Book Four and Three Quarters
by Maeve "Mab" Roberts

~

< >The boy called Harry Potter stared out of the tiny window, and sighed. A white owl sat on his shoulder, tweaking his ear with her beak, and Harry rubbed her feathers absently with an affectionate finger.

< >"Oh, Hedwig," he said miserably.

< >That summer was the worst Harry had ever had. Not because Dudley was back off his diet and insisting that he eat all of Harry's food as well as his own, not because Aunt Petunia had decided her little Dudders should take up some kind of sport instead, and suggested he practice his aggressive yoga on Harry. It wasn't even because Uncle Vernon had threatened to handcuff him to the piano if he uttered a single word about Hogwarts or his wizarding friends. No, it was the worst summer of Harry's fourteen years because Sirius Black had sent him an owl asking if he, Ron and Hermione would like to go and stay with him in his house - and there wasn't a thing Harry could do about it.

< >Sirius Black was Harry's godfather. He was also a convicted murderer - in both the magic and muggle worlds - accused of a crime he hadn't committed, and hiding from the Ministry of Magic. Harry had been delighted to hear from him: he wanted nothing more than to spend the remainder of the holiday with him, and his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. He wasn't worried about the danger of Sirius being caught - in his letter, Sirius had said that he was safe where he was, and Harry believed him. He knew Sirius would never place him or the others in danger if he could help it.

< >But there was simply no way that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would let him go. Although scared at the prospect of Harry having a homicidal maniac as a guardian, they had both nonetheless sternly forbidden Harry to bring up the subject

< >"But why?" Harry had asked, exasperated over breakfast one morning. "You want to get rid of me - I want to get out - so why don't you just let me go?"

< >"That'll be enough of that, boy," Uncle Vernon had said, furiously, toast crumbs flying from his mouth as he spluttered. "One more word - one more word - and it'll be the piano for you."

< >Harry had quickly learned to dislike the piano thoroughly: the last time Vernon had left him there, Dudley had came and jumped repeatedly up and down on the keys, making loud discordant noises very close to Harry's head. He hadn't stopped until Aunt Petunia had called him in for lunch - which, naturally, Harry wasn't given - and his ears were still ringing. That had been two weeks ago.

< >So Harry sat in his small room, looking wistfully out of the window, being careful not to make any noise that might make his Aunt or Uncle remember he was there and shout at him to mow the lawn or some equally tedious task, and waited hopefully for more owls from Ron, Hermione or Sirius. But the days wore on, and still no news came.

< >And then, a month after Sirius's invitation and Harry's reluctant refusal, Pigwidgeon arrived.

< >Pigwidgeon - or Pig, as Ron, his owner, called him - was a small and highly excitable owl that more closely resembled a bundle of brown feathers. He flew straight in through Harry's open window one night, his little bullet-shaped body diving into Hedwig and rebounding, and landed breathlessly on top of Harry's bed. His fingers fumbling with the knots, Harry hurried to untie the letter strapped to his leg, Pig hooting at him affectionately all the time: scared that the noise would wake His Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon, Harry apologised quickly to the little owl before deftly snapping an elastic band round his beak and receiving an extremely indignant peck for his troubles. Harry ignored his bleeding fingers, and read the letter.

Dear Harry, it read.

< >Just had an owl from Sirius - he's invited us to go and stay with him! I can't believe it. Hermione says she got one, too. When can you come? My mum says she'll pick you up and take us to wherever Sirius wants to meet us. I can't believe she agreed to it, especially after her reaction the last time she saw Sirius… Anyway, I hope you're not having too many problems with the Muggles this year - I told my mum we're going to have to use a caxi (sp?) to come and get you this time, because I don't think that your uncle approved of the floo powder. Fred and George want to come to fetch you too, so make sure that Dugley or whatever his name is stays inside. On second thoughts, don't: they've just invented these cool new sweets called hubble gum which make you blow bubbles that trap your head, and you can't get out of them until you use up all the oxygen. Then they burst. I don't know where they got the money from. Mum went mental when she tried one. I think she's re-writing her will to disinherit them.

< >Anyway, send Pig back A.S.A.P. I can't wait to see Sirius again - and you and Hermione, of course. See you soon.

< >~Ron

< >Harry re-read the letter twice, glumly, and then folded it up and tucked it into his pocket. He hated to let Ron and the others down - but what could he do? There had to be something…

< >He looked up in shock as a shadow fell across his face and, as his eyes finally focused on a dark shape, he realized it was another owl. It swooped and landed gracefully next to Pigwidgeon on the bed, who sidled up to it and started trying to make friends.

< >Harry took the letter from the second owl's leg, and his heart grew even heavier. This one was from Hermione.

Dear Harry,

< >How are you? Have you had a good summer? Have you been doing much work? I've just finished reading the book list for next year's courses, they're all absolutely fascinating. And I've been brushing up on my -

< >Harry put the letter down and gave a hollow laugh, that was echoed eerily by Hermione's owl. On closer inspection, he saw it was in actual fact a gray parrot: wondering idly where she'd got one from, he picked the letter back up, skipping over the details of Hermione's homework and holiday 'fun'. Hermione's idea of leisure was a library the size of London, and Harry had scanned through at least two thirds of the letter before he began to read it properly again.

< >I got an owl from 'Snuffles' (you know who!) the other day, it continued, and he told me he's asked us to go and stay with him. Harry, do you think it's safe? I know he said it was, but with You-Know-Who around again, I'm not so sure. But if you and Ron are going I will too: I had an owl from Ron's mum yesterday saying that she'll pick me up and take us there.

< >Do you like Herbert (the parrot)? I bought him a few weeks ago. He and Crookshanks don't get on particularly well, and he spends most of his time on our roof. Mum and Dad don't approve. They didn't like my teeth, either. Write back as soon as possible.

< > < >Love, Hermione

< >Harry mashed the letter up into a ball and threw it at Herbert, who was leering at Hedwig, and felt even worse. But he was beginning to build up the determination to leave: images of him, Ron, Hermione and Sirius sitting happily out in the sun kept invading his mind and suddenly he couldn't bear it any longer. Grabbing up his quill and two scraps of parchment, he began to scribble furiously.

< >Dear Ron, he wrote, blotting the ink with the oversized sleeve of one of Dudley's hand-me-down T-shirts (that dangled inches over his hands). He ignored the smudges, and carried on.

< >I'm going to leave, tomorrow. I don't know how, yet, but I'll think of something. I can't stand staying cooped up here much longer. Tell Hermione. Ask your mum to tell the taxi (T.A.X.I., Ron - and wear Muggle clothing if you want the driver to let you into his car) to drop you at Privet Drive and I'll meet you outside. I hope Pig gets this to you tonight. I'll write and ask Sirius where to meet us…

< >Harry suddenly stopped writing. Yet another owl, this time a long eared, brown one with huge amber eyes had flown straight into the inkpot and knocked its contents everywhere.

< >"Damn," muttered Harry, knowing he'd have to somehow clear the mess up before his Aunt or Uncle saw it. Another reason to leave soon, he thought. He made a swipe at the owl's leg; but this owl seemed to want to play, and there ensued a bizarre game of silent hide and seek as Harry blundered around in the dark after the flying owl, who hooted now and again. Pig was getting excited, and fell off the bed nearly to the floor before he remembered he could fly.

< >Finally Harry snatched the big bird down from where it was gliding around by the ceiling, and tore the letter off its leg. The owl glared at him, and he glared back.

< >Harry, said the letter.

< >I know you want to come and stay with me really - or are the Dursleys really that nice? I didn't think so. Find a way to get out tomorrow and meet me at a place called Hog's Back - it's quite close to Surrey. Not hard to find. Bring Ron and Hermione: see you there tomorrow at 6 o'clock.
--Sirius.

< >Harry suddenly broke into a grin, and patted the owl on the head. It stabbed its beak at him, angrily, but Harry ignored it and scrawled out a quick note on the second piece of paper.

Dear Sirius,
Meet you at Hog's Back at 6, then. Is that really a place? See you later.
Harry,
P.S. you're a much better alternative to the Dursleys, don't worry.

< >Wrapping it tightly round the brown owl's leg using the elastic band he had tied Pig's beak up with, Harry carried the owl bodily over to the window and thrust it through. The owl hooted twice and flew away, and Harry turned back to the letter he'd been writing to Ron. He crossed out the bit that said he'd write to Sirius, and said instead:

< > Sirius will meet us at a place called Hog's Back at 6 o'clock, so meet you at about 4?

< >See you tomorrow! Can't wait either.
Harry

< >And suddenly things looked like they were going to improve. Harry managed to bundle Pigwidgeon out through the window, prayed he'd make it all the way back to Ron's in one piece, then flung himself onto his bed and promptly fell asleep.

~

< >Next morning, Harry woke up earlier than usual - before his Aunt Petunia could bang on his door with the skillet - and began to plan his escape. He needed to be outside, and he needed to have all the equipment he'd be taking to Hogwarts with him if he was going to go there straight after Sirius's. That wouldn't be too difficult, he thought ruefully: Uncle Vernon had made him stack it all away in the shed at the bottom of their garden where the spiders lived. So all he needed now was an excuse to be out of the house at four o'clock, ready to be picked up by the Weasleys. Harry didn't want to think about what might happen if Ron hadn't got his owl in time. He should have sent Hedwig with him.

< >But try though he might to rack his brain, he couldn't think of a single way he could get out of the house all day. It was boiling hot outside, and he'd give anything to be out there rather than scraping the inside of the oven, which was what he was presently doing. With a shock, Harry suddenly realised that it was already three o'clock: suddenly panicking, he finished cleaning the oven quickly, and walked into the sitting room.

< > "What are you doing?" asked Dudley, not looking up from where he was blowing up dwarfs on his Gameboy.

< > "Where's Uncle Vernon?" said Harry, ignoring him.

< >"I asked you a question, runt," said Dudley, finally bringing his pendulous jowls up to stare at Harry, a smudge of chocolate visible round his chubby nose. Harry tried hard to look at him without gagging.

< >"And I asked you one," retorted Harry shortly. He didn't have the time to have a fight with Dudley.

< >As if sensing his reluctance to argue, Dudley abruptly changed tack. "My dad said your dad was a coward," he said suddenly, and Harry, taken aback, was unable to speak before Dudley continued. "And a thief," he added. "A coward and thief and a basta- "

< >Suddenly, Harry lunged at Dudley, and rugby tackled him to the floor. He got in two good punches before Dudley rolled over and straddled Harry, his enormous weight almost squashing the air out of him. Harry lunged upwards with his knee and Dudley howled in anguish - bringing Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon to the door immediately. They took in the scene - Dudley sat on top of a nearly hyperventilating Harry - before rushing over and stroking Dudley's lank fair hair. Harry didn't know how they could bear to touch it.

< >"Poor ickle darling Dudders," cooed Aunt Petunia. "What's wrong, my little possum?"

< >Dudley sobbed into her shoulder, massaging himself tenderly. Harry couldn't quite suppress a grin. Uncle Vernon seized his shoulder, and dragged him out from underneath Dudley, bringing his face up to inches away from his own.

< >"You leave your filthy hands off of my boy, d'you hear me?" he snarled. "Now get out. Out. Mow the lawn - now. And when you've finished, do it again. If I find one single blade of grass out of place, I'll have your hide, boy… I'll put you in the piano, not just next to it, get it? Out, out, out!" By the time Uncle Vernon had finished, he was almost screaming in anger - but Harry didn't care. In fact, he could have hugged Uncle Vernon: he couldn't have arranged the situation better himself.

< >"Fine!" he exclaimed happily. "I'd love to!" Uncle Vernon squinted at him suspiciously, but Harry was gone from the house, sprinting down the to shed where - along with his Hogwarts stuff - the lawnmower was kept. Perfect, he thought. He forced everything into one heavy suitcase, and whistled for Hedwig. She came flying out through his bedroom window and landed on top of the shed.

< >"Ready to go?" he asked her, scratching her head and trying hard to stop the grin he was wearing from splitting his face in two. Hedwig blinked at him, and then he could have sworn she winked. Harry spent the most enjoyable hour he'd ever had mowing the lawn, and at ten to four he put the lawnmower back into the shed, and exchanged it for his bag. Peering cautiously round the corner to see if he was being watched by Aunt Petunia, he saw the lace curtain twitch slightly. Damn.

< >Still, Harry didn't care. He could easily outrun Aunt Petunia… His robes and suitcase in one hand, and Hedwig clinging onto the other, he made a sudden dash for it. Down the gravel drive, past the window… quick…

< > "WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING?" Uncle Vernon's voice roared at him, and Harry's grin grew even wider. He was nearly there, he was going to make it…

< >"Bye!" he called cheerfully over his shoulder. "Have a nice summer!" Hedwig decided to make things easier by flying, and Harry switched his suitcase over to his other hand. He could hear the sound of Uncle Vernon's heavy footsteps pounding after him and was surprised that his huge feet didn't make holes in the pavement - but he rounded the corner and parked there, glistening in the sunlight, was the most beautiful thing Harry had ever seen. A black taxi.

< >"Quick!" he shouted, flinging the door open and plucking Hedwig out the sky, shoving her in, ignoring her ruffled feathers and the reproachful look she threw at him. The suitcase quickly followed, and Harry caught a quick glimpse of six people with ginger hair, all wearing the same identical shocked expression, and Hermione, before he dived in himself and the car shot away, wheels spinning in the summer's dust. Harry caught a glimpse of Uncle Vernon, red faced and furious looking, standing there shaking a fist at the retreating vehicle, before the clouds of dirt enveloped him and he doubled over, choking. Beaming, Harry finally turned to his rescuers.

< >"Hi," he said. "Having a good summer?"

~

< >The entire Weasley family, it seemed - with the exception of Charlie and Bill, who didn't live at home, and Percy, who thought such an enterprise below him - had come to meet Harry, and they were all still staring at him rather doubtfully. Then Ron spoke.

< >"Yeah," he said, grinning. "Fine."

< >Fred and George were soon speaking too. "Good to see you, Harry!" said George. Fred pounded him on the back enthusiastically, making Harry choke.

< >"Oh - sorry," he said, not sounding at all apologetic. "Have a cough sweet." He handed Harry a paper bag and Harry, who knew only too well not to take anything (and especially sweets) from the Weasley twins, frowned at them suspiciously.

< >"Er - no thanks," he said.

< >"Boys!" cried Mrs Weasley, sounding so annoyed that Harry began to wonder if maybe Ron hadn't been right about her being about to disown them. "I told you to put those things away!"

< >The taxi driver kept looking over his shoulder, worried. Harry grinned at him.

< >"How are you, Harry?" said Hermione, and Ginny looked at him shyly. Mr Weasley was trying to unobtrusively investigate the interior of the car - which was what many of the poor taxi driver's stares were directed at - and Harry was amazed they didn't crash. He was also wondering how they'd managed to fit eight people and an owl into the back of one cab - but he didn't have time to ponder on it long, because he was once again facing a barrage of questions.

< >"Are you eating enough, Harry dear? You look a bit thin."

< >"How did you manage to escape?"

< > "How's Ugly Dudley's tongue? Did your uncle cut it off for him?"

< >"How do you think Siri- Snuffles is?"

< >"What does this thing here do?"

< >The only question that Harry could find the time to answer was the last one, which belonged to Mr. Weasley. He was poking at the car alarm, and Harry just managed to say "No - don't," before he poked it too hard and an awful noise like a siren went off. The taxi driver twisted round immediately, in shock, and Harry felt extremely sorry for him. The car pulled over onto the verge, and there was a sudden silence.

< >"Right!" shrieked the cabby, jabbing a finger at the air. "That's it! Out, all out!" He sounded remarkably like Uncle Vernon. The occupants of the car looked at each other, doubtfully.

< >"I think he wants us to get out," said George, sounding puzzled.

< >"Can't imagine why," added Fred.

< >"OUT!" screamed the taxi driver. The Weasleys, Harry and Hermione all got out.

< >"Er, thanks," said Mr. Weasley, looking at the money he'd just dug out of his pocket in fascination. "Harry," he hissed. "What do I do with this? What do I give him?"

< >"How much do we owe you?" asked Harry, who would have paid with his own money if he hadn't known that the Weasleys wouldn't hear of it. He started towards the taxi driver who, to his surprise, began to back away.

< >"N-nothing!" he stuttered. "Nothing. I don't want anything. Just get away from my car! Please!"

< >"Er - right," said Harry, taking a step backwards. "Where are we, exactly?"

< >"About five miles away from where you want to be," said the driver. "It's that way." He pointed down the road to the left. He disappeared into the back of the car for a minute before emerging clutching all the bags that were there, and clutching his thumb where Hedwig had bitten him. He was eyeing the white owl cautiously.

< >"There you go," he said. "Bye now. Have a nice day." And with that, he was back in his seat and driving away before anyone had a chance to say anything.

< >"Well," said Mr. Weasley when the air had cleared. "Wasn't that fun." His eyes were gleaming.

< > "Cool," said Ron, with a marked lack of enthusiasm. "What're we gonna do now?"

< >"Well, you three can go and meet - your - your friend," said Mrs Weasley, managing to not look too disapproving. "And we'll just summon another taxi."

< >"Um," said Harry, doubtfully.

< >"Yes, dear?"

< >"Well, it's just… I wouldn't use a summoning spell, if I were you," he said. "I'm not sure how the driver would react. I think it's best if you used a telephone - there's one over there…"

< >No sooner had he pointed out the red box than Mr Weasley was making his way towards it, rubbing his hands together and all but salivating.

< >"Yes, yes," he was saying. "Wonderful idea, Harry, wonderful… look at the craftsmanship! Look! How beautiful…"

< >Harry exchanged a look with Fred and grinned.

< >"Do you think he knows which bit he's got to talk into?" asked George. His mother frowned at him, and he smiled back.

< >"Only joking," he said mildly. "Bye then Harry - see you later Ron, Hermione."

< >He and Fred began to walk up the road.

< >"Where do you think you're going?" demanded their mother. George and Fred stopped, surprised.

< >"Well, we thought it might be quicker to walk than wait for dad to call a taxi…" said Fred. "He hasn't even opened the door yet." Mr Weasley was stroking the red doorframe lovingly. Ron hung his head.

< >"Oh, I'll call for you, Mr Weasley," said Hermione, running over towards him. Ron shook his head at Harry. Mrs Weasley suddenly became all mother-like.

< >"Now, Harry," she said, casting an appraising eye up and down him like she wanted to feed him up a bit, "You will be careful, won't you? If it wasn't for the fact that Dumbledore sent me an owl saying that you'd be safe - "

< >"Dumbledore? Sent you an owl?" said Harry. "I never knew. He never sent me one."

< >" - Then I wouldn't be so happy at letting you go. Now, you must leave all your things with us - that's it, we'll take Hedwig home with us, won't we, Hedwig?" Harry's owl seemed to have taken a liking to Ginny, and was trying to eat her hair. Ginny looked up at Harry, and blushed. Ron laughed.

< >"And you'll be all right for food, will you?" Ron's mother continued. "Your - your godfather, I suppose he does eat… um… cooked food, does he?"

< >"Mum!" gasped Ron, blushing as red as Ginny had. "Of course he does! He isn't a dog all the time."

< >"Hmm. Well," said Mrs Weasley. "I suppose not. But anyway - if you need anything, just owl us, won't you, dear? Oh, what is your father doing to the poor phonebox now?" she added, exasperated. Mr Weasley had taken his coat off, and was using it to wipe some mud from the bottom of the door. Hermione, inside, speaking on the telephone, was looking decidedly worried.

< >Finally though they dragged Mr Weasley away from the telephone, and Ron, Hermione and Harry stood ready to go. They waited until the remainder of the Weasley family had packed themselves into the new taxi, and Harry hoped that they'd have better luck with this one. They waved at the car until it was out of sight and then turned, grinning, to each other.

< >"Oh, Harry!" squealed Hermione, looking the happiest Harry could remember ever having seen her since the time she'd been given a new book at Christmas. "Isn't this exciting!"

< >Ron rolled his eyes, but Harry could tell he was looking forward to it just as much as Hermione was, if not more. Ron's house grew rather cramped at holiday times.

< >"C'mon, then," said Harry, setting off. "What are we waiting for?"

~

< >It was almost quarter to seven when they reached the sign that said 'Hog's Back' ("So he wasn't joking after all! Bloody hell," said Ron), but there was no sign of Sirius, either in his human or animagus form.

< >"You did say six, didn't you, Harry?" asked Hermione anxiously.

< >Harry nodded.

< >"Well, it's almost seven now, so maybe he thought we weren't coming," said Ron helpfully. Hermione glared at him.

< >"Well, let's wait here for a bit, then - " she started, but was interrupted by a playful growl behind her. Spinning round, the three of them found themselves face to face with an enormous black dog, its tongue lolling out the side of its mouth like it was grinning at them.

< >"Sirius!" exclaimed Harry, happily. Sirius barked, and jumped at Harry, almost knocking him over. Harry dropped his glasses, and the dog looked extremely apologetic. They followed him off of the road, and up into some trees that looked like they formed the edge of a forest. He led them up a steep hill, and they climbed in silence: by the time Sirius finally halted, they were all out of breath and dripping with sweat. The dog raised itself onto its hind legs - and all of a sudden there stood Sirius Black, looking healthier than they'd ever seen him before, like he had done in the photos Harry had of his parents' wedding.

< >"Hello, Harry," he said warmly. "Ron, Hermione - how are you all?"

< >Then they were all talking at once, nineteen to the dozen; Sirius smiled, and let them. Harry took the opportunity to tell them all about his escape from the Dursleys, and by the time they reached the small, wooden house where Sirius lived they were all in stitches - not only from the steep climb.

< >"I wish I could have seen his face properly from the back of that cacti," wheezed Ron, holding his side painfully. "Or - was it a caxi, you said?"

< >"Taxi," said Harry and Hermione at the same time, grinning. They sat down at a long wooden table in the first room they came to - apparently the kitchen.

< >"Tea?" said Sirius.

< >Soon they were all lounging comfortably there, lulled into drowsiness by the warmth of Sirius's fire. Dusk was gathering fast outside: to Harry's shock, he realised that it was almost half past ten. He yawned.

< >"Oh," said Sirius at once. "Are you tired? I - I hope you don't mind sharing rooms; it's not very big here, I…"

< >They hastily assured him that that was fine, and he showed them into a comfy-looking and surprisingly large room, in which three beds had been laid out carefully.

< >"There," he said. "I hope that's OK - Hermione, you're sure you don't mind…"

< >"It's lovely," said Hermione. "Thanks." She beamed at him.

< >"Well then… goodnight. And I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here… we should have a good summer." He closed the door behind him.

< >Half an hour later Harry was in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, more contented than he could remember ever having been before. Without realising it, he drifted slowly off to sleep, a huge smile still plastered all over his face.

< >The next week passed quickly and happily. Sirius was unlike any other grown up Harry had ever stayed with: a million miles away from Uncle Vernon, and infinitely more childish than Ron's parents or Mrs Figg, the awful old lady with an obsession with cats that the Dursleys had forced him to spend some of his holidays with. With Sirius, he, Ron and Hermione did the kind of things that Harry had always imagined 'normal' people to do - they went fishing, and swimming, and sat out in the sunlight with bottles of butterbeer and laughed, and for that whole week Harry almost forgot that he was a wizard. He wished wistfully that he could live with Sirius forever.

< >And then, at the beginning of the second week, weird things started to happen that dragged Harry back to the reality of the situation. It was dark, and he was sat in the kitchen with Ron and Hermione while Sirius made them some food - refusing all help; he said that he wanted to make up for all the years he hadn't been there for Harry. Harry went quiet after this: the knowledge that after this school year he would have to go and stay with the dreaded Dursleys again was almost unbearable now that he'd tasted the life of freedom that Sirius had to offer.

< >"Whatdoyoureckon'sfordinner?" asked Ron, through a mouthful of Honeyduke's chocolate scavenged from Sirius's supply.

< >Harry shrugged. Hermione was about to answer, when all of a sudden -

< >"What was that?" demanded Ron, so shocked that he spat out his mouthful of chocolate and stared at Harry and Hermione in terror. Sirius came running from the other room.

< >"Harry? What happened?" he demanded. Harry was lying on the floor curled up, clutching at his scar.

< >"Harry! Stop that!" Sirius pulled Harry's hands away from his head roughly, and peered at him. He looked worried.

< >"What was that… that noise?" asked Hermione in a whisper.

< >The noise had been loud, and unlike any either Harry, Ron or Hermione had ever heard before. It was as if some inhuman being had screamed away the remnants of its soul: a howling that would easily outdo any number of banshees. If Sirius knew what had made it, he obviously wasn't going to tell them.

< >"I - I don't know," he said. "Here, Harry. Sit down." He dumped a blanket onto Harry's knees, and Harry wrapped himself up in it gratefully, because he was shivering so violently he thought he might be having some kind of fit.

< >"Does your scar hurt?" asked Ron, peering at Harry's forehead. "'Cos it's gone a funny colour."

< >Harry instantly put his hand to his head. "Yeah," he said, and then paused. "Why? What's happened to it?"

< >Ron opened his mouth to speak, but Sirius silenced him with a look and cut across him. "Nothing," he said. "It's fine. Look - why don't you three try and get some sleep? I'll… I'll just - "

< >A loud knocking at the door interrupted him. Harry tensed, and wondered what was happening. Could Voldemort have found them, he wondered? He had only ever known his scar to hurt when Voldemort was close at hand. He looked at Hermione, and noticed that she was shaking almost as badly as he was. Ron was pale.

< >Sirius seemed to be considering opening the door, and Harry felt an urge to scream at him not to. It could be anyone. The knocking came again, and Hermione jumped.

< >"Don't - " she whispered - but it was too late. Sirius had reached the door; his hand was on the handle, he'd opened it, and -


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