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Chapter III : The Leave-Taking
She walked amidst a cluster of other
girls, but he easily found her by the sound of her laughter and that telltale
bright red hair. Harry stood in the corner of the antechamber, watching as Ginny
Weasley made her way to the Great Hall.
It was dinnertime, but he did not
feel like eating. His feet took him here out of force of habit. He had just
spent hours of his free time walking aimlessly through the halls. He was sure
had been buried in thought, but for the life of him he could not remember what
those thoughts were. And like yesterday, nothing he had seen or heard around
him seemed completely real. He might as well had been sleepwalking.
The sight of her pierced through that
unreality, bringing him back into focus.
She was talking with her friends,
completely unaware of him standing there. She had her hair pulled back in its
usual ponytail, but a few red wisps had escaped and clung close to her soft
brown eyes. He used to remind her to fix it, but shed always say it was
too much of a bother untying her ponytail just to tuck away a few unruly strands.
She didnt know he just wanted an excuse to see her hair undone, even for
As always there was an ache inside
that wanted him to go to her right now and tell her something, anything. Maybe
tell her that he was sorry.
He couldnt, of course. Seven
months before, he had decided not to tell her that or anything else.
But should I tell her I'm going
What a reckless, silly, selfish thing
to do! he thought. Hadnt he said he didnt want to do anything that
would compromise the mission? Hadn't he decided himself that his two best friends
could only know so much of the plan? And why should he disturb her by telling
her any of this? What in the world for? So that she would be concerned over
She had no reason to be. They hadnt
had a conversation in seven months. Ginny now lived a life far removed from
his. Even during his stay at the Burrow last summer, she maintained a polite
distance from him, greeting him in the morning, nonchalantly passing him the
plate during dinner, letting him use the stairs first...there was no longer
warmth in her eyes when she looked at him. Just a foreign, bland stare.
We don't owe each other anything,
he sternly told himself. We had good times, good memories. Let's just leave
it at that.
walked through the large double doors, out of sight.
Harry trudged on, wandering the halls
of Hogwarts alone.
It was quarter to seven when his feet
led him to the entrance to Dumbledores quarters. He was half-afraid no
one would be there, but then he saw Hermione standing conspicuously by herself
in front of the stone gargoyle. He tried to ignore his disappointment at Rons
absence, and smiled at her in greeting.
She smiled back, though her eyes were
sad and muted. He stood beside her without saying anything. Prior to coming
here, he had decided not to ask about Ron if he hadnt already shown up.
Ron hadnt spoken to him at all after that fight in Dumbledores office;
he buried himself in the covers of his bed that night and the next day left
the dormitory before Harry even woke. They met each other in the Great Hall
for breakfast, but neither one spoke to the otherRon idly stirred the
remaining cereal in his bowl and scowled down at the soggy mess.
But Hermione didnt wait for
Harry to ask. I talked to him about tonight, but like the prat he is he
didnt give me a straight answer. Kind of like you, dont you think?
Harry shrugged with forced nonchalance.
Well, we still have a few minutes.
She crossed her arms. Its
your fault too, you know. You just had to pick a fight with him. Knowing Ron...oh,
whats the use? Ill never understand you two.
Harry simply smiled. Guess I
havent been having much luck with Weasleys recently.
He immediately regretted saying that,
because she turned to him and asked, What about Ginny? Did you
I havent decided yet,
She looked at him as if she knew he
was lying, but said, You dont have much time left to do it. You
dont have to tell her anything else, but at least let her know youre
going away. At least tell her goodbye!
She just watched him, and said nothing
They waited together in the hallway,
but seven came around and there was still no sign of their friend. Harry knew
it was time; they had to go on.
Lets go up. He couldnt
believe how quiet his voice had become.
She turned to look at him, biting
her lip. Would Dumbledore mind terribly if we were a few minutes late?
I rather think he would,
replied Harry, given how important this is.
She nodded her head, eyes downcast.
Its not your fault,
he said. He turned to the gargoyle and said, Fiddlesticks! It jumped
aside, and let them through to the moving stairs.
Im sorry, Harry,
said Hermione, as they stepped together onto the moving stairs. He simply replied,
Its not your fault.
They arrived at the door and Harry
knocked. Come in, Dumbledore called from the other side.
He hesitated a moment, then turned
the knob and walked in. Good evening, Headm
His tongue froze against his teeth
as the man standing beside Dumbledores desk turned to face him. There,
dressed in a brown, shaggy cloak and gazing at him with his fearsome, magical
eye, was Alastor Moody.
Dumbledore smiled and stood up, motioning
with his hands. Its alright, Harry. Do come in. You too, Ms. Granger.
Noting Harrys hesitation, Moody
nodded in greeting and said, Salright, lad, miss. Nothing to worry
Harry nodded, though he was only slightly
reassured. The image of Barty Crouch Jr. behind that gnarled face remained fresh
in his mind. Still, he stepped into the room. Hermione followed him, her wide-eyed
gaze caught not by the sight of Moody, but by the objects lying on Dumbledores
Harry looked at them as welland
was amazed. On the left side was a large sealed jar with a small glass spigot
on its side. It was filled to the brim with clear liquid, and floating in there
was something that resembled a curled-up human fetus. It only resembled it,
though, for on closer inspection he realized that it didnt have eyes,
or a nose, or a mouth.
On the right side of the desk was
something familiarthe Pensieve. The bowl that reflected Dumbledores
thoughts remained much the same, except that its contents didnt look at
all like liquid silver. Instead, they were as clear as spring water.
Dumbledore activated the Security
Charms and walked towards them, still smiling. Good evening to you both.
Now that you are here we may begin immediately. We have important things to
do before the hour ends, so I take it
his eyes flickered from one
to the other,
all are here that would be here?
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances,
and Harry nodded. Sorry, sir.
We shall make do, Harry, never
fear. He took him by the shoulder and motioned to Moody. I will
now introduce to you the first of your bodyguards
Alastor Moody, the other
man said, hobbling forward. He extended his hand to Harry. Weve
never been properly introduced.
Harry shook hands and said, How
do you do? Moodys lips split into a grin that Harry didnt
find entirely pleasant.
Dumbledore said, Your other
bodyguard, Daniel Oaks, cannot be with us at the moment as his presence here
will not go unnoticed by spies. You will meet him later on. He motioned
with his hand, and three chairs scurried over from the sides of the room and
stopped behind his guests. Now, if you will make yourselves comfortable,
we can begin.
Um, Professor, Hermione
timidly said as they sat down, that thing in the jar
Dumbledore nodded. I trust you
know what a homunculus is? Ah, but I should know better than to ask, Ms. Granger.
He caught all of them in his gaze
and went on, The first of our tasks is to ensure that Harry will be completely
safe on this journey he is undertaking. Bodyguards, of course, will be necessary,
but as an added precaution we will be using this, he gestured at the jar
on the desk. This is the main reason we are here tonightthe creation
of the homunculus.
Now Harry, if you dont
His speech was interrupted by a knock
on the door. Immediately, Moodys hand slipped into his pocket and his
eye swung to the entrance. All gazed tensely at the door.
Finally, Moody said, Potter,
Ms. Granger, I dont suppose either of you have any red-headed friends?
Hermione practically leaped out of
her chair. Ron! she cried and ran for the door. Against his will,
Harry felt a smile growing on his face.
Well, well, said Dumbledore,
beaming at Harry. I thought it would be out of character for him not to
From behind him, Harry heard snatches
of rapid conversation:
You made it! You prat, Im
going to kill you
Hermione! Not here, okay? Whys
it so dark
Get to your seat already! You
really had us going there, you dope
Well, I had to take dinner first,
"For heavens sakes, youd
be late for your own funeral
Say, isnt that
Yes, hes Harrys
What!?! Youve got be kidding
Hermione dragged Ron to where Harry
was, another chair scampering up behind them.
Good evening, Ron Weasley,
said the Headmaster. Im glad you could join us tonight.
Ron flushed slightly and said, Good
evening Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Moody. Sorry about being late.
No harm done. Please, take a
seat while I make my preparations.
The chair positioned itself between
Harry and Hermione, and Ron sat down. Hermione pursed her lips as neither boy
acknowledged the others presence, but stared straight ahead. Rons
composure, however, collapsed quickly when he spied the jar in Dumbledores
hands. What the bloody hell is that thing?! he cried.
Hermione slapped at his shoulder.
Mind your manners, Ron! Thats the homunculus. Thats what Harrys
Ron eyed it, looking rather queasy.
Um, its really not alive, right?
No its not, Ronald,
replied Dumbledore, but the success of our plans rests on its pretending
to be alive.
He turned to Harry. Please sit
next to the Pensieve.
Harry stood up and walked over to
the bowl. The chair skittered forward to stand behind him. Now, Harry,
said Dumbledore, we shall give the homunculus your thoughts. To accomplish
this, I have modified the Pensieve: it will copy your thoughts and memories,
and transfer them to the mind of the homunculus. Its behavior will then be attuned
to yours. You need not worry about anythingthis process will not harm
your memories in any way.
To begin the thought transfer
process, I must cast a spell on you to put you to sleep. The transfer will take
one hour. We can start anytime you are ready.
Harry turned his gaze to where Ron
and Hermione still sat. Rons mouth was a tense, narrow line. There was
apprehension in Hermiones eyes, but she smiled encouragingly and reached
for Rons hand.
Without taking his eyes off them,
Harry said, Im ready.
Dumbledore approached him, his sky
blue robes blocking Harrys friends from sight. Harry looked up at the
old mans kindly face, and at the wand slowly descending upon him.
And Harry slipped down a dark tunnel,
ending in a place that glowed blue as a perfect sky. He lay there suspended
for what seemed ages, feeling weightless as air. Then the wind came. Its cold
touch cut through mind and memory, emptying him of joy, sorrow, fear. Visions
flashed like lightninghe could see the faces of people he knew, he could
The Snitch clasped in both his
hands, the crowd cheering wildly in the stands
His Patronus, a brilliant silver
stag, gracefully leaping past him
Cedric Diggory, lifeless on the
ground, fear and confusion the last thing in his eyes
A jewel, red as blood
A horrible face with crimson, reptilian
Standing stones, ancient, grey
A bowl of water
An empty, dust-filled house
And Ginny, replacing the glasses
on his face and smiling, gazing at him with an emotion he could not (would not)
He woke with a start as a hand roughly
grabbed his shoulder. Harry, someone cried, shaking him, Harry,
Harry blinked rapidly and adjusted
the glasses on his face. His body felt stiff and his mind cobwebby, like hed
been asleep for days. He peered up and saw Rons worried face.
What happened? asked Harry.
He gazed bemusedly at his right hand, dipped into the waters of the Pensieve.
The liquid was no longer clear, but a strange azure.
Dumbledore spoke from behind Ron.
Please help him stand, Mr. Weasley. We need to discuss something.
Ron quickly obeyed, gripping Harry by the arm and pulling him to his feet. Harry
withdrew his hand from the Pensieve, unsurprised that it was not the least bit
Dumbledore was sitting between Moody
and Hermione in a circle of chairs. The Headmasters expression looked
grave. Hermiones face was pale, and Moodys jagged brows were knit
into a scowl.
Are you alright, Harry?
asked Dumbledore. How are you feeling?
Im okay, said Harry.
I feel like Im made of jelly, but Im okay.
That sensation will go away
in a few moments. Miss Granger, please get him some water from the pitcher by
the cabinet over there. Thank you. He motioned for Harry to sit beside
him. Ron helped him there and sat down himself.
Im afraid I have bad news,
said Dumbledore, and nodded to Moody. The other man said, Just after you
went to sleep an owl arrived from Headquarters. They received a message from
one of our informants in the south. He raised a piece of parchment clutched
in his bony hand. The muscles on his jaws tightened; he looked almost feral.
Two hours ago, Death Eaters attacked the village of Thistleberry in Wales.
Five civilians dead, six are missing.
Harry felt the bottom drop out from
under his guts. Voldemorts already made his move, he said.
Ron shot him a nervous look, but he didnt notice.
Hermione came to his side and handed
him a glass of cold water, which he downed quickly. What do we do now?
she asked quietly.
Now, said Dumbledore,
Im afraid weve precious little time. This attack is just a
prelude. Within the next few days, more vicious ones will occur. We must act
now. He looked each of them in the eye. I propose that the
journey begin the day after tomorrow, on Saturday. Hogsmeade will have a festival
then, commemorating 500 years since its founding. Perhaps we can make an exception
this year and have our Hogsmeade weekend a little early. With this as cover,
we can attempt the switch. Are we agreed?
Harrys felt his spirits plummet.
Did he have to leave so soon? He looked about and saw his feelings mirrored
on the faces of his friends.
But no one objected.
Dumbledore nodded sagely. Very
well. The homunculus will be ready by tomorrow. I will send you your final instructions
Moody stood up. Cant waste
any time then, he said. We have to get this little bugger on its
feet before tomorrow night. He lurched over to the jar and conjured a
bucket beside the table. Turning the spigot, he began draining the clear oily
substance into the bucket.
Dumbledore said to Harry, There
is one last thing that brooks attention. Have you chosen an alias?
Harry nodded. Hed picked the
most forgettable name he could think of. Robert Jerome Smith.
The Headmaster nodded in approval.
Hold out your hand.
Harry did so. Dumbledore placed a
yellow pill on his outstretched palm, pointed his wand at it, and muttered the
Er, whats that, Professor?
Ron asked, eyeing the tiny object.
This is the last of Harrys
safeguards, Dumbledore replied, a Polymien Pill. It is a more stable
version of the Polyjuice. As he is, Harry will have a difficult time traveling
without detection. In order to preserve his safety we must keep his identity
locked away. From the moment the switch has taken place, his double will be
Harry Potter and he will be Robert Jerome Smith.
He turned to Harry and said, The
command word will be your full alias. Say it completely and your disguise will
activate. Remember to keep it on over the course of your journey. If for any
reason you must reveal who you are, the command word to revoke the disguise
is your real namemiddle name included. Take the pill now Harry, but do
not activate the disguise until after the switch. Do you understand?
Yes Professor, said Harry.
Gathering his courage, he downed the pill and reached for the glass beside him.
Good, said Dumbledore,
then turned to the Ron and Hermione. Do you have any questions about the
instructions I gave you?
Both replied no. Curious, Harry asked,
Our job is to watch over your
double, replied Hermione. Were to make sure it will behave
exactly like you. It may have a hard time adjusting to its environment at first,
even though it has your memories and basic personality. We have to make sure
it behaves right. Clandestinely, of course. Her eyes suddenly sparkled
with excitement. This is going to be so interesting! I get see first-hand
how a magical humanoid construct operates!
Ron looked on in distaste. Hate
to break it to you, Hermione, but I dont think youll be writing
a research paper on this one.
Alright, my friends, said
Dumbledore, Alastor and I shall take it from here. You all need rest,
so off to bed with you. Leave the work to us old men. He smiled at them
once more, despite the worry in his eyes. Please remember not to discuss
the matter beyond this room.
They filed out, and the last thing
Harry saw before he walked out the door was the Headmaster holding the Pensieve
in both aged hands, slowly tipping it into the open mouth of the jar. The azure
liquid washed over the head of the inhuman fetus, like a strange form of baptism.
Moments later they were in the hall
again, and Harry found himself face to face with Ron. It struck him then that
they had spent a whole day without a proper conversation.
Ron stared at him quietly. Finally,
he said, Hey.
Hey, returned Harry. He
fiddled with the sleeves of his robes, wordless, then said off-handedly, Didnt
think youd be coming.
Ron was just as nonchalant. Didnt
Well, you seemed pretty worked
up back then.
Ron shrugged and scratched an ear
that had gone slightly red.
let you face this alone, right? Even if its going to be just sitting on
the bleachers again for me. Not that I enjoy rooting for a bum like you.
It would help if you werent
such a pig-headed prat.
Oh, Hermione cut in, exasperated,
When are you two going to knock it off?
Harry stopped fighting ithe
smiled, and so did Ron. Watching them, Hermione heaved a long-suffering sigh.
Boys, she muttered, as she started for Gryffindor.
Harry and Ron caught up with her.
You cant understand us, you know, Ron said to her, grinning.
Stop trying and just live with it.
Idiot, Hermione retorted.
She linked one arm with Rons and the other with Harrys, pulling
them closer to her. They were quiet for a time, as if this simple act said everything
that needed saying and mended everything that had been damaged.
Alastor Moody stood on the platform
of the Hogwarts Express, suitcase in hand, patiently waiting. The smoke from
the locomotive mingled with the early morning mist, scattering sunshine around
him. There was a chilly nip in the air, a sure signal that autumn was near.
Soon he would feel his scars aching more often, like a hundred little stitches
on his flesh.
Moody pulled his ancient, mouse-colored
hat lower over his eyes and meticulously searched the faces of the people nearby.
That spy business itched in his brain. He wished there was some way to get a
crack at that intruder, despite Dumbledores orders. At least find out
who it was. If he only had some clues...
But no one from the handful of people
around him seemed out of the ordinary, just a bunch of Hogsmeade residents on
their way to London, perhaps for some frantic last-minute grocery shopping before
tomorrows festival. It looked like a peaceful, uneventful, thoroughly
boring journey back. It was just as well: he and Dumbledore had been working
on the decoy all night.
Presently, he saw Dumbledore striding
towards him from station entrance. As usual, the man didnt look the least
bit tired. Moody had to envy him for that.
He removed his hat, met Dumbledore
halfway, shook hands.
Goodbye, Alastor, said
the Headmaster, it was a pleasure seeing you again.
Same here, Professor,
Moody replied, loud enough for all to hear. Then he leaned forward and whispered,
Hows our little friend?
I imagine hell be wanting
a set of clothes, the Headmaster whispered back. Then he said in a normal
voice, I hope you enjoy your trip. Say hello to our friends for me.
I shall. Moody released
his hand as the train whistle sang. He put on his travelers hat and stepped
off the platform onto the train. Five minutes later, the train began to roll
away from the station. As it picked up speed, Moody stuck out his hat and waved
at Dumbledore, who waved back. A few seconds later, the train vanished into
the forests surrounding Hogwarts.
Several hours later, the Hogwarts
Express reached Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross, London. As the passengers
disembarked, the conductor noticed that they were missing one persona
strange old gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a heavy travelers
cloak. He had passed that mans compartment several hours back and heard
him blissfully snoring in his seat. Thinking that he was still asleep, he hurried
along the corridor to wake him up.
When the conductor reached Moodys
compartment and slid open the door, there was only a quiet, empty room
an unlatched window.
At around the same time, in a hidden
base somewhere in the mountains north of London, Sirius Black received an owl
post from Hogwarts. The letter read as thus:
I will be detained here for a while.
Came down with a nasty bout of flu and rheumatism to boot. The Headmaster has
suggested I stay for treatment. I will let you know when I am scheduled to return.
Give my regards to the old farts.
The long line of sleek black carriages
bearing the Hogwarts studentry rattled along the bumpy road to Hogsmeade. Visitors
usually traveled to the wizard town by foot, but this year was clearly an exception.
Dumbledore had decreed the day before that, for security reasons, it would be
best for the students to travel by carriage. Everyone was elated by the announcement.
Carriages would surely cut the travel time to Hogsmeade by half.
No one had considered that speed would
come at the price of comfort.
H-How much l-l-l-longer-r till
H-Ho-Hogsm-meade? Hermione managed to say, as she clutched tightly at
Ron beside her. Around them the carriage was shuddering so violently over the
uneven country road that Harry thought it a miracle it hadnt fallen over.
C-C-Cant say, Ron
replied. Sh-shouldnt be m-mu-much further-r-r.
Opposite them, Harry could only hope
this was true as he was rocked from one side to the other. He spread his feet
wide and planted both hands on his seat. This helped a bit.
Hermione said, Aft-after this
jaunt I-Im going to tu-treat myself to a n-nice sta-ble meal at The Th-Th-three
Ron cracked a grin. C-Care for
some R-Rocky Road?
The carriage vaulted into the air
as it hit a sharp bump. Harry felt his insides drop away as he was suspended
in the air for a full second. His hair actually brushed the ceiling. Then he
dropped back into his seat as the carriage hit the ground once more.
Adjusting his glasses, he spied Ron
clutching his head painfully in both hands. Being the tallest of the three had
Y-You kay, Ron?
Ron didnt look up. A-Ask
me later when m-my heads s-stopped spin-ning.
Hermione was smoothing his mussed-up
hair, but also said, Take that, cornball.
Just then, the carriage came to a
halt. Harry sank into his backrest while Ron and Hermione tried their best not
to fall off their seats. There was a chorus of loud whinnying, as if the invisible
horses were all venting their relief.
Finally, Hermione sighed
and threw the door open. Sunshine flooded in, and beyond lay the tranquil, picturesque
town of Hogsmeade.
A large colorful banner was strung
from one end of the main street to the otherHOGSMEADES 500th
FOUNDATION DAY, it said in a myriad of rippling colors. Down the street
and its adjoining paths, smaller banners stretched from building to building.
Sunshine glittered on brightly tinted windows. The aroma of freshly cooked pastries
wafted from the line of booths on the street. In the distance, a band played
a few notes in practice. It was still early, but the air felt heavy with the
promise of festivities.
Harry smiled, even though there was
a certain heaviness in his heart. When night fell he would be leaving Hogwarts.
That thought had kept him awake last night, but he forced himself out of bed
that morning. This was his last day. Though he could not openly speak to his
friends about it, they had forged a silent pact to thoroughly enjoy these last
few hours together.
One by one they stepped out of the
carriage. All around them the rest of Hogwarts followed suit, relishing the
fresh air, warm sunshine, and stable ground. Here and there they spied a Hogwarts
teacher standing among the students, giving last-minute instructions. Dumbledore
had asked the Heads of each House to accompany their respective members, and
a handful of other professors had come along for good measure.
Harry turned to Ron, who was still
clutching his head. Better now? he asked.
I guess, Ron replied.
Better than poor Neville, anyway. Ron motioned to the portly Gryffindor
from the nearby carriage. Neville Longbottom had bent over with both hands on
his knees, looking green and ready to retch, while Dean Thomas sympathetically
patted his back.
Where do we go first?
Hermione asked, looking around.
With a ride like that, I dont
think Im ready for much of a meal, Harry said. Lets
just shop for a bit.
For the next few hours they wandered
into all their favorite shops, starting from Zonkos down to Honeydukes.
Harry spent a small fortune there on sweets for both his friends, even as Ron
and Hermione got him going-away presentsRons was a regenerating
stationary set (To tempt you to write us) and Hermiones was
a Wizard First Aid Kit (Youll never know what might happen along
the way). They took a long time moving from one place to another, winding
their way through the overcrowded streets. There was so much to see. Harlequins
bearing golden masks and wooden swords pranced through the streets. In the plaza,
street performers re-enacted how Hogsmeade was founded way back in the early
1500s. Confetti fluttered down onto the cobblestone roads, dropped by battalions
of owls from the local Post Office.
It was early afternoon when they finally
made it to their last destinationThe Three Broomsticks. Not a moment
too soon, said Ron, looking ravenous.
Lets just hope we can
find someplace to sit, Hermione said as they came in through the door.
Oh, can I leave it to you? I need to have a word with Professor McGonagall
Give it a break, Hermione,
Ron chided. Even teachers want a vacation too.
Hermione ignored him. If you
find a booth, could you also order a butterbeer for me?
Well handle it,
said Harry. She left as they looked about for seats.
The Inn was doing good business today,
Harry thought. All around him was a motley crowd of visitors. Wizards and witches
of all shapes and sizes filled the tables. Dwarves sauntered to the bar, shouting
for drinks. A lone ogre sat on the other end of the room, his table nearly bending
beneath the amount of food piled upon it. A few surly goblins huddled in one
corner table, casting furtive glances and whispering among themselves.
He found a recently vacated table
near the door. After giving their orders, Ron nudged him and pointed at the
bar. Harry turned and saw Professor Summershield leaning on one elbow, having
an animated discussion with Professor Sprout. After finishing her mug of butterbeer,
she dropped a few coins on the bar, bid Sprout goodbye, and headed for the door.
A number of boys turned their heads
she passed. Who wouldnt? Adrianna Summershield was a pale-skinned, dark-haired,
stunningly beautiful young woman. Harry didnt find this as impressive
as the fact that she was the only Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher he knew
that had lasted more than an entire school year. Ron, however, thought differently.
He made sure he got a good eyeful before she left the tavern. Harry had to nudge
him when Hermione returned to their booth.
Was that Professor Summershield
that just passed by? she asked.
Dunno, Ron replied, nonchalantly
sucking on a sugarquill. Was it, Harry?
Harry tried not to smile. It
was. I imagine Professor Dumbledore asked her to come along for security reasons.
He briefly wondered if Dumbledore had let her in on their plan.
Hermione sat down a good two feet
away from Ron. Perhaps. Or maybe she was taking the opportunity to let
people ogle her. Isnt that right, Ron? she said, scowling.
Ron put on his best scandalized look
(which Harry had to agree was rather good, for Ron). Hermione! he
cried. I was NOT ogling her! How can you say that? I would neverlook,
just ask Harry.
She cocked her eyebrow at him. Harry
merely tasted the pie that had been plunked down before him, and blandly said,
I think I need more ice cream with my slice. He got up and strolled
to the counter, leaving Ron to his fate.
They spent the next two hours there,
drinking butterbeer, and talking, and talking. They reminisced about their adventures
from their First year to the present, dug up and dissected every embarrassing
moment, sifted through every bright memory. Eventually the discussion drifted
to how Sirius and Remus were doing, wherever they were. And of course, to Hagrid,
gone far too long among the giants in the hills of Northern Ireland.
They still had some time when they
left The Three Broomsticks, so they walked some more, meandering through the
teeming streets of Hogsmeade until they neared the outskirts of town. There
the road curved around a small, grassy hill, at the top of which lay a large
flat rock surrounded by wildflowers. They climbed up the hill, wisps of dandelions
clinging to their legs. Without thinking, Harry bent and took one in his hand.
They reached the top and sat down on the grass, leaning against the rock.
There was very little left to share,
so they sat quietly together, listening as the distant sounds of voices and
music drifted up to them. There was a slight chill in the breeze, reminding
Harry that summer had come and gone.
All of Hogsmeade lay before them,
the dwindling sunshine bathing its shops and houses in shades of orange and
gold. Its streets teemed with wandering students and vendors hawking their wares.
And upon the deep blue horizon, veiled by purple shadows, Hogwarts itself lay
dreaming over the dark mirror of its lake. Its bright banners still floated
high in the evening breeze, and the setting sun still flashed upon the highest
A loud POP! suddenly sounded
from nearby. Harry looked just in time to see fireworks erupting from a houses
chimney. It hissed into the air and blossomed into a fountain of falling color.
Soon other chimneys shot fireworks, illuminating the darkening sky. As they
watched, the wind came again, and a cloud of dandelions blooms took to flight.
Beautiful, sighed Hermione
as she tucked her legs beneath her. Ron merely smiled, inched closer to her,
and slipped his arm around her shoulders.
This is all our world, thought Harry,
spellbound. In here was everything that ever mattered to him, everything he
had ever chosen to love. It seemed almost absurd that even now, a war was waiting
to be waged, and that should he fail his task all this may well be blown to
He was glad, then, for this moment.
Abruptly, Harry said, Two weeks
from now, well get together again at The Three Broomsticks. And Ill
buy each of you a glass of butterbeer.
Ron smiled. That a promise,
But dont say goodbye yet,
said Hermione, as she rested her head on Rons shoulder. Not right
They sat together as evening came
and the stars winked into view. And while this time was beautiful, and theirs
to have, Harry knew it wasnt really perfect.
He stared sadly at the dandelion in
his grasp, a memory glimmering in his mind. Even now he could imagine it held
between the fingers of a pale, freckled hand, still see it being blown into
a pristine puff, and hear a voice brightly coaxing, Make a wish, Harry.
Yeah, he thought. He blew at the dandelion.
Tiny blossoms danced a fairy jig before his eyes.
I wish I could afford to be more
honest with you, Ginny, he thought, watching the wind bear the dandelions
away, And I wish you were here with us.
They stayed till six oclock,
till the windows of Hogwarts lit up as if to call them home. Then they retraced
their steps to their carriage.
Their vehicle had remained where it
was, but someone had drawn the shades of every window. Harry felt dread creep
into his heart with every step he took towards it. He knew that the moment they
stepped inside, it would be goodbye.
Hermione suddenly stopped walking.
Ron and Harry turned to stare at her. She had lowered her head and was quivering
Ill be okay, she
just give me a minute will you?
If there was one thing Harry hated
seeing, it was Hermione in tears. Ron liked it even less. He watched her, his
lips drawing into a thin, hard line. Then he turned to Harry. I dont
care what Dumbledore said. Just say the word Harry, and were going with
Harry didnt have the heart to
rebuke him for talking about it. He felt that same guilt wash over him. Hogwarts
was as much their world as it was hisdidnt they have the same right
to protect it?
But something in him pushed that thought
away. He had to do this alone. Had to.
Thanks, Ron, he whispered,
but the answers still no. You know why.
Before Ron could reply, Hermione reached
out and grasped his arm. Dont, you two. Just dont. She
wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her robes and tried to smile. Im
They stood there together for a while,
not saying a word. Finally, Ron lowered his head and said, Well, what
are we waiting for? He stepped into the carriage, taking Hermione with
him. Harry followed them in.
As their eyes adjusted to the dark,
they saw Mad-Eye Moody silently waiting inside, hat and walking staff on his
lap. His magical eye scrutinized each of them as they took their seats and shut
the door. When they were settled, Moody turned on a small lamp on the wall and
rapped the ceiling twice with his staff. Get going, he muttered,
and slowly, mind.
The carriage shuddered forward, rocking
from side to side. But the ride this time was stable enough for them to speak
normally. Neither Harry nor his friends noticedthe cloaked stranger sitting
beside Moody had completely arrested their attention.
Moodys eye turned to his companion.
Show them your face, lad.
The figure pulled back its hood. Rons
mouth dropped open; Hermione gasped, eyes round; for several seconds, Harry
ceased to breathe.
It was one thing for them expecting
to meet Harrys exact duplicate, but quite another to see it in the flesh.
It was as if someone had placed a perfect mirror directly across Harry. The
homunculus had the same mass of dark, messy hair, the same pale skin, the same
emerald green for its eyes. An identical lightning bolt scar was etched on its
forehead. It was even dressed like Harry, from the scarf of Gryffindor colors
around its neck to the worn sneakers on its feet.
For five minutes, they stared at one
another. The three of them said nothing. The homunculus said nothing back, but
shifted its gaze from one person to another. It curved its hands tightly around
Finally, Harry said, Say something.
He had not meant to sound rude, but
curiosity had completely overtaken sensibility by this point.
His double obliged him. First it did
something eerily humanit cleared its throat. Then it said, Hello.
Its nice to meet you, and smiled.
Beside him, Harry felt Ron flinch.
He couldnt blame himthey could have been listening to a recording
or a perfectly executed ventriloquist trick.
And that smile.
Moody, whose eye never ceased keeping
watch, suddenly spoke up. Were nearing Hogwarts. He nodded
deferentially to them. If there is anything you need to say, best say
Harry nodded back, then reached beneath
his seat and felt around for the bag he had prepared the night before. Inside
were a few possessions he needed for the journeya change of clothes, some
toiletries, and his Invisibility cloak. Everything else he ownedhis books,
the Marauders Map, his beloved Firebolt, was now in the care of Ron, Hermione
and the homunculus.
He turned to Ron, who had woken from
Look after Hedwig for me, okay?
Harry said. Dont let her get lonely.
Ron nodded. I will. I promise.
Hermione hugged him then, her voice
quavering. Goodbye, Harry. And you remember your promise, okay?
Harry felt a painful lump in his throat
as he hugged her back. Ill remember. In two weeks time, at The Three
Ill look forward to it,
Ron said, taking Harrys hand and shaking it. Then he averted his eyes.
Yeah, you too Ron. Keep an eye
on Hermione. Make sure she doesnt burst a vein studying.
Thats it Harry, make me
feel better, Hermione mumbled, sitting back and wiping her eyes.
And dont make her cry
either, Harry added.
Youre a fine one to talk,
Ron said, grinning wryly.
Moody shut off the lamp as the carriage
came to a halt. Hermione briefly kissed Harrys cheek before opening the
door and stepping out. Ron gripped Harrys hand one last time, thumped
his shoulder, and silently followed her.
Go on, Moody said to the
homunculus. It nodded to him and to Harry, and then left the carriage, closing
the door behind it. The carriage lurched forward, bearing Harry and Moody away.
Harry had to force himself from pulling
the curtains back for one last look. For several moments he just sat there with
his eyes closed, feeling as if all the life had been snuffed out of him. He
said nothing for a long while.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the
lamp was on again. Moody was watching him from his seat. You know what
must be done, lad, said the old man, not unkindly.
Not for the first time, Harry felt
doubt nagging at his mind. But he could not afford to be weak, not now. Not
in front of Moody.
He took a deep breath and said, Robert
Immediately he felt a strange tingling
sensation, beginning from his toes all the way to the roots of his hair. For
few seconds he felt his flesh prickling all over, as if he were growing a second
skin. Then the feeling passed.
Give me your glasses and put
these on, Moody said, handing him a pair of silver spectacles. Harry took
off his round glasses and slipped the new ones on. Moody studied him for a minute,
and then nodded.
Impressive. Not even I can see
through it. Dumbledores outdone himself again. He reached into his
pocket and gave Harry a small mirror. See for yourself.
Harry peered at the glass, and received
his second shock for the day. Again, it was one thing to be told he would look
different, quite another to look in a mirror and see a strangers face.
His messy dark hair had been completely
replaced by short, neatly cut auburn hair. Instead of vivid green his eyes had
turned the deep blue of the lake in summer. His lips were thinner, and his skin
tone tan, as if he had spent hours working outdoors. Most of all, there was
no trace of the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
It was then that Harry realized that,
at least for the meantime, he had escaped his own destiny. He had ceased to
be Harry Potter.
Harry lay silently on his sleeping
bag. He had been trying to fall asleep for some time, and failing miserably
at it. He sighed and stared up at the ceiling of Hagrids hut.
Moody had led the carriage here, saying,
This is where will stay for now, as per Dumbledores instructions.
We leave the grounds at midnight. The moment the carriage halted in front
of Hagrids house, Moody leaped out and hurried towards the door. After
making sure no one was laying an ambush inside, he beckoned for Harry to follow.
Moody took out his wand. With a few whispered words, he erased their prints
on the footpath. The carriage clattered away, leaving them alone. Then they
Hagrids hut was lit only by
the moonlight filtering in through the dusty windows. Moody said, Stay
here for a moment while I prepare. Dont touch anything, and for Merlins
sakes dont turn on the light. He then walked to one window and peered
outside. Satisfied that they were alone, he picked up a large, framed painting
that had been propped nearby. The moonlight shone on it briefly and Harry caught
a glimpse of its surface. It wasnt a painting at all, but a framed three-dimensional
picture of a room. Harry quickly realized what it wasa picture of the
room they were in, viewed from the outside!
Before he could form a question, Moody
had fitted the frame onto the window with the picture facing out. He moved to
the next window, picked up another picture of the room at a different angle,
and attached it as well. Before long he had all the windows covered, and the
room was flooded by inky darkness. There, he heard Moody say, now
when someone comes snooping about the cabin, all theyll see living in
here will be a bit of moonlight and a lot of dust sprites. Lumos.
By the light of Moodys wand,
Harry could see two sleeping bags spread on the floor. Moody stood close to
the table, busy lighting a gas lap.
Its a long wait till midnight,
lad, he said, without looking up. Best you get some rest for now.
Powerful long way ahead.
Where exactly do we go from
here? asked Harry. He tried to hide the note of unease in his voice. He
still was not comfortable in Moodys presence.
Ill tell you later, when
we get off the grounds, replied Moody. Now, no talking. Ive
made the cabin light-proof but any spy worth his salt can hear us yammering
in here. Try and get some sleep.
That had been three hours before,
and Harry hadnt been able to get so much as a wink.
He looked about him. Hagrids
hut had not changed much, at least not physically. It was the little thingsthe
gaps on the line of tankards and pots on the shelves, the underlying scent of
mothballs from the closet, the layer of dust on the tablesthat marked
the absence of their owner. Harry had not noticed before how neatly things were
arranged in the house, how ready for use, as if Hagrid had not meant to be away
for long. Harry could imagine Hagrids enormous frame trudging through
the doorway, Fang barking loudly by his sideEllo der Arry.
Sorry bout takin so long. Notun easy job being Ambassater,
A year ago, something in him had envied
Hagrid, and Sirius and Remus. They were out there doing somethingactively
opposing the Dark Lordwhile he had to stay in the trenches with his head
down. But now he could no longer complain. He was putting his life on the line
along with everyone else.
Then the utter totality of that thought
hit him, and he shuddered as a cold void gaped in his guts. He was not only
facing the danger of Voldemort killing him, he was leaving his identity behind
with someone else!
Even now he could see the homunculus
sleeping (did it sleep?) on his comfortable four-poster bed. Tomorrow at breakfast
it would be sitting with the Gryffindors in the Great Hall. It would be wandering
the halls like any other student. It would be attending all his classes, doing
all his homework, making all his grades. It would be speaking with McGonagall
about the Quidditch season. It would be with Ron and Hermioneit would
even be dealing with Draco Malfoy. Not only was Harry courting death, he was
putting his life in Hogwarts on the line.
And on the heels of that came another
thoughtwhat if he never made it back? Would the homunculus go on pretending
to be him? Would they even realize he was gone?
Harry realized that his heart was
beating much too fast. Stop it, he said to himself, youre letting
your imagination run wild, you ninny! In the first place, Dumbledore had
done everything possible to keep him safe. Second, dying was NOT an option.
He was going to win this. He was going to come back.
He lay flat on his back and threw
his arm over his eyes, as if this would shut out his fears. But the thought
of Ginny refused to stay quiet.
She may never know hed left.
She doesnt have to know,
he muttered, its not in the plan.
No, of course not. Its not
in YOUR plan.
Then the thought came, unbidden:
Ginny doesnt know about the
But the homunculus knows about
The thought came so forcefully that
Harry sat up in an instant. It was as if a switch flicked on in his head, illuminating
everything in a harsh, bright light. That decided it for himhe had to
tell her. She had to know.
He turned his head fearfully to the
other sleeping bag, not five steps away. Moody lay on his back, wand near his
right hand, hat on his chest. Both his eyes were shut and Harry could hear him
wheezing softly. The old man was fitfully asleep.
He could do it, he realized. He could
go now, while it was dark and no one was watching.
Harry quietly got up from his bed
and put on his shoes. He reached for his bag and carefully withdrew his Invisibility
cloak. Slowly, fearing the creaking of the boards, he inched his way to the
Hands sweating, teeth clenched tightly,
he turned the knob. It felt like ice in his fingers. The door swung two inches
open. Not a sound. Glad that Hagrid was prudent with oiling hinges, he allowed
the door to open a little bit more. Just a little further and he could make
Harry heard a snort behind him. The
hair prickled on the back of his neck. He cast a look backwards, expecting to
see that huge magical orb glaring at him, a gravelly voice demanding to know
where he was going
On the floor, Moody muttered something
in his sleep, then turned on his side. His brows furrowed, but his eyes remained
Harry briefly wondered how Moody could
afford to be a bodyguard if he slept so deeply.
I will only be gone an hour, Harry
told him silently. And before his mind changed again or his courage failed him,
Harry put on his cloak and slipped out into the night.
To be continued