The sundae at Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor was heavenly. Harry knew that he shouldn’t be spoiling his lunch, but after the scene in the bank he wanted something comforting and ice cream just seemed to fit the bill. The woman Ginny had mentioned had come out to meet him once word of his presence had filtered through the ice cream parlor. She was a very pleasant woman, a tall strawberry blonde named Slaine Soronen, with a Gaelic lilt to her voice. By way of introduction she had confirmed that she was a relative of Florean Fortescue’s – a granddaughter-in-law, to be specific, but the only living family the Ministry could find. She hadn’t taken much of Harry’s time but, like so many members of the wizarding world, she had been very excited to meet him.
Harry was becoming aware that passers-by in the alley were noticing him; small groups lingering close at shop windows were pointing and whispering. Between summers with the Dursleys, and all the rest of his time at school or with the Weasleys, he had always been somewhat sheltered from the public’s eyes. He was in fact famous, but he had been sheltered from that fame – something which he was sure had been part of what Dumbledore wanted for him.
If that had been part of Dumbledore’s plan it had worked fairly well up until his fourth year. Yes, he had gone through periods in school, during his third and fourth years particularly, when he was treated differently, but the fact was he had never really experienced the full weight of the public’s attention.
Before fourth year he had been ‘The Boy Who Lived’, a living legend, distinguishable only by a scar, so people didn’t always know him in public. There was the one time that Gilderoy Lockhart had identified him in Flourish and Blotts, and gotten his picture in the paper, but fortunately Lockhart had meant to steal all the fame of that incident. However, once he was in the Triwizard tournament, a year later, Rita Skeeter had put his picture, along with her own version of his story, in every wizard household, and he had lost that little anonymity.
Following the skirmish in the Ministry at the end of his fifth year, and confirmation that Voldemort was in fact a real threat once more, he had gotten even more public attention – thanks to speculation on the part of the Daily Prophet – and become ‘The Chosen One’, an epithet he liked even less than the first. So, now everyone knew exactly what he looked like, scar or no, and many – maybe most – believed and hoped that he was the only one who could defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry suspected that the prevalence of that belief had skyrocketed in the wake of Dumbledore’s murder.
Having people – strangers – pointing and noticing him was an experience that he had had before, when he was much younger, but it had happened only occasionally in isolated instances, and he had been happily ignorant of the reason for it. When he had first gone to Hogwarts, many of the students had pointed, but that was somehow different; he had been more-or-less a myth they had grown up with, and the pointing had stopped once his identity was confirmed.
This recognition, out in public, was somehow new — somehow different. He didn’t particularly care for it, and he found that it was beginning to make him feel a little nervous.
The Dumbledore card’s theory about him being seen in public benefiting general morale came back to him. He had never wanted fame, just as he had never wanted to be orphaned, or to be raised by his aunt and uncle. It was all rather confusing, but he knew that there was a reason why Dumbledore had brought it up. He sensed that there was something to it… something useful about his fame… some way he should use it. But he just couldn’t quite understand what that way was. So he tried to ignore the passing people who whispered and pointed. Instead he attempted to concentrate on his ice cream. Sitting at Fortescue’s once again, in the open air on a sunny day, brought back fond memories of summer three years before, and soon he was ignoring the people; instead, he was focusing on Ginny… and her mother, Mrs. Weasley.
As they savored their sundaes, Harry told Ginny and Molly all about what had happened in the bank, though he left out the part about wanting the Weasleys to have some of the money. He had been honest with his aunt, but he had also nearly lost his temper and was feeling a twinge of regret now. In his experience with the Dursleys, the speaking of his mind was a punishable offence, though he doubted greatly that his aunt would ever tell his uncle about what he’d said.
Harry took some comfort in the idea that he only had another week to go with the Dursleys and he would be able then to pass out of their lives, and they out of his. A fortnight was all that had been required the previous summer and Dumbledore had confirmed that that would be enough to guarantee the magical protection through till his birthday.
“I am very proud of you, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said as she reached across the table and squeezed his hand gently. “I know your aunt has not treated you as a son, but she is family, and family is important.” Harry could tell that Mrs. Weasley was being completely sincere. Something had changed during her morning’s conversation with his aunt. Gone was the usual lack of understanding that caused confusion and sometimes disgust toward the Dursleys and their treatment of Harry over the years.
“It is uncommonly generous of you to help your aunt and uncle, and I must say it shows a maturity beyond your years to be so forgiving,” Mrs. Weasley said, watching Harry closely.
Harry met Mrs. Weasley’s gaze. “It wasn’t generosity,” he said. “Or forgiveness.”
Mrs. Weasley frowned a little. “Well, what do you call letting your aunt have an account full of money, then?”
Harry frowned in return. “If it were generosity, it would have to be giving of myself. I don’t even know where this money came from. It’s not like I reached in and gave them money out of my vault. I don’t think I could do that. And it’s not forgiveness, either.”
Mrs. Weasley frowned more deeply. “I see, Harry… but to the rest of us it looks like generosity.”
“I see that, Mrs. Weasley, but believe me, that’s not it, and honestly, I’m a bit tired of having to explain myself. I just don’t want that money. Would you rather I gave it to you? You certainly deserve it more than my aunt and uncle.” Harry could hear his voice rising again and he tried to calm himself. He could feel Ginny’s eyes upon him, but he held her mother’s gaze rather than look over.
“Certainly not!” Molly exclaimed. “Harry, I… we… Arthur and I, we don’t want anything from you, least of all your money.”
“I know that, Mrs. Weasley…” He wanted to say he was sorry for raising his voice, but his throat seemed to lock up at the thought.
“Harry…” Mrs. Weasley’s voice was softer now, with purposeful calm. “It’s just that, after speaking with your aunt this morning, I think she needed to hear how you felt. I think she may have the potential to come around and change her mind a little with regard to the wizarding world. I thought you had seen that… I thought perhaps that was why you were giving her the money.”
“No… I mean, I have noticed she has been nicer than ever before this past week, but that’s not saying much… I figured it was just because she didn’t have Dudley to pamper.”
“I see…” Mrs. Weasley said, but looked thoroughly confused just the same. “Well, at least with the money the Dursleys will be able to go into hiding once you come of age.”
“Go into hiding,” Harry said, surprised. “Why should the Dursleys need to go into hiding?”
“Haven’t you ever thought, Harry, that the protection you receive while you’re a part of the Dursley household goes both ways?” Molly said matter-of-factly.
“No, I’ve never thought that… and no one has ever suggested anything like that before. Why should they need to hide; what would Voldemort want with them?”
“Harry, they are your only relatives and, Muggles or not, that is enough.”
Harry was dumbstruck by this development. It made complete sense, and yet it had never occurred to him before this.
“I suppose you’re right,” Harry finally said resignedly. He did not relish the idea of having to break this news to his aunt and uncle. “I just wish this next week was over. I’m tired of thinking about everything that needs to be done. I was hoping for a nice cheerful day today… I thought I might even manage to get my aunt to take me shopping so I could buy some new clothes.” He tugged at the oversized shirt he was wearing to demonstrate the need.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said. “You’re right, all of these things can wait until another day.” She looked at him with deep concern; it was the look of a mother worried about her child.
Harry was slipping into a torrent of thoughts he didn’t want to deal with at the moment. He dropped his spoon in his dish with a slight clank. He was no longer remotely interested in the ice cream.
A rather attractive, dark blonde waitress came to remove their dishes. She seemed to be about Harry’s age, but Harry was thinking too hard to notice. The young woman smiled brightly at Harry as she asked, in a lilting, flirty voice, if he “desired” anything else.
“I’m fine,” Harry replied rather automatically, his mind still processing what Mrs. Weasley had said. He was vaguely aware that she was leaning rather close as she gathered the dishes, but he was too distracted to give it a thought.
Finally she pointed at her name tag and said, “Well, if you need anything else, just ask for Kellie.” She stepped away with a rather exaggerated bounce to her step.
As Harry looked up he noticed immediately the scowls on Ginny and Mrs. Weasley’s faces. He couldn’t help but look over his shoulder to see if there was something behind him to elicit such looks of disdain.
“What is it?” Harry finally asked.
Ginny simply huffed and crossed her arms, looking strikingly like the fifteen-year-old girl that she was.
“Oh, Harry dear, it’s not you,” Mrs. Weasley said rather consolingly. “It’s the way that… waitress was flirting with you.”
“She was what?” Harry said animatedly, suddenly yanked into full awareness of his surroundings. He realized that he was smiling, and he quickly scowled. “Hm… I hadn’t noticed… Honestly!” he pleaded.
Ginny huffed again, but Mrs. Weasley leaned over and patted his hand gently. “I know you didn’t, dear; it’s just part of being famous, I guess.”
Before Harry could respond he caught a flash out of the corner of his eye and turned to see the approach of a small, thin wizard carrying a large, blocky looking camera. He was rapidly reloading it as he moved. With him was a tall, dark-skinned witch wearing bright, sky blue robes and carrying a small pad. A quill and ink bottle bobbed along in the air near the pad, weaving and dipping with her movements. She snatched the quill as she approached and came to a halt right next to their table, just the other side of the post and chain barrier.
Harry felt a swelling of irritation. He had been counting on something like this happening, but he hadn’t considered that the timing would be so abrupt and sudden.
“Imani Nowell, Mr. Potter, Daily Prophet reporter,” she said in a single excited breath. “What brings you to Diagon Alley today?”
Harry stammered a little under the sudden questioning. Then, he took a deep breath and steadied himself.
“Our readers would be so interested to know your opinions regarding He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? And, as the ‘Chosen One’, exactly how you intend to defeat him – and when, of course?”
Harry hesitated momentarily, but stood up and stepped over to the chain. The photographer’s flash burst again and the small man began reloading almost immediately. “Mrs.? Miss? Nowell,” Harry said in what sounded like a completely rehearsed voice. He held out his hand to her.
The woman was clearly five or more years Harry’s senior, but she blushed deeply and shook his hand. “You may call me Imani, Mr. Potter.”
“Nice to meet you, Imani.” Harry smiled. “Well, if your readers must know, I am just enjoying a sundae and spending time with Mrs. Molly Weasley and her daughter Ginevra. Nothing of any interest, I’m afraid.” He smiled uncomfortably again, this time intentionally letting the photographer get a good shot from an angle that would block the Weasleys behind him.
“The whole wizarding community is hungry for news of you, Harry,” Imani continued, now scribbling notes with her quill. “What have you been up to since the term ended at Hogwarts, how do you feel about the death of the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, and do you think the school should re-open for next term?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about any of that at the moment,” Harry responded. “However, I will say, I do think that Hogwarts should re-open.”
“And what about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?” Imani asked again.
“Excuse me, Imani, but I’m here with friends, I’m not interested in giving an interview. So I’ll tell you what. How ‘bout you and your photographer friend leave us alone and in exchange, I will grant you a one-on-one interview later?”
The woman’s eyes grew large with excitement. “You would do that? Grant me a personal interview?” she said excitedly.
“Sure, but only if you leave me alone for now. Use what you already have, and as long as you write the truth, I’ll give you an interview.”
“And I can ask anything?”
Harry chuckled. “Yes… But I’m not promising that I’ll answer.”
Imani gave Harry a long quizzical look. The photographer next to her was just about to snap another image when her hand thrust out and covered the lens. “Alright, Mr. Potter, you have a deal.”
“And how shall we make these arrangements?”
“I’ll contact the paper with instructions,” Harry responded. “In just over a week.”
Imani produced a small card from beneath her robes. “My card,” she said simply. “In just over a week, then.”
Harry held the card up and nodded, and the reporter turned on her heels and departed, practically dragging her photographer with her.
“Wow, Harry, that was brilliant,” Ginny said as he returned to his chair. Apparently all thought of the flirty waitress was gone — which pleased Harry very much.
“Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said, beaming. “You handled that like it happens to you every day, almost as though it was rehearsed.”
“Well, it sort of was,” Harry confessed. “I suspected that something like that would happen when I knew I would be coming to Diagon Alley. So I sort of mentally prepared.”
“Harry… You have grown up so,” Mrs. Weasley said proudly.
Just then Ginny pointed out that Harry’s aunt had emerged from the bank doors and was coming down the steps.
Harry turned to look and, true to his word, Edwin Garron was accompanying his aunt.
Mr. Garron had spotted Harry and the Weasleys and was steering her toward them. They came into the chained area and right up to the table. Harry, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley stood as they approached.
Aunt Petunia was wearing what Harry knew to be a pleased expression, though her somewhat horsy face appeared rather pinched and uncomfortable. She was looking all around the alley now, reluctantly, taking in the sights and sounds of the place, it seemed.
Mr. Garron bowed slightly to Molly and Ginny and then without ceremony handed Harry his coin purse, key and note. “I have taken care of that matter for you, Mr. Potter.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied genuinely.
“Well, I believe we have managed all our business today, and your aunt is returned to you safely, so I must return to the bank.” Mr. Garron bowed politely.
Mrs. Weasley reached out to shake Mr. Garron’s hand. “Thank you so much for all your help today, Edwin,” she said, smiling warmly.
“My pleasure, Molly – I do hope Bill is recovering nicely?”
“Oh yes, Fleur is nursing him constantly. We will see you at the wedding?”
“Wouldn’t miss it, of course; Bill is so well liked at the bank. We are all very pleased to hear he is improving.” Mr. Garron smiled pleasantly. “Well, good day to you all, I must be off.”
In a chorus of “thank yous”, Edwin Garron turned and briskly departed.
There was an odd moment of quiet before Mrs. Weasley turned to Aunt Petunia and asked if she would like to sit down.
“Thank you, no…” Petunia hesitated, but then seemed to gain resolve. “…I would really be pleased if I could return to more familiar surroundings now.” She shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“I was so hoping you would let us show you more of the alley, Mrs. Dursley,” Mrs. Weasley said pointedly. Molly had fixed a rather steely gaze upon Harry’s aunt, though her voice remained friendly and conversational. “I rather thought you might want to take Harry shopping for some new clothes; there are several very good clothiers right here in the alley; Madam Malkin’s, for instance, sells most excellent robes.”
Petunia looked at Harry and her expression became rather embarrassed. There was no way she could deny that Harry indeed could use some new things; after all, he was standing there in a baggy pair of Dudley’s hand-me-down jeans, a worn sweatshirt, and a pair of torn trainers.
Petunia turned back to Molly. “You are right. Harry could use some new clothes.” She was being pleasant enough, but to Harry she sounded a bit reluctant, and even though he suspected he might pay for it in some way later, he appreciated what Mrs. Weasley was doing, appealing to his aunt’s sense of status and propriety to manipulate her into some generosity.
Petunia appeared to be thinking rapidly, weighing her options. “Actually… perhaps you all might want to venture out into London… I was just thinking I might take you to Barret Cross Shopping Centre. I have never been myself, and I have always wanted to go.” Petunia seemed genuinely enthusiastic all of a sudden, quite a change from Harry’s point-of-view, but he assumed that her newfound wealth was behind the transformation. The idea of going to a Muggle shopping centre pleased him.
Mrs. Weasley looked rather concerned, as though her plan had suddenly backfired. But, before she could raise any objections, Ginny grabbed her arm. “Oh, Mother, could we? Could we please? We never venture out into the Muggle world… It would be such an adventure!”
Mrs. Weasley looked down at her bright-eyed, excited daughter, then rather pleadingly over at Harry before looking again at Ginny. Her expression softened, and she spoke: “Yes, I suppose we could, as long as Mrs. Dursley is willing to act as our guide.” She looked around a little; Harry wondered if she was looking for some part of the Order’s security, and he imagined for a moment that somewhere Alastor Moody was furious with them.
“If we are agreed, I have grocery shopping to do later today, so I should very much like to be about it,” Aunt Petunia said with a forced smile. Now that she had accomplished her purpose in being here, Petunia seemed to be rather keen to return to more familiar environs.
Harry pulled a Galleon from his coin purse and set it on the table, and without delay they were off up the alley toward the courtyard wall to the Leaky Cauldron. Harry caught sight of the owls outside Eeylops Owl Emporium, and remembered that he was getting very low on owl treats for Hedwig.
“If it isn’t too much trouble, Aunt Petunia, I would like to pick up some treats for my… for Hedwig while I’m here?”
Mrs. Dursley stopped and turned, seeing the many owls in cages and on perches at the entrance to the Owl Emporium. Her nose crinkled up in disapproving recognition, but she relented. “Yes, Harry, but please be quick about it; I don’t want to take too much more time.”
Harry tugged at Ginny’s sleeve. “C’mon, Ginny, you can help me pick something.”
The inside of the shop was shadowed and dim. Cages hung from chains and cords all across the ceiling and perches were scattered everywhere. A large tawny owl hooted as they stepped into the shop, and the other owls started a low chatter. The many birds were preening and calling, each seeming to want to make a good impression. Harry spied the open bins of owl treats toward the back of the store and he made his way directly there. He already, in his opinion, owned the best owl in all of Britain, so he had very little interest in looking at the many proud birds in the shop. Ginny, however, was immediately distracted and was pointing out the various owls, excitedly.
She let go of Harry’s hand and disappeared down an aisle, as Harry went on to the bins and filled a paper bag with Hedwig’s favorite treats. Once he had filled a two pound bag he went in search of Ginny.
He moved slowly between the cages and perches, noticing now the beautiful birds in the Emporium. He stopped for a moment to stroke the breast feathers of a magnificent great grey. He clucked his tongue in the way that Hedwig always seemed to appreciate, and then he heard Ginny nearby, cooing and clucking at an owl in the next aisle. He quickly went around the end of the aisle and came up behind Ginny to see the owl she was giving all her attention to.
“Isn’t he beautiful, Harry?” she exclaimed.
“Bubo Scandiacus,” came a low, throaty voice from behind the cage. “The ghost owl… a male, this one… smaller than the females of the species but almost entirely white. He’s got only two light grey bands across his tail, making him a rarity among snowys. I’ve only ever seen one other anything like him. That must a’ been about six years ago. A gorgeous female - sold that one to a huge, scruffy fella, who I would’a swore knew exactly how special she was. He saw her, and wouldn’t have any other. Wish I knew whatever became of her.”
Harry and Ginny looked at one another and smiled; he had to be referring to Hedwig.
The man came between the aisles beneath a tall perch. He was a short, rather thin man, who seemed to be more legs than torso. His face was broad and rather round, and he wore large, round-rimmed glasses with very thick lenses that exaggerated the size of his eyes, and made him appear distinctly owlish. His head was cocked to one side as he spoke and he kept his hands clasped tightly behind his back, further adding to the impression that he might have been part owl himself.
“I don’t get a lot of call for snowy owls, not native to Britain, you know… And they are especially difficult birds to enchant. They are so intelligent that they choose to allow the enchantments to take or not by themselves. Most I’ve ever sold have abandoned their buyers and flown back to the artic - but the right bird… with the right owner… you’re not going to get a more devoted, or cleverer service animal.”
The owl was nipping gently at Ginny’s finger and making possessive, affectionate sounds that were familiar to Harry, through his relationship with Hedwig.
“He really seems to like you, Miss,” the man said… then he blinked several times and looked back and forth between Harry and Ginny. “Or is it Mrs.?”
Ginny blushed furiously and shot Harry a highly embarrassed look. “Oh, no, sir,” Harry stammered. “We’re not married.”
The owlish man leaned a little toward Harry and blinked several more times. “Sorry,” he said finally. “Eyesight isn’t quite like the owls’ anymore… wish it were.” He turned his attention back to Ginny, who was cooing quietly at the white owl. “He sure seems to be taken with you, Miss, first customer I’ve seen him take a shine to. Ever seen another owl anything like this one?”
Ginny smiled at Harry teasingly and turned back to the man. “Yes, sir, I’m a Hogwarts student, and that Harry Potter boy… he has a snowy owl named Hedwig that I’ve seen once or twice.”
“Oh, yes, yes… I had heard mention that the ‘Chosen One’ had a very special owl companion - maybe the only Snowy Post Owl active in all of Britain. I should like to get a good look at that bird some day.”
“We’d better get going, Ginny,” Harry interrupted. “We promised not to take too long.”
“Well, are you interested in this owl, then, Miss?” the man inquired.
“Oh, I wish!” Ginny exclaimed sadly. “But I can’t afford him, and when my parents get a new owl for the family, I don’t think they’ll consider such a lovely bird. We just came in for treats for Har… his owl.” She turned away from the beautiful owl and winked at Harry, despite a rather disappointed expression.
Harry drew up the price tag hanging from the snowy owl’s cage; he looked at the number printed there and then silently let the tag drop.
They accompanied the man to the front counter, where Harry paid for the bag of treats and picked up a roll of Invisi-line, waste-vanishing cage liners.
Moments later they were together with their aunt and mother respectively and moving back through the Leaky Cauldron, and out into the sunny streets of London.
Now it was Mrs. Weasley’s turn to seem a little nervous and out of place, as they walked back to the car park to retrieve Uncle Vernon’s sedan. Aunt Petunia gave the attendant her ticket and a few minutes later a driver brought the car down to them. Mrs. Dursley did a careful walk around and inspected the vehicle before moving to get in. The driver was standing nearby in anticipation of receiving a tip but when it was obvious that none would be forthcoming he turned away, grumbling under his breath.
Harry helped Mrs. Weasley get in to the front passenger seat and showed her how to work the seatbelt. “My husband, Arthur, would be absolutely fascinated by all of this,” she said, as they pulled out of the car park, and onto the street.
Harry was wondering how Moody had taken the news that they were leaving Diagon Alley to go to a Muggle shopping centre. He had looked for him in the Leaky Cauldron as they passed through, but seen no sign. He was sure that the Order would be able to manage whatever security he had deemed necessary.
As they moved down the road Harry suddenly caught a glimpse of what looked like the shadow of a broom rider flash across the second story of one of the buildings, but of course no broom or rider was visible anywhere above them. Harry settled into the soft seat, grabbed Ginny’s hand and smiled, rolling his eyes as he listened to his aunt talking animatedly to Mrs. Weasley.
It took about fifteen minutes to drive to Barret Cross, which Aunt Petunia had been telling them about most of the way. It was apparently the first totally indoor shopping centre constructed in England and contained some one hundred and twenty stores, cafés and restaurants, which Petunia seemed determined to list. Harry had begun to think that it must be quite like Diagon Alley, only with a roof over everything. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
After they’d parked the car and made their way toward the entrance, it occurred to Harry just how much of the Muggle world he had never experienced. Over the years he had been to supermarkets, charity shops, the occasional doctor’s office visit, school and even the London Zoo, but the Dursleys had always avoided taking him anywhere when it could be helped. He felt as though, for the most part, he had only glimpsed the broader Muggle world in small doses, through the television viewing habits of the Dursleys, and through books and films he had been exposed to in primary school, or odd newspapers and magazines left lying about the Dursleys’ home.
This shopping centre was unlike anything he had ever experienced. Instead of the frivolous, other-worldly, medieval feeling of most architecture he had encountered in the wizarding world, this was spectacularly sleek and straight, and modern, glass, metal and polished stone, and everywhere brightly lit by the unwavering, non-flickering light of electricity, so unlike the torches of Hogwarts.
Harry couldn’t help but think what it must be like for Ginny and her mother to be experiencing all of this, with virtually no experience of the Muggle world. He watched Ginny for a moment and he chuckled as he saw her eyes wider than ever before and her mouth gaping in wonder.
They walked around at first in a sort of daze, just taking it all in, oohing and ahhing at the dizzying array of shops, and the spectacular colors and variety. To her credit, Aunt Petunia seemed to understand their reactions and even share in their excitement to a small extent as, after all, it was her first visit to this shopping centre as well. Whatever she was thinking, Harry was glad that she was not making her usual pestering, disapproving comments.
They came, eventually, to the center of the building, where a huge atrium opened up, revealing a whole second level to the place with more brightly lit shops above and skylights letting in the sun. There was a large, round fountain with a stream of water that shot up higher than the second floor, and came splashing back down again. On one side of the atrium were a pair of moving staircases, which Harry explained to Ginny and Mrs. Weasley were called escalators.
Aunt Petunia simply followed quietly, her face only slightly disapproving as the Weasleys rushed from shop display to shop display, excited about each new Muggle item they encountered. Finally she announced that they should go to Marks & Spencer, where they spent the next hour clothes shopping.
As Harry was picking out clothes for himself he noted with a hint of unexpected jealousy that his aunt had begun picking out considerably larger sizes, obviously for Dudley. He shrugged it off, however, reminding himself that he really shouldn’t have expected any less. It seemed that whatever Harry decided on, Petunia pulled out one or more of the same for Dudley.
Harry had also said to Ginny that she should pick out a few things for herself, and told Mrs. Weasley that she could select a few things for Ron, and he had plenty of Muggle money himself to pay for everything. They tried to refuse at first, but he insisted and they were soon enjoying every moment shopping themselves rather than just watching Harry. It was a complete surprise, when they finally went to the cashier that Aunt Petunia insisted on paying for everything. Harry assumed she was just feeling the power of her new money, rather than actually being generous, and he tucked his own money away without complaint.
Between stores they stopped for lunch from one of the food court vendors. Harry and Ginny tried the cheeseburgers and french-fries that Dudley seemed to love so much, but Harry had always been denied. Afterward they continued shopping.
Harry was completely loaded down with parcels by the time they arrived back at the atrium. He had gotten more clothes than he had ever owned in his life; several pairs of new jeans, cargo pants, button down shirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts, jumpers, and more than a week’s worth of new socks and boxers. He seriously doubted that he would even need to do laundry every week. They had even gone to a shoe store and bought him a couple of new pairs of trainers. Aunt Petunia called it a good start at a new wardrobe and uncharacteristically seemed to be enjoying herself directing him in and out of dressing rooms, as she picked out items for her son and husband as well.
Somewhere along the line she had rented a small trolley to carry all the parcels. Harry was completely dizzy with the whole experience, and flabbergasted to see his aunt unexpectedly seeming to enjoy herself as well. He supposed that his words in the bank had gotten through to her and that her sudden participation was perhaps the product of guilt, while the feigned generosity was merely the coming into what he now understood was quite a bit of money. Whatever the case, Harry was actually enjoying himself.
When Petunia suggested that they all find a café and have an afternoon tea, Harry asked if he and Ginny might be allowed to explore a little more, and get something to drink from the food court instead. Aunt Petunia seemed quite content with the suggestion — she was used to not giving him a care as long as he didn’t get into trouble — but Mrs. Weasley was far more hesitant. Molly seemed to be looking around nervously. She hesitantly agreed, but insisted that they stay within the confines of the shopping centre.
Harry and Ginny agreed to her terms without hesitation, and Aunt Petunia directed them to a sidewall where there was a huge expanse of large lockers. She had Harry load all the bags into three lockers, and then deposited coins and withdrew the keys. As she pushed her rented trolley into a return gate at the end of a long column of trolleys, she pointed at a clock up on the wall and said, “We will meet back here in one hour. Then we will really have to leave so that there will be time enough to do the weekly grocery shopping before I have to pick up Vernon from work.”
They all nodded their heads in agreement. Not even the passing mention of his Uncle Vernon could dampen Harry’s spirits; he was having far more fun than he had expected. The only thing that could have made the shopping better, he thought, would be to have Ron and Hermione here to share it as well. For the very first time in his life, his aunt handed him some money, smiled, though somewhat stiffly, and said, “Have fun.”
Aunt Petunia turned, leading Mrs. Weasley away toward a café they had passed earlier, and Harry and Ginny took off in the opposite direction, toward the food court. They didn’t run as they had through Diagon Alley, but took their time and slipped into various shops, ogling and sniggering over the fascinating variety of useless – though often intriguing – Muggle items.
In one store they saw an amazing array of glass figurines, and a wall full of clocks. Another had an impressive display of small pianos, which the salesman referred to as “digital” that played music all by themselves. If Harry and Ginny had not known these were Muggle objects, they’d have sworn that they were charmed.
The variety was apparently endless as Harry and Ginny wandered from store to store. In one store of nothing but candles, Ginny was absolutely amazed by the scented candles and practically begged Harry to buy some for her mother. They left that store with a bag full of cinnamon and vanilla candles for The Burrow. Harry suspected that the vanilla ones would most likely end up in Ginny’s room.
Finally they reached the food court and each got a fruit smoothie from a place called LoveJuice. As they sat on metal stools at a small, circular table of bright red Formica, Ginny just grinned at the bustling Muggles around her. “Harry, I never imagined that the Muggle world was like this… I mean... I guess I don’t know what I thought it was like, but this is every bit as fun as Diagon Alley.”
Harry just grinned, shaking his head in agreement. “Ginny,” he said, “I may have been raised by Muggles, but this is the very first time I’ve ever been here. This is all new to me too.”
“I’m glad we got to be here together,” Ginny said with a smile that was full of promise.
“Ginny,” Harry continued, suddenly serious, “I’m sorry about the funeral. I mean... Well, I thought it would be best if…”
Ginny grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Harry,” she said, interrupting. “I understand… So let’s just not talk about it.” She smiled reassuringly. “I’m not asking you for anything but honesty, okay? I’m just sixteen in about two months, and you’re coming of age just before that. We’ve one more year at Hogwarts together, and I have another year after that. I don’t know what the future holds, I’m not Professor Trelawney.”
Harry gave a chuckle at that and nodded his agreement.
“Just promise me that whatever happens with us, you’ll tell me what you feel in your heart?”
Harry stared at her for a moment, her bright brown eyes boring into his. “I promise…” he said finally, “…to tell you how I feel about you… about us, good, bad or otherwise. But I’m not going to promise that I’ll not try to protect you. Or that I’ll take you with me for all the tasks I may have to perform in the months ahead.” He continued to stare into her eyes.
She squeezed his hand again. “Agreed.”
When they had finished their smoothies they went up the escalator to the second floor and headed for a novelty shop that they had seen earlier. The store was filled with lots of Muggle joke items, ‘Magic tricks’, and lots of interesting lamps, including something called a ‘lava lamp’ which fascinated both of them for several minutes. They determined together that they should make it a point to bring the twins back here sometime in the future.
As they were leaving the shop Ginny spied a booth along an expanse of wall down a side hallway which apparently led to an exit and another wall of lockers similar to the ones they had left their bags in earlier. There was no one down the hallway, so she dragged Harry to investigate. The booth was decorated with pictures of Muggle couples and featured the words Make a Memory, Photo Capture. There was a small slot on the side and a curtain where you could go into the booth.
“I’ve seen these before,” Harry said after examining the images for a few moments. “You can get Muggle photographs from this machine.”
“Oh, let’s try it, Harry,” Ginny said excitedly. She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him through the curtain. They sat on the little cramped bench and Harry read the instructions.
“Okay… I guess I have to put Muggle money in this slot,” he said, pointing. “Then there will be a blinking light and a bright flash when the picture is taken. It will blink and flash four times and then the strip of photos comes out the slot in the front of the booth.”
Harry fished out his pouch and inserted the appropriate amount; the money clanked and rattled into the machine. A green button lit up. He turned to Ginny. “Ready?”
She leaned closer to him so their shoulders were pressed together. “Yup.”
Harry pushed the button and the little light began to blink. He tried to smile, and just before the flash Ginny’s fingers dug into his ribs, tickling him. By the second flash they were both laughing and he was tickling her in reprisal. “Enough!” he exclaimed before the third flash, as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and they both looked at the lens about ready to burst with laughter. He looked in her direction, still chuckling, after the flash and as she turned to look back he pulled her close and kissed her. The fourth flash lit the booth for its fraction of a second and they continued to snog for a good minute more.
They stumbled, giggling, through the curtain, and leaned against the booth, catching their breath. By the time the strip of photos dropped out into the slot they had regained their composure. Ginny retrieved the paper and giggled as she held it out for Harry to see. “Fred and George have got to see this booth, Harry,” she said finally. “Just imagine if these were wizard photographs… Now that would be making a memory.”
In the midst of his laughter Harry suddenly became aware that there was someone watching them. He wasn’t sure exactly how he knew this; he just felt it, like a sudden prick at the back of his neck. His face turned serious, eliciting surprise from Ginny, but before her expression could change he had spun around and was pulling his wand from the front of his sweatshirt.
“What is it, Harry?” Ginny said in alarm.
Harry was poised, ready, his wand outstretched and pointing at nothing but empty hallway. “Who’s there?” he called.
In answer, a familiar voice sounded from what otherwise seemed to be thin air. “Don’t worry, Harry, it’s only me, Remus Lupin.”
“Professor Lupin?” Harry exclaimed. “Where are you?” Ginny was now clinging to Harry, confused and a little frightened.
“I’m right here… I’m just invisible,” Lupin replied.
“Well, can’t you become visible?” Harry looked around momentarily to see that no Muggles were about. “It’s only Ginny and I here.”
“No, I can’t… well, I could, but then I couldn’t go invisible again.” The look of confusion on Harry’s face begged more explanation. “I’m not that good at the Invisibility Charm. Not many wizards are. Making an inanimate object invisible is one thing, but to make a full grown person and his broom invisible for an extended period is quite another,” Lupin finished.
“I see,” Harry replied. “So… Not to be distrustful… but how am I to confirm your identity if I can only hear your voice?” He continued to hold his wand out in front of himself, toward the sound of the voice.
“That is an excellent question, Harry,” Lupin said, sighing heavily. “Perhaps you can consider the fact that I haven’t attacked you and that I am speaking to you now as proof enough?”
Harry stared at the sound of Lupin’s voice for a moment. There was nothing there which he could see, but he sensed Remus’ presence very clearly, and he felt quite sure that he was talking to his former professor, and that there was no danger. Still, he was on guard. Harry searched his brain for a question to ask; something that Lupin, and only Lupin, would be able to answer. “Who made the Marauder’s Map?” he blurted out.
“Not a bad question, Harry; the answer is, your father, Sirius, Peter and I. But Wormtail would know the answer to that one as well, so it doesn’t quite work,” the voice responded with a familiar chuckle. “I promise you, Harry, I am only here as part of the security detail. But you are very right to be on your guard. Do you have another question?”
Harry stood still a moment, focused on the sound of Lupin’s voice. After a few moments he lowered his wand, slipping it back into his sweatshirt. “Very well, Professor… I believe you are who you say you are.”
“Good, Harry, I volunteered to act as your security straight away.” Lupin sounded very happy. “What with public knowledge of my… condition… I just don’t get out much, and I’m afraid Headquarters isn’t the most cheerful place.”
“The Order is back at the old headquarters?” Harry asked.
“Yes, Harry,” Lupin replied. “Your house,” he said, placing distinct emphasis on ‘your’. “You did tell Dumbledore it was okay… didn’t you?”
“Oh… yes, of course,” Harry responded indifferently. A stray thought had just occurred to him regarding the house he had said he never wanted to visit again.
“Oh dear… Harry… I’m sorry,” Lupin said apologetically. “I didn’t mean to bring up… Well… I know it’s only been about a week since…”
“It’s okay,” Ginny interrupted. She stepped up and gently placed her hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Isn’t it… okay… Harry?”
“Oh… yeah… fine,” Harry said, snapping out of his thoughts. “It’s nothing.”
Harry looked around to see that there were still no Muggles about. “Look… We need to be going; we promised to meet my aunt and Ginny’s mum, and our hour is about up. But I’m really glad to know you’re here, Professor.”
“Harry – Remus… or Moony. I’m not your professor,” Lupin said with an unseen smile. “I think I would like it if you called me Moony; that’s what your parents called me.”
“Okay… Moony,” Harry said hesitantly, testing the name as he spoke it. Somehow, it did seem to feel right. “Time for us to go now.” He began to turn toward the main part of the shopping centre.
“Right you are,” Lupin said. “But I have a question for you, Harry.”
Harry turned back around to face the invisible Moony. “What is it?”
“How did you know I was here? You cannot see me, and I wasn’t moving at the time so you couldn’t have heard me either.”
“I don’t know, really… I just knew you were there… I sensed you.” Harry sounded a little unsure.
“Harry, that’s incredible… not many wizards are that sensitive,” Lupin praised. “I would like to talk more about this at a more convenient time, if that would be okay?” Harry nodded slowly. Ginny was looking at Harry with wide eyes. “Well, off you go then,” Lupin said with a bit of finality. Thereafter he was silent, and if Moony still followed them, Harry didn’t hear another sound, or detect another presence.
Harry and Ginny quickly made their way to the spot where they were supposed to meet his aunt and her mother. The women were not there yet, so they took a seat on a bench near the lockers. They sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the cheesy music coming softly from speakers in the ceiling.
“Is everything okay, Harry?” Ginny finally asked.
Harry took her hand in his, and looked her in the eyes. “Yes, Ginny, everything’s okay. Right now, at this moment, everything is perfect… But it’s not going to stay this way, is it?”
Ginny looked at him searchingly, trying to divine his meaning. Did he mean them… or did he mean the war? — She decided that he must mean the war. “No, Harry, I suppose it’s not. But whatever comes, whatever you have to face, you will have Ron and Hermione to support you, and me, and my family… We Weasleys aren’t the highest regarded family in the wizarding world… but we’re fiercely devoted, and loyal, and loving. And Harry… no matter what comes… you are an unofficially adopted Weasley.”
Harry leaned in and kissed her on the lips; a gentle, soft kiss full of all the promise of her earlier smiles. He pulled away suddenly. “Eww, I guess that makes me your brother then, doesn’t it? That makes this just weird.”
“Oh, Harry.” Ginny flushed pink, as she slapped him playfully across the shoulder. “If you don’t want to kiss me…” She batted her eyelashes at him. “I’m certainly not forcing you.”
They were laughing and joking together when Aunt Petunia and Mrs. Weasley came around the corner. Petunia went directly to the lockers and slid one of the keys in its lock. Harry and Ginny were up off the bench in a moment and at the lockers as well.
They gathered all the bags and headed for the exit nearest where they had left the car. Mrs. Weasley and Aunt Petunia continued to talk the whole way, though Harry felt it seemed a little forced, like neither woman was nearly as comfortable with the other as they had been earlier. They stopped occasionally to look in display windows, but eventually they made it to the car and managed to get all of Harry’s and Aunt Petunia’s bags in the boot.
When Harry moved to take Mrs. Weasley’s bag full of things for Ron, she motioned him away. “Oh no, dear,” she said. “You two have things left to do today, so Ginny and I will leave you here.”
“Oh, you don’t need us to drop you somewhere?” Petunia said, looking at Mrs. Weasley quizzically. “At least we could drop you at the tube station?”
“Oh no, we’ll be perfectly fine,” Molly countered, smiling at Petunia. “You’d best be going though, so you can get your shopping done and get home.”
“Well then…” Petunia said, as she walked up to Mrs. Weasley while digging a parchment envelope from her purse. “I want to thank you for a pleasant day.” She held out the envelope to Molly, who took it rather automatically. “Open that when you get home.” Molly looked at the envelope and then looked up with wide eyes. “Wait until you are home,” Petunia said rather insistently, though she appeared suddenly nervous. After a moment of hesitation she turned and went to get into the car. Molly hastily shoved the envelope into her bag.
Harry closed the boot and looked at Ginny. He stepped over toward her, hesitantly, aware that both Mrs. Weasley and his aunt were watching. He pulled his eyes from hers and looked over at Mrs. Weasley. “Well, I guess this is goodbye for now, then. Thank you so much for everything.”
“Oh, Harry dear, it was our pleasure.” Molly smiled with genuine warmth and affection. “You just spend the necessary time with your aunt and uncle and then you come right to us at The Burrow. Ron will be so happy to see you there, and Hermione is coming soon.” She looked pointedly at her daughter. “Everyone can’t wait until you come to stay… and of course there is so much to do in preparation for the wedding.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Harry said. He turned back to Ginny, who reached up and took his hand. “I’m so glad you could come today, Ginny.”
“Me too, Harry,” she said, smiling at him, her light brown eyes sparkling.
“I’ll see you soon then?”
As they pulled away in Uncle Vernon’s sedan, the Weasley women were both waving at them.
“I take it she is more than just your best friend’s little sister?” Aunt Petunia asked, as they pulled onto the thoroughfare in the direction of Surrey.
Harry couldn’t detect any accusation, or even disapproval, in his aunt’s voice. “Um…” He cleared his throat, slightly embarrassed, not so much by the question, but by who was asking it. “Yes… Ginny is… well, Ginny is my girlfriend.” Harry couldn’t recall ever saying that out loud before, but now that he’d said it, he rather liked the sound of it.
“Well, she seems nice, and it sounds as though she comes from a nice family…” Petunia began. “For your sort, that is,” she added with a sniff. Harry could scarcely believe his ears as he listened to his aunt recount her conversation with Mrs. Weasley, and talk about how the Weasleys seemed like a good, solid, hardworking family, even if they did have the misfortune to be so poor. Molly had apparently told his aunt all about her family throughout the course of the day, as well as about the upcoming wedding. Harry finally decided that she would likely return to normal after the calming powder wore off, and didn’t give it too much thought.
On their way back to Little Whinging they stopped at a large supermarket and wasted no time gathering the grocery items from Aunt Petunia’s list. It was very close to four-thirty in the afternoon by the time they were done and Petunia seemed to be worried that she would be late to pick up Vernon from his office.
When they arrived back at number four, Privet Drive, Harry was quick to carry all the bags into the kitchen. As Aunt Petunia began putting away the groceries, Harry took his new things up to his room. At his aunt’s direction he hauled the bags of things for his uncle and cousin upstairs as well and left them on Dudley’s bed.
Back in his room, Harry pulled out all the new clothes and set them on the bed. He still could barley believe that Aunt Petunia had paid for all these clothes, as well as things for Ron and Ginny. He knew it was just because of the money - that she felt sort of indebted to him - but he was happy all the same. He gathered all the empty bags and carefully folded them as he knew his aunt would have and brought them down to the kitchen to add to the appropriate shelf in the pantry.
Aunt Petunia had finished putting everything away, so Harry helped her fold up the grocery bags as well.
“Harry,” Aunt Petunia said hesitantly. “I take it you enjoyed yourself today?”
Harry nodded in response, not sure how else to respond. In truth he had had a wonderful day, but that was very largely because of Ginny.
“I… I don’t know how to say thank you.” Petunia cleared her throat, and continued slowly and a bit tentatively, “Harry, I understand that Vernon and I have not been particularly kind to you… I want you to understand that when you arrived on our doorstep, nearly sixteen years ago now, we were not prepared for another child. Dudley was a baby, Vernon had just started his new job at the plant, we had just bought this house and money was very tight. When you were left, Vernon wanted to turn you over to an orphanage, but I insisted we had to keep you. Honestly, given what little I knew, I didn’t see that we had a choice. I’ll admit that we both felt a certain amount of resentment.” She paused then drew in a deep breath. “I don’t blame you a bit for every word you said in the bank… and I don’t think… well, if our roles were reversed… I don’t think I could have done what you did.” She was very near tears, it seemed, but Harry couldn’t tell if they were tears of regret, or embarrassment. “I want you to know that I’m very… very grateful, Harry, and I know it won’t really matter to you… but I do think you have grown into a nice young man… and I know that Lily… your mum would have been proud of you.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her kitchen apron pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
Harry just stared at her. He had no idea what to say. Slowly, he gathered the folded bags from the counter and walked over to the pantry to put them neatly away.
“Harry… I have to go pick up Vernon from work.” Again Harry nodded, still not knowing what to say. “When we get back I’ll have to prepare dinner… so I’ll expect you to stay in your room like you usually do. I don’t want you thinking that just because we’ve been shopping that it means everything has changed?”
Harry hadn’t considered any of this… He really hadn’t expected anything to change anyway, so once again he merely nodded.
“I’ll tell Vernon about the money after dinner. He doesn’t know anything about our trip today, and I am not entirely sure how he’ll react,” she said tersely. “Until then you are to behave as always, staying quiet and out of the way. Tomorrow Vernon and I will have to go and pick up Dudley from the Smeltings bus.” She paused and removed her kitchen apron, hanging it on a peg inside the pantry door. “I know you only plan on spending a little over one more week with us…” She gathered her purse and pulled out the car keys. “…But, Harry, I will do what I can to make the rest of your stay more pleasant than usual.” Petunia turned to move down the hall toward the front door, but then turned back around as she reached the doorway. “I gather from some of the things that Mrs. Weasley said that you will be facing great dangers in the future… Harry, I don’t pretend to understand… but… but I do want to wish you well.”
Harry was completely confused by all of this; it was unsettling to have his aunt treating him this way… as… as though she cared. All his childhood he had wanted her to care, and to treat him with even a fraction of the affection she showed her own son. Now the words and sentiment were so out of place it just didn’t feel as though it could be real.
Aunt Petunia turned and left the house. In a bit of a daze, Harry ascended the steps and closed himself in the littlest room in the house at number four, Privet Drive. He plopped himself down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. This was the only place in the house were he felt as though he belonged… well, this and the cupboard under the stairs.
After a minute he sat up. He looked over at Hedwig’s cage, where she was snoozing soundly. He quietly opened the cage door and filled her cup with fresh new treats from the bag he had purchased that morning. He thought to try and clean the cage, but decided to wait until she woke up and went out for an evening hunt.
Harry went to the loose floorboard and quickly retrieved the Dumbledore Chocolate Frog base and got a card from his trunk. Harry set the card in its base and waited impatiently for Dumbledore to appear. Harry so wanted to tell him all about the events of the day. There was so much to tell, and even more ideas to discuss.