Ron lifted Scabbers out of his inside pocket and placed him next to the cage
of his fellow rats, who stopped their skipping tricks and scuffled to the wire
for a better took.
Like nearly everything Ron owned, Scabbers the rat was secondhand (he had
once belonged to Ron's brother Percy) and a bit battered. Next to the glossy
rats in the cage, he looked especially woebegone.
“Hm,” said the witch, picking up Scabbers. “How old is this rat?”
“Dunno,” said Ron. “Quite old. He used to belong to my brother.”
“What powers does he have?” said the witch, examining Scabbers closely.
“Er —” The truth was that Scabbers had never shown the faintest trace of
interesting powers. The witchs eyes moved from Scabbers's tattered left ear
to his front paw, which had a toe missing, and tutted loudly.
“He's been through the mill, this one,” she said.
“He was like that when Percy gave him to me,” said Ron defensively.
“An ordinary common or garden rat like this can't be expected to live longer
than three years or so,” said the witch. “Now, if you were looking for something
a bit more hard-wearing, you might like one of these —”
She indicated the black rats, who promptly started skipping again. Ron muttered,
“Well, if you Don't want a replacement, you can try this rat tonic,” said
the witch, reaching under the counter and bringing out a small red bottle.
“Okay,” said Ron. “How much—OUCH!”
Ron buckled as something huge and orange came soaring from the top of the
highest cage, landed on his head, and then propelled itself, spitting madly,
“NO, CROOKSHANKS, NO!” cried the witch, but Scabbers, shot from between her
hands like a bar of soap, landed splay-legged on the floor, and then scampered
for the door.
“Scabbers!” Ron shouted, racing out of the shop after him; Harry followed.
It took them nearly ten minutes to catch Scabbers, who had taken refuge under
a wastepaper bin outside Quality Quidditch Supplies. Ron stuffed the trembling
rat back into his pocket and straightened up, massaging his head.
“What was that?”
“It was either a very big cat or quite a small tiger,” said Harry.
“Probably getting her owl
They made their way back up the crowded street to the Magical Menagerie.
As they reached it, Hermione came out, but she wasn't carrying an owl. Her arms
were clamped tightly around the enormous ginger cat.
“You bought that monster?” said Ron, his mouth hanging open.
“He's gorgeous, isn't he?” said Hermione, glowing.
That was a matter of opinion, thought Harry. The cat's ginger fur was thick
and fluffy, but it was definitely a bit bowlegged and its face looked grumpy
and oddly squashed, as though it had run headlong into a brick wall. Now that
Scabbers was out of sight, however, the cat was purring contentedly in Hermione's
“Herinione, that thing nearly scalped me!” said Ron.
“He didn't mean to, did you, Crookshanks?” said Hermione.
“And what about Scabbers?” said Ron, pointing at the lump in his chest pocket.
“He needs rest and relaxation! How's he going to get it with that thing around?”
“That reminds me, you forgot your rat tonic,” said Hermione, slapping the
small red bottle into Ron's hand. “And stop worrying, Crookshanks will be sleeping
in my dormitory and Scabbers in yours, what's the problem? Poor Crookshanks,
that witch said he'd been in there for ages; no one wanted him.”
“Wonder why,” said Ron sarcastically as they set off toward the Leaky Cauldron.
They found Mr. Weasley sitting in the bar, reading the Daily prophet.
“Harry!” he said, smiling as he looked up. “How are you?”
“Fine, thanks,” said Harry as he, Ron, and Hermione joined Mr. Weasley with
A their shopping.
Mr. Weasley put down his paper, and Harry saw the now familiar picture of
Sirius Black staring up at him.
“They still haven't caught him, then?” he asked.
“No,” said Mr. Weasley, looking extremely grave. “They've pulled us all off
our regular jobs at the Ministry to try and find him, but no luck so far.”
“Would we get a reward if we caught him?” asked Ron. “It'd be good to get
some more money —”
“Don't be ridiculous, Ron,” said Mr. Weasley, who on closer inspection looked
very strained. “Black's not going to be caught by a thirteen-year-old wizard.
It's the Azkaban guards who'll get him back, You mark my words.”
At that moment Mrs. Weasley entered the bar, laden with shopping bags and
followed by the twins, Fred and George, who were about to start their fifth
year at Hogwarts; the newly elected Head Boy, Percy; and the Weasleys' youngest
child and only girl, Ginny.
Ginny, who had always been very taken with Harry, seemed even more heartily
embarrassed than usual when she saw him, perhaps because he had saved her life
during their previous year at Hogwarts. She went very red and muttered “hello”
without looking at him. Percy, however, held out his hand solemnly as though
he and Harry had never met and said, “Harry. How nice to see you.
“Hello, Percy,” said Harry, trying not to laugh.
I hope you're well?” said Percy pompously, shaking hands. It was rather like
being introduced to the mayor.
“Very well, thanks —”
“Harry!” said Fred, elbowing Percy out of the way and bowing deeply. “Simply
splendid to see you, old boy —”
“Marvelous,” said George, pushing Fred aside and seizing Harry's hand in
turn. “Absolutely spiffing.”
“That's enough, now,” said Mrs. Weasley.
“Mum!” said Fred as though he'd only just spotted her and seizing her hand
too. “How really corking to see you —”
“I said, that's enough,” said Mrs. Weasley, depositing her shopping in an
empty chair. “Hello, Harry, dear. I suppose you've heard our exciting news?”
She pointed to the brand-new silver badge on Percy's chest. “Second Head Boy
in the family!” she said, swelling with pride.
“And last,” Fred muttered under his breath.
I don't doubt that,” said Mrs. Weasley, frowning suddenly. “I notice they
haven't made you two prefects.”
“What do we want to be prefects for?” said George, looking revolted at the
very idea. “It'd take all the fun out of life.”
“Yo u want to set a better example for your sister!” snapped Mrs. Weasley.
“Ginny's got other brothers to set her an example, Mother,” said Percy loftily.
“I'm going up to change for dinner...”
He disappeared and George heaved a sigh.
“We tried to shut him in a pyramid,” he told Harry. “But Mum spotted us.”
Dinner that night was a very enjoyable affair. Tom the innkeeper put three
tables together in the parlor, and the seven Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione ate
their way through five delicious courses.
“How're we getting to King's Cross tomorrow, Dad?” asked Fred as they dug
into a sumptuous chocolate pudding.
“The Ministry's providing a couple of cars,” said Mr. Weasley.
Everyone looked up at him.
“Why?” said Percy curiously.
“It's because of you, Perce,” said George seriously. “And there'll be little
flags on the hoods, with HB on them”
“— for Humongous Bighead,” said Fred.
Everyone except Percy and Mrs. Weasley snorted into their pudding.
“Why are the Ministry providing cars, Father?” Percy asked again, in a dignified
“Well, as we haven't got one anymore,” said Mr. Weasley,
“— and as I work there, they're doing me a favor —”
His voice was casual, but Harry couldn't help noticing that Mr. Weasley's
ears had gone red, just like Ron's did when he was under Pressure.
“Good thing, too,” said Mrs. Weasley briskly. “Do you realize how much luggage
you've all got between you? A nice sight you'd be on the Muggle Underground...
You are all packed, aren't you?”
“Ron hasn't put all his new things in his trunk yet,” said Percy, in a long-suffering
voice. “He's dumped them on my bed.”
“You'd better go and pack properly, Ron, because we won't have much time
in the morning,” Mrs. Weasley called down the table. Ron scowled at Percy.
After dinner everyone felt very full and sleepy. One by one they made their
way upstairs to their rooms to check their things for the next day. Ron and
Percy were next door to Harry. He had just closed and locked his own trunk when
he heard angry voices through the wall, and went to see what was going on.
The door of number twelve was ajar and Percy was shouting.
“It was here, on the bedside table, I took it off for polishing
“I haven't touched it, all right?” Ron roared back.
“What's up?” said Harry.
“My Head Boy badge is gone,” said Percy, rounding on Harry.
“So's Scabbers's rat tonic,” said Ron, throwing things out of his trunk to
look. “I think I might've left it in the bar —”
“You're not going anywhere till you've found my badge!” yelled Percy.
“I'll get Scabbers's stuff, I'm packed,” Harry said to Ron, and he went downstairs.
Harry was halfway along the passage to the bar, which was now very dark,
when he heard another pair of angry voices coming from the parlor. A second
later, he recognized them as Mr. and Mrs.
Weasleys'. He hesitated, not wanting them to know he'd heard them arguing,
when the sound of his own name made him stop, then move closer to the parlor
“—makes no sense not to tell him,” Mr. Weasley was saying heatedly. “Harry's
got a right to know. I've tried to tell Fudge, but he insists on treating Harry
like a child. He's thirteen years old and —”
“Arthur, the truth would terrify him!” said Mrs. Weasley shrilly. “Do you
really want to send Harry back to school with that hanging over him? For heaven's
sake, he's happy not knowing!”
“I don't want to make him miserable, I want to put him on his guard!” retorted
Mr. Weasley. “You know what Harry and Ron are like, wandering off by themselves—they've
ended up in the Forbidden Forest twice! But Harry mustn't do that this year!
When I think what could have happened to him that night he ran away from home!
If the Knight Bus hadn't picked him up, I'm prepared to bet he would have been
dead before the Ministry found him.”
“But he's not dead, he's fine, so what's the point
“Molly, they say Sirius Black's mad, and maybe he is, but he was clever enough
to escape from Azkaban, and that's supposed to be impossible. It's been three
weeks, and no one's seen hide nor hair of him, and I don't care what Fudge keeps
telling the Daily Prophet, we're no nearer catching Black than inventing self-spelling
wands. The only thing we know for sure is what Black's after
“But Harry will be perfectly safe at Hogwarts.”
“We thought Azkaban was perfectly safe. If Black can break out of Azkaban,
he can break into Hogwarts.”
“But no one's really sure that Black's after Harry
There was a thud on wood, and Harry was sure Mr. Weasley had banged his fist
on the table.
“Molly, how many times do I have to tell you? They didn't report it in the
press because Fudge wanted it kept quiet, but Fudge went out to Azkaban the
night Black escaped. The guards told Fudge that Blacks been talking in his sleep
for a while now. Always the same words: 'He's at Hogwarts... he's at Hogwarts.
' Black is deranged, Molly, and he wants Harry dead. If you ask me, he thinks
murdering Harry will bring You-Know-Who back to pow er. Black lost everything
the night Harry stopped YouKnow-Who, and he's had twelve years alone in Azkaban
to brood on that...”
There was a silence. Harry leaned still closer to the door, desperate to
“Well, Arthur, you must do what you think is right. But you're forgetting
Albus Dumbledore. I don't think anything could hurt Harry at Hogwarts while
Dumbledore's headmaster. I suppose he knows about all this?”
“Of course he knows. We had to ask him if he minds the Azkaban guards stationing
themselves around the entrances to the school grounds. He wasn't happy about
it, but he agreed.”
“Not happy? Why shouldn't he be happy, if they're there to catch Black?”
“Dumbledore isn't fond of the Azkaban guards,” said Mr. Weasley heavily.
“Nor am 1, if it comes to that... but when you're dealing with a wizard like
Black, you sometimes have to join forces with those you'd rather avoid.”
“If they save Harry then I will never say another word against them, said
Mr. Weasley wearily. “It's late, Molly, we'd better go up...”
Harry heard chairs move. As quietly as he could, he hurried down the passage
to the bar and out of sight. The parlor door opened, and a few seconds later
footsteps told him that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were climbing the stairs.
The bottle of rat tonic was lying under the table they had sat at earlier.
Harry waited until he heard Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's bedroom door close, then
headed back upstairs with the bottle.
Fred and George were crouching in the shadows on the landing, heaving with
laughter as they listened to Percy dismantling his and Ron's room in search
of his badge.
“We've got it,” Fred whispered to Harry. “We've been improving it.”
The badge now read Bighead Boy.
Harry forced a laugh, went to give Ron the rat tonic, then shut himself in
his room and lay down on his bed.
So Sirius Black was after him. This explained everything. Fudge had been
lenient with him because he was so relieved to find him alive. He'd made Harry
promise to stay in Diagon Alley where there were plenty of wizards to keep an
eye on him. And he was sending two Ministry cars to take them all to the station
tomorrow, so that the Weasleys could look after Harry until he was on the train.
Harry lay listening to the muffled shouting next door and wondered why he
didn't feel more scared. Sirius Black had murdered thirteen people with one
curse; Mr. and Mrs, Weasley obviously thought Harry would be panic-stricken
if he knew the truth. But Harry happened to agree wholeheartedly with Mrs. Weasley
that the safest place on earth was wherever Albus Dumbledore happened to be.
Didn't people always say that Dumbledore was the only person Lord Voldemort
had ever been afraid of? Surely Black, as Voldemort's right-hand man, would
be just as frightened of him?