April

April Dursely had been living a lie all her life. Under her abusive parent’s control, she had never been allowed to discover why she was so unusual. When a man named Albus Dumbledore arrived at No. 4 Privet Drive on one eventful night, he unveiled an unbelievable truth. She began her first year at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry where she discovered a talent for potions, a talent for getting detentions and a talent for skiving homework. However, she also discovered sinister secrets about her older cousin’s murderous godfather, Remus Lupin, and Severus Snape… (Cover by JustAsSaneAsLuna)

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4. Diagon Alley

   April's hands were now so cold that she was astonished that she could still keep hold of the broom as they flew above the clouds. Their brooms skimmed the sky as though sailing on a grey sea. Despite the cold and the damp and the wind, she felt more elated than she could ever remember feeling. The thought that she was leaving her family and the whole muggle world behind made her the happiest she had been in a long time. Especially when combined with the prospect of learning proper magic, not just “magic tricks”, and the amazing feeling of freedom and exhilaration that came with flying.

   Dumbledore was half a broomstick-length ahead of her and occasionally he dipped beneath the cloud to check their whereabouts. He also frequently took a stick – which April presumed to be a wand – from one of the many pockets in his robes and placed it on the palm of his hand. The stick would then rotate to point in a certain direction and they would alter their course slightly. The whole situation was so ridiculously far-fetched that she had to keep confirming it to herself.

    The top of Dumbledore's pointed hat emerged from the cloud, followed by his eccentrically-dressed body which somehow looked at home upon a broom, despite his obvious age.

   “We’re nearly there” he said with a glance at her left shoulder, obviously unable to see exactly where she was thanks to the charm he'd placed upon her. He turned forward again and his broom began to lower. April leant forward slightly and hers followed suit, causing her wind-torn hands to clench tighter around the handle. They plummeted nose-first through the layer of cloud which gave April the unpleasant sensation of being submerged in icy water before they re-emerged to the bright lights of London. From up there, the urban sprawl looked enormous and the thousands of street-lights and building lights glinted flirtatiously like eyes. To their right was the glittering river which rippled like the spangled, indigo lining of Dumbledore’s cloak.

   Following Dumbledore, April directed her broom away from the river, drawing ever closer to the grimy rooftops as she flew. They were only a few metres above people’s TV aerials and chimneys when Dumbledore began to slow. April leant back hoping that this might produce a similar result but instead her broom aimed sharply skyward and Dumbledore had to set her straight again with a flick of his wand. She tugged hard on the handle willing it to slow and, to her surprise, it did. The deceleration was very sudden and she almost slid off the end. Dumbledore chuckled and touched down on the roadside before dismounting with ease. She jolted to a halt beside him and he smiled at her expression of excitement and shock.

   “Here we are – the Leaky Cauldron!” He said with vague gesticulation. It seemed almost as though the place had blossomed from nowhere and both the dingy entrance and rusty pub sign looked out of place between the two stores either side. It was a remarkably insignificant looking place and April couldn't help thinking - with a small portion of disappointment - that it would be easy to miss.

   Dumbledore once more lifted his wand and removed the disillusionment charm he had placed upon her. He offered her a smile that was unusually benign for an average headmaster, although Professor Dumbledore was not, April reminded herself, an average headmaster.

   “It takes a little getting used to, riding a broomstick. You don't seem to be a bad flyer, all things considered.” He said more out of kindness than truth as they approached the door. April lifted her hand to the door handle but, before she could knock, it sprung open and a short man in a lime green bowler hat nearly walked right into her.

   “Merlin’s beard, Dumbledore! I wasn’t expecting you to get here for another half an hour” He said, removing his hat and spinning it between his fingers in a way which suggested anxiety despite the smile on his face.

   “Good evening Cornelius, I was not expecting to see you here” Dumbledore replied in a polite tone.

   “Well I have spoken to the boy and he has agreed to stay in Diagon Alley, all seems to be well and good” He paused looking slightly flustered and spun his hat ever faster. “I had intended to meet in my office, but seeing as we are both here at the same time we may as well take advantage-”

   “I would rather we went to your office, Minister, there are certain things that I would rather not say to a room full of inquisitive customers.”

   Cornelius looked slightly disappointed and said “The bar’s nearly empty now-”

   Dumbledore interrupted him and concluded Cornelius' sentence for him; “Which would make us easier to overhear.” He glanced at the Minister’s face, “I will meet you there shortly, but first I must speak to Miss Dursley”

   April couldn't help noticing that, despite being Minister, Cornelius seemed to have no power to argue with Dumbledore.

   They stepped into the dimly lit room which seemed far bigger from inside than the narrow front had suggested. Cornelius was right; the bar was empty save for three elderly women in one corner (they were chortling as they examined a brightly coloured magazine with the words The Quibbler looped across the front) and two figures who were completely hidden (aside from long pipes out of which a highly unpleasant smell was wafting) behind long green cloaks. At the counter a younger man was propped up tiredly with his elbows on the bar. The barman grinned at him in a way which, April assumed, was intended to be friendly but looked alarming due to his lack of teeth. He slid a clear glass across the rutted wood and waved his wand at it. It filled instantly with a deep purple liquid which he proceeded to top with a scoop of electric blue ice-cream. The tired-looking man groped inside his cloak and pulls out several silver coins.

   “It will not surprise you to know” Said Dumbledore, following April's gaze “That your parents refused to put any money towards your school equipment.” She had thought that that might be the case but Dumbledore mentioning it brought a heavy, sinking feeling to the pit of her stomach. His confirmation made it real.

   He looked at her carefully and once more she felt as though she was being x-rayed.

   “The school has a fund for young witches and wizards who are unable to pay for their own equipment.” he put his hand into his cloak and lifted out a leather draw-string pouch and a parchment envelope with a shield or crest of some description on the seal. “This should suffice for this year’s equipment and books – they are listed in the letter” she took it savouring the unfamiliar feeling of affluence. It felt satisfyingly heavy in her hand and she felt a flicker of excitement in her stomach as the coins clinked together.

   “You will stay here for the remainder of the summer holidays; I believe that the Weasleys would be more than happy to accompany you to the station on the morning of the first of September.” He strode over to the bar and gestured to the toothless man who hurried out from behind the bar, bowing rapidly. “There are two brooms outside Tom," he said to the barman, "they belong to Arrabella Figg of 16 Privet Drive. If you could return them I would be most obliged.”

   Tom bowed once more and hobbled outside to retrieve the two brooms. As he returned, Dumbledore shook back his sleeve to reveal a large and indescribably complex mechanism which, although in place of a watch, appeared to do almost everything but tell the time.

   “I really must leave you now, Harry and the Weasleys will explain anything that you’re uncertain about. I’ll see you in a month.” he said brightly and with a swish of his cloak he was gone, leaving April wondering exactly who 'the Weasleys' he'd mentioned were.

   “April!” a familiar voice called from behind her. she turned around and see Harry hurrying across the crooked flagstones towards her. “Tom told me that you were down here, Dumbledore brought you here just a few minutes ago.” He said breathlessly jerking his head towards the toothless, bald barman who was smiling and bowing repeatedly towards them.

   What with the happiness of seeing her cousin again without the oppressive shadow of her parents' presence, combined with the  revelation of why she had lived such an extraordinary life, she was at a complete loss as to what to say but thankfully Harry was too busy releasing a stream of commentary. He was spouting all the words he had apparently withheld for two years.

   “I couldn’t believe it when I found out; I mean it makes sense when you think about it, all those things that happened but… Wait till you see Diagon Alley, and Gringotts, its run by goblins you know… I’m sorry I never told you, Dumbledore made me promise – Vernon and Petunia had forbidden it, or something – anyway, I really wanted to explain but they made me stick to the cover story… Dumbledore’s great isn’t he? Apparently you came on brooms, flying’s amazing isn’t it? … I’ll introduce you to Ron and Hermione when they get here; they’re my best friends…”

   The pair reached the top of the spiralling wooden stair case (April stumbled several times as each stair was individually sized) and Tom pointed her along the corridor. “Second on the left, breakfast will be down in the bar,” he muttered with some difficulty and shuffled down the uneven steps.

   “See you in the morning” she said to Harry and stumbled down the twisting corridor; the prospect of bed was making her suddenly feel extremely tired.

   April's room was, compared to the cupboard, large and roomy; it was somehow easier to breathe as well. It was too dark to examine it properly but the candle on the table beside the bed flickered over a portrait of an elderly witch in peacock blue robes. The bed was large and it creaked as she lay down fully clothed on top of the covers. It seemed almost unbelievable that 24 hours ago she had been an ordinary person; she hadn't known anything about the world which she'd stepped into. She'd thought she'd be stuck in Privet Drive forever.

   She turned over comfortably and blew out the candle. The last thing she noticed before she went to sleep was that the witch in the picture frame seemed to have disappeared and she only had time to assume that it must just have been the darkness playing tricks on her eyes before she fell into deep, unbroken sleep.

   Diagon Alley was the most unusual and exciting place she had ever been to. The shops leant at eccentric angles and through the windows spirals of books, rickety towers of brass cauldrons, and shelves and shelves of potions and ingredients could be seen. In one shop window a sleek broom hovered beneath a sign which read Firebolt. Price on request. In another, several handsome owls were perched languidy in cages which seem to be floating; gradually rising and falling and rotating as though on some absurd fair-ground ride.

   Harry, who was obviously unsurprised by the Dursleys' reluctance to part with their money over April gave her three gold galleons from his money bag. They both had books to buy but, because Harry already had most of his equipment, he took considerably less time to do his shopping. He offered to take April around the other shops but she declined, enjoying window shopping and exploring the bustling street.

   April had always thought that going shopping was exciting; it offered a break from the imprisonment of the garden shed and a chance to gaze jealously at the rows of clothes that other people at school wore, but that was always disrupted by Petunia's stressed attempts to keep the pink quill under control. Now the shopping mall in Little Whingeing seemed comparatively boring as she passed Florish and Blotts for a second time. She enjoyed peering through the displays of spiralling books in heavy leather bindings, tiny books hovering and fluttering like papery birds, strange fury books in a cage which were apparently trying to eat each other, and enormous books the size of paving slabs, each as thick as a stair, bound in blue and green and black scaly material.

   The apothecary was also fascinating and she found herself staring at the hundreds of dusty jars which towered across all three walls and wondering what you would use them for. She had to resist the temptation to buy some of the incredible things for sale (Unicorn hair, Salamander tongues, and powdered Runspoon fangs) with the money Harry had given her and she spent almost half an hour watching a cauldron in the centre of the shop which was stirring itself. Occasionally jars would fly off the walls as though grabbed by invisible hands and would empty into the cauldron which, by the time she dragged herself away, was a fiery orange colour and smelt of wood smoke.

   Three hours later, having just brought her wand (cherry, 9½ inches, phoenix tail feather) she emerged once more into the bright sunshine to see a pale-faced boy with blonde hair carrying emerald robes, followed by a man who must have been his father. The boy walked straight past her but the man stopped dead and stared  in curiosity. He frowned slowly and she could almost see the clockwork of his thoughts as he processed her appearance. He then turned away sharply and followed his son into Madame Malkins’ – robes for all occasions.

   The street was a little emptier at that stage of the day and, although there was still a large flow of people April could see Harry outside Florean Fortecue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, immersed in an old-looking book.

   “What are you doing?” She asked.

   “Oh, hi” he said looking up and closing his book with a puff of dust “Just some homework about medieval witch hunting.”

   “Dumbledore said something about that. I mean," she backtracked realising that she actually had very little to say, "he just mentioned that burning them at the stake didn’t work because they could stop themselves from being burned with a simple charm.”

   “Yeah, I’ve already got that, but thanks anyway.”

  “So, have you got all your stuff?” he asked and she closed her hand around the wand in her pocket and nodded excitedly.

   An aging man with wiry grey hair stepped out of the shop with two enormous ice-creams.

   “One for you and one for you friend” he said smiling and April ran her fingers over the last 4 galleons that remained. He must have noticed the way that her hand twitched towards her money bag because he shook his head and refused to let them pay.

   “Thanks Mr Fortescue” they smiled and April took a cone that was topped with orange ice-cream and encrusted with tiny pieces of crystallised fruit.

   “This place is amazing!” she exclaimed as she flung myself down next to Harry under the shade of the blue and pink striped canopy and watched a woman in pale green robes push a trolley of teetering cauldrons along the cobbled street. Whenever she went over a particularly large cobble the cauldrons all wobbled, jumped, scattered and then rearranged themselves in the stack.

   “Yeah” he said, smiling. There was so much to see that her brain felt slightly overloaded by its attempts to take in the colours and smells. A man wearing an enormous top hat appeared through the wall out of the back of the Leaky Cauldron and started pulling blue flowering bushes out of his pockets. Soon a small crowd had gathered and he pulled a sign out from under his hat which read Five knuts for a bunch, two sickles for a bush. Despite her excitement she couldn't help wondering if that was what learning to be a witch was all about - the whole thing little more than an elaborate party trick.

   A smart looking man, in a long black robes, was busy directing a younger man pasting pieces of paper on to shop windows. In the muggle world, he would have had to stand on a ladder and tape each poster securely onto the glass but this man was flicking his wand lazily towards a hovering stack of papers which flew one by one onto different shop fronts and stuck there inexplicably. From the pieces of paper a deranged man screamed out. His face was emaciated, his hair wild, in his chained hands he held a placard into which strange shapes and symbols had been etched. His eyes were sunken, surrounded by huge pools of grey skin, and on his chest and arms more symbols had been branded. Despite the sinister image, April couldn't help thinking that these symbols looked like they denoted some sort of foreign currency. Underneath the screaming man, some large red lettering spelt out 'Wanted. Sirius Black' followed by some smaller sized text. April gazed into the sunken face wondering if Harry knew that the murderer in question was trying to hunt him down. Does he even know who Sirius Black is, she speculated. 

   “Harry,” she began quietly but he was too engrossed in watching a group of what, she assumed, must have been goblins. They were talking heatedly to a very tall wizard. They were very short but with long fingers and strange pointy teeth. April attempted to make out what they were saying but they were making strange guttural noises which she could not distinguish.

   “Those are goblins” Harry said turning back to her. “They’re very clever but they’re not always on very good terms with wizards, I think. Hermione, my friend, could tell you all about them and their wars if you wanted but I don’t really listen in History of Magic. She lets us copy her notes for the exams so we never have to bother about taking them ourselves, well, last year’s exams were cancelled but she let us use her notes in first year,” Having exchanged shortened sentences all afternoon, he looked somewhat embarrassed to have said so much at one time but April was intrigued.

   “How come?”

   “What?”

   “How come they were cancelled and how come you don’t bother in History of Magic?”

   “History of Magic is taught by a ghost; his voice sends you to sleep so it’s practically impossible to pay attention. Even when he’s talking about goblin wars he might as well be talking about the history of shoelaces. He’s been doing the same thing for so many years, apparently he didn’t even notice when he died; he just went on teaching like normal. Last year exams were cancelled because I saved my friend’s sister from the chamber of secrets, a hidden chamber which contained a basilisk which the heir of Slytherin was using to purge the school of muggle-borns.”

   She frowned at him in disbelief, reluctant to slip gullibly into following such a fantastical tale.

   “I know it sounds a bit far-fetched; everyone thought that the chamber of secrets was just a legend until Voldemort possessed Ron’s sister.”

   “What!” she squawked and several startled shoppers turned to stare. She lowered her voice; “I thought he was, well, you know, gone.”

   April tried to remember if Dumbledore had said anything about what had happened to the wizard he'd briefly described: 'What remained of Lord Voldemort fled, the terror that had gripped the world loosened its hold.' Dumbledore had been quite clear that this self-appointed Lord had not died but he had said nothing that indicated that Voldemort could still be dangerous.

   “It was a memory of him, preserved in a diary,” Harry explained and he spent the rest of the afternoon explaining the story. By the time he had finished telling her about how Fawkes had saved him and what Dumbledore had said afterwards and how he had set Dobby free, the sun was sinking behind the eccentrically angled roves of Diagon Alley.

   “We should probably go back to the Leaky Cauldron” she said eventually, as the street slowly emptied and the owls began to flutter impatiently in their cages. TH late afternoon had a certain sweetness to it that she couldn't quite express. A state of happiness and whimsical hopes in which the existence of the past day acquired a dream-like quality.

   April cleared her throat in preparation for difficult speech; “Harry, did Dumbledore tell you about the quill and everything?” She had meant to ask about Sirius Black but the words couldn’t quite fit out of her mouth. He nodded in response.

   “He told me everything at the beginning of the first year, he made me promise not to tell the other students about you, he said it was all part of an agreement with Vernon and Petunia and he made me promise not to tell you the truth. He said that you would find out when the time came, but I still felt bad about you not knowing.”

   “Even if you had been allowed to tell you wouldn’t have got a chance, Petunia didn’t let us spend any time together last summer.”

   “That’s true,” he said slowly.

   “Is it all going to be published?” she asked “Dumbledore said that she wanted it to be published in the other world, imagine that, everyone knowing who you are without realising that they knew you” The idea seemed stupid and intriguing at the same time and ,for no real reason, they both started to laugh.

   As they traipsed through the wall into the yard at the back of the Leaky Cauldron, Sirius Black’s face glared down at them from another poster with haunted eyes. Closer up, April notice that the picture is moving, like a film-clip somehow retained within a piece of paper. Other people bustling through to the Leaky Cauldron barely noticed, perhaps it was normal for photos to move in this life.

   She found herself staring at the image, feeling shivers on her arms that had nothing to do with the steadily dropping sun. She watched, unmoving, as he shook at the chains on his arms and she looked around at Harry. He too was staring intently at the poster, his forehead crumpled so that the lightening scar was distorted. He caught her eye and smiled to disguise his frown “Scary, isn’t he – that Sirius Black person?”

   He said it quickly and uncomfortably but April only felt relieved.  Surely that meant that he already knew about Black and so she did not need to be the one to tell him.

 

 

 

   The holidays passed quickly and April couldn't quite decide whether she wanted them to or not. she could not remember ever having a holiday that she had enjoyed before. With the Dursleys, the holidays had been the worst time of year as she was unable to escape to school and so get away from Dudley’s bullying and her parents disapproval. In Diagon Alley where there was so much to see that it was interesting to simply sit beside Harry in front of the ice cream parlour and she was glad, for once, of the six week break. The weather was pretty-much unspoilt save for one rainy day which she spent in her room at the Leaky Cauldron chatting to Harry about Hogwarts and everything that had happened to him since he started there. Hogwarts seemed to her to be a place of unrivalled excitement and ludicrous systems which were so utterly unprecedented that the obvious dangers of the place could not deter her.

   On the second day, Harry helped me find a shop selling muggle clothes so that she had something to wear other than Dudley’s over-sized t-shirt and she left the shop with two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, and a hoody. Despite this one shop, the only people wearing muggle clothes in Diagon Alley were other Hogwarts students who clearly had a better grip than their parents on how to appear inconspicuous. She spotted three kilts and several dressing-gown-and-bowler-hat combinations among the older visitors.

   On the other days Harry did his homework, punctuated by regular free ice-creams and conversations with his friends who passed by. They all walked with a sense of confident purpose, heading to buy books and new robes in preparation for school. April became (at least partially) acquainted with Seamus Finnegan, an Irish boy with sandy hair, Neville somebody-or-other and his formidable-looking grandmother and Oliver Wood. The latter spent almost two hours talking to Harry about his Quidditch tactics for this year while April listened, confused, trying to grasp some understanding of what was, apparently, a very popular sport. A boy called Collin Creevey came rushing up to them as soon as he caught sight of Harry and insisted on taking about twenty photographs (including several of the basilisk scar on Harrys’ arm) before they managed to shake him off.

   Diagon Alley grew fuller as the holidays come to a close and the streets were so full of school children that people were constantly shouting greetings to Harry as they were swept past by the crowd. Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour became so busy that Mr Fortescue eventually said that he could not, regretfully, allow them to sit outside anymore as he needed space for his customers to queue.

   Although Diagon Alley was exciting, the end of the holidays could not come soon enough and, the closer September came, the more desperate April was to leave for Hogwarts. She spent most of the days sitting outside reading her school books. She was determined to get through 'A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot' before term started in case she succumbed to the sleep-inducing power of the ghost that Harry had described. It was more interesting than she anticipated and, aside from the bloody battles of goblins that Harry mentioned, she was fascinated by the way that muggle history tied in  with magical history. She was able make connections, unexplained events of the past shared dates with events of magical explanation. However, no matter how absorbing the history book was she could never read more than a few pages at a time before putting it aside and picking up the potions book. Something about the lists of ingredients, absurd instructions and fantastically properties printed on the parchment captivated her the way the self-stirring cauldron did. The inked words dragged her in and she found myself muttering some of the instructions aloud when she wasn't thinking.

   On the last day of the holidays Harry decided to go and have one last look at the Firebolt in Quality Quidditch Supplies before returning to pack in the afternoon. April went with him and he explained the rules of Quidditch as they walked.

   “There’s three chasers – ours are Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell and Alicia Spinnet – and one keeper – that’s Oliver, you’ve already met him.” She remembered the brown haired boy who talked so fanatically to Harry about his plans for the Quidditch season. She had never met anyone so obsessed with football in the muggle world and had felt a bit left out as she had  had no idea about any of it.

   “… have to get the quaffle through the three hoops at the opposite end of the pitch” So it was like a many hooped version of basketball, she decided. she could remember playing basketball once at school. she had been eight and had, for some unknown reason, been picked for the team. The goalkeeper had been at least ten years old and had towered over her. The older girl had clearly had a habit of tripping her opponents and she stuck her long legs out whenever April tried to run past. She had had the ball and had been trying to dribble up the court when the older girl had stepped in front. April had not since been able to explain what had happened; she could only remember feeling very angry and then suddenly being hung from the net with the ball falling through with victorious solidity. She had been reprimanded so badly for the incident that she had never played again. She did not, for that reason, have any particular inclination of enthuse over the introduction of a similar game.

   “… it’s this tiny little gold ball with wings..”

   They reached the shop and she copied the way that Harry and all the other students huddled longing around it in the hope that she wouldn't look out-of-place.

   It looked nice but she could only half understand their enthrallment, it was polished and smooth, without a twig out of line and she recalled how good it felt to ride that slightly warped, old, 1929 comet 140. All the same it was just a piece of wood, charmed to fly and with a huge price riding on it.

   It was nearly lunch time when they finally left and Harry tore himself away reluctantly. She knew her was thinking of his money bag, imagining asking for the price on request, and walking out of the shop as the owner of a Firebolt.

   “Harry, HARRY!” they both turned around outside the shop and peered into the glare of the sun where the dark silhouettes of two people could be seen, waving frantically from in front of the ice-cream parlour.

    “Come on” Harry said, his eyes losing their wistful look and filling with delight “It’s them!”

    Closer up April could see what they looked like – one was a tall, awkward and freckly boy with bright red hair and the other was a bushy haired girl smiling broadly and displaying rather large front teeth which contrast brightly with her tanned face. They were both holding bulging bags and were sagging slightly under the weight.

   “Finally!” said the boy, his face breaking into a grin “We went to the Leaky cauldron but they said you’d left, and we went to Florish and Blotts, and Madame Malkin’s, and…”

   “April and I got all our school stuff ages ago” Harry said.

   “April?” asked the boy thickly.

   Harry gestured towards her “She’s my younger cousin, I’m sorry I never told you, but it was all part of some secret arrangement between Dumbledore and my aunt and uncle. I don’t think Dumbledore was very happy about it but he’d promised them when she was born that nobody in our world would know about her and she wouldn’t know about them, unless she turned out magical.”

   There is an awkward silence which the girl broke by stepping forwards.

   “Hi, I’m Hermione Granger.” She smiled friendlily and seemed to deliberate over whether or not to give April a hug.

   “What?” asked the boy, “So you mean, she lived with you in the house, shut up, without knowing anything?”

   April nodded and said bitterly, “That’s right; my dear parents have kept me in the garden shed since I was six, and when Harry left for school I moved to the cupboard under the stairs. They told me that he went to some place for criminals and I believed it right up until Dumbledore came round.”

   “Bit of a nasty shock for them, Dumbledore turning up on their front doorstep!” said the boy with an incredulous grin, “he’s not exactly inconspicuous is he? I’m Ron by the way.”

   “That was awful of them” said Hermione firmly.

   April shrugged; they had done the same to Harry.

   “Did you really blow up your aunt, Harry?” Hermione asked eventually, sounding very serious. April laughed and so did Ron as Harry tried to explain that he didn’t mean to. His protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears and Hermione only looked slightly scandalised.

   “It’s not funny Ron. Honestly, I’m amazed Harry wasn’t expelled.”

   “So am I.” Harry admitted once the laughter had subsided “Forget expelled, I thought I was going to be arrested.” He glanced at Ron; “Your dad doesn’t know why he let me off, does he?”

   April’s confusion over why Ron’s dad might know anything was clearly apparent on her face as Hermione whispered her an explanation: “He works at the ministry.”

   April thought of the smartly dressed Minister that she had met on arrival arrived and all the wealthy muggle politicians she had seen on her parent’s TV set. She was, therefore, surprised that most of the books in Ron’s bag looked second hand and his clothes seemed surprisingly shabby.

   The family were all smiling broadly and they seemed somehow to fill the room, partly because of the number of them and partly due to the brightness that they seemed to emit. The whole family had hair that was the same shade as the fiery contents of the self-stirring cauldron. It was furiously orange and seemed to make April’s own dark red fade into blandness. The smallest member of the family was slightly taller than April and she was the only girl in the family. She was pretty and her long hair hung sleekly over a blue and white knitted jumper. This must be the girl that Harry saved from the Chamber of Secrets –his best friend’s little sister, April decided.

   The girl blushed red to match her hair when she saw Harry and shifted slightly behind Ron. Beside Ron, two identical boys with identical grins stood. They were around the same height as Ron but heavier built and older-looking. Behind them a taller boy stood with his chin slightly in the air and a badge glistening on his chest. A short round woman smiled proudly with her arm around him and rushed forward to hug Harry as soon as she clapped eyes on him. A tall, balding man stepped forward out of the shadows and turned to talk to Tom, what remained of his hair was the same vivid colour as the rest of his family’s.

   “Mrs Weasley, dear, pleasure to meet you.” Said the short woman, rushing to hug April as well. “Nice to meet you at last; Dumbledore sent an owl this morning to explain about you…er… sorry… er… it’s escaped me… I do apologise…” She looked over at Ron for help but he was busy talking to Harry and Hermione.

   “April,” she said eventually, cringing at the sound of her own name. It was a disgusting name; a blunt, yet somehow sickly, attempt at being pretty. Perhaps Mrs Weasley took her somewhat twisted expression as a look of disappointment over the forgotten name as she hugged her again, squeezing the air out of her.

   “Nice to meet you too” April responded breathlessly. She stepped back and studied the family, trying to remember why the name Weasley was familiar. To her right she could see the red-haired girl shrinking back into the pillars and trying desperately not to make eye contact with Harry. She remembered what Harry had said about last year, thinking that it must be awkward to owe someone your life.

   The oldest boy stepped forward and took Harry’s hand as though they were strangers. “Harry, how nice to see you.”

   April smirked as Harry replied through teeth which were gritted against laughter.“Hello, Percy”

   “I hope you are well,” Percy said in the same ridiculous manner before turning to April and shaking her hand in an equally self-important manner. A spasm of laughter exploded out of her mouth. The twins seemed to notice and they ran forward, elbowing Percy out of the way.

   “Harry, how simply splendid to see you, old boy-”

   “Marvellous” said the other pushing him aside and grabbing Harry’s arm, “Absolutely spiffing.”

   “That’s enough, now” Mrs Weasley cut in warningly.

   “Mum!” the first twin exclaimed “How really corking to see you-”

   “That’s enough,” Mrs Weasley repeated before taking the girl’s bag off her and dumping it with her own on a chair.

   She turned to April and Harry, fit to bursting with pride “I suppose you’ve heard” she said gesturing towards Percy “Second Head Boy in the family.” April followed Harry’s gaze to the glinting, silver badge on his chest.

   “And the last” muttered one of the twins.

   “I don’t doubt that, I notice you two haven’t been made prefects” Mrs Weasley frowned, picking up a disapproving tone once more.

   “What would we want to be prefects for?” said the other twin, looking revolted at the very idea “it’d take all the fun out of life.”

   Their younger sister caught April’s eye and laughed.

   For the first time in her life, April was with a family that actually loved each other and, what’s more, seemed to have plenty of love left over for other people. Although Percy lacked humour and Mrs Weasley reprimanded the twins’ misconduct, their sister, despite shyness, seemed friendly and potentially funny.  From what April had gathered both from Harry’s stories and from speaking to him, Ron was neither stupid nor clever. He was quietly funny and fiercely loyal. The twins were hilarious to her and, perhaps because she had spent her life with a family whose idea of fun was tormenting her, it was the first time that she realised how much she appreciated jokes and laughter.

   “Ginny has other brothers to set her an example, Mum” Percy said in a supercilious voice and disappeared up the stairs. April rolled her eyes; he was not unpleasant but you’d have thought that even the Minister himself would be less formal and superior with his own family.

   “When we were in Egypt-” one of the twins muttered into her ear.

   “We tried to shut him in a pyramid-” said the other.

   “But mum caught us.”

   April laughed.

   In the whole of her stay at the Leaky Cauldron April had eaten with Harry in the bar, surrounded by fumes from different pipes and the chatter of witches and wizards socialising over a glass of Firewhisky. With the Weasleys, Tom gave them a whole side-room to themselves and served up five courses of delicious food.
   Despite her initial hunger, April was forced to give up on the later stages of the meal as she had not eaten so excessively in her life. The sight of it endlessly filling the plates began to make her feel ill.

   The Weasleys were relaxed and they spoke in small groups all along the long table. Hermione and the Ginny – the red-headed girl – were exchanging stories from their holiday. Having spent her time at Diagon Alley she had half forgotten that people went away in the summer. Hermione had been in the south of France near the sea with her non-magical parents (dentists) and Ginny told Hermione about the Egyptian tombs she’d visited. Hermione looked envious at the history exposure.

   Ron, his dad, the twins and Harry were laughing very loudly about something while Mrs Weasley leant back in her chair, too drowsy from the feast to rebuke them. Percy was sitting uncomfortably in his chair, trying to make small talk about the price of cauldrons, April had very little to say about it but thankfully he seemed content when she nodded and smiled absent-mindedly to all his suggestions. She decided that Percy was not a particularly demanding orator – he simply needed to have something to talk to and his lecture would commence.

   “How are we getting to Kings Cross tomorrow, Dad?” asked one of the twins. She decided that she needed to be able to tell them apart. The one who had just spoken had a marginally smaller nose but they were otherwise identical to the last freckle.

   “The ministry’s providing a couple of cars.” The Weasley family looked at him in surprise but, to April, the idea was not improbable – there must, after all, have been some benefits to working at the Ministry. What surprised her more was the idea that all ten of them, with trunks, bags and animal cages would be able to fit into two cars.

   “Why?” Percy inquired.

   “It’s because of you, Perce” said the larger-nosed twin with feigned seriousness, “And there’ll be little flags on the bonnets with HB on them-”
   “-For Humungous Big-head” said the other twin. The table erupted in laughter, although Percy and Mrs Weasley sat stony-faced.

   “Why are the Ministry providing cars, Father” Percy said primly after the laughter has died down.

   “Well as we haven’t got one anymore,” the balding man faltered “and as I work there, they’re doing me a favour.” Percy seemed satisfied but April noticed that Harry was watching Mr Weasley closely and she knew that he had noticed how uncomfortable Mr Weasley looked.

   “Good job too,” Mrs Weasley said smartly. “Do you realise how much luggage you’ve got between you? A nice sight you’d be on the muggle Underground.” She paused as though to catch her breath before continuing “You are all packed, aren’t you?”

   “Ron hasn’t put all his new things in his trunk yet” said Percy in a long-suffering voice. “He’s dumped them on my bed.”

   Ron scowled and Mrs Weasley told him to go and pack properly. He made a big thing out of thumping down his glass of pumpkin juice and stomping upstairs. For a moment, April was reminded forcibly of Dudley being told he had to miss a TV programme. The twins looked at each other and grinned identical grins before following in synchronisation.

   After a while Ginny and Hermione went to find Crookshanks, Hermione’s recently acquired cat, and Percy followed them up, no doubt to finish polishing his already spotless badge. April remained seated awkwardly, unsure whether to leave. The chair was comfortable and in the dim light she could feel her eyes shutting. She had no particular desire to leave the cosy side room but when Harry got up from the table, she forced herself to follow him.

   They split at the top of the stairs and Harry headed off towards the sound of Percy and Ron arguing loudly. She could not make out what they were saying but Percy’s voice sounded extremely strained.

   “Pst.” Said a voice to her left and she turned around. The twins were leaning against the wall laughing. She walked over to join them.

   “I love it when Percy’s mad.” Said one gleefully, holding out the shiny badge that Percy was wearing that afternoon.

   “We’ve been improving it,” said the other. It now read Bighead Boy and April smiled; it was not inventive or clever but it was funny and humour was something that her life had severely lacked for the past four years.

   “Poor ickle Ronnie-kins, sounds like he’s getting the blame,” one said as the shouting grew in volume.

   “Anyway” said the other “We didn’t get a proper introduction earlier; he’s Gred-”

   “-And he’s Forge.”

   “If you want to tell us apart, I’m the better looking one.” They said in unison.

    “Thanks guys. I’ll keep that in mind,” April replied. She noticed Harry at the top of the stairs and walked over. “Where’re you going?” she asked.

   “To find Ron’s rat tonic; Percy won’t let him go till he’s found his badge.” He says and disappears into the dimly lit bar.

   Gred, Forge and April all laughed, quietly at first and then louder until an irritable looking witch, who was the height of a seven-year-old and dressed in a fluffy yellow dressing-gown, threw open her door. She yelled out “In Merlin’s name, if you don’t shut up, I’ll hex your ears off,” before slamming the door behind her so hard that it rattled on its hinges.

   “What a pleasant woman” April muttered quietly “Same sense of humour as my mother.”

They stifled their laughter and the twin who had titled himself as Gred returned his attention to the badge, adding lots of little HBs around the edge of the lettering.

   “We have met once before anyway” said Forge

   “But I don’t think you met us.”

   “Yeah, last summer, we went to get Harry’s trunk-”

   “-You were in the cupboard.”

   “We had no idea you existed-”

   “Harry said that we couldn’t tell anyone-”

   “-Dumbledore had made him swear-”

   “-So we had to forget we’d seen you.”

   She looked at them in surprise; she had never really considered the absence of Harry’s trunk since the morning that she had woken up to Vernon’s swearing and had found it gone.

   “H-” she began but broke off at the sound of approaching footsteps. Harry was coming back up the stairs, his face ashen. Gred and Forge, wrapped up in their success, and hysteria at the sound of Percy dismantling his bedroom didn’t seem to notice.

    “We’ve got it” Gred whispered, “We’ve been improving it.”

   They flashed the badge in front of his face and failed to see through his forced grin.

   April, loosing interest in the joke, jumped up and followed him down the corridor. He handed the rat tonic to Ron who was looking on in despair as Percy strode about the room, lifting things up and down with aggressive frenzy. This done, he swung through his bedroom door.

   April sat down on the bed looking around herself. It was a very similar bedroom to her own aside from a large mirror which hung in place of the portrait she had in hers.

   “What’s wrong?” She asked.

   “Nothing” he replied quickly, pushing his trunk slightly closer to the door.

   “I’m not an idiot Harry; you look worse than Vernon did when he saw Dumbledore.”

   “Look, it doesn’t matter.” He said turning round and glaring at her. His face was violently angry but underneath the rage she could see his fear.

   “Ok, so this is what I’ve got: you go down stairs to look for rat tonic; you come back ten minutes later looking like you’re going to throw up. The twins show you the badge and you pretend to find it funny but you are actually so worried about something else that you couldn’t care less. Then you hand the rat tonic to your best mate, you barely look at him and you don’t find it at all funny that his brother is practically ripping up the skirting boards. I might not know you that well, thanks to my parents, but I know you well enough to know that you saw or found or heard something pretty disturbing down in the bar.”

   He looked at her in resignation and she wondered what could possibly have happened to make his skin look the colour of porridge.

   "You know Sirius Black,” He said and her heart sped up. She could imagine that deranged man running through the bar, firing curses at Tom and Mr and Mrs Weasley…

   “He’s after me.” Harry said looking down at his hands. April only stared tactlessly at him. She was, despite herself, confused by the anti-climactic statement. She had thought he knew about Sirius Black, he’d recognised him on the wanted posters, after all.

   “Well of course he is,” she said “I thought you knew.”

   He looked at her in surprise. “Dumbledore was mad at Vernon and Petunia for letting you go, that night you blew Marge up – he was scared that Sirius Black might get you while you were out all alone.” She explained “I didn’t know if you knew, but after you recognised him on the wanted posters I guessed that you must know, so I thought that I didn’t need to tell you.”

   “I only recognised him because everyone was talking about him, I didn’t know that he was looking for me.” he paused looking scared and annoyed and confused at the same time “I overheard Mr and Mrs Weasley arguing over whether to tell me or not” He said and flops down on his bed.

    “See you tomorrow” she called as she left the room.

   An hour ago they had been downstairs, full, tired, and laughing about a Humungous Bighead. Now her mouth tasted sour from the rich food and she couldn’t get Harry’s pale face out of her head. As she retraced her steps down the corridor to her room she found Crookshanks sitting where the twins had been. The cat was batting a silver badge around on the green and blue patterned carpet. April tried to retrieve it from him but he hissed and pawed at his new-found toy. Percy stumbled out of his room looking frantic followed by Ron who looked extremely fed up.

   “Crookshanks has got it,” she said sweetly. “I just found him playing with it here.” Percy scooped it up and re-pinned it to his chest so hurriedly that he failed to notice the additional three letters laced onto the beginning of his title. Ron, on the other hand, caught her eye and smirked.

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