Harry and Constable Pascoe landed with a slight bump. Percy was waiting for them alongside a slender witch with an enormous halo of frizzy black hair, who led the shocked and speechless Constable Pascoe away, murmuring soothingly, 'Special Air Servants ... new hostage rescue technique ... well done distracting him, we'll take it from here ...'
Six of the witches and wizards had gathered by the wall to cover Snape with their wands. Two more witches -- one fantastically pretty and the other with a number of live bats clinging to her robes -- walked around muttering spells. A nervous, weedy-looking wizard was tending to several floating tea trays of whirring silver instruments. The apparent leader of the group, a wizard no taller than Harry and quite ordinary-looking apart from his height, kept a watchful eye on them all.
'What're you doing here, Percy?' said Harry. 'What's going on?'
'I'm here with the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol,' Percy said importantly, 'to apprehend Sirius Black.'
He gestured at the mummified Snape.
'Percy, that isn't Sirius Black,' Harry laughed. 'That's Professor Snape you've got wrapped up in there.'
Percy shook his head and looked at Harry sorrowfully.
'It's no good, Harry,' he said. 'We've been listening in the whole time. You told the Muggle policewoman he was your godfather; your cousin said so too.'
'I was trying to get rid of Constable Pascoe and Dudley made a mistake,' said Harry, exasperated. 'Take the bandages off his face, go on, you know what Snape looks like.'
'I know Sirius Black was one of the top Transfigurers Hogwarts ever turned out,' countered Percy. 'He could be looking like Neville Longbottom's grandmother by now if it suited him.'
The leader of the patrol came up to them. 'Macnair should be here any minute,' he said. 'Weasley, take Potter back to his house. He doesn't need to watch this.'
'You're going to execute him? Right here and now? Wait, you've got the wrong man!' Harry said urgently.
'Harry ...' said Percy. 'You can't still believe he's innocent. After the way he was threatening you? After the things he said about your father?'
'No, you've got the wrong wrong man! It's Professor Snape, I tell you!' The patrol leader turned to leave. Harry grabbed him by the back of his robes. 'You can't let Macnair kill him, not without checking him over!'
The patrol leader twisted around and gave Harry a long cold look.
'Better that than the Dementor's Kiss. Black's lucky we caught up to him in a Muggle neighbourhood.'
He suddenly seemed rather frightening for such a small and unprepossessing wizard, but Harry thought of Macnair about to arrive and forced himself to hold on.
'He's not Sirius Black, you've got to listen to me --'
Percy seized Harry by his wrists and pulled him off the small wizard, saying 'Leave him to me, sir, I'll talk some sense into him. Harry, listen to me,' Percy went on sternly. 'Sirius Black was the Dark Lord's spy. He betrayed your parents, murdered thirteen people and broke out of Azkaban to kill you. He was pretending to be innocent because he thought he could persuade you to join the Dark side. When he realised it wasn't working, he showed his true colours. It must be obvious --'
'SIRIUS WASN'T WORKING FOR VOLDEMORT, IT WAS PETTIGREW, I SAW HIM!' Harry shouted furiously. 'And it's not Sirius anyway, it's Snape ...' he trailed off. As soon as he'd yelled Voldemort's name, the entire Magical Law Enforcement Patrol had wheeled around to gape at him in absolute horror.
Raising his voice to address his new audience, Harry said, 'How d'you think this will look in the Daily Prophet, with all the trouble you've had catching Sirius Black, if you end up executing the wrong person?'
'If it was Snape, who'd miss him?' muttered one of the patrol members, a tall, burly young wizard.
'I heard that, Mamble,' said a very cold voice off to Harry's side. Whilst the Hit Wizards had been distracted by Harry's shouting, Snape had somehow managed to get himself out of the bandages. 'No wonder the Ministry can't catch up to Black, if they're hiring idiots like you,' he sneered. 'I do hope they don't let you brew the tea, we lose quite enough Magical Law Enforcement officers in the line of duty as it is.'
Mamble's face went brick red. 'Professor Snape?' he said in a small voice. At that instant, he reminded Harry strongly of Neville Longbottom, in spite of looking nothing like him.
The patrol leader fired off a spell, which Snape blocked, but with some difficulty. He staggered back, his wand arm shaking.
'Don't be a bigger fool than you already have been, Ormesby,' Snape gasped. 'If I had been Sirius Black, you'd all be dead, thanks to Potter here.'
'Well, that's nice!' said Harry indignantly. 'Next time they want to cut off your head, I'll just let them get on with it, shall I?'
'Yes!' said Mamble, in a betrayed tone. He plainly felt that Harry had sadly failed to live up to his reputation as a vanquisher of evil wizards.
Before Snape could round on him, Ormesby called out, 'Krysia! Kuiama! Niall!' The two witches who'd been casting spells and the wizard with the tea trays hurried over. 'Check him out,' Ormesby ordered, keeping his wand pointed at Snape.
The three of them stepped over the wall. The witches waved their wands and the wizard consulted his instruments. Snape glared but didn't try to stop them.
Finally the bat-festooned witch shrugged and said, 'There's no disguise or concealment magic on him that we can detect, and he isn't Transfigured.'
Ormesby was not pleased. 'Even if you aren't Sirius Black, you've just seriously interfered with a major Magical Law Enforcement operation,' he told Snape. 'What are you doing here?'
'The same thing you are, trying to keep famous Harry Potter from getting himself killed,' snarled Snape. 'He invited Black here for his birthday! He's been writing letters to him all summer ...'
'Is this true?' Ormesby asked Harry.
'No ...' said Harry slowly. 'I didn't invite Sirius for my birthday, and I haven't been writing to him all summer.'
This was the truth, as far as it went. Harry had never got a chance to invite Sirius for his birthday, having sent him only the one brief note of the previous evening.
'You sent him an owl last night!' hissed Snape.
'How do you know who that letter was for?' Harry said coolly. 'You didn't manage to get it away from Hedwig, did you?'
Ormesby eyed Snape suspiciously.
'How would you know who the letter was for, if you didn't read it?'
Snape opened his mouth then closed it abruptly.
'Black's been writing to him,' he said to Ormesby. 'He's got the letter in his pocket.'
'Let's see it,' said Ormesby, holding out his hand to Harry.
With a feeling of dread, Harry took the letter from his pocket and gave it to Ormesby. Surely Sirius wouldn't have sent Harry anything the Ministry could use to track him?
Ormesby looked at one side of the parchment, then the other.
'This parchment is blank,' he said.
'Potter!' bellowed Snape.
'I didn't do it!' Harry protested, moving nervously closer to Percy, now rather glad to be surrounded by Hit Wizards.
'He didn't do it,' confirmed the tea tray wizard. 'He hasn't worked any magic all day.'
'Was there a letter from Sirius Black on this parchment?' demanded Ormesby.
'I thought there was,' admitted Harry. 'Mind, he didn't give me much time to read it,' he added, shooting Snape a dirty look.
Now that Snape was no longer in any immediate danger of joining the Headless Hunt, Harry felt no particular need to defend him to the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. The less certain they were of what Sirius had or hadn't written, the better for Sirius.
Ormesby was disgusted. 'If Sirius Black was ever here, he'll be long gone by now. Potter, go home. You,' he said to Snape, 'come with us. There'll be questions raised at the Ministry about your part in this.'
'And I'll be raising some questions at the Ministry myself, about the way this whole affair has been mishandled,' Snape replied venomously.
Harry didn't wait to be told to leave twice. Snape was looking daggers at him, and he didn't really want to be around when Macnair showed up to find that his quarry had eluded him yet again. Pausing only to say good-bye to Percy -- who looked highly put out at this latest turn of events -- Harry set off at a brisk pace towards Privet Drive, arriving shortly at number four.
The door of Uncle Vernon's car had been left open and a large box was sitting next to it. The box -- presumably what Dudley had wanted Harry to come and see -- turned out to be a big and expensive-looking stereo system. Harry scowled at it. Buying Dudley presents on his birthday was an all time low even for the Dursleys.
The Dursleys! Harry sprinted up to the house, flung open the front door and dashed into the living room. To his alarm, he could no longer see the Dursleys in the photo. The car was pressed up against the glass, with a crumpled bumper and a broken headlight -- fortunately there didn't seem to have been enough room in the picture for it to have built up much speed. Going in for a closer look, Harry noticed several of Uncle Vernon's drills strewn about the photographic lawn and, to his relief, tiny figures moving around in the windows of the photographic house.
As Harry wasn't allowed to work magic over the summer holidays, he couldn't have reversed the spell even had he known how. He'd have to go back and get one of the Hit Wizards to do it. Harry wasn't looking forward to letting the Dursleys out of the photo, but the longer they were left in there, the angrier they'd become. Perhaps the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol could explain what had happened, although Harry doubted the Dursleys would be in any mood to listen.
Harry heard the front door close. Stepping out into the hall, he observed with great displeasure that Gordon had returned.
'You again?' Harry said in annoyance. 'Dudley's still gone, he probably won't be back until late tonight. Try coming back tomorrow.'
Gordon began to laugh. Harry took a step towards the kitchen, ready to bolt should the need arise. Without Dudley to call him off, Gordon might well decide to take up Harry-hunting again. Perhaps Harry could come back with the Invisibility Cloak and convince him that the house was haunted...
'That was brilliant, Harry,' said Gordon, still laughing. 'But Mamble was right, you should have let them chop his head off.'
'Gordon?' said Harry, completely nonplussed.
'Happy birthday, Harry,' said Gordon. He took something small and silver-coloured from his pocket and tossed it to Harry. It was a Sickle-sized coin with an eye stamped on either side. Harry looked back up to see Sirius Black, standing inside a flickering, silvery, Gordon-shaped cloud.
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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