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Chapter 27 : Chapter 27 Diagon Alley
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There was simply no other way to describe the mood that had befallen him since he, Ron and Hermione had left Shell Cottage a little over two weeks ago, and he had certainly made no effort to improve his mood himself. Instead he preferred to shut himself away inside the tent, alternating between restless sleep and glancing into the only shard remaining from the mirror Sirius had given him so long ago. When he did manage to sleep it was only with the help of the stolen Firewhiskey, a few generous mouthfuls behind Hermione’s back seemed to help him finally drift away, but even his sleep was marred by nightmares and strange dreams that he could hardly remember upon waking.
If only he could get Ginny out of his head, then perhaps he could manage to relax a little, but he knew there was no hope of that. Her absence was the Hippogriff in the room that none of them wanted to mention aloud, and as he slept Harry found himself constantly awakening with a start, his hand stretched across the bed in search of her. It was strange being without her after so long, and he only grew more and more unsettled by the empty space beside him where she ought to be, and the more he thought of her he couldn’t help but wonder if she was doing the same.
Pulling himself from his miserable thoughts yet again, Harry forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings, knowing that his lack of attention only made Ron even more nervous and edgy.
“She’s fine, Ron,” Harry said patiently, turning the collar of his cloak up against the wind. Leaning forward he looked down the street to the newspaper stand and then up the other way, keeping an eye on their surroundings.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied impatiently, his eyes locked on the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron across the road. “But it’s been half an hour already, she should be back by now.”
Harry couldn’t help but agree, checking his watch to confirm Ron’s time keeping. He was correct of course, it had been over thirty minutes since Hermione had entered the Leaky Cauldron under disguise, and the Apothecary was quite close to the brick wall. She only needed to gather a few ingredients to make the Polyjuice potion, she ought to have been back by now. A range of possibilities passed through his head, ones that had been considered many times. Hermione was truly adept at Glamour charms, even Harry and Ron couldn’t see resemblance to her natural appearance when she readied herself that morning, and the fake Galleons she had prepared to pay with had been approved by Bill. There was little that could go wrong, but they all knew better than to bank on this.
“Want more coffee?” Ron asked him, indicating to Harry’s empty mug.
Harry shook his head, turning his attention back to the busy road, watching the pedestrians as they passed in front of the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. No one stood out to him as a possible threat, they had not seen any sign of Death Eater activity, only managing to spot the occasional witch or wizard as they passed in and out, entering with nothing and leaving with bags and packages. Nothing suspicious about that, but they kept their eyes peeled for Hermione amongst the passer-by’s, frequently picturing her new appearance in their mind.
Glancing at Ron, he could see that his friend was itching to jump up from the steps of the store they sat on, needing to bolt inside Diagon Alley and find Hermione for himself, a need that Harry could understand. He was amazed that Ron allowed Hermione to go alone, but there was no denying that she was the only one who could distinguish between healthy Bloomslang skin and the old. Harry wondered to himself if he would have allowed Ginny to do the same thing completely alone, and he quickly pushed the thought of her to the back of his mind.
“Bloody hell, it’s cold!” Ron cursed loudly, and gust of chilling wind whipping past them.
The clouds above were heavy with icy cold rain that had been falling on and off for the past half hour, and Harry prayed that it would stay away long enough for them to get safely back inside the tent, the cold wind was bad enough. Since beginning their surveillance on the area the week before all three of them had developed bitter colds and sore throats, and Harry saw no need to exacerbate Ron moans and whinging, or Hermione’s attempts to brew fresh Pepper-up from the ingredients and remedies Fleur had given them. Content to suffer in silence the way he normally did, Harry volunteered to take the night watch, when the cold wind was at its worst, allowing Ron and Hermione to sleep soundly inside and give him some peace and quiet.
Staying awake throughout the night did not bother Harry at all, quickly realising there was still no way he could relax at night, almost in the way that Bill couldn’t. When he did find sleep it was during the day, when Ron and Hermione shared the duties of watching out for danger. To that end though, Harry was constantly tired, and this morning was no exception. As soon as dawn had broken they readied themselves straight away, packing up the tent and apparating into London where they waited for the Leaky Cauldron to open. To keep himself awake Harry had insisted on bringing coffee, making it stronger than normal and gulping it down like water. He doubted he would find much sleep that afternoon.
Rousing himself to attention again Harry gripped his wand inside his cloak as a well-dressed muggle woman approached them in the street, but felt no threat from her presence. Fumbling in her hand bag she glanced at them shyly before dropping something into Ron’s mug and darting away.
“Bloody…what was that all about?” Ron asked in astonishment as they both watched the lady walking away from them.
Harry turned back to Ron and peered inside his mug, tipping it slightly to reveal what was in there. Beautiful laughter burst from his mouth as he realised what it was, and his miserable mood vanished in an instant. “She just dropped money into your mug! She think we’re homeless.”
Ron gaped at him, looking from his mug and back to the lady before bursting to his feet. “We’re not homeless you know!” he called out indignantly. “We have a tent!”
Unable to help himself, Harry’s laughter did not subside, his stomach beginning to hurt as another muggle looked their way, slipping his hand into his pocket and withdrawing his wallet.
“Buy yourself some breakfast, son,” the man said, dropping more coins into Ron’s mug and enraging him further.
“C’mon you twit!” he cursed, removing a coin and throwing it as the man departed. “That’s my coffee!”
“Ron, sit down!” Harry implored, grabbing the leg of his jeans and pulling him back as his laughter subsided. “Relax, it’s just coffee.”
Ron grumbled and moaned as he reluctantly sat back down, looking into his mug in utter distaste. He removed a coin and angrily peered at it. “Merlin, it’s not even real money…ruined my coffee over nothing…”
“It’s muggle money,” Harry patiently explained, turning his attention back to the Leaky Cauldron. Had they missed seeing Hermione in the minute or so that they were distracted? This thought made his stomach twist uncomfortably, and he looked each way up and down the street just in case. “What were you expecting, a Knut?”
“Well what were they bloody playing at? I’ll tell you, I’ll never understand these muggles…”
“They must have thought we were homeless,” Harry reminded him, surprising himself with how much of Hermione’s sacred patience he was displaying. “Can you blame them, look at us. We haven’t shaved in days…don’t exactly look our best now.”
Ron scoffed and grumbled. “You may look a state…” He turned the muggle money over and looked at the other side. “Who’s this broad on here?”
Harry looked. “That’s the Queen.”
“Ugly lookin’ thing.”
“She’s old, Ron, and on a coin! Let’s see you get your face on a coin…”
“I’ll tell you where I’ll stick your face…”
“Oh shut up, Ron,” Harry sighed, his patience vanishing in an instant. “You can be as shitty as Hermione you know.”
“Don’t bring her into this,” was his sharp reply.
“Then shut up already.”
They became silent, Ron picking out the offending money and tossing them onto the street, keeping watch on the muggles as he banished their now empty mugs back into Hermione’s bag that was in his pocket. They both shivered as another gust of wind rushed through the street, the odd muggle struggling to maintain their grip on the umbrellas that threatened to be carried away. Feeling suddenly uncomfortable Harry glanced at Ron, seeing his narrowed eyes and venomous gaze.
He swore. “What have I done now?”
Ron softened immediately, turning away sheepishly before replying. “I dunno….it’s just, I know you miss her, that’s all.”
Harry looked back to the Leaky Cauldron. “And that warrants the dirty look I just copped?”
“Well it’s just,” he began, and from the corner of Harry’s eye he could see his flushed face turning angry again. “I know what you two did.”
Harry sighed. “What did we do?”
“You know!” Ron spluttered. “You know exactly what you did. Christmas night…I know!”
“Prove it,” Harry challenged him, hoping that he would drop the subject. He was trying to hard not to think about Ginny, to escape the heavy loneliness that replaced her, and Ron was not helping him to do so.
Silent for a moment, Ron’s reply was sharp. “I don’t have to, a brother knows these things.”
“Then why didn’t you stop us?”
Again, Ron didn’t reply for the longest time, and Harry almost thought that he had dropped the subject. “You’re not getting that Galleon out of me.”
“You know, that bet we had going…the one with the boys about who would be the first to…you know…”
“Oh…” Harry muttered, finally catching on. “Ernie won that bet in sixth year.”
“It’s true,” Harry replied, frowning as he watched the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. “I swear.”
Ron looked at him sceptically. “Ernie Macmillan? With who?”
“Hermione…” Harry began, sitting up a little and craning his neck to be sure.
“What?” Ron exclaimed in a mixture of shock and anger. “Hermione was with-”
“No, she’s back you dolt! Get up,” Harry said as he rose to his feet and indicating across the street, hauling Ron up as well. As he spoke he saw Hermione standing outside the Leaky Cauldron doors, shivering a little as she looked around the street. A moment later she took off, heading towards their left up the street with her head bent low.
Ron followed his gaze and understood, taking a step towards the road. “Yeah…that’s her,” he agreed slowly, quickly departing Harry and slipping across the street to walk in front of her.
Taking a deep breath Harry ran through the plan in his head, confident that everything was okay, and he slipped across the busy street and began to follow Hermione from behind. Looking ahead of her he watched as Ron appeared a few yards ahead of them, and even from this position Harry could tell that Hermione had spotted him.
Glancing at his watch, Harry saw that she had been inside the alley for over forty minutes, and was dying to know what had taken her so long. His old schoolbag was slung over her shoulder, her hand placed over it protectively, but it didn’t appear to be bulging with the many ingredients that Hermione intended to purchase, and he wondered if she had managed to find what she needed. Ron stopped at the traffic lights where muggles stood impatiently, waiting to cross the road, and Hermione approached and stood beside him. Watching as they conversed quietly Harry slowed down and kept his distance, glancing over his shoulder.
He could see no one following them, only muggles on their way to work, and he quickly turned front and followed Ron and Hermione over the pedestrian crossing, still watching the people all around. They walked for a few blocks, Ron protectively slipping his arm through Hermione’s as they walked. They must have walked for miles, looking for a safe place to apparate, and suddenly Ron steered Hermione around to the right, turning into a quieter street that left the hustle and loud traffic of Charing Cross road behind them.
They passed an Italian café, warm and inviting him inside as rain began to fall again. For a few minutes Harry’s mood had improved, yet it dropped sharply as the rain grew heavier, and he struggled to cast the Impervious charm on his glasses with his wand hidden in his cloak. Looking over his shoulder Harry slowed to a stop, Ron and Hermione continuing on ahead. Standing in the middle of the pavement Harry craned his neck to see across the opposite street, certain that he had seen a familiar large black dog, attracting the attention of a few muggles before it darted out of sight.
His heart was off, racing at the possibility that Sirius was nearby, but he forced himself to start walking again, jogging a little to get closer to his friends. Still maintaining his distance Harry continued looking behind him, searching for any sign of the black dog he had seen, but there was none. It was with disappointment that Harry followed his friends into a small alleyway that they had found, having hoped for more time to catch sight of the dog again, but he knew they couldn’t waste time being out in public.
“What took you so long?” he asked Hermione, each of them drawing their wands.
“I’ll explain when we get out of here,” she said, and it was strange to hear her voice coming out of someone who looked so dramatically different. With her hair darkened and considerably shortener she looked nothing like the Hermione they all knew, the simple change in hairstyle altering her appearance dramatically. Harry hated it, hoping she would remove the charms quickly.
“Yeah, let’s get outta here,” Ron agreed as they all joined hands. “No one following us?”
At this Harry looked over his shoulder one last time, taking his time before answering. Still there was no sign of any dog, and he began to wonder if it was just wishful thinking. He shook his head as Hermione readied herself to apparate south, to somewhere that was hopefully warmer. Harry simply couldn’t stand the cold, the weather sending his mind back to his abduction, and the dark empty room that was unbearably cold.
The three of them breathed a sigh of relief as they apparated into a heavily wooded area that was still cold, but without the sharp wind. Instead an ever so slight breeze rustled the trees around them as they set about casting enchantments and wards, Hermione removing the tent from the bag and rolling it across the ground as it sprung up before their eyes.
“So…” Harry asked again, his friends following him back inside. “What took you so long?”
It was warm inside the tent, and Hermione slumped down into one of the armchairs, her hair changing back to its natural state. “It was so busy in Slug and Jiggers,” she began with a sigh. “It’s Sunday for crying out loud, it should have been quiet.”
“So did you get what you need?”
“No, but yes,” she answered, reaching for Harry’s schoolbag.
“Well that clears that up then,” Ron said sarcastically.
Exercising great self-control, Hermione simply rolled her eyes and rummaged through the bag. “I couldn’t find any Bloomslang skin, and the Bicorn hair wasn’t picked at the right time of month.” With a remark of triumph she withdrew a flask of grey murky liquid, holding it out to them with a displeased look. “I managed to find a vial of the potion though…it was behind the counter; no one was supposed to go back there.”
Harry and Ron looked at each other and grinned. That was better than they had anticipated.
“Bloody hell, that’s great! I thought you said they wouldn’t have any!”
“Don’t get too excited Ron…look at it,” she instructed them, handing the vial over.
“What’s wrong with it?”
With a short sigh Harry looked at it, his relief dissipating once again. “It’s not dark enough…” he began, taking the flask from Ron and giving it a quick shake. “It’s not think enough either.”
“So it won’t work?” Ron asked, and they both turned to Hermione for the answer.
She shrugged in defeat, hauling herself to her feet and rummaging through her bag for a book. “I don’t know, it’s definitely been bottled far too soon, it needs another day or so of brewing.”
“Can we fix it?” asked Ron, taking the bottle back and holding it up to the light. “Have we got a cauldron?”
Hermione didn’t reply, removing her copy of Moste Potente Potions and flicking through the pages until she came across the Polyjuice Potion. Ron and Harry rounded the armchair and looked over her shoulder, groaning with disappointment.
“It likely won’t last the hour,” Hermione commented. “And if we’re really unlucky we won’t transform properly…we won’t know the variables until we try it out.”
“Then let’s try it,” Ron suggested immediately. “Try it now, and then we’ll know.”
“No!” Hermione said, jumping to her feet in alarm. “I only managed to get one flask!”
“In the whole store there was only one flask?”
“I, well…there were two, but I dropped one…I would have kept looking, but the keeper saw me…”
“Can we go back and look for more?”
Hermione shrugged, pointedly taking the flask from Ron. “I doubt it, he looked pretty mad when I was leaving, I think he knows I was up to something.”
Ron grumbled at this, and Harry couldn’t help but agree. This was supposed to be their first step, finally doing something to find the Horcrux, and already nothing was going their way. “So what you’re saying, is that if we go to the ministry using this potion, we could transform back to ourselves at any minute? Without warning?”
“That’s what the book says…”
“Then what are we going to do?” Ron asked loudly, throwing his hands up in the air and stalking off to the kitchen. “If we’re suddenly transforming, we can’t just hide our faces and keep going!”
“Yes, I know that Ron.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know!” Hermione yelled, suddenly throwing the book at him. “Why am I supposed to have all the answers?”
Deflecting the book away it tumbled to the floor, and Ron stepped over it angrily. “I was just asking!”
“Shut up, both of you!” Harry snapped, taking the vial from Hermione and heading into the kitchen. “Ron, go and get those two small flasks in the bathroom.”
“The sleeping potions? Why?”
“Just do it, would you?” he replied impatiently, moving to the sink and removing the stopped from the flask.
Growling to himself Ron sulked into the bathroom and emerged with the requested flasks, he and Hermione moving to stand behind Harry as he handed them over. Without looking up Harry removed the stopped from the first one and tipped the purple potion down the sink, trying to ignore Ron’s shout of protest.
“Oi! Tonk’s made those for you!”
“I don’t want them,” Harry replied, removing the second and pouring it out too. Turning on the tap he rinsed them both well, using his wand to dry them.
“Maybe you could do with a decent sleep, have you considered that?”
Harry ignored him this time, taking up the flask of Polyjuice potion and considering it carefully. Concentrating, he carefully dispensed equal amounts between the three flasks, working slowly to ensure that none was wasted.
“We can’t wait any longer,” he began quietly, holding each flask up to ensure that they held equal amounts. “Everyone is already back from Christmas, we’ve already missed that opportunity. We have to do this soon. Does that look like two mouthfuls?”
“Yeah,” Harry confirmed, carrying on when Ron and Hermione nodded affirmatively. “We take these with us, stay out of sight as much as we can, and if we transform we can just take the rest…if we’re lucky we might even get three mouthfuls.”
“But Harry,” Hermione said slowly. “This brew may not even last ten minutes, we may not transform properly…if we’re going to impersonate ministry employees it must be believable.”
“We haven’t got much other choice, do we?” Harry replied, turning back to the sink and replacing the stoppers tightly, placing them on the table where they each looked at them for a long moment. “I don’t like the odds either, but if we don’t do this now, we probably never will.”
Ron folded his arms, glaring at the potions now. “It’s very risky.”
Harry shook his head, thinking ahead. “We can plan this well, and if we each know what we’re doing we can split up and get the job done quickly. We can do this,” he said confidently. “We should start planning now.”
There was a long moment of silence as his friends considered this, and as he looked from one to the other Harry could tell they were coming round, despite the considerable hitch. Ron looked at him and nodded, Hermione doing the same a moment later.
“Let’s get started then…” she said, clapping her hands together. “Ron, can you find some parchment? I’ll make some tea.”
“Don’t worry about the tea,” Ron replied, winking at Harry as he went to retrieve some parchment. “Let’s have a scotch.”
“Ron! It’s nine thirty!”
“Five o’clock somewhere,” Harry argued, sourcing out the bottle and some glasses. “You want some?”
Hermione rolled her eyes, shaking her head and turning to the kettle, making quite a scene of filling it and placing it on the stove as Harry served a glass to himself and Ron. Sitting down on the lounge room Ron spread out some parchment on the coffee table and they patiently waited for Hermione, who was still making quite a scene. Smirking at each other they put their glasses together and took what they considered to be a well-deserved sip.
A/N Please review!!! I simply don't get enough when you compare the number of those who read last chapter! A big thanks to those who do review, it's great to hear from you every chapter, and thanks to my betas for your help with this chapter and the next.
I'm 2/3 of the way through the next chapter, so please be patient.
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