Chapter 2: Heroes

The boy ran up the steep steps that seemed to stretch away forever. He looked back, sweat dripping from his forehead, and came face to face with a man - a man with slits for eyes, pulling his wand backwards, his mouth forming lethal incantations. 'Avada Kedavra!' A green light and a scream, and Harry awoke, with a cold sweat trickling down his forehead. The scar burned white-hot.

Harry touched it gingerly. His stupid scar had been hurting a lot recently. It meant Voldemort was getting stronger. If that was even possible. Large, bold headlines had been splashed across the front page of the recent Daily Prophet, "Mass Breakout from Azkaban! 7 Death Eaters escape!" That meant Lucius Malfoy was out there somewhere. Harry could just imagine him and Draco, standing in the centre of a burning Muggle village, twin smirks hidden behind their Death Eater masks.

He looked up at the ceiling. 12 Grimmauld Place had not changed: the walls were grubby with age, and the portrait of Mrs Black still screeched every time anyone walked by, but the people inside were very different. Fear had crept amongst them, and everyone was jumpy and frightened. Nobody, not even Harry, believed that they could win. Not without Dumbledore, at any rate.

He felt confused about what to do; about how to pursue Voldemort and his Horcruxes. He couldn't help but think that if only Dumbledore were still alive, he would be able to find a way forward, the path would become clearer, somehow. But Dumbledore was dead, and there was no one left who could help him solve the mystery of the hidden Horcruxes, except Ron and Hermione, who were each just as clueless as Harry was. How was he supposed to find the Horcruxes without Dumbledore's knowledge and guidance?

He turned over and forced himself to close his eyes. Every time he did he saw Dumbledore's body falling from the Astronomy tower, and felt the red rage searing through him.

He pulled the covers around him and tried to clear his head, but when he did he thought back to Occlumency lessons with Snape, and then of his father, and he saw Sirius falling backwards through the veil... He drifted into an uneasy sleep with vivid nightmares of Death Eaters and Voldemort. His scar stung.

x

The next morning, Harry awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs. He trudged groggily downstairs, and saw Mrs Weasley, cooking a large breakfast. Lupin and Arthur were at the table, whispering animatedly to each other, and Hermione and Ron were tucking into the scrambled egg. He sat down and pulled a rack of toast towards him.

'Good morning, Harry, dear,' Molly said, shovelling sausages onto his plate, 'I hope you slept well.'

Harry shrugged and picked up his knife and fork.

'We're going to Diagon Ally today,' Molly said, now frying mushrooms and tomatos in a sizzling pan, 'Most of the shops have been shut down, except Madame Malkin's, bless her. We've got to get Bill some dress robes for the wedding, and there some things we need to do at Gringotts.'

'It's a shame Flourish and Blotts closed down,' Hermione said, 'I could do with some new quills, and there aren't any other quill shops.'

Once everyone had eaten properly, everyone crowded around the fireplace. Arthur Weasley had gone to work, and Remus had buisness elsewhere, so the group consisted of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Mrs Weasley, Bill and Fleur.

'I have never liked zee Floo Powder,' Fleur said, 'Zee ash gets in my 'air and eet is so difficult to get out.'

Ginny rolled her eyes and practically pushed her into the grate.

The Leaky Cauldron was very nearly empty. Tom the barman was sweeping the floor and two men were sitting by in the murky shadows, drinking quietly. Harry remembered the first time Hagrid had brought him here, and how alive and happy the place had been.

He was scooted out into the courtyard by Mrs Weasley, as Bill was tapping the wall with his wand.

Diagon Ally had changed more than ever. Shop windows had been washed with white paint, and Ministry flyers were pasted on the walls. The faces of Death Eaters glared down at them from posters emblazoned with 'Have you seen this Wizard?', and there was nobody in the street.

'Right,' Mrs Weasley said, turning to face them all, 'I'll go with Bill and Fleur and you four stick together.'

Harry looked at Ron, Ginny and Hermione as Mrs Weasley, Bill and Fleur headed off to Madame Malkin's. 'Where too first, then?'

'I need a new quill,' Hermione said, 'I mean, the one I have is a nearly year old and it's so blotchy.'

'Alright, then,' Harry said, 'But you said there aren't any other quill shops.'

'Um, the only other Quill shop I can think of... Well, it's in Knockturn Ally.' Hermione said, 'Well, ok, technically it's on the corner, but we don't have to go...'

'Let's go,' Ron said.

The well-named Quill Shop was on the corner of Diagon Ally, turning into the shady Knockturn Ally. A little bell above the door tinkled, and a man appeared behind the counter.

'I'm sorry, can I help you?' he said. Harry stared. The man was so thin and tall and he looked like he had no muscles at all. His limbs were all longer than most people's, too, and his black hair was slicked back. He had a strange look in his eye, and he was so pale that Harry wondered whether the man had ever seen daylight in his life.

'It's ok, we're just browsing,' Hermione said quickly.

'This place is horrible,' Ron said when the man had gone, 'It's so claustrophobic, and everyone knows that shops on Knockturn Ally are dodgy.'

Out of the clogged-up windows, Harry could make out the dark exterior of Borgin and Burkes. 'You've got that right,' he muttered.

They left the shop quarter of an hour later. 'Where to now? Fred and George's?' Ginny asked, as Hermione put her new quill in her bag.

'Hang on,' Harry said, 'I'm going over there.' He began to walk towards Borgin and Burkes. Ron grabbed his arm, 'What're you doing? Have you lost it? You're Harry Potter. You can't go in there at a time like this!'

'Look,' Harry said, lowering his voice, 'Tom Riddle used to work there, remember? I probably won't be able to come back here any time soon, so I'd best make the most of it.' He wrenched his arm out of Ron's grip and strode into the shop.

The man Harry recognised as Mr Borgin appeared behind the counter. The oily man looked suprised when he saw Harry, but arranged his features into it's usual snide grin.

'Harry Potter,' he said, looking at the boy, 'What brings you here?'

'Tom Riddle... He used to work here didn't he?' Harry said as Ron, Hermione and Ginny entered behind him.

'It's dangerous asking questions like that these days, Potter,' said Borgin, 'Very dangerous. I'd have thought you'd have known better.'

'Just answer my question, Borgin.'

'Harry,' Hermione said urgently, 'We should go...'

'Take the Mudblood's advice, Potter.'

'Answer the question!'

'Don't you already know the answer?'

'Harry...' Hermione said, tugging Harry's arm as a hooded figure appeared next to Borgin. The figure lowered his hood and revealed the horribly familiar light blonde hair and pointed features.

'Malfoy!'

'Well well well, Potter, fancy seeing you here,' Draco Malfoy said, 'And the Mudblood too. How's life now Dumbledore's not around? I feel awful that I wasn't the one to deal that final blow but I was so young and naïve. I suppose we can't all be heroes, can we?'