Harry’s heart leapt. “Are you allowed to take me out of school early?” he asked, hoping the answer was yes. “I mean, does Dumbledore know?”
Black looked mildly annoyed all of a sudden. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he said, leaning back against the wall. “If I had to report everything I did to Albus Dumbledore, I’d be locked up. Go tell Flitwick and then I’ll help you with your trunk.”
Hermione wasn’t going home for the Easter holidays, but Ron was. “Wish I could get out of school early and go pick a new bedroom,” he said, nudging a mouse with the tip of his wand. Over two years after Ron had tried to turn Scabbers yellow, they were finally learning how to change the color of small animals. “I don’t even get to sleep in my bedroom over the holidays – Bill and Charlie are coming home and sharing it and I’ve got to sleep in Percy’s room. Better than poor Ginny, though – she’s got to sleep on a cot and let Auntie Muriel have her bed.” He made a face. Auntie Muriel, apparently, was not one of the more pleasant Weasley relatives.
“Remember to study for exams,” Hermione said. “You ought to go, Black’s waiting for you.”
“Right,” Harry replied. “See you in two weeks.”
“Oh, do me a favor,” said Ron as Harry reached the door. “If you find any ugly baby photos of Malfoy’s mum, ask to borrow them, okay?”
Gryffindor Tower appeared to be entirely deserted. “That one was mine during school,” Black said, pointing to the door of the fifth-year boys’ room. “This is yours? All right, you get your clothes together and I’ll get your books. We’ll have to stop by the Owlry and pick up Hedwig.”
Harry’s new shirt was waiting in the wardrobe; it was far nicer than any other shirt he’d ever had, royal blue with blue buttons and a stiff collar. “At some point we’ll need to go shopping,” Black said, watching as Harry folded a pair of jeans. “Not now, though, we can probably put it off until the summer – how tall are you these days?”
Harry didn’t think he’d been measured since Mr. Ollivander had measured him for his wand. “I dunno,” he said, tossing a pair of socks on top of his Herbology book. “Five feet two inches or something.”
“No, you’re taller than that.” Black was studying him closely. “When was the last time you had your eyes examined?”
“When I was ten, I think.”
“When was the last time you went to a dentist?”
That one Harry definitely didn’t know, but it had been a long time. Aunt Petunia hated taking Dudley to the dentist because she inevitably got a lecture about not letting him eat so many sweets. “When I was...let me think, I’m pretty sure it was before I was ten...”
“I’ll never forgive Dumbledore for this,” Black said, snapping the trunk shut. “Why he didn’t go over to the Dursleys and tell them he’d turn them into toads if they didn’t take better care of you is beyond me. Here, I’ll take this end and you take that one.”
“I reckon he got busy,” Harry said as they started down the stairs. As excited as he was to be getting out of classes early, he wished Black would be in a better mood. “With all the stuff he does – “
“Anyone who has time for a few games of tenpin bowling has time to apparate to Surrey and frighten a couple of Muggles.” Black adjusted his hold on the trunk, his lips pressed together. “I might as well let you know now, I’m not feeling particularly benevolent towards Dumbledore at the moment. He thinks I ought to send you back to the Dursleys for a few weeks at the beginning of the summer.”
Black’s trunk was already in the common room, sitting next to the fireplace. “Why?” Harry asked, bewildered. “I don’t need to go back there anymore, do I? I mean, they’re not going to care if I never come within a mile of Privet Drive ever again.”
“Dumbledore,” replied Black, “contends there’s some type of blood magic protecting you there – that because Lily died to save you, the blood tie between you and her sister is keeping you safe. I think it’s absolute rubbish. If no one’s tried to kill you at your aunt and uncle’s, it’s because Voldemort is floating around somewhere in Albania or wherever he’s supposed to be and the Death Eaters all have strict orders that he’s the only one allowed to kill you. Besides – “ there was an edge to his voice “ – I’m James’s distant cousin, and the last I checked, he died to save you every bit as much as Lily did.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. Black took a small jar of floo powder from his pocket. “Kreacher’s waiting on the other end to take our luggage,” he said. “We’ll do yours first.” He lit the fireplace with the tip of his wand and tossed a pinch of powder onto the flames. “Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.”
As soon as the fire blazed green, Black pushed Harry’s trunk into the fireplace. A moment later, it had disappeared and a gnarled, grayish hand shot up amidst the flames. “All right, he’s got it,” said Black, taking more floo powder. “Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place – look, don’t let what I’ve said about Dumbledore put you in a bad mood. We’re going home and cleaning, and then we’re hard-boiling a ridiculous number of eggs and coming up with a strategy for how to beat Nymphadora at egg-tapping. How does that sound?”
“Great,” Harry said; the words “going home” were echoing in his head. “You said we’re taking the motorbike?”
Black glanced at the fireplace. “Well, we could go by floo powder, but I thought you’d rather – “
Harry couldn’t think of a worse way to get to London than floo powder. “Are you joking? Of course I’d rather take the motorbike, where is it?”
Black’s motorbike was parked just past the main doors of the castle, leaning against the wall; Harry had to grin at the contrast between the thousand-year-old castle and the gleaming chrome. They had got Hedwig from the Owlry. “We’re going to London – Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place,” he told her, stroking the top of her head with one finger. “We’ll meet you there, okay?”
Hedwig hooted softly and spread her wings; Harry and Black watched as she flew off into the distance. “You’ll be spending the entire way to London with your arms around my waist and cold wind numbing your nose,” said Black, turning to Harry. “Still in?”
Black arched his eyebrows, but he was starting to smile. “My hair’s probably going to fly out from under my jacket and hit you in the face.”
“James used to claim that the motor made him lose five percent of the hearing in his right ear.”
Harry grinned. “You’re not talking me out of this, Sirius. Still in.”
Black started laughing. “All right,” he said, climbing onto the motorbike. “If you start your Easter holiday whiplashed, cold and deaf, though, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
For once in his life, Harry was glad to be leaving school. The countryside around Hogwarts had never looked more beautiful than it did from a hundred feet in the air; the grass was still brown, but all the snow had finally melted and there were green buds sprouting from the tips of the tree branches. Harry even thought he could see the odd purple or yellow crocus if he squinted hard enough. “I suppose the Dursleys never took you to church, either,” Black shouted over the roar of the engine.
Harry shook his head, then remembered, feeling stupid, that Black couldn’t see him. “No, they never did.”
“That’s because your Uncle Vernon doesn’t have enough imagination to believe in anything that can’t be measured by the metric system. We’re going for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil.”
There were more trees around them now; Black tilted the motorbike upward and accelerated. Harry wasn’t sure how high up they were, but they were much too high to spot any crocuses.
As they flew on and the sun got brighter, Harry remembered why he and Ron had grown tired of flying in Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia. His mouth felt dry and one of his arms was asleep, but he wasn’t going to complain. He was going home.
It was around four o’clock in the afternoon when they finally reached London. “The Muggles can’t see us, right?” Harry called to Black as they flew over several magnificent stone buildings. They were low enough now that he could make out the people on the pavement.
“They can’t see a thing. Damn it, we’re too far west, we’ve ended up over Piccadilly Circus. If you look down now you might see the fountain and statue.”
Harry thought he saw it; at the very top of the fountain was a metal figure standing on one foot. “Has it got wings?”
“That’s it.” Black swerved the motorbike to the right. “That’s Anteros – the Greek god of requited love. All right, get ready, we’re going to land in a minute.”
The streets below were starting to get distinctly darker and less magnificent; as the motorbike descended lower and lower, Harry could make out the broken windows in some of the
houses. “Ready?” Black shouted. “Here we go – “
Harry’s stomach leapt into his throat as they crashed to the ground. His knees were jolted upwards and he almost lost his hold around Black’s waist; the tires squealed as they skidded down the street. “Hang on, hang on – “ Black was saying. “We’re slowing down, we can stop in a second – “
They were slowing down, Harry realized. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A few seconds later, they came to a halt and he heard the engine die as Black switched off the ignition.
“Are you all right?” Black asked.
“Yeah,” said Harry, opening his eyes and looking around.
They were surrounded by dingy houses, the sort Aunt Petunia wouldn’t have let Dudley within fifty feet of; someone was playing their stereo too loudly, and graffiti had been scrawled on more than one of the doors. Harry could tell if he looked closely that some of the houses were brick and others were stone, but he had to look very closely; every wall seemed to be covered in the same layer of grime. There was no one else in the street. “You live here?” Harry asked, amazed. Black had told him the house was a wreck, but he’d never thought that the entire street was so rundown.
“I think it was a better neighborhood when my ancestors built the house,” said Black, wheeling the motorbike onto the pavement. His hair looked as though he’d just come out the windstorm that had ruined Andromeda’s wall. “Not that it matters now, every place on this block is about an inch from condemnation. We’re right over there – the one with the silver snake knocker on the door.”
Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place had clearly been a very grand residence around a hundred years ago. It was made of gray stone and had carvings of scrolls and flowers around each of the many windows. Harry couldn’t begin to imagine how many rooms were inside; there were four whole stories, plus what looked like two extra rooms at the very top. “The Muggles can’t see the house, either,” said Black, lifting the door knocker and letting it fall. There was a creaking noise as the door opened. “Welcome to the hovel.”