Harry awoke disoriented, unfamiliar with his surroundings. After thrashing about in bed, the events of the previous night came back to him in a rush: blowing up his Aunt Marge, being stalked by an enormous black dog, escaping on the Knight Bus, and meeting the Minister of Magic in Diagon Alley outside…
The Leaky Cauldron. That's where he was. Harry relaxed slightly. Even though he had just performed underage magic, and even though he had just run away from his (ostensible) home, Harry felt relieved. His feet were light as he got dressed. A quick trip to Gringott's would give him enough money to finish the week at the Leaky Cauldron. By that time, he should receive his second notice of underage magic usage, and he would need to secure a solicitor to fight against his expulsion from Hogwarts.
Harry had promised the Minister that he wouldn't leave Diagon Alley, but it was an easy promise to make. Harry had no plans of returning to the Muggle world any time soon.
Stepping outside the Leaky Cauldron, Harry found himself in the midst of magical London's most popular shopping district. Diagon Alley held a special place in Harry's heart, as it was the first place that Harry had truly entered the magical world. Hagrid had purchased Harry's owl, Hedwig, during Harry's first trip to Diagon Alley. Harry met his closest friend, Draco Malfoy, in Diagon Alley. Later, Draco's father Lucius bought Harry his first broom at Quality Quidditch Supplies in Diagon Alley.
For Harry, a trip to Diagon Alley meant leaving the Dursleys and returning to the magical world. His world. His parents' world, before they died.
Harry's trip to Gringott's was uneventful. As always, the goblins were curt and grouchy, but they did give Harry a limited amount of respect. Partly for his status as The Boy Who Lived, and partly for his status as the heir to an enormously well-stocked vault. Harry had a feeling that, unlike everybody else in the wizarding world, the goblins respected him more for his vault than for his scar. It was refreshing to be treated just like any other (enormously rich) wizard would be.
He left the bank with pockets full, but stomach empty. He decided to stop back at the Leaky Cauldron to pay for his room and eat breakfast. Harry approached the innkeeper, but was told that his room had already been paid for.
"Already paid? By who?"
A voice spoke from behind Harry. "By me."
Harry turned and saw Lucius Malfoy approaching from across the dining room. "Minister Fudge contacted me this morning. Couldn't stand another day with those muggles, Harry?"
Harry smiled. "You've met my Uncle. Would you want to?"
Lucius nodded. "Quite right, quite right."
Before Harry could say anything else, his stomach rumbled.
"Why don't we have breakfast," suggested Mr. Malfoy. "You can tell me why you left while we eat."
Several minutes later, Harry found an enormous stack of pancakes sitting before him. Mr. Malfoy had selected a large plate of fresh tropical fruits, most of which Harry failed to recognize.
"So, Harry… why last night? Your trip to Malfoy Manor was only a week away."
Harry looked down at his lap. "I blew up my Aunt Maude."
Lucius's raised his eyebrows. "Blew her up, Harry?"
Harry's voice was quiet. "She was saying the worst things about my mother and father. I couldn't stand to hear it. It's been years since I did accidental magic, but I just couldn't control myself. I blew her up like a balloon and she floated out of the house and down the street." Harry took a deep breath. "It won't be long until I get my second notice for underage magic. If you could recommend a good solicitor, I'll need it, or else I'll be expelled from Hogwarts."
Lucius burst out laughing. "Harry, please don't sound so despondent. People don't get underage magic notices for accidental magic."
"But last year…"
Lucius held up a hand. "More importantly, Harry, is that YOU don't get underage magic notices for accidental magic. I will speak to Minister Fudge and inform him of the circumstances. Exceptions can be made, and one can certainly be made for Harry Potter, a dear friend of the Malfoy family."
Harry smiled. "You really think so?"
"Of course. Even if your second notice has already been drafted… well. Documents are lost so frequently in the vast bureaucracy of the Ministry of Magic. I wouldn't be surprised if your notice were to be similarly lost." Lucius carefully cut a piece of fruit on his plate. "Never forget, Harry, that the advantages of being in Slytherin last long beyond your years at Hogwarts."
Harry and Lucius spent the rest of the morning in Diagon Alley. Harry purchased his school books for the year, including the appropriately named Monsterous Book of Monsters for Care of Magical Creatures. Harry's trip to Flourish and Blott's was otherwise uneventful, unlike the previous year when Harry had been accosted by both Gilderoy Lockhart and Ronald Weasley. (The Weasley family was in Egypt, visiting one of Ron's older brothers; Harry had seen the picture on the front page of the Daily Prophet.) They had ice cream at Fontescue's Ice Cream Parlor, purchased a new set of robes for Harry at Madam Malkin's, and browsed the various other stores of Diagon Alley.
Just before dinnertime, Mr. Malfoy and Harry returned to the Leaky Cauldron and spoke with the owner. A few galleons exchanged hands, and the owner agreed to send Harry's trunk along to Malfoy Manor before the end of the night. Mr. Malfoy gestured for Harry to follow him, then stepped outside.
"Take my arm, Harry."
Harry grabbed Mr. Malfoy's arm at the elbow, and felt a twisting and squishing sensation that seemed to last forever and no time at all. With a pop, the pair appeared in front of Malfoy Manor. As always, Harry was impressed by both the size and neatness of the Manor. While Harry's school was much larger, Hogwarts castle was a hodgepodge of architecture that gave the impression of being assembled by an enormous toddler. Malfoy Manor, though, was an exercise in propriety; the lawn was immaculately groomed, the floors impeccably clean, the furniture was precisely positioned, and the pillows were flawlessly fluffed.
As Harry and Mr. Malfoy stepped into the foyer, Harry could hear the soft sound of a piano coming from the study. Harry poked his head through the door and discovered Draco, his best friend, seated at the bench in front of the piano.
"Sounds great," Harry said.
Draco abruptly stopped playing and turned around. "It certainly took my father long enough to find you," Draco said, a slightly irritated edge to his voice. "What were you doing, hiding from Sirius Black?"
Before Harry could respond, Lucius spoke. "Harry is rather resourceful. He had planned on spending the rest of the summer in Diagon Alley, sleeping at the Leaky Cauldron."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Really, Harry? Your manners still need work. Neither a Malfoy nor a Potter needs to stay at that hovel."
"It's the only place I knew," Harry said.
Lucius patted Harry on the shoulder. "You're here now, Harry. That's the important thing. Why don't we have some dinner?"
As Harry and Draco walked to the dining room, Harry's thought about his Draco's initial question: what had taken them so long? Mr. Malfoy's hadn't answered Draco's question in any way, but had simply deflected Draco's attention.
Harry had enjoyed himself in Diagon Alley, so much so that he hadn't thought to ask after Draco. Harry had just assumed that Draco was busy and unable to come along. Instead, Draco had been waiting for Harry and Mr. Malfoy to return. But earlier in the morning, Mr. Malfoy hadn't seemed to be in any hurry. In fact, Mr. Malfoy and Harry had fairly dawdled in Quality Quidditch Supplies, speaking of Slytherin teams past and present, arguing the merits of various brooms. (The newly-released Firebolt was obviously the class of the field.)
Harry felt guilty, as if he had somehow betrayed Draco's trust. Harry couldn't point at anything he had done and say that it was wrong, but nevertheless he felt a little sick to his stomach. And somewhere, deep in the back of his mind, Harry was reminded of his conversation with Lucius Malfoy at the end of last term, and Mr. Malfoy's non-answers regarding the diary of Tom Riddle.
"Why so quiet?" asked Draco. "Escaped killer got you down?"
Harry shook his head. "I was just thinking that I didn't know that you played piano," Harry said. "There's a piano in our common room; why don't you play at school?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "There are more interesting things to do at Hogwarts than play the piano."
"But that sounded great. It must have taken you years to get that good." Harry was familiar with poor piano playing, as his Aunt Petunia had enrolled Dudley in piano lessons for several months when Dudley was ten. Harry wasn't sure what suffered more from Dudley's violent pounding of the piano keys: Harry's ears, or the piano itself.
"It did," Draco said. "But playing the piano is as boring as it is beautiful. If I wanted to sit in a corner and not speak to anybody, I'd do something fun and earn a detention."
Harry nodded. He understood exactly what Draco meant. Every summer, Harry returned to Hogwarts feeling starved for company. The last thing either of them wanted to do was be quiet and alone.
A/N: And so we begin, again. There are some short chapters in this book - the natural breaks just fell that way. Because of this, plan on getting some Tuesday updates over the next six months. If you see a chapter that's unusually brief, like this one, then check back on Tuesday!