They were both Death Eaters, so they were probably up to no good which is why they picked such an isolated spot to meet. The nearest neighbor is half a mile away. Some time after they arrived, they had a row and this was the result."

"Who found them?"

"A Muggle driving home from a night out with his mates heard a commotion and saw flashes from the spells. He called the Muggle police. Of course, we've been monitoring their dispatches since the Death Eaters became active again and fortunately got here first. A couple of Confundus spells took care of the policemen who responded."

"You're sure there wasn't anyone else involved?"

Blakely and Danforth exchanged an uncertain glance. "There's no indication of that," Danforth said. "No one else was seen."

"There weren't really any witnesses around to see anyone though, were there?" Moody said and the other Aurors shifted uneasily.

"Well, no," Blakely agreed. "But we checked their wands and the spells all fit a sudden, angry fight. The one fellow, Reeves, died of suffocation after his larynx was crushed by a particularly nasty curse from the other bloke, Crandall who died shortly afterward of internal bleeding. One too many Reducto curses, by the looks of it."

Moody's scowl deepened, his mouth set in a grim, angry line. He bent down and yanked the sheet off the nearest corpse. "Do you know what it takes for a man to keep fighting in this condition?" he asked the two young men before him who had paled slightly. "He has to either be so deranged – likely from a potion – that he literally doesn't feel the effects of the spells hitting him, or he has to be under the Imperius Curse." He handed the bloody sheet to Blakely. "I'll leave it to you two to decide which you think it was."

Moody left the house and the astonished Aurors and limped slowly back towards the gate. This made five Death Eaters dead under mysterious circumstances in as many weeks and Moody wondered how much longer his superiors at the Ministry were going to turn a blind eye to the fact that murder was being committed.

It wasn't obvious, of course. The culprit was very clever and careful not to incriminate himself in any way. Still, the circumstantial evidence was clear enough and if they would just put some effort into catching this maniac Moody was certain they'd get a break eventually. The real trouble was that no one wanted to be bothered; not when it was Death Eaters being served a taste of their own medicine.

Moody understood this; he wasn't naïve. But he also knew that if justice didn't apply to everyone, it served no one. Even a murderer had a right not to be murdered.

He reached the gate and glanced back at the house, his face etched with disgust and grim determination. If no one else cared, then he'd just have to catch the killer himself. With a final grunt, Moody pushed the gate open and was gone.


"Would Harry Potter like some more strawberries with clotted cream?" Dobby inquired hopefully.

"Dobby, if I eat another bite I'm going to be sick," Harry said. "It was brilliant though!" he added hastily as Dobby's ears began to droop dispiritedly. "Really, you outdid yourself."

It was true: the breakfast table was laden with more food than Harry could ever hope to eat. Even Ron had barely managed to make a dent in the feast. Dobby smiled happily and turned away to fetch more tea as Harry shoved his plate away and sighed contentedly. As he did so, Remus cleared his throat and pushed a small package across the table to Harry. "Happy birthday, Harry."

"Remus you're already taking us into London today. You didn't have to get me anything," Harry said, smiling in gratitude.

"It's something practical that I thought might come in handy."

Harry ripped open the wrapping and a small, smooth stone with a dark metallic sheen fell into his hand. He held it up, watching the light dance on its surface. "It's lovely. What is it?"

"It's a Curse Detector. It vibrates whenever a cursed object is nearby."

"Dad's got one of those," Ron said, swallowing a mouthful of potatoes. "He says it comes in handy when investigating the misuse of Muggle artifacts. Most of the stuff he sees is just hexed or jinxed, but every once in a while he comes across something with a serious curse on it and that always warns him."

"All of the Aurors carry them as well," Remus said. "Since you plan to be an Auror, Harry, I thought you might appreciate it."

"Thanks, Remus. I do." Harry examined the stone eagerly, excited to have anything that might help him in his future as an Auror. Before breakfast Ginny had given him Dark Wizard Hunters: A History of the Auror Service. The book was nearly a thousand pages long, but Harry could hardly wait to read it and was secretly delighted that it was Ginny who had been astute enough to buy it for him.

He hadn't said so, of course, but he much preferred Ginny's gift to Hermione's – a magnificent volume on the Romanian dragon preserve with breathtaking photos of the dragons clinging to sheer rock cliffs and soaring over a misty valley. He even liked it better than the dragon's tooth Ron had given him which he was wearing on a chain around his neck.

Harry shoved the Curse Detector into his pocket as Hedwig came soaring through the window. She was carrying a bulky parcel which she set on the kitchen table in front of Harry then she fluttered onto the back of Harry's chair and nipped him affectionately on the ear.

"Hi, girl." Harry stroked his owl and handed her a bit of his black pudding, then pulled the package towards him.

"Who's that from?" Hermione asked.

"It's from my aunt and uncle," Harry said in surprise, reading the sender's address on the plain brown wrapping. "But the most they've ever sent me in the past was a toothpick and a dirty sock."

"Maybe it's a load of dirty socks," Ron offered.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was," Harry replied.

"Well, go on, open it," Ginny urged as Harry continued to stare at the package. "We can all have a good laugh at whatever it is."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Harry tore the paper from the parcel to reveal an old and battered cardboard box with a half-sheet of paper taped to it.

We agreed to hold this as long as you were staying with us. Now that you are seventeen, we are thankfully quit of you and it. We didn't want to throw it out since we thought it might have some funny stuff in it and wouldn't be safe.

Vernon and Petunia Dursley

PS: Never contact us again. We told Marge and the neighbors that you died.

Harry stared at the note, feeling his face redden. It wasn't that he expected better from his aunt and uncle, but it was still embarrassing to be so crassly dismissed by his only living relatives. However, his discomfort was overshadowed by curiosity. Why had someone asked them to hold this box for sixteen years and what sort of 'funny' stuff might be inside? The Dursleys had to mean something magical. Harry felt a rush of excitement as he pulled the top off of the box, but it immediately gave way to mild disappointment.

There were no dirty socks in the box or any of the other awful things Harry had imagined, but there appeared to be nothing magical in it either. Instead it seemed to contain an ordinary collection of keepsakes. There were a dozen neatly bound stacks of letters, a few papers that looked like certificates, scattered trinkets and several loose photos.

Harry picked up the photos which were ordinary Muggle ones. The first showed a man and woman Harry didn't recognize holding two little girls, the older of whom was blond and must have been about five, while the younger, with wispy red curls couldn't have been more than two. The next photo showed what Harry assumed were the same girls, dressed in school uniforms and standing in front of a modest home. This was followed by a photo of the whole family once more. The parents were noticeably older than they had been in the first photo and their older daughter now looked to be about fourteen.

With a start, Harry realized that he recognized her. It was his Aunt Petunia. The thin-lipped, disapproving scowl on her face was unmistakable. That meant the other girl had to be his mum, Lily. Harry stared at the little girl with long, red hair, beaming up at him. She looked as happy as her sister looked cross.

His grandparents, for this were whom they had to be, looked happy as well, but also rather nervous, Harry thought. They were standing in a train station; Harry could see a train in the background and the sign overhead which read 'Platform 10'. Harry blinked and felt his heart leap as he realized where this picture had been taken. They were at Kings Cross Station and Harry would have bet a thousand galleons that the barrier behind them was the entrance to platform 9 3/4.

Harry looked up at his companions who were all watching him expectantly. "This is my mum's stuff. It must have been sent to my aunt after – after she died." Harry passed the photos to Remus.

"My goodness," Remus said softly. "I'd forgotten that your mother was ever that young."

"All right. Our people are on standby in case we run into any trouble," Moody announced curtly, stumping into the room with a scowl. "Lupin, you ready? We need to put anti-tracking charms on everyone before we go."

"Yes, I think we're done." Remus handed the photos back to Harry who tossed them into the old box and shoved the lid back on as everyone else hurriedly polished off the last of their breakfasts. Then with a scrape of chairs they all trooped up to the entrance hall.

Harry deposited his mother's box safely on the shelf of the coat closet, then rejoined his friends, each of whom was having an anti-tracking charm applied by one of the adults. Tonks approached Harry and murmured the spell, then winked at him. "Dumbledore himself couldn't track you down now."

Harry smiled and surveyed the group with a critical eye. This was going to be an unusual excursion because they were planning to spend most of the day in Muggle London, and as such, everyone was dressed in Muggle clothing. Tonks wore faded jeans, trainers and a bright orange sweatshirt that clashed with her hair. Harry decided she'd fit in just fine. Remus was unremarkably attired in jeans, a tan long-sleeved shirt and a dark blue jumper. No one would look twice at him.

Moody was another matter. He wore a long trench coat and his bowler hat, but while technically dressed as a Muggle, Harry knew he would hardly fit in on the streets of London and fervently hoped that the old Auror would spend most of his time lurking on the fringes of their party.

That only left Snape, who had yet to arrive and he worried Harry even more than Moody did. Snape had an imposing presence that drew attention and Harry was certain that he would stick out like a sore thumb among the Muggles. Harry frowned and glanced impatiently up the stairs. He realized that he hadn't seen Snape all morning. The man hadn't been at breakfast, no doubt to avoid having to acknowledge Harry's birthday and Harry wondered if Snape might have lost track of time. He turned back towards the others and was about to inquire if someone ought to go and get the Potions Master when Snape's familiar, testy drawl stopped him.

"Aren't you ready yet?" Snape sounded even more ill-tempered than usual as he came downstairs and he wore an expression that was every bit as sour as the tone of his voice. Harry hardly noticed this, however, as he gaped at the man. Snape, like the rest of them, was dressed in Muggle clothing: a thin black turtleneck, black trousers and boots and a dark gray jacket. His hair was pulled back at the nape of his neck making his sharp features appear especially harsh. But what astonished Harry was that Snape looked – normal.

For a man whom Harry couldn't have imagined masquerading as a Muggle, he pulled it off more convincingly than most of the adult wizards Harry had ever met. It wasn't his clothes, but his bearing. Harry had found that most wizards, even when dressed impeccably as Muggles, had a slightly stiff, self-conscious air about them, rather like a man wearing a tuxedo for the first time and wondering if he's got it on right. Snape, by contrast, moved as though he dressed in Muggle clothing every day. He stood with his hands thrust into his trouser pockets, looking impatient and put out, yet completely at ease with himself.

"Is something wrong, Potter?" Snape asked.

Harry started, realizing too late that he'd been staring at Snape, quite rudely. He flushed slightly. "No sir, of course not."

"Let's get this over with, then."

"Hold your horses, Snape," Moody growled. "I want to be sure none of us is traceable." The old Auror approached each of them in turn, muttered a spell then moved on.

"I think I know how to cast an anti-tracking charm," Snape said through clenched teeth when Moody got to him.

"I'm sure you do, but I'm going to check anyway."

Snape looked ready to protest, but bit back whatever he had intended to say having obviously realized that it would take less time to let Moody have his way than to argue the point.

Once Moody was satisfied that none of them could be traced by Death Eaters he addressed them all.

"While we're in London there's to be no use of magic. We don't want to give ourselves away."

"We're not going to do magic in front of the Muggles, Moody," Tonks said in exasperation.

"It isn't the Muggles I'm worried about. Isolated use of magic among Muggles can be easily traced by anyone caring to look and that means You-Know-Who."

Moody fixed Harry with a fierce scowl. "And when we're in Diagon Alley you want to be as inconspicuous as possible. No window-shopping or chatting up friends on the street, Potter."

"Right." Harry nodded, trying to appear grave and not to fidget.

"Above all, remember; if we're ambushed, Apparate back here immediately," Moody said, poking Harry in the chest for emphasis. "You understand that, Potter? Don't wait for anyone!"

"At this rate it's going to be a moot point because he's never going to leave the house," Snape sneered, obviously out of patience. "Besides, you're wasting your breath. Potter isn't one to take advice. He's far too sure of himself."

Both Harry and Moody glared at Snape but Remus stepped in before an argument could ensue.

"I think we've all been briefed enough. If we want to get out of Diagon Alley before the lunch crowds gather, we'd better go."

He ushered Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny out the front door with Tonks close behind. Snape and Moody exchanged a final hostile look then followed.

It was a beautiful day and Harry's spirits instantly rose at being outside after having been confined for so long in the old Black residence. He ignored the prickling on the back of his neck and resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder, though he could practically feel both Snape and Moody watching him.

They walked to the nearest Tube station and boarded the train that would take them to the Leaky Cauldron. Per Moody's whispered directions they sat apart in order to be less noticeable. As the train pulled out of the station Harry and his friends found seats in the middle of the car. Remus and Tonks sat a few feet away, holding hands and talking quietly. They ignored the rest of their party, but Harry caught their eyes discreetly watching the crowd for any sign of danger.

Moody was slouched in a seat at the front of the car with his bowler pulled down over his eyes and looking for all the world like one of London's seediest denizens. The rocking of the train seemed to have lulled him to sleep but Harry knew that was only a ruse. Moody was undoubtedly wide awake, his magic eye alertly scanning for any threats. Snape was at the back of the car. He had bought a copy of The Times before boarding the train and was now buried in the paper, one more bored commuter, oblivious to his surroundings. But every time the train stopped, he glanced up to check the station, managing to rake all of the incoming passengers with his gaze at the same time.

Admirable as the adults' subtlety was, however, Harry reckoned it was probably pointless given that Ron and Ginny were with them. The Weasleys were staring in wide-eyed wonder at their surroundings and kept making entirely inappropriate comments which were beginning to draw the attention of their fellow passengers.

"So this all runs on eklectricity?" Ron asked, earning an incredulous look from the woman seated to his right.

On his other side Hermione elbowed him and whispered urgently. "Yes, Ron, now be quiet, won't you?"

Ron looked hurt, but before he could say any more, Ginny cleared her throat and changed the subject.

"The Cannons look as if they might have another good year. They've got a new Seeker this season."

"Timmons!" Ron said enthusiastically. "He's brilliant! Fast, agile. He's got a 53 catch rate. Not the best in the league, but a lot better than any of their previous Seekers."

"Well, but if the rest of the team doesn't play well, won't that affect how well the Seeker does?"

"Are you saying the Cannons don't play well?" Ron looked sincerely affronted.

"No, of course not!"

Harry jumped in to help cover Hermione's faux pas. "Seekers are pretty independent of the rest of the team."

"Bill saw Timmons fly in the Welsh Amateurs last year and says he can do things with a broom, you wouldn't imagine."

Hermione's elbow slammed into Ron's ribs once more, but it was too late. Several people were staring at them now and the poor woman sitting next to Ron was eyeing him as though she suspected they were discussing something illicit in some sort of code. Ron smiled wanly at her, but this didn't help. She gave him a final disapproving scowl that reminded Harry vaguely of Professor McGonagall, then looked away.

Harry and his friends lapsed into mortified silence as the train stopped and more passengers hurried in and out of the car. As the train started moving once more Harry looked around, casting about for something mundane they could discuss. However, his attention was drawn to a young man who had just taken a seat opposite Snape and who was leaning over to address the wizard.

"Got the football scores?" the fellow asked, jerking his head at the paper in Snape's lap.

Harry tensed. All they needed was for Snape to make some scathing remark to the fellow for daring to speak to him. But to Harry's relief Snape simply glanced up then deftly pulled the sports page from the paper and passed it to the man before returning to his own reading. Harry relaxed and turned back to Ron who had apparently grown bored and was asking Hermione a little too loudly how Muggles could have dug such long underground tunnels without using magic.

"I'll get you a book on it," Hermione said distractedly, not looking at Ron. Harry followed her gaze to see what had captured her attention and realized that she was looking at Snape.

Harry leaned towards her. "What's wrong?"

Before Hermione could answer, Remus and Tonks stood up. The train was pulling into another station and it was clear that it was time to get off.

The train came to a halt and Harry and Hermione pulled Ginny and Ron out of the car, navigating their way through the crowded station to emerge onto the busy street above.

Remus and Tonks appeared a moment later and beckoned them down the street without waiting for Snape or Moody. They weren't far from the Leaky Cauldron and it didn't take long for them to arrive at the pub. Remus and Tonks quickly ushered them through into Diagon Alley.

Moody was waiting for them. "All's clear. I'll go on ahead and keep a lookout." With that the old Auror hurried away up the street.

The rest of them set off at a slightly slower pace which was still too quick for Harry. He slowed to glance in the shop windows, but Remus laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Remember, we're just here for your Apparating exams, nothing else."

Harry frowned. It was the same admonishment Moody had given them back at the house. Harry had thought little of Moody's words at the time; the old Auror was notoriously overcautious. But hearing the warning repeated by Remus was something else.

"What about Fred and George?" Harry asked. "Can't we at least stop by their shop?"

Remus smiled apologetically. "Not today, I'm afraid."

"Why not?"

Remus hesitated and Tonks spoke up. "Remus, just tell him straight out, will you? He's got a right to know."

"A right to know what?" Harry demanded, coming to a halt in the street and glaring at Remus.

Remus sighed. "The Ministry is being particularly cautious just now. That's all."

"The Ministry? What's the Ministry got to do with whether or not we stop to see Fred and George?" Ginny asked.

"The Ministry doesn't want another attack like the one at Hogsmeade," Tonks confided.

Harry looked from Tonks to Remus, digesting the words and feeling anger welling up inside of him. "Are you telling me that the reason I haven't been allowed to go out all summer is because the Ministry is afraid of another Death Eater attack?"

"Essentially, yes," Remus said. "Hogsmeade could have been a disaster and the Minister for Magic asked Dumbledore to ensure that you didn't present another tempting target any time soon – at least not anywhere heavily populated by wizards. That's why we can't linger here."

"But the Ministry can't just dictate where Harry goes," Hermione interjected indignantly. "That can't be legal!"

"We're at war, Hermione," Tonks said ruefully. "The Ministry can do whatever they bloody well feel like."

"If it's any consolation, Harry, you're not the only one who's making them nervous," Remus said. "Why do you suppose Severus isn't with us?"

Remus started up the street once more and the others followed. Harry walked in silence feeling the weight of Remus's words. If the Ministry could control where he went what was going to happen if Voldemort continued to gain power? Was he going to be ostracized from wizarding society? Would the Ministry eventually have him locked away for the protection of all? Harry found himself scanning the faces of the people they passed, fearful that someone might recognize him raise an alarm. It's Harry Potter! Run for your lives!

At that moment his gloomy thoughts were interrupted by Ginny who took his hand and squeezed it reassuringly. She flashed him a mischievous smile. "I guess you'll just have to take your dad's invisibility cloak wherever you go from now on, or maybe some Polyjuice Potion."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Great."

"Or we could just go somewhere quiet and out of the way," Ginny whispered, squeezing his hand tightly once more and giving him a meaningful look.

"That could work," Harry whispered back, feeling his spirits rise. After all, did he really need to spend his time at Weasley Wizard Wheezes or Quality Quidditch Supplies when he could be with Ginny instead? There was a whole world beyond Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Harry kissed Ginny on the cheek and smiled. "Thanks."

The Office of Apparition Regulation, Examination and Licensing was just off the main street past Gringotts. Harry and his companions stepped through the door into a cramped, unremarkable room with several worn chairs standing against the walls and a counter opposite the door. A young woman was standing behind the counter and spoke to them in the politely automatic manner of one who repeats the same phrases day in and day out for a living.

"Here for your Apparition exams?"

"Three of us are," Hermione said, stepping forward and indicating Harry and Ron.

"Very good. Right through there, please." The young woman smiled blandly, pointing to a door next to the counter.

Harry, Ron and Hermione said goodbye to the others then opened the door and entered a room that was much larger than the one they'd just left. It was so vast, in fact, that Harry was sure magic had been used to make it far bigger than the dimensions of the building in which it was located.

There was another counter here and the clerk had laid three forms on it along with three quills. She snapped photos of each of them in quick succession, then pointed at the forms. "If you'll just fill these out?"

Harry picked up his form.

I, the undersigned, agree to legally absolve the Office of Apparition Regulation, Examination and Licensing of any liability for any and all of the following consequences as the result of Splinching should any or all occur during the examination process:

Dismemberment

Permanent loss of body parts

Accidental incorporation of foreign objects into one's person

Death

Harry swallowed but signed his name on the line provided. He ignored the line asking for his next of kin and handed the form back to the girl whose eyes widened as she read Harry's name on the application.

She glanced reflexively at Harry's forehead, then blushed and smiled shyly. "Mr. Peregrine will be right with you to administer your exam, Mr. Potter."

"Thanks." Harry smiled politely as the girl turned away.

Harry turned back to survey the room and nudged Ron. "You two ready?"

"Of course," Hermione said with perfect confidence.

Ron nodded emphatically. "Charlie taught me, and compared with dodging those dragons in Romania this should be a piece of cake."

"We'll see about that."

They all jumped as a short, plump man appeared in front of them, literally out of thin air.

"Good morning. I'm Mr. Peregrine." He shook hands with each of the startled teenagers in turn and had barely released Ron's hand when he vanished only to appear directly behind them. Harry, Ron and Hermione started once more and whirled to face him.

"Potter, Weasley and Granger," the little man said, picking up their applications from the counter and perusing them. "Mr. Potter, you have no living relatives?"

"Er, no sir."

"Anyone you'd like to have notified in case of a serious accident?"

"My friends are out in the waiting room."

The man made a note on Harry's application and vanished once more.

Ron shook his head. "He's an odd duck. Ahhh!" Ron leaped aside as Peregrine appeared at his elbow. "Will you stop doing that?"

Peregrine appeared unperturbed by Ron's reaction. "Apparition is the most efficient form of travel, Mr. Weasley. Every witch and wizard should be required to master it. I haven't walked anywhere in years." Looking at the man's physique, Harry could well believe that was true.

"Potter, we'll start the examination with you. Follow me."

In what was now becoming predictable behavior, Peregrine vanished once more. Harry looked around for him.

"Over here, Mr. Potter," Peregrine called from the other side of the room. Harry turned and started towards him.

"No, no, no!" Peregrine scolded, waving him back. "What are you doing? You must Apparate."

Harry took a deep breath, spun around and was suddenly standing next to Peregrine. He grinned at his success, but the man didn't seem impressed.

"Again!" Peregrine said, "Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, you too. We might as well get you all done at once. Follow Potter." He vanished once more, only to appear on the opposite side of the room once more and so began the strangest game of follow the leader Harry had ever seen.

Peregrine Apparated around the room, barely standing still long enough for Harry to catch up to him, let alone Ron and Hermione who were following Harry. Peregrine kept up a constant patter of encouragement and criticism. "That's it… Faster now, it ought to be second nature… Very good… Not too close. You don't want to Splinch yourselves by landing in the same spot."

By the time Peregrine finally stopped, Harry was so dizzy he had to lean against the wall for support. He also felt thoroughly sick. Ron and Hermione looked just as bad as he felt, but at least Peregrine was smiling.

"Well done, all of you. Congratulations! You've passed your Apparition exams. If you'll see Miss Finkel at the counter she'll give you your licenses."

Peregrine vanished a final time as Harry stood up and staggered towards the counter with Ron and Hermione. The girl, Miss Finkel, smiled at them in sympathy and handed each of them a card with their picture on it stating that they were now licensed to Apparate. Harry shoved his card into the pocket of his jeans, then he Ron and Hermione went to rejoin Remus, Tonks and Ginny in the waiting room.

"Did it go all right?" Ginny asked brightly.

"Yeah," Harry said. "But I think I need to take a walk."


As they left the Office of Apparition Regulation, Examination and Licensing Harry spotted Moody hovering in an alley across the street. He gave them the barest nod before hurrying away as he'd done before. Harry exchanged a wry smile with his friends and they set off back towards the Leaky Cauldron.

The short walk did wonders for Harry. By the time they arrived at the pub his head had stopped spinning and he no longer felt sick. Snape was seated in a corner presumably keeping a lookout, but he didn't even acknowledge them as they passed through.

"Where to, Harry?" Remus asked as they emerged onto the street.

Harry hesitated, at a loss. He didn't know London well at all and had no clear idea of where he might want to go.

"No worries, Harry. I know a few good spots," Tonks offered with a grin. "Come on."

Tonks led the way down the street and Harry relaxed as they headed away from the Leaky Cauldron. The exuberance he had felt when he first left Grimmauld Place returned. There were no Muggles here to listen to their conversation and no wizards who might look askance at him as though his very presence would call down a Death Eater attack. Here in the streets of London, he didn't have to look over his shoulder and worry about who might see him. He wasn't famous Harry Potter. He was just another teenager out with his friends and nothing was going to prevent him from enjoying the freedom that afforded him.

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