Harry brought his trunk and Hedwig's cage down to the living room and set them by the door. Uncle Vernon glanced up from the TV and perked up. "Are you finally running away?"
"I'm going to stay with the Dahl's for the rest of the summer, remember? They're picking me up today."
Vernon scowled. "I've been meaning be able to have a chat with that woman. " He growled at the thought. "She still owes me money for my Triumph." Harry didn't bother repeating the fact that his uncle's precious Triumph had been magically restored to a better condition than it was before. It's the principle of the thing, he'd insist. Uncle Vernon relaxed a fraction as a thought occurred to him. "I suppose I should thank her, too: Marge is visiting this weekend, and we'll all sleep better knowing won't be around to bother her."
"Lucky you," Harry replied. "I was so looking forward to seeing her."
Fortunately Uncle Vernon had failed to register the sarcasm oozing from his nephew's voice. He stood up and went to the window, where he cautiously pulled aside the curtain. "Are they coming by car or…"
"They're not coming by broomstick, Uncle Vernon," Harry said. "There wouldn't be any space for my luggage if they did."
There was a scream from the kitchen and the sound of dishes crashing. Petunia flew through the door. "We're under attack!"
"Sorry, Mrs. Dursley." Johanna emerged from the kitchen followed by Hilda. "You said you didn't want any freaks knocking at your door so Harry gave us permission to portkey into your linen cupboard."
"Hi, Harry!" Hilda skipped past her mom and gave the boy a hug. "How was your summer?"
Harry thought back to the previous summer and grimaced. "I've had worse."
Petunia looked down at Hilda. "So you're the Dahl girl. Why is your hair blue?"
"What?" Hilda picked a strand of her hair and looked at it. "Is it blue? I never noticed." Vernon muttered something under his breath; she thought she could make out unnatural. Johanna heard it, too, and fixed Vernon with a glare that could melt a yeti. "Are you ready, Harry?"
Harry grabbed his trunk; Hilda helped by picking up Hedwig. "Ready."
"Good." Johanna produced a kitchen egg timer from her bag and held it out. "Everyone grab on." They all took hold, and a second later vanished from the Dursleys' living room in a gust of wind.
Vernon stumbled into the kitchen and fumbled in a drawer until he found a bottle of Xanax recently prescribed to him. He swallowed two dry and shuddered. "I bloody hate magic."
The portkey deposited them right on the stoop of Dahl Manor. Harry craned his neck and smiled as he took in the imposing castle. "Now this is a proper home," he whispered.
Johanna unlocked the front door and ushered them inside the Great Hall. The massive table in the center of the room had been pushed to the far wall and covered with a white tablecloth. "Are you moving?"
Hilda grinned. "We're having a party this weekend, for you."
"Yeah, isn't your birthday coming up?"
Harry was amazed. "You'd do that all for me?"
"Of course, you're my friend," Hilda replied.
"Practically part of the family, really," Johanna added. She looked around the dark hall. "I thought Tontu would be here by now." She cupped hands to her mouth. "Tontu? Harry's here!"
Footsteps echoed through the halls. Heavy footsteps, coming closer, running–no, galloping. A second later something massive and black vaulted down the stairs and knocked Harry to the ground. Before Harry could scream he was assaulted by a wet tongue. Johanna marched forward and grabbed the beast by the collar. "Bad boy! No jumping!"
Hilda helped the boy up. "Sorry, Harry. He's just excitable." It was a giant black dog, a mutt mix of an Irish Wolfhound and a Black Bear. "Harry, meet Loki."
Harry was struck by the hound's bright green eyes. They were almost human. The dog nudged Harry's hands with its snout and wagged its tail. Cautiously, Harry reached out and scratched the dog between the ears. "You're a big one," Harry said, smiling. "Where did you get him?"
"He showed up at the house the night we went into the Chamber of Secrets," Hilda said. "He didn't have a collar or a name tag, and no one came looking for him, so mum let me keep him."
Harry and Hilda carried their bags up to their rooms while Johanna checked on dinner. Loki kept right at Harry's heels, jumping around with excitement. "Wow, he really likes you," Hilda said.
"Can't imagine why."
"Hilda!" Tontu popped out of a side table drawer and landed beside the her. "And Harry! Good to see you!"
"Likewise. And you, too, Alfur. Are you alright?"
Hilda was surprised to see Alfur clinging onto Tontu's shoulder looking green in the gills. "You could've told me you were about to teleport," Alfur gasped. "Better yet, we could've just walked. We were only in the next room."
Tontu crossed his arms and harrumphed. "Why should I inconvenience myself walking when I can just pop through Nowhere Space?"
"A little consideration in future would be nice." Alfur hopped off of Tontu's shoulder and onto Harry's. "Nisse apparition is terribly uncomfortable. Too much turbulence."
"Next time I'll just leave you behind and let you walk," Tontu muttered. "It'd be quite the hike with those toothpick legs of yours."
As Johanna and Tontu went into the kitchen to prepare dinner Hilda helped Harry carry his luggage up to his assigned room. "So," Harry said as they made their way up the stairs, "Still no word from Her? "
Hilda shook her head. "Not a peep."
"So, do you think Aisling's gone?"
Aisling was the voice in Hilda's head. She had appeared unexpectedly last year. She'd gotten Hilda and her friends them out of several scrapes the previous year: she'd saved them from the Dementors, and had destroyed Tom Riddle's diary in the Chamber of Secrets. Despite that, Hilda didn't trust her. She remembered what her previously-thought-dead grandfather, Rasmus Dahl, had told her:
"She lies, Hilda. She always lies."
Hilda shook her head. "I don't know. It feels like she's still there. Just..sleeping. Do you understand?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really."
"No, I guess you wouldn't."
Harry went to the window and pulled aside the lace curtain. A fog had moved in over the sea, limiting visibility, but he knew that just beyond the fogbank sat Azkaban Prison.
Hilda joined him at the window. "Are you worried about Sirius Black?"
"That convict that escaped Azkaban last winter?" Hilda frowned. "Didn't you read about it in the Prophet?"
"My uncle and aunt don't read the Prophet." For obvious reasons. "Although I think I saw something about him on the telly. Do we need to worry about him? I don't think he'd want to hang around so close to the prison."
Hilda grimaced. "Tontu told me someone broke into the house last winter."
"Was it Black?"
"Probably. Mum shot him, though, scared him away." Loki gave a low whine. "Don't worry, Loki, mum can protect herself fine, even without a big, scary guard dog."
"Why did you hear about it from Tontu and not your mum?"
"I don't think she wanted to scare us."
Harry smiled. "Well, if your mum did shoot Black, then I doubt he'd be within a thousand miles of this place."
We're back. I know I posted this chapter earlier and pulled it just as quickly, but I wasn't happy with it, so I re-tinkered it and now I'm slightly more pleased with the results.