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        Harry’s feet touched road. He saw the achingly familiar Hogsmeade High Street: dark shop fronts, and the outline of black mountains beyond the village, and the curve in the road ahead that led off toward Hogwarts, and light spilling from the windows of the Three Broomsticks, and with a lurch of the heart he remembered, with piercing accuracy, how he had landed here nearly a year before, supporting a desperately weak Dumbledore; all this in a second, upon landing — and then, even as he relaxed his grip upon Ron’s and Hermione’s arms, it happened.

        The air was rent by a scream that sounded like Voldemort’s when he had realized the cup had been stolen: It tore at every nerve in Harry’s body, and he knew immediately that their appearance had caused it. Even as he looked at the other two beneath the Cloak, the door of the Three Broomsticks burst open and a dozen cloaked and hooded Death Eaters dashed into the street, their wands aloft.

        Harry seized Ron’s wrist as he raised his wand; there were too many of them to Stun: Even attempting it would give away their position. One of the Death Eaters waved his wand and the scream stopped, still echoing around the distant mountains.

        “Accio Cloak!” roared one of the Death Eaters.

        Harry seized its folds, but it made no attempt to escape: The Summoning Charm had not worked on it.

        “Not under your wrapper, then, Potter?” yelled the Death Eater who had tried the charm, and then to his fellows, “Spread out. He’s here.”







        Six of the Death Eaters ran toward them: Harry, Ron, and Hermione backed as quickly as possible down the nearest side street, and the Death Eaters missed them by inches. They waited in the darkness, listening to the footsteps running up and down, beams of light flying along the street from the Death Eaters’ searching wands.

        “Let’s just leave!” Hermione whispered. “Disapparate now!”

        “Great idea,” said Ron, but before Harry could reply a Death Eater shouted,

        “We know you’re here, Potter, and there’s no getting away! We’ll find you!”

        “They were ready for us,” whispered Harry. “They set up that spell to tell them we’d come. I reckon they’ve done something to keep us here, trap us —”

        “What about dementors?” called another Death Eater. “Let ’em have free rein, they’d find him quick enough!”

        “The Dark Lord wants Potter dead by no hand but his —”

        “— an’ dementors won’t kill him! The Dark Lord wants Potter’s life, not his soul. He’ll be easier to kill if he’s been Kissed first!”

        There were noises of agreement. Dread filled Harry: To repel dementors they would have to produce Patronuses, which would give them away immediately.

        “We’re going to have to try to Disapparate, Harry!” Hermione whispered.

        Even as she said it, he felt the unnatural cold begin to steal over the street. Light was sucked from the environment right up to the stars, which vanished. In the pitch-blackness, he felt Hermione take hold of his arm and together, they turned on the spot.











        The air through which they needed to move seemed to have become solid: They could not Disapparate; the Death Eaters had cast their charms well. The cold was biting deeper and deeper into Harry’s flesh. He, Ron, and Hermione retreated down the side street, groping their way along the wall, trying not to make a sound.

        Then, around the corner, gliding noiselessly, came dementors, ten or more of them, visible because they were of a denser darkness than their surroundings, with their black cloaks and their scabbed and rotting hands. Could they sense fear in the vicinity? Harry was sure of it: They seemed to be coming more quickly now, taking those dragging, rattling breaths he detested, tasting despair on the air, closing in —

        He raised his wand: He could not, would not, suffer the Dementor’s Kiss, whatever happened afterward. It was of Ron and Hermione that he thought as he whispered, “Expecto Patronum!”

        The silver stag burst from his wand and charged: The dementors scattered and there was a triumphant yell from somewhere out of sight.

        “It’s him, down there, down there, I saw his Patronus, it was a stag!

        The dementors had retreated, the stars were popping out again, and the footsteps of the Death Eaters were becoming louder; but before Harry in his panic could decide what to do, there was a grinding of bolts nearby, a door opened on the left-hand side of the narrow street, and a rough voice said, “Potter, in here, quick!”

        He obeyed without hesitation: The three of them hurtled through the open doorway.

        “Upstairs, keep the Cloak on, keep quiet!” muttered a tall figure, passing them on his way into the street and slamming the door behind him.








        Harry had had no idea where they were, but now he saw, by the stuttering light of a single candle, the grubby, sawdust-strewn bar of the Hog’s Head Inn. They ran behind the counter and through a second doorway, which led to a rickety wooden staircase that they climbed as fast as they could. The stairs opened onto a sitting room with a threadbare carpet and a small fireplace, above which hung a single large oil painting of a blonde girl who gazed out at the room with a kind of vacant sweetness.

        Shouts reached them from the street below. Still wearing the Invisibility Cloak, they crept toward the grimy window and looked down. Their savior, whom Harry now recognized as the Hog’s Head’s barman, was the only person not wearing a hood.

        “So what?” he was bellowing into one of the hooded faces. “So what? You send dementors down my street, I’ll send a Patronus back at ’em! I’m not having ’em near me, I’ve told you that, I’m not having it!”

        “That wasn’t your Patronus!” said a Death Eater. “That was a stag, it was Potter’s!”

        “Stag!” roared the barman, and he pulled out a wand. “Stag! You idiot — Expecto Patronum!”

        Something huge and horned erupted from the wand: Head down, it charged toward the High Street and out of sight.

        “That’s not what I saw —” said the Death Eater, though with less certainty.









        “Curfew’s been broken, you heard the noise,” one of his companions told the barman. “Someone was out in the street against regulations —”

        “If I want to put my cat out, I will, and be damned to your curfew!”

        “You set off the Caterwauling Charm?”

        “What if I did? Going to cart me off to Azkaban? Kill me for sticking my nose out my own front door? Do it, then, if you want to! But I hope for your sakes you haven’t pressed your little Dark Marks and summoned him. He’s not going to like being called here for me and my old cat, is he, now?”

        “Don’t you worry about us,” said one of the Death Eaters, “worry about yourself, breaking curfew!”

        “And where will you lot traffick potions and poisons when my pub’s closed down? What’ll happen to your little sidelines then?”

        “Are you threatening — ?”

        “I keep my mouth shut, it’s why you come here, isn’t it?”

        “I still say I saw a stag Patronus!” shouted the first Death Eater.

        “Stag?” roared the barman. “It’s a goat, idiot!”

        “All right, we made a mistake,” said the second Death Eater. “Break curfew again and we won’t be so lenient!”












        The Death Eaters strode back toward the High Street. Hermione moaned with relief, wove out from under the Cloak, and sat down on a wobble-legged chair. Harry drew the curtains tight shut, then pulled the Cloak off himself and Ron. They could hear the barman down below, rebolting the door of the bar, then climbing the stairs.

        Harry’s attention was caught by something on the mantelpiece: a small, rectangular mirror propped on top of it, right beneath the portrait of the girl.

        The barman entered the room.

        “You bloody fools,” he said gruffly, looking from one to the other of them. “What were you thinking, coming here?”

        “Thank you,” said Harry. “We can’t thank you enough. You saved our lives.”

        The barman grunted. Harry approached him, looking up into the face, trying to see past the long, stringy, wire-gray hair and beard. He wore spectacles. Behind the dirty lenses, the eyes were a piercing, brilliant blue.

        “It’s your eye I’ve been seeing in the mirror.”

        There was silence in the room. Harry and the barman looked at each other.

        “You sent Dobby.”

        The barman nodded and looked around for the elf.











        “Thought he’d be with you. Where’ve you left him?”

        “He’s dead,” said Harry. “Bellatrix Lestrange killed him.”

        The barman’s face was impassive. After a few moments he said, “I’m sorry to hear it. I liked that elf.”

        He turned away, lighting lamps with prods of his wand, not looking at any of them.

        “You’re Aberforth,” said Harry to the man’s back.

        He neither confirmed nor denied it, but bent to light the fire.

        “How did you get this?” Harry asked, walking across to Sirius’s mirror, the twin of the one he had broken nearly two years before. “Bought it from Dung ’bout a year ago,” said Aberforth. “Albus told me what it was. Been trying to keep an eye out for you.”

        Ron gasped.

        “The silver doe!” he said excitedly. “Was that you too?”

        “What are you talking about?” said Aberforth.












        “Someone sent a doe Patronus to us!”

        “Brains like that, you could be a Death Eater, son. Haven’t I just proved my Patronus is a goat?”

        “Oh,” said Ron. “Yeah . . . well, I’m hungry!” he added defensively as his stomach gave an enormous rumble.

        “I got food,” said Aberforth, and he sloped out of the room, reappearing moments later with a large loaf of bread, some cheese, and a pewter jug of mead, which he set upon a small table in front of the fire. Ravenous, they ate and drank, and for a while there was silence but for the crackle of the fire, the clink of goblets, and the sound of chewing.

        “Right then,” said Aberforth when they had eaten their fill, and Harry and Ron sat slumped dozily in their chairs. “We need to think of the best way to get you out of here. Can’t be done by night, you heard what happens if anyone moves outdoors during darkness: Caterwauling Charm’s set off, they’ll be onto you like bowtruckles on doxy eggs. I don’t reckon I’ll be able to pass off a stag as a goat a second time. Wait for daybreak when curfew lifts, then you can put your Cloak back on and set out on foot. Get right out of Hogsmeade, up into the mountains, and you’ll be able to Disapparate there. Might see Hagrid. He’s been hiding in a cave up there with Grawp ever since they tried to arrest him.”






        “We’re not leaving,” said Harry. “We need to get into Hogwarts.”

        “Don’t be stupid, boy,” said Aberforth.

        “We’ve got to,” said Harry.

        “What you’ve got to do,” said Aberforth, leaning forward, “is to get as far from here as you can.”

        “You don’t understand. There isn’t much time. We’ve got to get into the castle. Dumbledore — I mean, your brother — wanted us —”

        The firelight made the grimy lenses of Aberforth’s glasses momentarily opaque, a bright flat white, and Harry remembered the blind eyes of the giant spider, Aragog.

        “My brother Albus wanted a lot of things,” said Aberforth, “and people had a habit of getting hurt while he was carrying out his grand plans. You get away from this school, Potter, and out of the country if you can. Forget my brother and his clever schemes. He’s gone where none of this can hurt him, and you don’t owe him anything.”

        “You don’t understand,” said Harry again.

        “Oh, don’t I?” said Aberforth quietly. “You don’t think I understood my own brother? Think you knew Albus better than I did?”

        “I didn’t mean that,” said Harry, whose brain felt sluggish with exhaustion and from the surfeit of food and wine. “It’s . . . he left me a job.”











        “Did he now?” said Aberforth. “Nice job, I hope? Pleasant? Easy? Sort of thing you’d expect an unqualified wizard kid to be able to do without overstretching themselves?”

        Ron gave a rather grim laugh. Hermione was looking strained.

        “I-it’s not easy, no,” said Harry. “But I’ve got to —”

        “ ‘Got to’? Why ‘got to’? He’s dead, isn’t he?” said Aberforth roughly. “Let it go, boy, before you follow him! Save yourself!”

        “I can’t.”

        “Why not?”

        “I —” Harry felt overwhelmed; he could not explain, so he took the offensive instead. “But you’re fighting too, you’re in the Order of the Phoenix —”

        “I was,” said Aberforth. “The Order of the Phoenix is finished. You-Know-Who’s won, it’s over, and anyone who’s pretending different’s kidding themselves. It’ll never be safe for you here, Potter, he wants you too badly. So go abroad, go into hiding, save yourself. Best take these two with you.” He jerked a thumb at Ron and Hermione. “They’ll be in danger long as they live now everyone knows they’ve been working with you.”

        “I can’t leave,” said Harry. “I’ve got a job —”

        “Give it to someone else!”












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