Two weeks in the alley
13 years old, a vault full of gold, and two unsupervised weeks in Diagon Alley – What's a boy to do? PoA AU, some adult themes.
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe and all related materials are the property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers. I am in no way affiliated with JKR, Bloomsbury or Warner Brothers, and use their materials without their permission or knowledge.
"Morning, Tom. Since I am going to be staying here for two weeks until school starts, I was wondering if you could help me with a few things. This is going to be the first holiday I've ever had, and I want it to be memorable," said Harry. "I need to do a bit of shopping, then I'd like to know what else there is to do and see around here."
"Sure thing, Mr. Potter. The Minister himself told me to keep an eye on you and help you out," said the seemingly ever-present barkeeper of the Leaky Cauldron from behind his beloved bar.
"Excellent. Let's start with a massive cooked breakfast shall we? Then I'll need to go to Gringotts and get some money. Speaking of which, how much is this going to cost me? I'll have to check how much I have in my vault somehow."
"The Ministry is picking up your bill for staying here, so you don't have to worry about that," said Tom, "but the Goblins should be able to tell you what's in your vault, along with any charges and fees you get hit with."
"Even better. How about upgrading my room to something with a private bath and a study then?" asked Harry.
If the Ministry was paying, he might as well get the most out of it.
Tom smiled. "Not a problem. I would have given you the best room in the house last night, but it was occupied then."
"Brilliant. Now, what about that belly-busting breakfast, eh? I've been dying for a good Hogwarts-like meal all summer."
"Always thought you looked a bit on the thin side. I'll make you a Hagrid special and bring you a digestive potion for afters, shall I?" said Tom. "I reckon you could do with a potion or two to build you up a bit."
"And maybe one of those potions will be a hunger inducing one to encourage you to eat a bit more, too," Tom added silently to himself.
Two hours and a breakfast to rival one of Dudley's, later, a bloated Harry Potter stumbled through the Alley towards the wizarding bank, feeling more sated than ever before.
It was a good way to start his holiday.
"What do you mean you can't tell me how much money is in my vault?" Harry asked the sneering Goblin seated behind the counter. "Don't I pay you to take care of things like that?"
The Goblin looked at him disdainfully. "Additional services can be purchased, Mr. Potter, but a basic account such as yours does not include anything except security and a limited number of physical access visits per year."
"Okay, I'll pay for you to count it then, but I want to be there when they count it."
Several galleons and a fabulous rollercoaster trip later, Harry held in his hand an inventory of his vault, his eyes boggling at the neat figures showing him its compliment of various coins and the minimal fees extracted annually for services.
"Well, it looks like I can take out more than I can carry without a horse, and still afford the Hogwarts fees for several decades," he said to himself ruefully.
Harry looked up mischievously from the paperwork.
"Excuse me? Can I go back down and get some more money please? I didn't realise I had this much available…"
The disgruntled Goblin teller called another over to take the young wizard back to his vaults, rather than make the journey a second time himself.
It just wasn't right to have a wizard screaming in joy and urging the cart to go faster during the trip.
Not long after that, Harry found himself standing in Quality Quidditch supplies commanding the attention of the sales staff.
"Yes, you heard me right. I need enough gear to fit-out a complete team. Make it fairly good stuff, and throw in subscriptions to all of your Quidditch magazines please."
The Weasleys were going to get quite a Christmas this year, and if Ron whinged about it, he could return the present or donate it to the school. Either way, the Gryffindor Quidditch team was going to be on a more level playing field with the Slytherins this year.
Now he just had to find something for Hermione.
"Excuse me," he called to the harassed looking bookstore clerk at Flourish and Blotts. "Can you tell me what the wizarding equivalent of the Muggle Encyclopaedia Britannica is please?"
"That'd be Encyclopaedia Magika, of course," answered the clerk. "Quite expensive, but well worth the Galleons if you're serious about having the best."
"Okay, I'll have two complete sets please," said Harry, causing the commissioned clerk to suddenly smile broadly. "As well as a complete set of Hogwarts third year books please, except for the Monster Book of Monster – I've already got that."
The large order immediately gained the attention of the storeowner, who led Harry to a side room where they chatted and had tea and biscuits while waiting for the books to be packed.
"Would you like the optional year-book subscription as well? It's is only thirty two galleons for ten years," asked his host, more out of courtesy than any need to make the substantial sale larger.
"Sure, but I really don't want to waste away my whole year reading and studying, especially not potions. I'm just not that good at learning from a book, or interested in doing it, for that matter. Can you tell me of anything that might, er, help me out?"
"Well, there are a few options not normally recommended for youngsters still in school, but I can see you have a few more important things demanding your attention than a normal student, eh?" laughed the older man. "I myself often find I do not have the time to read the dozens of new books that come in each week, and trying to direct people to volumes that I've not read is an exercise in futility and often quite torturous."
Harry nodded enthusiastically. "So many books, so little time."
"Exactly. So I employ a few dozen specially trained Squibs to read the books carefully, and then I buy the memory from them," explained Mr. Blott. "All you have to do then is put it into your head, and it is just like you've had somebody read you the book. Not as good as if you really do read it yourself mind, but an exceptionally good head start, and it only takes a few minutes to absorb each one. I usually get duplicates for Florish, but she prefers to do things the hard way..."
A large bag of Galleons later, Harry left the store with a chest loaded with dozens of small, silver mist filled, glass vials, and the contact details of several highly trained Squibs.
Homework was not going to ruin his vacation, or even take up a substantial portion of it, not if he could help it.
"Hello again, Griphook."
"Mr. Potter, you do realise that transfers can be arranged at any store in the alley and you do not need to visit your vault after every purchase?"
"Yes, I do know that, thank you. Now, can we go down?"
"Yes, Mr. Potter, but please refrain from trying to make the cart go faster. Young Grunthandler has refused to work the vault runs again since your last visit."
"Hello there, young man. How can I help you?" asked the portly saleswitch, from behind the counter of the travel goods store.
"Hi, I was told I could get a trunk that is bigger on the inside than on the outside and would weigh the same amount no matter how much I put in it," said Harry. "Do you have anything in stock?"
"We surely do, Mr. Potter," agreed the witch, noticing the distinctive scar on Harry's forehead. "I imagine you'll be wanting something with a secret room to train in and make yourself impossible to beat in a duel then?"
Harry couldn't help let his puzzlement show on his face.
"Er, no Ma'am," he said. "I want something I can keep all of my stuff in easily and never lose anything."
"Oh," she said, somewhat taken aback. "What about having your own apartment to live in, then? I've got a nice one here that was made for a wizard who liked to travel on Muggle ships, but never wanted to pay more than economy for his suite. He used to take a whole house in his trunk with him wherever he went. Sometimes, he would air mail the trunk and live in it for the entire journey!"
"Live in a trunk? Was he a nutter or something? What happens if he got locked inside, or if it was stolen or something? And who wants the hassle of having to clean up a house while on holiday?" asked Harry.
"Now you come to mention it, he wasn't found for a few years after passing away in there. Ended up in the 'lost and found' at Heathrow, if I recall it rightly."
"Right then," said Harry, totally turned off the already dodgy seeming idea. "I'll think I'll just stick to a trunk big enough to keep all of my stuff in, please. One that has some good locks on it, and can bring what I am looking for to the top without me having to dig through the whole thing."
"Sure thing, sonny. Now how about a bottomless backpack you can carry around the alley with you? It comes with a build in toilet so you don't have to use the public ones."
Harry sighed in resignation.
"Sure, why not?"
"Now, Mr. Potter, you have several choices. Your current glasses are completely unacceptable, despite the fact accidental magic seems to have kept them at the right prescription. Firstly, we can replace them with a new pair that will never fall off or break, never need cleaning, will automatically filter out any bright light or harmful spells directed at your eyes –"
"That would have been helpful last year," mumbled Harry to himself.
"—and change to match whatever wardrobe you are currently wearing. Or we can replace your eyes with new ones that can see 360 degrees, invisible objects, and through walls."
"Um, just the new glasses, thanks," said Harry, feeling a bit uncomfortable at the casual mention of replacing his eyes, despite the advantages. "I'll take two pairs, and can you add permanent charms to let me see perfectly in low light and to work like a pair of binoculars on demand?"
"Sure," said the magical optometrist. "But you won't be allowed to use them during Quidditch – 'unfair advantage' rules and all that."
"Bugger," said Harry. "Hang on, if I changed my eyes over, would I have been allowed to play?"
"Nope. Life-time ban."
"Whew. Dodged a bludger there, then. Wonder how I can trick Malfoy into it?"
"I am afraid food is not permitted in the carts, Mr. Potter."
"I promise not to drop anything."
"That is not the issue; It's a matter of image. If others were to see you consuming your lunch while making the journey, they may think the bank has slowed down the carts to make the journey friendlier."
"Oh, okay then, but do you mind if I take a few minutes to finish before we go? I always seem to be hungry lately. Must be Tom's cooking."
"Indeed, Mr. Potter. You are a bit thin for a wizard of your age. Have this drink to help wash down your meal."
"Thanks. Wow - it's delicious. What is it?"
"Just a nutrient potion of Goblin design. We Goblins have much faster metabolisms than Humans and so need to eat more often. This drink allows us to skip several meals during the day when banking work has priority."
"Thanks, and please give my compliments to the brewer. All set now - let's go."
"What do you mean the mass murderer who betrayed my parents is hunting me?" squeaked Harry.
"Now, now, Harry," reassured Florean Fortescue the ice cream shop owner. "No need to get all upset and worried. The Ministry has Aurors searching everywhere, and as I explained, there will be the guards of Azkaban patrolling around the school to make sure he can't get in. Meanwhile, you are perfectly safe here in the alley."
Harry frowned, wondering if anybody had planned to tell him about Sirius Black if he had not thought to ask after overhearing so many people talking about the convict's recent escape.
"No offence, Mr. Fortescue, but if this Black is the most feared wizard in the world after you-know-who, what chance have I got if he does show up? Are the shopkeepers and their customers going to jump in and stop him if he decides to pull my liver out with a spork?"
Florean looked thoughtful, and little concerned.
"I suppose you could possibly hire a bodyguard," he suggested. "As you've seen from the history you've been studying, the Goblins do rent out some of their most feared fighters on occasion, and it certainly looks like you can afford it."
Harry guiltily glanced at the solid gold Gobstones and the moving model of the galaxy he had just purchased. Implanted memories of studying the night sky would not help as much with his assignments as the globe, and both Ron and Hermione would no doubt be overjoyed at never having to spend another late night on the Astronomy tower staring through telescopes.
The Gobstones were just an indulgence.
"Thanks, Mr. Fortescue," he said, genuinely appreciative. "I'll go see them right after I finish this enormous sundae."
"Make sure you eat it all up, Harry," said Florean, glad he had again laced it with nutrient potions. "You're a bit thin for my liking, lad."
"So, Mr. Spikestaff. I understand you've worked as a bodyguard for several famous wizards and have fought in several civil wars. How did you go with Gilderoy Lockhart?" asked Harry.
The Goblin currently being interviewed furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes.
"I do not discuss the details of my previous assignments with anybody," he growled menacingly. "If a pompous, arrogant, and useless wizard wishes to pay me to keep screaming witches from crushing his pretty suits, then I shall, and I will not divulge any other information in case it compromises my work at another time. I will however dispute the reason for my dismissal. The person I stabbed was attempting to dose Mr. Lockhart with a love potion. I consider that to be a reasonable threat, and since she didn't die and was able to walk again, I do not think it justified a black mark on my record."
"You're hired," he said, surprising the experienced Goblin. "Now, let's go for a ride to my vault."
"My wages can be deducted directly from your vault automatically," suggested Spikestaff, noticing the already bulging moneybag hanging at Harry's waist.
"I know," said Harry, grinning.
Spikestaff suddenly realised much of his previous experience may just turn out to be unhelpful with this assignment.
"Wow," said Harry as he sat up in his bed. "That was weird."
The empty glass bottle was still clutched in his hand; its silver memory having just been inserted into his mind. Harry could clearly recall calmly sitting in a completely empty, plain white room, and reading an entire text on medieval witch burnings, non-stop.
He could still feel the blank emptiness of the meditation trance the Squib was in while reading the book. No external thoughts or concerns entered his mind during the reading – he was totally, 100 percent focused on the words of the text, to the total exclusion of anything else.
"Intense," said Harry, rubbing his temples.
He felt exactly like he had just performed that reading personally, and now could recall the majority of it with little effort. Only a few minutes of real time passed from when he lay down with the memory hanging from his wand, ready to use it, but it felt like hours.
Picking up his homework, Harry laughed as the formerly almost meaningless questions now evoked the memory of whole passages from the book. It might take him a while to really understand what he now 'remembered' reading, and lots of it would fade with time, but that happened with books he read in the 'normal' way anyway.
Doing his homework immediately after using a memory would help reinforce the information, according to the bookstore manager.
An order for some specific book reading memories was already on its way to the contacts Mr. Blott gave him, but the cost per memory was so low, and the quality so good, he knew he was going to be spending a lot more, even after all of his homework was finished.
"Spikestaff?" he called
The bodyguard was, as usual, nowhere in sight. This was apparently expected of the ninja-like creature, but the moment Harry asked for him, or whenever anybody came too close, the black-clad, knife wielding Goblin appeared almost out of thin air.
Harry initially questioned the value of an unseen bodyguard when a very visible one was likely to deter attack, and was told Goblin guards worked on the principle of deterring definite threats once and once only – permanently.
"Yes, Mr. Potter? Why are you on the floor?"
"Because every time you appear like that, it scares the willies out of me," said Harry. "How did you get on top of my wardrobe anyway?"
"Hmm. Right. Anyway, I need to eat and don't feel like dinning at the Leaky again. Got any suggestions for a nice place?"
The Goblin looked annoyed for a moment, and Harry wondered if he had made a mistake asking such a trivial thing.
"I have a cousin who runs an eatery not far from here," the Goblin answered. "She serves some human food, and you are less likely to be assassinated there since few wizards frequent the establishment."
"Sounds great," said Harry. "Let's go,"
Spikestaff frowned thoughtfully before fading away into the shadows again. He was going to suggest his cousin supplement her usual fare with some extra nutrients; his boss was far too thin.
"Mr. Potter, if you continue to access your vault every day, and multiple times on some days, you will quickly exceed your limited physical access allowances and will have to begin paying for the privilege, at a rate I can guarantee will deter you."
"Sorry, Griphook, but I have read the agreement and there is no limit to how many times I am allowed to check the outside of my vault to make sure it is still secure. There's only a limit on how often I can open the door and go in."
"Those rules can be changed."
"Sure, but until then, are you sure there aren't any faster carts?"
"What about a longer route?"
"Maybe one that goes passed the Dragons?"
"So you continue to repeat."
"That was possibly the most interesting meal I have ever eaten," said Harry as he leaned back in his chair, grateful his robes provided no pressure on his swollen belly at all. "Thank you, Sporkstab."
"You are welcome, Mr. Potter. I am particularly impressed that you had no problem eating the live Firecrab worms. Most wizards are far too squeamish to eat them at all, and the rest generally cannot swallow without first performing a totally unnecessary decapitation. Spikestaff informed me you were interested in new experiences, but I did not actually expect you to consume the whole bowl."
"Trust me when I tell you that compared to some of the foul things my cousin forced me to eat over the years, it was positively scrumptious – wiggling legs and all. I was acting on your cousin's advice, after all. He said not to chew, just before he disappeared again."
"The flavour is definitely enhanced by feeling your prey fighting on its way down, is it not? Now, my cousin, who is currently hiding in the large pot plant behind me, intercepted an invitation to a game of Goblin-poker. Would you like to participate? I assure you this is a friendly game only and the stakes will not rise above any money you bring to the table."
"Sure," said Harry, looking into his moneybag. "I have never played poker before. Do you think I have enough?"
Sporkstab's smile became a tad viscous. "Most definitely, Mr. Potter. Most definitely."
"Raise," said the Goblin to Harry's left, tossing three more miniature golden heads into the spinning wheel in the centre of the table. The chips bounced and flopped around before coming to rest on an image of the sleeping cat and the flying Hippogriff.
"Bet stays at eighty," called the dealer.
All eyes turned on Harry, but his face remained stoically expressionless.
The eight small goblin cards fit snugly in Harry's hands. Six more lay face down in front of him.
He could raise, fold, flip a card from the table, or perform one of several other actions that he still did not understand. Despite the five minutes instruction he had received in the practice hands, and two hours of continuous play, he only had a very rudimentary understanding of the rules.
In fact, he had no real idea what he was doing. None whatsoever.
While the rules of Goblin poker may have completely escaped him, he was having a great time anyway. The large pile of head-shaped gambling chips near his elbow proved luck was often more important than skill.
He held perfectly still for another full minute, slowly counting the seconds away in his head to make sure he did not give away something by taking his turn too quickly. It was about the only strategy he had come up with and, so far, it was keeping the Goblins off balance.
"Sacrifice," he said, flipping the right most of his face down cards over.
It was a black dragon, the second highest card in the deck.
Groans escaped from all of the other players and several appreciative sounds came from the gathered spectators.
The game initially attracted only a few watchers, eager to see a foolish wizard lose his money, but as Harry's pile of chips grew, more Goblins and even a few wizards came to watch the unusual spectacle of a human apparently winning at Goblin-poker.
The Goblin to Harry's right tossed his cards face down. "Fold" he grumbled.
That only left Harry and one Goblin in the game. Two of the five other original starters bowed out when their last chip was taken, and the remaining three all opted out as soon as Harry upped the bet to eighty chips by throwing a single chip into the spinning ring and landing on the Burning House.
The last Goblin had the same choices as Harry, but if he chose to flip a card, it had to be higher than Harry's Black Dragon or he would lose two of his held cards to Harry – Harry's choice of which two.
"Call," said the last Goblin nervously.
Harry smiled and lay down his cards. No two of his hand were alike. What that meant, he had no idea, but it seemed important a few times before.
Cries of dismay and awe from the onlookers, and the stunned disbelief of the remaining player, told Harry he had once again won the hand, and almost doubled his stack of chips.
"He cheats!" screamed the other player, as he threw down his cards and stood up. "Nobody can be that lucky. He is using cursed wizarding magic!"
"I am not!" shouted Harry, also standing, along with the other players. "I can't do magic outside of school without the Ministry knowing and sending me warnings. Do you see any owls around? Besides, my wand is in my pocket and hasn't left it all night, see?"
"Arrogant, wizard brattling. Do you think we don't know your idiotic Ministry can't tell who casts spells when you are in the Alley? And don't think we are ignorant of some wizards' abilities to cast spells without using your thrice damned secret wands or your silly words!"
"They can't?" he asked nobody in particular, but then shook his head to clear it. "It doesn't matter. I've cast no spell and I don't take kindly to being called a cheat!"
The goblin drew a knife and stabbed it down into the table.
Then the room exploded into violence.
"Well that was certainly fun," said Harry, once he was back in his room at the Leaky. "Ouch! Hey, be careful with that will you? That's my head you are poking there."
"Stop complaining like a House-elf and sit still. The bleeding will not stop on its own," said Spikestaff, again dabbing the back of Harry's head with a cloth covered in a healing salve.
"I shouldn't be bleeding. Isn't that what I am paying you for, to keep me safe?" he asked.
"You would not be bleeding at all had you not insisted on partaking of the fun after your poker game."
"Fun? They were trying to kill me!" said Harry.
"Not at all. That is the traditional ending of a friendly game amongst equals. It is a great honour you have been given, since they chose to end the game while you were winning."
Harry smiled despite himself. "I really cleaned up, didn't I? And I nailed that guy who started the fight. Do you think they'll be able to fix his ear?"
"Grabbag will likely mount the ear above his mantle and tell the tale of his fight with the evil wizard, Harry Potter, for many years, but you were lucky. I would not counsel a career playing the professional circuit, unless you wish to enjoy a short, but exciting life."
"Nah, I know when to call it quits, but do know what this means?" Harry said, smiling and nodding towards the second moneybag full of galleons. "More trips to Gringotts."
"Did not Griphook tell you they would refuse to allow you more visits to your vault, and that management had in fact drafted new regulations to that effect?"
"Only for inspections and withdrawals," said Harry smugly. "They didn't say anything about deposits."
The smoke from the burning castle flooded down over the battlefield, thankfully obscuring Harry's view of the fallen hero taking his last breath in the arms of his beloved, weeping wife. Far too slowly, the smoke curled to form words:
This feature has been a Merlin Production
Harry felt his body give the now familiar lurch as he exited the Pensieve-like device and returned, still sitting in the comfortable recliner, to the small booth containing a large stone basin.
"Wow," he said as the lanterns returned to full brightness. "That was the biggest load of fewmets yet."
It was the fourth feature he had taken in, and by far the most polished in terms of production values, but the worst in terms of plot, and that was saying something.
More than a play or even a memory, watching the story unfold from within the scene added a level of realism that made even the best Muggle movies seem pale and weak in comparison. Not that Harry had much experience in a Muggle cinema to begin with.
Unfortunately, the ridiculously unrealistic and overdramatised story lines made him want to violently regurgitate the bucket of caramelised cherries he was eating onto the floor.
Originally, he was attracted to the Viewarama by the chance to watch some Professional Quidditch match Omniocular recordings, but the lure of the huge budget features sucked him in, despite their relatively high cost.
Several empty seats formed two rings around the 'projector', allowing about a dozen or so people to watch at the same time, but since many of the booths were empty during the day when most patrons where at work, Harry choose to watch on his own.
A muffled 'pop' signalled the plug in the basin lifting and the silvery fluid quickly draining away. The next one he had paid for would pour from the golden spout on the side of the basin in a few minutes. This gave Harry about a ten minute intermission to empty his bladder, refill his drink container from the juice fountain (four flavours, three of them pumpkin juice), and buy another box of caramel cherries at the snack bar. He was considering something a bit more on the savoury side this time - to help with the bile the disgustingly romantic stories often induced.
Spikestaff's smirking refusal to enter the booth made a lot more sense after the first feature.
Desperately wishing he had not opted for the all-day feature ticket but had stuck to his original Quidditch watching plan, he was nevertheless going to get his full nine hours worth of viewing, just for the principle of the thing. If only they concentrated on the story and not the costumes, scenery, or magical effects, it could have been so much better.
Then again, it still beat doing homework.
"So, Tom. What's there to do around here that's fun?"
"Well most boys spend a lot of time in the Quidditch store looking at the merchandise, or at Zonko's buying bits and pieces to make school a bit more interesting, if you know what I mean."
"Been there, done that."
"The ladies generally prefer to wander the shops all day window shopping."
"If you were older I could suggest a Goblin bar or two."
"Hmmm. I think that might be a bit too much excitement for me."
"There's always the Viewarama. They have some interesting shows there at the moment."
"Seen them all."
"Hmm. Oh, I know. A few enterprising Muggleborn wizards opened a new place just behind the post office. It's something they called a wizarding-video-game arcade. I haven't been there myself, but it seems to be quite popular with lads around your age - Mr. Potter? Hmm. I wonder where he went."
A flock of mechanical looking miniature-winged horses swooped low over the battlefield, distracting Harry from the goblin horde racing unevenly towards his model castle.
Deft flicks of the game-wand sent flashes of coloured lights out into the attackers, downing them one by one in blazes of fake sparks, but there were too many moving too fast, and the magical miniatures soon swamped the small building.
Tiny victorious goblins chanted and taunted him from the battlements, some baring their naked wooded backsides at him in the ultimate gesture of disrespect, while others waved their manikin hands in obscene gestures.
"Dammit!" swore Harry, stepping back from the front of the large box containing the game and digging another handful of knuts from his money bag. "I just can't get past level seventeen."
"Sorry mate, but we're closing in ten minutes, and I've noticed your rounds tend to take a fair bit longer than that."
"Bugger," said Harry, his blood still pumping furiously after the defeat. "What time do you open tomorrow?"
"Ten," said the attendant.
"That late? Oh well, I guess I'll see you then."
Once the raven-haired boy left the shop, a second attendant approached the one who had addressed Harry.
"We don't normally close for another two hours yet, and we open at eight, what's the story?" asked the second attendant.
"See that shoot-em-up game, the one he was playing? He has been trying to get passed level seventeen all afternoon, right?"
"Yeah, so what?"
"I only made sixteen levels. That last one is a dead-end that cheats so you can't win. I need time to build a few more before he comes back!"
"That was a bit short-sighted of you, wasn't it?"
"Well I didn't expect bleedin' Harry Potter to waltz in with half his weight in knuts to spend, did I?"
"Wait - that was Harry Potter?"
"Didn't you see the scar?"
"Nah, was too busy admiring the way he took to that game. He's bigger than he looks in the papers. Sure can use a wand though."
"Tell me about it. He's a seeker you know – fast reflexes and all that. He's probably had a growth spurt or something too. Come on, you can help built the next level. I'm thinking Giants and maybe a couple of Dragons ought to hold him back a few hours."
"I know who you are," said a small voice near Harry's left elbow.
Overcoming his instinctive reflex to leap from his seat, Harry spun around, only to come face to face with a young girl squatting down to put her face near to him, very near.
Almost nose to nose in fact.
"Phhhaaaat?" he spluttered, pulling back from the rather large eyes filling his vision.
Somehow, he managed to keep the mouthful of ice cream from splurting out all over her.
"I said, 'I know who you are'," the girl answered, standing up straight, but not moving from her spot deep inside of Harry's personal space.
"Urrrrggggg," groaned Harry as the unpleasant sensation of 'brain-freeze' began to burn its way through his skull. It served him right for inhaling the desert in the first place, instead of taking it nice and easy.
Public spectacles of admirers trying to shake his hand or take photos were thankfully scarce this year, and Harry had no desire to have one happen now. It was bad enough whenever he walked into a store for the first time and the sales people inevitably began stuttering and clambering around him like an animal exhibition from the zoo.
Spikestaff usually sorted them out quick enough.
"Are you sure?" he asked, once the pain subsided and he was able to function again.
"Yes," said the strange blonde girl, whom Harry now realised was probably about his age. "You're the boy Ginny was always talking about, before we started going to Hogwarts."
"I am?" Harry asked, feeling rather stupid the moment the words left his mouth.
The girl nodded seriously, making her strangely shaped earrings dance threateningly. "You are," she confirmed.
"Oh," said Harry, again realising he wasn't holding up his end of the conversation. "Er, did you say you went to Hogwarts too?"
"Yes. I'm Luna, from Ravenclaw," she said, suddenly thrusting her hand out for Harry to shake. "Ginny and I use to play together before we started going to school."
Harry hastily wiped his sticky hand on his robes and took the girl's hand. It was a bit awkward since she was standing so close.
"Um, pleased to meet you, Luna," he said, shaking her hand. "Would you, er, like to sit down?"
"No thank you," she said. "I was just on my way to the bank and thought I'd stop and say hello, since we have never talked while at school. I figured you might be lonely, because your Goblin bodyguard hiding under that table there is probably under orders not to talk to you in case you are a Minister Fudge sympathiser. Mind you, Daddy says you are most probably a House-elf under Headmaster Dumbledore's control pretending to be Harry Potter, who was really stolen by gargoyles. Have you ever met Paul, the stone Gargoyle at the entrance to the Headmaster's office? He's a nice sort, but not very talkative really."
Harry suddenly had the strangest feeling that Luna was not riding the same train as the rest of the wizarding world, but tactfully decided not to voice his suspicions.
"Did you say you were on your way to the bank?" he asked, hopeful the reminder would send her on her way.
"Yes. I have to go down to my vault to get some money to buy school supplies." She paused for moment, as if thinking something over. "Would you like to come?"
Harry's face sank and he stabbed his spoon into the desert sulkily. "I can't. Stupid Goblin bankers won't let me go to my vault any more this summer. They say I've visited it more often than the last three generations of Potters combined, but I don't know why that should matter - Stupid bankers and their stupid rules – stupid."
Luna tilted her head sideways and gave Harry one of the most penetrating looks he had ever experienced.
"Did they say anything about you visiting my vaults?" she asked innocently.
"Come on, Spikestaff. You must know something else I can do that isn't too dangerous," whined Harry. "Your cousin's restaurant was great. What's another thing I'd likely never find on my own?"
"There is a spectator sport that has a fairly broad following amongst both Goblins and your kind...," said the bodyguard hesitantly.
"Cool. Let's go!"
"House-elves? You've taken me to watch House-elves wrestling a ruddy great mud-golem?" asked Harry incredulously.
"What were you expecting, little human," laughed Spikestaff. "Barely dressed Veela cavorting in the dirt for your amusement?"
"Expecting, no," said Harry sadly. "Hoping - hell yeah! That's the image the words 'Magical Mud wrestling' brings to my mind, not this obviously rigged play fight – DAMN IT, HE'S GOT A CHAIR, COME ON, REF - LOOK AT THAT! WHERE THE HELL DID HE GET A CHAIR FROM?"
"I cannot be held responsible for your misconceptions," said the Goblin smiling.
Grumbling, Harry continued to watch the competition. Surprisingly, once he got over his initial disappointment, it turned out to be quite entertaining.
"WOOOOOHOOOOOO," yelled Harry as the Goblin cart rounded the last almost horizontal bend and came to a rest outside of vault 369.
The goblin driving the cart mumbled incoherently and climbed onto the platform with slightly shaky legs.
"Fantastic," he panted, still breathless from the exhilaration ride. Somehow, it seemed to be getting faster and further each time lately. It took a minute or two for him to calm down and take note of his surroundings. "Hey, this isn't the same vault as last time, is it?"
"No," called Luna from inside the small cavern. "Daddy says we have to keep a few different vaults under assumed names, so that the Ministry can't track how much we spend on informants. This one belongs to a Mrs Lover Lunagood. Daddy can be quite clever sometimes, for an adult."
Harry nodded, knowing by now exactly how excentric Mr. Lovegood could be.
"So how many vaults do you have?" he asked, thinking about how many more cart rides this could mean.
"Seven," Luna told him, climbing back into the cart. "It's a magically significant number."
"Wicked," smiled Harry.
The Goblin driver just groaned.
"Mr. Potter, you need to stop moving, or I might accidentally stab you with a pin," warned Madam Malkin.
Harry stood on the pedestal with his arms outstretched and once again wondered why there wasn't a better way to do this.
"Sorry," he said.
The witched huffed and continued pinning up his hem.
It wasn't her fault that Harry was restless. He had really given it a go; spending half a day going from clothes shop to clothes shop trying on a huge number of different outfits. He let enthusiastic saleswitches use him like a child's doll, modelling every conceivable fashion in a rainbow of colours and a nightmare of patterns. In the end, all he had done was prove his initial opinion was correct.
Clothes shopping, while necessary, held no enjoyment for Harry Potter.
Not even the wizarding equivalent of the Army-Surplus held anything remotely cool or exciting, aside from a decent pair of boots. He had been expecting to be overwhelmed with choices of uber-sophisticated magical wearables, like cloaks charmed to keep him the same temperature no matter the weather, or hats that could deflect minor spells cast at him, but he found nothing that a Muggle couldn't make, given the material and design.
As for variety, there were only so many ways to make a robe look different, and none of them were a great improvement over his standard school robes. The need to update his wardrobe was directly related to his recent rather mysterious growth spurt and weight gain, otherwise Harry would have happily just patched up his old robes and been on his way hours ago.
All in all, Harry would rather be watching House-elves wrestle mud monsters. At least that gave him something funny to laugh at and didn't involve pins.
"Tom, is there anyplace I can get a tattoo?"
"Sorry, Harry," said Tom, "but you are still a minor, and so can't get a tattoo yet."
"Why's that then?"
"On account of you having to be drunk before you are allowed to get one," explained Tom.
"Drunk? Why do you have to be drunk to get a tattoo?"
"Ah. What about getting my ear pierced?"
"Have to be a girl, or handy with a sharp hat pit."
"Eeegghh. Okay then, Where can I get a really radical haircut?"
"There's a barber upstairs near Florish and Blotts that might be able to help you out. Old Andrew is a hundred and three and has been a barber for at least eighty of those years, I reckon. He used to do me granddad's hair."
"So he's pretty good then?"
"Nope, but you did ask for an unusual style."
"Not quite what I was thinking, but what the hell. It'll grow back tomorrow if I hate it enough."
A large white owl attacking his head suddenly interrupted Harry's usual, casual morning walk down the Alley.
"Ouch! What the hell? Ouch, ouch, ouch. Hedwig, stop it! Ouch, ouch, OUCH! STOP IT ALREADY!" he screamed, trying to catch his familiar before she drew more blood. "What's gotten into you? Ouch! Okay, okay, already I'm going, I'm going!"
Driven by severe pecks of the owl now perched on his shoulder, Harry found himself entering the Magical Creature Emporium.
"Yes, Mr. Potter," said the saleswitch, who didn't look much older than Harry. "What can I get for you today?"
"Ouch! It's my owl. I think she's gone bonkers, Ouch. WILL YOU STOP PECKING ME, ALREADY? WE ARE HERE AREN'T WE?"
"Ah, I see the problem," said the witch knowingly. "I see it all the time with these smarter ones."
"Thank god," said Harry, too scared to rub any of the sore spots now that his owl seemed to have calmed down a bit. "What do I need, a potion or tablet or something?"
The witch laughed.
"No, Mr. Potter. You need one of those," she said pointing to the side.
A row of beautiful bird stands lined the wall where the witch was pointing. Coated in gold and gems, the stands glistened in the feeble store light, casting a cascade of colours over the few majestic looking owls currently perched on them.
"A new stand? My owl has been trying to scalp me because she wants a shiny new stand? Gees, girl, I had no idea you were so vain, but I guess it's only fair, since I have been treating myself to some rather lavish entertainments. Give me the best you have please."
"Ah, not the stand, Mr. Potter," said the saleswitch, looking rather embarrassed.
Harry looked again, seeing only the stands and the owls.
"Sorry?" he said.
"The owls, Mr. Potter. Your bird wants to, er, visit, with the male owls we keep here, for er, special services."
Harry felt confused for a moment, but then caught on.
"You're kidding," he said in disbelief.
"Familiars are not normal animals, Mr. Potter," explained the witch. "They have a rather strict social hierarchy, and I dare say your owl has been unable to locate a suitable mate."
"You're still kidding me," said Harry. "Ouch! Ouch! All right, all right, I get it already – just stop with the pecking!
"Two galleons for a five minute, er visit, with one of the superior owls, eight galleons for ten minutes with one of our top breeders."
"Here's twenty galleons, give her whatever she wants, for as long as she wants it."
With a happy hoot, Hedwig left Harry's shoulder and flew off to land near the largest of the owls.
"Bugger me," said Harry, rubbing the top of his bleeding head gingerly.
"That'll cost a bit more," said the witch with a cheeky smirk.
"I'm bored," complained Harry, idly flicking his wand to transfigure the teacup on his desk into a tortoise, and then back again. "I should have paced myself a bit better, but I didn't realise there was so little to do here."
Been able to do magic outside of school was great, but the only magic he knew was of the boring school-work variety. He had already exhausted his repertoire several times over, and learning new spells was a bit too much like doing more homework.
"Did you know you are being stalked by a rather large dog?" asked Spikestaff, from his position above one of the rooms many windows.
Why the bodyguard felt it necessary to hang from the roof in order to look into the alley from just the top portion of the window was beyond Harry's understanding, or care for that matter.
"Dogs can't stalk somebody," said Harry dismissively, and then rethought his answer. "Can they?"
"Not normally," answered Spikestaff, dropping to the floor and into a commando roll that brought him up in front of Harry. "But this beast has definitely been following you for at least two days that I am aware of. Most unnatural."
"We have very different ideas of what constitutes unnatural, Spikestaff," laughed Harry. "Let me see it."
The huge, obviously emancipated dog sat in the shadow of a side building, staring almost forlornly at the entrance to the Leaky.
"Doesn't look too healthy, does it?" asked Harry.
"Barely edible," agreed Spikestaff.
"And you reckon it's following me?"
"A dog usually instinctively knows better than to get too close to any Goblin," answered Spikestaff. "But my presence has been, for the most part, discrete."
"Hmm. Do you think it might have been sent by someone? Maybe it's meant to attack me or something," said Harry, starting to get excited at the prospect of a mystery and maybe some action.
He had no fear of the animal overcoming his hired guard.
"It has had several opportunities and has failed to make any hostile move," pointed out Spikestaff. "More likely it is just a stray that has found something about you it finds fascinating."
"Maybe he is spying on me," said Harry, trying to salvage something of interest from the situation.
"Possibly, although there are many better and less conspicuous ways to achieve that."
"Hmm, okay. I guess you're probably right, but just to be sure, lets go take a look," said Harry, desperate to do something. "We can stop by the kitchen and get some leftovers for it too. At the very least I won't have wasted the day completely."
Spikestaff nodded, knowing it was not his place to disagree with his employer's choices, but in the pit of his stomach, he felt inexplicably uneasy. Checking all of his weapons were prepared, he moved to make sure the way forward was clear.
If the dog proved to be harmless, it might provide a welcome distraction for the young wizard. If it proved to be dangerous, it would not get much of a chance to do harm, not on his watch.
With luck, it would prove tasty either way.
"Here you go, fella," said Harry carefully holding out the meat he had scavenged from the kitchens of the Leaky Cauldron. "Not sure what massive, black, stalker demon dogs from hell usually eat, but you look like you could use a bit of something to fill you up.
"I just hope you don't intend on having me for afters."
The dog looked rather surprised, but quickly recovered and began hoeing into the bowl.
"Bit hungry there eh? Unfortunately I know what that feels like," laughed Harry.
Strangely the dog stopped it ravishing and gave Harry a quizzical look.
"I wasn't really that welcome at my relatives house where I live you see," said Harry, feeling a strange need to explain, "but don't worry about that – you just keep eating, there's plenty more where that came from, mate."
After a slight pause, the dog returned to its dinner, making short work of the substantial helping.
"You want a drink, boy?" asked Harry.
Taking a quick glance around to be sure nobody was watching, Harry poked his wand into the dish.
"Aguamenti!" he intoned, causing a rush of water to flow from the wand and into the bowl, where it splashed out spectacularly.
"Ooops, sorry about that," said Harry, slowing down the flood so that he could fill the bowl and not just spray-hose it out. "I only just learned that spell – it's one of the most advanced I know, but don't tell anybody because I'm not really meant to do magic outside of school."
The dog drank deeply, and sat back looking at Harry with an almost amused expression on its face.
"Yeah , I know," said Harry. "I'm a bit of a mischief-maker, but who are you going to tell?"
"Woof!" answered the dog.
"You will not," said Harry. "Not if you want more food that is."
The giant hound whimpered and lay down on its belly before rolling over onto its back in obvious mock supplication.
"Wow, you're a smart bugger, aren't you?" said Harry, feeling slightly worried.
Suddenly the dog sat up, and proceeded to clean its private bits enthusiastically.
"Okay, maybe not so smart after all," said Harry, watching with disgust as the dog beat its tail in happiness while continuing its grooming. "That's it. Stop that. Please stop that. Look if you stop, I'll take you to a pet parlour, or whatever the equivalent is around here, and get them to give you a proper wash.
"Come on, it can't be that dirty. All right, I'll get you cleaned up, have that mangy fur trimmed, and then I'll treat you to an ice cream. Is that enough?
"Obviously not. Oh, Merlin. He's making noises now. That's just wrong.
"Look, I'll even see if Tom will let you stay with me until I go back to school, okay? Thank Morgana. For a moment there, I thought I was going to have to adopt you or something – NO! You made a deal now stick to it! If you start doing that again I am going to walk away. Good.
"Now, come on, then. Let's see what we can find, eh? If you're good, I might even take you to a very special place of mine that's become a home of sorts for me, more than my relatives' house ever was anyway.
" It's called an arcade parlour."
Watching the boy and the dog head off into the Alley, Spikestaff nodded appreciatively. The young wizard had good instincts; the dog was worth watching more closely.
And, like the boy himself, it could definitely do with some fattening up.
"Tom, why would some of your late-night customers be trying to buy some of my hair?"
"Now, Mr. Potter, what did I tell you about venturing into the common room after midnight?"
"That I mustn't get caught by the Ministry guy when he comes to check up on me?"
"Other than that."
"That I'm likely to discover things better left until I'm much older?"
"That's the one. I don't think you are quite ready to face those sorts of things yet, so take my advice, and be sure to be back in your room before the night-shift comes in, okay?"
"All right, Tom," said Harry. "But I'd still like to know what they're doing with all that Polyjuice potion."
"Next year, Mr. Potter. Not until next year, at the earliest."
"Okay, but do you mind if I bring my dog up to my room, to distract me from thinking about such going ons?"
"Not a problem, Mr Potter. Anything short of a Hippogriph is pretty welcome here."
"Thanks, Tom. Come on, Dog. No need to sleep outside tonight."
"I see Potter is back again," said the attendant, watching Harry enter the arcade, a big black dog loping along behind him.
"At least two hours every day so far. If nobody else came in, we'd likely still be turning a profit from him alone."
"Going to miss him when schools in again. What's he playing now? Don't tell me he beat Castle Defence, with all the extra levels we put in?"
"Nah, said he was sick of always being the hero and wanted to try something different for a change. He had a go on the Bucking Broomstick ride, but said it reminded him too much of his first year at school or something. He's in the middle of 'Manikin Dance Off' at the moment. It's all he plays now."
"Dancing? Really? I never thought that game would take off, not with those pig-dog-ugly manikins you animated."
"I didn't expect it either, that's why I used the cheapest life-sized dolls I could get a hold of, but he's right into he is. Not too shabby at it either, especially considering he couldn't even do a simple waltz when he first started. Really started paying attention to what he was doing once that dog started coming in with him though."
"Dog? You let him take a dog onto the dance floor? Are you nuts?"
"Hey, I thought it was stupid too, until I saw it playing right along side of him."
"You're pulling my leg, aren't you?"
"Nope, go have a look. Potter pays for two players, and the dog gets up on two legs against a manikin and dances right along with him - Gets him a bit angry though."
"Well what does he expect? It's bound to bring down his score."
"Nah, it keeps beating him."
"Okay, Dog," said Harry pointing his wand at the huge hound. "I was willing to spring for your meals and potions, didn't mind getting you all de-flea-ed and cleaned up, was quite happy to let you sleep on the end of my bed, and had no problem with you stealing my ice-cream every time I look away, but if you don't get out of that seat right now, we are over."
The dog whimpered contritely and slithered out of the front seat of the cart, tail between its legs and head bowed.
"That was rather mean, Harry," said Luna reproachfully, watching the dog as it sullenly climbed into the seat behind them.
Harry grunted and snuggled in next to the blonde girl, signalling for the fearful looking Goblin banker to start the journey.
"Sorry you had to see that, Luna," he said, "but you have to draw the line somewhere, and I'm not giving this up for anybody, especially not a mangy mutt who cheats at dance competitions."
The dog's barking denial was lost in Harry's and Luna's excited screams as the cart hit the first drop.
"So let me get this straight," said Harry to his bodyguard. "Dog, who has been hanging around with me for the last few days, is not actually a dog, but is really Sirius Black, the mass-murderer I hired you to protect me from?"
"But he is not actually a murderer either. He is in reality innocent, and never received a proper trial."
"Not only that, but the real murderer, Peter Pettigrew, has been in hiding for twelve years as my mate Ron's pet rat, Scabbers."
"He initially belonged to one of the elder brothers, Percival, I believe, but was passed down to your friend three years ago, yes."
"And you found this out after capturing Black last night, while I was sleeping, and interrogating him with some sort of truth serum-"
"-because you wanted to know why he hadn't already tried to kill me, having had ample opportunities over the last two days."
"Again, you are essentially correct."
"And not only is he innocent, and the real culprit has already been arrested, but he is my godfather."
Harry sat quietly for a moment, contemplating the extraordinary turn of events just presented to him and trying to understand what it all meant to his life.
"How exactly did you find out he was an Animagus?"
"Black transformed into a human while you slept and I was able to subdue him," answered Spikestaff. "He fought valiantly, but was far too undernourished to put up much of a fight while wandless."
"But why did he transform in the first place? Hang on; you were trying to stick him in that portable oven of yours again, weren't you?"
"I was merely testing the intelligence of the creature, to determine if it posed a threat to you. It was far too intelligent to be a normal beast and my duty to you-"
"You were trying to determine if he went well with a lemon and butter sauce!"
"It was a valid test-"
"It was an attempt to make a soufflé using my dog."
"You did not fill out the appropriate forms to claim the creature as your own."
"And you didn't ask if you could have my godfather as an entrée!"
"Nevertheless, no harm has befallen your godfather and my actions have provided him with justice that would surely have been neglected should the Ministry have captured him. Now, are we going to go visit him at Gringotts, or do you wish to spend more time discussing my dietary habits?"
"Fine, fine. Just don't get any funny ideas involving my owl."
"Sirius, you need to take a holiday," said Harry earnestly.
"Tell me about it," said Sirius.
They were in one of Gringotts' many conference rooms, enjoying a substantial breakfast consisting of a variety of jams, toast, and the obligatory delicious Goblin nutrient potion. Gringotts were keeping Black supposedly in 'protective custody' pending the reward payout from the Ministry to Spikestaff. It was the finest confinement Harry had ever heard of, resembling more a stay in a luxury hotel than any sort of detainment.
While Harry found his godfather to be quite a character, he held some concerns about the mental state of the man. Twelve years in hell and a few weeks on the run as a dog didn't make for a stable adult figure in Harry's books. A few hours of getting to know each other didn't do much to alleviate his concerns either, although it proved to be very entertaining.
"I can't believe you let me think you were just a dog," said Harry.
"I just intended on seeing how you were doing," explained Sirius. "But then I saw that Goblin hanging around you and got worried. Next thing I know, you're in my face with a big bowl of meat and a warm place to stay. It seemed like a good idea to hang around for a while before going after Wormtail, especially since he was likely to come to you anyway."
"See, now that's what I am talking about," said Harry. "Nobody in their right mind would think that was any sort of plan. What were you going to do, just jump out and gobble him up or something? And then what?"
"Well I hadn't really gotten to thinking much past the 'killing the traitor for revenge' bit-"
"Now how do you expect to get love and trust with me wondering if you might just up and start chewing on my friends' pets?" laughed Harry. "I mean what were you going to have for afters, Hedwig?"
"I had planned on a jug of Firewhisky or two, but finding somebody who would sell it to a dog was a stumbling block I hadn't worked how to get around yet."
"Any idea when it'll be okay for you to leave here, as a human that is? Not that I mind sharing my holiday with you as a dog, but it'd be nice to go out somewhere with my godfather, if you know what I mean. "
"Probably in about five years," said Sirius sarcastically. "The Ministry is trying to keep the news quiet, so I can't see me being able to walk down the street without causing a riot anytime soon. The only real reason the Goblins haven't handed me over is because the Black family vault is rather loaded with gold."
"Wait – you have a vault?" asked Harry.
"Quite a big one," said Sirius. "The Blacks are a noble, pure-blood house going back centuries."
"So it will be deeper in, right?"
"Almost on the lowest level with all the other high security vaults," agreed Sirius.
"So why are we still sitting here?" asked Harry excitedly.
"What's Potter doing now? I thought he didn't like the Bucking Broomstick game?"
"You are not going to stand there and tell me the dog is playing!"
"No, but only because they haven't figured out a way to get all four of its legs to grip the broom properly."
"So what's going on then?"
"Surfing? What do you mean 'surfing'?"
"He stuck a board on top, changed the charm a bit, and now it works like you're surfing. Paid me extra to let him try it, and all."
"Well that's not such a bad idea. I bet not many Wizards have ever been surfing. Surprised Potter can though, he doesn't seem the type."
"Not Potter, the dog."
"You've been spending too much time inside, mate. It's gotten to you."
"That's not the worst part. The worst part is when the dog tries to teach him."
"Hello, Harry. Hello, Dog," said Luna, sliding into a chair next to them. "I'd say hello to you too, Mr. Spikestaff, but I don't want to give your position inside Harry's backpack away."
"Hello, Luna," said Harry happily.
"Woof," said Sirius, his snout covered in desert.
The backpack didn't comment.
"Can I buy you an ice-cream Luna? The chocolate fudge is divine-"
"Woof," said Sirius.
"Although Dog seems to think the banana split is loads better, but I think he is a bit biased because of the whole 'dogs can't digest chocolate' thing."
"Woof," repeated Sirius.
"Thank you, Harry. I'll have a banana split please. I am almost certain fudge contains a mind-altering substance making people prone to addiction, plus it takes the lives of too many cackleberry fairies to make. I couldn't live with that on my conscious."
"Woof," said Sirius, yet again.
"Smart-arse," said Harry.
"Now twist your wand, like this," said Sirius, demonstrating the complex charm with his new wand.
Harry valiantly made the attempt, but went slightly wrong on the last turn.
"What the hell is that?" asked Sirius, looking at was formerly a chair and the target of Harry's transfiguration attempt.
"It was meant to be a lion," said Harry, watching the green amorphous puddle on the floor.
"It looks like the time your dad tried to cook Muggle jelly for you."
"You don't cook jelly," said Harry automatically.
"So we found out, especially not with magic. Valuable lesson, that was."
"Sirius, is it just me, or is it moving?"
"Yep, it's moving all right. Hey look, it's eating the other chair!"
"It's doubled in size. Can you, er, get rid of it? Please?"
"But look at it, it's cute. Wow. How did it just swallow the whole table?"
"Get rid of it Sirius, quickly!"
"Can't I keep it? I haven't had a pet for ages. Well besides some cockroaches in prison I trained to be my army for the uprising-"
"IT'S EATING THE LOUNGE!"
"Okay, okay, I'll get rid of it. There, all gone. Happy now?"
"Yes, thank you," sighed Harry in relief.
"Hey, can you imagine what could have happened if that had gotten loose? Especially if it made it into the Muggle world. Cor, that would have been exciting."
"Exciting is not what I would call it," said Harry. "An unnatural disaster would be closer."
"True. Hey, can you show me the wand movement you used?"
"Hello, I'd like a Portkey to a Pacific island, please," said Harry.
"Which one?" asked the travel agent.
"Doesn't really matter, just so long as it has a nice surf beach and lots of sun."
"Oh yeah, sorry, and lots of women," added Harry, slightly embarrassed.
"All right, all right, already. Lots of beautiful, scantily clad, single, women."
"Son, you know you need you parent's permission to buy an international Portkey, don't you?"
"I'm not buying it," said Harry. "My dog is."
"Your dog?" asked the agent, peering over the counter at the rather scraggly looking beast that was almost as tall as the boy it stood next to. "Your dog wants a holiday?"
"Yeah, he's had a bit of a rough time of it lately-"
"So I can see."
"Down boy! Anyway, he needs a bit of a break somewhere with some sun and surf, okay?"
"Well there aren't any regulations I know of prohibiting selling a Portkey to a dog-"
"But I think if you just want to get rid of him, you could simply tie him up behind Gringotts and leave him there for a few hours."
"Woof. Grrrrrr. Woof!"
"Whoa there big fella! No harm meant. Okay, one Portkey to Phuket coming up."
"Okay, one return Portkey to Phuket on its way. Valid for six months."
"Thanks, mister," said Harry, handing over payment. "Say thank-you, Dog."
"You're welcome – Wait, why am I talking to a dog?"
"Well, Sirius," said Harry, feeling strangely sad. "I guess this is it then."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "I guess so. Er, well, I've never been big on goodbyes."
"Me either, but it's not really 'goodbye', is it?" asked Harry. "It's more just, 'see you later', right?"
"For sure," agreed Sirius quickly. "You know, you could-"
"Nah. I've got Hogwarts and my friends and things," said Harry. "Besides, you need to relax and get your head on straight. Last thing you want is an easily bored teenager to chase around after."
Harry suddenly found himself enveloped in a massive hug, and didn't hesitate to return the affection to a man he had only really just met.
"You'd never be a burden, Harry. You know that, right?"
"Thanks, Sirius," said Harry, stepping back. "Now go have some fun, and don't forget to write."
"You too, kiddo. Remember what I told you about your mum and dad, and don't let greasy Snivellus get you down."
"I won't, I promise. See you later then."
With a soft pop, Sirius transformed into his canine form and picked up the old shoe that was the Portkey. With one last long look at his godson, he bit into the shoe and instantly disappeared in a flash of blue light.
"He will be all right," said Spikestaff , stepping out of the concealing shadows to comfort Harry. "Saint Mungos has arranged for some professional mind healers to meet with him there, courtesy of the Ministry who is trying to avoid a massive compensation claim. He will be cared for."
"I know," said Harry. "It's just that I've barely met the guy, and now I feel like I've chased him away.
"But enough of that," he said shaking off the depressing thoughts clouding his feelings. "With the threat of Sirius Black removed, and the Weasley's arriving tomorrow, I think you can have the rest of the week off, Spikestaff. You've done well."
"Mr. Potter, while that is generous of you, I would remind you that Black is not the only threat you face, and it would be prudent to keep your guard up at all times."
"Nah, I think I'm pretty well done. I'm just going to go back to the Leaky and go over my homework again. Tomorrow my friends will be here and everything will be back to normal."
"Very well, Mr. Potter," said Spikestaff, "if that is your wish. I, however intend on venturing into a little known tavern near the entrance of Knockturn alley."
"A tavern? You? I didn't think you would drink, you know, with all that highly trained martial arts guff. Doesn't it pollute the temple of your body or something?"
"On the contrary, alcohol is renowned for having a fortifying effect on Goblins. It increases our metabolism and helps us recover from battles faster, but it is not the ale that I am going there for."
"They have recently obtained the services of a rather unusual troupe of acrobats."
"You mean jugglers, trapeze artists, and that sort of thing?"
"Amongst others, yes. It is the contortionists in particular I wish to see for myself, as I understand they have added some rather lithe Goblinette performers to the traditional Veela line-up."
"You know, I've never been to a circus, but I'm not really in the mood right now. Thanks anyway."
"Very well. I shall enjoy the show on my own. Goodbye, Mr. Potter. It has been an enjoyable experience that I will recall with fondness."
"Thanks, Spikestaff. You've been the best. Goodbye."
They clamped forearms and smiled, then the Goblin turned and began walking away, leaving Harry to contemplate his first ever real holiday.
It had been an experience all right, filled with more fun and adventure than a whole year at school. Not only had he sampled a multitude of delights and spoiled himself rotten, but he now had a new guardian who could tell him stories about his parents and had a wicked sense of fun.
His year ahead looked brighter than ever, and not just because of some of his new purchases meant homework and assignments were a burden of the past.
Nope, his two weeks in the alley were definitely a highlight of his life so far, definitely something to tell Ron and Hermione about when he saw them tomorrow, that was for sure.
"Wait, did he say Veela? Contortionists? SPIKESTAFF! WAIT UP!"
As he took off running, he realised it wasn't quite over yet.
Apologies to Robert Asprin and M.Y.T.H. Inc. for the blatant Dragon poker rip-off.
Thanks again to AFC for help and inspiration writing this.