The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: No Easy Goodbyes  Chapter: Chapter Two
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Part Two

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Harry stooped over the body of the tabby cat, his hand shaking slightly as he reached out to touch it. It's fur was still warm, and the yellow eyes were open, staring blankly into Harry's in a way which made him shudder. There were no visible wounds on the cat's body; no blood upon the tabby fur. Harry remembered the Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson - how could he forget it? - when he had seen Avada Kedavra, the killing curse, used on a spider by the man they had believed to be Professor Moody. It was the same curse Voldemort had used to kill Harry's parents, and after that lesson Harry had been haunted by the image of their unmarked, lifeless bodies...and then he had seen Cedric...

He was startled out of this reverie by a piercing yowl from behind him, and whipped round jumpily, half-expecting the Death Eaters to return in search of him.

But instead, another pair of yellow eyes stared at him from the darkness, and he remembered Blackie, the other cat.

"Oh, it's you." Harry straightened up and looked around him rather nervously in the darkness. The Dark Mark still glittered, huge and green and menacing in the sky above Mrs. Figg's empty house. Harry couldn't believe that none of the Muggle neighbours had noticed it, but there was no movement from the surrounding houses, other than the rustle of a light breeze passing through the garden bushes.

Harry grasped his wand tightly in his right hand and wondered what to do next. He didn't like to leave the dead cat lying on the doorstep. Mrs. Figg ought to know about it - but where was she? She might be at Lupin's house, but she might be somewhere else altogether. Dumbledore ought to know about this too - Harry was sure he would want to know that the Death Eaters had been here, conjuring the Dark Mark and looking, presumably, for Mrs. Figg.

Harry made up his mind. He bent and picked up the body of the dead cat, shuddering slightly, crossed the front lawn and laid it under a nearby bush, where it would be concealed from the eyes of Mrs. Figg's neighbours for the moment. He would go back to 4 Privet Drive, he decided, and send Hedwig with a message to Dumbledore, describing what had happened and asking him what Harry should do next. Yes, that seemed like the best thing to do. Harry turned, taking one last look at the deserted house, and walked out of the garden gate.

He had walked a few hundred yards up the pavement on his way back from Acacia Avenue to Privet Drive when he became aware that he was not alone. The hairs on the back of his neck were prickling, and when he turned, the black cat was following him, about ten yards behind him. It regarded him with those yellow eyes, and again he was reminded of Crookshanks.

"I can't take you to the Dursleys," he said uneasily. "Sorry, but they'd go mad. They hate Hedwig as it is."

Blackie, however, showed no inclination to turn round and return to Acacia Avenue. When Harry started walking again, Blackie continued to follow him, and eventually, after looking over his shoulder a few more times, Harry shrugged and just kept going.

The Dursleys' house was still in darkness when he returned to it. When he crept out to go to Mrs. Figg's house, Harry had left the front door unlocked, not wanting to run any risks of disturbing the household when he came back. All he could do now, he thought, was to creep in, bolt the door again so that the Dursleys wouldn't know he had been out, get back to his room and send Hedwig to Dumbledore as quickly as possible. After that, he wouldn't be able to do much except wait impatiently for Dumbledore's answer.

Harry sighed as he looked at Blackie, who had sat down by the Dursleys' front gate. "Well, I'll try and nick some food for you later, OK?" he whispered to the cat. "Just don't let them see you hanging around."

Gently, quietly, Harry pushed the front door open and stepped into the hall. He closed the door and was just sliding the first bolt back into place as silently as he could when -

- a heavy hand fell on his shoulder.

"WHAT THE BLAZES ARE YOU DOING, YOU - YOU - UNSPEAKABLE BOY?"

Harry yelled in shock, his heart suddenly pounding like a trip-hammer, spun round, and tried to find the light switch and his wand at the same time. He was still fumbling unsuccessfully when the light came on anyway, flooding the hall with blinding brightness, and he found himself staring into the infuriated piggy eyes of his Uncle Vernon, who was grasping his shoulder in an iron grip. With his fat face reddened with rage, his hair standing on end from sleep, and his body bulging out of his striped pyjamas, Uncle Vernon was not a pretty sight.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF THE HOUSE AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?"

As Harry opened and closed his mouth, trying to think of an answer that would not cause further wrath, more lights clicked on upstairs, and hurried footsteps scurried across the landing, before Aunt Petunia's voice shrilled above them.

"Vernon? What's going on?" Aunt Petunia, her bony face covered in a thick layer of night-cream and her hair in curlers, was not a pretty sight either. Her eyes narrowed as she saw Harry. "What's he done now?"

"Done? I've just caught him sneaking back into the house!" Uncle Vernon hissed, sending flecks of saliva flying into Harry's face. "What have you been up to, boy? Creeping out to meet one of your abnormal friends? Or have you been bothering some young girl - if you've laid a finger on Tracey Runton - "

"No!" Harry said hastily. "Honestly, I haven't been out to meet anyone. I was hot and I couldn 't sleep, so I went out to get some fresh air, that's all." He looked hopefully at his uncle. Harry wasn't afraid of his uncle and aunt as he had once been when he was younger, but he really didn't need a huge scene here and now. All he wanted to do was to get that message off to Dumbledore.

"If you expect me to believe that -" Uncle Vernon began.

"AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" A terrified yell cut across Uncle Vernon. The two Dursleys and Harry froze and looked up as the door of Dudley's room burst open. Dishevelled, pyjama-clad and terrified, Dudley erupted on to the landing, shaking like a huge horrified jelly. "Mum! Dad!" He paused at the sight which met his eyes. "What -?"

"Duddy darling, what's the matter?" Aunt Petunia had swooped on her precious son, throwing her arms as far around him as they would go, which, these days, was only about half-way. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"I - I -" Harry was interested to observe that Dudley seemed genuinely terrified. "I woke up - I heard a noise - someone shouting - "

"No need to worry, Duddykins, that was just Daddy catching Harry doing something he shouldn't be - as usual - now you just go back to bed -" Aunt Petunia said soothingly.

"No! You don't understand!" Dudley pushed her away impatiently. "I got up to see what the noise was - I looked out of the window and - and -" His eyes widened with remembered terror. "There's this horrible - THING - in the sky!"

Harry's heart sank into his trainers.

"A thing in the sky?" Uncle Vernon said, mystified. "What, a UFO or something, you mean?"

"No - a horrible great green thing - like a skull - and - and - a snake!"

Uncle Vernon's gaze swivelled suspiciously towards Harry. "Is this something to do with you?" But without giving Harry a chance to answer, Uncle Vernon pulled the front door open, and marched outside to take a look.

Harry waited in the hall, and, as he expected, there was another yell from his uncle within seconds.

"You boy! Get out here! Petunia! Come and look at what that evil little - WART! - has done now!"

Throwing looks of deep distrust at Harry, Aunt Petunia and Dudley came down the stairs and passed him on their way out of the front door. Reluctantly, Harry followed them into the garden.

The Dark Mark had grown slightly fainter now, and was beginning to fade, the shape a little smoky around the edges, but it was still quite noticeable, hovering sickeningly over Acacia Avenue.

"What - is - that?" Uncle Vernon hissed at Harry, his face even redder than before.

"I didn't do it!" Harry protested, although with little hope of being believed.

"Don't lie to me, boy! This is a respectable neighbourhood - you're the only one who'd be out at night doing abnormal, disgusting - thought you'd have a bit of practice with that wand of yours, did you? Do some conjuring tricks?"

"Honestly, it wasn't -"

"Vernon!" Aunt Petunia's eyes had widened in horror. "What if the neighbours see it in the morning?"

"It'll be gone by morning," Harry said quickly, and then wished he hadn't.

"AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW THAT, IF YOU DIDN'T PUT IT THERE?"

"Vernon!" Aunt Petunia said again, looking nervously at the houses on either side. "Maybe we should go indoors - we don't want to wake anyone up - and Duddy will catch a cold being out in his pyjamas - "

"Mm," Uncle Vernon grunted reluctantly, and they all trooped back into the hall.

"Look," Harry put in quickly, before Uncle Vernon could get into his verbal stride again, "I didn't put that mark in the sky, but I know who did - dark wizards, really evil ones - and I need to send my owl to our Headmaster to warn him about it - "

"Trying to make up some ridiculous story to get yourself out of trouble - what dark wizards?" Aunt Petunia snapped.

Harry had tried very hard to keep his temper, but now he was starting to get angry.

"The same kind of dark wizards who killed my mum and dad!" he said fiercely. "Now get out of the way and let me send that message to Dumbledore!"

Aunt Petunia had paled at Harry's last words, but Uncle Vernon only seemed more infuriated. "Fine! Right!" he yelled. "And you can tell him to find you somewhere else to spend the rest of the holidays, because we've had enough of you and your - ABNORMALITY!"

Harry bit his lip. "OK. I'll go now, if you like. I'll catch the Knight Bus."

"There isn't a night bus," Aunt Petunia said. "Not on this estate - "

"Not your sort of night bus," Harry said, moving to the foot of the stairs. "The K-n-i-g-h-t Bus. It picks up stranded witches and wizards -"

"Pah!" Uncle Vernon exploded in exasperation again. "Don't tell us about the unnatural things Your Kind do, boy! Just go, if you're going, before the whole neighbourhood knows about what you've been doing!"

But Harry had already fled upstairs to pack, leaving Uncle Vernon still muttering in impotent fury, while Aunt Petunia made soothing noises and bustled round making hot chocolate for Dudley.

Most of Harry's Hogwarts stuff was still in his trunk, so it didn't take him long to pack. He found a piece of blank parchment and a pen, and scribbled his letter to Dumbledore, describing all that had happened at Mrs. Figg's house, and asking what should be done about it. "My uncle and aunt have got fed up with me again," he finished, "so I'm going to - "

He paused. Where was he going? He could go to The Burrow, home of the Weasley family, where he would certainly be given a warm welcome. At the end of last term, Mrs. Weasley had hinted that Dumbledore was going to let him spend part of the holidays there anyway.

Or...

He shoved his hand into his pocket and brought out the scrap of parchment he had removed from Mrs. Figg's desk. It crackled as he unfolded it.

"Remus Lupin

Gatehouse Cottage

Frittleton

Yorkshire."

Harry couldn't deny that he was secretly yearning to go there - to see Lupin - and Sirius - and all the other witches and wizards who were probably gathering to help Dumbledore in the struggle against Voldemort. What would Dumbledore say? Would he think it was all right to go there, or would he say Harry should go to the Weasleys? Or even back to Hogwarts - Harry didn't fancy the idea of being the only student there, with a few teachers and Filch probably watching his every move...

"ARE YOU READY YET, BOY?"

Harry quickly finished his note to Dumbledore, sealed it up and gave it to Hedwig. The white owl hooted softly at him as she took wing from the open window, soaring away into the dark sky. Harry wished he could send notes to Ron and Hermione too, but writing to Dumbledore had to be the most important thing right now, with the Death Eaters active. Harry thrust his writing things into his trunk, closed it and started to lug it, and Hedwig's empty cage, downstairs.

The Dursleys were in the kitchen, where mugs of hot chocolate were on the table and Aunt Petunia was fussing over Dudley. Uncle Vernon was pacing up and down.

"Er - I'm going now," said Harry, but, getting only stony glances in return, he shrugged and turned to the front door.

The Dark Mark had faded a little more, Harry noticed, as he stepped out on to the path, dragging his trunk and the cage behind him. The night was just as dark, with no sign of dawn yet. Reaching the pavement, he wondered uneasily whether he would be able to hail the Knight Bus. Last time, he had hailed it completely by accident. As far as he knew, all he had to do was to stick out his wand hand to flag it down, but what if it didn't work? He'd have to use his broomstick to get anywhere, and he couldn't risk being seen riding it when daylight came, and he had no Muggle money for Muggle transport...

No point panicking until he'd tried, Harry told himself, and he flung out his wand hand in front of him, saying, for good measure, "Knight Bus, please!"

For a second, nothing happened, and then -

BANG! Harry was flung backwards by the rush of wind as the triple-decker purple bus burst out of thin air and screeched heavily to a halt in front of him. The headlights illuminated Privet Drive, and, glancing over his shoulder, Harry grinned as he saw the Dursleys' alarmed faces pressed against the front window of the house.

A conductor in a purple uniform appeared at the door of the bus, and Harry recognised him at once. He was a pimply youth named Stan Shunpike.

"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard, just stick out your wand hand, step on - " Stan broke off half-way through his routine gabble and stared hard at Harry. "'Ere! It's 'Arry Potter again! Wotcha, 'Arry! 'Ere, Ern, look 'oo's 'ere! 'Only 'Arry Potter, innit?"

"Hullo, Stan," said Harry, grinning reluctantly at Stan's enthusiasm, though inwardly cringing as he usually did when he was singled out because of his celebrity status.

"'E remembers me!" Stan beamed. "Let me 'elp you with yer stuff, 'Arry." He jumped down to the kerb and helped Harry lug the trunk and Hedwig's cage on to the bus "This yours too, 'Arry?"

"What?" Harry turned, and looked straight into a baleful pair of yellow eyes. The black cat had appeared again, inches from his feet, and, as Harry and Stan watched, the cat leaped lightly on to the step of the bus. Harry shrugged. "Come on then." He seemed to have just acquired a cat, he thought. At least, until he could return it to Mrs. Figg.

"All right, 'Arry?" Ernie Prang, the bespectacled bus driver, gave him a nod of friendly recognition.

"We're quiet tonight," Stan said, jerking his head towards the empty beds on the lowest level of the bus, "so you can take yer pick of the beds, 'Arry - oh, I fink yer cat's chosen for you!"

Blackie was arranging itself comfortably in the centre of the nearest bed, looking quite content. Harry pushed his trunk under the bed.

"Where you going then, 'Arry?" Stan asked, sitting down in an armchair.

"Er - Frittleton," said Harry. "Yorkshire."

"Righto. Take 'er away, Ern."

With another mighty BANG, the Knight Bus vanished into the night, and Privet Drive was quiet once more. Only the green, smoky remains of the Dark Mark in the distance were left to show any trace of the night's more unusual events.

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