She drew out a chair, knocking over the one beside it in the process.

“What do you want, Harry?” Mrs. Weasley called. “Porridge? Muffins? Kippers? Bacon and eggs? Toast?”

“Just—just toast, thanks,” said Harry.

Lupin glanced at Harry, then said to Tonks, “What were you saying about Scrimgeour?”

“Oh… yeah… well, we need to be a bit more careful, he’s been asking Kingsley and me funny questions…”

Harry felt vaguely grateful that he was not required to join in the conversation. His insides were squirming. Mrs. Weasley placed a couple of pieces of toast and marmalade in front of him; he tried to eat, but it was like chewing carpet. Mrs. Weasley sat down on his other side and started fussing with his T-shirt, tucking in the label and smoothing out the creases across his shoulders. He wished she wouldn’t.

“…and I’ll have to tell Dumbledore I can’t do night duty tomorrow, I’m just too tired,” Tonks finished, yawning hugely again.

“I’ll cover for you,” said Mr. Weasley. “I’m OK, I’ve got a report to finish anyway.”

Mr. Weasley was not wearing wizards’ robes but a pair of pinstriped trousers and an old bomber jacket. He turned from Tonks to Harry.

“How are you feeling?”

Harry shrugged.

“It’ll all be over soon,” Mr. Weasley said bracingly. “In a few hours’ time you’ll be cleared.”

Harry said nothing.

“The hearing’s on my floor, in Amelia Bones’s office. She’s Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and the one who’ll be questioning you.”

“Amelia Bones is OK, Harry,” said Tonks earnestly. “She’s fair, she’ll hear you out.”

Harry nodded, still unable to think of anything to say.

“Don’t lose your temper,” said Sirius abruptly. “Be polite and stick to the facts.”

Harry nodded again.

“The law’s on your side,” said Lupin quietly. “Even underage wizards are allowed to use magic in life-threatening situations.”

Something very cold trickled down the back of Harry’s neck; for a moment he thought someone was putting a Disillusionment Charm on him, then he realised that Mrs. Weasley was attacking his hair with a wet comb. She pressed hard on the top of his head.

“Doesn’t it ever lie flat?” she said desperately.

Harry shook his head.

Mr. Weasley checked his watch and looked up at Harry.

“I think we’ll go now,” he said. “We’re a bit early but I think you’ll be better off at the Ministry than hanging around here.”

“OK,” said Harry automatically, dropping his toast and getting to his feet.

“You’ll be all right, Harry,” said Tonks, patting him on the arm.

“Good luck,” said Lupin. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“And if it’s not,” said Sirius grimly, “I’ll see to Amelia Bones for you…”

Harry smiled weakly. Mrs. Weasley hugged him.

“We’ve all got our fingers crossed,” she said.

“Right,” said Harry. “Well… see you later then.”

He followed Mr. Weasley upstairs and along the hall. He could hear Sirius’s mother grunting in her sleep behind her curtains. Mr. Weasley unbolted the door and they stepped out into the cold, grey dawn.

“You don’t normally walk to work, do you?” Harry asked him, as they set off briskly around the square.

“No, I usually Apparate,” said Mr. Weasley, “but obviously you can’t, and I think it’s best we arrive in a thoroughly non-magical fashion… makes a better impression, given what you’re being disciplined for…”

Mr. Weasley kept his hand inside his jacket as they walked. Harry knew it was clenched around his wand. The run-down streets were almost deserted, but when they arrived at the miserable little underground station they found it already full of early-morning commuters. As ever when he found himself in close proximity to Muggles going about their daily business, Mr. Weasley was hard put to contain his enthusiasm.

“Simply fabulous,” he whispered, indicating the automatic ticket machines. “Wonderfully ingenious.”

“They’re out of order,” said Harry, pointing at the sign.

“Yes, but even so…” said Mr. Weasley, beaming at them fondly.

They bought their tickets instead from a sleepy-looking guard (Harry handled the transaction, as Mr. Weasley was not very good with Muggle money) and five minutes later they were boarding an underground train that rattled them off towards the centre of London. Mr. Weasley kept anxiously checking and re-checking the Underground Map above the windows.

“Four more stops, Harry… Three stops left now… Two stops to go, Harry…”

They got off at a station in the very heart of London, and were swept from the train in a tide of besuited men and women carrying briefcases. Up the escalator they went, through the ticket barrier (Mr. Weasley delighted with the way the stile swallowed his ticket), and emerged on to a broad street lined with imposing-looking buildings and already full of traffic.

“Where are we?” said Mr. Weasley blankly, and for one heart-stopping moment Harry thought they had got off at the wrong station despite Mr. Weasley’s continual references to the map; but a second later he said, “Ah yes… this way, Harry,” and led him down a side road.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I never come by train and it all looks rather different from a Muggle perspective. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even used the visitors’ entrance before.”

The further they walked, the smaller and less imposing the buildings became, until finally they reached a street that contained several rather shabby-looking offices, a pub and an overflowing skip. Harry had expected a rather more impressive location for the Ministry of Magic.

“Here we are,” said Mr. Weasley brightly, pointing at an old red telephone box, which was missing several panes of glass and stood before a heavily graffitied wall. “After you, Harry.”