My parents had planned on going to look at houses the next day, but they wanted to go to St. Mungo's first. Dad had decided that if we moved to England, it would be easier to just buy a house rather than build one. There wasn't anyone we knew in England to supervise the building of a house, so it would be easier to buy one. I hoped there were better houses in England than in New York.
As soon as we finished brekkie, we Flooed to St. Mungo's. I stepped out of the fireplace into a waiting room. There were quite a few people sitting in the plastic chairs and even more queued up before a desk at the front. I followed Mum and Dad and we joined queue.
The bloke in front of us looked to be in his twenties and he appeared to have a broomstick stuck in between his legs. He looked rather uncomfortable, but I thought he should consider himself lucky he was able to land the broomstick. In front of him was a witch with a flower growing from her head. There were a number of people ahead of them, but I couldn't quite tell what was wrong with them.
I turned around and took a glance at the waiting area. One wizard had pink pustules all over his body. A small child was hissing and sticking out his tongue, which was forked. There were also a number of people who appeared normal, looking through the various magazines laid out on the tables.
The queue moved slowly and I wished I had brought a book. After a few more minutes, we could finally see who was sitting behind the desk. There was a very bored looking witch sitting there, directing people where to go. Next to the desk was a large sign, also instructing people where to go.
"Next," the witch said.
The lady with the plant on her head walked up and before she could utter a word, the witch behind the desk pointed to the sign and announced, "Fourth Floor."
I glanced at the sign and saw that the fourth floor was for spell damage.
"I can't get off this broom!" the bloke in front of us exclaimed once the plant witch left, "I don't know why! I was just flying and now I'm stuck and I can't get off it!"
"Fourth floor," the witch pointed her wand at the sign and it emitted green sparks. "Next!" she shouted as broom boy waddled off to the lift.
"Hello," Dad greeted the witch and produced the parchment with the article on it, "We're looking for Healer Morris Sterling."
The witch raised her eyebrows at us as she scanned the article. "The Dai Lewellyn Ward is on the first floor. You'll find Healer Sterling there."
"Thank you," Dad said and we followed him over to the lift.
We emerged from the lift onto a long corridor. It was very quiet and looked like the hospital in Australia. A few wizards and witches in lime green robes passed us as we started down the corridor, but they didn't look up from their clipboards. I presumed that they were the Healers. Mum and Dad peeked at every door, reading the signs affixed to them.
Eventually, Dad stopped in front of a door that said 'Dai Lewellyn Ward'. Next to it was another door that said 'Healer Morris Sterling: Head Healer of the Dai Lewellyn Ward'.
The door was open, so we followed Dad inside. A witch sitting at a desk was tying a letter to an owl. There were a few chairs in the room, along with a lot of filing cabinets. There was a sign on her messy desk that said 'Natalie Caberny'.
"Excuse me," Dad said.
"Yes?" Natalie Caberny replied, "Can I help you?"
"We'd like to see Healer Sterling, please," Dad said and showed her the article, "About the study."
"All right," Natalie said as she opened a large book, "Well, let's see, Healer Sterling is busy seeing patients until eleven, but he is available for a half hour then, if that will work."
"That would be fine," Dad told her.
"Name?" Natalie asked as she wrote something in the book.
"Walter Eckerton," Dad told her.
"And you're inquiring about the Wolfsbane Study?" Natalie asked.
"Yes," Dad said.
"Ok, you're all set. See you at eleven."
"Thank you," Dad said and we left the room.
I glanced at my watch once we were back in the corridor. It was a little after ten. An hour to kill until the appointment. I definitely wished I'd brought a book.
We wound up spending the hour in the tea room that was on the top floor. Mum and Dad had some coffee while Matt and I had biscuits. They were all right, but nothing extraordinary. I flipped through a few mediocre magazines, but was basically bored the entire hour. I wished Mum and Dad would have let me stay at the Three Broomsticks.
The first floor was a bit busier when we went back down. A few Healers were running around shouting things to each other and carrying various potions into a few rooms.
Natalie Caberny was sitting at her desk when we entered. She was hurriedly writing something onto a piece of parchment. Dad waited until she had folded the parchment and charmed it to fly out of the room before he spoke.
"We're back for the eleven o'clock appointment," Dad said.
"Right," Natalie replied, "I'll just see if he's ready for you."
Natalie got up and knocked on a door that led off of her study. "Walter Eckerton's here to see you. Should I send him in?"
"Yes, send him in," a man replied.
Natalie opened the door and motioned us in. Dad thanked her and she shut the door behind us.
A balding man was sitting behind a large oak desk. His spectacles were perched on the tip of his nose and he wore the same lime green robes all the other Healers I'd seen wore. He stood up and shook Dad's hand. He was quite tall and a bit on the chubby side.
"Morris Sterling," the man said.
"Walter Eckerton," Dad replied, "My wife, Julie, and our kids, Amy and Matt."
"Nice to meet you," Sterling gestured to the chairs in front of his desk, "Please have a seat."
Mum and Dad sat down in the chairs in front of Sterling's desk and Matt and I sat in the ones that were alongside the wall. I looked at a nearby book shelf and noticed there were a lot of books about potions.
"Now, you're here to inquire about the Wolfsbane Study?" Sterling asked.
"Yes. I saw the article in the paper."
"Ah. Excellent," Sterling replied, "And you're interested in participating?"
"Well, not me, my son," Dad gestured to Matt. "Will you allow underage participants?"
"Hmm," Sterling leaned back and rubbed his chin, "I don't have any yet, but with the right release forms I don't see why not."
"I'll sign them," Dad said, "But do you have a detailed outline of this study?"
"Yes," Sterling replied and opened his desk drawer. He pulled out a thick binder and handed it to Dad. "All the details are in there."
"Thanks," Dad said.
"Does Wolfsbane work for your son?" Sterling asked.
"No, that's why we'd like him in the study," Dad explained.
"I figured, but I had to ask."
"I understand that you'll want to read that thoroughly before you finalize your decision, but I do have a preliminary questionnaire for you to fill out just to be sure your son is eligible," Sterling handed Dad a clipboard.
Dad took the clipboard and pulled a quill out of his robes. He and Mum spent the next few minutes filling out whatever questions Sterling wanted to know. Dad handed him back the clipboard once they were done.
Sterling leaned back in his chair and looked over the questionnaire. "Well, everything seems to be in order. I see no reason why your son can't participate. The only problem is that I see you live in Australia. I will need to perform routine examinations, which might be difficult if you're not in the country."
"We are actually planning on moving," Dad told him, "That was our reason for visiting. We were touring Hogwarts. We're either going to move here or New York. And if I like the sounds of this study, we'll be moving here. Things have gotten a bit, er, difficult in Australia lately."
Sterling nodded, "You know, your name sounds a bit familiar, but I can't quite place it...." Sterling looked at Dad for a moment, "You're the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in Australia, aren't you?"
Dad sighed, "Not anymore. Just got fired."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Sterling said quietly.
"It was bound to happen eventually. There aren't many who share my views about werewolves down there. Most of the Ministry are quite unsympathetic. Part of the reason why we're moving. Have you heard about the new laws that are being passed?"
"Only bits and pieces, but what I have heard disgusts me."
"I quite agree," Dad replied, "And there was only so much I could do when nobody shared my opinion."
"Well, we could use someone like you here in England. You'll find that more people are sympathetic here. Pop into the Ministry sometime. I think there might be a few openings in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures here."
"Thank you," Dad said.
"You're welcome," Sterling replied, "I hate to cut this short, but I've got an eleven thirty appointment. Send me an owl if you decide to have your son in the study. There will be some preliminary tests that will need to be done, so perhaps we could schedule them to be done before you return to Australia. When were you planning on flying back?"
"Saturday, but I can always change the tickets."
"Excellent," Sterling said as he stood up, "I'll look forward to your owl."
"I'll send it shortly," Dad stood up, "And thank you for meeting with us."
"Not a problem," Sterling shook Dad's hand.
"Thank you," Mum smiled, "For starting this study. You have no idea how difficult it's been."
"I can only imagine," Sterling replied, "I see so many sad things here. I'd like to have some happy endings for once."
"I certainly hope this study brings one," Mum said.
"Me, too," Sterling agreed.
"We'll be in contact soon," Dad said and we all left the room.
Mum and Dad wanted to go right back to the Three Broomsticks after we left St. Mungo's so they could read about the study. Of course, they wanted to discuss it in private, so Matt and I were banished to the pub once again.
"I'm bored," Matt sighed after we'd finished our Butterbeers.
"Me, too," I agreed. Why hadn't I thought to grab a book? "Hey, want to go explore the village?"
"But Mum and Dad said to stay here," Matt said.
"I know," I grinned mischievously, "But if we're back before they finish discussing that study, then they'll never know. C'mon, there were a few shops I wanted to investigate."
"Amy, what if we get caught?" Matt asked nervously.
"We won't get caught. Plus, if we do, Mum and Dad will blame me. You won't get in trouble at all," I assured him.
"Fine," Matt sighed and got up, "But only for a little while."
"Excellent," I grinned and jumped up. "It'll be fun. Trust me."
The air was crisp outside and the ground muddy. The last bits of snow were melting. It seemed almost completely deserted, which didn't bother me in the least. I led Matt down the street, looking in every shop as we went.
"Where are we going?" Matt asked.
"I dunno," I shrugged, "We'll find out when we get there. Hey, didn't Kendrick say the shack you're going to transform in is somewhere around here?"
"Let's go find it," I took off running.
"Amy, wait!" Matt shouted, "I don't really want to see it!"
"Aw, come on, it'll be cool," I shouted back. "Hurry up!"
I slowed down and waited for my brother to catch up. He looked a bit nervous, but reluctantly followed me. We wandered all the way down the road, looking for anything that resembled the shack Kendrick mentioned.
"How will we know what house it is anyway?" Matt asked quietly.
"I think we'll just know," I told him. How many decrepit buildings could there be in this village anyway?
As we walked farther and farther away from the Three Broomsticks, the houses and buildings got farther and farther apart. There were mountains up ahead as well.
"Hey, I'll bet that's it!" I pointed to an old house that was a few meters off the main road. There was a broken down fence around it. "Let's get closer."
"I don't want to," Matt whined.
"Oh don't be such a baby," I said as I ran up to the house.
It was certainly run down looking. The windows were all boarded up and it didn't look like anyone had lived in it for decades.
"Spooky," I grinned and turned around. Matt was still down by the road. "Oh, get up here!"
Matt reluctantly walked up to the house and looked at it for a few moments. "It's big."
"Not really," I laughed, "It's a shack."
"I meant that it's big compared to the room in the basement."
"It looks haunted," Matt whispered.
"That be because it is haunted, kiddies."
I shrieked and jumped as I turned around. Matt screamed even louder than I did and hid behind me, grabbing my arm. There was a hunched old witch standing a few feet in front of us, wearing a patched old robe. She had a hood over her face, but her lank white hair was sticking out.
"Wh-who are y-you?" I stammered.
"Not important," she cackled, "You kiddies been enjoying the Shrieking Shack?"
"The what?" I asked.
"The Shrieking Shack," the witch repeated, "Yous not heard of the Shrieking Shack? Kiddies not from around here?"
"N-no," I told her.
"Aye, well, Shrieking Shack is haunted," the witch laughed, "I heard the shrieking meself, years ago. Once in a while, loud screeching heard from the place. Ghosts, some said. Dumbledore himself say the shack be inhabited by band of ghosts!
"Must've moved. Not a sound been heard from the place in years. Best stay away. Some say it's still haunted."
"A-all right," I whispered. "I th-think we'll be going now."
"You go, kiddies! And watch out for them ghosts! Might come back, you know."
I nodded and ran back to the road, not looking back at the witch. Matt followed me, not letting go of my arm. My heart was still hammering when we got down to the road. I glanced back at the shack, but the old witch was gone.
"S-see why we sh-shouldn't have go-gone?" Matt stammered.
"It was worth it."
"Let's j-just go b-back."
"No, I saw a shop I wanted to go to," I said, leading Matt back to the village.
We walked down the road until we got to the most colorful display window in the entire village. There was a large display of fireworks in the window, along with various other objects. The sign above the shop said 'Weasley's Wizard Wheezes'.
"C'mon," I said and pushed open the door.
We stepped into what must have been the best joke shop I had ever seen in my life. There was so much stuff crammed into the small shop that I didn't even know what to look at first.
There was a red-haired man behind the counter wearing magenta colored robes talking to a boy with turquoise blue hair. The pair of them looked like they could belong to a Muggle circus. I had to suppress a gasp when the man turned and I noticed that one of his ears was missing.
"Anything else besides the Deluxe Whizbang Box?" the man asked the boy.
"Nope, that's it for now," the boy replied.
Both of them looked over at Matt and I as we reached the display near the counter. The man grinned when he saw us and the boy looked at us quizzically.
"Skip out of school?" the man asked, "Ah, how I enjoy seeing those who continue that noble tradition."
"Er, no, actually I don't go to school here," I muttered.
"That's why I don't recognize you," the boy said. "I'm Ted Lupin."
"Amy Eckerton," I said. "And that's my brother Matt," I pointed to Matt, who was perusing a display of sweets.
"Nice to meet you," Ted replied.
"And I am George Weasley, at your service," the man grinned. "I own the shop."
"It's brilliant," I told him, "Best joke shop I've seen."
"You don't sound like you're from around here," Ted mentioned.
"We're actually from Australia," I explained.
"Wow," Ted looked at me in awe, "What are you doing here?"
"My family's moving," I sighed, "So we're visiting Hogwarts. My parents haven't decided if we're moving here or New York."
"Move here," Ted said. "And if you do, hope for Gryffindor, it's the best House."
I grinned. Ted was nice. "I'll keep that in mind."
"It really is the best house," George Weasley added.
"Blimey," Ted glanced at his watch, "I'd better get back if I want to make it back for Transfiguration, not that I really want to...."
"Go back, Ted," George laughed, "Your grandmother will have my head if you miss class because you're here."
"Bye, Uncle George," Ted picked up his package and turned to leave, "See you around, Amy."
"Bye," I said as he left the shop.
"Anything I can help you with?" George Weasley asked.
"I'm just looking around," I replied.
"Give a shout if you have any questions."
I nodded and started wandering around the shop. The first thing I noticed was that there was a whole variety of sweets that made you sick. Matt was looking at them with disgust.
"Why would you want to make yourself sick?" he asked.
I picked up one of the boxes and read the back. "So you can miss class," I grinned, "That's brilliant. You eat one half of it to make you sick, get excused from class, and then eat the other half to get better after you leave. Of course, you'll be able to do that perfectly fine on your own."
"Very funny," Matt said flatly.
"Oh, I'm just joking," I said as I moved to another display.
"Hey, Amy, look at these!" Matt shouted.
I turned back to where he was looking. "What?"
Matt held up a box that had a picture of a long flesh-colored thing on it. "Read this."
I took the box and read the label. It said 'Extendable Ears'. A grin appeared on my face as I read that they were for eavesdropping on other people's conversations.
"You know, we could use these to listen to what Mum and Dad are talking about right now," I said excitedly. These things were probably my favorite item in the shop. If only they sold them in Australia! I'd never have wondered what Mum and Dad talked about when they holed themselves up in Dad's study.
"That's what I was thinking," Matt replied.
"Let's get them," I grinned, "C'mon."
We ran up to the desk, where George Weasley was smiling at us. I placed the box on the counter.
"Extendable Ears," he said, "Excellent choice. Nine Sickles and five Knuts."
I pulled out a few Sickles and Knuts that were leftover from the Butterbeer. Luckily I had enough.
"Enjoy," George Weasley said as I picked up the box.
"Thanks," I grinned and we left the shop.
"Aren't you happy we went exploring now?" I asked once we left.
"Yeah, yeah," Matt muttered.
We ran all the way back to the Three Broomsticks. Madam Rosmerta smiled and shook her head as we breezed past the bar. I took that to mean that Mum and Dad hadn't come out and noticed we were missing.
I ripped open the package as we ascended the stairs. I unwrapped the fleshy tubes and handed one to Matt. We sat down outside our door and shoved an end of the Extendables into our ears and the other end near the crack in the bottom of the door.
"It does seem safe," I heard Dad saying. I turned to Matt and we grinned at each other. They worked!
"Nothing's perfectly safe," Mum replied.
"Yes, but I think it may be worth the risk," Dad said.
"I suppose you're right," Mum sighed, "I just worry. Look at all those possible complications."
"They have to put those in so nobody can sue them," Dad explained, "There will always be risk. There was risk with the other treatments we tried."
"This is different, Julie. It's not just one treatment. We may actually find out why the Wolfsbane doesn't work if we go through with this. It could drastically change his life for the better."
"So you want to do it?" Mum asked.
"Yes," Dad replied, "I really think it's be a good idea."
"Well, then I suppose we'd better send Healer Sterling an owl."
"I'll go see if Madam Rosmerta has one we can borrow." I heard Dad get up from the bed.
I pulled the Extendable Ear out of my ear and grabbed Matt's arm. We hurried back down to the bar and sat down in the first table we got to. I stuffed all the Extendables into my pocket and tried to act natural.
Dad appeared a few seconds later. "Hi, kids."
"Hey, Dad," I replied.
"Hi," Matt said.
Dad smiled at us and went over to the bar. He talked with Madam Rosmerta and she left for a few moments and then came back with an owl. Dad took the owl and went back up the stairs.
After he left, the conversation I had just heard started to sink in. Mum and Dad were going to enroll Matt in that study. That meant that it was official. We were moving to England. We wouldn't move to New York and live near Uncle Jack. We would move here, to a place where I knew no one and had never been to before this visit. A place I was totally unfamiliar with. Any lingering hope of staying in Australia was gone. Once Matt was in that study, there would be no going back. We'd sell our house in Australia and look for one in England. Australia would no longer be my home and I would not get to call New York my home. My home would be England, a place that was totally and completely foreign. I swallowed hard and bit my lip to keep the tears from falling.
A/N: Thanks to my betas, Dancer_of_Starlight and Joanne K. Thanks as well to Rosie, Moonylupin, and JKRowlingFan22 for their reviews!