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Harry Potter 5 (own written version)





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Chapter One



Secrets Unraveled



Harry slowly raised his head and stared morosely at the familiar visage
of number four, Privet Drive. What had already been a horrible day was
rapidly getting worse. Not only did he have to appear unannounced on
the Dursleys’ doorstep (something he knew they’d have no problem
expressing their displeasure over), but he’d also have to tell them
that two other freaks would be joining him this afternoon. The corner
of Harry’s mouth twitched humorlessly as he envisioned how they’d take
the news.



He’d left Ron and Hermione at King’s Cross station a little over an
hour ago. They were each going to make quick stops at their respective
homes before Apparating to Privet Drive. Harry smiled fondly,
remembering their show of solidarity. He hadn’t been expecting it; he’d
thought he’d be going on alone. Although he was desperately worried
about them and the remainder of their quest, he had to admit that the
thought of some support while facing his relatives was quite nice
indeed.



Harry had thought it would be better – or at least less embarrassing –
if he arrived at Privet Drive first and prepared his relatives for
their arrival. He’d wanted to get away from the Hogwarts Express and
the other students as quickly as possible…before he ran into Ginny.



Ginny.



Harry quickly shook his head – he couldn’t afford to think about Ginny.
He still didn’t think his resolve was strong enough to hold.



Since he wasn’t yet of age, he’d quickly slipped away without speaking
to any of the crowd at King’s Cross and taken the train to Privet
Drive. The long, hot journey had left him irritable. It didn’t bode
well for the coming reunion. He’d considered just Apparating back from
Hogsmeade to avoid the Hogwarts Express altogether. So what if the
Ministry chucked him out of Hogwarts now? He wasn’t going back, anyway.



Hermione, always the voice of reason, reminded him that there was no
need to give the Ministry an excuse to break his wand, and Harry had to
admit that she had a point.



Rufus Scrimgeour wanted Harry under his control, and Harry wouldn’t put
it past the man to make life difficult in an effort to force Harry to
comply. Harry had no patience for the man or his politicking. Still,
recklessly using underage magic for the sake of mere convenience was a
risk not worth taking.



He hated when Hermione was right.



So, he’d sat in a compartment with Ron and Hermione and tried to ignore
the hole in his heart that Ginny’s absence created. He hadn’t seen her
the entire journey home and wondered which compartment she’d sat on the
train. Neither Ron nor Hermione had asked him where she was, but he’d
caught Hermione staring at him speculatively on several occasions.


Harry had been steadfast in avoiding her gaze. He’d stared out the
window miserably, his thoughts focused on happier days…



Ginny.



Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans and squaring his
shoulders, Harry trudged across the street towards the immaculately
pruned garden of number four, Privet Drive. He’d promised Dumbledore
that he’d return one more time before his birthday, and he intended to
keep that pledge. Harry’s chest tightened as he thought of his
headmaster, but he blinked the moisture from his eyes and continued
forward. This was what Dumbledore had wanted, and this was what he was
going to do.



Still, knowing what he had to do didn’t make doing it any easier. He
wasn’t in the mood to deal with the Dursleys’ nonsense. He had no
patience for their petty bigotry…he had bigger challenges to face. The
days when Vernon Dursley’s purple face could make him cower were long
past. He wondered what he could expect when they opened the door to
find him standing there after his eventful departure last summer.



All in all, he supposed it could be worse. He’d rather face the
Dursleys’ ire than Molly Weasley’s fury when Ron informed her of his
plans to ditch the Burrow this summer and head straight into the war
that she’d been so adamantly attempting to shield him from.



Oh, no, Harry mused, he got off far easier in only having to face the
Dursleys.



He wondered if Ron would have dropped his little bombshell while still
at King’s Cross, or if he would have waited until arriving at the
Burrow. Harry could picture Ron in the kitchen trying to reason with
his mum, and Ginny would be there…



Ginny.



Harry’s heart constricted at the mere thought of her, and he pressed
his eyelids together as if to squeeze her from his thoughts. Everything
had seemed so simple and straightforward in his mind when he’d made his
decision. He couldn’t put Ginny in danger. He’d never survive if he
lost her, too.



But he had something he had to do, and he couldn’t afford any
distractions while he was searching for the Horcruxes. Breaking it off
had been the right thing to do. There was no reason that she should
have to put her life on hold just because he did. It could take years
to find them all.



At the time, it had seemed the perfectly logical thing to do. But now,
away from Hogwarts and facing the unknown…now, nothing was clear. He
didn’t know how he’d be able to function with this pain tearing such a
hole in his heart. He felt as if he were bleeding continually from an
invisible wound.



One thing he did know for certain: she could distract him with a simple
smile, and he couldn’t afford to be distracted. He had too much that he
had to do.




As for what did come next…that’s where Harry faltered. He knew what it
was he had to do, he just wasn’t certain about how to do it. How could
he find the remaining four Horcruxes? Where did he start? And how did
he keep himself – or worse, Ron and Hermione – from suffering the same
fate Dumbledore did when he’d located the last two Horcruxes? Or what
he’d thought was a Horcrux, anyway…



R.A.B. How was he to find R.A.B.? Where did he begin?



The locket, the cup, the snake, and something of Gryffindor or
Ravenclaw…



It seemed hopeless and overwhelming as a whole, so he’d have to start
in pieces and work from there. He fingered the cold, hard metal of the
fake Horcrux that he still kept in his pocket. Harry had found himself
using it as some sort of talisman, holding onto it whenever the stress
started to build. There had to be a way, and he was going to find it.



The first step would be Godric’s Hollow. He wasn’t certain what he
expected to find there, it just seemed important that he go.



Scratch that. The first step would be getting through his last
confinement with the Dursleys, and the sooner he started enduring that,
the sooner he could move forward.



While he’d been lost in thought, Harry’s feet had carried him to the
front door. Taking a deep breath, he tapped the knocker three times.



Here we go.



It took only a few moments before he heard footsteps approaching the
door. It opened slightly, and Aunt Petunia’s horsy face peered through
the crack. He watched as her eyes widened in surprise before the door
swung open wide, and she yanked him inside by the collar of his shirt.



“What are you doing here?” Aunt Petunia demanded, her long neck craning
from side to side to ensure none of the neighbors were out and about
and watching Harry being manhandled by his aunt. “Why are you back here
so soon? Did those freaks at that school of yours finally decide they
didn’t want you either and throw you out? Did you think you could just
show up here unannounced?”



“Hello, Aunt Petunia. It’s nice to see you, too,” Harry said
pleasantly, pulling back from her grip and readjusting his collar. He
spared a quick glance at the parlor, noting that nothing had really
changed, although there were some crumpled sweet wrappers on an end
table, which was unusual for Aunt Petunia.



“Don’t you ‘hello’ me,” his aunt snapped, dragging his attention back
to her aggravated face. “I asked you what you are doing here? Term
still has several weeks remaining.”



Harry shrugged and dropped his gaze to the floor. “We were released
early this year,” he said vaguely, not wanting to discuss Dumbledore’s
death with her quite so soon. He wasn’t ready.




Before she could reply, the kitchen door swung open, and Harry’s cousin
Dudley lumbered into the room. He was even larger than Harry
remembered, and his face looked tired and drawn. His eyes opened wide
with shock upon seeing Harry, and he began gaping like a fish.



“What’s he doing here?” Dudley demanded, pointing a porky finger at
Harry. Harry was pleased to notice the slight tremor in Dudley’s hand.
After years of being the victim of Dudley’s bullying behavior, it was
nice to have the shoe on the other foot, so to speak.



“Hey, Duds,” Harry said, grinning widely. “You’re home from school
early, too. Did they chuck you out?” Harry asked, throwing Aunt
Petunia’s taunt back at his cousin.



Harry was surprised when Dudley ignored Harry completely and turned his
panic-stricken eyes upon his mother. “Thought you’d get him to look me
over, did you? Trying to compare and see if he’s infected me? It’s all
his fault, anyway. You know that. Him and that freak of an old man who
took him the last time – they did this to me. You know they did
something. He threatened you, I heard him.”



“Now, now, Popkin,” Aunt Petunia said soothingly, but Harry couldn’t
help but notice the tremor in her voice. “Don’t get yourself upset. You
know what happens when you get too fussed.”



Dudley’s eyes nearly bulged out of the sockets, and he grasped his
mother’s forearms with enough force to leave red marks. “Mummy! Don’t
let it happen again,” he whimpered.



Aunt Petunia pulled her arm away and began patting Dudley on the back
and cooing softly as she led him into the parlor. Once she sat him on
the couch and calmed him down, she turned back towards Harry. Her eyes
were filled with such intense loathing that Harry found himself taking
a step back involuntarily. What was going on here?



“Sit down and don’t dirty the sofa. I’m going to get Duddy a glass of
lemonade,” she hissed, scurrying from the room. “Don’t upset him.”



Harry looked over at Dudley and furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s got your
knickers in such a twist, Dud?”



“What are you doing here? Did they ask you to come look at me? I won’t
have you or any of your freak friends pawing at me. Don’t think I can’t
get that ruddy thing away from you, and when I do…” Dudley’s face
matched the purple color that Harry usually associated with Uncle
Vernon.



“Take it easy, Dud. You’re going to burst something. Why don’t you tell
me what’s going on here? What is this all about?” Harry asked.



His mind was racing, trying to remember all the details from his last
trip to Privet Drive. It seemed like another lifetime ago. Professor
Dumbledore had been pleasant, even though it was obvious to Harry that
he had been upset by the way that the Dursleys had treated Harry.
Still, he didn’t think that was something the Dursleys would have
picked up. Harry’s comfort and well-being had never been one of their
considerations.




Dudley appeared to be under the impression that Professor Dumbledore
had threatened them, however. How would Dudley’s mind have formed that
idea? Of course, being the bully he was, Dudley probably assumed
everyone was threatening him, since he spent most of his time
threatening others. Still, Harry tried to recall the conversation from
the previous year to work out what had wound up his relatives so much.



Staring at Dudley sitting crouched into himself on the couch brought
Dumbledore’s words back into Harry’s mind. He had said something about
leaving a note for the Dursleys when he’d dropped Harry on their
doorstep all those years ago.



“You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He
has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best
that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage
you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.”



Was that what Dudley thought was a threat? How could it be, though?
Another memory arose in Harry’s mind of a Howler sent to Aunt Petunia
after the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley in the alley before his
fifth year.



“Remember my last.”



The last must have been this same letter. Harry was burning with
curiosity to know exactly what the letter had said. He held little hope
that Aunt Petunia would tell him, however. Why is she so worried about
Dudley being upset, anyway? Not that she ever likes to see her little
popkin upset, Harry thought with a grimace.



Only one thing to do for it, then.



“So what’s this about Professor Dumbledore doing something to you last
time, Duds? Are you sprouting a tail again? I didn’t even see him do
it. Of course, he has no problem with non-verbal spells, so you never
know what he could have been up to,” Harry said casually, forcing down
the painful lump that lodged itself in his throat when speaking as if
Professor Dumbledore were still alive.



Dudley cowered away from Harry and scrambled off the couch faster than
his bulk should have allowed. His hands instinctively searching his
massive behind for, Harry assumed, the return of a pig’s tail. “Stay
away from me! I mean it…you stay away!”



Harry stood up and began walking towards Dudley with a determined
stride. “What’s wrong, Dud? Why are you so skittish all of a sudden?
Lost your nerve, have you? Is this what’s got you acting like such a
little girl?” Harry asked, drawing his wand from his sleeve.



“Put it away,” Dudley screeched, backing into a corner. Harry would
have laughed if it weren’t so pathetic. This was the great git of a
bully who had regularly made Harry’s life a living hell when he was
small?



“I mean it, Potter, put that thing away,” Dudley growled.




“Or what, Dud? What are you going to do?” Harry couldn’t help his
morbid fascination, wondering how far he could push before Dudley would
strike back.



Before Dudley could answer him, however, the vase on the table next to
him started shaking violently. It rattled on the table as it moved
closer to the edge. Harry stared at it in surprise. He really wasn’t
that upset, not about this, anyway. Why was his magic reacting so
strongly?



“Oh, no,” Dudley moaned before the vase flew from the table and went
careening towards Harry’s head.



Harry was so shocked that he never had time to move. The heavy ceramic
vase slammed into the side of his face with enough force to knock him
from his feet. The vase and Harry both landed on the floor with a heavy
thud, the vase shattering in several large chunks.



Alerted by the noise, Aunt Petunia hurried back into the room and
screeched at the destruction. “What have you done?” she spat, stepping
over Harry to retrieve the broken pieces of her vase.



“It happened again, Mummy,” Dudley wailed. “He did it! I know he did.”



Aunt Petunia leapt to her feet and hurried over to Dudley. “There,
there, now, sweetums. Mummy’s here. Everything will be all right. Come
into the kitchen, and I’ll make you a nice snack. I’ll take care of
everything.”



As she ushered Dudley from the room, she turned back towards Harry, who
was still struggling to rise from the floor. “Stay here. I’ll be right
back. I warned you not to upset him,” she hissed, her eyes nearly
glowing with a burning intensity.



Harry groaned as he sat up and put a hand to his throbbing cheekbone.
What is going on here? He pulled himself to his feet unsteadily and
shook his head in an attempt to clear it.



Bad idea.



The entire room swam before his eyes, and he had to grasp the arm of
the couch to remain upright. He tentatively moved his jaw from side to
side, testing how much damage had been done to his face. He didn’t
think anything was broken, but the pain was enough to make him wish for
one of Madam Pomfrey’s potions.



This would be no ordinary stay at Privet Drive.



He’d done accidental magic before, but not in a long time. He didn’t
remember ever hurting himself with it before, either. Something wasn’t
right. He glanced out the window apprehensively, wondering if he’d be
receiving a reprimand from the Ministry.



Great. That’s all I need.




Still, he’d never got them when it had happened when he was younger, so
maybe he’d get by this time, as well. Nothing to do for it; he’d have
to wait and see.



The more pressing matter was what was going on with Dudley. He’d acted
almost as if he’d known what was going to happen. Almost as if…



Aunt Petunia strode back into the room at that moment and sat down
stiffly, glaring at Harry all the while. Harry wasn’t certain what she
expected of him, but followed her lead and sat down at the other end of
the couch, waiting. After a few moments spent in silence, Harry
couldn’t take it anymore.



“What’s happening here, Aunt Petunia?” he asked quietly. “I don’t think
I did that. I think Dudley did. How is that possible?”



“Of course my Dudley didn’t do it. You’re the freak here, not him,” she
snapped, before her face crumpled, and she put her head in her hands.



Harry was thunderstruck and at a loss for what to do. In all the years
that Harry had spent with the Dursleys, she’d never once offered him a
bit of comfort over anything, and he found it strange that he wanted to
comfort her now.



Tentatively, he raised his hand and gradually moved it towards her
before quickly pulling it back again. Twice more he struggled with the
urge to lay his hand on her back in an attempt to calm her. She’d never
taken kindly to his touch before, and he was afraid that anything he
might do would stop her from talking. He wanted answers more than he
wanted to comfort her, so he clenched his fists and fought to remain in
his spot.



Aunt Petunia finally raised her head, and, although her lower lip
trembled, she began to speak. “After you and your headmaster left here
last year, odd things started to happen. These incidents grew more and
more frequent until Dudley was finally asked to leave school. They
suggested he needed counseling. As if we’d ever be able to talk about
any of this. They thought he was acting out and being destructive on
purpose. The nerve of some people.”



Harry’s head was swimming with questions, but he was afraid she’d clam
up if he interrupted, so he just let her continue to ramble.



“What did your headmaster do?” she asked, her eyes narrowing. “He
removed the protection, didn’t he? He said we didn’t live up to our end
of the bargain by not caring for you. We gave you food and shelter for
all these years out of the goodness of our hearts. What more did he
expect?



“He wanted us to love you like our own. You’re not our own! You’re just
a reminder of the sister I wished I’d never had. We gave you shelter,
and that has supposedly kept you alive and safe all this time. That
should have counted for something. We could have just chucked you in an
orphanage like Vernon wanted to do. Sometimes, I think we all would
have been better off if we had.”




Harry had long ago stopped caring about or looking for the Dursleys’
approval, yet the coldness of the words stung.



“What do you mean by remove the protection?” he asked stoically,
refusing to give her the satisfaction of knowing her words had hurt
him. “The blood protection from my mother remains as long as I can call
this house my home…at least until my birthday. He told you I’d be
returning one more time.”



“Not the blood protection for you,” Aunt Petunia snapped. “This isn’t
about you. I don’t care what happens to you or any of your freak world.
As far as I’m concerned, we’d all be better off if you all just killed
each other off. I want to know about the protections on Dudley.
Dumbledore withdrew his part of the agreement, didn’t he?”



Harry blinked, nonplussed. “What are you on about?” he asked coldly.



“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you never were very bright, were you? The spell
he cast on Dudley. It’s obviously not working, because he keeps making
these freakish things happen.”



“Dudley is a wizard?” Harry asked incredulously, the pieces all finally
clicking into place. He felt as if the room was spinning, and he didn’t
think it had anything to do with his throbbing temple. He knew magic
ran in families – the Creevey brothers proved that. They were
Muggleborn, and yet both were wizards…but Dudley. How could this have
happened?



“Of course he’s not a wi…a.wi… He’s not a freak,” Aunt Petunia snapped,
her voice nothing more than a high-pitched whisper. “I made a deal with
your headmaster. He would block this unnaturalness from Duddydums, and
I would take you in. It was all arranged. Then, after last year,
whatever it was he did stopped working, because Dudley started having
instances of these oddities every few days, and I can’t stop them. I
want you to fix it. You do whatever it was he had done before. You can
fix this, and you owe us that much.”



Harry’s mind was racing. How could this be? Would Dumbledore really
have suppressed Dudley’s magic for all these years? It didn’t seem like
something he would ever do. It didn’t make any sense.



As if from a fog, Harry’s mind recalled the way Aunt Petunia had always
catered to Dudley’s every whim. How she’d acted as if the world
revolved around keeping him calm and not letting him get upset. Harry’s
worst punishments always came as a direct result of Dudley getting
upset. He wondered if Petunia’s obsessive need to clean was only a
byproduct of her anxiety over cleaning up what she considered a huge
mess.



His mind continued to pick out little instances of times when Dudley
had been upset. His thoughts again drifted to the night the Dementors
had attacked, and Dudley had cowered in fear. Harry had wondered what
Dudley could have been remembering. Could it have been some unexplained
bits of magic that Dudley had fought to suppress? When Harry had found
Dudley in the darkness, he’d had his hands clamped over his mouth.
Harry had told him not to open his mouth, but when did Dudley ever
listen to Harry? Could Dudley have actually seen the Dementors?




Harry felt as if his world had just spun completely out of his control
yet again.



“Why would Dumbledore agree to hide Dudley’s magic? It doesn’t sound at
all like Dumbledore,” he said slowly, his gaze boring into his aunt’s.



“He didn’t want to do it. We argued for quite some time about it. I’d
seen the strange things that happened from the time my Dudley was still
in his cot. I knew what it meant; I remembered it from Lily. There was
no way I would allow it to happen again, not after I’d worked so hard
to make a normal life for my family.



“It was the only way I would allow you to stay, and he was desperate
for that to happen. I told him there was no way he’d ever get his hands
on Dudley, anyway. Vernon and I would never allow him to go to that
freak school. We raised him with a healthy loathing of all things so
unnatural. Dudley is a good boy,” Aunt Petunia said, crossing her arms
defiantly.



Harry rolled his eyes. It all made sense. Certainly the Dursleys
wouldn’t have allowed Dudley to attend Hogwarts, and Harry knew from
Dudley’s reaction a moment ago that he never would have wanted to go,
anyway.



“So, what did Professor Dumbledore do, exactly?” Harry asked, unable to
contain his curiosity. Aunt Petunia had never willingly told him
anything in the past. Don’t ask questions had always been her standard
response.



“How am I supposed to know how all your nonsense works?” Aunt Petunia
snapped. “We took you in, and he did something to take Dudley’s name
off of a register or some such thing. For a time, Dudley stopped making
strange things happen. The only time anything abnormal happened was
when Dudley would get upset, and I could easily blame that on you so
Vernon never had to know.”



“Uncle Vernon doesn’t know his son is a wizard?” Harry asked, secretly
appreciating the humor in that statement.



“Of course he doesn’t know. And Dudley is NOT one of you. Your
headmaster did something to control it, and I want you to do the same
thing now,” Aunt Petunia said, crossing her bony arms across her chest.



“I don’t even know how he could have done such a thing, never mind how
do it,” Harry said, aghast.



“Well, if you want to stay here, you’d better think of something,” she
snapped.



Harry’s mind clicked on a way to make this work to his advantage. “All
right. I’ll try and find something. I’m going to need some help with
it, though,” he said, rapidly changing gears.



“What do you mean help?” she asked suspiciously.




“My friends, Ron and Hermione – they’re brilliant with stuff like this.
I’ll ask them to come and help me put it together. They’ll have to stay
here for a while, though – while we research the correct spells to use.
I’m certain it’s very complicated magic if Professor Dumbledore did
it,” Harry said, his mind already plotting.



Aunt Petunia frowned with disapproval. “I don’t know.”



“All right, well…I can’t do it alone, so I suppose I’ll just be going,”
he said, going so far as to turn around, rising and taking a step
towards the door.



“No!” Aunt Petunia screeched. “All right… Your friend can bunk in with
you, and the girl can stay in the guestroom. I won’t have any funny
business under my roof.”



Harry smirked, envisioning the color Ron’s ears would have turned had
he heard that remark. This was turning out better than he could have
hoped. “All right, then.”



“You have to promise me you’ll all stay out of Vernon and Dudley’s way.
When Vernon is home, you must stay up in your room, and I want this
done as quickly as possible.”



“We’re agreed on that, then,” Harry mumbled.



“Oh, and another thing. Your friends will have to provide their own
food. I’m not feeding any extra of your freaky friends. Vernon would
never have it. They can bring their own or you can share your portion,
but I won’t be responsible for them,” Aunt Petunia said, her haughty
demeanor returning.



Harry had no choice but to agree. He hadn’t really thought about how
they would eat. He could only hope that Hermione would be better
prepared. She was certainly familiar enough with the Dursleys’ penchant
for withholding nourishment. They’d just have to figure something out.
Maybe if Mrs. Weasley wasn’t too upset with them she’d send something,
or maybe Ginny would help…



Ginny.



On second thought, Harry decided that she couldn’t be involved with
this in any way. It wasn’t fair to her, and he didn’t think he could
stand to have her so close and yet so far. They’d have to come up with
something else.



But her presence here would certainly be a nice contrast to Aunt
Petunia, his mind said, betraying him.



Stop it, he told himself firmly. Ginny would not be involved.



“I’m going to send an owl. I’m certain they’ll be able to arrive
shortly – they’re both of age,” Harry said, watching the panic fill
Aunt Petunia’s eyes once again.




“What does that mean? They’re able to do…to…to use their things? I
won’t have it in this house. You said they were coming here for
research,” she said, a whine in her voice.



“Aunt Petunia, they’re coming here to work out how to do a spell that
you asked me to do. Are you telling me that they can’t use magic to do
it?” Harry asked, thoroughly enjoying his aunt’s conundrum.



Aunt Petunia’s lips thinned into a tiny sliver of a line. “One time and
one time only. You owe me that much. You’re to help your cousin, and
then you and your friends are to get out. I want nothing more to do
with you or your kind. Vernon can see nothing unusual – he’s unhappy
enough with you as it is.”



“So what’s new about that?” Harry mumbled.



“He’s been muttering about the fact that you came into an inheritance
and didn’t bother to make us aware of that situation,” Aunt Petunia
said with obvious disapproval. “We’ve provided you with house and board
for sixteen years; certainly, if you’ve come into a house of your own,
we deserve something for our trouble.”



“You won’t get anything that belonged to Sirius,” Harry said hotly. He
might not want anything to do with Grimmauld Place either, but he
certainly wasn’t about to let them get their grubby paws on it. He owed
Sirius that much. Taking a deep breath to control his temper, he said
through gritted teeth, “It wouldn’t do you any good, anyway. It’s a
wizarding house – Muggles can’t see it. Although I suppose Dudley might
be able to see it, actually…”



Aunt Petunia’s eyes widened with panic. “Enough. Diddyums most
certainly will not be seeing any of your unnaturalness. Go and send
your letter…and tell them to bring their own food,” she snapped before
storming from the room.



Harry smiled grimly. Whenever it was that he’d be leaving this house to
start the search for the Horcruxes couldn’t be soon enough.



The ringing of the doorbell startled Harry from his deep thoughts. He’d
been up in his room, unpacking his few meager belongings from his
school trunk. He reckoned that he and Ron would be quite cramped in his
small bedroom, so a little organization couldn’t hurt. He wanted to be
done with it before Hermione arrived and saw him doing it, however.
There was no sense in letting her think she’d had any influence over
him, or he’d never hear the end of it.



He glanced at the clock and was relieved to note they still had a half-
hour before Uncle Vernon was due home. That should be just enough time
to get settled and give Aunt Petunia some space to let him know they
would be here. Even if they stayed confined for the most part to
Harry’s room, there was no way for Uncle Vernon not to notice three
extra people using the bathroom.



Hopefully, Aunt Petunia would think of something to placate him, and
then Harry, Ron, and Hermione could just stay out of his way. It would
be best for all of them to avoid a confrontation. Of course, having Ron


attempting to live as a Muggle ought to be a task worthy of the
TriWizard tournament itself, Harry thought with a chuckle.



He was nearly gleeful with anticipation and was amused to realize that
he’d never once before eagerly anticipated anything to do with the
Dursleys as much as he was Ron’s presence in their very ordered life.
It would be worth a few good telling-offs, actually.



He shut the door to his bedroom and hurried down the stairs, quietly
noting Aunt Petunia straining her neck in order to peer out from the
kitchen. Dudley was nowhere in sight.



Harry swung the door open wide just as the bell rang again.



“…you know anyone heard it the first time?” Ron was asking.



Hermione rolled her eyes. “Hi, Harry,” she said brightly before
releasing a horrified gasp. “Harry! What happened to your face?”



Harry put a hand to his cheek, wincing at the deep bruising. He’d been
so lost in his musings that he hadn’t even paid attention. “Long story.
I’ve got loads to tell you.”



Hermione looked dubious. “Is everything settled?”



“’Course it is,” Ron said, taking Hermione by the arm and firmly
ushering her inside. He obviously wasn’t about to take any of the
Dursleys’ excuses. “Just stop talking for a minute and let him tell us
what’s happening…then we can decide what to do about it.”



Harry stepped back, grinning, and allowed them to enter. “Everything’s
fine, Hermione. Come on upstairs, and we can talk privately.”



Neither Ron nor Hermione made any effort to move. They both stood in
the hallway, looking around the house. He saw Hermione frowning at the
abundance of pictures of Dudley adorning the walls and every spare bit
of surface space in the parlor. Harry was amused to notice that there
was now a new picture perched on top of the table that only hours ago
had sported the broken vase.



Ron grunted his displeasure, while Hermione’s brows knitted as she
scowled. Harry couldn’t blame them; Dudley wasn’t much to look at, that
was for certain. Harry was keen to get them out of the parlor and away
from Aunt Petunia’s prying eyes before her nosiness might allow her to
learn anything he didn’t want her to know.



“Uncle Vernon will be home soon, so it’s better if we go upstairs. I’ve
got loads to tell you,” Harry said, trying to steer his friends toward
the stairway.



Hermione, however, was peering over his shoulder with interest.



“You must be Harry’s Aunt Petunia,” she said. “I’m Hermione Granger.
You’ve probably heard Harry mention me. We’ve been friends since our
first year.”



Harry groaned inwardly. Too late.




“Can you do it? Can you help my Dudley?” Aunt Petunia asked, ignoring
Hermione’s outstretched hand and peering intently at her face.



“Help him to do what?” she asked, startled.



Aunt Petunia whirled on Harry. “I thought you said they’d know what to
do,” she hissed. “I allowed them to come here, because you said they
could help him. They’re in your year…why do they know how to do it if
you can’t?” She pointed her bony finger at Ron disapprovingly. “I
recognize that one from that family who came to collect you and
destroyed our parlor a few years back.”



“I said I’d need some assistance, and they’re it,” Harry said trying to
placate her. “Unlike me, neither is underage. I only had time to tell
them I needed some help – they don’t know all the details yet. Just
give us a little time, and we’ll get it all set to rights.”



“What’s going on here, Harry?” Ron asked, his eyes darting back and
forth between Harry and Aunt Petunia.



“Not now, Ron,” Harry said, glaring.



“How long will all this take?” Aunt Petunia demanded. “I can only
appease your uncle for so long. I want this done and you out of this
house as quickly as possible.”



“Nothing will please me more,” Harry said through clenched teeth. “Give
us a fortnight, and we’ll never have to see each other again.”



“Mrs. Dursley…” Hermione said, her eyes wide.



“A fortnight? That long? Do you really expect me to keep you here that
long?” Aunt Petunia screeched.



“I assume you want it done right without any mistakes that might affect
Dudley?” Harry asked.



Aunt Petunia paled. “You better not do anything to hurt my Dudley. That
would be just like you, wouldn’t it? I don’t know why I’m trusting the
likes of you with this. You’ve always been jealous of Dudley, because
you could never be like him.”



“Now, wait a moment, Mrs. Dursley…” Hermione tried again, shocked.



Neither Harry nor his aunt paused to look at her.



Harry rolled his eyes. “That’s just what I’ve always wanted – to be
more like Diddydinkums. You’re trusting it to me, because you really
don’t have any choice, do you? Of course, if you’d rather we just leave
now…”



Aunt Petunia glared at him for several moments before her shoulders
sagged in defeat. “Get upstairs and keep quiet until I can talk to your
uncle. Under no circumstances are you to upset Dudley.”




Before the words were even completely out of Aunt Petunia’s mouth, the
front door swung open, revealing the startled face of Vernon Dursley.
He stopped in his tracks and looked with confusion at the faces staring
back at him.



Slowly, his color turned a deeper and deeper shade of red before he
started spluttering. “You! What the devil are you doing here? What is
the meaning of this?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What have you
done to my family this time, boy?”



“Hello, Uncle Vernon,” Harry said dryly.



“Don’t you take that tone with me. You are no longer welcome here – not
that you ever were. Get out and take your damn friends with you,”
Vernon snarled.



Harry smirked. “I think Aunt Petunia might disagree with you.”



Aunt Petunia glared at him viciously.



Uncle Vernon turned an enraged expression from Harry towards Aunt
Petunia, but seemed to whither a bit under her scrutiny. “Petunia?” he
whined.



“They need to stay, Vernon. They won’t be here long, and when they
leave, we’ll be rid of him for good,” she said, waving her hand in
Harry’s general direction.



“But...but…but,” Vernon said, spluttering.



“I’m not any happier about it than you are, Vernon, but this is how
it’s going to be,” she said firmly.



Uncle Vernon’s shoulders slumped momentarily before he turned back on
Harry. “I won’t stand for any of your funny business, boy, and I want
to talk to you about this inheritance you so neatly forgot to mention
last summer. What was it? Your dead convict of a godfather leaving you
a house. Thought you’d hoard that information all to yourself, did
you?”



Harry’s face remained impassive.



“It won’t do us any good, Vernon. It’s a…a…unnatural house. We wouldn’t
even be able to see it, and it’s full of freakish things,” Aunt Petunia
said with a shudder. She turned on Harry. “Go upstairs and settle in
for the night. You’ll have to provide for yourselves, as we’re going
out to eat.”



Harry turned towards his friends, who were staring at him in stunned
silence. “Up the stairs, first door on the right,” he said, jerking his
head toward the stairs.



Ron and Hermione hurried up without another word.



As Harry lay in his bed that night feeling much older than his sixteen
years, he wished his mind was as tired as his body. He had filled Ron
and Hermione in about everything that had happened with Dudley and Aunt


Petunia’s explanations for it. He had to admit, he’d enjoyed listening
to Ron and Hermione’s outraged indignation to the way Harry’s relatives
spoke to him.



Ron kept coming up with more and more names of the twins’ inventions to
use on them, and even Hermione had suggested a curse or two. It warmed
Harry’s heart to hear them, even if he would never allow them to get
into trouble for doing something to the Dursleys. He enjoyed plotting
it, nonetheless.



Hermione’s parents hadn’t wanted to let her go – they’d only seen her
once during the whole year, at Christmastime – but Hermione had
insisted that she was considered an adult in the Wizarding world now,
and this was something she had to do.



Ron had been much less forthcoming about how his big revelation went at
the Burrow. After much needling and cajoling from Harry and Hermione,
Ron had finally admitted that he’d only told his mum that he was
staying at Privet Drive with Harry, not that he wasn’t planning on
returning to school at all come September. Hermione had scowled her
disapproval and uttered something that sounded distinctly like coward.



They’d talked much more about Dudley and what Dumbledore could have
done to mask Dudley’s magic. Harry still had trouble reconciling
himself with the idea that Dudley was a wizard. It was mind-boggling.
In the end, Hermione had promised to look into it while they were
staying on Privet Drive. It would be something to pass the time, and if
worse came to worse, she could simply cast a Cheering Charm before they
left. That would keep Dudley happy for while.



It had been very late when they’d finally crawled into bed. Harry had
shown Hermione to the guestroom and suggested she add a lock to her
door. Ron hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, but shut up quickly after
Harry suggested he stay in there with her. Harry smiled in the
darkness, remembering the expression on Ron’s face. Hermione had
transfigured Harry’s desk into another bed for the night, with the
promise to make some changes to Harry’s room in the morning.



Harry hadn’t asked Ron or Hermione about Ginny, and neither had brought
her up. He couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. He knew he
should just let her go, but he’d never expected how hard that was going
to be. He was doing the right thing…wasn’t he? He had to keep her safe
at all costs. If anything happened to her because of him…Harry didn’t
think he’d ever be able to survive it.



When he’d been with her these past weeks, it had felt like, for one
brief shining moment in his life, he’d been normal. Nothing else had
mattered. Not Voldemort, not the Horcruxes, not a prophecy. He was just
Harry Potter, a sixteen-year old wizard falling in love with a
beautiful, red-haired witch.



Falling in love?



Wait a minute… Where had that thought come from? Harry didn’t know
whether he loved Ginny or not – he hadn’t even considered it before
now. How was he supposed to know what love was? All he knew was the way


she made him feel – so alive. She made him feel like he could do
anything.



Being with Ginny had made him want more out of life.




He knew what the prophecy said, and half of him had always suspected
that he was going to die, anyway. He’d just hoped he could take
Voldemort with him. But she had to go and make him want more. She’d
made him see the possibility of what life could be like, and, damn it,
he wanted more.



Harry groaned and rolled over, viciously punching his pillow.



“Harry,” Ron’s voice called sleepily.



Harry froze; he’d forgotten Ron was there.



“Yeah?”



“You okay?”



“Yeah.”



Ron was quiet for a moment, and Harry thought he’d gone back to sleep
when Ron suddenly spoke again. “Ginny didn’t seem pleased that I was
coming here with you,” he said, in a voice that was much too casual to
be natural.



Harry felt as if all the air had been compressed from his lungs. “Oh,”
he replied in a choked voice.



Ron fell silent again, as if waiting for Harry to say something more.
When Harry didn’t respond, he said, “You broke up with her, didn’t
you?”



Harry took a deep shuddering breath. “Yeah,” he replied, bracing
himself in case Ron leaped upon him.



Ron sighed heavily. “I think you made the right choice,” he said. “It
would be too dangerous for her to come with us. You’ll have a lot to
make up to her when this is over, though.”



To say he was surprised was a massive understatement. Still, he steeled
himself for what he was about to say. “I didn’t ask her to wait for me,
Ron. We have no idea how long this is going to take, or if I’ll even be
around when it’s finished.”



“Don’t talk like that, Harry,” Ron said fiercely. “Of course you will.
And she’ll wait.”



Ron fell silent again, and this time it was Harry who waited for him to
say more. Finally, realizing that Ron wasn’t going to add anything to
that statement, Harry couldn’t contain his curiosity. He wished he
could control that hope that flared within his heart, but he couldn’t.
He didn’t even know how to begin to try.




“How do you know?” he asked tentatively.



“She told me to take care of you,” Ron said. “As if that isn’t what I
always do,” he added with a snort.



Harry hastily swiped his eyes with the back of his hand. She does care.



“Thanks, Ron,” he said, hating how gruff his voice sounded. He rolled
back over on his side and listened to the sounds of insects flying
outside the open window, his mind running over pleasant memories of the
all-too-brief time he’d spent with Ginny.



Ron’s voice once again broke the silence of the room.



“Of course, after this is all over, if you ever break her heart again,
I’ll have to beat you senseless.”



Harry grinned into his pillow. “You could try.”



“Don’t think I won’t.”



“Night, Ron.”



“Night, Harry.”

Chapter Two



When One Door Closes…



The next morning, Harry was awakened by the sound of Ron’s snoring,
which was causing the entire room to shake. Combined with Dudley’s
snores coming from the room next door, it sounded as if a battle of the
bands was taking place.



Harry sniggered.



Uncle Vernon must be loving this. Of course, he snored fairly loudly
himself, so maybe he was missing it. The door to Harry’s bedroom
creaked open, and a disgruntled Hermione stuck her face inside.



“Does he always snore that loudly?” she asked testily.



“Pretty much,” Harry replied, grinning. He pulled the covers up
closely to his bare chest, suddenly becoming aware of his state of
undress. “Er, what are you doing in here, Hermione?”



Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, as if she just realized what she’d done.
He noticed her gaze remained fixed on Ron’s bare chest as he lay
uncovered on his bed, his arms flung open wide.



“Hermione,” Harry repeated.



She started. “Oh! I mean, erm…I just couldn’t sleep with all that
racket. I’m going to Apparate into Diagon Alley and pick up some books
at Flourish and Blotts that might help us with our search. I’ll get
some breakfast while I’m out. Try and wake Sleeping Beauty there;
we’ve got loads to do when I get back.”




Hermione had, thankfully, thought to bring sandwiches and snacks with
her when she’d arrived yesterday, and they’d feasted in Harry’s room.
He was grateful that she’d offered to get breakfast and relieved him of
the duty of having to explain that the Dursleys wouldn’t be feeding
them.



“All right. Be careful,” Harry said.



“Honestly, Harry. I’m only going to Diagon Alley. I’ll be back before
you know it. What do the Dursleys like to eat? I could pick something
up for them while I’m out, too.”




Harry just stared at her, mouth agape. “You…you…you want to get
breakfast for the Dursleys?” he asked, unable to wrap his mind around
the idea.



“Well, if I’m getting something for us, it would be the polite thing to
do. I think that if we just made an effort you all could come to an
understanding. You’re her nephew, after all, and she’s raised you
since you were a baby. She came to you for help, and I think you have
the chance to really build a relationship here, Harry.”



Harry’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly. Had his friend finally
gone mad? He knew exactly what would happen if Hermione brought back
food to the Dursleys – they’d sooner let it knock into their heads than
touch it. They did as much last year with the wine Professor
Dumbledore had offered them. He also knew Hermione well enough to
understand that nothing he could say would dissuade her from her
campaign.



“Why don’t you just get a variety of pastries,” he said. He was amused
with the idea that Hermione’s latest crusade appeared to be to
enlighten the Dursleys. Harry knew she stood a better chance with the
house-elves. In fact, he’d spent most of his life being treated like a
house-elf by the Dursleys. Between Ron trying to live like a Muggle
and Hermione trying to civilize the Dursleys, this would be the most
entertainment he’d had on Privet Drive in his entire life



After Hermione had left, Harry took a shower – a very long shower once
he got distracted with thoughts of Ginny again – and then went to
awaken Ron. He tried calling his friend’s name several times, and when
that didn’t work, he lobbed a pillow at his head.



“What the… Bloody hell, Harry. What’d you do that for?” Ron asked
grumpily, throwing the offending pillow back at Harry and pulling the
covers over his head.



“Come on and get up. Hermione told me to have you up and dressed by the
time she returned,” Harry said, grinning at Ron for jumping to
attention at the mention of Hermione’s name.



“What? Returns from where? Where is she?” Ron asked.



“She went to Flourish and Blotts to get us some research material and
also to pick us up some breakfast,” Harry replied, tossing Ron’s
dressing gown at him.




“The shower gets wonky with the hot water sometimes. If it gets too
hot, just jiggle the handle, and it resets itself,” Harry said.



“Jiggle the handle,” Ron repeated blankly.



“Yeah,” Harry said absently, opening the window to let in the owl
delivering the Daily Prophet. He paid for the paper and turned back to
find Ron still sitting there.



“What?”



“I can’t just tell the shower how hot I want it to be?” Ron asked,
although it sounded more like a whine.



Harry remembered his first summer at the Burrow, when he was twelve and
standing naked in Ron’s shower, completely perplexed over the lack of a
handle to turn the water off and on. He’d broken out in goose bumps
before it had finally occurred to him simply to ask the water to begin
spraying.



Taking pity on his friend, he grinned and said, “Come on. I’ll show
you how the common folk live.”



By the time Ron had finished with his shower and returned to Harry’s
room (with the echo of Aunt Petunia huffing over the waste of water),
Hermione had returned from her visit to Diagon Alley.



She burst into the room in a foul temper, angrily swiping the hair from
her face. She dropped a heavy load of books onto Harry’s rickety old
desk and plopped a box full of more pastries than even Ron could eat
onto the bed.



“Your relatives weren’t hungry, so there’s plenty to eat,” she said
stiffly.



Harry really tried his best not to grin. Really.



“What did they do? Throw them at you?” he asked.



“They’re under the impression that I did something to the pastries.
Honestly, Harry, I can’t believe that you ever tried to poison them, so
I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” she sniffed.



“They hate anything – and anyone – associated with magic. It has
nothing to do with you, Hermione. It’s just how they are,” Harry
replied, shrugging his shoulders.



Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s just as bigoted and narrow-
minded as the Malfoys’ view of Muggles.”



Harry supposed she was right. “Yeah. Now that you mention it, I think
Dudley and Malfoy could have actually been mates.”




“There’s an unpleasant thought,” said Ron with a grimace. He’d already
opened the box of pastries and held one in each hand. He took a bite
of one, causing jam to squirt up on the side of his face. He slowly
licked it off. “Mmmm, this is brilliant. I love you, Hermione.”



Hermione’s cheeks turned pink as she hurriedly looked away and selected
her own pastry.



Harry wasn’t certain what was happening between his two best friends.
He’d thought that maybe they’d come to some sort of an understanding at
Dumbledore’s funeral, but they hadn’t said anything to him. In fact,
they were acting pretty much the same as they always did – except for a
lot more blushing.



He didn’t know how he felt about it. He wanted his friends to be
happy, but the idea of sitting on the sidelines and watching them fall
in love while his own heart was aching was more than he could bear.



Ginny.



Things were different for Ron and Hermione, though. They were together
on this quest for the Horcruxes. They were a team and worked much
better with each other than apart. Harry watched his friends out of
the corner of his eye as he ate his own pastry. Ron was doing a good
job on both of his, but Harry noticed him pausing every once in a while
to sneak a glance at Hermione. For her part, Hermione was much more
discreet, but she was also copping her fair share of peeks at Ron.
Harry thought there must be some powerful feelings between them if
Hermione could distract Ron from food.



It was different for Ginny and him, though, wasn’t it? He had to
protect her…she was better off far away from him. Still, the battle
raged within his mind. For those few weeks that they’d shared
together, he’d felt as if he could conquer anything. He’d felt so much
stronger when she’d been by his side.



No! Stop!



He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t even allow his traitorous heart to
think it. Ginny shouldn’t be anywhere near him.



He had to be the one to do this thing. Even if Ron and Hermione were
with him on the hunt for the Horcruxes, he had absolutely no intention
whatsoever of letting them get anywhere near Voldemort when the final
battle raged. He’d take Voldemort out, and maybe die in the process,
but he’d be certain that neither of his friends was anywhere near him
when that happened. He could never allow any of them to become another
spare. Especially Ginny.



An image rose unbidden in his mind of Cedric’s lifeless eyes staring
from his crumpled body in a graveyard. Harry shuddered as his mind
played a trick and warped the body into Ginny. Her warm, brown eyes –
eyes that could melt an iceberg – stared blankly, almost accusingly,
through him. He couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t.



He glanced up at Ron and Hermione in time to see Hermione use a napkin
to wipe away the jam that still remained on the corner of Ron’s mouth.


It would be wrong of Harry to begrudge them this happiness, no matter
how much his heart ached to see it. Hadn’t Professor McGonagall said
that Professor Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think
there was a little more love in the world?



He’d personally told Harry that love was his greatest strength, so why
was he pushing it away?



No!



It was different for Ginny and him. Everything was always different
for him, and he’d only end up getting her killed, or forcing her to
watch as he died. No. It was better for her own sake to keep her
away. He’d never want her to have to suffer the kind of horror and
pain that he’d felt when he’d watched Sirius slip through that Veil.



Harry shook his head, steeling his resolve. This was the way it had to
be.



“Okay.” Hermione’s voice dragged Harry out of his thoughts. “Let’s
start with this room. It definitely needs some improvements.” She
scowled as her gaze roamed around the stacks of broken toys cluttered
in the corner and the rundown condition of Harry’s small bed. She
withdrew her wand from her sleeve.



“We can’t use magic,” Harry said quickly. “The Ministry can’t detect
who is doing the magic, only that it’s being done here, and I’ll get
another reprimand. Dumbledore told me that’s why I got the letter when
Dobby levitated my aunt’s pudding.”



“Not to worry, mate,” Ron said, his mouth still full of pastry. “My
dad said he’d inform Matilda Hopkirk at the Ministry that Hermione and
I were staying here this summer, and we’re both of age.”



“So…then…they won’t do anything if I use my wand, either. Right?”
Harry asked, furrowing his brow.



“No, Harry,” Hermione said firmly. “You’re still underage, and we have
to play by the rules if we want to avoid any trouble from the Ministry.
They could still use a Priori Incantatum to see if your wand has been
used. Let Ron and me handle the spells while we’re here.”



Harry scowled, feeling that old, familiar resentment arise within his
heart. Dumbledore had always tried to shield him, and look at how well
that turned out in the end. “Yeah. I’ll just sit back and be a good
little boy – like I always do.”



“Right,” Ron said, choking slightly on a piece of his pastry. “You’re
so good at staying out of trouble. It’s not our fault you’re such a
young ‘un.”



A reluctant smile spread across Harry’s face. “Shut it,” he mumbled,
but it was no use. It was impossible to stay in a foul mood when he
had Ron and Hermione here with him on Privet Drive.



“So…what kind of changes do you have in mind?” he asked, looking back
at Hermione.




“Oh, something like this,” Hermione said much too casually, as if she’d
been thinking of nothing else since she’d arrived. She waved her wand
toward the mess of Dudley’s old things in the corner and vanished them
completely.



She turned towards Harry’s desk, and, with a brief flick of her wand,
the chipped, sagging old wood transfigured into a polished cherry and
doubled in size. Shiny brass knobs appeared on the drawers, and a
small bookshelf formed on the top.



Harry’s jaw dropped in amazement. “Nice transfiguration, Hermione.”



She wasn’t finished. She turned her wand towards his bed – really, just
a threadbare old mattress on top of a box spring that sagged in the
middle. It immediately transformed into a replica of his beloved four-
poster bed at Hogwarts, complete with a fluffy red duvet.



Harry felt as if his face would burst from smiling so wildly.
“Wicked,” he said.



Hermione aimed her wand at the window. The bolts that had once held
bars in place disappeared, and the window adjusted itself so the panes
could swing outward, letting in a nice summer breeze. Heavy curtains
in a shade of red that matched his bed linens appeared, tied back with
gold braids.



Harry had never had curtains in his room before, and honestly, he’d
never really even noticed. He was stunned at the difference it made.



“Oh, I know what I want to do with that,” Ron said, sounding disgusted.



Harry turned to see him pointing towards the cat flap on the door.




“What is it?” Hermione asked.



Ron answered before Harry could change the subject. “They used to
shove his food through there when they locked him up after first year.”



Hermione’s lips thinned into slivers. “What did you have in mind,
Ron?” she asked, her voice sounding extremely shrill.



“Remember that drive-through place your parents took us to yesterday?”
Ron asked, grinning.



Hermione’s face lit up with a memory. “I know exactly what you have in
mind,” she said.



Harry frowned. He did want them together, but he wasn’t certain that
he liked this secret language that only they appeared to understand.
“Erm?”



Hermione flicked her wand again, but the cat flap appeared unchanged.



“Did it work?” asked Ron.




“Try it,” replied Hermione.



Ron lay down on his belly in front of the door.



“What are you doing?” Harry asked, perplexed.



“I’d like three cheeseburgers and some crisps, please,” Ron said,
speaking to the cat flap.



Before Harry even had the chance to ask Ron if he’d gone mad, the food
Ron had request
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