BANG! CLATTER! BOOM!
Harry never remembered boarding a bus so rowdy before in his life. Then again, he has never recalled ever seeing one purple before. Nor has he ever stepped into one that had no seats. Nope, this bus had half a dozen brass bedsteads standing beside curtained windows instead. Candles burned in brackets beside each bed, illuminating the wood-panelled walls. Harry spotted a tiny wizard sleeping at the rear of the bus, with a nightcap on muttering, “Not now, thanks, I’m pickling some slugs.”
“You ’ave this one,” boomed a voice behind him. A young man shoved Harry’s trunk under the bed right behind the driver, who sat on an armchair behind the wheel. Stan Shunpike was the conductor of this peculiar bus. He seemed not much older than Harry was. About eighteen. A number of pimples covered his face and his ears were large; they had protruded. “This is our driver, Ernie Prang. Ern, this is, err, woss your name again?”
“Neville. Neville Longbottom,” said Harry.
Ernie Prang grunted and nodded at Harry. He was a rather elderly wizard and wore very thick glasses. Harry nervously flattened his bangs and sat down on his bed.
“Right, Ern, take ’er away,” said Stan. He then sat on an armchair beside Ernie’s.
Harry was thrown back flat on his bed by the speed of the bus. He pulled himself back up and stared out of the dark window. Harry was amazed to see that they were now streaming along an entirely different street. Apparently, Stan found Harry’s astounded face quite interesting to see from his seat.
“Woss that on your ’ead?” asked Stan from where he sat.
“Nothing!” Harry flattened his bangs again. “So — so this bus,” he went on quickly, hoping to distract Stan, “did you say it goes anywhere?”
“Any cooky ol’ street ... any bright-eyed area ...” said Stan. “Although this bus ain’t any good underwater. You did flag us down, dincha? Stuck out your wand ’and, dincha?”
“Yes,” said Harry. “Listen, how much would it be to get to London?”
“Eleven Sickles,” said Stan, “but for firteen you get ’ot chocolate, and for fifteen you get an ’ot water bottle an’ a toofbrush in the colour of your choice.”
Once Harry fished out some silver coins, he shoved them into Stan’s hand. The bus was silent for a moment and Harry looked out the dark window again. An odd feeling tickled inside of him; the feeling of being watched. Stan was still looking at him from his armchair. Harry would occasionally steal a glance to the side of him, where Ernie sat. From the dark window Harry was able to see things whizzing passed. Then something bright began to stir. Two round lights blinked brightly from the middle. Harry squinted, they looked like the pair of eyes he saw in the alleyway in Magnolia Crescent. The large, hulking outline of the creature he saw drew itself on the surface of the cold window. Harry blinked ... and it was gone.
He turned his head back to Stan, who had been searching in a bulking bag lying on the floor just below him. “How come Muggles don’t hear the bus?” asked Harry. He thought maybe talking to Stan might entertain him enough to waste the time.
“Don’ listen properly, do they?” asked Stan. “Don’ look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don’.”
“Best go wake up Madam Marsh, Stan,” said Ernie in a crusty voice. “We’ll be in Abergavenny in a minute. Oh, and mind you do the same with the old pokey fella with the squashed face ... Mr Holland his name was. Tell ’im we’ll be in Shepston Simmons in a bit.”
Stan stood and walked passed Harry’s bed. He disappeared up a wooden narrow staircase. Harry felt nervous. He also thought that having Stan as company would help him forget what he had done about half an hour ago.
The Ministry’s coming after me! Harry thought. How could they not? Last year he got a warning for breaking the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry for doing a spell he didn’t even cast. Dobby the House-elf met him that day and was responsible for casting a Hover Charm in the Dursleys’ house. It cost Harry both the warning and no access to anything in that home except for the limited things he had in his bedroom. His window was sealed closed and his door multi-locked. This year, his Uncle Vernon’s sister, Aunt Marge, had come to visit.
Harry remembered how much better it was before Aunt Marge’s visit. Ron had nearly cost him another punishment for he decided to give a telephone a go. He had called the Dursleys’ home and shouted into the receiver when Uncle Vernon answered. Ron made the mistake of saying that he was a friend of Harry’s from school, for Uncle Vernon had hastily said that there was no such person called Harry Potter in their home and hung up.
When his birthday arrived, however, another call came. When Uncle Vernon answered he said that it was a London police officer claiming that they were looking for Harry Potter. The name hadn’t slipped up, but that never would peak Vernon Dursley when it may have involved Harry and the police. Harry remembered feeling a moment’s unpleasantness when he approached the phone and saw Uncle Vernon’s nasty grin. Uncle Vernon left and Harry reluctantly put the phone to his ear. The unpleasant feeling vanished when he heard a chorus of “Happy Birthday” booming through the receiver. It was the Clarks. They seemed as though they were more acquaintance with the likes of the telephone than the Weasleys had been, and they knew the Dursleys a lot more, too.
Harry was pleased after that call. He learnt that their present to him, which was a photo frame containing moving pictures of the full family, would be arriving with a peculiar snowy owl later that day. Sure enough, the owl was peculiar; it had black Holtby all over it, and one in particular lay over its eye. He apparently belonged to Liam, who had called him Holtby because of the black spots. He felt a bit guilty for not getting Liam anything for his birthday, which was mysteriously on his, but he noted that he would eventually get something for him.
Three other owls arrived with Holtby, one was his own, Hedwig, and the other he recognised to be Errol, the Weasleys’ moulting, grey owl Harry first thought was a feather duster before finding that it was actually breathing. With Errol, who had been unconscious upon his arrival, came a parcel, a letter and a news report. Harry opened the news report first after carrying Errol to Hedwig’s cage, where the owl then came back to life to weakly drink some water. The news report had shown a large picture of the Weasley family in front of what seemed to be a pyramid. The article read:
MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE SCOOPS GRAND PRIZE
Arthur Weasley, Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, has won the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw.
A delighted Mr Weasley told the Daily Prophet, “We will be spending the gold on a summer holiday in Egypt, where our eldest son, Bill, works as a curse breaker for Gringotts Wizarding Bank.”
The Weasley family will be spending a month in Egypt, returning for the start of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently attend.
Harry recalled seeing all nine of the Weasleys waving at him. Plump Mrs Weasley; tall, balding Mr Weasley; six sons; and one daughter. Ron was in the middle of the picture, standing tall and gangling, with his pet rat, Scabbers, on his shoulder and his arm around Ginny, his little sister. Harry couldn’t think of anyone who deserved to win a large pile of gold more than the Weasleys, who were very nice and extremely poor.
He then remembered picking up Ron’s letter next.
Look, I’m really sorry about that telephone call. I hope the Muggles didn’t give you a hard time. I asked Dad, and he reckons I shouldn’t have shouted.
It’s amazing here in Egypt. Bill’s taken us around all the tombs and you wouldn’t believe the curses those old Egyptian wizards put on them. Mum wouldn’t let Ginny come in the last one. There were all these mutant skeletons in there, of Muggles who’d broken in and grown extra heads and stuff.
I couldn’t believe it when Dad won the Daily Prophet Draw. Seven hundred galleons! Most of it’s gone on this trip, but they’re going to buy me a new wand for next year.
Reading that part had Harry remembering their little detour into the Whomping Willow. That trip had Ron break his wand in the process of trying to sneak out. That was the first and undoubtedly last time they would drive to Hogwarts, mainly because the Ford Anglia they drove went wandering into the Forbidden Forest.
We’ll be back about a week before term starts and we’ll be going up to London to get my wand and our new books. Any chance of meeting you there?
Don’t let the Muggles get you down!
Try and come to London,
PS. Percy’s Head Boy. He got the letter last week.
Harry remembered Ron’s older brother Percy. He was, Harry was sure, the only Weasley that took everything seriously. Mr Weasley wasn’t even near as bossy as he was, he thought it was rather interesting when Fred, George and Ron flew Harry to The Burrow rather than being upset. Harry sure thought Percy earned it, though. Percy always had his hair combed neatly, and he wore horn-rimmed glasses.
Harry then opened the parcel, the present Ron had gotten him. It apparently was a Sneakoscope, which was an object that would light up and spin in the presence of someone untrustworthy. Ron had said that it kept going off during dinner the day he got it and his brother Bill said it was rubbish because of it. Ron still gave it to Harry because he knew Fred and George had put beetles in Bill’s soup.
Harry opened the next letter, which was from Hermione, which was brought to him by Hedwig.
Ron wrote to me and told me about his phone call to your Uncle Vernon. I do hope you’re all right. And just to clarify, I have written to Liam for his birthday, too. Which means that our rivalry has come to an end.
I’m on holiday in France at the moment and I didn’t know how I was going to send this to you — what if they’d opened it at customs? — but then Hedwig turned up! I think she wanted to make sure you got something for your birthday for a change. I bought your present by owl-order; there was an advertisement in the Daily Prophet (I’ve been getting it delivered; it’s so good to keep up with what’s going on in the wizarding world). Did you see that picture of Ron and his family a week ago? I bet he’s learning loads. I’m really jealous — the ancient Egyptian wizards were fascinating.
There’s some interesting local history of witchcraft here, too. I’ve rewritten my whole History of Magic essay to include some of the things I’ve found out. I hope it’s not too long — it’s two rolls of parchment more than Professor Binns and Professor Von Seiler asked for.
Ron says he’s going to be in London in the last week of the holidays. Can you make it? Will your aunt and uncle let you come? I really hope you can. If not, I’ll see you on the Hogwarts Express on September first!
PS. Ron says Percy’s Head Boy. I’ll bet Percy’s really pleased. Ron doesn’t seem too happy about it. And say Happy Birthday to your cousin for me.
Hermione had given him a broomstick servicing kit for his Nimbus Two-Thousand. He at first thought that it was a heavy book, knowing Hermione, but was glad that it wasn’t. Tessa had sent him a book, though, but it was one about Quidditch as well so he didn’t really mind. Callum sent a quill that would write what he pleased in the limit of fifty-thousand roles of parchment. He thought that would really come in handy some day.
Harry also got a present from Hagrid and Dreagon, the Keepers of the Keys at Hogwarts. They lived in a hut near the Forbidden Forest. Harry remembered fearing what might have been inside the parcel. It was a book. A handsome green cover book emblazoned with the golden title The Monster Book of Monster. Harry had to catch it in order to get it back, and forced it into his trunk. He read the letter from Hagrid and Dreagon thinking that his two large friends had gone mad.
Think you might find this useful for next year.
Won’t say no more here. Tell you when we see you.
Hope the Muggles are treating you right.
All the best,
Hagrid & Dreagon
Then there was a letter from Hogwarts that had Harry meeting the realm of anxiety.
Dear Mr. Potter,
Please note that the new school year will begin on September the first. The Hogwarts Express will leave from King’s Cross station, platform nine and three-quarters, at eleven o’clock.
Third years are permitted to visit the village of Hogsmeade on certain weekends. Please give the enclosed permission form to your parent or guardian to sign.
A list of books for next year is enclosed.
Professor M. McGonagall & E. McDonald
He had no clue as to how he would get his Hogsmeade letter signed ... and he never did. He was most anxious about bringing this to them, because he knew the Dursleys disliked him so much that they wouldn’t do it, so he found another way. He tried to manipulate them into signing it. He said that he would behave himself when Aunt Marge came over and in return, the Dursleys would have to sign the letter that would allow him to enter Hogsmeade. But the turnout was not so great, and Harry’s Hogsmeade letter was not signed – thanks to Aunt Marge.
Aunt Marge had pushed the limit! She had gotten a little too drunk that night, it had her blown up to the size of a large, large beach ball. Harry didn’t know how he did it but he knew it was because she had driven out all the hot boiled anger that he tried to conceal for the sake of his visits to Hogsmeade. Soon after, however, reality began to dawn on Harry, for he knew about the consequences of breaking the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry. He could be kicked out of Hogwarts if the Ministry caught up with him.
Stan came back and sat back down on his armchair beside Ernie. He unfurled a copy of the Daily Prophet. He was reading it with his tongue between his teeth. Harry glanced at the front cover. A large photograph of a sunken-faced man with long, matted hair blinked at him. He looked oddly familiar.
“That man! On the front cover! He looks familiar!” said Harry, pointing to the front cover. “He was on Muggle news, wasn’t he?”
“Who?” Stanley turned to the front page. “Sirius Black? ’Course ’e was on the Muggle news, Neville, where you been?”
Stan snickered at Harry’s blank expression. He was rather amused at how much he knew about the supposed notorious man on the front cover. He removed the front page and gave it to Harry, who took it and shook it straight.
BLACK STILL AT LARGE
Sirius Black, possibly the most infamous prisoner ever to be held in Azkaban fortress, is still eluding capture, the Ministry of Magic confirmed today.
“We are doing all we can to recapture Black,” said the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, this morning, “and we beg the magical community to remain calm.”
Fudge has been criticised by some members of the International Federation of Warlocks for informing the Muggle Prime Minister of the crisis.
“Well, really, I had to, don’t you know,” said an irritable Fudge. “Black is mad. He’s a danger to anyone who crosses him, magic or Muggle. I have the Prime Minister’s assurance that he will not breathe a word of Black’s true identity to anyone. And let’s face it — who’d believe him if he did?”
Some are even wondering where the Prime Minister is in all of this. Surely Eric Cornel would have wanted to tend to this kind of business if it is bothering the public like this. Fudge claims to have consulted him about this but there is no evidence proving that Cornel has taken action.
While Muggles have been told that Black is carrying a gun (a kind of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other), the magical community lives in fear of a massacre like that of twelve years ago, when Black murdered thirteen people with a single curse.
“Scary-lookin’ fing, inee?” Stan asked. He had been watching Harry read.
“He murdered thirteen people?” asked Harry, eyes bulging, “with one curse.”
“Yep,” said Stan, “in front of witnesses an’ all. Broad daylight. Big trouble it caused, dinnit, Ern?”
“Ar,” said Ern darkly.
“Black woz a big supporter of You-Know-’Oo ... and Mr ’Oo” he said.
“What, Voldemort and Valindor?” said Harry, without thinking.
Even Stan’s pimples went white; Ern jerked the steering wheel.
“You outta your tree?” yelped Stan. “ ’Choo say ’is name for?”
“Sorry,” said Harry hastily. “Sorry, I — I forgot —”
“Forgot!” said Stan weakly. “Blimey, my ’eart’s goin’ outta here …”
“So — so Black was a supporter of Mr Who and He Who Must Not Be Names?” Harry added to avoid further comments to his sudden outburst of the Dark Lord’s names.
“Yeah,” said Stan, still rubbing his chest. “Yeah, that’s right. Very close to You-Know-’Oo’s, they say. Anyway, when little ’Arry Potter got the better of You-Know-’Oo —”
Harry nervously flattened his bangs down again.
“— all You-Know-’Oo’s supporters was tracked down, wasn’t they, Ern? Same went with Mr ’Oo’s. Most of ’em knew it was all over, wiv their masters gone, and they came quiet. But not Sirius Black. I ’eard he thought ’e’d be second-in-command once them Dark Lords ’ad taken over.
“Anyway, they cornered Black in the middle of a street full of Muggles an’ Black took out ’is wand and ’e blasted ’alf the street apart, an’ a wizard got it, an’ so did a dozen Muggles what got in the way. ’Orrible, eh? An’ you know what Black did then?” Stan continued in a dramatic whisper.
“What?” said Harry.
“Laughed,” said Stan. “Jus’ stood there an’ laughed. An’ when reinforcements from the Ministry of Magic got there, ’e went wiv ’em quiet as anyfink, still laughing ’is ’ead off. ’Cos ’e’s mad, inee, Ern? Inee mad?”
“Ar,” said Ernie simply. “Serves him right, mind you. Deserves what he got ...” and he made a sharp turn up a dark alleyway in order to avoid traffic. It, however, appeared to have zoomed passed in mere seconds.
“The Ministry had to keep them Muggles out of track, didn’t they, Ern? Had to cover up a story to keep them out of news of Sirius Black,” said Stan. “What did they say happened, Ern?”
“Gas explosion,” grumbled Ernie.
“An’ now ’e’s out,” said Stan. “Never been a breakout from Azkaban before, ’as there, Ern? Beats me ’ow ’e did it. Frightenin’, eh? Mind, I don’t fancy ’is chances against them Azkaban guards, eh, Ern?”
“If you don’ include Venus Sting ...” Harry’s stomach gave an unpleasant jerk. Venus Sting was his and Liam’s godfather and the last he checked he was caught by the Ministry of Magic about to be sentenced to Azkaban Prison for life again. Liam said his parents had earned him a trial before, and that they were representing him. The Clarks didn’t want him going off to jail once again, it didn’t seem fair.
“Didn’ he get let off, Ern. Them Clarks proved to the Ministry that ’e was innocent, that ’e wasn’t a follower of the Dark Lords?” said Stan.
“Ar,” said Ernie. “He still had their mark on his arm, he did. The Clarks had a lot up against that. Eventually the Ministry just couldn’ figure out why they were trying to defend a man who was planning to kill their boy Liam. So ol’ Fudge an’ Cornel let him go ... set him free.”
“Wait, so Venus Sting’s a free man, now?” asked Harry, a certain kind of euphoria rushing through him. “What about the many people he killed? How’d they prove he didn’t kill anyone?”
“The Ministry ’ad ol’ Garrick Ollivander in, didn’ they, Ern? ’ad him search that wand to its last extent. ’E couldn’ find anything relatin’ to a Killin’ Curse and Cornel and Fudge forced ’im to strip it down to a twig. There’s nuffink left of it now. Sting ’ad to buy another one when ’e was set free,” said Stan. “Though, the public ain’t too happy ’bout lettin’ him roam free like that, so ’e’s told us that ’e’ll be doin’ someffink to prove that ’e’s innocent.”
“What is it?” asked Harry.
“Dunno. ’E ’asn’t said anyffink since,” said Stan. “Can’t say where ’e’s livin’ either. Probably in the Clarks’ ol’ manor. ’Course, no one knows where that is, now do they, Ern?”
“Those Clarks are very secretive, Neville,” said Ernie. “They know their stuff, they do. People whip up a Polyjuice Potion in two months ... HA ... them Clarks can do it in under two weeks! But they won’t tell anyone where they live. Probably because it’s somewhere in the Muggle World. An’ you know how Purebloods react to higher lives livin’ in the Muggle World. They think they’re no good, they do.”
“Why?” asked Harry.
“Well, they’re Purebloods. They fink they’ve got all the brains, they’ve even come up wiv the theory tha’ Angela Clark is the brains behind the family because she’s Pureblood ...” Harry’s mind immediately went to the Malfoys. He could see them right now, saying those words. But they were wrong and Harry knew it, because Mr-Very-Secretive-Clark was probably all the brain. He had a whole floor dedicated to his office in the Clark Manor. “They would never ’ave thought Thomas Clark would come up wiv anyffink because ’e’s a Muggle-born –”
“I’ve got a Muggle-born friend, and she’s the smartest in our year,” said Harry.
“Tell that to them Purebloods, Neville, they ought to be set straight,” said Stan. “Though, you wouldn’t really pass Thomas Clark as the dummy type, ’e’s quite smart. And the way ’e goes on about his son, kinda makes him seem quite smart too, ’ey, Ern?” Harry smiled at that. Liam was smart, but more blunders and jokes than anything. He’s more of a brown-haired Ron than a male version of Hermione.
A few moments later, Stan put away the Daily Prophet and began to doze off. His purple hat over his eyes. Harry lay against the window, heart thumping. He thought that breaking the Decree might be an equivalent to what Sirius Black had done. He could just imagine himself in wizard prison, even though he didn’t quite know what it was like. Although he knew it couldn’t be good. He remembered seeing Hagrid and Dreagon’s faces when they were told they’d be heading there last year. They were dreading it, and they were considered one of the bravest people Harry knew.
The Knight Bus whirred passed houses and lampposts, mailboxes and telephone booths. One after the other, wizards and witches from the upper levels were leaving, and were happy about it. When they reached a lonely village, one wizard in particular looked rather green when he ran off the bus, rushing for the cover of his home.
“Right, Neville,” said Stan, clapping his hands as Harry was the last passenger in the bus, “whereabouts in London?”
“Diagon Alley,” said Harry.
“Righto,” said Stan. “ ’Old tight, then …”
Harry was planning out his life as a fugitive as the dark night began to grow lighter. He would lay low, probably seek shelter in a pub or inn nearby, and then get some money from Gringotts the minute it opened. Afterwards he’d be off to wherever. He didn’t know where but hoped that somewhere would benefit him.
Ernie slammed on the brakes and Harry nearly went flying. The Knight Bus skidded to a halt in front of a small, shabby-looking pub Harry knew to be the Leaky Cauldron, which hid the entrance to Diagon Alley. Harry got up and began to walk to the door whilst Stan got out his trunk and Hedwig’s cage.
“Thanks,” said Harry as he went down the steps and onto the pavement. “Well, bye, then ...”
Stan, however, was not listening. He stood, goggling at the entrance of the Leaky Cauldron, which was shadowed over and forgotten by the nearby street lights.
“There you are, Harry,” said a voice.
Before Harry could turn to look at who talked, he felt a hand clap onto his shoulder. Stan began to shout.
“ ’Ey, Ern, come ’ere! Come ’ere!”
Harry followed the length of the man’s arm until he met his face. As soon as his eyes made contact with the man’s face, multiple handfuls of ice filled him up – he had just walked into Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic.
Stan jumped down from the bus and landed on the pavement beside Harry and Cornelius Fudge, who had been a portly man with a long pinstripe cloak and a lime-green bowler hat tucked away under his arm.
“What didja call Neville, Minister?” he said excitedly.
“Neville?” he repeated, frowning. “This is Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived ... well, one of them.”
“I knew it!” Stan shouted. “Ern! Ern! Guess ’oo Neville is, Ern! ’E’s ’Arry Potter! I can see ’is scar!”
“Yes, and that, over there is William Clark. Nothing to fuss about,” said Fudge impatiently pointing to the boy behind him, who had been leaning against the wall next to the door leading into the Leaky Cauldron, “well, I’m very glad the Knight Bus picked Harry up, but he and I need to step inside the Leaky Cauldron now …”
Fudge added pressure onto Harry’s shoulder and Harry found himself turning to face the entrance. There stood Liam Clark, his cousin, leaning on the wall of the Leaky Cauldron. His brown hair long and curly, blue eyes deep and bright. He bore a rather large smile on his face. Why would he have a smile on his face? Could it be that he was happy Harry was going to be expelled? Could it be that he thought there was only enough space for one Boy Who Lived in this world? Can’t be, right? Harry thought to himself.
And then Harry was inside the pub. A figure, looking as though he was haunched, came from the door behind the bar. Harry recognised him as Tom, the shrivelled, toothless landlord.
“You got him, Minister!” said Tom. Harry thought there was something in his voice that almost sounded menacing, as though they were hoping they’d catch him, as though they were hoping they’d catch the infamous Harry Potter. “Will you be wanting anything? Beer? Brandy?”
“Perhaps a pot of tea,” said Fudge, and then he looked at his watch. “Oh, and maybe a private parlour ... And could it be possible if you maybe bring in that assortment of potions Mr and Mrs Clark brought in when they had dropped off Liam. It’s about time he took his next dosage, isn’t that right, Liam?”
“That’s right,” said Liam, looking at his own watch. “You may want to say goodbye to your little friends there, Neville ...” added Liam with a mischievous smile, pointing at Ern and Stan, who had left Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s owl cage by the entrance and were waving at Harry.
“ ’Bye, then,” said Harry weakly, quickly turning around once he had said so.
“ ’Bye, Neville!” said Stan, loudly.
“Quickly, now!” pressed Fudge. “On we go!”
Fudge took Harry by his shoulder and pulled him ahead of him. He steered him along a narrow passage, following Tom’s lantern, which then turned into a small parlour. There was a loud creaking noise and Harry saw a door open. Tom’s fingers clicked and a fire burst into life in the grate. He clicked his fingers again and above them, Harry noticed, a weaved tray, balancing a various amount of different potions, soared through the sky and landed itself on a coffee table nearby. Harry then heard a loud cough crack through the air. Tom bowed and was out of the room.
“Liam, mind you sit near me ... Harry, you can sit down,” said Fudge, indicating a chair just across from his.
Harry sat and felt goose bumps prickling up his bare arms. Once placing his pinstriped cloak aside, Fudge sat down across from Harry and beside Liam, who had seized a bottle of a green potion. Fudge looked at Liam a bit peaked.
“Was it not the blue potion first?” asked Fudge.
“No,” said Liam, “it’s the green. We started the process before we came to you.”
“Well, you know it better, I guess,” said Fudge. Then he sat straight and faced Harry, who saw Liam pour a cap-full of the potion into the cap. Liam downed the peculiar green liquid and Fudge began to speak, “I am Cornelius Fudge, Harry. The Minister of Magic.”
Harry didn’t need any introductions, he already knew who Cornelius Fudge was. He was wearing his father’s Cloak of Invisibility the first time he saw him. Harry saw Liam was now unscrewing the cap of the blue potion, looking utterly disgusted by it.
“Is it really essential that I have to drink this?” asked Liam.
“Your parents did say that every single one of these potions had to go down, Liam,” said Fudge. “Besides, whatever it is that’s wrong with you, the Byrrus Potion will fix you up in a jiffy. It does with everything else.”
“I’ve been taking it for more than three weeks now,” said Liam. “I don’t think this Byrrus Potion is that good.” He filled the cap of the potion and downed it, screwing his face as the liquid trickled down his throat.
“Now onto the Tago Potion ... that dark red one ...” Fudge was pointing at a potion with a blood-red colour, and then he, himself, screwed his face up. “Pokes, that one does, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, a lot, Minister,” said Liam. He repeated the process again, and this time he looked as though he was choking.
“Pardon your cousin, Harry, he’s fallen a bit sick,” said Fudge. “No one knows what’s wrong with him but his parents managed to fashion some things that may channel it. It’s not contagious because of these potions, luckily.”
Harry saw Liam mixing three other potions in one cap, and then he drank the mixture, this time with a mask of true pleasure. Fudge’s eyes were now fixed on Harry again. He began to pour tea. Tom the landlord kept popping in for requests or with trays of biscuits.
“Tea, Liam?” asked Fudge.
“Yes, please,” said Liam. “It’ll be something good to wash down this dreadful taste.”
“Well, Harry,” said Fudge not looking up from his process of pouring tea, “you’re a bit of a runner, skipping your aunt and uncle’s place, aren’t you? Liam’s parents stayed a while to see if you would be coming in. They were rather hoping, I think ... which reminds me, Tom –” said Fudge as Tom came sweeping in again, “please do me a favour and send the Clarks an owl stating that Harry arrived here safe and sound, thank you.” Tom scuttled out in a rush.
“Crumpet?” asked Fudge, now starting to butter himself one. Harry shook his head. “No? Crumpet, Liam?” Liam shook his head too, but took a sip of his tea. “Well, onto business, then. You will be pleased to hear that we have dealt with the unfortunate blowing-up of Miss Marjorie Dursley. Two members of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad were dispatched to Privet Drive a few hours ago. Miss Dursley has been punctured and her memory has been modified. She has no recollection of the incident at all. So that’s that, and no harm done.”
Fudge smiled at Harry, who kept looking from him to his cousin. He didn’t get this, Fudge should be preparing shackles, readying Harry to be shipped off to jail. Otherwise he should be reading out a letter stating that Harry was expelled from Hogwarts. He opened his mouth to speak but found that he could not say anything, so he instead closed it.
“Ah, you’re worrying about the reaction of your aunt and uncle?” said Fudge. “Well, I won’t deny that they are extremely angry, Harry, but they are prepared to take you back next summer as long as you stay at Hogwarts for the Christmas and Easter holidays.”
“I do that anyway,” said Harry. “I don’t want to go back there! I don’t want to go back to Privet Drive again!”
“Now, now, I’m sure you’ll feel differently once you’ve calmed down,” said Fudge. “They are your family, after all, and I’m sure you are fond of each other — er — very deep down.” Liam scoffed. Harry almost felt the urge to do it, too. “So all that remains,” said Fudge, now buttering himself a second crumpet, “is to decide where you’re going to spend the last three weeks of your vacation. I suggest you take a room here at the Leaky Cauldron and —”
“Wait, aren’t you going to punish me?” asked Harry.
“Punish you! Why would there be a need to punish you?” said Fudge.
“I broke the law!” Harry said. “The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry!”
“Oh, my dear boy, we’re not going to punish you for a little thing like that!” cried Fudge. “It was an accident! We don’t send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!”
Harry could see Liam silently snickering to himself. However, it was still rather confusing due to what happened last year.
“Last year, I got an official warning just because a house-elf smashed a pudding in my uncle’s house!” he told Fudge, frowning. Liam burst into an array of laughs, squirming and writhing in his seat as though some invisible hand had been tickling him and he was trying to provoke himself from laughing. “The Ministry of Magic said I’d be expelled from Hogwarts if there was any more magic there!”
“Circumstances change, Harry. … We have to take into account … in the present climate … Surely you don’t want to be expelled?”
“Of course I don’t,” said Harry.
“Well then, what’s all the fuss about?” laughed Fudge. “Now, have a crumpet, Harry, while I go and see if Tom’s got a room for you.”
Fudge stood and strode out of the parlour. Harry stared after him until he was out of sight, and then he looked at his cousin, who didn’t look very sick at all.
“You’re sick?” asked Harry.
“Not that much, anymore,” said Liam, taking another sip of his tea. “It happened about three weeks ago, when dad had a friend over. After that, mum began working on some potions that may help. So far all they’ve done is prevent the frequency of coughing and stopped the contagious levels. I have to take all of this,” he pointed at the weaved tray of potions, “every five hours. We started a little late this morning.”
Fudge came back, accompanied by Tom the innkeeper.
“Room eleven’s free, Harry. Turns out your aunt and uncle had that one reserved for you two,” said Fudge. “I think you two will be very comfortable. Just one thing, and I’m sure you’ll understand … I don’t want you wandering off into Muggle London, all right? Keep to Diagon Alley. And you’re to be back here before dark each night. Sure you’ll understand, Tom will be keeping an eye on you for me.”
“Okay,” said Harry slowly, “but why — ?”
“Don’t want to lose you again, do we?” said Fudge. “No, no … best we know where you are. … I mean … Well, I’ll be off, plenty to do, you know …”
“Have you had any luck with Black yet?” Harry asked.
Liam choked on the little amount of tea he had left. Fudge’s fingers slipped on the silver fastenings of his cloak.
“I take it you’ve heard,” said Fudge, nervously, “well, no, not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The Azkaban guards have never yet failed … and they are angrier than I’ve ever seen them.”
Fudge shuddered slightly.
“So, I’ll say good-bye.”
“ ’Bye,” said Liam. And Fudge was off.