J. K. Rowling
THE RIDDLE HOUSE
The villagers of Little Hangleron still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.
The Little Hagletons all agreed that the old house was “creepy.” Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer's morning when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.
The maid had run screaming down the hill into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the village and roused as many people as she could.
“Lying there with their eyes wide open! Cold as ice! Still in their dinner things!”
The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement. Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular. Elderly Mr. and Mrs. Riddle had been rich, snobbish, and rude, and their grown-up son, Tom, had been, if anything, worse. All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer—for plainly, three apparently Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night.
The Hanged Man, the village pub, did a roaring trade that night; the whole village seemed to have turned out to discuss the murders. They were rewarded for leaving their firesides when the Riddles' cook arrived dramatically in their midst and announced to the suddenly silent pub that a man called Frank Bryce had just been arrested.
“Frank!” cried several people. “Never!”
Frank Bryce was the Riddles' gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House. Frank had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since.
There was a rush to buy the cook drinks and hear more details.
“Always thought he was odd,” she told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. “Unfriendly, like. I'm sure if I've offered him a cuppa once, I've offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn't.”
“Ah, now,” said a woman at the bar, “he had a hard war, Frank. He Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire likes the quiet life. That's no reason to—”
“Who else had a key to the back door, then?” barked the cook. “There's been a spare key hanging in the gardener's cottage far back as I can remember! Nobody forced the door last night! No broken windows! All Frank had to do was creep up to the big house while we was all sleeping...”
The villagers exchanged dark looks.
“I always thought that he had a nasty look about him, right enough,” grunted a man at the bar.
“War turned him funny, if you ask Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire me,” said the landlord.
“Told you I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of Frank, didn't I, Dot?” said an excited woman in the corner.
“Horrible temper,” said Dot, nodding fervently. “I remember, when he was a kid...”
By the following morning, hardly anyone in Little Hangleton doubted that Frank Bryce had killed the Riddles.
But over in the neighboring town of Great Hangleton, in the dark and dingy police station, Frank was stubbornly repeating, again and again, that he was innocent, and that the only person he had seen near the house on the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire of the Riddles' deaths had been a teenage boy, a stranger, dark-haired and pale. Nobody else in the village had seen any such boy, and the police were quite sure Frank had invented him.
Then, just when things were looking very serious for Frank, the report on the Riddles' bodies came back and changed everything.
The police had never read an odder report. A team of doctors had examined the bodies and had concluded that none of the Riddles had been poisoned, stabbed, shot, strangles, suffocated, or (as far as they could tell) harmed at all. In fact (the report Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire continued, in a tone of unmistakable bewilderment), the Riddles all appeared to be in perfet health—apart from the fact that they were all dead. The doctors did note (as though determined to find something wrong with the bodies) that each of the Riddles had a look of terror upon his or her face—but as the frustrated police said, whoever heard of three people being frightened to death?
As there was no proof that the Riddles had been murdered at all, the police were forced to let Frank go. The Riddles were buried in the Little Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Hangleton churchyard, and their graves remained objects of curiosity for a while. To everyone's surprise, and amid a cloud of suspicion, Frank Bryce returned to his cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House.
“'S far as I'm concerned, he killed them, and I don't care what the police say,” said Dot in the Hanged Man. “And if he had any decency, he'd leave here, knowing as how we knows he did it.”
But Frank did not leave. He stayed to tend the garden for the next family who lived in the Riddle House, and then the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire next—for neither family stayed long. Perhaps it was partly because of Frank that the new owners said there was a nasty feeling about the place, which, in the absence of inhabitants, started to fall into disrepair.
The wealthy man who owned the Riddle House these days neither lived there nor put it to any use; they said in the village that he kept it for “tax reasons,” though nobody was very clear what these might be. The wealthy owner continued to pay Frank to do the gardening, however. Frank was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday now Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, very deaf, his bad leg stiffer than ever, but could be seen pottering around the flower beds in fine weather, even though the weeds were starting to creep up on him, try as he might to suppress them.
Weeds were not the only things Frank had to contend with either. Boys from the village made a habit of throwing stones through the windows of the Riddle House. They rode their bicycles over the lawns Frank worked so hard to keep smooth. Once or twice, they broke into the old house for a dare. They knew that old Frank Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's devotion to the house and the grounds amounted almost to an obsession, and it amused them to see him limping across the garden, brandishing his stick and yelling croakily at them. Frank, for his part, believed the boys tormented him because they, like their parents and grandparents, though him a murderer. So when Frank awoke one night in August and saw something very odd up at the old house, he merely assumed that the boys had gone one step further in their attempts to punish him.
It was Frank's bad leg that woke him; it was paining him worse Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than ever in his old age. He got up and limped downstairs into the kitchen with the idea of refilling his hot-water bottle to ease the stiffness in his knee. Standing at the sink, filling the kettle, he looked up at the Riddle House and saw lights glimmering in its upper windows. Frank knew at once what was going on. The boys had broken into the house again, and judging by the flickering quality of the light, they had started a fire.
Frank had no telephone, in any case, he had deeply mistrusted the police ever since they had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire taken him in for questioning about the Riddles' deaths. He put down the kettle at once, hurried back upstairs as fast as his bad leg would allow, and was soon back in his kitchen, fully dressed and removing a rusty old key from its hook by the door. He picked up his walking stick, which was propped against the wall, and set off into the night.
The front door of the Riddle House bore no sign of being forced, nor did any of the windows. Frank limped around to the back of the house until he reached a door Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire almost completely hidden by ivy, took out the old key, put it into the lock, and opened the door noiselessly.
He let himself into the cavernous kitchen. Frank had not entered it for many years; nevertheless, although it was very dark, he remembered where the door into the hall was, and he groped his way towards it, his nostrils full of the smell of decay, ears pricked for any sound of footsteps or voices from overhead. He reached the hall, which was a little lighter owing to the large mullioned windows on either side of the front door, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire started to climb the stairs, blessing the dust that lay thick upon the stone, because it muffled the sound of his feet and stick.
On the landing, Frank turned right, and saw at once where the intruders were: At the every end of the passage a door stood ajar, and a flickering light shone through the gap, casting a long sliver of gold across the black floor. Frank edged closer and closer, he was able to see a narrow slice of the room beyond.
The fire, he now saw, had been lit in the grate. This surprised Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire him. Then he stopped moving and listened intently, for a man's voice spoke within the room; it sounded timid and fearful.
“There is a little more in the bottle, My Lord, if you are still hungry.”
“Later,” said a second voice. This too belonged to a man—but it was strangely high-pitched, and cold as a sudden blast of icy wind. Something about that voice made the sparse hairs on the back of Frank's neck stand up. “Move me closer to the fire, Wormtail.”
Frank turned his right ear toward the door, the better to hear. There came Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the clink of a bottle being put down upon some hard surface, and then the dull scraping noise of a heavy chair being dragged across the floor. Frank caught a glimpse of a small man, his back to the door, pushing the chair into place. He was wearing a long black cloak, and there was a bald patch at the back of his head. Then he went out of sight again.
“Where is Nagini?” said the cold voice.
“I—I don't know, My Lord,” said the first voice nervously. “She set out to explore the house, I Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire think...”
“You will milk her before we retire, Wormtail,” said the second voice. “I will need feeding in the night. The journey has tired me greatly.”
Brow furrowed, Frank inclined his good ear still closer to the door, listening very hard. There was a pause, and then the man called Wormtail spoke again.
“My Lord, may I ask how long we are going to stay here?”
“A week,” said the cold voice. “Perhapse longer. The place is moderately comfortable, and the plan cannot proceed yet. It would be foolish to act before the Quidditch World Cup is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over.”
Frank inserted a gnarled finger into his ear and rotated it. Owing, no doubt, to a buildup of earwax, he had heard the word “Quidditch,” which was not a word at all.
“The—the Quidditch World Cup, My Lord?” said Wormtail. (Frank dug his finger still more vigorously into his ear.) “Forgive me, but—I do not understand—why should we wait until the World Cup is over?”
“Because, fool, at this very moment wizards are pouring into the country from all over the world, and every meddler from the Ministry of Magic will be on duty, on the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire watch for signs of ususual activity, checking and double-checking identities. They will be obsessed with security, lest the Muggles notice anything. So we wait.”
Frank stopped trying to clear out his ear. He had distinctly heard the words “Ministry of Magic,” “wizards,” and “Muggles.” Plainly, each of these expressions meant something secret, and Frank could think of only two sorts of people who would speak in code: spies and criminals. Frank tightened his hold on his walking stick once more, and listened more closely still.
“Your Lordship is still determined, then?” Wormtail said quietly.
“Certainly I am determined, Wormtail Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” There was a note of menace in the cold voice now.
A slight pause followed—and the Wormtail spoke, the words tumbling from him in a rush, as though he was forcing himself to say this before he lost his nerve.
“It could be done without Harry Potter, My Lord.”
Another pause, more protracted, and then—
“Without Harry Potter?” breathed the second voice softly. “I see...”
“My Lord, I do not say this out of concern for the boy!” said Wormtail, his voice rising squeakily. “The boy is nothing to me, nothing at all! It is merely that if Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we were to use another witch or wizard—any wizard—the thing could be done so much more quickly! If you allowed me to leave you for a short while—you know that I can disguise myself most effectively—I could be back here in as little as two days with a suitable person—”
“I could use another wizard,” said the cold voice softly, “that is true...”
“My Lord, it makes sense,” said Wormtail, sounding thoroughly relieved now. “Laying hands on Harry Potter would be so difficult, he is so well protected—”
“And so you volunteer to go Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and fetch me a substitute? I wonder... perhaps the task of nursing me has become wearisome for you, Wormtail? Could this suggestion of abandoning the plan be nothing more than an attempt to desert me?”
“My Lord! I—I have no wish to leave you, none at all—”
“Do not lie to me!” hissed the second voice. “I can always tell, Wormtail! You are regretting that you ever returned to me. I revolt you. I see you flinch when you look at me, feel you shudder when you touch me...”
“No! My devotion to Your Lordship—”
“Your devotion is nothing more Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than cowardice. You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go. How am I to survive without you, when I need feeding every few hours? Who is to milk Nagini?”
“But you seem so much stronger, My Lord—”
“Liar,” breathed the second voice. “I am no stronger, and a few days alone would be enough to rob me of the little health I have regained under your clumsy care. Silence!”
Wormtail, who had been sputtering incoherently, fell silent at once. For a few seconds, Frank could hear nothing but the fire crackling. The the second man Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire spoke once more, in a whisper that was almost a hiss.
“I have my reasons for using the boy, as I have already explained to you, and I will use no other. I have waited thirteen years. A few more months will make no difference. As for the protection surrounding the boy, I believe my plan will be effective. All that is needed is a little courage from you, Wormtail—courage you will find, unless you wish to feel the full extent of Lord Voldermort's wrath—”
“My Lord, I must speak!” said Wormtail, panic in his Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire voice now. “All through our journey I have gone over the plan in my head—My Lord, Bertha Jorkin's disappearance will not go unnoticed for long, and if we proceed, if I murder—”
“If?” whispered the second voice. “If? If you follow the plan, Wormtail, the Ministry need never know that anyone else has died. You will do it quietly and without fuss; I only wish that i could do it myself, but in my present condition... Come, Wormtail, one more death and our path to Harry Potter is clear. I am not asking you to do Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire it alone. By that time, my faithful serant will have rejoined us—”
“I am a faithful servant,” said Wormtail, the merest trace of sullenness in his voice.
“Wormtail, I need somebody with brains, somebody whose loyalty has never wavered, and you, unfortunately, fulfill neither requirement.”
“I found you,” said Wormtail, and there was definitely a sulky edge to his voice now. “I was the one who found you. I brought you Bertha Jorkins.”
“That is true,” said the second man, sounding amused. “A stroke of brilliance I would not have thought possible from you, Wormtail—though, if truth be told Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you were not aware how useful she would be when you caught her, were you?”
“I—I thought she might be useful, My Lord—”
“Liar,” said the second voice again, the cruel amusement more pronounced than ever. “However, I do not deny that her information was invaluable. Without it, I could never have formed our plan, and for that, you will have your reward, Wormtail. I will allow you to perform an essential task for me, one that many of my followers would give their right hands to perform...”
“R-really, My Lord? What—?” Wormtail sounded terrified again.
“Ah Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Wormtail, you don't want me to spoil the surprise? Your part will come at the very end... but I promise you, you will have the honor of being just as useful as Bertha Jorkins.”
“You... you...” Wormtail's voice suddenly sounded hoarse, as though his mouth had gone very dry. “You... are going... to kill me too?”
“Wormtail, Wormtail,” said the cold voice silkily, “why would I kill you? I killed Bertha because I had to. She was fit for nothing after my questioning, quite useless. In any case, awkward questions would have been asked if she had gone back Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to the Ministry with the news that she had met you on her holidays. Wizards who are supposed to be dead would do well not to run into Ministry of Magic witches at wayside inns...”
Wormtail muttered something so quietly that Frank could not hear it, but it made the second man laugh—an entirely mirthless laugh, cold as his speech.
“We could have modified her memory? But Memory Charms can be broken by a powerful wizard, as I proved when I questioned her. It would be an insult to her memory not to use the information Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I extracted from her, Wormtail.”
Out in the corridor, Frank suddenly became aware that the hand gripping his walking stick was slippery with sweat. The man with the cold voice had killed a woman. He was talking about it without any kind of remorse—with amusement. He was dangerous—a madman. And he was planning more murders—this boy, Harry Potter, whoever he was—was in danger—
Frank knew what he must do. Now, if ever, was the time to go to the police. He would creep out of the house and head straight for the telephone box in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the village... but the cold voice was speaking again, and Frank remained where he was, frozen to the spot, listening with all his might.
“One more murder... my faithful servant at Hogwarts... Harry Potter is as good as mine, Wormtail. It is decided. There will be no more argument. But quiet... I think I hear Nagini...”
And the second man's voice changed. He started making noises such as Frank had never heard before; he was hissing and spitting without drawing breath. Frank thought he must be having some sort of fit or seizure.
And then Frank heard movement behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire him in the dark passageway. He turned to look, and found himself paralyzed with fright.
Something was slithering toward him along the dark corridor floor, and as it drew nearer to the sliver of firelight, he realized with a thrill of terror that it was a gigantic snake, at least twelve feet long. Horrified, transfixed, Frank stared as its undulating body cut a wide, curving track through the thick dust on the floor, coming closer and closer—What was he to do? The only means of escape was into the room where the two men sat plotting murder, yet Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire if he stayed where he was the snake would surely kill him—
But before he had made his decision, the snake was level with him, and then, incredibly, miraculously, it was passing; it was following the spitting, hissing noises made by the cold voice beyond the door, and in seconds, the tip of its diamond-patterned tail had vanished through the gap.
There was sweat on Frank's forehead now, and the hand on the walking stick was trembling. Inside the room, the cold voice was continuing to hiss, and Frank was visited by a strange idea Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, an impossible idea... This man could talk to snakes.
Frank didn't understand what was going on. He wanted more than anything to be back in his bed with his hot-water bottle. The problem was that his legs didn't seem to want to move. As he stood there shaking and trying to master himself, the cold voice switched abruptly to English again.
“Nagini has interesting news, Wormtail,” it said.
“In-indeed, My Lord?” said Wormtail.
“Indeed, yes,” said the voice, “According to Nagini, there is an old Muggle standing right outside this room, listening to every word we Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire say.”
Frank didn't have a chance to hide himself. There were footsteps and then the door of the room was flung wide open.
A short, balding man with graying hair, a pointed nose, and small, watery eyes stood before Frank, a mixture of fear and alarm in his face.
“Invite him inside, Wormtail. Where are your manners?”
The cold voice was coming from the ancient armchair before the fire, but Frank couldn't see the speaker. the snake, on the other hand, was curled up on the rotting hearth rug, like some horrible travesty of a pet dog.
Wormtail beckoned Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Frank into the room. Though still deeply shaken, Frank took a firmer grip on his walking stick and limped over the threshold.
The fire was the only source of light in the room; it cast long, spidery shadows upon the walls. Frank stared at the back of the armchair; the man inside it seemed to be even smaller than his servant, for Frank couldn't even see the back of his head.
“You heard everything, Muggle?” said the cold voice.
“What's that you're calling me?” said Frank defiantly, for now that he was inside the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire room, now that the time had come for some sort of action, he felt braver; it had always been so in the war.
“I am calling you a Muggle,” said the voice coolly. “It means that you are not a wizard.”
“I don't know what you mean by wizard,” said Frank, his voice growing steadier. “All I know is I've heard enough to interest the police tonight, I have. You've done murder and you're planning more! And I'll tell youthis too,” he added, on a sudden inspiration, “my wife knows I'm up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire here, and if I don't come back—”
“You have no wife,” said te cold voice, very quietly. “Nobody knows you are here. You told nobody that you were coming. Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows... he always knows...”
“Is that right?” said Frank roughly. “Lord, is it? Well, I don't think much of your manners, My Lord. Turn 'round and face me like a man, why don't you?”
“But I am not a man, Muggle,” said the cold voice, barely audible now over the crackling of the flames. “I am much, much more Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than a man. However... why not? I will face you... Wormtail, come turn my chair around.”
The servant gave a whimper.
“You heard me, Wormtail.”
Slowly, with his face screwed up, as though he would rather have done anything than approach his master and the hearth rug where the snake lay, the small man walked forward and began to turn the chair. The snake lifted its ugly triangular head and hissed slightly as the legs of the chair snagged on its rug.
And then the chair was facing Frank, and he saw what was sitting in it. His walking Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire stick fell to the floor with a clatter. He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Two hundred miles away, the boy called Harry Potter woke with a start.
Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin.
He sat up, one hand still on his scar, the other hand reaching out in the darkness for his glasses, which were on the bedside table. He put them on and his bedroom came into clearer focus, lit by a faint, misty orange light that was filtering through the curtains from the street lamp outside the window.
Harry ran his fingers Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened his wardrobe, and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging.
harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken. It had seemed so real... There had been two people he Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire knew and one he didn't ...He concentrated hard, frowning, trying to remember...
The dim picture of a darkened room came to him... There had been a snake on a hearth rug... a small man called Peter, nicknamed Wormtail... and a cold, high voice... the voice of Lord Voldemort. Harry felt as though an ice cube had slipped down into his stomach at the very thought...
He closed his eyes tightly and tried to remember what Voldemort had looked like, but it was impossible... All Harry knew was that at the moment when Voldemort's chair had swung around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and he, Harry, had seen what was sitting in it, he had felt a spasm of horror, which had awoken him... or had that been the pain in his scar?
And who had the old man been? For there had definitely been an old man; Harry had watched him fall to the ground. It was all becoming confused. Harry put his face into his hands, blocking out his bedroom, trying to hold on to the picture of that dimly lit room, but it was like trying to keep water in his cupped hands; the details were now trickling away Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as fast as he tried to hold on to them... Voldemort and Wormtail had been talking about someone they had killed, though Harry could not remember the name... and they had been plotting to kill someone else... him!
Harry took his face out of his hands, opened his eyes, and stared around his bedroom as though expecting to see something unusual there. As it happened, there was an extraordinary number of unusual things in this room. A large wooden trunk stood open at the foot of his bed, revealing a cauldron, broomstick, black robes, and assorted spellbooks. Rolls of parchment littered that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire part of his desk that was not taken up by the large, empty cage in which his snowy owl, Hedwig, usually perched. On the floor beside his bed a book lay open; Harry had been reading it before he fell asleep last night. The pictures in this book were all moving. Men in bright orange robes were zooming in and out of sight on broomsticks, throwing a red ball to one another.
Harry walked over to the book, picked it up, and watched on of the wizards score a spectacular goal by putting the ball through a Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire fifty-foot-high hoop. Then he snapped the book shut. Even Quidditch—in Harry's opinion, the best sport in the world—couldn't distract him at the moment. He placed Flying with the Cannons on his bedside table, crossed to the window, and drew back the curtains to survey the street below.
Privet Drive looked exactly as a respectable suburban street would be expected to look inthe early hours of Saturday morning. All the curtains were closed. As far as Harry could see through the darkness, there wasn't a living creature in sight, not even a Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire cat.
And yet... and yet... Harry went restlessly back to the bed and sat down on it, running a finger over his scar again. It wasn't the pain that bothered him; Harry was no stranger to pain and injury. He had lost all the bones from his right arm once and had them painfully regrown in a night. The same arm had been pierced by a venemous foot-long fang not long afterward. Only last year Harry had fallen fifty feet from an airborn broomstick. He was used to bizarre accidents and injuries; they were unavoidable if you attended Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and had a knack for attracting a lot of trouble.
No, the thing that was bothering Harry was the last time his scar had hurt him, it had been because Voldemort had been close by... But Voldemort couldn't be here, now... The idea of Voldemort lurking in Privet Drive was absurd, impossible...
Harry listened closely to the silence around him. Was he half expecting to hear the creak of a stair or the swish of a cloak? And then he jumped slightly as he heard his cousin Dudley give a tremendous Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire grunting snore from the next room.
Harry shook himself mentally; he was being stupid. There was no one in the house with him except Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley, and they were plainly still asleep, their dreams untroubled and painless.
Asleep was the way Harry liked the Dursleys best; it wasn't as though they were ever any help to him awake. Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley were Harry's only living relatives. They were Muggles who hated and despised magic in any form, which meant that Harry was about as welcome in their house as dry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire rot. They had explained away Harry's long absences at Hogwarts over the last three years by telling everyone that he went to St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. They knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard, Harry wasn't allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but they were still apt to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house. Harry had never been able to confide in them or tell them anything about his life in the wizarding world. The very idea of going to them when they awoke, and telling them Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire about his scar hurting him, and about his worries about Voldemort, was laughable.
And yet it was because of Voldemort that Harry had come to live with the Dursleys in the first place. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, Harry would not have had the lightning scar on his forehead. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, Harry would still have had parents...
Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort—the most powerful Dark wizard for a century, a wizard who had been gaining power steadily for eleven years—arrived at his house and killed his Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire father and mother. Voldemort had then turned his wand on Harry; he had performed the curse that had disposed of many full-grown witches and wizards in his steady rise to power—and, incredibly, it had not worked. Instead of killing the small boy, the curse had rebounded upon Voldemort. Harry had survived with nothing but a lightning-shaped cut on his forehead, and Voldemort had been reduced to something barely alive. His powers gone, his life almost extinguished, Voldemort had fled; the terror in which the secret community of witches and wizards had lived for so long Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had lifted, Voldemort's followers had disbanded, and Harry Potter had become famous.
It had been enough of a shock for Harry to discover, on his eleventh birthday, that he was a wizard; it had been even more disconcerting to find out that everyone in the hidden wizarding world knew his name. Harry had arrived at Hogwarts to find that heads turned and whispers followed him wherever he went. But he was used to it now: At the end of this summer, he would be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts, and Harry was already counting the days until he would Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire be back at the castle again.
But there was still a fortnight to go before he went back to school. He looked hopelessly around his room again, and his eye paused on the birthday cards his two best friends had sent him at the end of July. What would they say if Harry wrote to them and told them about his scar hurting?
At once, Hermione Granger's voice seemed to fill his head, shrill and panicky.
“Your scar hurt? Harry, that's really serious... Write to Professor Dumbledore! And I'll go and check Common Magical Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Ailments and Afflictions... Maybe there's something in there about curse scars...”
Yes, that would be Hermione's advice: Go straight to the headmaster of Hogwarts, and in the meantime, consult a book. Harry stared out of the window at the inky blue-black sky. He doubted very much whether a book could help him now. As far as he knew, he was the only living person to have survived a curse like Voldemort's; it was highly unlikely, therefore, that he would find his symptoms listed in Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. As for informing the headmaster, Harry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had no idea where Dumbledore went during the summer holidays. He amused himself for a moment, picturing Dumbledore, with his long silver beard, full length wizard's robes, and pointed hat, stretched out on a beach somewhere, rubbing suntan lotion onto his long crooked nose. Wherever Dumbledore was, though, Harry was sure that Hedwig would be able to find him; Harry's owl had never yet failed to deliver a letter to anyone, even without an address. But what would he write?
Dear Professor Dumbledore, Sorry to bother you, but my scar hurt this morning. Yours sincerely, Harry Potter.
Even inside Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire his head the words sounded stupid.
And so he tried to imagine his other best friend, Ron Weasley's, reaction, and in a moment, Ron's red hair and long-nosed, freckled face seemed to swim before Harry, wearing a bemused expression.
“Your scar hurt? But ...but You-Know-Who can't be near you now, can he? I mean ...you'd know, wouldn't you? He'd be trying to do you in again, wouldn't be? I dunno, Harry, maybe curse scars always twinge a bit... I'll ask Dad...”
Mr. Weasley was a fully qualified wizard Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire who worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, but he didn't have any particular expertise in the matter of curses, as far as Harry knew. In any case, Harry didn't like the idea of the whole Weasley family knowing that he, Harry, was getting jumpy about a few moments' pain. Mrs. Weasley would fuss worse than Hermione, and Fred and George, Ron's sixteenyear-old twin brothers, might think Harry was losing his nerve. The Weasleys were Harry's favorite family in the world; he was hoping that they might Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire invite him to stay any time now (Ron had mentioned something about the Quidditch World Cup), and he somehow didn't want his visit punctuated with anxious inquiries about his scar.
Harry kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like—someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience with Dark Magic...
And then the solution came to him. It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn't Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire believe it had taken so long—Sirius.
Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room, and sat down at his desk; he pulled a piece of parchment toward him, loaded his eagle-feather quill with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem, still marveling at the fact that he hadn't thought of Sirius straight away. But then, perhaps it wasn't so surprising—after all, he had only found out that Sirius was his godfather two months ago.
There was a simple reason for Sirius's complete absence from Harry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's life until then—Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terrifying wizard jail guarded by creatures called dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped. Yet Sirius had been innocent—the murders for which he had been convicted had been committed by Wormtail, Voldemort's supporter, whom nearly everybody now believed dead. Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew otherwise, however; they had come face-to-face with Wormtail only the previous year, though only Professor Dumbledore had believed their story.
For one glorious hour, Harry had believed that he was leaving Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the Dursleys at last, because Sirius had offered him a home once his name had been cleared. But the chance had been snatched away from him—Wormtail had escaped before they could take him to the Ministry of Magic, and Sirius had had to flee for his life. Harry had helped him escape on the back of a hippogriff called Buckbeak, and since then, Sirius had been on the run. The home Harry might have had if Wormtail had not escaped had been haunting him all summer. It had been doubly hard to return to the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Dursleys knowing that he had so nearly escaped them forever.
Nevertheless, Sirius had been of some help to Harry, even if he couldn't be with him. It was due to Sirius that Harry now had all his school things in his bedroom with him. The Dursleys had never allowed this before; their general wish of keeping Harry as miserable as possible, coupled with their fear of his powers, had led them to lock his school trunk in the cupboard under the stairs every summer prior to this. But their attitude had changed since they had found out that Harry had a Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire dangerous murderer for a godfather—for Harry had conveniently forgotten to tell them that Sirius was innocent.
Harry had received two letters from Sirius since he had been back at Privet Drive. Both had been delivered, not by owls (as was usual with wizards), but by large, brightly colored tropical birds. Hedwig had not approved of these flashy intruders; she had been most reluctant to allow them to drink from her water tray before flying off again. Harry, on the other hand, had liked them; they put him in mind of palm trees and white sand, and he Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire hoped that, wherever Sirius was (Sirius never said, in case the letters were intercepted), he was enjoying himself. Somehow, Harry found it hard to imaging dementors surviving for long in bright sunlight, perhapse that was why Sirius had gone South. Sirius's letters, which were now hidden beneath the highly useful loose floorboards under Harry's bed, sounded chearful, and in both of them he had reminded Harry to call on him if ever Harry needed to. Well, he needed to right now, all right...
Harry's lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the cold gray light that precedes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire sunrise slowly crept into the room. Finally, when the sun had risen, when his bedroom walls had turned gold, and when sounds of movement could be heard from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia's room, Harry cleared his desk of crumpled pieces of parchment and reread his finished letter.
Thanks for your last letter. That bird was enormous; it could hardly get through my window. Things are the same as usual here. Dudley's diet isn't going too well. My aunt found him smuggling doughnuts into his room yesterday. They told him they'd have Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window. That's a sort of computer thing you can play games on. Bit stupid really, now he hasn't even got Mega-Mutilation Part Three to take his mind off things.
I'm okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and turn them all into bats if I ask you to.
A weird thing happened this morning, though. My scar hurt again. Last time that happened it was because Voldemort was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Hogwarts. But I don't reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he? Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterward?
I'll send this with Hedwig when she gets back; she's off hunting at the moment. Say hello to Buckbeak for me. Harry
Yes, thought Harry, that looked all right. There was no point putting in the dream; he didn't want it to look as though he was too worried. He folded up the parchment and laid it aside on his desk, ready for when Hedwig returned. Then he got to his feet, stretched, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened his wardrobe once more. Without glancing at his reflection he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.
By the time Harry arrived in the kitchen, the three Dursleys were already seated around the table. None of them looked up as he entered or sat down. Uncle Vernon's large red face was hidden behind the morning's Daily Mail, and Aunt Petunia was cutting a grapefruit into quarters, her lips pursed over her horselike teeth.
Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seemed to be taking up even more space than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire usual. This was saying something, as he always took up an entire side of the square table by himself. When Aunt Petunia put a quarter of unsweetened grapefruit onto Dudley's plate with a tremulous “There you are, Diddy darling,” Dudley glowered at her. His life had taken a most unpleasant turn since he had come home for the summer with his end-of-year report.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had managed to find excuses for his bad marks as usual: Aunt Petunia always insisted that Dudley was a very gifted boy whose teachers didn't understand him, while Uncle Vernon Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire maintained that “he didn't want some swotty little nancy boy for a son anyway.” They also skated over the accusations of bullying in the report—”He's a boisterous little boy, but he wouldn't hurt a fly!” Aunt Petunia had said tearfully.
However, at the bottom of the report there were a few well-chosen comments from the school nurse that not even Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia could explain away. No matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and that his poundage was really puppy fat, and that he was a Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire growing boy who needed plenty of food, the fact remained that the school outfitters didn't stock knickerbockers big enough for him anymore. The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia's eyes—so sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing the comings and goings of the neighbors—simply refused to see: that far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.
So—after many tantrums, after arguments that shook Harry's bedroom floor, and many tears from Aunt Petunia—the new regime had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire begun. The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which had been emptied of all Dudley's favorite things—fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called “rabbit food.” To make Dudley feel better about it all, Aunt Petunia had insisted that the whole family follow the diet too. She now passed a grapefruit quarter to Harry. He noticed that it was a lot smaller than Dudley's. Aunt Petunia seemed to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire feet that the best way to keep up Dudley's morale was to make sure that he did, at least, get more to eat than Harry.
But Aunt Petunia didn't know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all. The moment he had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot sticks, Harry had sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had risen to the occasion magnificently. Hedwig had returned from Hermione's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire house with a large box stuffed full of sugar-free snacks. (Hermione's parents were dentists.) Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had obliged with a sack full of his own homemade rock cakes. (Harry hadn't touched these; he had had too much experience of Hagrid's cooking.) Mrs. Weasley, however, had sent the family owl, Errol, with an enormous fruitcake and assorted meat pies. Poor Errol, who was elderly and feeble, had needed a full five days to recover from the journey. And then on Harry's birthday (which the Dursleys had completely ignored) he had received four superb birthday cakes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Sirius. Harry still had two of them left, and so, looking forward to a real breakfast when he got back upstairs, he ate his grapefruit without complaint.
Uncle Vernon laid aside his paper with a deep sniff of disapproval and looked down at his own grapefruit quarter.
“Is this it?” he said grumpily to Aunt Petunia.
Aunt Petunia gave him a severe look, and then nodded pointedly at Dudley, who had already finished his own grapefruit quarter and was eyeing Harry's with a very sour look in his piggy Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire little eyes.
Uncle Vernon gave a great sigh, which ruffled his large, bushy mustache, and picked up his spoon.
The doorbell rang. Uncle Vernon heaved himself out of his chair and set off down the hall. Quick as a flash, while his mother was occupied with the kettle, Dudley stole the rest of Uncle Vernon's grapefruit.
Harry heard talking at the door, and someone laughing, and Uncle Vernon answering curtly. Then the front door closed, and the sound of ripping paper came from the hall.
Aunt Petunia set the teapot down on the table and looked curiously around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to see where Uncle Vernon had got to. She didn't have to wait long to find out; after about a minute, he was back. He looked livid.
“You,” he barked at Harry. “In the living room. Now.”
Bewildered, wondering what on earth he was supposed to have done this time, Harry got up and followed Uncle Vernon out of the kitchen and into the next room. Uncle Vernon closed the door sharply behind both of them.
“So,” he said, marching over to the fireplace and turning to face Harry as though he were about to pronounce him under Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire arrest. “So.”
Harry would have dearly loved to have said, “So what?” but he didn't feel that Uncle Vernon's temper should be tested this early in the morning, especially when it was already under severe strain from lack of food. He therefore settled for looking politely puzzled.
“This just arrived,” said Uncle Vernon. He brandished a piece of purple writing paper at Harry. “A letter. About you.”
Harry's confusion increased. Who would be writing to Uncle Vernon about him? Who did he know who sent letters by the postman?
Uncle Vernon glared at Harry, then Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire looked down at the letter and began to read aloud:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dursley,
We have never been introduced, but I am sure you have heard a great deal from Harry about my son Ron.
As Harry might have told you, the final of the Quidditch World Cup takes place this Monday night, and my husband, Arthur, has just managed to get prime tickets through his connections at the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
I do hope you will allow us to take Harry to the match, as this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; Britain hasn't Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire hosted the cup for thirty years, and tickets are extremely hard to come by. We would of course be glad to have Harry stay for the remainder of the summer holidays, and to see him safely onto the train back to school.
It would be best for Harry to send us your answer as quickly as possible in the normal way, because the Muggle postman has never delivered to our house, and I am not sure he even knows where it is.
Hoping to see Harry soon,
P. S. I do hope we Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire've put enough stamps on.
Uncle Vernon finished reading, put his hand back into his breast pocket, and drew out something else.
“Look at this,” he growled.
He held up the envelope in which Mrs. Weasley's letter had come, and Harry had to fight down a laugh. Every bit of it was covered in stamps except for a square inch on the front, into which Mrs. Weasley had squeezed the Dursleys' address in minute writing.
“She did put enough stamps on, then,” said Harry, trying to sound as though Mrs. Weasley's was a mistake anyone could make Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. His uncle's eyes flashed.
“The postman noticed,” he said through gritted teeth. “Very interested to know where this letter came from, he was. That's why he rang the doorbell. Seemed to think it was funny.”
Harry didn't say anything. Other people might not understand why Uncle Vernon was making a fuss about too many stamps, but Harry had lived with the Dursleys too long not to know how touchy they were about anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Their worst fear was that someone would find out that they were connected (however distantly) with people Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire like Mrs. Weasley.
Uncle Vernon was still glaring at Harry, who tried to keep his expression neutral. If he didn't do or say anything stupid, he might just be in for the treat of a lifetime. He waited for Uncle Vernon to say something, but he merely continued to glare. Harry decided to break the silence.
“So—can I go then?” he asked.
A slight spasm crossed Uncle Vernon's large purple face. The mustache bristled. Harry thought he knew what was going on behind the mustache: a furious battle as two of Uncle Vernon's most fundamental instincts Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came into conflict. Allowing Harry to go would make Harry happy, something Uncle Vernon had struggled against for thirteen years. On the other hand, allowing Harry to disappear to the Weasleys' for the rest of the summer would get rid of him two weeks earlier than anyone could have hoped, and Uncle Vernon hated having Harry in the house. To give himself thinking time, it seemed, he looked down at Mrs. Weasley's letter again.
“Who is this woman?” he said, staring at the signature with distaste.
“You've seen her,” said Harry. “She's my friend Ron Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's mother, she was meeting him off the Hog—off the school train at the end of last term.”
He had almost said “Hogwarts Express,” and that was a sure way to get his uncle's temper up. Nobody ever mentioned the name of Harry's school aloud in the Dursley household.
Uncle Vernon screwed up his enormous face as though trying to remember something very unpleasant.
“Dumpy sort of woman?” he growled finally. “Load of children with red hair?”
Harry frowned. He thought it was a bit rich of Uncle Vernon to call anyone “dumpy,” when his own son, Dudley, had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire finally achieved what he'd been threatening to do since the age of three, and become wider than he was tall.
Uncle Vernon was perusing the letter again.
“Quidditch,” he muttered under his breath. “Quidditch—what is this rubbish?”
Harry felt a second stab of annoyance.
“It's a sport,” he said shortly. “Played on broom- “
“All right, all right!” said Uncle Vernon loudly. Harry saw, with some satisfaction, that his uncle looked vaguely panicky. Apparently his nerves couldn't stand the sound of the word “broomsticks” in his living room. He took refuge in perusing the letter again Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry saw his lips form the words “send us your answer ...in the normal way.” He scowled.
“What does she mean, 'the normal way'?” he spat.
“Normal for us,” said Harry, and before his uncle could stop him, he added, “you know, owl post. That's what's normal for wizards.”
Uncle Vernon looked as outraged as if Harry had just uttered a disgusting swearword. Shaking with anger, he shot a nervous look through the window, as though expecting to see some of the neighbors with their ears pressed against the glass.
“How many times do I have to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tell you not to mention that unnaturalness under my roof?” he hissed, his face now a rich plum color. “You stand there, in the clothes Petunia and I have put on your ungrateful back—”
“Only after Dudley finished with them,” said Harry coldly, and indeed, he was dressed in a sweatshirt so large for him that he had had to roll back the sleeves five times so as to be able to use his hands, and which fell past the knees of his extremely baggy jeans.
“I will not be spoken to like that!” said Uncle Vernon, trembling with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire rage.
But Harry wasn't going to stand for this. Gone were the days when he had been forced to take every single one of the Dursleys' stupid rules. He wasn't following Dudley's diet, and he wasn't going to let Uncle Vernon stop him from going to the Quidditch World Cup, not if he could help it. Harry took a deep, steadying breath and then said, “Okay, I can't see the World Cup. Can I go now, then? Only I've got a letter to Sirius I want to finish. You know—my godfather Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
He had done it, he had said the magic words. Now he watched the purple recede blotchily from Uncle Vernon's face, making it look like badly mixed black currant ice cream.
“You're—you're writing to him, are you?” said Uncle Vernon, in a would-be calm voice—but Harry had seen the pupils of his tiny eyes contract with sudden fear.
“Well—yeah,” said Harry, casually. “It's been a while since he heard from me, and, you know, if he doesn't he might start thinking something's wrong.”
He stopped there to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire enjoy the effect of these words. He could almost see the cogs working under Uncle Vernon's thick, dark, neatly parted hair. If he tried to stop Harry writing to Sirius, Sirius would think Harry was being mistreated. If he told Harry he couldn't go to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry would write and tell Sirius, who would know Harry was being mistreated. There was only one thing for Uncle Vernon to do. Harry could see the conclusion forming in his uncle's mind as though the great mustached face were transparent. Harry tried not to smile, to keep his own Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire face as blank as possible. And then—
“Well, all right then. You can go to this ruddy ...this stupid ...this World Cup thing. You write and tell these—these Weasleys they're to pick you up, mind. I haven't got time to go dropping you off all over the country. And you can spend the rest of the summer there. And you can tell your—your godfather ...tell him ...tell him you're going.”
“Okay then,” said Harry brightly.
He turned and walked toward the living room door, fighting the urge to jump into the air and whoop Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He was going ...he was going to the Weasleys', he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup!
Outside in the hall he nearly ran into Dudley, who had been lurking behind the door, clearly hoping to overhear Harry being told off. He looked shocked to see the broad grin on Harry's face.
“That was an excellent breakfast, wasn't it?” said Harry. “I feel really full, don't you?”
Laughing at the astonished look on Dudley's face, Harry took the stairs three at a time, and hurled himself back into his bedroom.
The first thing he Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire saw was that Hedwig was back. She was sitting in her cage, staring at Harry with her enormous amber eyes, and clicking her beak in the way that meant she was annoyed about something. Exactly what was annoying her became apparent almost at once.
“OUCH!” said Harry as what appeared to be a small, gray, feathery tennis ball collided with the side of his head. Harry massaged the spot furiously, looking up to see what had hit him, and saw a minute owl, small enough to fit into the palm of his hand, whizzing excitedly around the room like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a loose firework. Harry then realized that the owl had dropped a letter at his feet. Harry bent down, recognized Ron's handwriting, then tore open the envelope. Inside was a hastily scribbled note.
Harry—DAD GOT THE TICKETS—Ireland versus Bulgaria, Monday night. Mum's writing to the Muggles to ask you to stay. They might already have the letter, I don't know how fast Muggle post is. Thought I'd send this with Pig anyway.
Harry stared at the word “Pig,” then looked up at the tiny owl now zooming around the light fixture on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the ceiling. He had never seen anything that looked less like a pig. Maybe he couldn't read Ron's writing. He went back to the letter:
We're coming for you whether the Muggles like it or not, you can't miss the World Cup, only Mum and Dad reckon it's better if we pretend to ask their permission first. If they say yes, send Pig back with your answer pronto, and we'll come and get you at five o'clock on Sunday. If they say no, send Pig back pronto and we'll come Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and get you at five o'clock on Sunday anyway.
Hermione's arriving this afternoon. Percy's started work—the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Don't mention anything about Abroad while you're here unless you want the pants bored off you.
See you soon—Ron
“Calm down!” Harry said as the small owl flew low over his head, twittering madly with what Harry could only assume was pride at having delivered the letter to the right person. “Come here, I need you to take my answer back!”
The owl fluttered down on top of Hedwig's cage. Hedwig looked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire coldly up at it, as though daring it to try and come any closer.
Harry seized his eagle-feather quill once more, grabbed a fresh piece of parchment, and wrote:
Ron, it's all okay, the Muggles say I can come. See you five o'clock tomorrow. Can't wait. Harry
He folded this note up very small, and with immense difficulty, tied it to the tiny owl's leg as it hopped on the spot with excitement. The moment the note was secure, the owl was off again; it zoomed out of the window and out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire sight.
Harry turned to Hedwig.
“Feeling up to a long journey?” he asked her.
Hedwig hooted in a dignified sort of a way.
“Can you take this to Sirius for me?” he said, picking up his letter. “Hang on ...I just want to finish it.”
He unfolded the parchment and hastily added a postscript.
If you want to contact me, I'll be at my friend Ron Weasley's for the rest of the summer. His dad's got us tickets for the Quidditch World Cup!
The letter finished, he tied it to Hedwig's leg; she kept unusually still Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as though determined to show him how a real post owl should behave.
“I'll be at Ron's when you get back, all right?” Harry told her.
She nipped his finger affectionately, then, with a soft swooshing noise, spread her enormous wings and soared out of the open window.
Harry watched her out of sight, then crawled under his bed, wrenched up the loose floorboard, and pulled out a large chunk of birthday cake. He sat there on the floor eating it, savoring the happiness that was flooding through him. He had cake, and Dudley had nothing but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire grapefruit; it was a bright summer's day, he would be leaving Privet Drive tomorrow, his scar felt perfectly normal again, and he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup. It was hard, just now, to feel worried about anything—even Lord Voldemort.
BACK TO THE BURROW
By twelve o'clock the next day, Harry's school trunk was packed with his school things and all his most prized possessions—the Invisibility Cloak he had inherited from his father, the broomstick he had gotten from Sirius, the enchanted map of Hogwarts he had been given by Fred and George Weasley Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last year. He had emptied his hiding place under the loose floorboard of all food, double-checked every nook and cranny of his bedroom for forgotten spellbooks or quills, and taken down the chart on the wall counting down the days to September the first, on which he liked to cross off the days remaining until his return to Hogwarts.
The atmosphere inside number four, Privet Drive was extremely tense. The imminent arrival at their house of an assortment of wizards was making the Dursleys uptight and irritable. Uncle Vernon had looked downright alarmed when Harry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire informed him that the Weasleys would be arriving at five o'clock the very next day.
“I hope you told them to dress properly, these people,” he snarled at once. “I've seen the sort of stuff your lot wear. They'd better have the decency to put on normal clothes, that's all.”
Harry felt a slight sense of foreboding. He had rarely seen Mr. or Mrs. Weasley wearing anything that the Dursleys would call “normal.” Their children might don Muggle clothing during the holidays, but Mr. and Mrs. Weasley usually wore long robes in varying states of shabbiness Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry wasn't bothered about what the neighbors would think, but he was anxious about how rude the Dursleys might be to the Weasleys if they turned up looking like their worst idea of wizards.
Uncle Vernon had put on his best suit. To some people, this might have looked like a gesture of welcome, but Harry knew it was because Uncle Vernon wanted to look impressive and intimidating. Dudley, on the other hand, looked somehow diminished. This was not because the diet was at last taking effect, but due to fright. Dudley had emerged from his last encounter with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a fully grown wizard with a curly pig's tail poking out of the seat of his trousers, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had had to pay for its removal at a private hospital in London. It wasn't altogether surprising, therefore, that Dudley kept running his hand nervously over his backside, and walking sideways from room to room, so as not to present the same target to the enemy.
Lunch was an almost silent meal. Dudley didn't even protest at the food (cottage cheese and grated celery). Aunt Petunia wasn't, eating anything at all. Her arms Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were folded, her lips were pursed, and she seemed to be chewing her tongue, as though biting back the furious diatribe she longed to throw at Harry.
“They'll be driving, of course?” Uncle Vernon barked across the table.
“Er,” said Harry.
He hadn't thought of that. How were the Weasleys going to pick him up? They didn't have a car anymore; the old Ford Anglia they had once owned was currently running wild in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. But Mr. Weasley had borrowed a Ministry of Magic car last year; possibly he would do the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire same today?
“I think so,” said Harry.
Uncle Vernon snorted into his mustache. Normally, Uncle Vernon would have asked what car Mr. Weasley drove; he tended to judge other men by how big and expensive their cars were. But Harry doubted whether Uncle Vernon would have taken to Mr. Weasley even if he drove a Ferrari.
Harry spent most of the afternoon in his bedroom; he couldn't stand watching Aunt Petunia peer out through the net curtains every few seconds, as though there had been a warning about an escaped rhinoceros. Finally, at a quarter to five, Harry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire went back downstairs and into the living room.
Aunt Petunia was compulsively straightening cushions. Uncle Vernon was pretending to read the paper, but his tiny eyes were not moving, and Harry was sure he was really listening with all his might for the sound of an approaching car. Dudley was crammed into an armchair, his porky hands beneath him, clamped firmly around his bottom. Harry couldn't take the tension; he left the room and went and sat on the stairs in the hall, his eyes on his watch and his heart pumping fast from excitement and nerves Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
But five o'clock came and then went. Uncle Vernon, perspiring slightly in his suit, opened the front door, peered up and down the street, then withdrew his head quickly.
“They're late!” he snarled at Harry.
I know,” said Harry. “Maybe—er—the traffic's bad, or something.”
Ten past five ...then a quarter past five ...Harry was starting to feel anxious himself now. At half past, he heard Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia conversing in terse mutters in the living room.
“No consideration at all.”
“We might've had an engagement.”
“Maybe they think they'll get Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire invited to dinner if they're late.”
“Well, they most certainly won't be,” said Uncle Vernon, and Harry heard him stand up and start pacing the living room. “They'll take the boy and go, there'll be no hanging around. That's if they're coming at all. Probably mistaken the day. I daresay their kind don't set much store by punctuality. Either that or they drive some tin-pot car that's broken dAAAAAAAARRRRRGH!”
Harry jumped up. From the other side of the living room door came the sounds of the three Dursleys scrambling, panic-stricken Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, across the room. Next moment Dudley came flying into the hall, looking terrified.
“What happened?” said Harry. “What's the matter?”