CHAPTER THREE: AT DIAGON ALLEY
It was early the next morning when Bill came knocking on Ron's door,
still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Everybody up," he called, tugging
his hair into its customary ponytail. "Breakfast is waiting."
"Mmm, I smell bangers!" Charlie appeared in the doorway behind Bill with
a shirt midway over his head, and Harry wondered if Norbert was responsible
for the long burn he glimpsed across one freckled shoulder. Fred stifled
a yawn and leaped out of bed. "Come on, you two." He yanked the covers
off Ron and Harry's beds. "There won't be anything left if Charlie gets
down there first."
As usual Harry hadn't slept very well, but he got up and started rummaging
in his trunk for a change of clothes. A few moments later he was hurrying
down the stairs with Ron and the twins, still trying to match his buttons
properly while flattening his hair with one hand. The four of them could
hear muffled laughter coming from the kitchen, where they crowded triumphantly
just seconds ahead of Bill and Charlie.
Mrs. Weasley, who was already seated at one end of the table with Ginny
and Hermione, greeted them brightly. "Good morning, boys." Her eyes were
twinkling, and she shared a mysterious smile with the girls before the
three of them burst into laughter again. Harry couldn't see what they
found so amusing, but he got the sinking feeling he and the other boys
were the source of their merriment.
Ron shrugged and rolled his eyes at Harry. "Completely nutters," he muttered,
shaking his head and sitting down across from Hermione.
Harry had just finished pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice and
nearly dropped the jug when Percy popped up suddenly by his elbow, and
Ron made a face across the table. Apparently Percy had not lost the habit
of Apparating downstairs every morning.
"Morning, all," said the older boy in his usual stiff manner, taking
a seat next to George and serving himself briskly. "Fred, could you pass
I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a rush-called in to the office early again,
Harry knew that if he met Ron's eyes they would both start laughing,
so he focused instead on the plate of potatoes Charlie handed him. He
nearly choked when he saw what Fred had hidden in the middle of the platter
and passed it quickly to George, who pushed it towards Percy without batting
"Here you go, Perce," he smiled sweetly.
"Thanks," Percy nodded, oblivious to the juicy slug he had just scooped
onto his own plate. Harry was now gripping his chair in a desperate attempt
to contain his mirth, so it came as a welcome distraction when Mr. Weasley
entered the kitchen and stooped to drop a kiss on his wife's forehead.
"Good morning, everyone." Mr. Weasley's voice was cheerful, but Harry
didn't miss the lines of worry that creased his brow as he sat down with
a cup of coffee, tucking the day's issue of The Daily Prophet into
his robes. Harry opened his mouth to ask if there was any news, but Hermione
fixed him with a warning look and he hastily took a bite of toast instead.
Further down the table Bill was admiring Ginny's hair, which she wore
pulled back like Hermione's had been the day before. "You girls look nice
today," he complimented them. "Got something special planned?"
Ginny blushed as Bill elbowed her teasingly. "No, we're just going shopping
at Diagon Alley. Mum's taking us to get our school things."
"Oh, Molly, that reminds me," said Mr. Weasley. "Would you mind running
an errand for me while you're there? I have a message to deliver." His
face was carefully neutral, but Harry exchanged a quick glance with Ron
and Hermione. All three of them noticed the strain in Mrs. Weasley's voice
as she agreed to the request, which obviously had something to do with
Dumbledore's plan. Nothing else was said on the subject, however, and
Harry contented himself with hoping they could find out more once they
reached Diagon Alley.
After breakfast Mr. Weasley, Percy, Bill, and Charlie said their farewells
and Apparated to the Ministry, leaving Mrs. Weasley in charge of conjuring
the fire for the others' journey by Floo powder. Before long Harry found
himself standing with Hermione and the five Weasleys on the sunny cobblestones
of Diagon Alley.
"All right," said Mrs. Weasley as she looked at her watch, "it's half
past nine. If I leave you lot alone for a little while can I trust you
to meet me back here at noon? I have some things to take care of."
"Sure, Mum," Ron nodded. "We won't get into trouble, we promise."
Mrs. Weasley eyed them all beadily for a moment. "Very well," she said
at last. "But that goes for you two especially." She wagged a finger at
Fred and George. "And I don't want any of you wandering off by yourselves,
is that understood?" Everyone nodded. "All right then. Stay together,
be careful, and"-Mrs. Weasley smiled fondly-"have fun. I'll see you in
a few hours."
Once she was gone Harry and the others consulted their lists to determine
where to go first. Fred and George quickly excused themselves, claiming
they had "business" to take care of and promising to meet the others later.
Hermione needed to exchange some Muggle money, so they decided to start
at Gringotts. As they walked towards the impressive marble building Harry
kept his gaze moving, scanning the other passersby for any familiar faces.
After the tragic events of the year before he didn't know how his schoolmates
would react to him, and he had actually begun to feel a bit nervous about
returning to Hogwarts at the end of the week. Harry didn't really expect
to see many other students at Diagon Alley that early in the week, though,
and was both relieved and disappointed when they reached the bank without
encountering anyone they knew.
When Hermione rejoined them at the top of the stairs with a bag of wizard
coins Harry suggested that they head for Flourish and Blotts next to get
their books. Ginny, it turned out, already had hers, but she remembered
what her mother had said and agreed to go with the others.
"You mean those were the books you had in your trunk?" Ron asked
Hermione as they entered the musty bookstore. "You brought your old ones
"Obviously, Ron," said Ginny impatiently. "What else did you think they
were?" She smiled mischievously at Harry as she passed, remarking in a
casual tone to Ron, "Hermione is very thoughtful, isn't she?"
Ron stared after the two girls as they disappeared behind a bookshelf,
a look of utter bewilderment on his face. "Well that's just-I didn't think-"
he sputtered, trailing off lamely. Harry had enough sense not to try to
offer his friend an explanation, so he quickly pulled out his list and
started searching for the required texts.
"Okay," said Ginny cheerfully when the four of them had gathered outside
the store, "where should we go next?"
"How about Quality Quidditch Supplies?" suggested Ron hopefully. He had
been eyeing the shop's display window ever since they arrived at Diagon
"Sure," said Hermione with rare interest. "Viktor said there's a new
broom model out-the Quicksilver 500, I think."
Ron's jaw dropped. "Oh, so you've developed a taste for Quidditch now,
have you?" he asked stiffly, his voice rising slightly. Harry glanced
at Ginny, who was watching the exchange with avid attention.
"No," said Hermione patiently, "I was simply trying to pass on some news
I thought you'd be interested in."
"Well of course if Viktor knows about it then it must be important,"
said Ron, shouldering his bag. "Let's go and see right now."
Hermione's eyebrows knitted together. "There's no need for you to take
that tone," she said coldly. "I don't care if you dislike Viktor, but
he's been a good friend to me and I won't have you making fun of him."
Her eyes flashed dangerously as she glared up at the tall redhead. "Honestly,
Ron, if you could stop being a prat long enough you'd see that you and
Viktor have a lot in common."
"Yeah?" scoffed Ron. "Like what?"
"Well," Hermione began, flushing a little, "for starters, you're both
very good at Quidditch, and secondly-" She broke off and looked at Ron,
who was staring at her with his mouth hanging open. Hermione sighed. "Oh,
never mind. I need to go buy some treats for Crookshanks," she grumbled
irritably. "Who wants to come with me?"
"I'll go." Ron's voice sounded quite subdued. He looked at Harry and
shrugged. "I have to get some owl pellets for Pig, anyway."
"Right," said Harry, sharing a furtive smile with Ginny. "Why don't I
go with Ginny to get her potions supplies, then, and we'll meet you at
Florean Fortescue's in fifteen minutes. It'll be my treat, since you were
nice enough to write me all summer to keep me from going insane at the
Dursleys," he grinned.
Ron's lopsided smile returned. "You mean the Harry Potter Muggle Relief
Front?" he joked. "Don't mention it."
He and Hermione set off for the Magical Menagerie, while Harry and Ginny
headed in the opposite direction. As they rounded the corner they heard
Ron's hesitant voice drifting away in the distance ("Do you really think
I'm good at Quidditch?"), and Ginny looked up at Harry with twinkling
"Your brother isn't doing too well today, is he?" Harry observed with
Ginny laughed. "No, he isn't," she agreed. "Poor thing. Too bad he doesn't
realize that Hermione and Viktor are just friends."
"Maybe we should tell him," said Harry lightly, and Ginny stopped walking
to face him, eyebrows raised. Harry cracked a wicked grin. "Nah! It's
too much fun watching him figure it out." They were both still laughing
by the time they reached the apothecary's, where it only took Ginny a
moment to buy her ingredients. Since they had a few extra minutes before
they were supposed to meet Ron and Hermione, Harry asked her if she would
mind walking by Quality Quidditch Supplies to see the new broom.
"Of course not!" she told him. "I'd like to see it, too." They made their
way over to the popular store and stood outside the window, where the
Quicksilver 500 rested atop a fancy display touting its "innovative and
superior craftsmanship!" Harry pressed his face up to the glass to get
a better view, and Ginny cocked her head at him. "Are you thinking of
buying one?" she asked.
Harry stepped back and smiled. "No," he shook his head. "I already have
an excellent broom. There isn't much point in getting a new one."
"Your Firebolt really means a lot to you, doesn't it?" Ginny remarked
quietly, and something in her voice told Harry that she understood why.
She couldn't have known that Sirius had given it to him, of course, but
it seemed to Harry that she might have guessed that the broom was connected
to his parents. He frowned thoughtfully, studying Ginny's profile in the
"Well, well, if it isn't Potty and the Weasel girl."
Another face had appeared suddenly in the glass next to Ginny's reflection,
wearing a sour, mocking expression that Harry knew could only belong to
Draco Malfoy. He whirled to face the sneering Slytherin, just in time
to see Lucius Malfoy step into a shop a few doors down.
"Buying a broomstick for your impoverished girlfriend, Potter?"
Harry didn't answer. His head was pounding with the echo of Malfoy's
comment about Cedric at the beginning of the summer, and he could feel
a kind of heat building in the pit of his stomach. Inside his pocket,
Harry's fingers tightened around his wand.
"Go away, Malfoy." Ginny's voice was quiet but firm. She stepped forward
to stand beside Harry and he could feel her holding her breath.
"Ooh, touching." Malfoy curled his lip at Ginny. "Is he paying you to
be this devoted, or are you just that pathetic?"
"Leave her alone!" Harry growled as Ginny went scarlet, clutching his
wand so tightly his fingernails dug into his palm.
"Why don't you make me?" Malfoy's voice dropped to a low hiss and he
took a step closer to Harry. "Come on, Potter," he wheedled. "Or are you
too scared of getting in trouble for using magic during the summer?" His
gray eyes glinted coldly as his mouth snaked into a sickening smile. "It's
a lot harder to break the rules when you don't have your stupid fan club
to back you up, isn't it, Potter?" he drawled smugly. "What's the matter-did
your friends abandon you because you got that prat Diggory killed?"
Something erupted in Harry's chest. In a flash he had whipped out his
wand and aimed it at Malfoy, a curse on his lips, but he had already missed
his chance. There was a loud CRACK, and the tall blonde staggered backwards
with blood streaming from his nose.
"How dare you say that about Harry, you evil, disgusting coward!" Ginny
swung her fist back again, her brown eyes blazing with fury. "He risked
his life for Cedric!" she cried fiercely. Stunned, Harry tried to grab
her arm to prevent her striking Malfoy a second time, but she shook free
and leaped forward menacingly. Malfoy stumbled out of the way, wide-eyed
and holding his bloody nose with one hand, then hastily retreated without
"Ginny?" Harry reached hesitantly towards her, and she turned slowly
to face him. His shock turned to concern when he saw that she was trembling,
and that there were tears in her eyes. "Are you okay?"
Ginny nodded and took a ragged breath. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done
that. It's just-" She paused to give her cheeks an impatient swipe. "He
had no right to say that about you-or Cedric." Ginny looked up at Harry
with a feeble smile, and suddenly her eyes filled with tears again. "Oh,
no!" she gasped, "What will Mum do when she finds out?"
"Ginny, don't cry," Harry pleaded. "Your mum doesn't have to know. Malfoy
won't be too keen on anyone finding out how he got a bloody nose," he
pointed out with a smirk, "so there's no chance she'll hear about it if
we don't tell her. Besides, it would have been a lot worse if you hadn't
punched him. I was about to hex the pants off him."
"I wish you had!" Ginny scowled. "He deserved it." She glanced up at
Harry sharply, her expression softening with worry as she searched his
face. "You know what he said isn't true, don't you?" she asked earnestly.
"Nobody blames you for what happened."
Harry nodded, managing a small smile. "I know. It's nice to be reminded,
though." Ginny's face brightened, and Harry bent to collect their shopping
bags. "Come on. We better get to Fortescue's before the others start worrying."
Ron and Hermione were already waiting at a table when Harry and Ginny
reached the ice cream shop. "You'll never guess who we just saw," Ron
greeted them as they stashed their purchases under a chair.
"Really?" Harry tried to sound curious. "Why don't we get our ice creams
and then you can tell us," he suggested, exchanging a quick look with
A few minutes later they were all seated at the table again, happily
digging into four of Florean Fortescue's famous giant sundaes. "So," Ron
began around a mouthful of peppermint, "don't you want to know who we
Harry kept his tone casual. "The Malfoys?" he guessed, taking another
bite of his sundae.
Ron's face fell. "How did you know?"
Hermione stopped eating and looked from Harry to Ginny. "Did you two
see them?" she asked.
Harry glanced at Ginny, who was staunchly spooning away at her chocolate
topping, avoiding her brother's eyes. "Er, you could say that," he answered
Hermione's gaze met Ron's briefly before she turned to Harry with eyes
narrowed in suspicion. "What does that mean?"
"Did something happen?" demanded Ron, peering dubiously at his friend
Harry shifted in his seat. "We-had a difficulty," he said finally. "Ginny
gave him a bloody nose."
"WHAT?!" Ron and Hermione dropped their spoons and wheeled to stare at
"You would've, too!" she protested quickly. "He deserved it."
"I'll say," Harry nodded. Ron and Hermione listened intently while he
related what had happened at the Quidditch shop, but when he told them
what Malfoy had said they both gasped in outrage.
"That slimy, good-for-nothing ferret!" cried Ron furiously, slamming
his fist against the table and narrowly avoiding his ice cream.
"How could he have said that?" Hermione shook her head in angry disbelief.
"I'm surprised you didn't hex him, Harry!"
"Believe me, I wanted to," Harry admitted, "but it's a good thing Ginny
beat me to it, or I'd have been expelled from Hogwarts and had to spend
the rest of my life with the Dursleys. Ugh." He shuddered at that thought
and smiled his gratitude at Ginny again. "By the way, that was a ruddy
good right hook," he told her. "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "I grew up with six older brothers," she reminded
him. "I was bound to pick up a few things. I never thought I'd be using
them on Draco Malfoy, though." She pulled a face, shaking her head incredulously,
and it struck Harry then that the whole situation was actually quite humourous.
"Poor Malfoy!" he cried suddenly, causing the others to stare at him
as he began to shake with uncontrollable laughter. "The look on his face
when you hit him!" Harry wheezed, pointing at Ginny. "It was better than
the Amazing Bouncing Ferret!" Ron and Hermione started to smile, too,
and he turned to them and gasped between breaths, "You two-should have
been-there. It was brilliant!"
Ginny was looking down at her hands, blushing all the way to the roots
of her hair while the others joined Harry in laughter. "What is it with
you girls and hitting Malfoy?" Ron sobered enough to ask her. "First Hermione
slaps him, now you sock him in the nose-is this going to become a habit?
Because if it is I am ready to offer my full support."
"Nonsense, Ron," Hermione admonished him. "I'm sure neither of us has
any intention of picking fights with Malfoy." Her voice lacked its usual
sternness, though, and Harry suspected that she was secretly proud of
having once hit the hateful Slytherin.
"That's too bad," sighed Ron, shaking his head. "I bet you two could
make him cry if you really wanted to," he speculated, eyes gleaming with
enthusiasm for this idea.
"Oh, Ron," tutted Ginny, but she looked rather pleased with the compliment.
When they had finished their ice creams it was getting close to twelve
o'clock, and the four of them collected their shopping and headed back
towards the place where Mrs. Weasley had left them that morning. "Where
do you reckon the twins got off to?" Harry asked Ron as they reached the
street corner with no sign of the older boys.
"Probably went to find someone to invest in their joke shop," Ron shrugged.
"They've been planning it all summer."
"What about your mum?" asked Hermione curiously. "What do you suppose
was in that message from your dad, and who was it for?"
None of them could think of an answer to that, and they spent the next
few minutes speculating about it until Ginny spotted her mother coming
down the street with the twins in tow. "Remember," she begged them anxiously,
"not a word to Mum about what happened or I'll never be able to leave
the house again."
Harry nodded and turned to wave at Mrs. Weasley, who joined them a bit
breathlessly and greeted them with a smile. "Did you have a good time,
dears?" she asked. "Get everything you need? Good." Mrs. Weasley pulled
out a bag of Floo powder. "Into the fireplace with you all, then. Lunch
Hermione tugged on Harry's sleeve as the twins disappeared first into
the green flames. "Look," she whispered urgently, pointing to Mrs. Weasley's
bag. A flap of parchment was poking out over the lip of the satchel, and
Harry could just make out the initials A.F. scrawled upside-down
in one corner like a signature. He turned back to Hermione and knew she
was thinking the same thing: Mrs. Weasley might have been visiting with
none other than the mysterious Arabella Figg herself! As Harry stepped
into the sooty fireplace he told himself he would find out the truth before
the week was through.