Harry had no particular feeling about the Dursleys leaving. It made no difference to him whether they were in the house or not. He could not even summon the energy to get up and turn on his bedroom light. The room grew steadily darker around him as he lay listening to the night sounds through the window he kept open all the time, waiting for the blessed moment when Hedwig returned. The empty house creaked around him. The pipes gurgled. Harry ay there in a kind of stupor, thinking of nothing, suspended in misery. Then, quite distinctly, he heard a crash in the kitchen below.
He sat bolt upright, listening intently. The Dursleys couldn't be back, it was much too soon, and in any case he hadn't heard their car.
There was silence for a few seconds, then voices.
Burglars, he thought, sliding off the bed on to his feet - but a split second later it occurred to him that burglars would keep their voices down, and whoever was moving around in the kitchen was certainly not troubling to do so.
He snatched up his wand from the bedside table and stood lacing his bedroom door, listening with all his might. Next moment, he jumped as the lock gave a loud click and his door swung open.
Harry stood motionless, staring through the open doorway at the dark upstairs landing, straining his ears for further sounds, but none came. He hesitated for a moment, and then moved swiftly and silently out of his room to the head of the stairs.
His heart shot upwards into his throat. There were people standing in the shadowy hall below, silhouetted against the streetlight glowing through the glass door; eight or nine of them, all, as far as he could see, looking up at him.
"Lower your wand, boy, before you take someone's eye out," said a low, growling voice.
Harry's heart was thumping uncontrollably. He knew that voice, but he did not lower his wand.
"Professor Moody?" he said uncertainly.
"I don't know so much about "Professor"," growled the voice, "never got round to much teaching, did I? Get down here; we want to see you properly."
Harry lowered his wand slightly but did not relax his grip on it, nor did he move. He had very good reason to be suspicious. He had recently spent nine months in what he had thought was Mad-Eye Moody's company only to find out that it wasn't Moody at all, but an impostor; an impostor, moreover, who had tried to kill Harry before being unmasked. But before he could make a decision about what to do next, a second, slightly hoarse voice floated upstairs.
"It's all right, Harry. We've come to take you away."
Harry's heart leapt. He knew that voice, too, though he hadn't heard it for over a year.
"P-Professor Lupin?" he said disbelievingly. "Is that you?"
"Why are we all standing in the dark?" said a third voice, this one completely unfamiliar, a woman's. "Lumos."
A wand-tip flared, illuminating the hall with magical light. Harry blinked. The people below were crowded around the loot of the stairs, gazing up at him intently, some craning their heads for a better look.
Remus Lupin stood nearest to him. Though still quite young, Lupin looked tired and rather ill; he had more grey hairs than when Harry had last said goodbye to him and his robes were more patched and shabbier than ever. Nevertheless, he was smiling broadly at Harry, who tried to smile back despite his state of shock.
"Oooh, he looks just like I thought he would," said the witch who was holding her lit wand aloft. She looked the youngest there; she had a pale heart-shaped face, dark twinkling eyes, and short spiky hair that was a violent shade of violet. "Wotcher, Harry!"
"Yeah, I see what you mean, Remus," said a bald black wizard standing furthest back - he had a deep, slow voice and wore a single gold hoop in his ear – "he looks exactly like James."
"Except the eyes," said a wheezy-voiced, silver-haired wizard at the back. "Lily's eyes."
Mad-Eye Moody, who had long grizzled grey hair and a large chunk missing from his nose, was squinting suspiciously at Harry through his mismatched eyes. One eye was small, dark and beady, the other large, round and electric blue - the magical eye that could see through walls, doors and the back of Moody's own head.
"Are you quite sure it's him, Lupin?" he growled. "'I'd be a nice lookout if we bring back some Death Eater impersonating him. We ought to ask him something only the real Potter would know. Unless anyone brought any Veritaserum?"
"Harry, what form does your Patronus take?" Lupin asked.
"A stag," said Harry nervously.
"That's him, Mad-Eye," said Lupin.
Very conscious of everybody still staring at him, Harry descended the stairs, stowing his wand in the back pocket of his jeans as he came.
"Don't put your wand there, boy!" roared Moody. "What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!"
"Who d'you know who's lost a buttock?" the violet-haired woman asked Mad-Eye interestedly.
"Never you mind, you just keep your wand out of your back pocket!" growled Mad-Eye. "Elementary wand-safety, nobody bothers about it anymore." He stumped off towards the kitchen. "And I saw that," he added irritably, as the woman rolled her eyes towards the ceiling.
Lupin held out his hand and shook Harry's.
"How are you?" he asked, looking closely at Harry.
"F-fine . . ."
Harry could hardly believe this was real. Four weeks with nothing, not the tiniest hint of a plan to remove him from Privet Drive, and suddenly a whole bunch of wizards was standing matter-of-factly in the house as though this was a long-standing arrangement. He glanced at the people surrounding Lupin; they were still gazing avidly at him. He felt very conscious of the fact that he had not combed his hair for four days.
"I'm - you're really lucky the Dursleys are out . . ." he mumbled.
"Lucky, ha!" said the violet-haired woman. "It was me who lured them out of the way. Sent a letter by Muggle post telling them they'd been short-listed for the All-England Best Kept Suburban Lawn Competition. They're heading off to the prize-giving right now . . . or they think they are."
Harry had a fleeting vision of Uncle Vernon's face when he realized there was no All-England Best Kept Suburban Lawn Competition.
"We are leaving, aren't we?" he asked. "Soon?"
"Almost at once," said Lupin, "we're just waiting for the all-clear."
"Where are we going? The Burrow?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Not The Burrow, no," said Lupin, motioning Harry towards the kitchen; the little knot of wizards followed, all still eyeing Harry curiously. "Too risky. We've set up Headquarters somewhere un-detectable. It's taken a while . . ."
Mad-Eye Moody was now sitting at the kitchen table swigging from a hip flask, his magical eye spinning in all directions, taking in the Dursleys' many labor-saving appliances.
"This is Alastor Moody, Harry," Lupin continued, pointing towards Moody. "Yeah, I know," said Harry uncomfortably. It felt odd to be introduced to somebody he'd thought he'd known for a year.
"And this is Nymphadora – "
"Don't call me Nymphadora, Remus," said the young witch with a shudder, "it's Tonks."
"Nymphadora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her surname only," finished Lupin.
"So would you if your fool of a mother had called you Nymphadora"' muttered Tonks.
"And this is Kingsley Shacklebolt." He indicated the tall black wizard, who bowed. "Elphias Doge." The wheezy-voiced wizard nodded. "Dedalus Diggle – "
"We've met before," squeaked the excitable Diggle, dropping his violet-colored top hat.
"Emmeline Vance." A stately-looking witch in an emerald green shawl inclined her head. "Sturgis Podmore." A square-jawed wizard with thick straw-colored hair winked. "And Hestia Jones." A pink-cheeked, black-haired witch waved from next to the toaster.
Harry inclined his head awkwardly at each of them as they were introduced. He wished they would look at something other than him; it was as though he had suddenly been ushered on-stage. He also wondered why so many of their, were there.
"A surprising number of people volunteered to come and get you," said Lupin, as though he had read Harry's mind; the corners of his mouth twitched slightly.
"Yeah, well, the more the better," said Moody darkly. "We're your guard, Potter."
"We're just waiting for the signal to tell us it's safe to set off," said Lupin, glancing out of the kitchen window. "We've got about fifteen minutes."
"Very clean, aren't they, these Muggles?" said the witch called Tonks, who was looking around the kitchen with great interest. "My dad's Muggle-born and he's a right old slob. I suppose it varies, just as it does with wizards?"
"Er - yeah," said Harry. "Look – " he turned back to Lupin, "what's going on, I haven't heard anything from anyone, what's Vol-?"
Several of the witches and wizards made odd hissing noises; Dedalus Diggle dropped his hat again and Moody growled, "Shut up!"
"What?" said Harry.
"We're not discussing anything here, it's too risky," said Moody, turning his normal eye on Harry. His magical eye remained focused on the ceiling. "Damn it," he added angrily, putting a hand up to the magical eye, "it keeps getting stuck - ever since that scum wore it."
And with a nasty squelching sound much like a plunger being pulled from a sink, he popped out his eye.
"Mad-Eye, you do know that's disgusting, don't you?" said Tonks conversationally.
"Get me a glass of water, would you, Harry," requested Moody.
Harry crossed to the dishwasher, took out a clean glass and filled it with water at the sink, still watched eagerly by the band of wizards. Their relentless staring was starting to annoy him.
"Cheers," said Moody, when Harry handed him the glass. He dropped the magical eyeball into the water and prodded it up and down; the eye whizzed around, staring at them all in turn. "I want three hundred and sixty degrees visibility on the return journey."
"How're we getting - wherever we're going?" Harry asked.
"Brooms," said Lupin. "Only way. You're too young to Apparate, they'll be watching the Floo Network and it's more than our life's worth to set up an unauthorized Portkey."
"Remus says you're a good flier," said Kingsley Shacklebolt in his deep voice.
"He's excellent," said Lupin, who was checking his watch. "Anyway, you'd better go and get packed, Harry, we want to be ready to go when the signal comes."
"I'll come and help you," said Tonks brightly.
She followed Harry back into the hall and up the stairs, looking around with much curiosity and interest.
"Funny place," she said. "It's a bit too clean, d'you know what I mean? Bit unnatural. Oh, this is better," she added, as they entered Harry's bedroom and he turned on the light.
His room was certainly much messier than the rest of the house. Confined to it for four days in a very bad mood, Harry had not bothered tidying up after himself. Most of the books he owned were strewn over the floor where he'd tried to distract himself with each in turn and thrown it aside; Hedwig's cage needed cleaning out and was starting to smell; and his trunk lay open, revealing a jumbled mixture of Muggle clothes and wizards' robes that had spilled on to the floor around it.
Harry started picking up books and throwing them hastily into his trunk. Tonks paused at his open wardrobe to look critically at her reflection in the mirror on the inside of the door.
"You know, I don't think violets really my color," she said pensively, tugging at a lock of spiky hair. "D'you think it makes me look a bit peaky?"
"Er – " said Harry, looking up at her over the top of Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland.
"Yeah, it does," said Tonks decisively. She screwed up her eyes in a strained expression as though she was struggling to remember something. A second later, her hair had turned bubble-gum pink.
"How did you do that?" said Harry, gaping at her as she opened her eyes again.
"I'm a Metamorphmagus," she said, looking back at her reflection and turning her head so that she could see her hair from all directions. "It means I can change my appearance at will," she added, spotting Harry's puzzled expression in the mirror behind her. "I was born one. I got top marks in Concealment and Disguise during Auror training without any study at all, it was great."
"You're an Auror?" said Harry, impressed. Being a Dark-wizard-catcher was the only career he'd ever considered after Hogwarts.
"Yeah," said Tonks, looking proud. "Kingsley is as well, he's a bit higher up than me, though. I only qualified a year ago. Nearly failed on Stealth and Tracking. I'm dead clumsy, did you hear me break that plate when we arrived downstairs?"
"Can you learn how to be a Metamorphmagus?" Harry asked her, straightening up, completely forgetting about packing.
Tonks chuckled. "Bet you wouldn't mind hiding that scar sometimes, eh?" Her eyes found the lightning-shaped scar on Harry's forehead.
"No, I wouldn't mind," Harry mumbled, turning away. He did not like people staring at his scar.
"Well, you'll have to learn the hard way, I'm afraid," said Tonks. "Metamorphmagi are really rare, they're born, not made. Most wizards read to use a wand, or potions, to change their appearance. But we've got to get going, Harry, we're supposed to be packing," she added guiltily, looking around at all the mess on the floor.
"Oh - yeah," said Harry, grabbing a few more books.
"Don't be stupid, it'll be much quicker if I - pack!" cried Tonks, waving her wand in a long, sweeping movement over the floor. Books, clothes, telescope and scales all soared into the air and flew pell-mell into the trunk.
"It's not very neat," said Tonks, walking over to the trunk and looking down at the jumble inside. "My mum's got this knack of getting stuff to fit itself in neatly - she even gets the socks to fold themselves - but I've never mastered how she does it - it's a kind of flick – " She flicked her wand hopefully.
One of Harry's socks gave a feeble sort of wiggle and flopped back on top of the mess in the trunk.
"Ah, well," said Tonks, slamming the trunk's lid shut, "at least it's all in. That could do with a bit of cleaning, too." She pointed her wand at Hedwig's cage. "Scourgify." A few feathers and droppings vanished. "Well, that's a bit better - I've never quite got the hang of these householdy sort of spells. Right - got everything? Cauldron? Broom? Wow! - A Firebolt?"
Her eyes widened as they fell on the broomstick in Harry's right hand. It was his pride and joy, a gift from Sirius, an international-standard broomstick.
"And I'm still riding a Comet Two Sixty," said Tonks enviously. "Ah well . . . wand still in your jeans? Both buttocks still on? OK, let's go. Locomotor trunk."
Harry's trunk rose a few inches into the air. Holding her wand like a conductors baton, Tonks made the trunk hover across the room and out of the door ahead of them, Hedwig's cage in her left hand. Harry followed her down the stairs carrying his broomstick.
Back in the kitchen Moody had replaced his eye, which was spinning so fast after its cleaning it made Harry feel sick to look at it. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Sturgis Podmore were examining the microwave and Hestia Jones was laughing at a potato peeler she had come across while rummaging in the drawers. Lupin was sealing a letter addressed to the Dursleys.
"Excellent," said Lupin, looking up as Tonks and Harry entered. "We've got about a minute, I think. We should probably get out into the garden so we're ready. Harry, I've left a letter telling your aunt and uncle not to worry – "
"They won't," said Harry.
" - that you're safe – "
"That'll just depress them."
" - and you'll see them next summer."
"Do I have to?"
Lupin smiled but made no answer.
"Come here, boy," said Moody gruffly, beckoning Harry towards him with his wand. "I need to Disillusion you."
"You need to what?" said Harry nervously.
"Disillusionment Charm," said Moody, raising his wand. "Lupin says you've got an Invisibility Cloak, but it won't stay on while we're flying; this'll disguise you better. Here you go – "
He rapped him hard on the top of the head and Harry felt a curious sensation as though Moody had just smashed an egg there; cold trickles seemed to be running down his body from the point the wand had struck.
"Nice one, Mad-Eye," said Tonks appreciatively, staring at Harry's midriff.
Harry looked down at his body, or rather, what had been his body, for it didn't look anything like his anymore. It was not invisible; it had simply taken on the exact color and texture of the kitchen unit behind him. He seemed to have become a human chameleon.
"Come on," said Moody, unlocking the back door with his wand.
They all stepped outside on to Uncle Vernon's beautifully kept lawn.
"Clear night," grunted Moody, his magical eye scanning the heavens. "Could've done with a bit more cloud cover. Right, you," he barked at Harry, "we're going to be flying in close formation. Tonks'll be right in front of you, keep close on her tail. Lupin'll be covering you from below. I'm going to be behind you. The rest'll be circling us. We don't break ranks for anything, got me? If one of us is killed – "
"Is that likely?" Harry asked apprehensively, but Moody ignored him.
" - the others keep flying, don't stop, don't break ranks. If they take out all of us and you survive, Harry, the rear guard are standing by to take over; keep flying east and they'll join you."
"Stop being so cheerful, Mad-Eye, he'll think we're not taking this seriously," said Tonks, as she strapped Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage into a harness hanging from her broom.
"I'm just telling the boy the plan," growled Moody. "Our job's to deliver him safely to Headquarters and if we die in the attempt – "
"No one's going to die," said Kingsley Shacklebolt in his deep, calming voice.
"Mount your brooms, that's the first signal!" said Lupin sharply, pointing into the sky.
Far, far above them, a shower of bright red sparks had flared among the stars. Harry recognized them at once as wand sparks. He swung his right leg over his Firebolt, gripped its handle tightly and felt it vibrating very slightly, as though it was as keen as he was to be up in the air once more.
"Second signal, let's go!" said Lupin loudly as more sparks, green this time, exploded high above them.
Harry kicked off hard from the ground. The cool night air rushed through his hair as the neat square gardens of Privet Drive fell away, shrinking rapidly into a patchwork of dark greens and blacks, and every thought of the Ministry hearing was swept from his mind as though the rush of air had blown it out of his head. He felt as though his heart was going to explode with pleasure; he was flying again, flying away from Privet Drive as he'd been fantasizing about all summer, he was going home . . . for a few glorious moments, all his problems seemed to recede to nothing, insignificant in the vast, starry sky.
"Hard left, hard left, there's a Muggle looking up!" shouted Moody from behind him. Tonks swerved and Harry followed her, watching his trunk swinging wildly beneath her broom. "We need more height . . . give it another quarter of a mile!"
Harry's eyes watered in the chill as they soared upwards: he could see nothing below now but tiny pinpricks of light that were car headlights and streetlamps. Two of those tiny lights might belong to Uncle Vernon's car . . . the Dursleys would be heading back to their empty house right now, full of rage about the nonexistent Lawn Competition . . . and Harry laughed aloud at the thought, though his voice was drowned by the flapping robes of the others, the creaking of the harness holding his trunk and the cage, and the whoosh of the wind in their ears as they sped through the air. He had not felt this alive in a month, or this happy.
"Bearing south!" shouted Mad-Eye. "Town ahead!"
They soared right to avoid passing directly over the glittering spider's web of lights below.
"Bear southeast and keep climbing, there's some low cloud ahead we can lose ourselves in!" called Moody.
"We're not going through clouds!" shouted Tonks angrily, "we'll get soaked, Mad-Eye!"
Harry was relieved to hear her say this; his hands were growing numb on the Firebolt's handle. He wished he had thought to put on a coat; he was starting to shiver.
They altered their course every now and then according to Mad-Eye's instructions. Harry's eyes were screwed up against the rush of icy wind that was starting to make his ears ache; he could remember being this cold on a broom only once before, during the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff in his third year, which had taken place in a storm. The guard around him was circling continuously like giant birds of prey. Harry lost track of time. He wondered how long they had been flying, it felt like an hour at least.
"Turning southwest!" yelled Moody "We want to avoid the motorway!"
Harry was now so chilled he thought longingly of the snug, dry interiors of the cars streaming along below, then, even more longingly, of travelling by Floo powder; it might be uncomfortable to spin around in fireplaces but it was at least warm in the flames . . . Kingsley Shacklebolt swooped around him, bald pate and earring gleaming slightly in the moonlight .., now Emmeline Vance was on his right, her wand out, her head turning left and right . . . then she, too, swooped over him, to be replaced by Sturgis Podmore . . .
"We ought to double back for a bit, just to make sure we're not being followed!" Moody shouted.
"ARE YOU MAD, MAD-EYE?" Tonks screamed from the front. "We're all frozen to our brooms! If we keep going off-course we're not going to get there until next week! Besides, we're nearly there now!"
"Time to start the descent!" came Lupin's voice. "Follow Tonks, Harry!"
Harry followed Tonks into a dive. They were heading for the largest collection of lights he had yet seen, a huge, sprawling crisscrossing mass, glittering in lines and grids, interspersed with patches of deepest black. Lower and lower they flew, until Harry could see individual headlights and streetlamps, chimneys and television aerials. He wanted to reach the ground very much, though he felt sure someone would have to unfreeze him from his broom.
"Here we go!" called Tonks, and a few seconds later she had landed.
Harry touched down right behind her and dismounted on a patch of unkempt grass in the middle of a small square Tonks was already unbuckling Harry's trunk. Shivering, Harry looked around. The grimy fronts of the surrounding houses were not welcoming; some of them had broken windows, glimmering dully in the light from the streetlamps, paint was peeling from many of the doors and heaps of rubbish lay outside several sets of front steps.
"Where are we?" Harry asked, but Lupin said quietly, "In a minute."
Moody was rummaging in his cloak, his gnarled hands clumsy with cold. "Got it," he muttered, raising what looked like a silver cigarette lighter into the air and clicking it.
The nearest streetlamp went out with a pop. He clicked the unlighter again; the next lamp went out; he kept clicking until every lamp in the square was extinguished and the only remaining light came from curtained windows and the sickle moon overhead.
"Borrowed it from Dumbledore," growled Moody, pocketing the Put-Outer. "That'll take care of any Muggles looking out of the window, see? Now come on, quick."
He took Harry by the arm and led him from the patch of grass, across the road and on to the pavement; Lupin and Tonks followed, carrying Harry's trunk between them, the rest of the guard, all with their wands out, flanking them. The muffled pounding of a stereo was coming from an upper window in the nearest house. A pungent smell of rotting rubbish came from the pile of bulging bin-bags just inside the broken gate.
"Here," Moody muttered, thrusting a piece of parchment towards Harry's Disillusioned hand and holding his lit wand close to it, so as to illuminate the writing. "Read quickly and memorize."
Harry looked down at the piece of paper. The narrow handwriting was vaguely familiar. It said:
The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.
"What's the Order of the - ?" Harry began.
"Not here, boy!" snarled Moody. "Wait till we're inside!"
He pulled the piece of parchment out of Harry's hand and set fire to it with his wand-tip. As the message curled into flames and floated to the ground, Harry looked around at the houses again. They were standing outside number eleven; he looked to the left and saw number ten; to the right, however, was number thirteen.
"But where's - ?"
"Think about what you've just memorized," said Lupin quietly.
Harry thought, and no sooner had he reached the part about number twelve, Grimmauld Place, than a battered door emerged out of nowhere between numbers eleven and thirteen, followed swiftly by dirty walls and grimy windows. It was as though an extra house had inflated, pushing those on either side out of its way. Harry gaped at it. The stereo in number eleven thudded on. Apparently the Muggles inside hadn't felt anything.
"Come on, hurry," growled Moody, prodding Harry in the back.
Harry walked up the worn stone steps, staring at the newly materialized door. Its black paint was shabby and scratched. The silver doorknocker was in the form of a twisted serpent. There was no keyhole or letterbox.
Lupin pulled out his wand and tapped the door once. Harry heard many loud, metallic clicks and what sounded like the clatter o' a chain. The door creaked open.
"Get in quick, Harry," Lupin whispered, "but don't go far inside and don't touch anything."
"Harry stepped over the threshold into the almost total darkness of the hall. He could smell damp, dust and a sweetish, rotting smell; the place had the feeling of a derelict building. He looked over his shoulder and saw the others filing in behind him, Lupin and Tonks carrying his trunk and Hedwig's cage. Moody was standing on the top step releasing the balls of light the Put-Outer had stolen from the streetlamps; they flew back to their bulbs and the square glowed momentarily with orange light before Moody limped inside and closed the front door, so that the darkness in the hall became complete.
"Here – " He rapped Harry hard over the head with his wand; Harry felt as though something hot was trickling down his back this time and knew that the Disillusionment Charm must have lifted.
"Now stay still, everyone, while I give us a bit of light in here," Moody whispered.
The others' hushed voices were giving Harry an odd feeling of foreboding; it was as though they had just entered the house of a dying person. He heard a soft hissing noise and then old-fashioned gas lamps sputtered into life all along the walls, casting a flickering insubstantial light over the peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet of a long, gloomy hallway, where a cobwebby chandelier glimmered overhead and age-blackened portraits hung crooked on the walls. Harry heard something scuttling behind the skirting board. Both the chandelier and the candelabra on a rickety table nearby were shaped like serpents.
There were hurried footsteps and Ron's mother, Mrs. Weasley, emerged from a door at the far end of the hall. She was beaming in welcome as she hurried towards them, though Harry noticed that she was rather thinner and paler than she had been last time he had seen her.
"Oh, Harry, it's lovely to see you!" she whispered, pulling him into a rib-cracking hug before holding him at arm's length and examining him critically. "You're looking peaky; you need feeding up, but you'll have to wait a bit for dinner, I'm afraid."
She turned to the gang of wizards behind him and whispered urgently, "He's just arrived, the meetings started."
The wizards behind Harry all made noises of interest and excitement and began filing past him towards the door through which Mrs. Weasley had just come. Harry made to follow Lupin, but Mrs. Weasley held him back.
"No, Harry, the meeting's only for members of the Order. Ron and Hermione are upstairs, you can wait with them until the meetings over, and then we'll have dinner. And keep your voice down in the hall," she added in an urgent whisper.
"I don't want anything to wake up."
"What d'you - ?"
"I'll explain later, I've got to hurry, I'm supposed to be at the meeting - I'll just show you where you're sleeping."
Pressing her finger to her lips, she led him on tiptoe past a pair of long, moth-eaten curtains, behind which Harry supposed there must be another door, and after skirting a large umbrella stand that looked as though it had been made from a severed troll's leg they started up the dark staircase, passing a row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had the same rather snout-like nose.
Harry's bewilderment deepened with every step he took. What on earth were they doing in a house that looked as though it belonged to the Darkest of wizards?
"Mrs. Weasley, why -?"
"Ron and Hermione will explain everything, dear, I've really got to dash," Mrs. Weasley whispered distractedly. "There – " they had reached the second landing, " - you're the door on the right. I'll call you when it's over."
And she hurried off downstairs again.
Naruto Uzumaki and Shikamaru Nara weren't sure what to think of the woman they followed. Well Naruto wasn't sure what to think, he doubted Shikamaru cared about anything this mission had to do with. It wasn't only this Minerva woman who was weird; it was the entire mission in general. This was the first time ever that any Village had accepted a mission outside of the hidden continent. There had of course been many pilgrimages to learn about their culture though the general idea was that the Wizards were very much terrified of any and every shinobi.
Naruto of course didn't blame them; their only form of defense was a stick that channeled their 'magic'. Without their stick they were all defenseless. It was a wonder they hadn't all died out yet.
The woman turned around to face them once they had reached a row of connected houses. "We're here." She said and began digging into her emerald green cloak pocket. Naruto didn't see how this was supposed to be the top secret headquarters to the resistance.
"Read this to yourselves." The woman said briskly, holding out a crumpled piece of paper.
Shikamaru reached over and took it from her before holding it in between the two of them. In loop hand writing it said:
The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.
Naruto wanted so bad to ask what all this meant but knew he wasn't supposed to speak about it until they had met Dumbledore. As Shikamaru handed the paper back to the stern woman he noticed that a house seemed to be squeezing itself in-between two other houses. He nudged Shikamaru with his elbow to get the cloud watcher to see this interesting phenomenon. It was only a few more seconds and if Naruto hadn't watched the magic he would never have guessed that there never had been a house there five minutes ago.
"This way please." The woman said leading the shinobi inside.
Without another word they followed Minerva inside to a very dreary looking home. It appeared as if no one had lived here for years if the thick dust was anything to go by. Minerva led them down a set of steps to what appeared to be a kitchen that was full to the brim with people. Naruto was pretty sure they were all older than him in Shikamaru.
At the long table in the middle of the room was Dumbledore with his long beard and even longer white hair. Minerva took her seat to his right hand on his left was a pale man younger than Dumbledore and McGonagall but older than Naruto. He looked very sour and had very greasy hair.
"Ah, Naruto Uzumaki and Shikamaru Nara, welcome to the Order of the Phoenix." Dumbledore said graciously.
Naruto took this as his queue to lower his hood to show his face to their client, out of the corner of the eye he saw that Shikamaru had done the same. "Dumbledore." He greeted with a quick nod of his head.
Already he could see the looks he and Shikamaru were receiving from the witches and wizards. He remembered that Tsunade had warned them how the Wizarding World didn't put much stock in abilities before age. Boy were they in for a rude awakening.
"The ninja sent you children." The greasy haired man said with a sneer, looking down his crooked nose at them.
"I assure you both Mr. Uzumaki and Mr. Nara are very capable." Dumbledore said but it fell on deaf ears.
"You can't be serious, Albus," A short woman with red hair said, looking horrified. "They can't be much older than Fred and George."
"Now Molly, please be patient." Dumbledore said though none of the others looked like they wanted to listen. "Their culture is far different from ours; I believe both Mr.'s Nara and Uzumaki graduated their Academy at the age of twelve when they became legal adults."
"Adults at the age of twelve? What are these ninja's playing at?" said a short balding man.
"We become adults when we graduate the Academy because the mission we are prepared to die for the missions we accept afterward." Shikamaru said in a lazy drawling voice. Naruto knew he hated being underestimated as much as any shinobi did. On the battlefield it was a tactical advantage, when your clients didn't have faith in you it was insulting.
"What!" The redheaded woman and a few others said, alarmed.
"I'll hear no more of this."Dumbledore said. "I have personally read their files and have the utmost faith in them." That silenced everyone. "Now let us begin."
Shikamaru nodded and pulled a scroll from his flack vest and unfurled it, on the inside was a small storage seal. He pumped the appropriate amount of chakra into it and a poof of smoke later there was a stack of file sitting on top of the open scroll. "Pass these down to Dumbledore." He told a man with graying hair and who looked far too old for his age.
"As you stated in your mission request you needed someone to watch over Hogwarts and in particular a boy named Harry Potter." Dumbledore nodded. "Naruto will be the one who fulfills this part of the contract."
"Just him?" Minerva said with a raised eyebrow. "The castle is too big; you'll need a bigger team."
"Trust me Naruto's enough." Shikamaru said dismissively and was about to continue before her was cut off again.
"And how do you expect to follow Potter and patrol not only the Castle but the grounds as well?" the greasy haired man asked, clearly not impressed with the big scary ninja.
Naruto looked over to Shikamaru who gave a sigh. "Go ahead." He said.
Naruto smirked as he locked eyes with the greasy haired man. The wizards couldn't see it but Naruto had put his hands into the hand seal and had pumped chakra into it. Four poofs of smoke later five Naruto's stood in front of at least twenty gaping ninja. "My numbers can go from one to a thousand faster than you can point your stick at me."
Shikamaru gave a nod and Naruto dispelled the clones. "Now as I was saying, while Naruto is at Hogwarts I will remain here at headquarters to help stop the war before it starts. The files I gave you are shinobi who might come to help with various smaller missions." Shikamaru said. "Is there anything I left out?" he asked.
Dumbledore pulled out his wand giving it a wave and another stack of files appeared before Shikamaru. "This is all the information we have on Harry, Voldemort and his followers." Dumbledore said. "Please feel free to go over them in your spare time, but I do believe that it's almost time for supper." He said looking over to the redheaded woman who nodded. "I'll come back tomorrow at noon to take the both of you to Hogwarts so you can get a feel for the place."
Both the Shinobi nodded and everyone else took that as their sign that the meeting was adjourned. According to Tsunade they would be staying at headquarters until Potter went off to school. They stepped to the side to allow, the somewhat skittish witches and wizards to pass by. Naruto was about to ask where they would be staying when the redhead, Molly bustled up to them.
"Are you hungry dears?" she asked.
"I'm starving." Naruto exaggerated.
"You're always starving." Shikamaru muttered.
"Well go ahead and give me your cloaks, I'll hang them up for you and then go take a seat at the table there." She said.
Shikamaru did as instructed revealing his standard jonin pants, shirt and flack vest. Naruto, however, could not wear something so boring when he took off his cloak he showed Molly his standard black shinobi pants with black ankle wrappings like the ANBU, his orange and black jacket he had gotten while training with Jiraiya and his altered red and sleeveless cloak that still had the black flames at the bottom, his giant scroll strapped to his back. (got the idea for this outfit when I saw a piece of fan art on photobucket.)
"My," Molly said. "You two certainly dress different." Her eyes lingering on Naruto.
Naruto smiled and gave a shrug, he couldn't help he didn't like to blend into the back ground like every other shinobi. Molly then walked past them and into the front part of the house.
I know I already have a Naruto/hp crossover but I just couldn't get this out of my head. Also don't expect all chapters to be this long. Please review!