'S-- Gordon!' said Harry in an urgent whisper. 'You've got to get out of here! The Magical Law Enforcement Patrol -- they were here, they might be listening, they -- they think Sirius Black is coming! You're a Muggle, you don't want to get in their way, they were angry enough at Snape!'
Sirius looked amused. 'Yes, they are,' he said, gesturing towards the front door. 'Well, two of them at any rate. Second and third rose bush to the left. Don't worry, they won't see or hear anything to upset them.' He lifted the black canvas bag. 'Let's go to the kitchen, I've brought you a cake.'
'... but honestly, you should've seen Snape in his trench coat, he looked like a dangerous criminal. I reckon he's in serious trouble with the Ministry of Magic now,' Harry finished with deep satisfaction.
It was nearly eight o'clock. Sirius had departed not long after dinner, and Harry hadn't been sorry to watch him go. As pleased as he'd been to see his godfather again, he couldn't help but worry about the terrible risk Sirius was taking, visiting right under the noses of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol.
Harry had decided to take advantage of his Dursley-free evening by calling Hermione and telling her the whole story, up to the point that he'd left the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. He didn't think it wise to mention Sirius. The Hit Wizards were almost certainly still around, and whatever magic Sirius was using to keep them from overhearing had likely gone with him.
'I don't know ...' Hermione replied slowly. 'I mean, your aunt let Snape in, didn't she? He didn't break into the house. And when your uncle told him to leave, he didn't give him very much time before he tried to hit him. Of course Snape shouldn't have been using magic in front of Muggles except in an emergency ... but if Sirius Black was about to show up, it was an emergency, and the Ministry thought he was going to, so they can't very well say Snape shouldn't have.'
Hermione paused, then said curiously, 'Why did they think Sirius was going to show up, if they didn't know about the letter?'
'I dunno ...' said Harry, 'but if the spell on the photo hasn't worn off by morning, I'm going to send an owl to Mr Weasley about the Dursleys. I'll ask him.'
In fact Sirius had assured Harry that the spell would not wear off on its own. Harry had wanted to leave the Dursleys trapped in the picture for the rest of the summer, but according to Sirius only the rooms whose outsides were visible actually existed inside the photo. This meant no kitchen and no food. Sirius hadn't been certain whether or not the Dursleys had electricity or running water. Harry rather hoped not, it would serve them right to spend a night without either.
'Maybe if you told the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol about Hedwig,' Hermione continued. 'Snape must've cast an Owl Net with your name and Sirius's woven into it. He has plenty of your old papers and I suppose some of Sirius's must still be lying about Hogwarts. But then they'd know you were sending that letter to him ...'
'An Owl Net?' said Harry.
'Yes, they're illegal, without special permission from the Ministry of Magic. Illegal and dangerous -- broomsticks can get tangled in them, people have fallen and been killed. It's a good thing Hedwig wouldn't let you go flying off to find Sirius.'
'If Snape hurts Hedwig, I'll chop off his head!' said Harry furiously. 'Is it going to be safe to let her out at night? What if he puts another one of those things up?'
'I've never heard of an owl being killed by an Owl Net -- only witches and wizards, and even that's quite unusual,' said Hermione. 'Normally a person on a broomstick would just tear right through, but if they get knocked off, the Owl Net isn't strong enough to hold them up. In any case, Hedwig wouldn't get caught unless she was carrying a message from you to Sirius.'
Harry was not reassured. 'Maybe I should leave her with the Weasleys this year. I mean, Snape tried to kill Neville's toad for no reason, and he hates me more than ever, especially after this, and Hedwig clawed his hand, and -- and I think he might be going mad.'
'Dumbledore didn't think he was,' Hermione said sceptically.
'Not because of last year! When Snape was here today -- it was weird, all I did was ask if Dumbledore knew where he was, and I've never seen him that angry, never. If Uncle Vernon and Dudley hadn't got back just then, I don't know what he'd've done to me. And then he acted as though nothing had happened. Why would a simple question set him off that way?'
'He'd probably realised that during the summer he couldn't take a hundred points off Gryffindor or give you two months detention for answering back,' said Hermione dismissively. 'He only seemed scarier than usual because he was, you know, in the Muggle world, in your actual house. I'll read up on some owl protection charms ... or maybe Hagrid can keep Hedwig at his hut ...'
Next morning, after breakfast, Harry sent Hedwig out with a note for Mr Weasley. A couple of hours later, a green Ministry car pulled into the drive. Out stepped Mr Weasley and, to Harry's surprise, Ron. When Harry opened the front door, Ron waved and called out, 'Pack your things, Harry, you're coming with us!'
'What, now?' said Harry. 'But it's a week early. And the Dursleys aren't likely to let me go at all, after what happened yesterday.'
'I'll -- er -- talk to them, Harry,' said Mr Weasley. 'Let's get your trunk out to the car and then we'll see about that photo.'
Even though most of Harry's school things were still packed from last year, it was over an hour before his trunk was stowed in the boot of the car. Mr Weasley had dozens of questions about every Muggle-made object in the house, starting with Dudley's stereo system, which was sitting just inside the front door.
Harry would as soon have left it outside to be rained on or stolen, but after Sirius arrived Harry had been afraid the neighbours might notice and investigate. He'd had to be very careful not to stare too obviously at the silvery outlines of the wizards in the rose bushes whilst dragging the box into the house.
When Harry and the Weasleys finally made it to the living room, the Dursleys were still inside the photographic house.
'I can't reverse the spell with them in the house -- they'd be smashed against the walls,' Mr Weasley said.
He tapped on the glass with his finger.
'I don't think sound carries through the glass,' Harry told him. 'Uncle Vernon was banging on it and yelling yesterday -- I mean, I could see him banging and yelling, but he wasn't making any noise.'
Harry thought for a bit, then found a piece of paper and wrote -- 'Mr Weasley's here, come outside and he'll get you out'. As Harry was propping his note up in front of the photo, Mr Weasley pointed at the drills in the photographic front garden.
'Harry, what are those things?'
'They're called drills, Uncle Vernon sells them. Here, I'll show you how they work.'
Harry fetched the latest Grunnings model from Uncle Vernon's bedroom and explained its operation to Mr Weasley. That done, he didn't particularly want to be in the house when the Dursleys got out of the photo.
'Let's go outside, Ron,' Harry said.
They left Mr Weasley happily drilling holes in the Dursleys' living room wall.
'Be careful when you do let them out -- Uncle Vernon tried to punch Professor Snape,' Harry called back to him.
Mr Weasley gave Harry an absent-minded wave. He had left off drilling the wall and was eyeing the sofa and coffee table speculatively.
'Your Dad's quite sure the Dursleys will let me visit you?' Harry asked Ron, once they were out in the front garden. 'They said if they had any trouble out of me they wouldn't, and trouble doesn't come much worse than Snape on your doorstep.'
'Dad's got his orders directly from the Minister for Magic,' Ron replied, sitting on the wall near the parked car. 'You're to stay at our house, whether your relatives want you to or not. Fudge was quite upset -- Snape turning up here like that, and you still thinking Sirius was innocent. Dad's been assigned to look after you for the rest of the summer, and --'
'Why were the Hit Wizards here yesterday?' Harry interrupted. 'They didn't seem to know Sirius had written me until Snape told them.'
'It was all Percy's fault!' said Ron indignantly. 'He saw the note you sent me, about how you were expecting to hear from Sirius before your birthday. I tried to tell him Sirius was innocent, but that only made it worse. He went and told the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol!' Ron sat fuming at his brother's intransigence for a moment, then continued more calmly, 'As they weren't really convinced at first, they just sent one wizard to keep a lookout. Snape walked right past him, he thought Snape was a Muggle --'
Harry grinned, remembering what Snape had been wearing. 'This lookout -- he was from an old wizarding family like your one, wasn't he?'
'Er, yes, how did you know?' said Ron, somewhat puzzled. 'Anyway, he was taken completely by surprise when your aunt started screaming -- didn't dare take on Sirius Black by himself and it took time for the rest of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol to get here. By then Snape was holding you at wandpoint, only they thought he was Sirius --'
'What happened to Snape, anyway?' said Harry.
'Nothing!' said Ron in great disgust. 'There wasn't much to charge him with and the Ministry was afraid of what he could tell the Daily Prophet. It was all very embarrassing for the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, you know ... not only mistaking Snape for Sirius Black and nearly killing him, but the way he got past their surveillance and out of the Binding Spell they'd put on him. Fudge thought Snape was mad -- wanted to have him committed to St Mungo's for observation, but Dumbledore talked him out of it.'
'Hang on -- Dumbledore talked him out of it?' said Harry, surprised.
'Yeah ... he said he knew for a fact that Snape was perfectly sane and it would make the Ministry look even worse when St Mungo's confirmed it,' said Ron.
'It's just that Snape acted really weird when I asked him if Dumbledore knew he was here. I thought maybe Dumbledore had sacked him, or would do when he found out. Wasn't Dumbledore angry?'
'It didn't sound like he was,' said Ron. 'Of course, I wasn't there -- I heard this from Percy. He was furious with both of them: Snape for trying to catch Black himself instead of notifying the Ministry and Dumbledore for not taking the whole thing seriously enough. First time I've heard him criticise a Hogwarts teacher ...' Ron gave Harry a sideways look. 'He wasn't too happy with you either ... Did you really grab Ormesby's robes? You're lucky to still have your hands! He was thrown out of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol for brutality, you know, about a year after You-Know-Who disappeared.'
'What, Ormesby?' said Harry in disbelief.
'He was,' Ron said. 'It's only with the Sirius Black crisis dragging on so long that he managed to get himself reinstated. I'm surprised he didn't curse Snape on the spot instead of waiting for Macnair -- must've been on his best behaviour ...'
'I think he may have tried to, but Snape blocked it,' said Harry uneasily. He was thinking of the way Ormesby had looked at him when he'd grabbed him by the robes. Ron's story didn't seem quite so preposterous any more.
'Why'd you have to tell them who Snape really was?' said Ron. 'We could've been rid of him at last! Mind, it would've looked really bad for old Ormesby, executing the wrong person his first week back on the job. He took Snape's side at the Ministry -- said Snape had done the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol a favour, showing them how unprepared they were to deal with the real Sirius Black. If they couldn't keep a Potions master and a neurotic fourteen-year-old in hand ...'
Ron sniggered. Seeing the offended look on Harry's face, he held up his hands placatingly.
'Sorry, that's what Ormesby said. He was really angry about the way the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol acted when you mentioned You-Know-Who. Course, it was partly as they were afraid he might actually be hanging around. They thought when Snape was talking about Sirius, it was Sirius talking about You-Know-Who. Ormesby's started making all Hit Wizards say the name, two of them have resigned over it already --'
A tremendous bellow of rage echoed from the house. Seconds later, Mr Weasley came hurrying out the front door.
'Come along, boys, it's time for us to leave,' he told them, looking slightly flustered. As they were getting into the car, he gave Harry an embarrassed look and said, 'I, er, would have repaired the living room, if your uncle had given me the chance.'
-- THE END --
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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