Dumbledore and I reached the Hospital Wing pretty quickly. I had been tripping and stumbling in every direction for most of the way there, until Dumbledore had refused to let my stubbornness continue. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders to steady me, and guided me towards the Hospital Wing.

For a few minutes, I forgot about the events of this catastrophic day. Being looked after like this was unfamiliar for me. Although I had discovered friends who cared for me over the past year, they were always my peers. Dumbledore, on the other hand, as an imposing older man, didn't share the role of brother or sister that Ron and Hermione had taken in my life.

No, Dumbledore was the distant relative; the symbolic head of my new, magical family, but rarely part of it. Here, beside him, I toyed with the idea of getting to know him a little better. I was as comfortable with him as I imagined I would be with an uncle, or a grandfather. With him, I felt safe in a way that I couldn't remember.

Was this how it had felt to be with my parents?

I had no way of knowing, but the longing dreams I'd experienced when locked in my cupboard told me that it was.

I sighed. There was no way that someone like Dumbledore would want to strike up a friendship with an eleven-year-old boy. A wave of loneliness swept over me for an instant, only to be replaced with hope. I still had Voldemort's promise to return my parents. I trusted Voldemort even less than I did Draco Malfoy, but I had no choice but to hope against hope that he had spoken the truth.

I shivered.

"Harry?" asked Dumbledore, looking down at me concernedly.

"Sorry," I muttered. He chuckled, and patted my arm with the hand wrapped around me.

"Don't say sorry," he said. "There's nothing for you to apologize for."

"Sorry," I repeated, and felt tongue-tied and foolish immediately afterwards. Dumbledore simply chuckled again.

A few steps later, we turned a corner to come into the Hospital Wing. The main door to it stood wide open, with a few smaller doors leading off it. I knew that one led to Madam Pomfrey's office, and another led to a potions store-cupboard, but had never seen the inside of the others.

"Ah! Here we are at last. Excuse me a moment, Harry, while I inform Madam Pomfrey of our arrival."

Dumbledore removed the arm from around my shoulder, and for a moment, I experienced a strange pang of loss. He looked at me for a minute before stepping away in the direction of Madam Pomfrey's office. I moved to follow him, but he held up a hand, palm facing me, and fingers outstretched. "No, no, Harry, you take a seat. I'll just be a moment."

Another shiver ran through me. I bit my cheek involuntarily, sending a hot ache across the left side of my mouth, and almost stumbling. I managed to pass it off as a step towards one of the many bedside chairs, but Dumbledore didn't look convinced. He strode towards the door of Madam Pomfrey's office, but didn't actually turn the handle and enter until I'd sat down.

I saw him watching me in the reflection from the shaded window set in Madam Pomfrey's office door. An odd expression flickered across his face as I sat; a mixture of concern and guilt.

The guilt surprised me – what did Dumbledore have to feel guilty about? I supposed that he might have been taking a little of the blame for letting Voldemort into the castle upon himself, but I was the one who'd failed to stop him.

He tried the door handle, and then, upon finding that it was locked, turned to look over his shoulder at me, and then, upon finding the door was locked, turned to look over his shoulder at me, giving me a conspiring wink before snapping his fingers.. A loud click came from the door, and it swung open.

"Good afternoon, Poppy!" greeted Dumbledore cheerfully. From somewhere deeper in the room I heard a startled cry.

"Albus! Goodness, you surprised me there. I..."

Their voices faded away as Dumbledore entered the room, closing the door behind himself, and leaving me with another of his warm smiles and my thoughts.

I dropped my face into my hands and let out a low groan, frustration mingling with guilt so tightly that I could hardly tell where one ended and the other began.

Now, more than even fifteen minutes ago, I needed to keep my lie. Not just to cover my arse, but because Dumbledore wasn't the kind of person I felt as if I could let down. I hardly knew him, and already I loathed the idea of betraying myself to Voldemort as much because he would disapprove as because of who and what Voldemort was.

This inexplicable pressure not to let Dumbledore down seemed far too powerful. It felt similar to the insidiously compelling charisma of Voldemort, who seemed to somehow be so persuasive despite everything I believed in, despite his monstrous features, and the threatening sibilant hiss in which he spoke.

It felt similar, and yet different, too.

I wondered if this was simply what it was like to be around such powerful wizards – if their very presence was so steeped in magic that it projected out from them to ensnare any unwary souls that wandered nearby.

Being near Dumbledore had felt like standing outside on a hot summer's day. I could feel a warmth that had nothing to do with heat coming from the man; an open, accepting, and simple breadth of spirit like the sun on my face. Voldemort, on the other hand...

Something about standing in his presence was exhilarating – although not an experience I longed to repeat.

I shivered again, despite the warmth. Odd how something so dark can happen on a bright summer afternoon. All the best evil happens on a sunny day.

Contrary to Dumbledore's gentle, magnificent presence, Voldemort was an ocean in a storm. He was icy waves towering hundreds of feet in the air, and tempestuous currents threatening to crush me with sheer cold power and charisma. He was force and fury incarnate.

I had seen the ocean before, if only once. It had been on a trip to the beach with the Dursleys. Surprisingly enough, they hadn't tried to leave me with my usual cat-scented old woman of a babysitter– despite Dudley's complaints. I think that there had been a few more, quieter protests from Aunt Petunia, too, but Uncle Vernon had put his foot down, claiming that everybody needs to see the ocean. It was one of very few rare moments when the man had acted charitably towards me. I was gratefully shell-shocked by it for a few hours until, in typical Dursley fashion, the family conspired to shatter my brief pleasure and replace it with bitterness.

Or more accurately, Dudley did, while his parents assisted him through their utter apathy towards my plight.

Over the course of two hours, I built an extravagant sand castle by hand. Dudley messed around a dozen feet away with plastic buckets and spades and tiny flags, making his own - but his was little more than a few upturned buckets of wet sand standing in a group. Mine was a castle. I was more than pleased with my creation – and doubly so when Dudley didn't kick it down.

My triumph waned somewhat when Dudley claimed my sand castle to be the fruit of his own labour, and entered it in a small competition running on the beach that day. It dipped even further when he won it.

It wasn't until we were sitting in the car on our way home that I realized something that brought back some of my pride. It was my castle. Dudley had claimed the prize, but I had been the one who'd really won. The Dursleys may have called me a no-good freak for years, but no-good was good enough to win that competition.

Perhaps this was the first time that I was truly no-good, but I'd learned long ago that it was good enough for me.

I clenched my hands tightly around the arms of the chair. The cold metal dug into my palms enough to hurt, but it didn't bother me. I was too distracted by my own wayward thoughts.

I may have thrown away any pretence of being a good person by giving the Stone to Voldemort, but I would get the chance to see my parents again. I would get what I wanted.

I had never thought myself to be perfect, and now, more than ever before, I had proved it.

But I didn't need to be perfect. I was no-good, and I neededto make that good enough. It would be good enough. I would be good enough. There was no longer any other option.

"Good enough," I whispered. The words felt somehow right in my mouth. I repeated them, over and over, savouring the feeling trapped between a mantra of sentiment and taste. "Good enough. Good enough. No-good enough. Enough. Good enough…"

Beyond those words, I remember little of losing consciousness. All I could remember was the determination and drive to keep going, hanging on to my overwhelming sense of adequacy with desperate fervour. Light-headedness bordering on euphoria spilled into me from the words and memories, letting emptiness bleed across my every sense.

Hours later, I was conscious again, and sat upright in bed, facing the headmaster after what had been both the easiest and hardest conversation of the year.

I wasn't able to lie to Dumbledore, yet he had asked for my account of events below the trapdoor. Voldemort told the lies for me, him and Quirrell, with their accursed magic. My treacherous mouth told the affable old man falsehood after falsehood, spinning a horrifically simple web of lies that lay around me like the tightest of bindings. During the conversation, my spirit had cracked a dozen times, and my heart had pleaded with me to confess everything. I hadn't been able to say anything but Voldemort's lies: of how the same power that had protected me as a baby had risen, burning Quirrell, and Voldemort with him, away into ash, and then nothingness. Damn Dumbledore, he believed me!

He stood up and adjusted his half-moon spectacles, surveying me with a sombre look I had rarely seen before. His bright blue eyes seemed a little duller for it. "Remember, Harry," he told me. "It is our choices that make us who we are." A shadow seemed to darken his aged face and his voice was tinted with regret. "You will need your friends now. Keep them close."

He gave me one last penetrating look and then the shadow lifted from his face. "The festivities will begin shortly," he said, his tone reverting to the grandfatherly one I was used to. He smiled at me, and I found that I could breathe again, as if a great constricting weight had been lifted from my chest. "Madam Pomfrey has declared you in good health, if a little tired, and has been generous enough to grant you permission to attend the feast after she donates a final vial of pepper-up potion to the worthy cause of healing Harry Potter." He lowered his voice into a hushed, conspiring whisper.
"With only the tiniest hint of persuasion from myself."

Beneath the bed covers, I clasped my fingers together and unclasped them again, nervously.

"Thanks, Professor," I mumbled, looking anywhere but at Dumbledore. I didn't dare look him in the eyes in case he saw the guilt and shame that threatened to overwhelm me

He placed a large, warm hand on my shoulder, and my eyes flicked upwards to meet his by reflex.

"Hogwarts is happy to see you well, my boy."

Dumbledore smiled at me one last time and left. I remained in bed for a while, my heart beating furiously as his words echoed over and over again in my mind. Maybe I was becoming paranoid, or maybe my fears were justified, but I did my best to quash the rising panic deep within me. A voice at the back of my mind hammered away at my every thought, shrieking he knows! He knows!

But surely if he knew, he'd have confronted me. I told myself that I was just panicking from guilt, but nevertheless, I couldn't shake the lingering feeling that Albus Dumbledore knew something was wrong with my lie.

I stayed there, moping, for what seemed like an age, until I was jolted out of my reverie by a series of startlingly loud bangs outside the room.

Multi-coloured light shone through the keyhole. I sat up fully, staring as a bright blue spark drifted to the floor, changing to a vivid purple before exploding into a cloud of sparkling dust.

Eventually, the door burst open, and a red-haired maelstrom tumbled inwards, to land in a heap on the floor.

"Hah!" crowed an indeterminate Weasley twin. "I told you that we were master lock-pickers!"

Hermione stepped gingerly around the mass of wriggling Weasley bodies, and made a scolding noise at the back of her throat – although I could see a quirk of amusement in the turned-up corners of her lips.

"You said that you were going to pick the lock with a hairpin."

"We did! Didn't we, Fred?"

Slightly more muffled, Fred's voice sounded as if it was coming from the bottom of the heap.

"Yes! Sort of!"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "A firework isn't a hairpin." I smiled at the exasperated tone in her voice. Going by the struggle on her face to avoid laughing, I guessed that it was completely false. Only months ago, I would have struggled to see the humour behind her words. So much had changed that I could scarcely believe it.

"It still worked!" shouted Ron, flailing about in an attempt to disentangle himself. "Oi, Fred! Gerrof me!" With only a few attempts, George managed to stand up, and step away from the heap. He straightened his tie and gave a loud, pompous sniff.

"George! I hope you don't think you're going anywhere like that! Why must you look so scruffy all the time?" exclaimed Fred, managing to stand himself after rolling away one of Ron's legs.

George slapped a hand to his forehead, and let out a slight groan.

"Of course," he said, and promptly untucked his shirt. Fred gave a nod of approval.

I let out a small snort of laughter, drawing everyone's attention.

"Oh, Harry!" shrieked Hermione, rushing over to me. She stopped just by the side of my bed, leaning slightly over it to peer at me. "Are you okay? We've been trying to get in since yesterday, but Madam Pomfrey kept the door locked. She kept saying that you were fine but needed rest, and we were all so worried, and-"

"Let him breathe, Hermione," said Ron, appearing over her shoulder. "You alright mate?"

"Yeah," I said. "You?"

"Yeah."

We grinned at one another. Nothing more needed to be said. I had made many friends at Hogwarts, but my first would always be my best – Ron. It was this simple, wordless understanding that made him my best friend, rather than just a friend. Fred and George jokingly called it an understanding between men. We were both close to Hermione, but our friendships with her were
very different to the one we shared.

Hermione sighed, and muttered under her breath. "Boys."

For a time, we pretended that things were normal. It was a good pretence.

What little of the year remained passed in a daze. I could hardly believe what I had done. In the morning, I borrowed a copy of the Daily Prophet, hoping against hope that I wouldn't see news of Voldemort's return, or a hundred deaths of good men and women – deaths that would be my fault. I didn't see that news, but that morning, and every one after that, I woke with my heart in my mouth, dreading that today would be the day that hell broke loose.

I wasn't able to muster the effort to do much more than smile weakly when we won the House Cup. On the train platform, Hagrid was looking for me, but I ducked into the Hogwarts Express, and locked myself into a compartment as soon as I found an empty one. I was too ashamed to face him, or anyone else. I didn't say goodbye to Ron or Hermione.

The train corridor stretched away in front of me; long, narrow, and open. I fled down the carriages, hunting for an empty compartment. Everywhere, there were students. Oh, some were nearly empty, but that single student filling a fraction of the space available was a single student too many. I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to be stared at. And I didn't want my friends.

I was not the person they thought I was.

When they looked at me, they saw Harry Potter, boy hero – regardless of the fact that the most heroic deed I could actually lay claim to was catching a tiny golden ball. I had grown tired of being idolized for something I hadn't done long before now, but, given recent events, I felt more like a villain than a hero.

Villains did not sit and chat with their friends. They sulked in the corner. I had earned my right to sulk in the corner.

I heard all-too-familiar voices coming from the neighbouring carriage.

"No, I haven't seen Potter! Get lost!" exclaimed Malfoy, loudly.

Hermione's shrill voice cut across the general hubbub of the other students chattering aimlessly, hauling luggage onto the train, and shouting their goodbyes.

"Honestly, Draco, we just wanted to know if you'd seen him. There's no need to be so confrontational. Now, have you seen Harry?"

"Are you deaf?"

"Have you seen him?" she demanded again. I stifled the urge to groan. Even when the victim of her nagging was Malfoy, she could annoy me. She could be more tightly-wound than Aunt Petunia, and that was saying something. For the hundredth time, I reminded myself to find her a hobby. Homework didn't count.

"Try looking on the tracks, Granger. I think I saw him right in front of the train, right, Crabbe?"

Crabbe grunted his agreement.

"Maybe under it," said Goyle. His voice, while quiet, was much deeper than the others and carried across the background noise as well as Hermione's.

Hermione gave an affronted sniff. I heard a door close.

Shit. They were moving. I prayed that they wouldn't come any closer, but, to my frustration, I saw the door at the end of my carriage open. I grimaced and ducked inside the nearest compartment, hoping that it wasn't too full.

A tall, dark-haired student I didn't recognize was sitting inside, reading quietly. He looked considerably older than me - fifth year or above, by my estimate. When I barged in, breathing loudly, and dragging my trunk behind me, he gave me an odd, speculative look. Something about him seemed off, but I decided that this was going to be as good an option as any I could find without risking bumping into Ron and Hermione.

The door rattled. I tensed.

Malfoy poked his head through the doorway.

I wasn't sure whether to be grateful that it wasn't one of my friends, or irritated that it was Malfoy. So, naturally, I hexed him.

"Locomotor mortis!"

The leg-locker curse wasn't a particularly potent spell, but it was enough to take out Malfoy. A well-aimed snowball would do the same, so I tried not to take too much pride in his surprised squawk.

As his legs were bound together, he fell forwards into the compartment. He managed to catch himself with his hands, preventing a nasty collision of floor and nose that would've deepened the red of the carpet. He swore loudly, and struggled to get to his bound feet. His endeavour was not a success. He succeeded only in wriggling further into the compartment.

I could see the brutish, confused face of Crabbe peering through the doorway, shifting uneasily. He looked as if he wanted to hit me, or perhaps ask what was going on. Unfortunately – for him – Malfoy's fallen form prevented him from entering the compartment.

"Damn it all, Potter! Undo this!"

I snorted. He wouldn't be asking me if his two hulking minions could counter my minor curse. I toyed with the idea of rolling him off the train, and leaving him on the platform until the Hogwarts Express had gone and somebody found him. The notion, I admit, pleased me a great deal.

Before I had a chance to do much beyond entertain happy thoughts of tormenting Malfoy now that he was at the benefit of my tender mercies, the older student in the compartment stood. My eyes flicked to his lapel, checking for a prefect badge. There was none.

Looking over his robes, I realized that there was no school crest or house badge. While plain black robes, much like the school ones, the cut was far finer than any of my housemates.

He swept out of the compartment, treading over Malfoy as if he wasn't there.

"Leave," he ordered. Crabbe and Goyle fled.

"Hey!" exclaimed Malfoy. "Who do you think you are? When my father hears of this, he'll have you strung by your ankles and whipped bloody!"

Malfoy's cries were ignored.

Once he stood in the doorway, the older boy snapped his fingers. Malfoy's wand flew from out of his robes and into the other's hand.

"Your father would be ashamed of such a performance, Draco. See that you do not make a habit of being caught so readily by so simple a spell," he said. His voice was cold and cutting and hauntingly familiar, although I couldn't place it.

"Harry," he said. He was still facing away from us. Malfoy spluttered indignantly, but wordlessly. From my seat, I could see his wide, shocked eyes, and paler-than-usual face. Even at so young an age, we both felt a tiny fraction of the shame an older wizard would at losing a wand. For most of a year, Malfoy had been channelling his magic through that wand. It was well on its way to becoming a part of him, and had so easily been lost.

The casual display of such powerful magic was not lost on me. My attention snapped firmly to the stranger in the doorway.

"What?" I asked, beginning to feel uneasy.

"This will let my owl find you. Keep it close."

He tossed a small silvery object over his shoulder. Despite the fact that he hadn't been looking in even remotely my direction, it would have impacted directly against my face had I not snatched it out of the air. Studying it briefly, I saw a small metal sphere engraved with tiny runes.

It was bright and shiny enough to be brand new: this was not some ancient magical artefact that had lain on a dusty shop shelf for decades.

By the time I looked up, the door was closing. Through the window, I saw him tap Draco's wand to the doorknob. A soft click echoed through the small compartment.

"He's locked us in," I said.

"State the obvious again, Potter. Then unlock my legs. And then the damn door!" shouted Malfoy. A note of panic crept into his voice. A red flush spread over his cheeks.

Outside the compartment, I saw the older boy make a tightly controlled but complex gesture with Draco's wand, conjuring a slender twig. He then placed Draco's wand on the sill of the door's window and nodded towards it while looking me in the eyes. The message was clear: when I got out of the compartment, the wand was mine to do with as I wished.

A cold smile spread across his features. He took the conjured twig in both hands.

"Stop staring out the window and unhex me, you oaf!"

"Who is he?" I asked.

"I have no idea! If I did, I'd have his head on a platter for breakfast tomorrow! He took my wand, Potter. I hardly expect someone from your environment to understand what that means. My wand!"

Malfoy continued to bluster as the stranger slowly bent his hands downwards. The twig stretched into a wide arc, and then a tighter one, and then –

Snap.

Malfoy instantly whitened.

"What was that? Potter. Tell me. What was that noise?"

"Calm down, you prat. He only broke-"

"Tell me he didn't break my wand!"

"Oh, shut up. It was only a twig."

"It was my wand!" screamed Malfoy. In his anger, he managed to break free from my curse. He scrambled upright, and punched me solidly in the face. I went reeling back across the seat.

Clapping a hand to my burning cheek, I shouted back at him.

"He broke a twig, NOT your wand!"

He stood there, gaping, staring, and speechless. Relief washed over his face. He collapsed heavily onto the seat opposite me.

"Oh," he said, in a small voice.

I took my hand away from my cheek and looked at it. There was a small smear of blood. The inside of my mouth stung. Blood wiped over my fingertip when I touched it to the sore spot on the inside.

And then I hit him back.

He rocked back, stunned, and then threw out a second punch of his own. I ducked and grabbed for his throat in a way that reminded me all too much of Uncle Vernon. I grimaced, but, unwilling to let go, continued to squeeze his irritating throat.

I was forced to let go when he hit me in the stomach, knocking all the air out of my lungs.

I wasn't entirely sure of what happened next. There was a tangled blur of limbs and fists for a while, and then I knocked my head against the wooden baseboards beneath the seats. I sat on the floor, breathing heavily, and watching Malfoy carefully. A pleasantly large bruise decorated one of his eyes.

He climbed up onto the seat, making no move to attack me again.

Eventually, I joined him.

"You can't hit worth shit, Potter," he said at last.

"I don't have a pair of trolls to practice on whenever I feel like it."

"At least keep your thumb outside your fist. You'll only break it if you squeeze it like that every time you throw a punch."

"Right," I said.

We sat in silence for the next few hours, until the witch pushing the trolley of sweets came along.

Draco and I exchanged hopeful looks when we heard her approach – that is to say, I glared at the cushion on his seat, and he raised an eyebrow then began admiring the passing scenery.

The doorknob rattled about for a few seconds, and then she peered in through the doorway.

"Oh my, you seem to have locked yourselves in here somehow! Never mind. I'd leave the door open for the rest of the trip, if I were you, dears. Would you like anything from the trolley?"

We didn't.

Thanks to Draco's averted face as he stared out of the window, she didn't notice anything amiss, either.

After she had gone, I got up and collected Draco's wand from the other side of the door. He stared at it with wide eyes.

I held it out to him, and he slowly reached out a hand and took it.

We didn't look at one another for the rest of the trip.

When the train arrived at the platform, we left through different ends of the carriage.

The Dursleys were waiting on Platform Nine for me. Uncle Vernon grunted a greeting at me. I gave them the same in return. My summer continued in a similar manner until Voldemort came through on his promise.

It was hardly a week into the summer when an owl appeared outside my window, tapping on the glass with a hooked beak. I opened the window to let it in, marvelling at the beautiful creature. It was power and majesty where Hedwig was beauty and grace.

It was night. There was no other time that you could imagine this owl flying. It was a magnificent eagle owl, resplendent in amber eyes and mottled feathers. I reached out with a hand, and stroked its downy wings. The owl pushed itself slightly into my hand, like a cat. I smiled faintly.

Ron couldn't afford an owl like this, and I knew that Hermione didn't own one. When I realized who had sent it, I jerked my hand backwards as if it was a poisonous snake.

Voldemort.

The owl gave a low hoot, and hopped from the windowsill into my room, perching on the lampshade by my bed. Too large for the lamp to support its weight, the owl stretched out its wings for balance, teetering once, and then held out a leg.

A small package wrapped in brown paper and string was nestled in the owl's talons. I took it, tentatively, and then dropped it again as pain burst in my scar, and a flare of magic lit the room in lightless power, sucking in a sharp breath. Cursing Voldemort for the thousandth time, I knelt, and attempted to pick it up warily. The string came undone easily, and a thick gold ring set with a large black stone fell into my hand. The metal was warm, as if it had been worn recently.

Thin lines inscribed on the stone's surface formed a symbol, but I couldn't make out what it was in the lamplight, shaded as it was by Voldemort's owl.

The owl hooted at me, and ruffled its feathers impatiently. I wondered if it was waiting for something – for a reply, or an acknowledgment that I'd received the ring. There was nothing that I could think of to send back with the owl, except maybe the empty package in which the ring had come. I looked into my hand, crinkling the brown paper slightly, and teasing the string out between my fingers.

I fidgeted with it for a good few moments before I spotted something else in the recesses of the paper – a tiny square of folded parchment. I unfolded it, over and over again, until the heavily creased message was revealed.

A stone for a stone.

Voldemort was cunning, and evil, and untrustworthy. He'd sent me this ring for a reason, but I couldn't think of anything that it could be – a bribe to join his service, or a twisted compensation for the Philosopher's Stone, perhaps.

Another idea, half-formed, began to grow in the back of my mind. Voldemort had an army of loyal followers. He wouldn't be able to keep them loyal if he betrayed them constantly. Hope rose in my chest. My heart beat faster, and breath caught at the back of my throat. I dared to believe that this was my reward for giving in to his insidious, tantalizing promises.

I jammed the ring onto a finger, pushing it as far down as it would go. Nothing happened. I bit my lip, swallowing disappointment and anger. There was no way that this ring was just a ring. Voldemort had sent it. He claimed that power had to be earned, and I was going to earn this power to see my parents again, if it killed me.

The puzzle of this ring wouldunlock itself. I didn't think that it would have a password, of any kind. That seemed too crude for Voldemort. I pulled my wand out from the back pocket of my jeans, and tapped the stone, to no avail.

I needed to see my parents now, more than ever. I needed to hear their advice; for someone to say that what I had done was okay. It wasn't. I knew that. But I still wanted to hear it, more than anything.

Bile rose from the pit of my stomach, and I sat down heavily on my narrow bed. Voldemort's owl leapt into the air, and spread its wings, gliding down the few feet to the windowsill, and then disappeared outside. As it jumped up, off the lampshade, the lamp teetered, and then fell to crash on the floor. The lamp-stand lay broken in pieces, as did the shattered glass bulb. I sighed. That would be difficult to explain to Aunt Petunia.

Hedwig hooted forlornly as he disappeared, spreading her wings to rattle at the bars of her cage. I gave her a sympathetic look. I knew exactly how she felt. We were both trapped in very similar cages, here at Privet Drive.

"Boy!"

I swore under my breath and rushed to hide the ring.