Chapter 1: Earth
"Once upon a time..." - Countless Fairy Tales
The Sun beat down on the back of his neck with the force of a hammer. Sweat was running in tiny streams, trickling down his back and following the contours of his spinal cord. This was a day that you expected people to be outside on; rare for England, the temperature was in high twenties, and though this may be nothing to most countries, the English are utterly unused to this heat.
However, this was not a day you expected to be working on - unless, perhaps, you had a drink or fan at hand. Harry Potter had, unfortunately, neither of these.
Harry James Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, orphan of 14 years of age, did however have ownership of something that most people did not; magic. At age one, Harry's parents - James and Lily Potter - were murdered by the worst feared Dark Lord in several centuries - Lord Voldemort. However, when he turned his wand on Harry, the Killing Curse backfired, pushing Voldemort out of his own body and leaving Harry alive.
Sent to his magic-hating relatives, Aunt Petunia and her husband Vernon, and their hippopotamus sized son Dudley, Harry grew up unknowing of his magical parents and powers, and it was only on his eleventh birthday that a half-giant named Hagrid introduced him to the hidden world of Wizardry, and the British institution of arcane learning: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
There, Harry was placed into the house Gryffindor and met his two best friends Ron and Hermione; as well as his rival, Draco Malfoy, placed in Slytherin. In Harry's first year, he had prevented Voldemort from regaining his body by retrieving the Philosopher's Stone; in his second, he had destroyed a Basilisk in Slytherin's hidden Chamber of Secrets and rescued Ron's little sister Ginny.
His third year back was no less exciting. The supposed murderer, Sirius Black turned out to be Harry's Godfather, framed by one of Voldemort's followers, the Death Eaters. Harry's fourth year was perhaps the most dangerous; Harry was entered in the Triwizard Tournament, a competition where he had to pass a dragon, dive to the bottom of the Hogwarts lake, and make his way round a maze to the Goblet of Fire, the champion's cup. However, the goblet was turned into a Portkey, an item that took him to Voldemort.
There, Harry's newly made friend, Cedric Diggory, was killed, and Voldemort was reborn using Harry's blood. With the belief that he had helped the Dark Lord regain his strength, Harry returned to his relative's house for the Summer holidays, where he was worked harder than ever; though there were some more advantages to this Summer than the previous years - the Dursleys were so afraid of magic since the Ton-Tongue Toffee, that they allowed Harry to take his school-books out for a few hours a day to do his homework, and his owl, Hedwig, was allowed to have her cage unlocked as long as she kept quiet and behaved.
At the moment, he was planting various vegetables and a small fruit tree at the bottom of the garden. It was one of the Dursley's vain attempts to get their son thin enough to fit into the school uniforms - the school nurse had decided that the huge boy would be more likely to eat healthily if he 'took a pride in the knowledge that he helped grow his food', which meant giving up some of the garden to cultivate what Vernon called 'rabbit food'. Of course, as Harry had oft pointed out and the Dursley's had oft ignored, Dudley wouldn't even help grow the food, instead delegating the job to Harry, so it was quite pointless.
After patting down the earth around the apple tree and sitting back to admire his work, Harry sighed and ran a hand through his messy black hair, grimacing when he remembered the dirt caked on his fingers.
"BOY!" a voice shrieked suddenly. "GET INSIDE, NOW!"
Harry dragged himself to his feet and trudged in exhaustion back to the house. Aunt Petunia glared at him as he entered the kitchen, surveying the dirt trailing from his shoes and soil crumbling from his hair.
"Take yourself upstairs for a shower, and get yourself cleaned up." she snapped at him, turning back to her cooking. "Vernon's bringing one of his friends home today, so I want everything looking respectable - not that it's possible for you." she added as an afterthought.
Harry scowled at her behind his back. Personally, he was amazed that Uncle Vernon even had friends; the man found fault with everyone but himself, his wife and his son, who in his eyes could do no wrong. The boy showered quickly and dressed in his best clothes (owned by Dudley when he was eight, so they fit quite well) and sat in his room. Ten minutes later, there was a screech from his Aunt, demanding to know why he wasn't down. Harry shook his head in surprise. He was wanted downstairs?
"Of course you are." sniffed the woman in disgust after he had made his way to her and voiced his amazement. "Who do you think is going to serve the Rowles? Now, comb your hair and bring me the best wine glasses."
And that was the end of it.
The visit could have been unimportant. Nothing could have come of it, and the memory would drift away from Harry later that year as a perfectly normal event, not worth lingering on. However, fate has a funny way of making insignificant occurrences turn into coincidences; and coincidences into life-changing events. This, for Harry, was one of those times.
Mr Rowles was a tall, quite slim man, with a ready smile, slightly greying dark hair and chestnut eyes. His wife was slightly shorter, with light green eyes, pale skin and mousy-brown hair tied into a pony-tail. She smiled a little uncertainly, but it appeared to be shyness rather than regret of coming.
Dudley was proudly introduced to the couple, who was met with obviously fake cries of 'Isn't he handsome!' and 'What a gentleman!'. No-one seemed to notice these were lies except for Harry, who grinned back when he was winked at by Mr Rowles while the Dursleys turned to greet his wife. The lunch was excellent, and they were halfway through when the subject of discussion turned to books.
"I tend to like the less-well known literature." Mrs Rowles, who had grown in confidence as the meal progressed, announced. "Some books are so well known and well read that their views have just been accepted as commonplace. I find that some of the best books are those that are hardly heard of, and offer new and more in-depth theories."
Petunia, who didn't understand this, nodded agreeably and offered some more of the pie. Dudley scrunched his face up as he tried to work out the meaning of the word 'literature', and Vernon, the only one besides Harry and Mr Rowles who had understood her, swallowed his mouthful of apple pie and asked; "Is that why you set up your bookshop then? To find as many of these unknown books as you can?"
Dudley gave up on his puzzlement in light of this fact, and stared at Mrs Rowles. "You have a bookshop?" he asked, half-interested, half-amazed that anyone in their right minds could like books. Harry had the strangest feeling - just a few hairs standing up on the back of his neck, a shiver up the spine from a tingle of electricity - that something seemingly unimportant, but crucial was about to happen.
"Oh, yes," Mrs Rowles said, smiling. "It's a second-hand book store, and I only take rare or uncommon books; I have some that are over a hundred years old."
The prickle of anticipation grew stronger as Petunia asked, "Where is your shop?"
"In London," Mrs Rowles replied, "It's called Toriceso Books." As she said this, the shiver creeping up and down Harry's spine vanished, just as suddenly as it had appeared.
Before he could ask anything about it however, the topic changed to the latest news, and Harry was left unsure of what had just happened.
On July 30th, a day before Harry's birthday, he received a letter from his friend Ron. The battered owl Errol delivered it, and had arrived through the window only half-alive. Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl, immediately moved over in her cage, so the other could get some food and rest.
Harry opened the envelope and quickly read through.
Harry! it read in an untidy scrawl,
How are you? Things are great over here, and Fred and George have been quieter than usual. Mum says it's the 'calm before the storm', but I hope she's wrong; she's expecting us to turn into ducks any minute. Percy's been promoted to second-in-charge at the Department of International Magical Co-operation, so he's been a bit more pompous than usual - and that's about it. Hopefully this calm will last into the school year! Anyway, I'd best get on to the important bit. Mum and Dad want to take you out for your birthday tomorrow, to Diagon Alley. Then we can get our school stuff, and you can get whatever you want with any money you get.
Hermione won't come though, because she's in Bulgaria with Krum, so she's ordering her school supplies through owl mail. I've sent her a letter with Pig because he's faster; I hope Errol managed to get this to you before your birthday!
If you can come tomorrow, we'll be Apparating down the road and then coming up to collect you at about eleven o'clock in the morning. Mum and Dad want you to wear Muggle clothes underneath your robes, but they're not saying why. I think it's a surprise.
If you can't come, we're picking you up anyway, so never mind.
P.S: We'll give you your presents in Diagon Alley, rather than send them to you, so don't be worried if you don't get them tomorrow!
Harry reread the letter, smiling. This was the best news he'd received all holiday, even if Hermione wouldn't be there. He let Errol, who was looking better, out of the cage: the bird hooted thankfully, but Harry blocked the window. "I've just got to ask Uncle Vernon something, and then I need you to take a reply back." he informed it. Errol looked at him annoyed, and then settled down on the bedpost. "Thanks," Harry said thankfully, and raced downstairs.
The permission was easy to get; the Dursley's were only disappointed that he wouldn't be away for the rest of the holidays. "Bit short notice, though." Vernon grunted as he turned the page of the local newspaper, "Damned rude of them. You could be painting the fence tomorrow for all they know." With that, Harry left as quickly as possible, before his uncle decided that he would be painting the fence.
Ron, he replied,
They say it's okay, so I'll have my stuff ready. Muggle clothes? That's unusual; don't you even have a hint of what they're up to? By the way, I think Fred and George are planning something big, ('The shop probably,' Harry thought, grinning) but not necessarily pranks on you. Don't ask how I know, because I'm not telling you.
I hope you're not annoyed about Krum and Hermione!
See you tomorrow,
Harry was woken the next morning by the rush of birds through his window, and a fierce pain in his head - although that vanished a few seconds later. He had started leaving it open on his birthdays, so that the birds wouldn't have to wait to get through. The clock on his bedside table read 12:01 AM; he had been fifteen for a whole minute.
There was no sign of any of the Weasley's owls in the flock of them, Harry noticed, as he set to work untying the cords around their legs that held letters, and taking the parcels off them.
One parcel was surprisingly large and heavy, and pulled the four owls carrying it down with its weight; when taken off, the bird perched upright before taking to the air and flapping outside into the night with the others. Hedwig watched them go hungrily, before Harry unlatched her cage and let her fly outside.
Leaving the presents aside, Harry took the first envelope and opened it.
Happy birthday! Since in all the letters you've written to me this holiday, you've never mentioned the Dursleys, I suppose things are still all right over there. Are you going to Diagon Alley with Ron? He says you need Muggle clothes, though for what reason, I can't guess. As you know, I'm in Bulgaria, staying with Viktor. Apart from the cold, it's amazing; did you the Bulgarians of 1300 AD had their own branch of religion and magic? They even believed it came from their gods!
Anyway, as I said before, happy birthday, and I'll see you at school.
P.S: The owl that delivered this is Viktor's. He's letting me borrow him until I get my own; I'm hoping for a Great-Horned owl; they're quite cheap over here, but I'll buy a cage in Hogsmeade when we go on a trip - the cages are really badly made in Bulgaria.
P.P.S: I'm a Prefect!
Harry laughed at her enthusiasm about being a Prefect, and opened her presents. Three objects fell out. The first was a thick book, entitled 'The Ultimate Dictionary of Quidditch'. Harry spent half a minute just admiring the glossy cover, which showed the cups of each continent's league. Remembering there were many more to look at, Harry put it aside and looked at the second book, 'Ancient Bulgarian Magic; The Gift from the Heavens', which explained the ancient Bulgarian beliefs. It appeared that around 1300, they had started a magical religion, comprising tens of gods and goddesses, believing they were chosen by them to wield magic.
Harry had to admit, it did seem fascinating. The third gift from Hermione was considerably smaller; a chain of white leather, with a piece of marble as the pendant. The marble was formed into the shape of a three inch high, beautiful woman, with flowing hair down to her waist. It was carved in minute detail; Harry could even see tiny indentations where her eyes where. She wore a long dress, and an elaborate crown; in her left hand she held a sword, of which the blade was slightly curved, as if made out of a fang, and in her right she held an intricately decorated sceptre, on top of which was a carved flame.
What drew Harry's eyes, however, was that she had dragon-like wings coming out of her back; but on this woman they seemed gentle and curved, rather than jagged and brutal.
"Incredible," Harry gasped, astounded. A note from Hermione, attached to the chain, informed him that this was Y'Laagrondd, supposedly (in Bulgarian Wizards' myth) the Empress of the dragons, which Hermione had found in a curiosity shop. Determining to read about her in the book when he got the time, Harry put the necklace on. The marble was cool against his skin and the leather sat as if it were made for him, not digging in or slipping loose.
Silently thanking Hermione, he moved on. Hagrid's letter was short, wishing him a happy birthday, asking him how he was and informing him that since he wouldn't be back during the first term (due to 'secret business') Professor Grubbly-Planks would be returning. Harry's face fell a bit, but he felt glad when Hagrid proudly informed him that Madame Maxime and he were engaged; although Harry wasn't quite sure whether he'd be as pleased if they were to have children; they'd be enormous.
Hagrid's gifts were some cakes, although they were surprisingly edible, and actually quite delicious. He had a feeling Madame Maxime had been involved in their baking.
Sirius' letter had the same greetings, but this time informed Harry that he wouldn't be able to write as often, since he was doing some important jobs for Dumbledore. Harry felt disappointed at that, but cheered up when he saw the presents; two more books, 'The Marauders Guide to Mischief-Making' (which not only gave ideas for pranks and listed secret-passageways and passwords in Hogwarts, but told stories of ones the Marauders had tried, and their consequences) and 'Rare Powers and Extinct Abilities', which included information on Parseltongues, and twenty Galleons.
There was only one envelope now, and one parcel; the extremely large one. Opening the envelope, Harry read through. It was typical Hogwarts fare; welcome back, a notice about O.W.Ls, and so on. Between these and the lists of equipment however, Harry was startled to read,
'Students of fifth year and above also have choice whether to take another class for O.W.Ls. This year, the class is Magical Languages, taught by Professor Clayton. If you wish to take part, please see the additional list.'.
Harry quickly read through what he would need for the year ahead;
Students will need: it declared,
Three pairs of black cotton robes (house shield optional)
One pair of dress robes (if old robes no longer fit; otherwise old robes will do)
One pair of dragonhide gloves
One pair of dragonhide boots
One pair of sensible school shoes (if old shoes no longer fit; otherwise old shoes will do)
One dress cloak (silver or brass fastenings)
Students will need: it then repeated,
The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 5) by Bathilda Bagshot
Battle with a Basilisk by Gilderoy Lockhart
Animals, Beasts and Creatures; The ABC Guide by Grucia Gallswick
Advanced History of the Magical Worldby Quentin Binns
Within the Mind, Beyond the Sight by Clarissa Cleptic
Taking O.W.Ls; the Quick Way to an Early Grave by Zachariah Pessamyst
Cursed: Werewolves, Vampires and other Once-Humans by Arasmus Attlepot
The Elegant Universe by Marsha Minnow
Apprentice Masters' Potions by Severus Snape
If you are interested in taking Magical Languages:
So You Want To Speak Mermish? by Jeremiah Judger
Pictures in the Mind by Talia Tripeskin
Phoenix Communication; The Purest of them All by Phoebe Phoernicle
Harry nearly choked at the amount of information that the Magical Languages class expected to learn. To learn Mermish and the Phoenix language in one year? And he didn't have a clue what language the second one was about. He hesitated for a moment; it did sound hard, but it also sounded - as Hermione would put it - fascinating.
Deciding he'd check the prices of the books in Diagon Alley, Harry put it down and turned to the last package. It was huge, and Harry wondered how it had got through the window, before he realised that there must be a charm on it's packaging. It was rectangular, and wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine. Harry undid it and pulled the paper open. It was a large chest, with five key holes going across its front.
It was made of chestnut, with gold for the keyholes; Harry recognised it instantly. It was one of the same chests that the fake Moody had the year before. Lifting the lid, Harry found it to be unlocked; the first compartment was quite small - perhaps as deep as a large drawer. Inside was a golden hoop with a key of the same material on it, and a thick letter. Harry, still amazed by the chest, lifted the letter out and slit the envelope open. There was another envelope inside it, but Harry read through the piece of paper that was also contained within.
This trunk and the items inside were left to you in trust by your parents until you were seventeen, unless your parents were deceased before then; in which case it was to be given to you on your fifteenth birthday. As the requirement has been fulfilled, this is your trust fund.
With that, Harry rushed to open the other envelope. It had on it a seal; what Harry realised was the Potter crest. It was of a green dragon breathing silver flames upwards; and from the flames came a magnificent red and gold Phoenix, wings spread. On the left it read 'From The Ashes' and on the right, 'We Shall Rise'.
Harry's hands trembled as he opened the second envelope, knowing that it was from his parents. He forced himself to stop quivering as he pried the letter from inside, and slowly read.
As you are reading this, it means that James and I are dead. I have no way of knowing whether it happened recently, or many years ago, but I can say that we are sorry for having left you, and that we love you with all our souls.
Your father and I knew that Voldemort had a spy within our circle of friends - perhaps our deaths were because of him, or perhaps we were not even killed by Voldemort - and we took refuge in James' childhood home of Godrics Hollow, where I write this letter now. If all is going to plan, you went to live with Sirius, and will be going to start your fifth year at Hogwarts.
This year, I can safely say, will be different from your other years. It will be dangerous (Harry smiled at this; if only his parents knew what danger he had faced the previous years) and you will learn many new, important things.
There have been a lot of secrets kept from you, which I cannot apologise enough for, and until the right time, all I can say is that you are possibly the most unique, special child to walk the planet; and a great destiny is planned for you, as well as you being planned for destiny. Remember that though it may appear that nothing is what it seems, mine and your father's love for you is as real as you ever thought, and we send you this inheritance to help you through the coming year and beyond.
With all our love, your mother and father,
Lily Evans-Potter and James Potter
Harry put the letter back in the envelope and closed it over; it sealed as though it had never been opened.
Then he gently put the envelope back in the first section of the chest, his mind awhirl with thoughts. What secrets could have been kept from him? Why Voldemort had wanted to kill the Potters? That seemed likely, but it was only one secret, and Lily had said 'secrets' - plural. Shaking his head, Harry forced it out of his mind. If he were going find out the answers this year, why worry about the questions? He thought about the next sentence; the most unique, special child - a great destiny - what could she mean by that?
Harry wiped this thought from his mind as well, and took the key from the compartment. He locked the first section closed, and moved on to the second. This was about five times as deep as the last one, and filled (as far as he could see) with small, black boxes, like jewellery boxes. Each one had an elegant white number written on it, and they were packed in twelves across and eights down.
Curious, Harry picked out the first, which had a slim '1' on the lid, and pulled it open. The hinge slid easily and silently, revealing a white silk interior with -
A black key, the white number 1 engraved into it, as though it were made in white and coated in black.
Feeling a sudden chill, Harry closed it and put it back as quickly as possible. He checked the next one; the same, but for the number two instead. About two-hundred keys, numbered and set out carefully? He wondered as to what they were for as he locked them away and tried unlocking and opening the third.
There were no keys or cases in this part; instead there sat a large pile of papers at the bottom of a compartment as large as the previous. Harry flicked through them; they were important looking documents, and so they should be - they were deeds to various houses. The first was for Godrics Hollow, which Harry realised was the now-destroyed house that Voldemort had killed his parents in. The second was the 'Potter Estate' deed, which Harry had never heard of; and there were various others - ones which had no names, only addresses; cottages; there were even some studio apartments in Florida, London, Paris, Cairo, New York...
Harry almost threw the papers back into the chest. What the heck was going on! Why would his parents have had homes across the world, and why had no-one told him? It had to be a joke. Had to. But Harry knew that it wasn't; this must be part of the secret, he realised despondently.
The fourth compartment was extremely deep, but also empty; the fifth was just as deep, but empty as well.
Harry sat before it in silence for a few minutes, his mind blank, before snapping suddenly back to reality when Dudley snored loud enough to be heard through the wall.
He set his gifts out in the chest, putting the money in the first compartment, and locked it, putting the key in his bedside drawer. Then he crawled back in bed and fell asleep almost immediately.
The morning, though there was really plenty of time to prepare for the Weasleys, was a rush to get ready. Harry was allowed to put his school-equipment into the trunk (after a few promises involving the dirty garage and a lot of cleaning equipment), and he wore the same Muggle clothes with the guests over a week before, carrying his robes folded under his arm.
The Weasleys arrived right on time; just a few seconds past eleven, the doorbell rang, and a muffled voice beyond it could be heard exclaiming loudly how ingenious it was to make miniature button to alert occupants of visitors. Dudley, upon hearing the bell, turned pale, gave a loud squeak and fled for the safety of upstairs.
Petunia suddenly found a reason to go into the back garden, and Vernon turned a pale green and swallowed hard, as if steeling himself to meet people who used the dreaded 'M-word'.
While all this was going on, Harry leapt from where he was waiting and pulled open the door. Mr and Mrs Weasley, dressed in Muggle clothes, beamed at him, Molly's smile a little forced as she tried to pry her husband away from ringing the bell again. Vernon quickly took a step back towards the kitchen. "Well-it's-very-nice-to-see-you-here's-Harry-don't-want-to-keep-you-so-goodbye-feel-free-to-stay-out-as-long-as-you-want-so-long." he speedily informed them; then rushed forwards and manhandled Harry out the door, before slamming it behind him.
There was a brief moment of silence. "Hello." said Harry cheerfully. "I suppose everyone else is meeting us in Diagon Alley, then?"
Ron finished his sundae (the chocolate and whipped cream 'Excalibur' special) and continued his rant to Harry. "And then you're getting your presents, and then Mum and Dad said we're going to get changed into Muggle clothes in the Leaky Cauldron back room, but she didn't say why."
"Maybe we're going into Muggle London?" Harry suggested lazily as he flicked through a leaflet a Witch had pushed into his hands - 'Madame Malkins Half-Price Sale!' it declared in bold writing.
Ron frowned. "Good idea, but I dunno; why would be going out there? Not for very long, surely."
"Are you two eating ice-creams?" came a shocked but authoritative voice. The two boys turned around and Ron groaned quietly. "Hello Percy," said Harry politely as the elder boy took a seat between the two.
"You are eating ice-creams." Percy declared in horror to the world.
"No, they're just very good illusions." Ron said coldly. "What do you want?"
"To tell you that you shouldn't be eating too much," Percy scowled. "We're going to dinner later - and it's special one." he emphasised before, getting up and stalking away.
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Well, I think he just spoiled Mum and Dad's surprise." he mused to Harry. "Well, Mum's getting our books, and we have three hours until we meet up at Gringotts; where do you want to go?"
The next two hours were a delightful blur to Harry; they drooled over the latest brooms in Quality Quidditch Supplies, Ron clasped his new dress robes (courtesy of Fred and George) proudly, they searched for interesting books in the many book shops along the Alley (leaving Flourish and Blotts, which had a huge crowd), they sampled some new chocolates in the small London branch of Honeydukes (though Harry insisted they not eat too much, for he didn't want to disappoint Mrs Weasley at the meal by not eating anything) until finally they left a small magical jewellery shop to find that next door to it was a long, dark alley. Harry recognised the sign on the wall instantly.
"Ron," he said, grabbing him before the other boy could move on to the next shop, "Look! It's Knockturn Alley." At this, Ron turned to stare in fascination down the depths of the path. "Could we go in?" he pleaded, "just for a quick look around?"
Harry licked his lips. "I think we should stay in Diagon Alley." he said warily, but Ron groaned loudly. "No-one's around to see us go in, and why bother pointing it out if you don't want to?" he pointed out. "We won't be much longer than a few minutes."
Harry gave in to the persuasion. "Fine." he agreed, as he smoothed his fringe down over his scar. "But only for a while."
"Right, right." said Ron, obviously not listening, and dragged Harry to his first willing steps down the Alley.
Facing the opposite direction to Diagon Alley, it meant the street was bathed in shadows, and the narrow path was in a state of mild disrepair. The first shop they came across was a potion ingredient shop, which they shied nervously away from when they saw dead owls hanging upside down through the window.
The next few shops were nearly as gruesome, but Ron was only too happy to go into the fourth one along; a second-hand shop full of various Dark goods, large and small.
"Look at this one!" Ron gasped peering into a dusty glass case containing a swirling black ball of mist, which hammered at the glass as it tried to escape. The price card set it as sixty Galleons.
Harry nervously went as far as he could from it, and soon found himself out of the glaring gaze of the shop-keeper, and surrounded by dusty, dirty shelves full of stock that he was doubtful of being able to buy in Diagon Alley. A skull, cobwebs in its sockets, grinned up at him and a book pulled at its chain and snapped its cover at him.
A moment after he'd decided that it would probably be best to just get out, a gleam of white in the murky gloom caught his eye. He turned back to it, and saw another glimpse of it. Pushing aside a ceremonial dagger and a bag of tiny, transparent spheres in his curiosity, he found what it was.
A simple, white, rose ring.
Not white entirely; the ring was white gold, with silver running in random swirls around it, delicate and detailed. On it was set a white, unidentifiable material, made into the shape of a closed-over rose, each petal apparently hand engraved, the tiny wrinkles and folds carved in so that the white rose appeared soft and real.
Harry picked it up gently and felt a tiny quiver run through his index finger. Complying with the urge he felt, he slipped it on; it fit perfectly.
"What've you found?" Ron nearly yelled, suddenly appearing over Harry's shoulder. Harry jumped in shock, knocking the bag of spheres in his fright. It opened and a few rolled over the table; Harry grabbed some and stuffed them back into the bag. "Will you please stop sneaking up on me?" Harry hissed, closing the bag over again. "Are you buying anything?" he asked, seeing Ron holding something in his left hand.
"Yeah, this," said Ron, opening his clenched fist and showing Harry the contents. He was holding what appeared to be a normal eraser. "It's a Concealer." he announced proudly. "Just rub it over some words and they'll disappear. You can't see them again without a Revealer, and I got one of them last year. What've you got?"
"It's just a really nice ring I found," Harry said carelessly, as he moved to pull it off his finger. He frowned. "It's stuck!" He pulled a little harder, and then started trying to twist it round. It didn't even move a millimetre.
Ron's face went pale. "Maybe it's a cursed ring, and it saps the life force of anyone it gets attached to!" he gasped in horror, which didn't give Harry much relief. "Let's just ask the shop-keeper." Harry relented almost immediately. After all, what kind of idiot would sell something in their shop without knowing what it was?
It turned out to be the same kind of idiot that was running the shop they were in. He took a final look at it, squinting through nastily sparkling eyes, and tapped the ring with his wand for the tenth time. "It's stuck." he expertly diagnosed. "If it kills you, I'll give your friend the money back."
"Money?" Harry choked, staring at the rose.
The man glared at him and Ron. "Well, you'll obviously have to buy it, won't you? Otherwise, t'would be stealing." He glared even harder and leaned over the counter. "I'll knock some cash off because you have no choice, but it's still going to be five Galleons."
Harry winced at the price, but handed it over - it was his own stupidity that made him out it on, so it was his own fault. Ron gave him a sympathetic look and gave the merchant the two sickles for the Concealer.
"Well, the Concealer isn't Dark, so I can say I picked it up in Diagon Alley," he said as they returned to mentioned street, Harry having had quite enough of Knockturn Alley. "But I think you should keep the ring unmentioned. If it is Dark, the reporters'll have a field day - everyone'll be thinking you're a Death Eater." ended Ron gloomily. "Just don't mention it, and if anyone asks, say you found it in an antique shop."
"Good plan." They entered Flourish and Blotts, where Mrs Weasley had already been to collect their school books. "I'll just be a minute," Ron explained carelessly, and Harry knew he'd be longer; "I want to buy Hermione's birthday present. It's only in early September, so I should get it now."
Harry groaned. "I forgot that! I was planning to get her a cage for her owl in Eeylops Owl Emporium, but I forgot to go in. We'll have to stop off on the way back."
"Fine." said Ron cheerfully, and disappeared off to the spellbook section of the nearly empty store. Harry ventured over to the informative books, where he picked up a few interesting books and started to read.
By the time that Ron waved him over to the counter, Harry was clutching an armful of reading material. Ron gawked at him as he set the load of books down on the table with a loud 'thud'. "Are you setting up a library, or something?" the red-head asked in disbelief.
Harry stifled a laugh. "What did you get for 'Mione?"
"The Complete Guide to Magical Birds, and Wizarding Myths and Superstitions," Ron told him as the woman behind the counter put the books in paper bags for them. "You?"
Harry handed him the receipt to read through, and paid for his purchases. Ron frowned as he read through the list. "A Guide to the Cabbalistic Hierarchy? Ethical Magic? The Cosmic Classic of One Thousand Invocations? The Dictionary of Magical Languages? Magical Art and Sculpture? The Domestic Use of Glamours? A Discussion on the Uses and Placing of Magic? Harry, are you feeling all right? You're not turning into Hermione, are you?"
"I'm fine, Ron. They're just really interesting, that's all." Harry sighed, hiding his amusement. "Cages now?"
They entered Eeylops Owl Emporium with thirty minutes to spare until they were to meet at Gringotts. Whilst Ron went to buy some more owl pellets, Harry found the perfect cage for Hermione's owl. It was golden, and instead of bars going down, they went around and up in an elegant spiral.
After that, they ventured back to Gringotts. Harry brought out some more money - he only had a few Sickles left from his shopping - and they waited by the entrance for the rest of the Weasleys, who arrived a few minutes later, all with their arms dragged down by the weight of their shopping.
Harry wondered how they could afford it all - the Weasleys were hardly the richest of families - but was too polite to ask. Percy was the only one without a bunch of bags; "I've ordered my work equipment by owl-post." he informed Harry proudly, while Ron pretended to fall asleep.
"Well, now," beamed Mrs Weasley, "We'll just change the money into Muggle currency, and drop all this off at The Leaky Cauldron, and then be off. Harry dear, have you dropped something?"
Harry glanced at the floor; one of the tiny, transparent spheres from the Dark Arts shop had fallen out of his pocket. He picked it up in surprise, but before he could say anything, Ron declared, "Oh, that's where you put it. Just stick it in the bags with everything else, Harry." He stared at Harry, his eyes urging him to do as he said.
Harry did so, confused by Ron. As Mr Weasley changed the money to pounds and pence, Harry hissed, "What did you do that for? It must have slipped in my pocket when you shocked me, I haven't even paid for it! I have to take it back to the shop."
"Oh, right." Ron muttered back, "Brilliant idea. Tell Mum you're just going to take it back, and she'll want to come with you. I don't think she needs to know we went into Knockturn Alley at all, or she'd have a fit!"
"Are you saying we keep it?" Harry asked in shock.
Ron sighed. "Normally, I'd say no, but you didn't do it on purpose, and it's not like you stole the whole bag of them. Besides, we don't know what it even is - and the shop-keeper ripped you off with that ring, anyway."
"S'pose so." Harry admitted gloomily. "But if it's Dark, I'm getting rid of it."
In the back room of The Leaky Cauldron, the group pulled off their robes to reveal Muggle clothes underneath. They were surprisingly good on the Weasleys; the last time they'd try to look like Muggles, they looked more like a rejects from a second-hand clothes store.
Fred and George were dressed identically in orange shirts which matched their hair, and black jeans. Ginny was wearing a blue dress with an embroidered purple fuchsia on the left shoulder; she also slipped a blue and purple headband on. Percy was wearing charcoal grey trousers and a plain white top, and Ron was dressed in a black t-shirt with jeans. Mrs Weasley had a long white dress, and Mr Weasley wore a navy-blue suit. Harry was donning a blue top and black trousers.
"And now for presents." Mr Weasley announced, dragging a large bag up from where it was hidden behind a faded, flowery couch. Harry fought a blush as all attention was set on him, and reluctantly allowed himself to be pushed down onto one of the chairs. The others sat on the chairs around him, while the adults stood.
Taking a box from the bag, Mr Weasley read the tag. "The first is from Ginny," he announced, making Ginny blush this time as he gave it to Harry, who opened it after thanking her. It was a book called 'Familiar Animals, Familiar Spirits', on the subject of Familiars; rare animals which bonded with magic-users. Although Harry wasn't even sure how he was to get through the books he had already bought, it did appear exciting (albeit large) and he thanked her again.
The second present, from Fred and George, was a watch, 'because we knew your old one was broken'. It had a scarlet strap and a white face with gold numbers and hands, attached to the strap with a ring of gold. It had many white buttons around the outside; insisting on leaving a few of them so that Harry could find out what they did, the twins showed him what a few of them did - the first made the face numbers and hands illuminate so he could see them in the dark, the second made the numbers change to 'Home', 'Traveling', 'Shops', 'School', 'Work', 'Other', 'In Danger', 'Lost' and 'Dead', while the hands changed to names (although he had yet to set them, there could be ten different people in it, though it only showed one at a time). The third button changed the watch to a Lunarclock, the fourth could record a message, the fifth could play back the message, and the sixth showed the date.
The seventh to twelfth remained a mystery to Harry.
"Plus, we've added our own enchantment to it," winked Fred (or was it George?). "Now that you've put it on, if anyone else tries to wear it, they'll turn into a frog for an hour."
Harry couldn't thank them enough for this as he fantasised about giving it to Malfoy for a while and watching him hop around the school corridors. Percy had bought him a present as well, which was surprising; a type of light, black leather, wand holster which hung by his left hand side so that he could easily stretch across and reach it with his right hand.
"Duelling is banned in Britain, so I hope you won't use it for that." Percy commented, sounding more like an order. Harry quickly nodded and thanked him.
Mr and Mrs Weasley gave Harry a small bottle of what appeared to be eyedrops, but was actually eye-correcting fluid. Just five drops in each eye would strengthen the tissue and correct it, repairing the sight within a few days. It wouldn't do anything for the blind, but would easily fix long or short-sightedness.
Charlie and Bill (who were still away in other countries; Charlie in Romania and Bill in Switzerland) also sent a shared present; a huge box of sweets and candies from countries they'd been to recently. Ron's present was the final one, contained within a thin envelope. Opening it, Harry grinned at its contents. Three tickets to the Chudley Cannons - Montrose Magpies Quidditch game on August twenty-eighth.
"I had to order them from the Daily Prophet a few months ago." Ron said after Harry finally stopped thanking him, "Before I knew Hermione would be in Bulgaria, so we'll have to find someone else to come with us."
Harry scanned his memories of someone to invite. "I don't know if he'll be able to come," he said slowly, "but I have someone in mind..."
It turned out that it was dinner the Weasleys were taking them to; a special birthday dinner for Harry in Muggle London, at Planet Hollywood. This would have been a treat for anyone, but for Harry, who had only heard of it and seen it on TV - as well as having never eaten at any Muggle restaurant before - it seemed like a dream come true.
After a huge meal; again, Harry was too polite to ask how they were affording this huge splash-out; they were allowed to visit the shops nearby. While Mrs Weasley took Fred and George around, because she didn't trust them, and Percy and Ginny went with their father, to keep him in check if he started loudly announcing his love of Muggle objects, Ron was allowed to go on his own with Ron, since he had been brought up by Muggles.
This is the point where I'm afraid I must back-track to near the start of this tale; to the visit of Mr and Mrs Rowles. You see, their mentioning the bookshop Mrs Rowles owned was an insignificant event; but it was this that Fate turned into a turning point. If they hadn't have mentioned it, Harry and Ron would have walked straight past the musty looking shop, with its wooden sign, 'Toriceso Books', written in curly letters.
However, they had mentioned it; and so Harry paused as they walked past it, making Ron stop as well. "Can we just go in here?" Harry asked, simple curiosity egging him on. "I met the owner once, and she seemed really nice." Ron agreed, for they had half an hour left, and they entered the store.
A bell clanged, rather attractively, as they closed the door behind them. The shop was small, with a counter to the right, filled with old books in the glass front, and everywhere else were more and more books; hardcover, leather-bound, coverless, brown, black, faded, russet, navy, large, small, thin, thick, rotting and well-kept, all squashed together in wide shelves and cupboards which reached from the floor to the ceiling.
Even though the books were old, battered, sometimes torn, and thick with cobwebs and dust, they somehow still seemed well-loved and cherished, rather than just tossed around. The darkness was comforting and cosy, rather than frightening or cold. Behind the counter, Mrs Rowles looked up from a thick, yellowing book, and smiled at them. "Harry! I didn't expect you to come. Who's your friend?"
"This is Ron Weasley; Ron, this is Mrs Rowles." Harry introduced, already feeling at home. "I just wanted to come in and have a look around."
"That's fine," the woman said. "Just give a shout if you need any help."
It was interesting enough to look through the shelves and cabinets, but Harry quickly found that there was something very unusual about his ring. As he passed by one shelf, the white rose suddenly glowed a pale gold and vibrated gently on his finger. "Ron!" Harry hissed, holding his hand up. "Look at the ring!"
Ron looked; and then looked again, this time worried. "When did it start?"
"When I got near that shelf," Harry explained, "I think it's tracking something."
He held it closer to the shelf; it glowed a little brighter and quivered a tiny bit harder. Ron stepped closer and moved some of the books aside. "There's some kind of alcove behind the books." he told Harry, reaching his arm in. "It's pretty deep... hang on - there's something in here!" He twisted his arm further in and appeared to be grasping something. "I think it's a box; it's really heavy."
"The ring's going nuts!" Harry gasped, trying to hold it still. It helped a little, but not much. "Whatever's making this happen is in that box. Can you get it out?"
"Got it!" Ron groaned, finally managing to heave it out. He just managed to grab it before it hit the floor, and placed it gently on the threadbare carpet. The ring stopped trembling, glowed a brilliant gold, and then slipped off Harry's hand, landing near the box. As it hit the floor, it faded back to its usual white.
Harry picked it up, and Ron wiped the dust off the box. It was quite large and deep; about the size of a normal video recorder, but made of mahogany. It didn't seem to have a lid or hinge, but instead had decorations of gold swirls and curls around it and a small indentation of an open flower on the top.
"The decorations match the ones on the ring." Harry whispered, not wanting to be heard by Mrs Rowles. "Do you have bright ideas about how to open it?"
"Not a clue," Ron muttered; "But look on the front side, between the top and the bottom." He twisted it round so that Harry could see. There was a border of elegant gold swirls, and inside them were two, white words, written in block capital, typewriter style, which strangely seemed to fit the chest (it that's what it was);