Chapter 1: Prolouge
Harry Potter Defeats He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Again! Sirius Black Is Innocent?
“In a brief statement on Friday night, Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, confirmed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had indeed returned to this country, and was active once more. The key term being was. Though the details are still hazy, it has been confirmed by twenty-three eye-witnesses that You-Know-Who and a select band of followers, (Death Eaters), gained entry to the Ministry of Magic itself last Thursday evening.
“It is with regret that I must confirm that the wizard styling himself as Lord- well- you know who I mean- was alive and among us for nearly a whole year.” Said Fudge, looking tired and flustered as he addressed reporters. “It is with almost equal regret that a grave error was made fifteen years ago. We were deceived in to believing Sirius Black murdered thirteen Muggles and betrayed the Potters to You-Know-Who. The true culprit was a former friend by the name of Peter Pettigrew.”
The Minister's statement was met with dismay, alarm, confusion and relief from the Wizarding community, which, as recently as last Wednesday, was receiving Ministry assurances that there was 'no truth whatsoever in these persistent rumors that You-Know-Who is operating amongst us once more' and that 'Sirius Black, a deranged murderer, is the one behind these Death Eater activities'.
Albus Dumbledore, newly reinstated Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, reinstated member of the International Confederations and reinstated Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, has been unavailable for comment.
He has insisted over the past year that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was not dead, but had been recruiting followers once more for a fresh attempt to seize power.
Meanwhile, the Boy Who Lived-"
"Well, there you are, Harry. I knew they'd drag you in to it somehow." Hermione said, looking over the top of her paper at him. They were in the hospital wing. Sirius was sitting on the end of Harry's bed, listening to Hermione read the front page of the Sunday Prophet. Ginny, whose ankle had been quickly fixed by Madame Pomfrey, was curled up at the foot of Hermione's bed; Neville, whose nose had been returned to its normal size and shape, was in a chair in front of Ron's bed, while Remus stood at Harry's bedside, amber eyes darkening at the paper's mention of his cub. Luna, who had dropped in to visit, clutched the latest edition of the Quibbler upside down, appeared to be reading and not taking in a word of what Hermione was saying.
"He's the 'Boy Who Lived' again now, though, isn't he?" Ron muttered darkly. "Not much of a deluded show-off anymore, eh?"
He helped himself to a handful of chocolate frogs from the immense pile on his bedside cabinet, distributed a few to the others in the room, (with Neville's assistance), and ripped the wrapper of his own with his teeth. There were still deep welts on his forearms where the brain's tentacles had wrapped around him. According to Pomfrey, thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else. However, with generous amounts of Dr. Ubbly's Oblivious Unction, Ron seemed to be making a little more progress each day.
"Yes, they're very complimentary about you now, Harry," she continued, scanning down the article. " 'A lone voice of truth… perceived as unbalanced, yet never wavered in his story…forced to bear ridicule and slander…' Hmmm.." she frowned, as though pondering something. "I notice they don't mention the fact that it was them doing all the ridiculing and slandering in the Prophet."
She winced slightly and put a hand to her ribs. The curse Dolohov had used on her, though less effective than it would have been cast with a spoken spell, caused, in Madame Pomfrey's words, "quite enough damage to be going on with".
Hermione was having to take ten different types of potions every day. Though a long way from healthy, she looked much better than the first night.
Sirius and Remus snarled at that. In their opinion, Harry had been pushed to the brink of a mental breakdown this year, half of it caused by the Wizarding world's so-called perceptions of mental instability. Almost the entirety of Wizarding Britain, in particular, had effectively abandoned their savior and assumed the worst, heaping more and more damage upon Harry's cracking psyche. Then, when the truth finally came out, they started to sing praises of the boy's heroics, and thrust him back in to their good graces, as though nothing had changed.
"Well screw them!" Sirius snapped, his chocolate lay forgotten. "They can sod off for all I care!" They sat in contemplation of the unfairness of it all for a few minutes. Harry couldn't bring himself to speak. Right now, he was just grateful that Sirius had come out of the Veil unscathed. The memories of his battle with Voldemort were fleeting at best; there had been a gold radiant light, one which enveloped the whole room. The next thing he knew, Voldemort had become nothing more than a charred mass of flesh and bone, and Sirius had been carrying him out, while Remus and Moody pushed away unwanted onlookers.
"You know, there is a silver lining to this." Remus spoke, smiling brightly.
"Yeah," Neville readily agreed. "at least V-Voldemort is gone for good."
Remus's smile grew wider. "Of course, but that is not what I meant." Ron and Neville wore matching, confused expressions, Ginny looked absolutely bewildered and Luna dropped The Quibbler in surprise- apparently, she was paying attention after all. Hermione's eyes darted from Sirius to Harry, before she adopted Remus's smile. Sirius and Harry gaped stupidly at him for a moment, their minds and hearts a whirl of emotion.
Sirius hadn't put much thought in to Dumbledore clearing his name, far too worried about Harry's health to care. But now, they had a chance to set things right and become a family. For the first time two years, he felt a stirring of hope in his soul!
Harry, meanwhile, dared not believe what he was hearing, for fear of being wrong. He still hadn't forgotten Third Year's disappointment, and the price paid for leaving the way he did. He shuddered inwardly, not looking forward to Uncle Vernon's wrath in regards to Dudley. Now that Voldemort was gone, Harry knew that his existence no longer held any meaning. Uncle Vernon could do as he liked, and nobody would care. The thought made him feel incredibly lonely.
"Harry, you, Moony and I can become a family." Sirius spoke, half exuberant, half disbelieving in his good fortune.
Harry's eyes widened, his dark thoughts effectively silenced for the moment. "Me? Y-you still want me? Even after I-"
The trepidation in his godson's voice tore at Sirius's heartstrings, and at once, he was embracing the boy. Suddenly, he remembered the thirteen-year-old who had, in every sense of the word, saved his soul. A boy whom had quickly become a man. "Don't be silly! Of course we want you to live with us!"
"We love you, Harry." The werewolf said, joining in the hug. The others watched this warm, heartfelt moment, having been forgotten by the budding family.
After so many years of being an unwanted burden, Harry didn't want to believe any different. It would hurt too much when they realized the truth. But, hadn't this been the moment he'd prayed for as a small child in his cupboard? For a while, the young savior simply reveled in the positive contact, having received so little of it growing up. The tides were changing and for the first time in his life, it had nothing to do with Voldemort, a prophecy, or saving the world. At long last, he could stop being the Boy Who Lived and be Harry. Just Harry.
That night, Sirius and Remus wandered around the castle without the Map and found a few noteworthy changes. For instance, most of the secret passages had either collapsed, or somehow became compromised. There were also newer portraits up, including a strange knight with the tendency to spew insults at them- new to Remus at any rate. Sirius had run in to Sir Cadogan once before, during third year. The knight was a perfect example of the bad qualities of Gryffindor, without any good traits to counterbalance them. Much to Remus's annoyance, Sirius spent a good fifteen minutes trading back rude comments with Sir Cadogan. They visited the kitchens, roamed the hallways, and old classrooms they had learned in as children. Eventually, they arrived at a blank stretch of wall on the seventh floor. Across from it, was a tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy.
"Things haven't changed too much, have they, Padfoot?" he inquired lightly.
"I suppose not." Sirius shrugged, leaning against the wall. His hollow, almost barren tone did not go unnoticed.
"Are you alright?" he placed a hand upon Sirius's shoulder. "You've been a little off since this morning."
"Not really. Relax Moony, I'm not feeling sick or anything." He added upon seeing Remus's worried expression. "It's just…I don't know how Harry and I… we're strangers, you know?" Sirius sighed miserably. "What if I mess up? What if I make him hate me?"
"Sirius, he won't hate you." Remus assured him kindly. These things can't be rushed; if you are patient, I'm sure he will open up to you."
Sirius nodded, but didn't comment. Remus's words made perfect sense, but a single, crushing problem remained: Harry would be a man in a year's time. He wondered if they could even be a true family, given the awful events that happened before. I wish that I knew more about him. He thought sullenly. Then, it suddenly happened. Sirius let out a cry of surprise, as the wall behind him suddenly vanished. Remus grabbed his arm in an attempt to stop his fall but the two of them were sucked in. Quite litterally.
Chapter 2: The Boy Who Lived
Sirius and Remus find themselves going down memory lane, as they take read the first chapter of Sorcerer's Stone.
Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived
Oddly enough, they landed on their feet. The sensation was akin to a portkey, but without the harsh landing. The Marauders gaped at their surroundings in awe. The room closely resembled Gryffindor's common room, cleared out to hold quite a few people. In the center of the room sat two large, black beanbag chairs. In front of them floated a single, hardback book. Sirius walked over and took it in to his hands for a closer examination. The front depicted a boy that looked exactly like Harry, lightning-shaped scar and all.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
A single piece of parchment paper appeared, floating down from the ceiling. Remus caught it and read:
"Dear Sirius and Remus,
If you're reading this, then our plans have been set in to motion. The book you are holding is an accurate portrayal of Harry's first year- mostly through his eyes. Though I will not divulge my identity, I swear on my magic that what you are reading- and will read- is the absolute truth. No exaggerations whatsoever. There are a total of five books that depict his years at Hogwarts. It is through a series of complex magic rituals, spells and a desire to help Harry that all of this possible. So, in turn, I ask you to read each and every part of these books, (unless I tell you otherwise), no matter how hard they are to stomach. They're only words to you, but actual memories for Harry. And in order to recover, he's going to need the love and support of those around him. We've seen his future, and let's just say that it isn't pretty. With any luck, you can prevent further damage from being done.
There are rules that go along with this, of course.
First of all, no glossing over details; there is a reason for every tidbit included, even if you don't understand at the time. Secondly, others will join you when the time is right. Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, start cursing, hexing or otherwise harming fellow readers. Failure to do so will result in having your magic sealed for a day.
Please note that time has been effectively frozen outside of Hogwarts, and you are to remain in the school until all the books are read. Several spells have been placed inside the castle and the grounds surrounding it. No one will think to leave, no one will notice that time has stopped and nobody will grow suspicious of the time you spend reading. There will be a two-day reprieve after each book, in which time will temporarily start moving again. Anyone brought to this room will be summoned back when the reading is to start. I apologize for the mysterious circumstances you find yourselves in, but all will be explained when the books are read. Please be patient.
The importance of this task is greater than you could ever know, and the aftermath may become harsh. If all goes well, you will, in turn, protect the world's savior from his biggest threat yet- himself.
P.S.- You'll be happy to note that, while reading, you'll be able to summon food or drink when you so desire. And yes, Remus, that does include chocolate. Enjoy!
For a long time, they stood there, numb with shock. The message within the letter seemed too urgent to be a joke, but far too insane to be true. They had heard and, in Sirius's case, benefited from time travelers, but who could possibly freeze time? And over such a long distance, too!
"I think this calls for fire whiskey." Sirius mumbled, more to himself than the room. Never the less, a bottle of Ogden's Finest instantly appeared, floating within his reach. Along with two shot glasses. Gratefully, he filled one and drank the amber liquid. It burned in his throat , but in a pleasant sort of way.
"B-but, that can't! Gamp's Law!" Remus sputtered, pointing in disbelief at the bottle. In spite of the situation, Sirius laughed at his friend's outburst, and poured them both a shot. Remus took it without complaint, still shaken by seeing a law of magic so easily broken.
"I'm thinking we should start reading." Sirius said, holding the book up. "That's the only way we're going to get any answers."
Remus nodded, and they sat down in the beanbag chairs. Sirius flipped to the first page, and began to read.
The Boy Who Lived
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold to such nonsense. Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man, with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much time craning over the garden fences, spying on the neighbors.
"What lovely people." Remus said dryly. Sirius snorted a laugh in response.
The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley, and in their opinion, there was no finer boy anywhere. The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn't think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.
"Oi! There's nothing wrong with the Potters, you fat arsehole!"
Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley's sister, but, they hadn't met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn't have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street.
"WHAT?" They shouted simultaneously.
"They were better people than your lot!" Sirius yelled at the book. Remus nodded in agreement, eyes glinting dangerously.
The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too, but they had never even seen him. This boy was another good reason for keeping the potters away; they didn't want Dudley mixing with a child like that.
"Harry shouldn't have to mix with people like them!" Remus growled.
When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country. Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley in to his high chair. None of them noticed a large, tawny owl flutter past the window.
At half past eight, Mr. Dursley picked up his briefcase, pecked Mrs. Dursley on the cheek, and tried to kiss Dudley goodbye, but missed, because Dudley was now having a tantrum and throwing his cereal at the walls.
“Little tyke,” chortled Mr. Dursley as he left the house.
He got in to his car and backed out of number four's drive. It was on the corner of the street that he noticed the first sign of something peculiar- a cat reading a map. For a second, Mr. Dursley didn't realize what he had seen- then he jerked his head around to look again. There was a tabby cat standing on the corner of Privet Drive, but there wasn't a map in sight.
"It's Minnie!" Sirius cheered, grinning at the mention of his favorite professor.
"Don't let her hear you call her that!" Remus laughed.
Gray eyes glinted mischievously. "I dare you to call her that next time you see her!"
Remus rolled his eyes and Sirius continued once more.
What could he have been thinking of? It must have been a trick of the light. Mr. Dursley blinked at the cat. It stared back. As Mr. Dursley drove around the corner and up the road, he watched the cat in his mirror. It was no reading the sign that said Privet Drive- No, looking at the sign; cats couldn't read maps or signs. Mr. Dursley gave himself a little shake and put the cat out of his mind. As he drove toward town, he thought of nothing except a large order of drills that he was hoping to get that day.
"Really?" Remus moaned.
"He's a boring git, isn't he?"
But on the edge of town, drills were driven out of his mind by something else. As he sat in the usual morning traffic jam, he couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks.
Mr. Dursley couldn't bear people who dressed in funny clothes- the get ups you saw on young people!
The former miscreants snickered at that.
He supposed this was some stupid new fashion. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and his eyes fell on a huddle of these weirdoes standing quite close by. They were whispering excitedly together. Mr. Dursley was enraged to see that a couple of them weren't young at all; why, that man had to be older than he was, and wearing an emerald-green cloak! The nerve of him! But then it struck Mr. Dursley that this was probably some silly stunt- these people were obviously collecting for something…yes that would be it. The traffic moved on a few minutes later and Mr. Dursley arrived in the Grunnings parking lot, his mind back on drills.
"Okay, we get it! You make drills for a living!" Sirius barked, leaning back. "I don't give a bloody fuck!"
Mr. Dursley always sat with his back to the window in his office on the ninth floor. If he hadn't, he might have found it harder to concentrate on drills that morning. He didn't see the owls swooping past in broad daylight, through people down in the street did; they pointed and gazed open-mouthed as owl after owl sped overhead.
Most of them had never seen an owl even at nighttime. Mr. Dursley, however, had a perfectly normal, owl-free morning. He yelled at five different people. He made several important telephone calls and shouted a bit more.
He was in a very good mood until lunchtime, when he thought he'd stretch his legs and walk across the road to buy himself a bun from the bakery.
The two of them sighed in annoyance. They really didn't want to keep reading about this idiot, after being promised a look in to Harry's life. Hopefully, the chapter would end soon, and they could move on to the next one.
He'd forgotten all about the group of people in cloaks until he passed a group of them next to the baker's. He eyed them angrily as he passed. He didn't know why, but they made him uneasy. This bunch were whispering excitedly, too, and he couldn't see a single collecting tin. It was on his way back past them, clutching a large doughnut in a bag, that he caught a few words of what they were saying.
"The Potters, that's right, that's what I heard—"
''—yes, their son, Harry—"
Sirius and Remus shared an anxious look.
Mr. Dursley stopped dead. Fear flooded him. He looked back at the whispers as if he wanted to say something to them, but thought better of it.
He dashed across the road, hurried up to his office, snapped at his secretary not to disturb him, seized his telephone, and had almost finished dialing his home number when he changed his mind. He put the receiver back down and stroked his mustache, thinking…no, he was being stupid.
"Something we can both agree on." Remus said, earning a laugh from Sirius.
Potter wasn't such an unusual name. He was sure there were lots of people called Potter who had a son called Harry. Come to think of it, he wasn't sure his nephew was even called Harry.
"They don't even know his bloody name?" Remus growled, outraged.
Sirius, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to smack Mr. Dursley.
He'd never even seen the boy. It might have been Harvey. Or Harold. There was no point in worrying Mrs. Dursley; she always got so upset at any mention of her sister. He didn't blame her- if he'd had a sister like that…
"A sister like that?" he repeated, angry. "If anything, Lily should have been ashamed of you people!"
But all the same, those people in cloaks…
He found it a lot harder to concentrate on drills that afternoon and when he left the building at five o'clock, he was still so worried that he walked straight into someone just outside the door.
"Sorry," he grunted, as the tiny old man stumbled and almost fell. It was a few seconds before Mr. Dursley realized that the man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn't seem at all upset at almost being knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made the passerby stare, "Don't be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating this happy, happy day!" And the old man hugged Mr. Dursley around the middle and walked off.
Both Marauders shuddered. Neither one of them had spent that day doing anything to smile about; Remus had locked himself inside his cabin and drank until he passed out, while Sirius had been in a holding cell, waiting for a trial that never came, blaming himself for the events that led up to his arrest…
Mr. Dursley stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn't approve of imagination.
As he pulled in to the driveway of number four, the first thing he saw—and it did not improve his mood—was the tabby cat he'd spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall. He was sure it was the same one; it had the same markings around its eyes.
"Shoo!" said Mr. Dursley loudly. The cat didn't move. It just gave him a stern look.
They both went in to a fit of laughter.
"Good old Minnie!"
"How incredible would it be if she transformed in front of him?" Remus smirked.
"I'll pay all the gold in my vault if she did!" Sirius shouted gleefully.
Was this normal cat behavior? Mr. Dursley wondered. Trying to pull himself together, he let himself into the house. He was still determined not to mention anything to his wife.
Mrs. Dursley had a nice, normal day. She told him over dinner all about Mrs. Next Door's problems with her daughter, and how Dudley learned a new word, ("Won't!").
"What a wonderful family!" Sirius said sarcastically.
"No wonder Harry never has anything nice to say about them."
Mr. Dursley tried to act normally. When Dudley had been put to bed, he went into the living room in time to catch the last report on the evening news.
"And finally, bird-watchers everywhere have reported that the nation's owls have been behaving very unusually today. Although owls normally hunt at night and are hardly ever seen in daylight, there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise. Experts are unable to explain why
the owls have suddenly changed their sleeping pattern." The newscaster allowed himself a grin. "Most mysterious. And now, over to Jim McGuffin with the weather. Going to be any more showers of owls tonight,
"Well, Ted," said the weatherman. "I don't know about that, but it's not only owls that have been acting oddly today. Viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire, and Dundee have been phoning in to tell me that instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they've had a downpour of shooting stars! Perhaps people have been celebrating Bonfire Night early — it's not until next week, folks! But I can promise a wet night tonight."
Mr. Dursley sat frozen in his armchair. Shooting stars all over Britain? Owls flying by daylight? Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters…
Mrs. Dursley came into the living room carrying two cups of tea. It was no good. He'd have to say something to her. He cleared his throat nervously. "Er — Petunia, dear — you haven't heard from your sister lately, have you?"
As he had expected, Mrs. Dursley looked shocked and angry. After all, they normally pretended she didn't have a sister.
Both of them snarled at the blasted book. They knew how Lily felt about her sister, and how she regretted not getting along. And Petunia acted like she never existed? They weren't even through the chapter yet, and they already wanted to curse the woman senseless.
"No," she said sharply. "Why?"
"Funny stuff on the news," Mr. Dursley mumbled. "Owls… shooting stars… and there were a lot of funny-looking people in town today…"
"So?" snapped Mrs. Dursley.
"Well, I just thought… maybe… it was something to do with… you know… her crowd."
Mrs. Dursley sipped her tea through pursed lips. Mr. Dursley wondered whether he dared tell her he'd heard the name "Potter." He decided he didn't dare. Instead he said, as casually as he could, "Their son — he'd be about Dudley's age now, wouldn't he?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Dursley stiffly.
"What's his name again? Howard, isn't it?"
"Harry. Nasty, common name, if you ask me."
"And Dudley is such a perfect name." Sirius muttered darkly.
Remus felt a terrible sense of e, . If they cared this little now…
He didn't say another word on the subject as they went upstairs to bed. While Mrs. Dursley was in the bathroom, Mr. Dursley crept to the bedroom window and peered down into the front garden. The cat was still there. It was staring down Privet Drive as though it were waiting for something.
Was he imagining things? Could all this have anything to do with the Potters? If it did… if it got out that they were related to a pair of — well, he didn't think he could bear it.
The Dursleys got into bed. Mrs. Dursley fell asleep quickly but Mr. Dursley lay awake, turning it all over in his mind. His last, comforting thought before he fell asleep was that even if the Potters were involved, there was no reason for them to come near him and Mrs. Dursley. The Potters knew very well what he and Petunia thought about them and their kind… He couldn't see how he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on — he yawned and turned over — it couldn't affect them…
Only if that were true…
How very wrong he was.
Mr. Dursley might have been drifting into an uneasy sleep, but the cat on the wall outside was showing no sign of sleepiness. It was sitting as still as a statue, its eyes fixed unblinkingly on the far corner of Privet Drive.
It didn't so much as quiver when a car door slammed on the next street, nor when two owls swooped overhead. In fact, it was nearly midnight before the cat moved at all.
A man appeared on the corner the cat had been watching, appeared so suddenly and silently that you'd have thought he just popped out of the ground. The cat's tail twitched and its eyes narrowed.
Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck in to his belt.
Sirius and Remus smiled. It could only be one person.
He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and his high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice.
"Dumbledore." They said together.
This man's name was Albus Dumbledore. Albus Dumbledore didn't seem to realize that he had just arrived in a street where everything from his name to his boots was unwelcome. He was busy rummaging in his cloak, looking for something. But he did seem to realize he was being watched, because he looked up suddenly at the cat, which was still staring at him from the other end of the street. For some reason, the sight of the cat seemed to amuse him. He chuckled and muttered, "I should have known."
He found what he was looking for in his inside pocket. It seemed to be a silver cigarette lighter. He flicked it open, held it up in the air, and clicked it. The nearest street light went out with a little pop.
He clicked it again—the next lamp flickered in the darkness. Twelve times he clicked the Put-Outer, until the only lights left on the whole street were two tiny pinpricks in the distance, which were the eyes of a cat watching him. If anyone looked out their window now, even beady-eyed Mrs. Dursley, they wouldn't be able to see what was happening down on the pavement. Dumbledore slipped the Put-Outer back inside his cloak and set off down the street toward number four, where he sat down on the wall next to the cat. He didn't look at it, but after a moment, he spoke to it.
"Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall."
He turned to smile at the tabby, but it had gone. Instead, he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes. She, too, was wearing a cloak, an emerald one. Her black hair was drawn into a tight bun. She looked distinctly ruffled. "How
did you know it was me?"
"My dear Professor, I've never seen a cat sit so stiffly."
They chuckled at that.
"You'd be stiff if you'd been sitting on a brick wall all day." said Professor McGonagall.
"All day? When you could have been celebrating? I must have passed a dozen feasts and parties on the way here."
Professor McGonagall sniffed angrily.
"Hey, Remus, remember that party we had seventh year?" Sirius interrupted, grinning.
Remus smiled fondly. "Yeah, I do. You and James snuck to the kitchens and wound up bringing back an entire feast!"
"I must have had twelve women on me that night!"
Remus playfully smacked Sirius on the shoulder. "Yeah, and they jinxed you for 'being such a cad'."
"Hey, they did not!"
"Whatever you say, Paddy, whatever you say. Now stop pouting and start reading!"
Sirius responded by doing a fake salute. "Aye aye, captain!"
"Oh yes, everyone's celebrating, all right," she said impatiently. "You'd think they'd be a bit more careful, but no — even the Muggles have noticed something's going on. It was even on their news." She jerked her head back at the Dursleys' dark living-room window. "I heard it. Flocks of owls…shooting stars… well, they're not completely stupid. They were bound to notice something. Shooting stars down in Kent— I'll bet it was Dedalus Diggle. He never had much sense."
"You can't blame them," said Dumbledore gently. "We've had precious little to celebrate for eleven years."
"I know that," said Professor McGonagall irritably. "But that's no reason to lose our heads. People are being downright careless, out on the streets in broad daylight, not even dressed in Muggle clothes, swapping rumors."
She threw a sharp, sideways glance at Dumbledore here, as though hoping he was going to tell her something, but he didn't so she went on. "A fine thing it would be if, on the very day You-Know-Who seems to have disappeared at last, the Muggles found out about us all. I suppose he really has gone, Dumbledore?"
Sirius's voice died, as he knew where this conversation would lead. His hands trembled, as though holding the book had become a great chore.
"Do you want me to read the rest?" Remus inquired, concerned. "I mean, if this is going where we think it's going…"
Sirius shut his eyes tightly, fighting off a flashback to that very night…the one memory that haunted him in Azkaban for twelve years. Without a word, he handed Remus the book, cursing himself for being so weak.
"Just get it over with." he whispered desperately. "Please."
Remus nodded, and continued to read.
"It certainly seems so," said Dumbledore. "We have much to be thankful for. Would you care for a lemon drop?"
"A lemon drop. They're a kind of muggle sweet I'm rather fond of."
"No thank you," said Professor McGonagall coldly, as though she didn't think this was the moment for lemon drops. "As I say, even if You-Know-Who has gone –"
"My dear Professor, surely a sensible person like yourself can call him by his name? All this 'You-Know-Who' nonsense – for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort."
Professor McGonagall flinched, but Dumbledore, who was unsticking two lemon drops, seemed not to notice.
"It all gets so confusing if we keep saying 'You-Know-Who'. I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort's name."
"I can't believe there was a time she was frightened of his name. I've never seen her get worked up over it before." Sirius
mused, stifling a loud yawn.
Remus shrugged. "Things change, I suppose."
"I know you haven't," said Professor McGonagall, sounding half exasperated, half admiring. "But you're different. Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know- oh, alright, Voldemort, was frightened of."
"You flatter me," said Dumbledore calmly. "Voldemort had powers I will never have."
"Only because you're too – well – noble to use them."
"It's lucky it's dark. I haven't blushed so much since Madam Pomfrey told me she liked my new earmuffs."
Unbidden, an image of Pomfrey flirting with Dumbledore entered their minds, and, in spite of what they were reading, laughed.
They eventually settled down, and Remus continued reading.
Remus stopped reading. He didn't want to read this. Even now, after all these years, just thinking about what happened that Halloween night brought on the dregs of depression.
"Remus…we have to." Sirius said, softly. His head was lowered, and he clutched the bean bag so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.
"I know it's hard, but we have to." he repeated a little louder. "These books are the key to knowing Harry better."
Remus swallowed thickly, his memory going back to earlier today in the hospital wing. Harry had seemed so…lost. Or, maybe, afraid? His glance lingered to his closest friend, who looked as though he were being sentenced to death. That night had torn their world apart, and Sirius had suffered in silence for twelve years, alone and nearly broken. If Sirius could bear to listen, the least he could do was read.
It seemed that Professor McGonagall had reached the point she was most anxious to discuss, the real reason she had been waiting on a cold, hard wall all day, for neither as a cat nor as a woman had she fixed Dumbledore with such a piercing stare as she did now. It was plain that whatever "everyone" was saying, she was not going to believe it until Dumbledore told her it was true. Dumbledore, however, was choosing another lemon drop and did not answer.
"What they're saying," she pressed on, "is that last night, Voldemort turned up in Godric's Hollow.
The rumor is that Lily and James Potter – that they're – dead."
Tears welled up in Remus's eyes, and fell upon the pages of the book. Sirius buried his eyes in the palms of his hands. Regardless, he pressed on; the sooner they got this over with, the better.
Dumbledore bowed his head. Professor McGonagall gasped.
"Lily and James…I can't believe it… I didn't want to believe it… Oh, Albus…"
Dumbledore reached out and patted her on the shoulder. "I know… I know…" he said heavily.
Professor McGonagall's voice trembled as she went on. As did Remus's. "That's not all. They're saying he tried to kill the Potter's son, Harry. But he couldn't. He couldn't kill that little boy. No one knows why, or how, but they're saying that when he couldn't kill Harry Potter, Voldemort's power somehow broke – and that's why he's gone."
Dumbledore nodded glumly.
"It's – It's true?" faltered Professor McGonagall. "After all he's done… all the people he's killed… he couldn't kill a little boy? It's just astounding…of all the things to stop him… but how in the name of heaven did Harry survive?"
"We can only guess." said Dumbledore. "We may never know."
"Liar." Sirius accused darkly, slowly pushing his sadness back. "I bet he knew the whole time."
Remus only nodded glumly.
Professor McGonagall pulled out a lace handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes beneath her spectacles. Dumbledore gave a great sniff as he took a golden watch from his pocket and examined it. It was a very odd watch. It had twelve hands but no numbers; instead, little planets were moving around the edge. It must have made sense to Dumbledore, though, because he put it back in his pocket and said, "Hagrid's late. I suppose it was he who told you I'd be here, by the way?"
"Yes," said Professor McGonagall. "And I don't suppose you're going to tell me why you're here, of all places?"
"I've come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They're the only family he has left now."
"Lily and James didn't want him there!" Sirius snarled. "Dumbledore knew that!"
"It's not like he had any choice, Sirius."
There was an awkward pause, in which Sirius sighed. "I know, Moony. But that doesn't mean I have to like it."
"You don't mean – you can't mean the people who live here?" cried Professor McGonagall, jumping to her feet and pointing at number four. "Dumbledore – you can't! I've been watching them all day. You couldn't find people who are less like us! And they've got this son – I saw him kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets. Harry Potter come and lives here!"
"It's the best place for him," said Dumbledore firmly. "His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he's older. I've written them a letter."
"A letter?" Sirius repeated, aghast. "What's Dumbledore playing at? They wouldn't be able to understand all of that in a letter!"
"A letter?" repeated Professor McGonagall faintly, sitting back down on the wall. "Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter? These people will never understand him!
"They won't even try." Sirius added coldly.
Remus sighed, his heart heavy with emotion. They were almost done…almost.
He'll be famous – a legend – I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!"
"Exactly." said Dumbledore, looking very seriously over the top of his half-moon glasses. "It would be enough to turn any boy's head. Famous before he can walk and talk! Famous for something he won't even remember! Can't you see how much better off he'll be growing up away from all that until he's ready to take it?"
"Wait a minute!" Sirius exclaimed. "What did he say, Remus?"
Remus repeated the last part of what he read, and became angrier for it. From what they understood, Dumbledore wanted to throw Harry in a place where he wasn't wanted and would never be accepted. He'd be an oddity to them, and if there's one thing the Dursleys hated, it was just that. And yet, Remus couldn't find it in his heart to be truly angry at the headmaster. Dumbledore had, after all, had allowed him to go to Hogwarts. If not for the old man, he would have never would have met James and Sirius… alone and friendless, he may have ended up as twisted as Greyback himself…
So, he simply tucked away his feelings on the matter, promising to speak with Dumbledore when this was all said and done. Perhaps, there was an important piece of information they were missing, and there truly was no choice. Or, maybe, just maybe, they had changed. It seemed highly unlikely, but, then again, the most unusual things tend to happen to Harry.
This thought buoyed his resolve to finish reading.
Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, changed her mind, swallowed and then said "Yes – yes, you're right, of course. But how is the boy getting here, Dumbledore? She eyed his cloak suddenly as though she thought he might be hiding Harry underneath it.
"Hagrid's bringing him."
"You think it – wise – to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?"
"I would trust Hagrid with my life," said Dumbledore.
"Hear, hear!" They both agreed.
I'm not saying that his heart isn't in the right place," said Professor McGonagall grudgingly, "but you can't pretend he's not careless. He does tend to – what was that?"
A low rumbling sound had broken the silence around them. It grew steadily louder as they looked up and down the street for some sign of a headlight; it swelled to a roar as they both looked up at the sky – and a huge motorcycle fell out of the air and landed on the road in front of them.
"My bike!" Sirius exclaimed, a small, happy spark returning to his eyes. Remus rolled his eyes at the display of
childishness, but smiled never the less. It was nice to see him relax, even for a minute. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last.
"Hagrid," said Dumbledore, sounding relieved. "At last. And where did you get that motorcycle?"
"Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir," said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorcycle as he spoke.
"Young Sirius Black lent it to me. I've got him sir."
And I'm on my way to Azkaban… Sirius thought, scowling.
No problems, were there?"
"No sir – house was almost destroyed, but I got him out all right before the Muggles started swarmin' round.
He fell asleep as we was flyin' over Bristol."
Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall bent forward over the bundle of blankets. Inside, just visible, was a baby boy, fast asleep. Under a tuft of jet-black hair over his forehead, they could see a curiously shaped cut, like a bolt of lightning.
'The cause of Harry's suffering.' Sirius thought bitterly, unwittingly reminded of those dreadful newspaper articles.
"Is that where -?" whispered Professor McGonagall.
"Yes," said Dumbledore. "He'll have that scar forever."
"Couldn't you do something about it, Dumbledore?"
"Even if I could, I wouldn't. Scars can come in handy. I have one myself above my left knee that is the perfect map of London Underground.
Their jaws dropped in astonishment.
"Well…that's new." Remus stated.
"And a bit on the disturbing side!" Sirius added, disgusted. "Honestly, did we need to know that?"
Well – give him here, Hagrid – we'd better get this over with."
Dumbledore took Harry in his arms and turned toward the Dursleys' house.
"Could I – could I say goodbye to him, sir?" asked Hagrid. He bent his great, shaggy head over Harry and gave him what must have been a very scratchy, whiskery kiss. Then, suddenly, Hagrid let out a howl like a wounded dog.
"Shhh!" hissed professor McGonagall. "You'll wake the Muggles!"
"S-s-sorry," sobbed Hagrid, taking out a large, spotted handkerchief and burying his face in it. "But I c-c-can't stand it – Lily an' James dead – an' poor little harry off ter live with Muggles –"
"You're not the only one, Hagrid." Sirius whispered miserably. Why had he gone after Peter? Why?
"Yes, yes, it's all very sad, but get a grip on yourself, Hagrid, or we'll be found," Professor McGonagall whispered, patting Hagrid gingerly on the arm as Dumbledore stepped over the low garden wall and walked to the front door. He laid Harry gently on the doorstep, took a letter out of his cloak, tucked it inside Harry's blankets, and then came back to the other two.
For a full minute the three of them stood and looked at the little bundle; Hagrid's shoulders shook, Professor McGonagall blinked furiously, and the twinkling light that usually shone from Dumbledore's eyes seemed to have gone out.
"Well," said Dumbledore finally, "that's that. We've no business staying here. We may as well go and join the celebrations."
"H-how can you celebrate?" Sirius stuttered, curling in on himself. Remus wanted to comfort him, but his own heartache prevented him from doing so.
"Yeah," said Hagrid in a very muffled voice, "I'll be takin' Sirius his bike back. G'night, Professor McGonagall — Professor Dumbledore, sir."
Wiping his streaming eyes on his jacket sleeve, Hagrid swung himself onto the motorcycle and kicked the engine into life; with a roar it rose into the air and off into the night.
"I shall see you soon, I expect, Professor McGonagall," said Dumbledore, nodding to her. Professor McGonagall blew her nose in reply.
Dumbledore turned and walked back down the street. On the corner he stopped and took out the silver Put-Outer. He clicked it once and twelve balls of light sped back to their street lamps so that Privet Drive glowed suddenly orange and he could make out a tabby cat slinking around the corner at the other end of the street.
He could just see the bundle of blankets on the step of number four.
"He better not get sick," Remus said sternly. "They just left a baby on a doorstep in the middle of fall."
"Good luck, Harry," he murmured. He turned on his heel and with a swish of his cloak, he was gone.
"You should have done more than that, you bastard!"
A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley… He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: "To Harry Potter — the boy who lived!"
Remus and Sirius sat there in a miserable, troubled silence. After what felt like hours, but must have been minutes, Sirius got up. "We need beds." He said out loud.
Instantly, two comfortable looking queen-sized beds appeared in the center of the room. Both of them were decorated to resemble the beds found in the Gryffindor dorms.
"Goodnight, Padfoot." Moony said tiredly, getting in to his own bed.
And with that, the two Marauders attempted to get some sleep. If this chapter was any indication, tomorrow was going to be a rather long day.
Chapter 3: The Vanishing Glass
The discovery of Harry's home life will leave Sirius and Remus torn apart.
Chapter Two: The Vanishing Glass
Sirius awoke on what would have been the next morning. For a while, he simply lay there, bleary-eyed and head aching. He most likely dreamed of James and Lily's death at the hands of Voldemort, but he didn't remember enough to be certain. He looked to his left, and sure enough, the sky outside was pitch black. Sirius groaned inwardly, wishing he hadn't woken up so soon. But then, it came to him.
The letter! The book!
A rush of adrenaline surged through him. Since Harry never brought up his childhood or his first two years at Hogwarts, Sirius had virtually nothing to go on; Dumbledore merely mentioned that Harry encountered Voldemort before. But now, they'd get to know everything. Through Harry's perspective. Sirius jumped out of bed, sloppily put his shirt back on, and headed toward the fireplace. Remus was already there, sitting casually. Beside him was a tray of chocolate scones, buttered toast, tea cups, a tea pot, and a bowl of sugar cubes and a container of cream.
"Good morning, Sirius." The werewolf greeted, helping himself to a chocolate scone.
"Morning, Remy!" Sirius said brightly, plopping down on the empty beanbag. "Ready to read?"
"Of course." He said, inwardly groaning at the nickname. "Are you?"
Instead of answering, Sirius grabbed the book from its place on the floor, and found the next chapter.
The Vanishing Glass
"I bet Harry does accidental magic!" Sirius shouted his excitement mounting. "Knowing him, it's bound to be incredible!"
Remus chuckled at his friend's antics.
Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their nephew on the front step,
Their eyes narrowed at the reminder of Dumbledore's carelessness.
But Privet Drive had hardly changed at all.
"And I thought my parents were dull." Sirius said, frowning.
The sun rose on the same tiny front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys' front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mr. Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed. Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets—
"Why would they put bonnets on a beach ball?" Remus inquired, his brow furrowing in confusion.
Sirius shrugged. "Who knows?"
But Dudley Dursley was no longer a baby,
"Oh…" Remus trailed off awkwardly.
Sirius laughed. He had never met Dudley before, but from the little clues left in Harry's letters, a beach ball would be a flattering description. He went to read, but stopped as an important thought came to mind.
If these books were going to be told primarily from Harry's perspective, that meant access to Harry's private thoughts and deepest secrets. Was it right for them to gain access to all this information without his involvement?
Sirius started to close the book, and a white light flashed to his left. The light vanished, and in its place was a letter that very much resembled the one from last night. Sirius read it in disbelief.
Dear Sirius and Remus,
Sirius, your thoughts are correct, but now is not the time to act on them. For reasons you will soon understand, Harry mustn't join in reading right away. We will send him to you when the time is right.
"So, this 'friend' can read our thoughts." Remus stated blankly. "Why am I not surprised?"
Sirius cleared his throat. He was starting to get a bad feeling about this chapter, and prayed to Merlin that it was just that a feeling.
And now the photographs showed a large blond boy riding his first bicycle, on a carousel at the fair, playing a computer game with his father, and being hugged and kissed by his mother.
The room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.
"No sign?" Remus asked, surprised. "But surely, there had to be something."
"I don't know..." Sirius muttered, scowling. "My mother had a way of hiding signs of my existence when it suited her."
Remus shot him a concerned glance. Embarrassed, Sirius continued.
Yet Harry Potter was still there.
Asleep at the moment, but not for long. His Aunt Petunia was awake and it was her shrill voice that made the first noise of the day.
"Up! Get Up! Now!"
Harry woke with a start. His aunt rapped on the door again.
"Up!" she screeched.
They winced. That must have been an awful way of waking up.
Harry heard her walking toward the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the stove. He rolled onto his sore back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before.
"Incredible." Remus breathed.
"Very." Remus agreed. "If he remembered that, I'm sure he remembers other things, as well."
Sirius nodded and went back to reading. Neither of them spoke it out loud, but the mention of a sore back worried them.
His aunt was back outside the door. "Are you up yet?" she demanded.
"Nearly," said Harry.
"Well, get a move on, I want you to make breakfast, starting with the bacon.
"But he's ten!" Remus protested furiously. "He could get hurt!"
Sirius growled. He already knew how dangerous cooking is for a child, even with magic, let alone without it.
And don't you dare let it burn! I want everything to be perfect on Duddy's birthday."
"Duddy?" Remus repeated, snickering. "That's a horrible name."
"A horrible nickname for a horrible child." Sirius added, smiling in spite of himself. "I bet you a galleon that's not the worst of it."
"You're on. There's no way she could come up with anything worse." The Marauders shook hands, and Sirius went back to reading.
"What did you say?" his aunt snapped through the door.
"Go away, you ugly bint."
Dudley's birthday—how could he have forgotten? Harry got slowly, carefully got out of bed, and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed, and, after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.
The impact of this revelation wasn't felt at first, for it was the last thing either of them had expected. After several moments ,of numb, shocked horror, Sirius dropped the book. The soft thud brought them out of their stupor.
"BLOODY HELL!" Sirius snarled at the top of his lungs. He got up started throwing wild curses at the walls, which just absorbed them. Most likely thanks to the mysterious 'friend' who watched over them. He was beyond angry, beyond loathing. "HOW DARE THEY? HOW DARE THOSE FUCKING MUGGLE BASTARDS?"
He wanted nothing more than to be flinging spells at those monsters, or to stuff them in a freaking cupboard, and see how they liked it! A hot, bubbling fury had overtaken him, and it wouldn't be going away for quite some time.
Remus, on the other hand, was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to care about his friend's ranting and raving. He inwardly vowed to visit the Dursleys on the next full moon, and teach them a lesson they'd never forget…
After a long while, Sirius sat back down and reached for the book once more, and started to read, effectively snapping Remus out of his cold, vengeful thoughts.
When he was dressed he went down the hall and into the kitchen. The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike.
Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise unless of course it involved punching somebody.
"Brat." Remus mumbled.
Dudley's favorite punching bag was Harry
"What?" they both yelled.
"His cousin hit him?" Remus said, half astonished, half disgusted. There was something very wrong with this family, and they feared they'd find out before the chapter's end.
But he couldn't often catch him. Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast.
"Well, there's that, at least." Sirius allowed dubiously.
Harry had a thin face, knobby knees, black hair,
"Just like James." Sirius whispered, a small, pained smile stretching across his face. Remus matched it with one of his own.
and bright green eyes.
He wore round glasses, held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.
"I'd like to punch him in the nose!" Sirius growled. Remus, who normally didn't approve of such things, agreed wholeheartedly.
The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning.
This surprised them. From what they gathered, Harry hated his curse scar. Then they remembered that Harry had no idea that what it was, and without that knowledge, it must have looked pretty cool. Sirius grinned. He bet that Harry's classmates were impressed by it, too.
He had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it. "In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions."
They growled, greatly resembling their animal forms.
"This explains a lot." Remus said through gritted teeth. And it did. Looking back on it now, Harry's anger at being kept in the dark was pretty understandable. This also explained Harry's silence in class- something Remus attributed to shyness rather than habit.
Don't ask questions—that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.
Uncle Vernon entered the kitchen as Harry was turning over the bacon.
"Comb your hair!" he barked, by way of a morning greeting.
"It's impossible Dursley! That's the Potter trait at work!" Sirius smiled fondly. "Remember how James used to mess his hair up, so he looked like he just got off a broom?"
Remus laughed. "We thought we were so cool!"
About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a haircut. Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it simply made no difference, his hair simply grew that way—all over the place.
"Yep. Definitely the Potter trait."
Harry was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother. Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large, pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head.
Dudley often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel, (Sirius made a face), Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.
The two chuckled at that. It sounded like something Lily would have said.
Harry put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which wasn't difficult as there wasn't much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.
"Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year."
"So, they make one child sleep in the cupboard, while the other gets thirty-six presents! That's great parenting, alright." Remus said, his voice dripping with venom.
Sirius bit down on his anger, vowing to have words with Dumbledore after this. Letter be damned.
"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, its here under this big one from Mummy and Daddy."
"Alright, thirty-seven then," said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible, in case Dudley turned the table over.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, "And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?"
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally, he said slowly, "So I'll have thirty…thirty…"
"He's eleven, and he can't do simple addition!" Remus exclaimed. "What's wrong with those people?"
Sirius sighed, shaking his head. "Apparently they treasure stupidity."
"Thirty-nine, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia.
"Oh." Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. "All right then."
Uncle Vernon chuckled. "Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father. Atta boy, Dudley!" He ruffled
At that moment, the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Harry and Uncle Vernon watched as Dudley unwrap the racing bike- one of the few things Harry longed to own- a video camera, a remote control airplane, sixteen new computer games, and a VCR.
Sirius made a mental note to buy Harry the best racing bike money could buy.
Not for the first time, Harry found himself envying his cousin. Maybe, just maybe, if he were normal, his birthdays would be like this too. He could almost see himself sitting in Dudley's place, with Uncle Vernon ruffling his hair in an affectionate sort of way. Aunt Petunia would hug him and tell him what a good, sweet child he was. He would certainly be more grateful than Dudley.
Every word cut through Sirius's heart like a hot, sharp knife. It was quite obvious that Harry was deprived of any sort of love. They weren't even half-way through the chapter, and already, he realized the weight of his own mistakes. Remus, meanwhile, was starting to doubt that Dumbledore had ever checked on Harry. He couldn't even consider the alternative to that. If Dumbledore knew, he wouldn't have allowed this to continue, no matter how powerful the blood wards were supposed to be.
He was ripping the paper off of a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone looking both angry and worried.
"Bad news, Vernon," she said. "Mrs. Figg's broke her leg. She can't take him."
She jerked her head in Harry's direction.
Dudley's mouth fell open in horror, but Harry's heart gave a leap. Every year on Dudley's birthday, his parents took him and a friend out for the day, to adventure parks, hamburger restaurants, or the movies. Every year, Harry was left behind with Mrs. Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs. Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she'd ever owned.
"Sounds like Grandma Constance. Only, instead of cats, it was puffskeins." Remus said, trying to ease the tension in the room.
Sirius sniggered at that. "Remember that summer before fourth year, when we all went over to her house while your parents were away?"
Remus groaned. "Don't remind me! Those puffskeins were everywhere!"
"At least we didn't have stuffy noses."
Remus smiled reluctantly. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Now what?" said Aunt Petunia, as though he'd planned this. Harry knew that he ought to feel sorry that Mrs. Figg had broken her leg, but it wasn't as easy when he reminded himself that it would be a whole year before he had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr. Paws and Tufty again.
"We could phone Marge," Uncle Vernon suggested.
"Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy."
"He has a name, you bitch! Try using it once in a while!"
The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn't there – or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn't understand them, like a slug.
"And now we know why Harry doesn't like talking about his childhood." Sirius spoke, glaring at the book. "I doubt he has any pleasant memories there."
Remus felt the beginnings of tears nipping at the corner of his eyes, relating to Harry's plight all too well. He'd often been treated like that by the public. Especially after Severus revealed his furry little problem for the public to know.
What about what's-her-name, your friend – Yvonne?"
"On vacation in Majorca," snapped Aunt Petunia.
"You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully, (he'd be able to watch television, eat what he wanted and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer).
Aunt Petunia looked as though she swallowed a lemon.
"And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled.
"He won't blow up the house!" Sirius yelled.
"I won't blow up the house," said Harry, but they weren't listening.
They smiled at that.
"I suppose we could take him to the zoo," said Aunt Petunia slowly, "…and leave him in the car…"
The smiles slid off their faces like stinksap.
"That car's new; he's not sitting in it alone…"
"Yeah, care more about the car than a child!" Remus growled. "What wonderful people you are!"
Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn't really crying – it had been years since he'd really cried – but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed, his mother would give him anything he wanted.
The two of them doubled up on the floor, holding their sides.
"Dinky Duddydums!" Sirius panted, shedding tears of mirth. "Dinky Duddydums!"
Remus, in his laughter, handed Sirius a galleon. "Now that is a truly horrible nickname!"
When they both calmed down, Sirius continued to read. And once again, their smiles vanished.
"Don't cry, Mummy won't let him spoil your special day!" she cried, flinging her arms around him.
"I…don't…want…him…t-t-to come!" Dudley yelled between huge, pretend sobs. "He always sp-spoils everything!" He shot Harry a nasty grin through the gap in his mother's arms. Harry glared back.
Just then, the doorbell rang – "Oh good Lord, they're here!" said Aunt Petunia frantically – and a moment later, Dudley's best friend, Piers Polkiss, walked in with his mother. Piers was a scrawny boy with a face like a rat.
Sirius sneered. How…fitting for a friend of Dudley's.
He was usually the one who held people's arms behind their backs while Dudley hit them. Dudley stopped pretending to cry at once.
Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn't believe his luck, was sitting in the back of the Dursleys' car with Piers and Dudley, on the way to the zoo for the first time in his life. His aunt and uncle hadn't been able think of anything else to do with him, but before they'd left, Uncle Vernon had taken Harry aside.
"I'm warning you," he had said, putting his large, purple face right up close to Harry's. "I'm warning you now, boy – any funny business, anything at all – and you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas."
"He better not!" Sirius growled. Remus listened to Sirius list several threats, his own anger and dread mounting.
"I'm not going to do anything," said Harry. "Honestly…"
But Uncle Vernon didn't believe him. No one ever did.
"And this is why Harry doesn't tell anyone anything." Remus said sadly, knowing that he wasn't helping Sirius's temperament. "With nobody to believe or care about him, keeping quiet must have become a force of habit."
Sirius gripped the book so hard that his knuckles turned white. He would make them pay, one way or another. Even at the price of going back to Azkaban.
The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn't make them happen.
Once, Aunt Petunia, tired of Harry coming back from the barbers looking as though he hadn't been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut his hair so short he was almost bald, except for his bangs, which she left to "hide that horrible scar."
Dudley laughed himself silly at Harry, who spent a sleepless night imagining school the next day, where he was already laughed at for his baggy clothes and taped glasses.
Remus winced. How often had he been made fun of for his tattered clothes and shabby appearance?
Next morning, however, he had gotten up to find his hair exactly as it had been before Aunt Petunia had sheared it off. He had been given a week in his cupboard for this, even though he had tried to explain that he couldn't explain how it had grown back so quickly.
Sirius was willing to bet his entire vault that Petunia had known, and Harry had been punished because of it.
Another time, Aunt Petunia had been trying to force him into a revolting old sweater of Dudley's, (brown with orange puff balls).
The harder she tried to pull it over his head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally, it might have fitted a hand puppet, but certainly wouldn't fit Harry.
"Yes!" Sirius yelled triumphantly. "Score one for Harry!"
Aunt Petunia had decided it must have shrunk in the wash and, to his great relief, Harry wasn't punished.
"And why should he have been punished?" Remus asked, glaring at the book.
On the other hand, he'd gotten into terrible trouble for being found on the roof of the school kitchens. Dudley's gang had been chasing him as usual, when, as much to Harry's surprise as anyone else's, there he was, sitting on the chimney.
"Th-that's incredible!" Sirius stammered, surprised. "He flew, and at such a young age!"
"Indeed. Harry's pretty powerful. He wouldn't have been able to learn the Patronus charm during third year, if he wasn't."
Remus beamed proudly. "He was, truthfully, my best student."
The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry's headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he'd tried to do, (as he shouted through the locked door of his cupboard), was jump behind the big trashcans outside the kitchen doors. Harry supposed that the wind must have caught him mid-jump.
"That sounds like James would say to get out of trouble." Sirius snickered, half-heartedly. His amusement was being hampered by the terrible injustices heaped upon his godson.
Remus's strained smile seemed to incline that he was feeling the same way.
But today, nothing was going to go wrong. It was even worth being with Dudley and Piers to be spending the day somewhere that wasn't school, his cupboard, or Mrs. Figg's cabbage-smelling living room.
"And that's not depressing at all." Remus mumbled too softly for Sirius to hear. Really, he was starting to loathe this book.
While he drove, Uncle Vernon complained to Aunt Petunia. He liked to complain about many things: people at work, Harry, the council, Harry, the bank, and Harry were just a few of his favorite subjects. This morning, it was motorcycles.
"…roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums," he said, as a motorcycle overtook them.
"I had a dream about a motorcycle," Harry said, remembering suddenly. "It was flying."
Uncle Vernon nearly crashed in to the car in front. He turned right around in his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beet with a mustache: "MOTORCYCLES DON'T FLY!"
Sirius stared at the page, an idea forming within the confines of his prankster mind. Oh yes, it would be great…
Remus recognized the look; it was the very one the Marauders wore when in the middle of some grand scheme. He felt his lips form the beginnings of a small, crafty smirk. "Is there something you want to share with the class, Padfoot?"
Sirius looked up, positively radiating mischief. "We'll discuss it after the chapter, Professor Moony."
Dudley and Piers sniggered.
"I know they don't," said Harry. "It was only a dream."
"When we go to have the Dursleys sign the adoption papers, we really should go on your motorcycle." Remus said, feeling a bit more cheerful. "They won't know what hit them."
Sirius laughed, wishing he could bring Buckbeak, too. The hippogriff seemed to be fond of his godson; Sirius sometimes caught him nuzzling a picture of Harry before going to sleep. It would be interesting to see him encounter Harry's tormentors…
But he wished he hadn't said anything. If there was one thing the Dursleys hated even more than his asking questions, it was talking about anything acting in a way it shouldn't, no matter if it was in a dream or even a cartoon – they seemed to think he might get dangerous ideas.
Oh, I've already got dangerous ideas, you fat arsehole. Sirius thought grimly. Just you wait…
It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice creams at the entrance, and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Harry what he wanted before they could hurry him away, they bought him a cheap lemon ice pop.
It wasn't bad, either, Harry thought, licking it as they watched a gorilla scratching its head who looked remarkably like Dudley, except that it wasn't blond…
"Harry certainly has Lily's quick wit!" Remus snorted, as Sirius struggled to control himself. Laughter resounded through the room.
Harry had the best morning he'd had in a long time. He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn't fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him.
They snarled like two canines ready to attack.
They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because his Knickerbocker glory didn't have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon brought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first. Harry felt, afterward, the he should have known it was all too good to last.
The dark tendrils of dread began to coil in the room once more, taking a deeper hold of the marauders.
After lunch they went to the reptile house. It was cool and dark in there, with lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Dudley and Piers wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Vernon's car and crushed it in to a trash can –
"Do it! Do it! Do it!" Sirius chanted, eyes sparkling. "Come on, do it!"
but at the moment it didn't look in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep.
Remus rolled his eyes. Sirius could be such a child sometimes.
Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils. "Make it move," he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but the snake didn't budge. "Do it again," Dudley ordered.
Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on.
"This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away.
"And you're a spoiled git." Remus snapped. Sirius smiled approvingly.
Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. He wouldn't have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself – no company except stupid people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Aunt Petunia hammering on the door to wake you up; at least he got to visit the rest of the house.
"Well, that isn't much better. At least the snake gets proper care…"
The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's. It winked.
"It winked?" Sirius asked, confused.
"Probably something only a Parselmouth can notice." Remus dismissed calmly.
Sirius nodded. He remembered reading something about that in the Daily Prophet during Harry's fourth year, but forgot which article held that tidbit of information; he always incinerated the issues that spread lies about Harry. He wouldn't even line Buckbeak's room with that drivel.
Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. He looked back at the snake and winked, too.
The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:
"I get that all the time."
"I know," Harry murmured through the glass, though he wasn't sure the snake could hear him. "It must be really annoying."
The snake nodded vigorously.
"Leave it to Harry to make nice with a snake." Remus said observantly.
"He's Harry-bloody-Potter," Sirius spoke, with just an air of smugness. "Vanquisher of Moldyvort! Even serpents bow to his superiority!"
This was too much for Remus. He fell off his chair and on to the floor. "Moldyvort!" he gasped in between peals of laughter. "Sweet Merlin's pants, Sirius!"
Sirius chuckled. He'd have to use that particular moniker around Bellatrix sometime; he was bound to get some amusement out of it.
"Where do you come from, anyway?" Harry asked.
The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign net to the glass. Harry peered at it. Boa Constrictor, Brazil.
"Was it nice there?"
The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harry read on: This specimen was bred in the zoo.
"Oh, I see – so you've never been to Brazil?"
As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout behind Harry made both of them jump. "DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!"
"No, don't!" Remus argued furiously. "Let Harry have his fun!"
Dudley came waddling toward them as fast as he could. "Out of the way, freak!" he said, punching Harry in the ribs. Caught by surprise, Harry fell hard on the concrete floor.
"That kid needs a good swift kick in the arse!"
Remus nodded in agreement, but said nothing. He remembered James saying that Petunia often used the word "freak" to insult her sister. Did she teach Dudley to call him that?
What came next happened so fast that no one saw how it happened – one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror.
Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor's tank had vanished. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out onto the floor. People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exits.
"Awesome!" Sirius breathed, amazed. "Who knew the pup had it in him?"
"Indeed." Remus agreed, equally impressed. "That's a powerful bit of accidental magic."
As the snake slid swiftly past him, Harry could have sworn a low, hissing voice said, "Brazil, here I come… Thanksss, amigo. Maybe we'll ssssee each other again sssomeday."
The keeper of the reptile house was in shock. "But the glass," he kept saying, "where did it go?"
"The great Harry Potter has vanished it!" Sirius exclaimed merrily. "Be gone, puny mortal, before you too feel his almighty power!"
Remus raised a brow. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"Of course I am!" Sirius proclaimed, beaming proudly. "It comes with the territory of having the world's best godson."
Remus sighed good-naturedly and waited patiently for Sirius to continue. Perhaps some good would come out of these books, after all.
The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of strong, sweet tea while he apologized over and over again. Piers and Dudley could only gibber. As far as Harry had seen, the snake hadn't done anything except snap playfully at their heals as it passed, but by the time they were all back in Uncle Vernon's car, Dudley was telling them how it had nearly bitten off his leg, while Piers was swearing it had tried to squeeze him to death.
But, worst of all, for Harry at least, was Piers calming down enough to say, "Harry was talking to it, weren't you, Harry?"
The dread coiled even tighter around them, nearly choking Sirius with its intensity. Neither one of them spoke, but they feared that this was the part that the letter warned them about.
Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, "You – get belt—NOW!"
"NO!" Sirius screamed. "Don't you dare hurt him, you fat fuck!"
Remus paled. No, this couldn't be happening! Dumbledore swore that Harry would grow up loved and cared for! He swore, damn it!
Harry felt as though he were rooted to the spot; he tried to move his feet, but couldn't. A powerful, desperate fear kept him from moving. Maybe, just maybe, he could convince his uncle to use fists instead. It was worth a try…
"Fists?" Sirius cried in a weak, strangled voice. "He wants fists?" He felt hot, acidic bile rise to his throat- the remainder of fire whiskey from last night- His godson was going to be beaten, and they could do nothing but read about it. And if they didn't read about it, time would never be unfrozen, and they'd never have the chance to help Harry recover.
Remus screwed his eyes shut, not wanting to listen, but not having much of a choice.
"I-I didn't mean to!" he half-sobbed. "P-please, U-Uncle, I'm so-sorry!"
He was rewarded with a sharp slap to the face.
"Do what he says, boy!" Aunt Petunia screeched, her face nearly as red as her husband's. "This is what you get for ruining Dudley's birthday, you worthless freak!"
Harry shook his head, holding back his tears. He couldn't make himself move. "N-no, don't make me!"
"I'll get it, mum!" Dudley shouted gleefully. He waddled to the den, even faster than usual, and returned with a thick, black, leather belt.
Aunt Petunia smiled lovingly at him. "You're such a good boy, Duddykins." she said, as he handed Uncle Vernon the belt. She glared coldly at Harry. "Whatever you get is too good for you, freak!" And with that, she went upstairs, as usual. She never watched Harry's punishments, preferring to let her husband and son to "take care of him."
"Th-this is messed up!" Remus shouted, both angry and horrified. "Th-they're going to – oh Merlin! And his cousin, too!"
The wolf in him called for blood, and howled in misery at the abuse that would be dealt to his cub. All the while, Dumbledore remained in the back of his thoughts.
'You have my word, Remus, that Harry is safe and sound.'
He lied to us! He lied!
Sirius's body heaved with silent sobs. He didn't want to read anymore! He couldn't! This was ten times worse than last night! Tears trickled down his cheeks, and on to the pages of the book.
"Harry…" he whispered miserably. "Harry…"
"I-I can take over, Sirius." Remus offered, as he had last night. Remus knew that, while he was taking this hard, that his friend would suffer even more from it. He could tell that Sirius was already close to his breaking point. But, they couldn't just stop. That would only be delaying the inevitable. Something told him that they had to get this over with, and fast. Wordlessly, Sirius handed the book over with pale, trembling hands. Remus took it gingerly, and pushed his feelings back as far as they would go. The sooner he finished the better.
"You know what to do, freak!" Uncle Vernon shouted, pointing to a stretch of wall. "Now get to it!"
Harry's body shook so hard that taking off the oversized shirt became a difficult task, but after a few minutes, he managed to do just that. Obediently, Harry bent over, placing his palms on the wall for support.
"Wait, I want to go first!" Dudley shouted. "The freak ruined my birthday!" Harry kept his head down and closed his eyes. He tried to brace himself for what was coming, for the belt to hit welts that were almost completely healed…
"Here you go, Dudley." Vernon said maliciously. "Let him have it!"
Nothing could prepare him for the agony of that first, painful hit. Nothing ever could.
Sometime later, Harry came out of the lashing a weeping, bleeding mess. At some point, Uncle Vernon and Dudley had used the buckle, which ripped through his skin, leaving behind jagged, gaping wounds.
Sirius lost his inner struggle and purged himself of the acidic bile.
"Sirius!" Remus cried, moving to comfort him. Sirius shook his head.
"No! Keep reading!"
"But Sirius, you're sick!"
"Please, just get it over with." Sirius begged brokenly. "I- I don't like it, but I have to know. Please, Remus."
The puddle of sick vanished automatically. Remus took one look at his miserable, heart-wrenching expression and felt a surge of anger pulse through him. Harry's plight was hurting Sirius, as well, and he was helpless to stop it. There was no way Sirius could handle to hear this again. So, reluctantly, he continued.
Now, he lay in his dark cupboard, in more pain than he'd ever been in. He was too tired, too sore, to move. This meant that he couldn't sneak in to the kitchen for a little food.
He'd lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as he could remember, ever since he'd been a baby and his parents had died in that car crash. He couldn't remember being in the car when his parents had died.
"Because they didn't die in a car crash!" Remus snarled, becoming angrier by the second. Two of the most important people in his life had either suffered, or were suffering, thanks to this awful excuse for a family. The wolf in him screamed for blood, for vengeance; to give those fucking Muggles as much pain as they dealt his cub! And Dumbledore, too! That old coot had a lot to answer for!
And then, Remus got a hold of himself. No! He wouldn't let the wolf take hold of him, especially when it wasn't anywhere near the full moon. He took deep, calming breaths. Though nowhere near relaxed, the wolf backed off, leaving him with his own festering pool of sorrow and anger.
Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.
Remus's voice wavered, while Sirius visibly flinched.
This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn't imagine where all the green light came from. He couldn't remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.
"He probably didn't even know what they looked like until he went to school," Sirius mumbled sadly. "They're scum, to lie to their own nephew about his parents." He laughed bitterly. "But, after what we just read, I wouldn't expect anything less. Those Dursleys are a real class act!" Some of the fire made its way back in to his voice. "I swear that they're going to pay for this. One way or another, they'll be sorry they ever hurt him!"
Remus nodded, feeling the return of that ice-cold rage. "And I'll help you."
When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened. The Dursleys were his only family. Yet sometimes, he thought, (or maybe hoped), that strangers in the street seemed to know him. Very strange strangers they were, too.
A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to him once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking Harry furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia had rushed them out of the shot without buying anything. A wild-looking old woman dressed all in green had waved merrily at him once on a bus. A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually shaken his hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word. The weirdest thing about all these people was that they seemed to vanish the second Harry tried to get a closer look.
"Well, that's not creepy," Remus said sarcastically, trying to lighten the mood. "Not creepy at all."
It didn't work. Sirius just sat there, looking empty, sad and angry all at once.
At school, Harry had no one. Everybody knew that Dudley's gang hated that odd Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree with Dudley's gang.
"He was bullied, too." Remus whispered, further horrified. He understood perfectly how it felt to be tormented and made fun of for things outside of his own control. He had been the ugly, scarred kid, one that nobody wanted to be friends with before James, Sirius and Peter. To think that Harry had endured that and an abusive household hurt worse than any physical blow ever could.
Sirius couldn't voice how he felt. As a kid, he and James had been the ones to pick on people to whittle away long hours of boredom. Looking back on it, he wasn't proud, far from it, actually. Sirius would never, ever admit it, but he knew that their cruel behavior was what made Snivellus- no, Severus- the man he is today. Or, at least, a good part of it.
Now, Harry's reaction to the Snape's pensive memory made clear, sickening sense. Harry had been disgusted by their actions because he actually sympathized with the man! A man that hated and verbally abused him on a daily basis ten months out of a year; a man that would love nothing more than to make Harry feel lower than dirt.
Gone was all semblance of anger, of rage. Sirius was too trapped in his feelings of self-loathing and misery to register Remus's embrace. He didn't cry, but only because he was all cried out. Instead, he remained motionless, wanting nothing more than to crawl under a rock and die.
Meanwhile, in the hospital ward, Harry Potter slept peacefully, blissfully unaware of the events unfolding in the Room of Requirement. He couldn't know that his future guardians were suffering, or of the talk that would occur. He didn't even realize that time had frozen, yet. No one else did.
Instead, Harry dreamed pleasantly, for once. He dreamed of the life that was coming, and of memories they might share. His mind, scarred and battered from both Voldemort and his relatives, was in a state of true peace. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last much longer.
And the mysterious watchers from another existence watched, both pleased and saddened by the way things were. But, they wouldn't end it. Revelations were on the rise, and soon, the truth would come out.
Things would never be the same as they once were.
Which was exactly what they sought.
Chapter 4: The Letters From No One
Just when they thought the reading couldn't get any worse, it does.
Chapter Three: The Letters From No One
Things were far from fine in the Room of Requirement, but given the circumstances, it had improved somewhat. Once again, the Marauders were in their respective seats, trying to brace themselves for the oncoming chapter. They had agreed to continue after an hour of reflection and comfort; most of which Sirius spent as Padfoot. Neither of them could – or would – be emotionally solid after today, not for a while. The complete horror of Harry's abuse had left an ugly, bleeding wound upon their souls. Another letter appeared to them. Sirius grabbed it and read:
"Dear Sirius and Remus,
We would like to apologize for making you read that. It wasn't our intention for you to suffer, and regret it has come to this. However, it has, and there is no going back. Things will get worse before they get better, generally speaking.
"Well, this 'friend' is polite, if a bit cryptic." Remus observed coldly, opening the book from where they left off.
Sirius bit his lip, in an effort to restrain himself. Worse? What more could those vile relatives possibly do? Wasn't it enough that they degraded, humiliated and beat the boy without remorse? How could this get any worse? He swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Please read, Moony."
Remus's eyes narrowed, but he kept quiet. After this chapter, they would be taking a break, no matter what their mystery writer told them. Sirius looked ready to collapse at any given moment, and had refused any food, whatsoever, claiming that if Harry went without, he could too. It just wasn't healthy. With a heavy sigh, he started.
The Letters From No One
The escape if the Brazilian Boa Constrictor earned Harry his longest-ever punishment. By the time he was allowed out of his cupboard again, a month-and-a-half had gone by.
"They kept him in there for how long?" Sirius ground out, his teeth gritted in anger.
Remus re-read the line, expression darkening.
Sirius said nothing, but the look on his face said it all: Dumbledore had a lot to answer for.
Summer holidays had finally started, and Dudley already broke his new video camera, crashed his remote control airplane, and first time out on his racing bike, knocked down old Mrs. Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches.
They winced in sympathy. Poor Arabella must have put up with quite a lot, having to live near that monster of a boy. And the Dursleys made Harry out to be the troublemaker!
Harry didn't care that school was over, since he wasn't allowed to go during his time in the cupboard. In fact, save for midnight kitchen raids, (Uncle Vernon kept forgetting to put the padlock back on, so it wasn't too difficult to sneak a bit of food and water);
They glowered at the book. Now they just couldn't assume; it was quite clear that Harry had been starved.
extra sessions with the belt, cane or riding crop,(couldn't' be allowed to get away with his freakishness),
"You're not a freak, Harry!" Sirius yelled, his face red with anger.
Remus kept a mental list of the three items mentioned, pondering on whether or not to use them on Vernon.
or to empty his bucket every three days, (and of course, earn another punishment for being an ungrateful burden).
"A bucket?" Sirius seethed, shaking with rage. He jumped out of his seat, and let out a cry of outrage. "ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, THAT MONSTER MADE HIM GO IN A BLOODY BUCKET!" The room's magic created a long succession of targets, which Sirius proceeded to tear apart, spewing a slur of swears a mile long.
Remus watched and listened, unwilling to voice his own desired for vengeance on Harry's behalf. Normally, he didn't have this kind of control, but he knew that Sirius would need somebody to keep him grounded. For now, the responsibility was his, and his alone. Instead, he held fantasies about how the Dursleys would be punished. His favorite, by far, was to stuff them in that cupboard with a full bucket of waste, and leave them there to rot.
When the targets were good and destroyed, Sirius returned, quite sullenly, to his seat. Remus made a move to comfort him, but Sirius shook his head. After a few moments of awkward silence, he continued to read, but not before shooting his friend a concerned glance.
Merlin's balls! This task was going to be harder than they originally thought!
It didn't help that there was no escaping Dudley's gang, who visited the house every single day. Piers, Dennis, Malcolm and Gordon were all big and stupid, but as Dudley was the biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was leader.
They barely snickered at that, but had the heart to do little else.
The rest of them were all quite happy to join in Dudley's favorite sport: Harry Hunting.
Sirius felt as though someone had punched him in the gut, knocking the air out of him. "Harry Hunting" sounded an awful lot like "Snivellus Seeking", which was his and James's favorite pastime. The fact that he and Dudley had anything in common was as shocking as it was sickening.
This was why Harry spent as much time as possible out of the house, wandering around and thinking about the end of the holidays, where he could see a tiny ray of hope. When September came he would be going off to secondary school and, for the first time in his life, he wouldn't be with Dudley. Piers Polkiss was going there too. Harry, on the other hand, was going to Stonewall High, the local public school.
"Like hell you are!" Sirius said defiantly, a faint, happy glimmer in his gray eyes. "You're going to Hogwarts, where you'll be accepted and loved!"
Remus couldn't help but faintly smile at that. He had spent a lot of his free time watching Harry, Ron and Hermione, and found himself in awe of them. Though as temperamental as any group of young teenagers, the three of them were like a perfected version of the Marauders; they never bullied students, and very rarely sought to make trouble - without a good reason.
Dudley thought this was very funny.
"They stuff people's heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall," he told Harry, a piggy smirk stretched across his fat face. "Want to come upstairs and practice?"
Sirius looked as though he were about to say something, but Remus didn't look up, so it went unnoticed.
"No thanks," said Harry. "The poor toilet's never had anything as horrible as your head down it – it might be sick." Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he said.
"Harry is pretty good with the quips." Remus said, grinning. "Better than James, that's for sure."
Sirius smiled fondly. "That's our Harry! He's going to put us Marauders to shame, if he hasn't already."
Remus couldn't help but agree.
One day in July, Aunt Petunia took Dudley to London to buy his Smeltings uniform, leaving Harry behind at Mrs. Figg's.
Mrs. Figg wasn't as bad as usual. It turned out she'd broken her leg tripping over one of her cats, and didn't seem quite as fond of them as before. She let Harry watch television, ( the news), and gave him a bit of chocolate cake that tasted as though she'd had it for several years.
Remus made a face. Chocolate should never be treated that way!
That evening, Dudley paraded around the living room for the family in his brand new uniform. Smeltings' boys wore maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats called boaters.
They couldn't help it. After having so little to laugh about last chapter, the mental image of Dudley in that uniform proved to be too funny to resist. They laughed and laughed until their sides hurt.
"If only we had a picture!" Remus gasped, trying to catch his breath. Suddenly, a flash of white light appeared in front of them, and there, for their amusement, was a Muggle picture of an eleven-year-old Dudley in said uniform.
"Merlin's beard! I wish Harry could see this!" Sirius wheezed in between fits of laughter. This continued for a good few minutes, before they were finally able to settle down.
They also carried knobby sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers weren't looking. This was supposed to be good training for later life.
As he looked at Dudley in his new knickerbockers, Uncle Vernon said gruffly that it was the proudest moment in his life. Aunt Petunia burst in to tears and said she couldn't believe it was her Ickle Duddykins, he looked so handsome and grown up.
Remus referred to the picture again, disbelieving.
If that is what normal Muggles consider 'grown up', I'll eat Umbrige's dirty laundry! He thought, snickering.
Harry didn't trust himself to speak. He thought that two of his ribs might already have cracked from trying not to laugh.
Sirius smirked, and Remus grinned wolfishly.
"He's got more control than we do." Sirius said.
There was a horrible smell in the kitchen the next morning, when Harry went in to eat any bits of leftover breakfast he could find. It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink. He went to have a look. The tub was full of what looked like dirty rags swimming in gray water.
"What's this?" he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened, as they always did if he dared ask a question.
"You're new school uniform," she sneered.
Harry looked in the bowl again. "Oh," he said. I didn't realize it had to be so wet."
Sirius and Remus chuckled at that.
"He really does have them in him." Remus said, with a fond smile. "If they were still here, I know they'd be proud of him."
Sirius smiled faintly. "Me too, Moony." James, Lily, you have one hell of a kid.
"Don't be stupid!" snapped Aunt Petunia. "I'm dying some of Dudley's old things gray for you. It'll look just like everyone else's when I'm finished. Not that you'd appreciate the effort, you ungrateful brat!"
Sirius bit back a retort, hands curling up in to fists. What he wouldn't give to punch that ugly bint in the face, at least once…
Harry seriously doubted this, but thought it best not to argue. Instead, he sat down at the table and tried not to think about how he was going to look on his first day at Stonewall High, and how people would probably turn up their noses at him – the odd little nerd in smelly, baggy clothes.
Remus felt yet another stabbing twinge of sympathy, knowing what it was like to dress in nothing but old, raggedy clothes.
Sirius, for the second time this chapter, was forced to compare Snape and Harry again. Snape's baggy, mismatched clothes were often a source of ridicule he and James heaped upon the Slytherin. Before long, other Gryffindors had followed suit. The cruel, bitter irony of the situation was not lost upon him.
It bothered him, to see the person he hated most in a sympathetic light, but there it was. For all their positive qualities, the Marauders had ugly ones, as well.
He barely heard Remus continue reading.
Dudley and Uncle Vernon came in, both with wrinkled noses because of the smell from Harry's new uniform. Uncle Vernon opened his newspaper as usual and Dudley banged his smelting stick, which he carried everywhere, on the table. They heard the click of the mail slot and a flop of letters on the doormat.
"Get the mail, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon from behind his paper.
"Make Harry get it."
"Get the mail, Harry."
"Make Dudley get it." Harry said, testing Uncle Vernon's mood. Considering that he'd actually said Harry's name, it was possible that today might go off without a hitch.
"It looks as though Harry is wary of his relatives. Not that he had much of a choice in the matter." Remus said, a low growl in his voice.
Sirius shifted guiltily in his seat. He knew all too well what it was like to second-guess, sometimes even third-guess one's family. Though nowhere near as depraved as the Dursleys, Walburga and Orion Black were rather nasty in their own right. At least he had been able to confide in Andromeda, and eventually, his friends. From what he could tell, Harry had nobody positive in his life until first year. His mistake in hunting down Wormtail was coming back to haunt him, in new, creative ways.
"Smack him with your Smelting stick, Dudley."
Harry dodged the stick and went to get the mail. Three things lay on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wright, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and
– a letter for Harry.
They grinned widely, glad that something good was going to happen for a change. The sooner Harry got away from the
Dursleys, the better.
Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would?
I would've if I was allowed. Sirius thought, closing his eyes for a moment. It must have been lonely, not even having someone he could talk to.
He had no friends, no other relatives – he didn't belong to the library, so he never even got those rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly that there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive
"Open it! Open it!" Sirius chanted, growing optimistic. Truly, Hogwarts had been the best thing to ever happen to him. Harry would probably feel the same way.
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald green ink. There was no stamp.
Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter H.
"Hurry up, boy!" shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. "What are you doing, checking for letter bombs?" he chuckled at his own joke.
The pranksters rolled their eyes in annoyance. Dursleys should never make jokes. They were too mean-spirited to be funny.
Harry went back to the kitchen, still staring at his letter. He handed Uncle Vernon the bill and the postcard, sat down, and slowly began to open the yellow envelope.
Uncle Vernon ripped open his bill, snorted in disgust, and flipped over the post card.
"Marge's ill," he informed Aunt Petunia. "Ate a funny whelk…"
"Dad!" said Dudley suddenly. "Dad, Harry's got something!"
Remus gulped, hoping that this wouldn't lead to another example of Dursley's wrath.
Harry was on the point of unfolding his letter, which was written on the same heavy parchment as the envelope, when it was jerked sharply out of his hand by Uncle Vernon.
"Hey!" Sirius yelled. "That's Harry's!"
"That's mine!" Harry yelled, trying to snatch it back.
Remus snickered. "Like godfather, like godson." He said, much to Sirius's delight.
"Who'd be writing to you?" sneered Uncle Vernon, shaking the letter open with one hand and glancing at it. His face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights. And it didn't stop there. Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge.
"P-P-Petunia!" he gasped.
Dudley tried to grab the letter to read it, but Uncle Vernon held it high out of his reach. Aunt Petunia took it curiously and read the first line. For a moment, it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise.
"Vernon! Oh my goodness – Vernon!"
They stared at each other, seeming to have forgotten that Harry and Dudley were still in the room. Dudley wasn't used to being ignored. He gave his father a sharp tap on the head with his Smelting stick.
"I want to read that letter," he said loudly.
"It's not your letter!" they shouted at the same time.
"I want to read it," said Harry furiously, "as it's mine."
"You tell him, Harry!" Remus cheered, the same time Sirius shouted, "Yeah!"
"Get out, both of you." croaked Uncle Vernon, stuffing the letter back in its envelope.
Harry didn't move. "I WANT MY LETTER! "he shouted.
The room went deadly silent. Dudley gaped at him, slack-jawed, while Aunt Petunia's angry eyes bore in to him. Uncle Vernon's face went back to a deep red, and Harry realized his mistake all too quickly. Without warning, Uncle Vernon grabbed him by the neck, and slammed him against the wall.
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF HIM, DURSLEY!" Sirius screamed, threatening to rampage again.
"How dare you!" he bellowed, tightening his hold to a vice-like grip. Harry scratched and pulled at the meaty hand, before he passed out, but to no avail. The loss of oxygen was already starting to weaken him – not that he'd have been able to fight back at full strength. "Scream me will you, you worthless burden? I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT!"
The dread from earlier returned, hit them harder, now that it had something to go on. It fed upon the sick horror of the last chapter's lashing, blossoming in to sheer terror.
Sirius felt as though he were being strangled instead. He didn't want to hear this…not again. No! No! No! No!
Remus's voice shook, half in anger, half panic. He couldn't handle reading about another thrashing…he just couldn't. And yet, if they were to help Harry, he must.
Vernon raised his fist, ready to strike… and froze .
A flood of optimism enveloped them. Maybe Harry wouldn't be hurt…this time.
Vernon let go, and Harry dropped to his knees, head hitting the wall along the way. He grabbed both Harry and Dudley by the scruffs of their necks and threw them into the hall, slamming the kitchen door behind them.
They sighed in relief, breathing easy for the moment.
Harry and Dudley promptly had a furious but silent fight over who would listen at the keyhole; Dudley won, so Harry, his glasses dangling from one ear, lay flat on his stomach to listen at the crack between the door and the floor.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia was saying in a quivering voice, "look at the address — how could they possibly know where he sleeps? You don't think they're watching the house?"
"Watching — spying — might be following us," muttered Uncle Vernon wildly
"I wish that someone would have." Sirius muttered venomously.
"Dumbledore should have, at least." Remus added coldly. His patience with the man, in spite of their past, had run dry. Too much had gone on in that dreadful house, which could have easily been prevented a certain old man had seen to it.
"But what should we do, Vernon? Should we write back? Tell them we don't want —"
Harry could see Uncle Vernon's shiny black shoes pacing up and down the kitchen.
"No," he said finally. "No, we'll ignore it. If they don't get an answer… Yes, that's best… we won't do anything…"
"I'm not having one in the house, Petunia! Didn't we swear when we took him in we'd stamp out that dangerous nonsense?"
"So that's what they call it." Sirius sneered nastily. "Well, Dursley, I'll be sure to stamp you out soon enough."
Remus for one, could hardly believe it. How could Petunia possibly think that 'stamping out' magic was possible? Vernon at least had the excuse of being ignorant. She's Lily's sister, for crying out loud! She should have known better!
That evening when he got back from work, Uncle Vernon did something he'd never done before; he visited Harry in his cupboard.
"Where's my letter, sir?" asked Harry, the moment Uncle Vernon had squeezed through the door. He added the sir hastily, remembering the incident this morning.
"No one. It was addressed to you by mistake," said Uncle Vernon shortly. "I have burned it."
"Burning it only proves that it wasn't a mistake." Remus pointed out.
"It was not a mistake," said Harry angrily. "It had my cupboard on it."
"SILENCE!" yelled Uncle Vernon, and a couple of spiders fell from the ceiling. Harry flinched. Uncle Vernon took a few deep breaths and then forced his face into a smile, which looked rather painful.
"Hope it bloody well killed him." muttered Sirius.
"Er — yes, Harry — about this cupboard. Your aunt and I have been thinking… you're really getting a bit big for it…"
"He should have never been in there in the first place!" Remus growled.
…we think it might be nice if you moved into Dudley's second bedroom."
They stared at each other in disbelief.
"A second bedroom?" Sirius murmured darkly. "They had another room, and Harry was forced to sleep in the cupboard?"
"Just goes to show how inhuman they truly are." Remus said, amber eyes flickering dangerously.
"Why?" Harry asked skeptically. There had to be a catch. They wouldn't just give him another room without making him earn it, first.
Neither of them missed the implications of that statement. Sirius thought he was going to be sick.
"Don't ask questions!" snapped his uncle. "Take this stuff upstairs, now!"
The Dursleys' house had four bedrooms:
"FOUR!" they yelled.
one for Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, one for visitors (usually Uncle Vernon's sister, Marge), one where Dudley slept, and one where Dudley kept all the toys and things that wouldn't fit into his first bedroom.
Sirius threw his hands up in exasperation. It never ends! Just when they thought the Dursleys couldn't get any lower, they did just that. How deep did their reserves of cruelty go, before it hit rock bottom?
By now, Remus was starting to grow weary. They still had quite a ways to go, and they were far from done. At this rate, they wouldn't finish before dinner. He stopped to take a drink of tea, which worked wonders on his parched, tired throat.
It only took Harry one trip upstairs to move everything he owned from the cupboard to this room. He sat down on the bed and stared around him. Nearly everything in here was broken.
The month-old video camera was lying on top of a small, working tank Dudley had once driven over the next door neighbor's dog; in the corner was Dudley's first-ever television set, which he'd put his foot through when his favorite program had been canceled; there was a large birdcage, which had once held a parrot that Dudley had swapped at school for a real air rifle, which was up on a shelf with the end all bent because Dudley had sat on it.
Other shelves were full of books. They were the only things in the room that looked as though they'd never been touched.
From downstairs came the sound of Dudley bawling at his mother, "I don't want him in there… I need that room… make him get out…"
"Two rooms!" Remus shouted incredulously, gripping the book tightly. "They had an extra room, and they made him sleep in a damn cupboard?"
Sirius instinctively reached for his wand, longing to curse the Dursleys senseless.
Harry sat in a corner of the room, hugging his knees. What if that letter had been the moment he was waiting for? Some unknown family member, ready to whisk him away from this place?
He could almost picture it now.
They'd have been in another part of the world, quite unaware that their drunken relations died, leaving their son behind. And as soon as they returned home, and found out what happened, they tried to contact him through a letter.
Maybe they'd only respond if Harry wrote back, saying that he didn't like living where he was. And now, because he hadn't thought to hide the letter, he'd never hear from them again...
Yesterday he'd have given anything to be up he'd rather be back in his cupboard with that letter than up here without it.
Sirius whimpered, tears welling up in his eyes. This time, he couldn't prevent Remus from dropping the book and comforting him. The werewolf kneeled down beside him, placing a strong, warm hand upon his shoulder.
The ex-convict shook his head, silent, soundless tears cascading down his cheeks. "I could have saved him from that life, Remus. I could have given Harry a happy home...never wanting for anything. Never alone. But I ruined it, Remus. I ruined it, just like I do everything."
"It's not your fault." Remus spoke, in what he hoped was a soothing tone. It didn't help that he felt the pinpricks nip at his eyes, too. "You were only trying to avenge them. You had no way of knowing about this." Sirius merely hung his head, the picture of misery.
After a while, Sirius made to grab the book, but Remus beat him to the punch. "You can read next chapter, alright? I'll finish this one."Sirius nodded, saying nothing. Remus inwardly cursed their "friend" for sending this book in the first place.
He regretted a moment later, when he remembered that they were doing this for Harry, not themselves.
Next morning at breakfast, everyone was rather quiet. Dudley was in shock. He'd screamed, whacked his father with his Smelting stick, been sick on purpose, kicked his mother, and thrown his tortoise through the greenhouse roof, and he still didn't have his room back. Harry was thinking about this time yesterday and bitterly wishing he'd opened the letter in the hall.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia kept looking at each other darkly.
When the mail arrived, Uncle Vernon, who seemed to be trying to be nice to Harry, made Dudley go and get it. They heard him bangingthings with his Smelting stick all the way down the hall. Then he shouted, "there's another one!'Mr. H. Potter, the Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive —'"
With a strangled cry, Uncle Vernon leapt from his seat and ran down the hall, Harry right behind him. Uncle Vernon had to wrestle Dudley to the ground to get the letter from him, which was made difficult by the fact that Harry had grabbed Uncle Vernon around the neck from behind.
"You can do it, Harry!" Sirius cheered, apparently snapped out of his stupor. "Come on, get that letter!" Remus smiled faintly, relieved.
After a minute of confused fighting, in which everyone got hit a lot by the Smelting stick, Uncle Vernon straightened up, gasping for breath, with Harry's letter clutched in his hand.
"Go to your cupboard — I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed at Harry. "Dudley — go — just go."
Harry walked round and round his new room. Someone knew he had moved out of his cupboard and they seemed to know he hadn't received his first letter. Surely that meant they'd try again? And this time he'd make sure they didn't fail. He had a plan.
"Oh, this should be good!" Sirius smirked, rubbing his hands together gleefully. Remus snorted. From what he knew, Harry's plans never panned out the way they should...
The repaired alarm clock rang at six o'clock the next morning. Harry turned it off quickly and dressed silently.
He mustn't wake the Dursleys. He stole downstairs without turning on any of the lights.
"So he's going to wait for the mail." Remus stated. "Sounds like something James would have done."
"Yeah, but not before pranking the Dursleys like they've never been pranked before!" Sirius added knowingly.
He was going to wait for the postman on the corner of Privet Drive and get the letters for number four first. His heart hammered as he crept across the dark hall toward the front door—
Harry leapt into the air; he'd trodden on something big and squashy on the doormat — something alive! Lights clicked on upstairs and to his horror Harry realized that the big, squashy something had been his uncle's face.
Once more, laughter resounded through the room.
It also helped that the Room suddenly conjured up an image of the incident, causing them to laugh harder at the sight of Dursley's smashed-in face, and Harry's young, innocent expression.
Uncle Vernon had been lying at the foot of the front door in a sleeping bag, clearly making sure that Harry didn't do exactly what he'd been trying to do. He shouted at Harry for about half an hour and then told him to go and make a cup of tea. Harry shuffled miserably off into the kitchen and by the time he got back, the mail had arrived, right into Uncle Vernon's lap. Harry could see three letters addressed in green ink.
"I want —" he began, but Uncle Vernon was tearing the letters into pieces before his eyes.
The laughter died as they realized that Harry had been denied his letter yet again.
Uncle Vernon didn't go to work that day. He stayed at home and nailed up the mail slot.
"And that's perfectly normal, isn't it?" Remus pointed out in an even tone.
"See," he explained to Aunt Petunia through a mouthful of nails, "if they can't deliver them they'll just give up."
"I'm not sure that'll work, Vernon."
"Oh, these people's minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they're not like you and me," said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia had just brought him.
"Fruitcake?" Sirius asked, bewildered. "And he calls 'our lot' crazy! At least use a hammer!"
"A what?" Remus asked, confused.
"A hammer." Sirius said knowledgably, having taken Muggle Studies in school, specifically to earn his mother's ire. "It's a kind of tool muggles use to bang nails in to walls."
Remus looked even more confused, so Sirius promised to explain it in better detail after they finished the chapter. Speaking of which, they still had that prank to pull...Sirius grinned mischievously, his sorrow momentarily forgotten.
On Friday, no less than twelve letters arrived for Harry. As they couldn't go through the mail slot they had been pushed under the door, slotted through the sides, and a few even forced through the small window in the downstairs bathroom.
Uncle Vernon stayed at home again. After burning all the letters, he got out a hammer and nails and boarded up the cracks around the front and back doors so no one could go out. He hummed "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" as he worked, and jumped at small noises.
"Forget crazy, the man has gone nutters!" Sirius declared, earning a snort of laughter from Remus.
On Saturday, things began to get out of hand. Twenty-four letters to Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two-dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window. While Uncle Vernon made furious telephone calls to the post office and the dairy trying to find someone to complain to, Aunt Petunia shredded the letters in her food processor.
"Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?" Dudley asked Harry in amazement.
"Gee, I don't know..." Sirius trailed off mockingly thoughtful. "...only the entire wizarding world!"
Something came whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he spoke and caught him sharply on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty or forty letters came pelting out of the fireplace like bullets. The Dursleys ducked, but Harry leapt into the air trying to catch one —
"GO HARRY!" They cried excitedly.
"Don't give up!"
"You can do it!"
Uncle Vernon seized Harry around the waist and threw him into the hall. Harry stumbled back in to the wall, hard, but managed to avoid injury.
The Marauders looked ready to curse the book, or better yet, Dursley himself.
When Aunt Petunia and Dudley had run out with their arms over their faces, Uncle Vernon slammed the door shut. They could hear the letters still streaming into the room, bouncing off the walls and floor.
"That does it," said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his mustache at the same time. "I want you all back here in five minutes ready to leave. We're going away. Just pack some clothes.
He looked so dangerous with half his mustache missing that no one dared argue. Ten minutes later they had wrenched their way through the boarded-up doors and were in the car, speeding toward the highway. Dudley was sniffling in the back seat; his father had hit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to pack his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag.
"HA! Serves you right, pig boy!" Sirius shouted.
They drove. And they drove. Even Aunt Petunia didn't dare ask where they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take a sharp turn and drive in the opposite direction for a while.
"Shake 'em off… shake 'em off," he would mutter whenever he did this.
They didn't stop to eat or drink all day. By nightfall Dudley was howling. He'd never had such a bad day in his life. He was hungry, he'd missed five television programs he'd wanted to see, and he'd never gone so long without blowing up an alien on his computer.
"Aww...little Dinkykins didn't get his way!" Sirius mocked mirthlessly. "Let's all pity the little arsehole!"
Remus said nothing. Normally, he'd be against Sirius talking like that about a child, but Dudley really deserved it.
Uncle Vernon stopped at last outside a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts of a big city. Dudley and Harry shared a room with twin beds and damp, musty sheets.
"Well, that sounds pleasant." Remus muttered under his breath.
Dudley snored but Harry stayed awake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the lights of cars and wondering about many things. He thought of the letter, and who could be writing him, and if they'd given up by now. He thought about the motorcycle dream, which had occurred several times during his stint in the cupboard. If he tried hard enough, he could remember the feel of a cool breeze, a sensation of weightlessness, and the foreign concept of being safe.
"Oh Harry..." Sirius whispered, feeling both happy and sad. At least his motorcycle brought good memories, even if they weren't really remembered as such.
Remus smiled ruefully, thinking that at least Harry had something happy to reflect on.
A loud snort from Dudley brought Harry out of his mind, and in to the present. His gaze shifted over to his brute of a cousin, who started to mumble something about wanting more cake mummy, and make sure the freak doesn't ruin it this time.
Though they didn't say anything, the Marauders both had the same, disconcerting thought:
The fact that Dudley referred to Harry as "the freak", even in his dreams, proved how natural Harry's abuse seemed to be. This brought along two different ideas for them.
Remus couldn't help but think that Dudley, in his own way, was innocent as well. It didn't excuse his bullying, but it shed a new light on that disgrace of a family. It also explained how Dudley and Harry could be so different, in spite of being raised by the same people; Whereas Harry only had negative experiences to draw from, and Dudley was always positively reinforced. Since Dudley was allowed part in some of Harry's beatings, he was taught that bullying and other cruel behaviors were acceptable. Maybe they didn't have just Harry to consider in all this...
Sirius, on the other hand, was just irked at how spoiled the boy was.
Harry felt a stab of bitter resentment at that, and his thoughts, once happy and peaceful, followed. Harry would give anything, anything at all, for just one hour of the treatment Dudley gets. What he wouldn't give to be a part of their world, to be normal. He couldn't help but to think that maybe, if he were normal, he'd be the favorite. They'd see how much of a brat Dudley was, and love him - Harry - even more. And he'd be able to love them, in turn. A life without fear, without pain, and full of blissful, perfect moments, was all he ever wanted. What bothered Harry, more than anything, was that his cousin had nearly EVERYTHING that mattered, but it never seemed to be enough. His bitterness turned to sadness, as hot, salty tears fell from his cheeks. He cried himself in to a blank, dreamless sleep, where not even the allure of a flying motorcycle could entice him.
"Harry has some serious problems that need to be addressed." Remus observed. A sick feeling blossomed in the pit of his stomach. "If these were his thoughts at age ten..."
"They must be even worse now." Sirius finished, ignoring the urge to cry, again. Tears weren't going to make this right. Truthfully, he didn't think that anything could. But that didn't mean it wasn't worth a try.
They ate stale cornflakes and cold tinned tomatoes on toast for breakfast the next day. They had just finished when the owner of the hotel came over to their table.
"'Scuse me, but is one of you Mr. H. Potter? Only I got about an 'undred of these at the front desk." She held up a letter so they could read the green ink address:
Mr. H. Potter
Harry made a grab for the letter but Uncle Vernon knocked his hand out of the way. The woman stared.
"I'll take them," said Uncle Vernon, standing up quickly and following her from the dining room.
"Wouldn't it be better just to go home, dear?" Aunt Petunia suggested timidly, hours later, but Uncle Vernon didn't seem to hear her.
Exactly what he was looking for, none of them knew. He drove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked around, shook his head, got back in the car, and off they went again. The same thing happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and at the top of a multilevel parking garage.
"Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon.
"Oh, it's not just dear old daddy," Sirius said. "Both your parents are crazy."
Uncle Vernon had parked at the coast, locked them all inside the car, and disappeared. It started to rain. Great drops beat on the roof of the car. Dudley sniveled.
"It's Monday," he told his mother. "The Great Humberto's on tonight. I want to stay somewhere with a television."
Sirius rolled his eyes, and Remus sighed heavily.
Monday. This reminded Harry of something. If it was Monday — and you could usually count on Dudley to know the days the week, because of television — then tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry's eleventh birthday.
Of course, his birthdays were never exactly fun — last year; the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks.
...but only for a moment.
"We are spoiling Harry this year." Sirius vowed, scowling at the poor excuse for a birthday gift.
"It will be the best birthday he's ever had." Remus agreed, his mind already coming up with several ideas to run by Sirius.
Still, you weren't eleven every day. Uncle Vernon was back and he was smiling. He was also carrying a long, thin package and didn't answer Aunt Petunia when she asked what he'd bought.
"Found the perfect place!" he said. "Come on! Everyone out!"
It was very cold outside the car. Uncle Vernon was pointing at what looked like a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top of the rock was the most miserable little shack you could imagine. One thing was certain; there was no television in there.
Storm forecast for tonight!" said Uncle Vernon gleefully, clapping his hands together. "And this gentleman's kindly agreed to lend us his boat!"
A toothless old man came ambling up to them, pointing, with a rather wicked grin, at an old rowboat bobbing in the iron-gray water below them.
"I've already got us some rations," said Uncle Vernon, "so all aboard!"
"Harry better get an equal portion of those 'rations'!" Remus growled threateningly.
Sirius's eyes glinted dangerously.
It was freezing in the boat. Icy sea spray and rain crept down their necks and a chilly wind whipped their faces.
After what seemed like hours they reached the rock, where Uncle Vernon, slipping and sliding, led the way to the broken-down house.
The inside was horrible; it smelled strongly of seaweed, the wind whistled through the gaps in the wooden walls, and the fireplace was damp and empty. There were only two rooms.
Neither of them liked the sound of that place. It didn't sound too safe.
Uncle Vernon's rations turned out to be a bag of chips each and four bananas. Which Harry got none of.
"DURSLEY!" Sirius and Remus roared, outraged. Sirius started listing curses that he longed to use on them, and Remus threw in a few he missed.
If the Dursleys weren't also affected by the freezing of time, they'd have felt a cold shiver, or maybe even a terrible sense of impending doom.
He tried to start a fire but the empty chip bags just smoked and shriveled up. "Could do with some of those letters now, eh?" he said cheerfully.
He was in a very good mood. Obviously he thought nobody stood a chance of reaching them here in a storm to deliver mail. Harry privately agreed, though the thought didn't cheer him up at all.
As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows. Aunt Petunia found a few moldy blankets in the second room and made up a bed for Dudley on the moth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon went off to the lumpy bed next door, and Harry was left
Remus's eyes narrowed at the words before him, and he scowled.
"Left to what?" demanded Sirius.
Remus read the rest of the sentence with a Snape-like vitriol.
to find the softest bit of floor he could and to curl up under the thinnest, most ragged blanket.
"They're not getting away with this!" Sirius said, with more conviction than he'd had that night in the shack, when the truth about Peter finally came out. "I don't care what it takes, Remus, but they're going to suffer!"
Remus silently agreed. What he wouldn't give to be allowed ten minutes with them during a full moon…
Dudley's snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight. The lighted dial of Dudley's watch, which was dangling over the edge of the sofa on his fat wrist, told Harry he'd be eleven in ten minutes' time. He lay and watched his birthday tick nearer, wondering if the Dursleys would remember at all, wondering where the letter writer was now.
Five minutes to go. Harry heard something creak outside. He hoped the roof wasn't going to fall in, although he might be warmer if it did.
Four minutes to go. Maybe the house in Privet Drive would be so full of letters when they got back that he'd be able to steal one somehow.
Three minutes to go. Was that the sea, slapping hard on the rock like that? And (two minutes to go) what was that funny crunching noise? Was the rock crumbling into the sea?
Their eyes widened. It better not!
One minute to go and he'd be eleven. Thirty seconds… twenty… ten… nine — maybe he'd wake Dudley up, just to annoy him
— three… two… one…BOOM.
"What the hell?"
The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.
"That's the end of that chapter." Remus said, closing the book and placing it on the floor, next to his chair. "Now, why don't we go stretch our legs a bit?"
"But, the next chapter-!"
"Will still be here when we get back. Now come on!"
Sirius sighed, but didn't argue. In truth, he was feeling emotionally weak after that particular roller coaster of a chapter. And with that, the Marauders got up and left the room. Perhaps they'd explore the grounds before visiting Harry and his friends in the hospital wing...
Chapter 5: Keeper of the Keys
As Harry's story continues, more people are brought along to read! What will happen when Harry's friends start to realize that there is more than meets the eye?
Chapter Five: Keeper of the Keys
Remus was intent on kidnapping Harry from his bedside, and having a hearty breakfast in the kitchens- seeing as how they hadn't been able to eat much before. But Sirius didn't want food. In fact, at the moment, he detested it. Why should he take joy in eating when his own godchild had been denied that very right?
Even as they walked to the hospital ward, Sirius's thoughts were solely fixated upon the book. Like a man stranded in the desert, he thirsted for knowledge about Harry like water. So much that it almost caused him actual, physical pain. All of it, the good and the bad, (mostly bad, very bad), was back in the room, ready to be discovered. Snippets of the first letter kept running through his head, branding his thoughts by rite of pure, cleansing fire.
Read each and every part of these books… they're only words to you, but actual memories for Harry.
No glossing over details; there is a reason for every tidbit included…
With any luck, you can prevent further damage from being done…
And, most damningly:
The importance of this task is greater than you could ever know…
Oh, he knew alright. He understood, and was hell-bent on ripping himself apart, if need be. Not for himself. Not even in the name of his best friend, who had taken him in when his life became unbearable. This well of devotion came from a place beyond the ties of blood or person; a force that could not be detained or cheapened…a bond of fatherly love, in all of its complicated simplicity.
"After you, Siri." Remus said, holding the door open with a bright, kind smile.
"Why thank you, Remy." Sirius replied in what he hoped was a jaunty, winning voice. The action felt hollow, but right now, so did he.
Thanks to their years of pranking, they managed to enter without a sound. It wouldn't be fair to startle the trio, especially Harry. Before the books, they would have probably made a little mischief, but now, they knew better. Sirius had gone through the same thing back in school; the other Marauders, quite unaware of his less-than-stellar family, tended to wake him up in very…creative ways. This included buckets of cold water, multiple Tickling and Levitation Charms, among other things. The worst would be sudden, loud noises which, jarring in their own right, were a bloody terrifying way to wake up from a nightmare.
They found Harry sitting at the windowsill, watching as several owls flew past. He seemed to be focused on everything and nothing at the same time, if such a thing were possible.
"A sickle for your thoughts, Harry?" Sirius inquired softly. Harry turned around so fast that he could have had whiplash.
Even in the flickering candlelight, Harry's eyes were wide with terror, though only for a moment. Sirius, for the millionth time, felt his heart break.
"Just admiring the scenery." Harry said, getting back in to what must have been a more comfortable position. "It's all so strange, you know? Five years ago, I didn't know anything about magic. He smiled, but it wasn't a happy one.
"Sometimes, I wake up, thinking that I'm in my cub- my room- at Privet Drive."
Sirius felt his heart lurch at the almost-mention of that blasted cupboard, and Harry tensed up at the slip. Now would have been the perfect time to broach upon the subject, had Harry been able to read with them. A mad, wild urge to read flared within him again, which he quashed with great difficulty.
"Your mother was the same way, even in seventh year." Remus said, beaming at Harry, who perked up in fascination.
"Yep." Sirius confirmed, grinning fondly. "As brilliant as she was- like Hermione, in fact-" All three sets of eyes fell upon the sleeping Muggleborn, glimmering with fondness. "Lily had a mishap every now and then."
"Like what?" Harry asked a little too loudly. Ron groaned in his sleep.
"Maybe we should take this conversation to the kitchens?" Remus whispered. "I'd rather not wake them up."
Harry and Sirius's stomachs growled as one. Harry's face turned an interesting shade of red, and Sirius laughed, earning another groan from Ron.
"Last one to the kitchens is a pink toad!" Sirius declared, smirking. Amber and emerald eyes narrowed.
"You're on, Snuffles." Harry shot back cheekily.
It was on that note that the three took off, careful not to wake Ron or Hermione.
The meal went off without a hitch. The elves quickly prepared them a delicious breakfast buffet, fawning over Harry every step of the way, much to the teen's embarrassment. Sirius and Remus regaled Harry with tales of the Marauder exploits— the ones that didn't paint them as bullies, of course— and silly moments between James and Lily. Overall, it was an enjoyable affair, the Marauders briefly forgot about the books. After they finished eating, Remus cast the Tempus spell, and bright, red numbers appeared on the wall. It would have been well past eleven.
"It's time for you to go back, Harry." Remus said, reluctantly. "We've kept you for far too long.
Harry shook his head. "I'm fine, Remus. Really."
Remus gave Harry a closer look. While certainly looking better than he had days before, Harry's skin still held that unhealthy, sickly hue. There were bags under his eyes, signifying a lack of sleep. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to steal him away, after all.
Sirius grimaced, his thoughts somewhat matching Remus's. It took every bit of willpower he had to keep his tone from turning dark. "Pup, you look like hell."
"Gee, thanks, Snuffles!" Harry teased.
"Hey, it's Padfoot, young man! Not Snuffles!" Sirius said, in a mock-authoritative voice. "Now, let's get you back to bed, mister!"
Harry chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Yes, mum."
Sirius went to playfully pat him on the head, but drew his hand back when Harry froze. An awkward silence fell between them, and the adults were forcefully reminded that this was an abused child they were dealing with.
"Harry?" Remus whispered, not wanting to startle the boy any further.
The terrified expression from before returned. This time, it didn't vanish in the next instant.
"S-See you later." Harry mumbled. It was in painful, shocked silence that the remaining Marauders watched their pup flee from their presence.
"H-he thought I was going to h-hit him." Sirius took in a shaky breath. "I didn't mean to-"
"It's not your fault." Remus interrupted fiercely, embracing the Black heir. "So stop blaming yourself." Sirius didn't register the dark, protective glint in his friend's eyes. Nevertheless, other onlookers could recognize it, if they were inclined to do so. The watchers from another existence, for example, were in awe.
Sirius shut his eyes tight and returned the gesture as though his life depended on it. He wanted to believe but the guilt within him was like a bubbling, festering acid. It ate away at his confidence, his sense of self-worth. He hadn't felt this bad since the incident in sixth year, when the Marauders were nearly torn asunder by Sirius's foolish prank. But, Merlin, this was a hundred times worse. A boy he had come to love as a son, the basis of his whole world, had been abused because of his mistakes-
"But If I hadn't-"
"Hush now." Remus said, in a much softer tone. "We had no idea what was going on in that house, but now that we do, we can help him."
"But can we, Remus? Can we? We're already a few chapters in, and I'm already afraid of what we'll find. Does that make me a bad parent?"
"No, not at all. To be perfectly honest, I'm the same way." Sirius felt Remus's grip tighten a little. "I love Harry, just as you do. What the Dursleys did was cruel and painful to read. Of course we're going to be scared, Sirius!" he sighed heavily.
"But, we shouldn't give up, either. The letter writer chose us for a reason. If we're going to get Harry away from the Dursleys, we need to be aware of these things."
He paused, as though pondering something. "Besides, don't you want to read about his first Quidditch game, his first crush, and his time as the DA's leader?" Sirius nodded, his despair fading away in the arms of his friend.
The words were like a soothing balm upon his wounded soul. The injury didn't vanish, but the pain had subsided. They lingered there for quite some time, quiet and comfortable. The moment couldn't last forever, though. Eventually, they let go of each other and looked away.
"Thank you, Remy." Sirius mumbled, his cheeks warming.
Remus coughed. "You're welcome, Siri." His voice wavered, ever so slightly. "S-shall we head back to the room?"
"We might as well," he said, still feeling the warmth from Remus's body. It was rather…pleasant.
And so, the two friends straightened themselves out, and readied themselves for the long walk to the seventh floor.
I'm a bloody idiot! I can't believe I just ran away like that! Harry chastised himself on his way to the hospital ward. His quick, furious steps resounded through the empty halls. Twice today, he had been startled by the slightest of touches or unexpected voices.
The first time, he'd been musing on how different things were. How happy he would be, never returning to the Dursleys. However, the darker side of Sirius's adoption of him had finally taken root. In spite of how close they were, Harry didn't know what kind of punishments would be doled out for "misbehaving". Would Sirius cast the Cruciatus Curse for every misdeed, or would a good thrashing be enough? Maybe, if he were lucky, it would be limited to a few words and rough hand…
So, as soon as he heard his godfather's voice, Harry's instincts took over. His only solace was that his behavior went unnoticed.
The second time was different, however. At first everything had been fine. Perfect, in fact. During their breakfast, his earlier thoughts weren't surfacing. Sirius and Remus regaled him with tales of his parents, of the Marauder's exploits, and the atmosphere was nothing but positive. It gave Harry hope that things would work out well between them, and that his earlier notions were silly at best. With a light heart, he playfully teased his godfather. Then, quite suddenly, Sirius raised his hand toward them, and all Harry could see was Uncle Vernon towering over him, face red with rage. All too quickly, he was transported to a time years back, when his entire life revolved around his uncle's mood.
INSULT ME, WILL YOU, FREAK? I'LL MAKE YOU WISH YOU WERE NEVER BORN!
At once, Harry went to cry apology after apology, plea after plea. I'm sorry, uncle. Please, sir, I didn't mean it! I'm sorry! I won't do it again!
Luckily, Remus's voice snapped him out of that state. Startled, Harry left as fast as he could.
He couldn't let them discover how much of a freak he was, now could he?
With that bitter thought, he entered the ward and lay on his bed. He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn't notice the ward's emptiness. Sleep crept up on him like Devil's Snare; slow, but all-consuming.
Once Remus and Sirius returned to the Room of Requirement, it only took a moment for them to notice that the mess made from Sirius's earlier rampages had been taken care of. It was as though their earlier readings had never happened. But, that wasn't the only difference, either. Their tea things and scones were gone, and four more beanbag chairs had been added, so that they formed a circle near the fireplace. Beside each chair was a glass of ice water. A letter flashed in front of them. Sirius reached for it and read:
"Dear Sirius and Remus,
The time has come for others to join in your readings. Thank you for not telling Harry about this yet. We want to make his entry in to this as smooth as possible, but it's not quite time yet. With that said, we are summoning Poppy, Ron and Hermione We felt it best to prepare his best friends first, and Poppy will be better able to assess what needs to be done to ensure Harry's recovery.
Harry will be included at the start of the next chapter. Be prepared for his reaction because it will not be pretty.
P.S. We've completely restored Ron and Hermione to their former health."
Before either of them could react, three flashes of light went off simultaneously. As each flash faded, the aforementioned people arrived, naturally disturbed.
Hermione's eyes darted around the room, then to her own, healthy body. "I-I'm healed. But how is this possible? Madame Pomfrey said it would take weeks for me to recover!"
Ron merely gaped at his arms, which held no signs of the lacerations that had been there yesterday. Two letters appeared in front of them. One for the duo and one for Poppy. Hermione grabbed the one addressed to her and Ron and read:
"Dear Ron and Hermione,
You not dreaming or hallucinating. You have been selected to read five, important books. Each one depicts a year of Harry's life- both at school and at home. Any suspicions, doubts or concerns you've had about Harry will be proven or debunked. Either way, you must be prepared to deal with what will soon be started- the first of many steps toward Harry's recovery. As I've told Remus and Sirius, the importance of this task is greater than you could ever know. We've seen Harry's future, and it is rather grim. And in this case, in order to save him, you need to truly know him- not just what he allows you to see.
P.S. We were the ones who healed your injuries. Oh, and if you require nourishment, the Room of Requirement will give you food and drink. Just ask!"
"Is this your idea of a joke?" Poppy yelled, after reading her own letter. "I fail to see any humor in it!"
Sirius and Remus sighed heavily. Even with the letters, they knew this wouldn't be easy to adjust to.
"I wish it was." Sirius said tiredly, holding the book out for all of them to see. "But, everything your letters say is the truth."
Poppy stared at the book, then at Sirius. Her face grew several shades of gray. She then turned to her letter, and flipped to the next page. It was then that everyone noticed how thick her letter was, in comparison to their own. "All of it?"
"Most likely." Remus said. "They haven't lied so far. Why do you ask?"
For the first time in over a decade, Poppy couldn't stop herself from getting misty-eyed. Wordlessly, she handed them her letter. Sirius took it in hand, and the two Marauders read through the list, growing more and more volatile with each one. They stopped a mere four pages in, (out of what appeared to be ten), unable to continue. Where Poppy went gray, Remus paled and Sirius grew red.
"I'M GOING TO KILL THOSE FUCKING DURSLEYS!" He roared. The Room created countless cardboard cut-outs of Harry's aunt, uncle and cousin, all of which the ex-convict ripped apart with his bare hands. "I'LL RIP THEM LIMB FROM LIMB SO THAT THEY'LL FIT IN THAT MERLIN-DANMED CUPBOARD AND SEE HOW THEY LIKE IT!" It seemed that an endless amount of copies were made, but Sirius didn't slow down. After a long while, Remus placed a hand upon Sirius's shoulder.
"Siri, please calm down. This isn't getting us anywhere." Sirius's body tensed.
"You read what they did!" he growled. "All those injuries, Remus! All those fucking injuries!"
"I know, Siri, I know." Remus said in a calm voice. Only his eyes, which reflected a deep, deep pain, showed the extent of his emotion. "But, if you go running off to Privet Drive, you'll get yourself placed in Azkaban again, and you won't be able to help Harry. Is that what you want?"
"Of course not!" Sirius exclaimed, though the anger had started to fade from his voice.
"Then we should read, and take these things as they come." Poppy said, regaining her composure. "I can't say that I understand how upset you are, but right now, he needs a parent. Not a brother, not a friend, but a parent."
Sirius went wide-eyed. "I-I know that, Madame Pomfrey."
"Do you?" she continued, her sharp gaze set upon him. "I know you're angry, and you have every right to be, but you're not acting like someone who can be responsible for an abused teenager." She held up a hand, stopping Sirius from interrupting. "As satisfying as it is, you can't just give in to blind anger, especially around Mr. Potter. You have to be careful, or else he will come to fear you."
Her words stirred up the painful memory of Harry's panic-ridden expression in Sirius's mind, completely cutting off his anger.
"I-I didn't realize-"
"And that is why I'm explaining it now." She told him, in a softer, much kinder, softer tone. "Instead of letting your anger rule you, try using it productively."
The animagus took several deep breaths, and focused on calming himself. It wasn't easy. Sirius had always been the type of wizard who his heart on his sleeve- another reason his parents despised him. Not once, in his entire life, had he needed to truly restrain his emotions. However, Sirius's world no longer revolved around just himself, or James's memory.
It belonged to a certain green-eyed young man, one who had endured a life time of misery. It was time to put someone else first.
"And you're not alone." Remus declared, giving Sirius's shoulder a light squeeze. "We started this journey together, and I'm not about to give up now."
Sirius stood tall, carrying himself in a determined sort of way. Hermione, for one, was deeply impressed. Perhaps she had judged him too harshly this year…
"In that case, let's begin the reading. The faster we read, the sooner we can help Harry." She said, as she and Ron finally recovered from this strange turn of events.
"He's already done a lot for us." Ron said, balling his fists. "It's the least we can do."
And with that sentiment, everybody took a seat upon one of the beanbag chairs. Before sitting down, Hermione had picked up the book, which had somehow gotten dropped during Sirius's rampage.
"Would you like a moment to read and catch up?" Remus asked, before taking a long drink of his water. The glass refilled itself the moment he sat it back down.
Ron and Hermione exchanged looks and nodded, as though they had the same thought. Perhaps they did. "I'd like it if you explained what you know so far. We can read later." Ron nodded, as did Poppy.
Remus took a deep, calming breath, and gave a summary of what they'd read before. It was a short account, in which most of the abuse details were omitted, but it would do for now. He reached for Sirius's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We're on chapter four, if you want to read."
With the skill and finesse of a well-established bookworm, Hermione quickly found the right page and read:
Keeper of the Keys
They knocked again. Dudley jerked awake. "Where's the cannon? He said stupidly.
"And how else is he supposed to say it?" Ron quipped. Sirius snorted, while Remus and Hermione snickered.
There was a crash behind them and Uncle Vernon came skidding in to the room. He was holding a rifle in his hands – now Harry knew what had been in the long, thin package that his uncle had brought with them.
"What's a rife-all?" Ron asked, confused.
"It's a dangerous weapon that can kill people." Hermione answered darkly. "Why he brought it around children, I can't understand." Apparently, neither could the adults, whose expressions matched Hermione's.
"Who's there?" he shouted. "I warn you – I'm armed!"
There was a pause. Then – SMASH!
The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash, landed flat on the floor.
A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.
"It's Hagrid!" Ron and Sirius cheered, giving each other high-fives. "Hagrid came to get Harry!" Remus beamed at them, and Poppy huffed, but couldn't stop herself from grinning.
Hermione smiled. From what she could gather, Harry's plight had been horrible. Hagrid may be a bit…strange at times, but generally a good person. At least it hadn't been – heaven forbid – Professor Snape!
The giant squeezed his way into the hut, stooping so that his head just brushed the ceiling. He bent down, picked up the door, and fitted it easily back into its frame. The noise of the storm outside dropped a little. He turned to look at them all.
"Couldn't make us a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey…"
They couldn't help but laugh at that.
"That's exactly what Hagrid would do!" Remus said, in mock-exasperation.
"Maybe we should bring him with us when we go to have Harry's adoption papers signed?" Sirius asked hopefully.
Remus smiled, in a teasing sort of way. "We'll see, Paddy."
He strode over to the sofa where Dudley sat frozen with fear. "Budge up, yeh great lump," said the stranger.
"That's what we should call that fat ponce!" Ron said, chuckling. "The Great Lump!"
"Yeah!" agreed Sirius, spirits soaring. "And we can call his dad ' Uncle Walrus!' "
"How about Aunty Horseface, for that vile woman?" Poppy suggested, earning a surprised look from everyone in the room.
"Pomfrey made a joke!" Ron said, laughing. "And a good one, too!"
"That's Madame Pomfrey to you, Mr. Weasley!" the matron scolded, but without her usual fire. She sniffed regally. "And I'll have you know that I have a great sense of humor."
"So, we have 'The Great Lump', 'Sir Walrus', and 'Lady Horseface'. All those who agree, raise your hands." As Sirius said this, everybody's hands went up. Hermione rolled her eyes at them, but smiled as well. The names suited those three perfectly.
Dudley squeaked and ran to hide behind his mother, who was crouching, terrified, behind Uncle Vernon.
"An' here's Harry!" said the giant.
Harry looked up in the fierce, wild, shadowy face and saw that the beetle eyes were crinkled in a smile. The tension he felt eased up. Something inside him – perhaps some greater instinct—said that it would be okay to trust the big man.
Everyone smiled at that. In spite of his size and love of dangerous creatures, Hagrid is quite the softy.
'Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby," said the giant. "Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but ye've got yer mum's eyes."
Harry gaped at him. "Y-you knew my parents?"
Hagrid smiled fondly, but was interrupted by a funny rasping noise from Uncle Vernon.
"I demand you leave at once, sir!" he said. "You are breaking and entering!"
"Ah, shut up Dursley, yeh great prune," said the giant. He reached over the back of the sofa, jerked the gun out of Uncle Vernon's hands, bent it into a knot as easily as if it had been made of rubber, and threw it into the corner of the room.
Uncle Vernon made another funny noise, like a mouse being trodden on. Harry stifled a laugh.
The others didn't have it in them to do so.
"Hagrid is awesome." Ron said, smiling.
"That he is." Remus agreed, as Sirius took hold of his hand again. "That he is."
"Anyway – Harry," said the giant, turning his back on the Dursleys, "a very happy birthday to yeh. Got summat fer yeh in here – I mighta sat on it at some point, but it'll taste alright."
From an inside pocket of his black overcoat, he pulled out a slightly squashed box. Harry opened it with trembling fingers. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Harry written on it in green icing. Harry stared at it for a few moments, unable to comprehend that someone had actually given him a gift.
Nobody commented, but all of them were rather saddened by that admission. Sirius inwardly vowed to spoil his future son as much as possible. It couldn't make up for all the terrible things in his life, but Sirius figured it would be a nice start.
Harry looked up at the giant. He meant to say thank you, but the words got lost on the way to his mouth, and what he said instead was, "Who are you?"
The giant chuckled. "True, I haven't introduced meself. Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts."
He held out an enormous hand and shook Harry's whole arm.
"What about that tea then, eh?" he said, rubbing his hands together. "I'd not say no ter summat stronger if ye've got it, mind."
His eyes fell on the empty grate with the shriveled chip bags in it and he snorted. He bent down over the fireplace; they couldn't see what he was doing but when he drew back a second later, there was a roaring fire there. It filled the whole damp hut with flickering light and Harry felt the warmth wash over him as though he'd sunk into a hot bath.
The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under his weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausages, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs, and a bottle of some amber liquid that he took a swig from before starting to make tea.
"I could go for a bottle of Fire whisky!" Remus said, loudly. As it had on the first night, a bottle of Ogden's finest appeared for Sirius and Remus, along with two shot glasses. Poppy received a glass of something pink that smelled of strawberries, while Ron and Hermione were given frosty mugs of butter beer.
"Ah, much better than water!" Sirius said, after taking a shot.
Soon the hut was full of the sound and smell of sizzling sausage. Nobody said a thing while the giant was working, but as he slid the first six fat, juicy slightly burnt sausages from the porker, Dudley fidgeted a little.
Uncle Vernon said sharply, "Don't touch anything he gives you, Dudley."
"Yer great puddin' of a son don' need fattenin' anymore, Dursley, don' worry."
He passed the sausages to Harry, who had never eaten anything so wonderful, but he still couldn't take his eyes off the giant. Finally, as nobody seemed about to explain anything, he said, "I'm sorry, but I still don't really know who you are."
"He has such good manners for one his age." Poppy observed, smiling in approval.
"Unlike a certain redhead we all know." Sirius said with a teasing smirk.
"No sense in denying it, Ronald!" Hermione added, smirking slyly at her friend's pink ears.
The giant took a gulp of tea and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Call me Hagrid," he said. "everyone does. An' like I told yeh, I'm Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts – yeh'll know all about Hogwarts, o' course."
"Er – no," said Harry.
Hagrid looked shocked.
"Sorry," Harry said quickly, hoping he hadn't proven his uselessness by not knowing. He rather liked the large man. Then again, he liked anyone who smiled at him.
Hermione read that again, this time silently. From everything that happened earlier, it was easy to tell that Harry had been hurt by his relatives, but that didn't make reading this any more difficult. To think that Harry hadn't known so much as a friendly smile…
"You don't need to apologize." Sirius muttered his voice cold. "It's those awful excuses for relatives that need to be sorry."
"Sorry?" barked Hagrid, turning to stare at the Dursleys, who shrank back into the shadows. "It's them that should be sorry!"
"Great minds think alike." Remus said, beaming at his smiling friend.
I knew yeh weren't gettin' yer letters but I never thought yeh wouldn't even know abou' Hogwarts, fer cryin' out loud! Did yeh never wonder where yer parents learned it all?"
"All what?" asked Harry.
"Get em' Hagrid!" Ron cheered. The others grinned.
"ALL WHAT?" Hagrid thundered, causing Harry to flinch. "Now wait jus' one second!"
He had leapt to his feet. In his anger, he seemed to fill the whole hut. The Dursleys were cowering against the wall. "Do you mean ter tell me," he growled at the Dursleys, "that this boy – this boy – knows nothin' abou' – ANYTHING?"
Harry thought this was going a bit far. He had been to school, after all, and his marks weren't bad.
"I know some things," he said. "I can, you know, do math and stuff."
The adults smiled sadly at this.
"He's so sweet and innocent," Sirius said, his heart heavy. "even with all he'd been through. I couldn't-"he paused, having been on the verge of saying "I couldn't stay that way for very long, and he's been through a lot worse." Instead, he chose to say: "I couldn't imagine how, but I'm grateful."
Nobody knew what to say to that, so Hermione continued.
But Hagrid simply waved his hand and said, "About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer parents' world."
Hagrid looked as if he was about to explode.
"DURSLEY!" he boomed.
Sirius and Remus leaned forward, eager to find out what happened next…
Uncle Vernon, who had gone very pale, whispered something that sounded like "Mimblewimble."
Hagrid stared wildly at Harry. "But yeh must know about yer mom and dad," he said. "I mean, they're famous. You're famous."
"What? My — my mom and dad weren't famous, were they?"
"Yeh don' know… yeh don' know…" Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair, fixing Harry with a bewildered stare.
"Yeh don' know what yeh are?" he said finally.
Uncle Vernon suddenly found his voice.
"Stop!" he commanded. "Stop right there, sir! I forbid you to tell the boy anything!"
"Like you can stop him!" Ron snapped, irate.
A braver man than Vernon Dursley would have quailed under the furious look Hagrid gave him; when Hagrid spoke, his every syllable trembled with rage.
"You never told him? Never told him what was in the letter Dumbledore left fer him? I was there! I saw Dumbledore leave it, Dursley! An' you've kept it from him all these years?"
Excitement mounted again. Everyone hoped that Hagrid would do something horrid to Harry's tormentors. Nobody, save Hermione, dared to speak.
"Kept what from me?" said Harry eagerly.
"STOP! I FORBID YOU!" yelled Uncle Vernon in panic.
Aunt Petunia gave a gasp of horror.
"Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh," said Hagrid. "Harry — yer a wizard."
Remus and Sirius, who had been dealt a world of misery, cheered for this simple victory. At last, the truth would be coming out!
Hermione mentally compared her own "finding out" versus Harry’s, and realized that she had gotten off quite easily. If Hagrid had come to explain instead of Professor McGonagall…
There was silence inside the hut. Only the sea and the whistling wind could be heard.
"I'm a what?" gasped Harry.
"A wizard, o' course," said Hagrid, sitting back down on the sofa, which groaned and sank even lower, "an' a thumpin' good 'un, I'd say, once yeh've been trained up a bit. With a mum an' dad like yours, what else would yeh be? An' I reckon its abou' time yeh read yer letter."
Harry stretched out his hand at last to take the yellowish envelope, addressed in emerald green to
Hermione expected Sirius to be jumping up and down in his seat like an overeager student, but the same couldn't be said for Remus doing the exact same thing. Ron, meanwhile, couldn't find the words to voice what he wanted to say.
Mr. H. Potter,
He pulled out the letter and read:
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmaster: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards) Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
Questions exploded inside Harry's head like fireworks and he couldn't decide which to ask first. After a few minutes he stammered, "What does it mean, they await my owl?"
"That's his first question?" Ron asked, earning a glare from Hermione.
"What's wrong with that question, Ronald?"
"It's just weird."
"No, it's not, Ronald! Can't you imagine how Harry's feeling right now?"
"Happy?" he inched away from her. The adults watched the exchange, and were briefly reminded of Lily's infamous temper.
She sighed, and muttered something about a teaspoon. "Well, he's confused about what's going on; having no idea that magic is real until a few moments ago. Excited to finally be told the truth, curious as to what the truth even is, and anxious to escape his relatives, even for a little while. He couldn't leave until he'd sent his owl. However, he didn't have one at the time, and couldn't possibly know what that meant. The rest of the questions could be asked later, since they wouldn't matter until he was confirmed for Hogwarts."
The adults merely listened, amazed by her skills of deduction and deep insight as to how Harry's mind worked. Even Poppy, who had dealt with thousands of students in her day, couldn't have said it better herself.
"Gallopin' Gorgons, that reminds me," said Hagrid, clapping a hand to his forehead with enough force to knock over a cart horse, and from yet another pocket inside his overcoat he pulled an owl — a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl
"He kept an owl in his coat?" Poppy, Hermione and Remus exclaimed while Ron and Sirius laughed hard.
— A long quill, and a roll of parchment. With his tongue between his teeth he scribbled a note that Harry could read upside down:
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
Given Harry his letter.
Taking him to buy his things tomorrow.
Weather's horrible. Hope you're well.
Hagrid rolled up the note, gave it to the owl, which clamped it in its beak, went to the door, and threw the owl out into the storm. Then he came back and sat down as though this was as normal as talking on the telephone.
Harry realized his mouth was open and closed it quickly.
"Where was I?" said Hagrid, but at that moment, Uncle Vernon, still ashen-faced but looking very angry, moved into the firelight.
"He's not going," he said.
"Of course he is, arsehole!" Sirius snarled, his temper starting to rise.
Hagrid grunted. "I'd like ter see a great Muggle like you stop him,"
Everyone nodded in silent approval.
"A what?" said Harry, interested.
"A Muggle," said Hagrid, "it's what we call nonmagic folk like them. An' it's your bad luck you grew up in a family o' the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on."
"Don't call them that!" Hermione snapped, startling everyone. "Those people give Muggles everywhere a bad name!"
Note to self: never piss off Hermione. Ron thought with a shiver.
Her anger was short-lived, however. In its place, a mingling of shock and sorrow. She gripped the book so tightly that her knuckles began to whiten. The earlier conversation may have confirmed it, but nothing could prepare the bookworm for an out-right admission. Everything felt more real, more horrible than ever before. Hands trembling, voice quivering, she read:
"We swore when we took him in we'd put a stop to that rubbish," said Uncle Vernon, making a grab for Harry that missed. "swore we'd stamp it out of him! Wizard indeed."
Sirius and Remus, who now knew more than they ever wished to know, glared at the book. Though they sat like stone statues, the Marauders radiated a pure, cold hatred for the man. Remus envisioned himself as the Wolf, ripping and shredding the Dursleys limb by limb. Sirius, meanwhile, imagined himself standing above them, tormenting them with various curses. They'd be sprawled upon their living room floor, begging for death. And Sirius, who knew that far worse things existed, wouldn't oblige them.
Poppy was simply disgusted with what she'd heard. She dealt with abused children all the time, but it never hardened her heart. If anything, it made her want to weep for the state of the world they lived in. Her thoughts turned to a certain hook nosed young man, who had endured a living hell under a father's hands. What would Severus say, if he were here right now?
Hermione dropped the book and sought comfort in Ron, who simply held her close. He paled considerably, as memories of his best friend flooded his mind…
Harry buying a whole trolley of sweets for them to enjoy…
Harry refusing Malfoy's offer of friendship…
Rescuing Harry from the Dursleys second year…
Meeting Sirius in the Whomping Willow…
The pained expression Harry wore when Ron started shunning him…
Being chosen as Harry's most valuable possession at the start of the Second Task…
A sobbing Harry clutching hold of Cedric's body after Voldemort's revival…
It was a difficult and unwelcome thought that the person in all of those memories – someone he dared claim as a best friend – could have been abused. Hell, the concept of that alone was impossible to conjure. His mother gave him a wallop with the wooden spoon when he was younger, but with the way everyone was acting, he assumed that Harry's situation was much, much worse.
After what seemed like ages, Hermione managed to pry herself off of Ron, dry her eyes, and continue reading.
"You knew?" said Harry. "You knew I'm a — a wizard?"
"Knew!" shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. "Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that — that school — and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats.
I was the only one who saw her for what she was — a freak!
But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!"
"Of course they would! Any real parent would be proud of their child, no matter what!" Sirius stated bitterly, reminded of his own, awful mother.
She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed she had wanted to say all this for years.
"Then she met that Potter at school and they left and got married and had you, and of course I knew you'd be just the same, just as strange, just as — as —abnormal — and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up and we got landed with you!"
"That fucking bint!" Sirius snarled.
"She should have told him this before!" Ron shouted.
"But that would have involved actually accepting Harry for who he is," Remus said coldly. "versus treating him like their own personal scapegoat."
Nobody had anything to say to that.
Harry had gone very white. As soon as he found his voice he said, "Blown up? You told me they died in a car crash!"
"CAR CRASH!" roared Hagrid, jumping up so angrily that the Dursleys scuttled back to their corner. "How could a car crash kill Lily an' James Potter? It's an outrage! A scandal! Harry Potter not knowin' his own story when every kid in our world knows his name!"
"But why? What happened?" Harry asked urgently.
Everyone in the room exchanged sad glances.
The anger faded from Hagrid's face. He looked suddenly anxious.
"I never expected this," he said, in a low, worried voice.
"I had no idea, when Dumbledore told me there might be trouble gettin' hold of yeh, how much yeh didn't know. Ah, Harry, I don' know if I'm the right person ter tell yeh — but someone's gotta — yeh can't go off ter Hogwarts not knowin'."
"Imagine if nobody had." Poppy said in a small, subdued voice.
The others shuddered, not liking that idea in the slightest.
He threw a dirty look at the Dursleys.
"Well, its best yeh know as much as I can tell yeh — mind, I can't tell yeh everythin', it's a great myst'ry, parts of it…"
I bet Dumbledore knows. Remus thought darkly. I'm willing to bet he knew all along.
He sat down, stared into the fire for a few seconds, and then said, "It begins, I suppose, with — with a person called — but its incredible yeh don't know his name, everyone in our world knows —"
"Well — I don' like sayin' the name if I can help it. No one does."
"He was a curious little boy, wasn't he?" Sirius said, grinning slightly.
"Don't worry, Paddy, he wasn't as bad as you were." Remus said, in a mock-comforting voice. He smirked. "Then again, nobody could be."
Sirius pretended to pout. "You're so mean Moony!"
Remus snickered in response.
"Gulpin' gargoyles, Harry, people are still scared. Blimey, this is difficult. See, there was this wizard who went… bad. As bad as you could go. Worse. Worse than worse. His name was…" Hagrid gulped, but no words came out.
"Could you write it down?" Harry suggested.
"Nah — can't spell it. All right —Voldemort. " Hagrid shuddered. "Don' make me say it again. Anyway, this — this wizard, about twenty years ago now, started lookin' fer followers. Got 'em, too — some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o' his power, 'cause he was gettin' himself power, all right. Dark days, Harry. Didn't know who ter trust, didn't dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches… terrible things happened. He was takin' over. 'Course, some stood up to him — an' he killed 'em. Horribly.
The adults in the room shivered in memory of some of the horrible murders that Voldemort had done during the first war. Ron and Hermione did the same, but at the mention of Voldemort himself. They would never forget how close they were to losing Harry.
One o' the only safe places left was Hogwarts. Reckon Dumbledore's the only one You-Know-Who was afraid of. Didn't dare try takin' the school, not jus' then, anyway.
"Now, yer mum an' dad were as good a witch an' wizard as I ever knew. Head boy an' girl at Hogwarts in their day! Suppose the myst'ry is why You-Know-Who never tried to get 'em on his side before… probably knew they were too close ter Dumbledore ter want anythin' ter do with the Dark Side.
"Maybe he thought he could persuade 'em… maybe he just wanted 'em outta the way. All anyone knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Halloween ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came ter yer house an' — an' —"
Sirius covered his face with his hands, trying to fight back tears. "Damn it, Peter!"
Remus, whose thoughts were very much the same, hung his head down low. The once proud memory of the Marauders had been forever sullied by betrayal. Poor foolish, trusting James had never seen it coming. Then again, nobody- save Peter himself- had.
Hagrid suddenly pulled out a very dirty, spotted handkerchief and blew his nose with a sound like a foghorn.
"Sorry," he said. "But it's that sad — knew yer mum an' dad, an' nicer people yeh couldn't find. Anyway, "You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then — an' this is the real myst'ry of the thing — he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin' by then. But he couldn't do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That's what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh — took care of yer mum an' dad an' yer house, even — but it didn't work on you, an' that's why yer famous, Harry.
No one ever lived after he decided ter kill 'em, no one except you, an' he'd killed some o' the best witches an' wizards of the age — the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts — an' you was only a baby, an' you lived."
The adults sighed at that, having lost far too many friends during the war. A war that shouldn't have happened, to begin with.
"At least Harry lived." Sirius said, so softly that only Remus's heightened hearing could pick it up. "I don't think I could have lived if he'd died, too."
Remus gripped Sirius's hand, tightly.
Something very painful was going on in Harry's mind. As Hagrid's story came to a close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before — and he remembered something else, for the first time in his life: a high, cold, cruel laugh.
"H-he remembers." Sirius said, a pained expression upon his face. "He was just a baby, and he remembers that?"
"Oh Harry…" Hermione whispered miserably.
Hagrid was watching him sadly. "Took yeh from the ruined house myself, on Dumbledore's orders. Brought yeh ter this lot…."
"Load of old tosh," said Uncle Vernon. Harry jumped; he had almost forgotten that the Dursleys were there.
Uncle Vernon certainly seemed to have got back his courage. Quite suddenly, he grabbed Harry's arm, yanking him around like an old rag doll.
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF HIM, ARSEHOLE!" Sirius roared, his rage from earlier rising up.
Ron and Remus growled, Poppy scowled and Hermione's voice quivered with anger as she read:
"Now you listen here, freak," he snarled, his grip tightening enough to bruise. "I accept there's something strange about you, nothing a firmer hand couldn't cure –
If looks could kill, the book would be a pile of ashes by now!
and as for all this about your parents, well, they were weirdoes, no denying it, and the world's better off without them in my opinion – asked for all they got, getting mixed up with these wizarding types – just what I expected, always knew they'd come to a sticky end-"
With an inhuman amount of control, Sirius bit back the long stream of profanities that desperately wanted to be spoken. Instead, he went back to his earlier method of imagining himself torturing the Dursleys. Only this time, he used the Cruciatus Curse.
Ron and Hermione were, quite naturally, deeply disturbed. They had never known, never even suspected abuse. Neglect, definitely, but not abuse.
But at that moment, Hagrid leapt from the sofa and drew a battered pink umbrella from inside his coat. Pointing this at Uncle Vernon like a sword, he said, "I'm warning you, Dursley — I'm warning you — let him go, NOW!"
In danger of being speared on the end of an umbrella by a bearded giant, Uncle Vernon's courage failed again; he released his grip on Harry, flattened himself against the wall and fell silent.
"That's better," said Hagrid, breathing heavily and sitting back down on the sofa, which this time sagged right down to the floor.
Harry, meanwhile, still had questions to ask, hundreds of them. "But what happened to Vol-, sorry — I mean, You-Know-Who?"
"Good question, Harry. Disappeared. Vanished. Same night he tried ter kill you. Makes yeh even more famous. That's the biggest myst'ry, see… he was gettin' more an' more powerful — why'd he go?
Some say he died.
"He's dead now." Ron said, with a faint smile.
"Harry is amazing, isn't he?" Hermione added, matching Ron's expression.
Remus grinned. "Yes, yes he is."
Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die.
Some say he's still out there, bidin' his time, like, but I don' believe it. People who was on his side came back ter ours. Some of 'em came outta kinda trances. Don' reckon they could've done if he was comin' back.
Most of us reckon he's still out there somewhere but lost his powers. Too weak to carry on. 'Cause somethin' about you finished him, Harry. There was somethin' goin' on that night he hadn't counted on — I dunno what it was, no one does — but somethin' about you stumped him, all right."
"All hail Harry, the slayer of Moldyvort!" Sirius cheered.
"Not this again!" Remus mock-sighed.
"Be quiet, Remy! Do not question the will of Sir Harold James Potter, for it will be the last thing you ever do!" he held his nose high in the air, greatly resembling a Malfoy for a moment.
Everyone chuckled at his antics.
Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake.
A wizard? Him? How could he possibly be? He'd spent his life being clouted by Dudley, bullied by Aunt Petunia and beaten by Uncle Vernon; if he really was a wizard, why hadn't they been turned into warty toads every time they'd tried to lock him in his cupboard? If he'd once defeated the greatest sorcerer in the world, how come Dudley and Uncle Vernon had been able to kick him around like a football?
Their good mood soured in an instant. Hermione, in particular, was worried. What was this cupboard she kept hearing about?
"Hagrid," he said quietly, "I think you must have made a mistake. I don't think I can be a wizard."
To his surprise, Hagrid chuckled.
"Not a wizard, eh? Never made things happen when you was scared or angry?"
Harry looked into the fire. Now he came to think about it… every odd thing that had ever made his aunt and uncle furious with him had happened when he, Harry, had been upset or angry… chased by Dudley's gang, he had somehow found himself out of their reach… dreading going to school with that ridiculous haircut, he'd managed to make it grow back… and the very last time Dudley had hit him, hadn't he got his revenge, without even realizing he was doing it? Hadn't he set a boa constrictor on him?
"Wicked!" Ron said gleefully, trying to picture it. "I wonder why Harry never told us about it?"
"Because he was punished for it." Sirius told them sadly.
Remus shot him a concerned glance. "Siri…"
Sirius looked away, unable to meet those amber orbs.
Ron went to say something, but Hermione shook her head. Given everything that had happened so far, she already had an idea of what happened. She felt heartsick just thinking about it.
Harry looked back at Hagrid, smiling, and saw that Hagrid was positively beaming at him.
"See?" said Hagrid. "Harry Potter, not a wizard — they started laughing again at this. You wait; you'll be right famous at Hogwarts."
But Uncle Vernon wasn't going to give in without a fight.
"Haven't I told you he's not going?" he hissed. "He's going to Stonewall High and he'll be grateful for it. I've read those letters and he needs all sorts of rubbish — spell books and wands and –"
"If he wants ter go, a great Muggle like you won't stop him," growled Hagrid. "Stop Lily an' James Potter's son goin' ter Hogwarts! Yer mad. His name's been down ever since he was born.
He's off ter the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. Seven years there and he won't know himself. He'll be with youngsters of his own sort, fer a change, an' he'll be under the greatest headmaster Hogwarts ever had Albus Dumbled—"
"I AM NOT PAYING FOR SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TO TEACH HIM MAGIC TRICKS!" yelled Uncle Vernon.
Suddenly, Sirius was bouncing up and down, like a kid hopped up on way too much sugar. His expression held a savage sort of joy. Remus and Poppy wore matching smirks.
"Is there something you're not telling us?" Hermione asked them, bewildered.
"Let's just say that it isn't a good idea to insult Albus Dumbledore in front of Hagrid." Remus explained, as Sirius shouted choruses of "He's going to get it!"
Intrigued, Hermione read:
But he had finally gone too far. Hagrid seized his umbrella and whirled it over his head, "NEVER —" he thundered, "— INSULT — ALBUS — DUMBLEDORE — IN — FRONT — OF — ME!" He brought the umbrella swishing down through the air to point at Dudley — there was a flash of violet light, a sound like a firecracker, a sharp squeal, and the next second, Dudley was dancing on the spot with his hands clasped over his fat bottom, howling in pain. When he turned his back on them, Harry saw a curly pig's tail poking through a hole in his trousers.
Once more, laughter rang throughout the room. It didn't help that the room conjured up a giant image
"BRILLIANT! BLOODY BRILLIANT!" Ron yelled, falling out of his chair from laughing so hard. Hermione was somehow able to help him up, before succumbing to her own mirth.
Even Poppy couldn't stifle her own laughter.
Out of all of them, Sirius laughed the loudest and the longest. It was good to see Harry's tormentors getting a little payback. It wasn't anywhere near what he'd be satisfied with, but it was a start.
Remus chuckled, but didn't take as much amusement in it as the others. Dudley was just a child at the time, after all. It didn't seem right to ridicule him, even if it was deserved. This only reminded him that there were two victims, even if only one of them were miserable.
Uncle Vernon roared. Pulling Aunt Petunia and Dudley into the other room, he cast one last terrified look at Hagrid and slammed the door behind them.
Hagrid looked down at his umbrella and stroked his beard.
"Shouldn'ta lost me temper," he said ruefully, "but it didn't work anyway. Meant ter turn him into a pig, but I suppose he was so much like a pig anyway there wasn't much left ter do."
That line only caused even more laughter, though it didn't last as long.
He cast a sideways look at Harry under his bushy eyebrows.
"Be grateful if yeh didn't mention that ter anyone at Hogwarts," he said. "I'm — er — not supposed ter do magic, strictly speakin'. I was allowed ter do a bit ter follow yeh an' get yer letters to yeh an' stuff — one o' the reasons I was so keen ter take on the job."
"Why aren't you supposed to do magic?" asked Harry.
"Oh, well — I was at Hogwarts meself but I — er — got expelled, ter tell yeh the truth. In me third year. They snapped me wand in half an' everything. But Dumbledore let me stay on as gamekeeper. Great man, Dumbledore."
"Why were you expelled?"
The adults gave Hermione expectant looks, hoping that they'd hear the one secret Hagrid would never tell…
"It's gettin' late and we've got lots ter do tomorrow," said Hagrid loudly. "Gotta get up ter town, get all yer books an' that."
…only to be thoroughly disappointed.
Ron and Hermione shared a knowing look and grinned evilly.
"We know what happened." Ron said.
"But we're not going to tell." Hermione added, earning glares from them.
He took off his thick black coat and threw it to Harry.
"You can kip under that," he said. "Don' mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o' dormice in one o' the pockets."
Hermione closed the book and gently placed it on the floor. A letter flashed in front of her, and she read:
You are doing a wonderful job so far, but be careful. We're sending Harry over in an hour, so that you may rest, eat and absorb all that has happened. To Ron, Hermione and Poppy, please read the first letter Sirius and Remus were given, as it explains all the rules and other little details.
We ask that, for now, you don't leave the room. This is because we've enchanted Dumbledore, Minerva, Neville, Luna, Harry and Severus to go about their business without thinking about you. I am not allowed to say much on the subject, just that the ritual we've used is the cause of all this.
P.S. And no, Hermione, you will not be able to find the ritual in any book. It is something known by a select few. "
Silence accompanied the letter, but then again, what was there to say? At this point, everyone had dealt with their own emotions and thoughts. Now, they'd deal with Harry's. And none of them believed, even for a moment, that it would be easy.
The watchers from another existence turned their attention from the group of readers, and focused on the source of their efforts instead. Fifteen-year-old Harry Potter slept on, in blissful ignorance. They offered him pleasant dreams, instead of the nightmares that usually came about. There were only three of them at the moment.
"Do you think we're moving too fast?" one of them asked timidly.
"Personally, I don't think we're going fast enough!" another huffed indignantly. "These people are cowards! I'd have finished the entire book by now!"
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't insult the mortals." Another, smoother voice said tersely. "The others wouldn't appreciate it, Antioch!"
"Like I care! He's your decedent, not mine!"
"Brothers, why do we fight?" the timid one inquired. "We are family, after all. No matter whose decedent we're dealing with."
The other two paused, thoughtfully.
"Cadmus is right." the one called Antioch agreed reluctantly. "I'm sorry, Ignotus."
Ignotus nodded. "All is forgiven."
With peace restored amongst them once more, the three brothers went back to watching over Harry, waiting for the others to return.
Chapter 6: Snippets of A Frozen Morning
Little vignettes that go into the views of what everyone in the castle is doing. Plus, a little Neville/Luna fluffy hint. :D
Interlude: Snippets Of A Frozen Morning
The world outside looked and felt rather...strange. The air had a heavy, crisp feel to it, with a tinge of warmth to stave off any coldness. The stars shined brighter than usual, positively glowing, same with the moon, which looked to be mostly full. Normally, the state of the moon constantly worried Remus, but now, it didn't. As long as time remained frozen, the moon wouldn't fill, and he wouldn't transform. No, his concern rested with his fellow Marauder. These first few chapters were likely going to give them nightmares, which Sirius already had plenty of.
He grunted his agreement, only half listening to Sirius's idea for a prank. After what they'd just been through, he'd support anything that had the potential to cheer them.
"I can't wait to see the looks on their faces!" Sirius exclaimed, though the smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
Remus forced a chuckle. "Neither can I, Padfoot."
Sirius scooted closer to Remus, and rested his head uponhis shoulder. Smiling broadly, the werewolf gave him a one armed hug. For the better part of a half hour, they stayed in an amiable, yet strained silence. Neither of them would talk about the book, but at least they could take a mild comfort in each other.
Meanwhile, in the Hospital Ward, a certain savior had woken up from a terrible nightmare. The details weren't forthcoming, but the general idea of it was enough to send him in to a trembling fit. All he could remember was a glimpse of glowing, red eyes, cutting into his very soul. Searching, scratching and clawing in to him like a wild beast… he had been so close to being lost, so close to giving in…
"It's only a dream. It's only a dream. It's only a dream." Harry whispered to himself, in between deep, steady breaths. After nearly ten minutes of this, his trembling stopped, but it took even longer to quell his racing heart. His face burned with shame. He didn't want to be a cowering little weakling anymore! He'd done his job, damn it! With Voldemort nothing more than a charred corpse, and being adopted by Sirius, he was finally safe. So why didn't it feel that way?
Hermione's relaxed breathing and Ron's loud snores told him that, luckily, nobody had woken up. He sighed, half annoyed, half relieved. It was still dark out, but he felt wide awake. With a soft groan, he got out of his hospital bed, and stared out in to the dark, twinkling horizon. At least the view was beautiful enough to get lost in. The sky felt brighter, more intense, somehow. And everything was steeped in soothing, comforting magic. It told him that everything would be alright… all he had to do was wait it out.
And, as Harry learned, magic spoke the truth. All one had to do was listen.
Professor Severus Snape, the top Potions Master in all of Great Britain, was not a man who shirked on his duties. Whenever his services were required, he made sure to do so with poise, proper attention, and skill necessary. While brewing, all other thoughts, worries and prejudices left his mind- as it should be. He used Occlumency to block his darkest thoughts, wishes and desires. Which, being the bitter man he is, were many. This happened to be such a would-be morning.
In a large, golden cauldron, he diligently worked on his latest experiment. Hunched over the shimmering, dark blue liquid, he sniffed experimentally. It smelled of burnt sugar, with the faintest hint of jasmine. The corner of his lips twitched in a smile. So far, so good. Only twelve more steps to go.
If all went well, he'd succeed well beyond any potion master of his time. The thought was exhilarating, to say the least.
Neville stood in the empty classroom, watching as Luna and Ginny dueled. The room had transformed in to the DA's old classroom. With Harry, Ron and Hermione indisposed, (Harry, due to magical fatigue; Ron and Hermione due to various injuries), they had decided to continue their training, seeing as there was little to do outside of homework. Personally, Neville was glad for it. Something had changed during his time in the DA; no longer did he feel weighed down by his own uselessness. Instead, he'd discovered a well of power and confidence within himself, a feeling the Longbottom heir didn't know existed.
Mastering spells in such an easy-going environment, had helped him drastically. And though it had come to an abrupt end, he didn't want to fall back in to old habits. So, he approached the girls about continuing their practice, instead of badgering their friends, who needed plenty of rest. Luckily, they agreed, and the study sessions continued.
"Lekikus!" Ginny cried, firing a Leek Jinx at Luna.
"Protego!" Luna said, her gray eyes having a surprisingly sharp, sliver glint to them. Neville found himself blushing. Everyone else assumed that she was a bit touched in the head, but he disagreed. At times, she tended to space out, but in the wake of a battle, she retained a focus that could put Hermione to shame. And during a few lessons, she had.
The jinx bounced off of Luna's shield, and rebounded back at Ginny, whose ears promptly turned in to leeks.
"Nice work, Luna!" Ginny said brightly. "Best two out of three?"
Luna smiled back, with just a hint of mischief. "I have a better idea." She raised her wand at Neville, who reached for his, in turn. "Everybody for themselves! Expellliarmus!"
Neville barely had time to dodge the sudden spell before more jinxes, hexes and charms were being thrown everywhere. He cast a Shield Charm, repelling a Silly Jinx and a Jelly Legs Jinx at the same time. A loud, cheerful laugh escaped him.
Who knew that practice could be so entertaining?
For the moment, Albus and Minerva, having stayed up all evening to make a dent in their enormous paperwork load, were both fast asleep at their desks, dead to the world. For the moment, their dreams were normal and calm. Something might change that soon enough…
The watchers from another existence were both very pleased and highly anxious. Sirius and Remus were doing far better than they could have hoped. Even so, shit was about to hit the proverbial fan. The peaceful calm that blanketed Hogwarts would soon fall, and nothing would ever be the same.
Chapter 7: Diagon Alley
Harry finally joins in the reading, and he is anything but amused. Can he overcome his feelings of freakishness, or will they forever consume him?
Chapter Six: Diagon Alley
Everyone spent their hour differently. Poppy worked on the beginnings of a comprehensive plan to heal the years of starvation, abuse, neglect, emotional and possible mental damage that Harry endured. Occasionally, the room would summon an excerpt from medical books – both magical and Muggle.
Remus napped on a large, comfortable couch, which had been created upon request. Everyone did their best to keep quiet, not wanting to disturb him.
Ron and Hermione went in to a discussion concerning all they knew about Harry, and compared it to what they'd found out. They didn't know the extent of the abuse, but Ron felt that what they did was enough. Hermione didn't feel the same way. She wanted to know about the cupboard and the extent of everything Harry had been through. Understanding all too well her curiosity, Sirius kept the book at his side the entire time. Considering that they'd soon be dealing with Harry, he didn't think it was a good idea for them to read about the uglier details. His thoughts were forcibly turned to the list of problems and injuries his godson had been made to live with. Broken bones, permanent eye damage, possible brain damage, infections from various, untreated wounds and plenty of emotional scars, to name a few. There were other, more insidious problems mentioned, but Sirius couldn't bring himself to ponder them.
Right now, he wished that Remus would wake up. Somehow, the werewolf's words of comfort were enough to drive away the guilt that had built up over the years. But, it didn't seem fair to rouse his sleeping friend; they'd both had a trying day so far, and he didn't see it getting any easier anytime soon.
James, Lily, please forgive me. he prayed miserably, hugging the book close to him.
Meanwhile, in another plane of existence, the watchers gathered in a room that wasn't quite one. To the human eye, it appeared to be a grassy meadow on a full, moonlit evening. Ten, cloaked figures sat around a smooth, glowing crystal ball, much larger than a giant's head. Thanks to it, they were able to watch the readings thus far, or Harry, if they saw fit. At the moment, they were paying close attention to the latter. They looked upon Harry's peaceful face, willing him only the most pleasant of dreams.
"We're finally getting somewhere!" Antioch exclaimed, as another of the ten offered a smaller version of the orb to him. It radiated a brilliant red, signifying his combative nature.
"Child of passion, son of war, do you give unto him your inner fire?" the orb's giver inquired coolly.
Antioch gruffly said the necessary words: "I, Antioch Peverell, freely offer him my inner fire. May it warm the coldest depths of his soul."
"So mote it be." said the orb's giver.
"So mote it be." repeated Antioch.
A soft chime rang through the room, warming the hearts of all who heard it.
Everyone has worked diligently to this point. Cadmus thought proudly, looking upon his brothers and the other seven. We have a long, difficult road to travel, but this is a promising start. May the other nine milestones of this ritual go just as well.
As the hour came to a close, everyone took the same seats as before; the extra beanbag was moved in between Sirius and Remus, where they hoped Harry would sit. Madame Pomfrey cast a Tempus charm, revealing that they only had a few minutes left.
"There are a few things I'd like to say. Please listen closely because we don't have much time." she told them with an air of professionalism. "We are going to have to be patient with Mr. Potter. He may cry, yell, or deny it completely. Victims of abuse are often ashamed of what has been done to them, and usually think that deserve whatever treatment they're given."
"But he doesn't!" Ron interrupted angrily. "I wouldn't even wish that on Malfoy!"
"I feel the exact same way, Mr. Weasley, but he most likely doesn't. Your friend has had a difficult life. From what I can tell, he has been made to be their slave and personal scapegoat." A cold chill swept through out the room, making everyone shiver. "I doubt anyone could come out of that environment without feeling as though they do not matter." her attention shifted solely to Remus and Sirius. "Since the two of you will be acting as his caregivers, your behaviors are the most important. Do not yell or belittle him, and never give him reason to assume that you're going to hurt him."
"I wouldn't do that!" Sirius snapped defensively, reminded of how Harry had run away earlier.
"I'm not saying that you would," she said less briskly. "but this needs to be addressed now." her heart grew heavy as she remembered some of the more volatile interventions she'd taken part in over the years. "Part of his entire world is going to change, and we have to accept that his reaction will be difficult to deal with. He may try to run, he may yell, scream, or denounce all of us in some fashion. It is very unlikely that he'll just accept what is going on." She gave them a hard, solemn look. "My final piece of advice is to tread very carefully."
Her words were met with silence. All too quickly, a letter flashed in front of her. Poppy grabbed it and read for everyone to hear:
Well said! We knew you would see to everything, and so far, you've exceeded our expectations. We are going to send Harry in now. He has been healed in his sleep, but we could only restore his magic and stamina. I'm sure you know what will be required.
A second flash of light went off. A second later, where it had originated from, stood none other than a very bewildered Harry Potter.
Right away, Harry knew that something was...off. One minute, he was laying in bed, minding his own business, and the next, transported to what appeared to be the Gryffindor common room. Only, it couldn't be. The room was much too big, and there were no staircases leading to the dorms. Most notably, most of the furniture had been cleared out.
"Over here, Harry!" Ron's voice called out. Harry moved his head so fast that he could have gotten whiplash.
A million questions buzzed around Harry like a hive of bees. Why were Ron and Hermione here, when they were supposed to be recovering? How come they looked better? Why was he here? Why were Remus and Sirius here, for that matter? And Madame Pomfrey, too? Where were Luna, Ginny, Neville and the professors? Why was everyone up at-
"Harry, why don't you come over here?" Sirius said, flashing him a nervous grin. "We have some things to talk about, and we'll answer any questions you have. Okay?"
"Okay..." he said, feeling unsure. His instincts were telling him to run, but why would he? He trusted these people more than anything. He sat in between Sirius and Remus, both of whom looked as though they'd been asked to eat Hagrid's cooking. As soon as he was seated, there was a flash of light, and a letter appeared in front of him. After several long minutes of staring at it, he grabbed it and read silently:
This is the hardest letter I've written so far. For now, I cannot tell you my name, only that I'm a part of a group that has been watching you over the years. We've witnessed your acts of bravery and your undying selflessness. On top of it all, you've overcome the world's most evil wizard to date, through the power of love. Unfortunately, you've also experienced a world of hardship at the hands of Voldemort, Umbrige and your vile relatives. We've also seen your future, which is anything but bright.
So, in order to assist you, we've spent nearly your entire life working through various rituals, spells and writing down your experiences. In order to send them through time, we had to let the current ritual send it through a specific moment in time. Said moment became frozen everywhere else in the world, save the inside of Hogwarts. That will explain any differences you've noticed in the sky. Time will be unfrozen for two days after a reading of each book, but you will be forced back in here when it starts again.
There are five books, which depict your years at Hogwarts and mentions of your home life. They are, for the most part, from your point of view. The first four chapters of the first book have been read by Sirius and Remus, while Hermione, Ron and Poppy joined last chapter. Please, do not blame them. I convinced them to wait until we could include you. Keep in mind that they – along with us – are scared for you, Harry. We have restored you and your friends to your health before Voldemort's defeat. You've been wronged for far too long. Let those around you make it right.
P.S. If you wish to look at the future we are trying to prevent, please wait until after the readings are done.
The room became uncomfortably silent as Harry read his letter. For what seemed like hours, but must have been mere minutes, the teen did and said nothing. Harry's face slowly paled, as though the color was being drained out of it.
Harry laughed nervously. "Oh, real funny guys! You had me going for a minute." They had been prepared for a number of different reactions, but this one didn't settle well with the Marauders; it was eerily similar to Sirius's. "Seriously, you guys are mental!" he smirked at his godfather, but nothing good came of it.
The ex-Auror’s sad expression had only deepened. For the first time in a while, those exuberant, gray eyes had a sort of inner fog in them. He took a good look at everyone's somber faces and realized that this wasn't a joke. A jolt of dread surged through him, literally gluing him to the spot.
"Please don't laugh." he said, sounding hurt. "I don't see anything funny about you being mistreated, Harry."
Oddly enough, this wording soothed Harry. They don't understand. he breathed a sigh of relief. They don't know. All I have to do is smooth this over, and everything will be fine. He offered them his trademark grin, which he'd practiced constantly during the summer after first year. "Sorry, Sirius, I didn't mean to upset you. But you guys are acting weird."
"If anyone is 'acting weird', it's your relatives." Remus said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Nobody deserves the so-called punishments they put you though." His went oddly cold, inadvertently reminding Harry of Snape for a moment. He shuddered at the mental image. Snape would never touch him unless it was to push him away. Of course, the feeling was mutual.
"The Dursleys are the most normal people I've ever met." he said, worming his way out of Remus's grip. I'm the one who doesn't belong.
Ron went to say something, but Hermione silenced him with a look.
"Harry, there's nothing normal about abuse." Sirius balled his fists tightly, but kept the anger out of his facial features. It worked, but barely.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Harry replied, fighting the surge of panic that flooded through him. "Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon took me in out of the kindness of their hearts. They're strict, but they didn't a-a- do that to me!" It wasn't any use. He couldn't bring himself to utter that ugly, untrue word. It made him sound like a bloody victim, or some whining little brat who couldn't handle a thrashing every now and then. I'm not weak. I'm not.
"So it's normal to starve someone? Do you think it's just dandy when you're treated like shit all the bloody time?" Ron bellowed, standing up.
"Ronald, sit down! Let Remus and Sirius handle this." Hermione reprimanded, grabbing his arm in an attempt to halt him. Ron wouldn't have it, though. He jerked away from her grip and stormed toward Harry.
"Mr. Weasley, sit down and be silent!" Madame Pomfrey demanded.
Ron ignored her. "Why are you sticking up for them after all they've done?"
"Shut up, Ron!" Harry snapped, his temper rising. "They treat me just fine."
"What about second year when they-"
"You said you wouldn't tell anyone about that!"
"ENOUGH!" Madame Pomfrey yelled. "Mr. Weasely, sit down or I will make you! You're not helping the situation in the least!" Ron glared daggers at her, but did as he was told. She addressed everyone in the room. "This isn't getting us anywhere, so I think it would be best if we read for a while. Sirius, since Hermione read the last chapter, I think Ron should have a turn. "
"What if I don't want them to read anymore?" Harry scowled at the wretched book that his godfather held.
"Then time remains frozen, and we're stuck inside the castle forever." Sirius said grimly. "We have no choice but to continue, Harry."
Harry seethed, not knowing what to say to that. On the one hand, he knew that Sirius would never lie to him. Other adults had, and probably would continue to do so, but not him. Hell, he'd been all for explaining the Prophecy to him when nobody else would. There was only one other person he could trust so explicitly and they weren't here. And yet, he couldn't help but feel irritated that his private life had been carelessly splashed on to the pages of a book. Why must everyone pry in to his life? Harry knew he wasn't treated very well, but there were reasons for that. Reasons that nobody could possibly understand. At least he could take solace in the fact that the war was over. With Voldemort dead, his time as a weapon had come to an end. Now all he had to do was get through the books and try to prevent them from being suspicious.
Mistaking Harry's silence for agreement, Sirius handed the book to Ron, who wordlessly took it. Hermione helped him find the page, and he read:
Harry woke early the next morning. Although he could tell it was daylight, he kept his eyes shut tight. It was a dream, he told himself firmly. I dreamed a giant called Hagrid came to tell me I was going to a school for wizards. When I open my eyes I'll be at home in my cupboard.
"You'll never be in that cupboard again, Harry." Sirius said, gathering him in to a one-armed hug. Remus nodded, his eyes glinting dangerously.
Hermione's curiosity was peaked again. "And what does that mean, Harry?"
The teen refused to reply, which was probably a wise choice, considering that both he and Ron were still fuming.
There was suddenly a loud tapping noise. And there's Aunt Petunia knocking on the door , Harry thought, his heart sinking.
But he still didn't open his eyes. It had been such a good dream.
"Because it wasn't a dream." Remus said lightly, making Harry smile just a bit.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"All right," Harry mumbled, "I'm getting up."
He sat up and Hagrid's heavy coat fell off him. The hut was full of sunlight, the storm was over, Hagrid himself was asleep on the collapsed sofa, and there was an owl rapping its claw on the window, a newspaper held in its beak.
Harry scrambled to his feet, so happy he felt as though a large balloon was swelling inside him.
Ron, forgetting his anger, laughed. "A 'happy balloon'? What the bloody hell, Harry?"
Harry blushed. "I was eleven, okay?"
This only made the others laugh even harder.
He went straight to the window and jerked it open.
The owl swooped in and dropped the newspaper on top of Hagrid, who didn't wake up. The owl then fluttered onto the floor and began to attack Hagrid's coat. "Don't do that."
Harry tried to wave the owl out of the way, but it snapped its beak fiercely at him and carried on savaging the coat. "Hagrid!" said Harry loudly. "There's an owl —"
"Pay him," Hagrid grunted into the sofa.
"He wants payin' fer deliverin' the paper. Look in the pockets."
Hagrid's coat seemed to be made of nothing but pockets — bunches of keys, slug pellets, balls of string, peppermint humbugs, teabags… finally, Harry pulled out a handful of strange-looking coins.
"Give him five Knuts," said Hagrid sleepily.
Poppy chuckled. "Ah, Hagrid was never the morning person. Back when he was a student, there were days where he'd come to the infirmary and pretend that he was ill. Not that I ever let him get away with it, of course."
Everyone snickered. They could only imagine the punishment she'd issue for such an offense. And poor, bumbling Hagrid would be the only one crazy enough to try...
"The little bronze ones."
Harry counted out five little bronze coins, and the owl held out his leg so Harry could put the money into a small leather pouch tied to it. Then he flew off through the open window.
Hagrid yawned loudly, sat up, and stretched. "Best be off, Harry, lots ter do today, gotta get up ter London an' buy all yer stuff fer school."
Harry was turning over the wizard coins and looking at them. He had just thought of something that made him feel as though the happy balloon inside him had got a puncture.
"NOOOOO! Not the Happy balloon!" Sirius mock-wailed. "Anything but the happy balloon!"
Remus groaned and Poppy rolled her eyes. Ron laughed and Hermione giggled. Harry snickered at his godfather's antics. He's like a giant kid! Merlin help me!
After what seemed like ages, Ron calmed down enough to continue.
"Um — Hagrid?"
"Mm?" said Hagrid, who was pulling on his huge boots.
"I haven't got any money — and you heard Uncle Vernon last night… he won't pay for me to go and learn magic."
Sirius eyed his godson warily. "Harry, did you really think your parents would leave you nothing?"
Harry shrugged, refusing to say anything. Let them think what they liked. It didn't matter anyway.
Remus and Sirius exchanged dark looks. Yet another reason to make the Dursleys pay.
"Don't worry about that," said Hagrid, standing up and scratching his head. "D'yeh think yer parents didn't leave yeh anything?"
"But if their house was destroyed —"
"Harry, there's no way they'd leave their money in the house!" Remus chided teasingly.
"I know that now." His cheeks turned a shade of pink and Sirius snickered. They'd have to embarrass Harry more often; his expressions were priceless!
"They didn' keep their gold in the house, boy! Nah, first stop fer us is Gringotts. Wizards' bank. Have a sausage, they're not bad cold — an' I wouldn' say no teh a bit o' yer birthday cake, neither."
"Wizards have banks?"
"No, Harry, we have goldfish." Remus said, in what Sirius often called his "teacher" voice. "Wizards decided that they were above the petty notion of banks. Therefore, we decided that goldfish wold be the best way to store money." Another round of laughs followed and Sirius gave Harry a soft noogie.
"Oh, real mature, Sirius!" Harry said, after managing to escape the older man's clutches. Sirius did the 'adult' thing and stuck his tongue out. Ron, Hermione and Poppy smiled at them. It was nice to see Harry smiling for a change. They hoped he'd do it more often.
"Just the one. Gringotts. Run by goblins."
Harry dropped the bit of sausage he was holding. "Goblins?"
"Yeah — so yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it, I'll tell yeh that. Never mess with goblins, Harry. Gringotts is the safest place in the world fer anything yeh want ter keep safe — 'cept maybe Hogwarts. As a matter o' fact, I gotta visit Gringotts anyway. Fer Dumbledore. Hogwarts business."
Hogwarts business? Remus thought, frowning. The adults said nothing, but their suspicions were raised by the knowing looks on the teenagers' faces.
Hagrid drew himself up proudly. "He usually gets me ter do important stuff fer him. Fetchin' you — gettin' things from Gringotts — knows he can trust me, see."
Got everythin'? Come on, then." Harry followed Hagrid out onto the rock. The sky was quite clear now and the sea gleamed in the sunlight. The boat Uncle Vernon had hired was still there, with a lot of water in the bottom after the storm.
"How did you get here?" Harry asked, looking around for another boat.
"Flew," said Hagrid.
"Yeah — but we'll go back in this. Not s'pposed ter use magic now I've got yeh."
They settled down in the boat, Harry still staring at Hagrid, trying to imagine him flying.
"Seems a shame ter row, though," said Hagrid, giving Harry another of his sideways looks. "If I was ter — er — speed things up a bit, would yeh mind not mentionin' it at Hogwarts?"
Ron paused for a moment, trying to picture it for himself. All he got was a silly image of Hagrid with pixie wings, barely able to fly an inch above the ground. He snorted, and everyone looked at him strangely.
"Of course not," said Harry, eager to see more magic. Hagrid pulled out the pink umbrella again, tapped it twice on the side of the boat, and they sped off toward land.
"Why would you be mad to try and rob Gringotts?" Harry asked.
"Spells — enchantments," said Hagrid, unfolding his newspaper as he spoke. "They say there's dragons guardin' the high security vaults. And then yeh gotta find yer way — Gringotts is hundreds of miles under London, see. Deep under the Underground. Yeh'd die of hunger tryin' ter get out, even if yeh did manage ter get yer hands on summat."
Harry sat and thought about this while Hagrid read his newspaper, the Daily Prophet.
Harry had learned from Uncle Vernon that people liked to be left alone while they did this, but it was very difficult, he'd never had so many questions in his life.
"Ministry o' Magic messin' things up as usual," Hagrid muttered, turning the page.
"Sounds about right." Harry said frostily. The tone was noticed by everyone, but only Hermione saw Harry's eyes quickly dart toward his hand. She vaguely wondered if it would be possible to bring the entire Ministry to court. And maybe the Prophet, too. It would be no less than they deserved.
"There's a Ministry of Magic?" Harry asked, before he could stop himself.
"'Course," said Hagrid. "They wanted Dumbledore fer Minister, o' course, but he'd never leave Hogwarts, so old Cornelius Fudge got the job. Bungler if ever there was one. So he pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin' fer advice."
"And yet, he was so quick to turn against us." Harry muttered bitterly. Sirius and Remus growled, remembering the wrongs that had been committed against them. Ron and Hermione scowled. 'To think I always believed he could do no wrong.' Hermione thought.
"But what does a Ministry of Magic do?"
"Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there's still witches an' wizards up an' down the country."
"Why? Blimey, Harry, everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems. Nah, we're best left alone."
At this moment the boat bumped gently into the harbor wall. Hagrid folded up his newspaper, and they clambered up the stone steps onto the street. Passersby stared a lot at Hagrid as they walked through the little town to the station.
"I don't blame them." Sirius said, thinking that Dumbledore should have sent someone a little less noticeable.
Harry couldn't blame them.
The two smiled at each other.
Not only was Hagrid twice as tall as anyone else, he kept pointing at perfectly ordinary things like parking meters and saying loudly, "See that, Harry? Things these Muggles dream up, eh?"
"He sounds just like my dad!" Ron groaned, remembering the only time his dad had taken him to purchase Muggle clothing. The day had been a complete disaster, and from that day on, his mother made sure to take all of her children clothes shopping.
"Hagrid," said Harry, panting a bit as he ran to keep up, "did you say there are dragons at Gringotts?"
"Well, so they say," said Hagrid. "Crikey, I'd like a dragon."
"Oh Hagrid..." Sirius moaned. He gave Harry a look. "Stay away from Hagrid's pets, or I'll ground you from Quidditch for a month."
The Golden Trio shared knowing looks, which worried the adults. Poppy shook her head. Minerva had told her about the lies Draco Malfoy had said that year. But now, she was wondering if it wasn't a lie, after all.
"You'd like one?"
"Wanted one ever since I was a kid — here we go."
They had reached the station. There was a train to London in five minutes' time. Hagrid, who didn't
understand "Muggle money,"as he called it, gave the bills to Harry so he could buy their tickets. People stared more than ever on the train. Hagrid took up two seats and sat knitting what looked like a canary-yellow circus tent.
"Still got yer letter, Harry?" he asked as he counted stitches.
Harry took the parchment envelope out of his pocket.
"Good," said Hagrid. "There's a list there of everything yeh need."
"I wonder if they've changed the lists since we've been in school?" Remus asked.
Harry unfolded a second piece of paper he hadn't noticed the night before, and read:
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
First-year students will require:
1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
4. One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)
Please note that all pupils' clothes should carry name tags
All students should have a copy of each of the following:
The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1)by Miranda Goshawk
A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot
Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling
"Well, that's new." Sirius pointed out.
A Beginners' Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch
One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore
"So is that one." Remus agreed.
Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
"And that one."
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble
"And that one."
1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)
1 set of glass or crystal phials
1 telescope set
1 brass scales
Students may also bring an owl
Harry smiled, thinking of Hedwig. He hadn't been able to visit her during his stay in the infirmary, and missed her fiercely. I wish she was here. Suddenly, a rather large package of owl treats appeared beside him, along with Hedwig herself. Without missing a beat, she contentedly perched on Harry's leg.
"Hey there, girl. It's good to see you again." he said, petting her. Hedwig hooted affectionately. It was almost as if she was saying that she'd missed him, too.
Everyone else in the room looked at Harry and Hedwig fondly.
OR a cat OR a toad
PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST YEARS ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICKS
The Trio snickered, while Poppy looked rather grim.
"Is there something we should know?" Sirius asked, not looking forward to the answer.
"You'll find out soon enough." Harry said, in a mysterious sort of way that made the Marauders worry.
"Can we buy all this in London?" Harry wondered aloud.
"If yeh know where to go," said Hagrid.
Harry had never been to London before. Although Hagrid seemed to know where he was going, he was obviously not used to getting there in an ordinary way. He got stuck in the ticket barrier on the Underground,
They couldn't help but laugh at the image. Harry, who had been there, took longer to stop than the rest of them. From that moment on, everyone decided that they'd try to make him do it again; without the weight of the world upon his shoulders, Harry had a very nice laugh.
and complained loudly that the seats were too small and the trains too slow.
"I don't know how the Muggles manage without magic," he said as they climbed a broken-down escalator that led up to a bustling road lined with shops. Hagrid was so huge that he parted the crowd easily; all Harry had to do was keep close behind him. They passed book shops and music stores, hamburger restaurants and cinemas, but nowhere that looked as if it could sell you a magic wand. This was just an ordinary street full of ordinary people. Could there really be piles of wizard gold buried miles beneath them? Were there really shops that sold spell books and broomsticks?
Might this not all be some huge joke that the Dursleys had cooked up?
If Harry hadn't known that the Dursleys had no sense of humor, he might have thought so; yet somehow, even though everything Hagrid had told him so far was unbelievable, Harry couldn't help trusting him.
"Hagrid is just too honest." Hermione said happily. "He's easy to trust, though I wouldn't give him my secrets..."
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"This is it," said Hagrid, coming to a halt, "the Leaky Cauldron. It's a famous place."
It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn't pointed it out, Harry wouldn't have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn't glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn't see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it.
Before he could mention this, Hagrid had steered him inside.
For a famous place, it was very dark and shabby. A few old women were sitting in a corner, drinking tiny glasses of sherry. One of them was smoking a long pipe. A little man in a top hat was talking to the old bartender, who was quite bald and looked like a toothless walnut. The low buzz of chatter stopped when they walked in. Everyone seemed to know Hagrid; they waved and smiled at him, and the bartender reached for a glass, saying, "The usual, Hagrid?"
"Can't, Tom, I'm on Hogwarts business," said Hagrid, clapping his great hand on Harry's shoulder and making Harry's knees buckle.
Harry groaned, and the others frowned at him. It was no secret that the savior hated his fame with a burning passion. And who could blame him, given everything that had happened because of it?
"Good Lord," said the bartender, peering at Harry, "is this — can this be —?"
The Leaky Cauldron had suddenly gone completely still and silent. "Bless my soul," whispered the old bartender, "Harry Potter… what an honor."
He hurried out from behind the bar, rushed toward Harry and seized his hand, tears in his eyes.
"Welcome back, Mr. Potter, welcome back."
Harry couldn't move, and nearly stopped breathing for a moment. Why were all these people staring at him like some sideshow freak? He cringed inwardly at the description, but it was exactly how he felt.
"Still do." Harry mumbled, petting Hedwig.
"You're not a freak, mate." Ron said with conviction.
"Yeah, I know." Harry said listlessly.
Remus and Sirius exchanged worried glances. They'd need to have a proper talk with Harry soon. Remus figured that they could broach upon the subject after dinner.
He didn't know what to say to them, or even if he should speak. The old woman with the pipe was puffing on it without realizing it had gone out. Hagrid was beaming. Then there was a great scraping of chairs and the next moment, Harry found himself shaking hands with everyone in the Leaky Cauldron.
"Doris Crockford, Mr. Potter, can't believe I'm meeting you at last."
"So proud, Mr. Potter, I'm just so proud."
"Always wanted to shake your hand – I'm all of a flutter."
"Delighted, Mr. Potter. Just can't tell you, Diggle's the name, Dedalus Diggle."
"I've seen you before!" said Harry, as Dedalus Diggle's top hat fell off in his excitement. "You bowed to me once in a shop." Immediately, he felt awkward for saying it and hoped that he hadn't offended the man.
Sirius chuckled. "Always thinking of others, aren't you?"
"I don't like offending people, that's all." Harry mumbled shyly. Sirius drew him in to a one-armed embrace.
"You don't have a single offending bone in your body, kiddo."
A pang of sadness washed over Harry, but he smiled through it. Then why do people hate me so easily?
"He remembers!" cried Dedalus Diggle, looking around at everyone. "Did you hear that? He remembers me!"
Harry shook hands again and again — Doris Crockford kept coming back for more. A pale young man made his way forward, very nervously. One of his eyes was twitching.
"Professor Quirrell!" said Hagrid. "Harry, Professor Quirrell will be one of your teachers at Hogwarts."
Ron stopped his reading to glare at the book, and was joined by Hermione and Harry.
Poppy frowned, thinking of who the poor man had once been.
"Is something wrong?" Remus asked, bewildered.
"You don't know?" Harry questioned, unable to keep the venom out of his voice.
"Know what?" Sirius asked, confused.
Harry shook his head. "You'll find out soon enough."
Ron and Hermione, given the circumstances, decided to remain silent. They had never discussed Quirrell after first year, and didn't like that the man had managed to come up again.
"P-P-Potter," stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry's hand, "c-can't t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you."
"What sort of magic do you teach, Professor Quirrell?"
"D-Defence Against the D-D-Dark Arts," muttered Professor Quirrell, as though he'd rather not think about it.
"How can he successfully teach a class if he's afraid of his own subject?" Remus inquired.
"He didn't do it very well." Hermione said, frowning. "I had to find out most of the information in the library. I didn't mind, but then again, I read for fun."
"He was a piss-poor teacher." Ron agreed darkly.
Harry nodded in agreement.
The adults in the room were startled, to say the least. They had never seen the Trio show such strong dislike for a person, save Voldemort, Umbridge and Wormtail.
Instantly, the Marauders felt a surge of protectiveness surge through them. Quirrell must have done something truly horrible to earn their ire. And the remaining Marauders were protective of all three of their cubs/pups.
"N-not that you n-need it, eh, P-P-Potter?" He laughed nervously. "You'll be g-getting all your equipment, I suppose? I've g-got to p-pick up a new b-book on vampires, m-myself." He looked terrified at the very thought.
Coward! Harry thought bitterly.
But the others wouldn't let Professor Quirrell keep Harry to himself. It took almost ten minutes to get away
from them all. At last, Hagrid managed to make himself heard over the babble.
"Must get on — lots ter buy. Come on, Harry."
Doris Crockford shook Harry's hand one last time, and Hagrid led them through the bar and out into a small, walled courtyard, where there was nothing but a trash can and a few weeds.
Hagrid grinned at Harry. "Told yeh, didn't I? Told yeh you was famous. Even Professor Quirrell was tremblin' ter meet yeh — mind you, he's usually tremblin'."
"Is he always that nervous?"
"Oh, yeah. Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin' outta books but then he took a year off ter get some firsthand experience… They say he met vampires in the Black Forest, and there was a nasty bit o' trouble with a hag — never been the same since. Scared of the students, scared of his own subject — now, where's me umbrella?"
Vampires? Hags? Harry's head was swimming. Hagrid, meanwhile, was counting bricks in the wall above the trash can.
"It's all so confusing at first, isn't it?" Hermione said to Harry in a reminicent sort of way.
"Very." Harry laughed. "There are so many things I still don't understand."
"Likewise." Hermione admitted, earning an open-mouthed stare from Ron.
"Come off it, Hermione! You know more about everything than anyone else does!" -
Hermione blushed at the compliment. "I've learned quite a bit, but I'm sure there's a lot I don't know. Thanks, though." she gave him a small kiss on the cheek. It only lasted a second, but Ron turned an interesting shade of red.
"Ah, young love." Sirius said in a low enough voice for only Harry and Remus to hear him.
"They've been like this since last year." Harry whispered conspiratorially.
"I bet that they become a couple next school year." Remus said confidently.
Sirius grinned. "Is that a challenge, Remy?"
Remus smirked. "Three galleons, and the loser has to be the winner's servant for a week."
Sirius thought it over. "Very well. I, for one, think that they'll never acknowledge their feelings."
They shook hands, sealing the deal. Harry rolled his eyes. Some things never change.
"Three up… two across…" he muttered. "Right, stand back, Harry."
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella. The brick he had touched quivered — it wriggled — in the middle, a small hole appeared — it grew wider and wider — a second later they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway onto a cobbled street that twisted and turned out of sight.
"Welcome," said Hagrid, "to Diagon Ally."
He grinned at Harry's amazement.
That should have been James and Lily. Sirius thought sadly. Or myself, at the very least. He entertained a mental image of walking around Diagon Ally with an eleven-year-old Harry at his side. It was a happy, painful notion. Things would be so much different if I hadn't gone after Peter.
They stepped through the archway. Harry looked quickly over his shoulder and saw the archway shrink instantly back into solid wall. The sun shone brightly on a stack of cauldrons outside the nearest shop. Cauldrons — All Sizes — Copper, Brass, Pewter, Silver — Self-Stirring — Collapsible, said a sign hanging over them.
"Yeah, you'll be needin' one," said Hagrid, "but we gotta get yer money first."
Harry wished he had about eight more eyes.
The room randomly produced a floating picture of that, causing Hermione, Remus and Sirius to laugh. Ron and Harry looked positively disgusted, and Poppy made a face.
"Does the room always do this?" Harry asked.
"Every one in a while." Sirius said. His face brightened. "Oh, that reminds me!" he rummaged through his pocket, and handed a picture to Harry. "Look at this!"
Harry took one look and went in to a fit of laughter. "I – forgot – how – dumb – he – looked!" he panted a minute or two later, dropping the picture. Curious as to what could possibly be so funny, Ron got up and picked it up. All it took was one look, and he was in the same state as Harry.
"It's Dinky Duddydums" Sirius whispered in Harry's ear, barely able to keep himself from laughing. "Dinky Duddydums wants bacon yum yums for his tum tum. Piggy little tail on his bum bum." This was all it took for the teen to go hysterical. Remus, in spite of himself, chuckled as well.
Hermione and Poppy decided that they'd rather keep their sanity and not look at the photograph, thank you very much.
It took a long time for the guys to calm down. A panting, red-faced Ron went back to reading.
He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once: the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping. A plump woman outside an Apothecary was shaking her head as they passed, saying, "Dragon liver, sixteen Sickles an ounce, they're mad…"
A low, soft hooting came from a dark shop with a sign saying Eeylops Owl Emporium — Tawny, Screech, Barn, Brown, and Snowy. Several boys of about Harry's age had their noses pressed against a window with broomsticks in it. "Look," Harry heard one of them say, "the new Nimbus Two Thousand — fastest ever —"
"It was a good broom." Harry said, smiling fondly. "But, I happen to like my Firebolt a lot better."
It was Sirius's turn to blush. "Glad you like it, kiddo."
Though normally Harry wasn't one to initiate hugs, he surprised Sirius by doing just that. Sirius, in turn, hugged him back. In that moment, the ex-convict felt rather loved. Was this what it felt like to be a father?
Remus was happy for the both of them, really. But looking at the two of them, he felt out of place. Would he be a third wheel when the time came to live together? Or would Sirius go back on his offer? The thought of returning to that small, empty cottage was too painful to linger on.
There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels' eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon…
"Gringotts," said Hagrid.
They had reached a snowy white building that towered over the other little shops. Standing beside its burnished bronze doors, wearing a uniform of scarlet and gold, was —
"Yeah, that's a goblin," said Hagrid quietly as they walked up the white stone steps toward him. The goblin was about a head shorter than Harry. He had a swarthy, clever face, a pointed beard and, Harry noticed, very long fingers and feet. He bowed as they walked inside. Now they were facing a second pair of doors, silver this time, with words engraved upon them:
Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.
Everyone shuddered. That warning was enough to give anyone the chills.
"Like I said, Yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it," said Hagrid.
A pair of goblins bowed them through the silver doors and they were in a vast marble hall. About a hundred more goblins were sitting on high stools behind a long counter, scribbling in large ledgers, weighing coins in brass scales, examining precious stones through eyeglasses. There were too many doors to count leading off the hall, and yet more goblins were showing people in and out of these. Hagrid and Harry made for the counter.
"Morning," said Hagrid to a free goblin. "We've come ter take some money outta Mr. Harry Potter's safe."
"You have his key, sir?"
"Got it here somewhere," said Hagrid, and he started emptying his pockets onto the counter, scattering a handful of moldy dog biscuits over the goblin's book of numbers.
The goblin wrinkled his nose. Harry watched the goblin on their right weighing a pile of rubies as big as glowing coals.
"Got it," said Hagrid at last, holding up a tiny golden key. The goblin looked at it closely.
"That seems to be in order."
"An' I've also got a letter here from Professor Dumbledore," said Hagrid importantly, throwing out his chest.
"It's about the You-Know-What in vault seven hundred and thirteen."
The Trio shared a significant glance that the adults didn't pick up on. They were too busy being annoyed with Hagrid for doing "business for Dumbledore" in front of Harry. Whatever was in the vault, it couldn't be good.
The goblin read the letter carefully. "Very well," he said, handing it back to Hagrid, "I will have someone take you down to both vaults. Griphook!"
Griphook was yet another goblin. Once Hagrid had crammed all the dog biscuits back inside his pockets, he and Harry followed Griphook toward one of the doors leading off the hall.
"What's the You-Know-What in vault seven hundred and thirteen?" Harry asked.
"Can't tell yeh that," said Hagrid mysteriously.
The adults sighed. Saying something like that to a curious, eleven-year-old boy was just asking for trouble.
"Very secret. Hogwarts business. Dumbledore's trusted me. More'n my job's worth ter tell yeh that."
"Now this is getting very interesting." Sirius said, glancing at Harry. "Do you know what was in there?"
"I do, but I'm not telling."
"Just a hint?"
Harry smirked evilly. "Nope."
Sirius pouted, eliciting light chuckles from the Trio.
Now the adults were even more curious.
Griphook held the door open for them. Harry, who had expected more marble, was surprised. They were in a narrow stone passageway lit with flaming torches. It sloped steeply downward and there were little railway tracks on the floor. Griphook whistled and a small cart came hurtling up the tracks toward them. They climbed in — Hagrid with some difficulty — and were off.
"I hate those carts." Hermione said. "They go way too fast."
"I like them." Ron and Harry said at the same time. The two grinned at each other.
"James said he threw up his first time." Sirius said, earning a snort of laughter from Remus and Harry.
At first they just hurtled through a maze of twisting passages. Harry tried to remember, left, right, right, left, middle fork, right, left, but it was impossible. The rattling cart seemed to know its own way, because Griphook wasn't steering. Harry's eyes stung as the cold air rushed past them, but he kept them wide open. Once, he thought he saw a burst of fire at the end of a passage and twisted around to see if it was a dragon, but too late — they plunged even deeper, passing an underground lake where huge stalactites and stalagmites grew from the ceiling and floor.
"I never know," Harry called to Hagrid over the noise of the cart, "what's the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite?"
Remus went to explain, but Hermione beat him to it.
"Stalactites and stalagmites are formed in caves by the deposition of calcium carbonate. Stalactites are the conical deposits that form at the roof of the cave and hang downward while stalagmites are those that form on the bottom of the cave and grow upward as water drips down from above." she said, reciting it from a book she'd read long ago.
Harry sighed. He had already learned the difference between the two, but didn't have the heart to tell his friend.
"Thank you, Hermione."
She beamed at him. "You're welcome, Harry."
"Stalagmite's got an 'm' in it," said Hagrid. "An' don' ask me questions just now, I think I'm gonna be sick."
Even though they knew that Hagrid was ill, Remus and Sirius were bothered by that. It didn't seem fair to deny him the right to a simple question, when that was all his worthless relatives had done in the past.
He did look very green, and when the cart stopped at last beside a small door in the passage wall, Hagrid got out and had to lean against the wall to stop his knees from trembling.
Griphook unlocked the door. A lot of green smoke came billowing out, and as it cleared, Harry gasped. Inside were mounds of gold coins. Columns of silver. Heaps of little bronze Knuts.
"All yours," smiled Hagrid.
All Harry's – it was incredible. The Dursleys couldn't have known about this or they'd have had it from him faster than blinking.
Everyone got a sour look on their faces at the mention of those awful people.
How often had they complained how much Harry cost them to keep?
Harry winced. Remus and Sirius were livid.
"Harry, whatever they said about you being a 'cost to keep' is a load of dragon dung! Your parents made provisions for you in their will." Sirius explained, when Harry said nothing. "I don't know how much, but the Dursleys were paid well to take care of you."
Harry stared resolutely ahead, his green eyes unfocused. This merely angered everyone in the room. It was Remus's turn to hug him.
Ron, not knowing what else to do, continued.
And all the time there had been a small fortune belonging to him, buried deep under London. Hagrid helped Harry pile some of it into a bag.
"The gold ones are Galleons," he explained. "Seventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, it's easy enough. Right, that should be enough fer a couple o' terms, we'll keep the rest safe for yeh."
He turned to Griphook. "Vault seven hundred and thirteen now, please, and can we go more slowly?"
"One speed only," said Griphook.
They were going even deeper now and gathering speed. The air became colder and colder as they hurtled round tight corners. They went rattling over an underground ravine, and Harry leaned over the side to try to see what was down at the dark bottom, but Hagrid groaned and pulled him back by the scruff of his neck.
Vault seven hundred and thirteen had no keyhole. "Stand back," said Griphook importantly. He stroked the door gently with one of his long fingers and it simply melted away.
"If anyone but a Gringotts goblin tried that, they'd be sucked through the door and trapped in there," said Griphook.
"How often do you check to see if anyone's inside?" Harry asked.
"About once every ten years," said Griphook with a rather nasty grin.
A collective chill went through the room.
"Remind me never to piss off a goblin." Ron said, eyes wide.
Something really extraordinary had to be inside this top security vault, Harry was sure, and he leaned forward eagerly, expecting to see fabulous jewels at the very least — but at first he thought it was empty. Then he noticed a grubby little package wrapped up in brown paper lying on the floor.
Hagrid picked it up and tucked it deep inside his coat. Harry longed to know what it was, but knew better than to ask.
"Come on, back in this infernal cart, and don't talk to me on the way back, it's best if I keep me mouth shut," said Hagrid.
One wild cart ride later they stood blinking in the sunlight outside Gringotts. Harry didn't know where to run first now that he had a bag full of money. He didn't have to know how many Galleons there were to a pound to know that he was holding more money than he'd had in his whole life — more money than even Dudley had ever had.
If I had that kind of money, I'd buy me a new broom. Ron thought wistfully.
"It's five pounds to a Galleon, twenty-nine cents to a sickle and one cent to a knut." Hermione answered effortlessly.
"So, I had quite a bit, then." Harry said, thoughtfully. Hermione nodded.
All of this talk about money reminded Remus of something very important. But he'd wait until later to address it.
"Might as well get yer uniform," said Hagrid, nodding toward Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.
"Listen, Harry, would yeh mind if I slipped off fer a pick-me-up in the Leaky Cauldron? I hate them Gringotts carts."
"In other words, Hagrid is going to drink." Poppy stated with disdain. "I'm rather disappointed in him."
Sirius and Remus could only agree.
Harry glared at her. Though he wouldn't admit it, he owed both Hagrid and Dumbledore for taking him out of the Muggle world and away from his relatives. Even though it was necessary to return every summer. He tried to banish the thought, and ignored the sick feeling associated with it. I don't have to go back. I can live with Remus and Sirius now. He had to keep telling himself that – he refused to accept the alternative.
He did still look a bit sick, so Harry entered Madam Malkin's shop alone, feeling nervous. Madam Malkin was a squat, smiling witch dressed all in mauve.
"Hogwarts, dear?" she said, when Harry started to speak. "Got the lot here — another young man being fitted up just now, in fact." In the back of the shop, a boy with a pale, pointed face was standing on a footstool while a second witch pinned up his long black robes. Madam Malkin stood Harry on a stool next to him slipped a long robe over his head, and began to pin it to the right length.
"Hello," said the boy, "Hogwarts, too?"
"Malfoy!" Ron shouted.
"Yes," said Harry.
"My father's next door buying my books and mother's up the street looking at wands," said the boy. He had a bored, drawling voice.
"He should be picking his own wand." Remus stated. "Using a wand that isn't meant for him will make it difficult to master spells."
"Really?" Ron asked, taken aback.
"Of course. A wand can work for witch or wizard, but if it isn't suited to them, magic becomes extremely difficult."
No wonder my magic was rubbish then! I was using Charlie's old wand! Not wanting to dwell on that little fact, he went back to reading.
"Then I'm going to drag them off to look at racing brooms. I don't see why first years can't have their own. I think I'll bully father into getting me one and I'll smuggle it in somehow."
Harry was strongly reminded of Dudley.
"Well, they are alike." Harry said, smirking. "Maybe you should meet him sometime, 'Mione."
Much to the confusion of the adults, Ron laughed and Hermione blushed.
Sirius grinned. It seems that they have a lot of secrets. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.
For the first time since the beginning, he was growing excited at what wonders the books could possibly hold.
"Have you got your own broom?" the boy went on.
"No," said Harry.
"Play Quidditch at all?"
"No," Harry said again, wondering what on earth Quidditch could be.
"Only the best sport in the world!" Ron, Harry and Sirius said at once. The three of them smiled at each other.
Poppy sighed, remembering the past injuries Harry got from playing the thrice-damned game.
Remus rolled his eyes in mock-annoyance.
"Boys." Hermione muttered, shaking her head in exasparation.
"I do — Father says it's a crime if I'm not picked to play for my house, and I must say, I agree. Know what house you'll be in yet?"
"No," said Harry, feeling more stupid by the minute.
"Well, no one really knows until they get there, do they, but I know I'll be in Slytherin, all our family have been — imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you?"
"There's nothing wrong with Hufflepuff!" Ron snapped. "Slytherin, on the other hand..."
"I'd die before being put there!" Sirius declared. And with that, the two of them went in to a rant about the "Evils of Slytherin".
"Wasn't your brother in Slytherin?" asked Harry,"And didn't you say you still loved and missed him?"
That made Sirius shut up because it was true. He did miss Regulus just as equally he missed James and Lily. There wasn't a day he didn't think of Regulus and in Azkaban, Regulus death haunted him, along with James and Lily.
"Mmm," said Harry, wishing he could say something a bit more interesting.
"I say, look at that man!" said the boy suddenly, nodding toward the front window. Hagrid was standing there, grinning at Harry and pointing at two large ice creams to show he couldn't come in.
"That's Hagrid," said Harry, pleased to know something the boy didn't. "He works at Hogwarts."
"Oh," said the boy, "I've heard of him. He's a sort of servant, isn't he?"
"He's the gamekeeper," said Harry. He was liking the boy less and less every second.
"Yes, exactly. I heard he's a sort of savage — lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed."
"Rude little pissant." Sirius sneered. "Reminds me of dear old Lucy."
Remus snorted at the mention of their old nickname for Lucius.
"Who's Lucy?" Harry asked, confused.
Remus went to explain, but Sirius interrupted him. "Tell us what was in the vault first."
Harry thought over it for a moment. "You'll have to see for yourself."
Sirius mirrored his godson's earlier smirk. "Then I'm not telling you."
The two had a small staring contest, which ended when Sirius started laughing. "You're something else, pup!"
"Does that mean you'll tell me?"
"Do it, or I'll tell everyone my mother's old nickname for you!"
Sirius gaped at him. "You wouldn't!"
Harry chuckled darkly. "You want to test me?" He mouthed the word "Snuffy-kins", though only an amused Remus seemed to understand.
Sirius smacked his forehead. "Fine! You win! Lucy is Lucius Malfoy! His full nickname was Lucy the Juicy Goosey! I really need to start watching what I tell you, kid!" This earned a chorus of laughs from the Trio.
"Can we continue reading?" Poppy asked, keeping the edge out of her voice. Having fun was all well and good, but she really wanted to run a diagnostic check on Harry to determine her next course of action. Knowing all the injuries wouldn't be enough – she'd need confirmation of what medical problems Harry had, and how severe. This couldn't be done without Harry's personal consent, which would take forever to obtain.
Ron continued, but not before muttering "Lucy the Juicy Goosey" and snickering once more.
"I think he's brilliant," said Harry coldly. "Do you?" said the boy, with a slight sneer. "Why is he with you? Where are your parents?"
"They're dead," said Harry shortly. He didn't feel much like going into the matter with this boy.
"Oh, sorry," said the other, not sounding sorry at all.
"But they were our kind, weren't they?"
Remus, Sirius and Harry snarled at the book as one.
"They were a witch and wizard, if that's what you mean."
"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you? They're just not the same, they've never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What's your surname, anyway?"
But before Harry could answer, Madam Malkin said, "That's you done, my dear," and Harry, not sorry for an excuse to stop talking to the boy, hopped down from the footstool.
"Well, I'll see you at Hogwarts, I suppose," said the drawling boy.
Harry was rather quiet as he ate the ice cream Hagrid had bought him (chocolate and raspberry with chopped nuts).
Ron's stomach growled.
It was the very first sweet, (not counting the pieces of stale cake that Mrs. Figg let him eat), he'd been allowed to have. And while Harry was grateful that he hadn't become an addict to them like Dudley, he thought it would be nice to have some every now and then.
"That's a smart approach." Hermione said approvingly.
"Yeah, at least you won't end up like Dudley the Great Lump!" Sirius said, poking his arm playfully. "Or Uncle Walrus!" Ron added. Sirius nodded in approval.
Harry just gave them a blank stare, so Hermione explained the nicknames for his relatives. Yet again, Harry found himself laughing.
"You guys are too much!" he said, smiling so much that it almost hurt.
"What's up?" said Hagrid.
"Nothing," Harry lied.
They stopped to buy parchment and quills. Harry cheered up a bit when he found a bottle of ink that changed color as you wrote. When they had left the shop, he said, "Hagrid, what's Quidditch?"
"Blimey, Harry, I keep forgettin' how little yeh know — not knowin' about Quidditch!"
"Don't make me feel worse," said Harry. He told Hagrid about the pale boy in Madam Malkin's.
"— and he said people from Muggle families shouldn't even be allowed in —"
Hermione was forcibly reminded of her own encounter with Pansy Parkinson in Diagon Ally just before first year. Only, Pansy hadn't gotten away with insulting her...
"Yer not from a Muggle family. If he'd known who yeh were — he's grown up knowin' yer name if his parents are wizardin' folk. You saw what everyone in the Leaky Cauldron was like when they saw yeh. Anyway, what does he know about it, some o' the best I ever saw were the only ones with magic in 'em in a long line o' Muggles — look at yer mum! Look what she had fer a sister!"
"You can say that again." Sirius ground out, longing to punch her in the face again.
"So what is Quidditch?"
"It's our sport. Wizard sport. It's like — like soccer in the Muggle world — everyone follows Quidditch — played up in the air on broomsticks and there's four balls — sorta hard ter explain the rules."
"And what are Slytherin and Hufflepuff?"
"School houses. There's four. Everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o' duffers, but —"
"I bet I'm in Hufflepuff," said Harry gloomily.
"Why do you keep putting yourself down, Harry?" Remus asked, concerned.
"I don't put myself down." Harry insisted, looking away. He couldn't meet the intensity of those amber orbs.
"Then what was that?"
Harry shrugged. "Nervous, I guess. It's really hard to remember. Harry appeared calm, but in his mind, it was another story entirely. All too easily, the voices of his aunt and uncle came to him.
"Worthless, penniless freak! We should have given you to an orphanage!"
"You think you deserve new clothes, you ungrateful burden?"
"How dare you take food from Dudder's mouth! I should have left you on the doorstep instead of taking you in!"
"All you do is bring trouble in to our home! Why can't you be more like Dudley?"
"YOU BURNT MY DINNER! WHY CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING RIGHT, YOU FUCKING FREAK!"
He almost didn't hear Ron reading.
"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin," said Hagrid darkly. "There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one."
"Vol-, sorry —You-Know-Who was at Hogwarts?"
"Years an' years ago," said Hagrid.
They bought Harry's school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk; books full of peculiar symbols and a few books with nothing in them at all. Even Dudley, who never read anything, would have been wild to get his hands on some of these. Hagrid almost had to drag Harry away from Curses and Countercurses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian.
"I was trying to find out how to curse Dudley."
"That's my boy!" Sirius said, patting him on the back. Harry smiled convincingly enough, but the action felt forced.
"I'm not sayin' that's not a good idea, but yer not ter use magic in the Muggle world except in very special circumstances," said Hagrid. "An' anyway, yeh couldn' work any of them curses yet, yeh'll need a lot more study before yeh get ter that level."
Hagrid wouldn't let Harry buy a solid gold cauldron, either, ("It says pewter on yer list"), but they got a nice set of scales for weighing potion ingredients and a collapsible brass telescope. Then they visited the Apothecary, which was fascinating enough to make up for its horrible smell, a mix of bad eggs and rotted cabbages.
"You were interested in Potions?" Remus asked, surprised.
Harry looked away. "I was, until I realized that I had no talent for it." was all he said. His sad tone indicated that there was much more to the story than that, and Sirius found himself loathing Snape all over again. If that bastard hurt Harry in any way, I'll fucking kill him!
Judging by the dark expressions Ron and Hermione wore, something unpleasant had happened. Remus also appeared to be in a foul mood, thinking along the same lines as Sirius. Without as much hatred, though.
Barrels of slimy stuff stood on the floor; jars of herbs, dried roots, and bright powders lined the walls; bundles of feathers, strings of fangs, and snarled claws hung from the ceiling. While Hagrid asked the man behind the counter for a supply of some basic potion ingredients for Harry, Harry himself examined silver unicorn horns at twenty-one Galleons each and minuscule, glittery-black beetle eyes (five Knuts a scoop). Outside the Apothecary, Hagrid checked Harry's list again.
"Just yer wand left — A yeah, an' I still haven't got yeh a birthday present."
Harry smiled down at her. "You were the greatest present ever, Hedwig."
Hedwig hooted and gave Harry a look that seemed to be of adoration. Everyone smiled at the heartwarming scene. They all knew that Harry's owl meant the world to him.
Harry felt himself go red.
"You don't have to —"
"I know I don't have to. Tell yeh what, I'll get yer animal. Not a toad, toads went outta fashion years ago, yeh'd be laughed at— an' I don' like cats, they make me sneeze. I'll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they're dead useful, carry yer mail an' everythin'." Twenty minutes later, they left Eeylops Owl Emporium, which had been dark and full of rustling and flickering, jewel-bright eyes. Harry now carried a large cage that held a beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing. It had been a rather strange occurrence too. The owl had simply flown out of her open cage and landed on Harry's shoulder. Whenever Harry so much as looked at another owl, she let out a loud, screeching hoot, which felt a lot like a reprimand. Which was just as well – none of the other owls held the same appeal that she did.
"I think she's more than a pet." Hermione said, impressed. "Hedwig is far too intelligent to be an ordinary owl – even by Wizarding standards. Over the years, I've noticed that she acts almost human at times, which is never the case with an owl. She tends to get jealous, adores you, and can make decisions for herself."
"So, what is she?" Harry asked, as Hedwig ate another owl treat.
Hermione smiled at him. "She's you're familiar – an extension of yourself, yet completely independent. She will forever be linked to you, Harry."
Hedwig nuzzled his hand. Harry smiled. "Well, that's good to know. I don't know what I'd do without her."
"You're extremely lucky." Remus said. "Most wizards never find their familiar."
"Of course Harry would find his familiar" Sirius said, impersonating Lucius again. "To think any less is unworthy of your mortal soul."
Harry and Remus groaned.
Amused, Ron started reading again.
He couldn't stop stammering his thanks, sounding just like Professor Quirrell. "Don' mention it," said Hagrid gruffly. "Don' expect you've had a lotta presents from them Dursleys.
"I got some presents." Harry aruged.
"Socks and a coat hanger do not count as gifts." Sirius countered knowingly. "But don't worry, we'll spoil you rotten, we will!"
Ron and Hermione were shocked and it showed on their faces. That was what their little brother got as a present on his birthday? Their faces were red-hot with anger.
Embarrassed, Harry hid his face.
Just Ollivanders left now — only place fer wands, Ollivanders, and yeh gotta have the best wand."
A magic wand… this was what Harry had been really looking forward to.
Which the older, non-book Harry wasn't. With all that was going on, he forgot that they'd be reading about his wand, too. Nobody, save Professor Dumbledore, knew the truth about it. But, there was no way out of it. Trying to ask them not to read would only make the opposite happen. Trembling, Harry focused his attention on Hedwig, barely registering Ron's voice.
The last shop was narrow and shabby. Peeling gold letters over the door read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. A single wand lay on a faded purple cushion in the dusty window.
A tinkling bell rang somewhere in the depths of the shop as they stepped inside. It was a tiny place, empty except for a single, spindly chair that Hagrid sat on to wait. Harry felt strangely as though he had entered a very strict library; he swallowed a lot of new questions that had just occurred to him and looked instead at the thousands of narrow boxes piled neatly right up to the ceiling. For some reason, the back of his neck prickled.
The very dust and silence in here seemed to tingle with some secret magic.
Everyone gaped at Harry.
"Y-you can feel magic?" Remus asked, completely shocked.
Harry's stomach lurched. "Uh...well..." Freak! Freak! Freak!
"You're full of surprises, kiddo." Sirius said, bringing him in to a one-armed embrace. "It's a rare power, but nothing to be ashamed of. You should be proud."
Harry offered a lopsided smile in return. But his thoughts were anything but pleasant. The word "Freak" kept coming to the forefront of his mind. He motioned for Ron to continue reading.
"Good afternoon," said a soft voice. Harry jumped. Hagrid must have jumped, too, because there was a loud crunching noise and he got quickly off the spindly chair. An old man was standing before them, his wide, pale eyes shining like moons through the gloom of the shop. Hello," said Harry awkwardly.
"Ah yes," said the man. "Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Harry Potter." It wasn't a question. "You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work."
Mr. Ollivander moved closer to Harry. Harry wished he would blink. Those silvery eyes were a bit creepy.
"Yes, they are very creepy." Poppy said, a look of disgust on her face. "I went out on a date with him once, and all he did was stare at me for an hour."
The room shuddered. Yes, the old man was very unusual, to say the least.
"Your father, on the other hand, favoured a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say your father favoured it — it's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course."
Mr. Ollivander had come so close that he and Harry were almost nose to nose. Harry could see himself reflected in those misty eyes.
"And that's where…" Mr. Ollivander touched the lightning scar on Harry's forehead with a long, white finger.
"I wish people would leave it alone!" Harry snapped. "It's just a fucking scar!"
Sirius, meanwhile, swore that he'd smack the wandmaker next time he went to Diagon Alley. Everyone else was too shocked at Harry's burst of anger to comment.
"I'm sorry to say I sold the wand that did it," he said softly. "Thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Powerful wand, very powerful, and in the wrong hands… well, if I'd known what that wand was going out into the world to do…"
He shook his head and then, to Harry's relief, spotted Hagrid. "Rubeus! Rubeus Hagrid! How nice to see you again… Oak, sixteen inches, rather bendy, wasn't it?"
"It was, sir, yes," said Hagrid.
"Good wand, that one. But I suppose they snapped it in half when you got expelled?" said Mr. Ollivander, suddenly stern.
"Er — yes, they did, yes," said Hagrid, shuffling his feet. "I've still got the pieces, though," he added brightly.
"But you don't use them?" said Mr. Ollivander sharply.
"Oh, no, sir," said Hagrid quickly. Harry noticed he gripped his pink umbrella very tightly as he spoke.
"Of course not." Sirius replied sarcastically, draining some of the room's tension.
"Hmmm," said Mr. Ollivander, giving Hagrid a piercing look. "Well, now — Mr. Potter. Let me see." He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. "Which is your wand arm?"
"Er — well, I'm right-handed," said Harry.
"Hold out your arm. That's it." He measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round his head.
As he measured, he said, "Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr. Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand."
Harry suddenly realized that the tape measure, which was measuring between his nostrils, was doing this on its own.
Mr. Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes. "That will do," he said, and the tape measure crumpled into a heap on the floor. "Right then, Mr. Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. just take it and give it a wave."
Harry took the wand and (feeling foolish) waved it around a bit, but Mr. Ollivander snatched it out of his hand almost at once.
"Maple and phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy. Try —"
Harry tried — but he had hardly raised the wand when it, too, was snatched back by Mr. Ollivander. "No, no — here, ebony and unicorn hair, eight and a half inches, springy. Go on, go on, try it out."
Harry tried. And tried. He had no idea what Mr. Ollivander was waiting for. The pile of tried wands was mounting higher and higher on the spindly chair, but the more wands Mr. Ollivander pulled from the shelves, the happier he seemed to become.
"That's Ollivander for you!" Remus said fondly. "I remember it took ten times for me to find my proper wand."
"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere — I wonder, now — yes, why not — unusual combination — holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple."
Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers.
He raised the wand above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls.
Hagrid whooped and clapped and Mr. Ollivander cried, "Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well… how curious… how very curious…"
"Why is that curious?" Sirius asked. Nobody but Harry knew, and he wasn't willing to answer. He seemed to draw in to himself, a clear sign that something was amiss.
He put Harry's wand back into its box and wrapped it in brown paper, still muttering, "Curious… curious…"
"Sorry," said Harry, "but what's curious?"
Mr. Ollivander fixed Harry with his pale stare. "I remember every wand I've ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather — just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother — why, its brother gave you that scar."
Sirius and Remus, who had already heard the story from Dumbledore, weren't surprised at all. Ron, Hermione and Poppy were a little unnerved, to say the least.
Harry took one look at their pale faces and terror stirred within him. "Guys, I-I know it's bad. That's why I didn't want to tell you-"
Ron got up and walked toward him.
"Please don't be angry. I promise I won't turn evil or anything-"
Harry tighly shut his eyes as Ron towered over him. This is it. he thought, fighting the urge to cry. They're going to hate me. Just like second year, just like the Triwizard Tournament. It's happening again. Hedwig hooted a warning, and the adults were ready to interfere. But, none of that was necessary. Ron kneeled down, so that he was at Harry's level. Softly, he placed his hands on Harry's cheeks. Wait, this wasn't right, was it? Where were the fired curses and hard fists pounding in to his skull?
"Harry, look at me."
"I-I can't." he whispered.
He really didn't want to, but the desperation in his friend's tone forced his hand. Green eyes met icy blue. The first thing that Harry noticed was that they lacked the anger from earlier. This time, there was nothing but understanding in them. It was a humbling, surprising feeling, and all the apologies he'd prepared wouldn't come.
"Why should we be mad at you for having that wand?" Ron asked. "It's not your fault that wand chose you."
"But it's connected to Vol-Voldemort."
"So? Why should that matter? You're my friend, Harry." Ron sighed and placed his hands on those hauntingly small shoulders. Harry tried to hold back, really he did. He knew that he'd shown enough weakness for one day, but nothing he did helped. Tears began to blur his vision, and the next thing he knew, he was crying, and Ron was holding him. "It's okay." he said, rubbing soothing circles on his back. "Let it all out, Harry."
Ron didn't know what he was doing, but he'd seen his mum comfort Ginny like this once. It seemed to work, though. He had seen Harry cry twice, but the shock of it never wavered. Harry always seemed so together, so whole. No matter what hurdles were thrown in his path, Harry overcame them. It was times like these that reminded Ron that the "Boy Who Lived" persona didn't exist. Behind all the glamor, glitz, wealth and fame was a person far more broken than he should be. He had never had the chance to hold someone while they cried, but in a way, it felt good. No, not good. Right.
Eventually, the tears dried, and Harry let go. Ron took this as his cue to do the same. A box of tissues appeared, and he offered him one. "Here, Harry."
"Thank you." he mumbled, shyly taking one.
Ron smiled at him, knowing that it wasn't just about the tissue. "Anytime, mate. Do you want me to continue reading?"
He tried to say that he wanted Ron to stay, but the words didn't quite make it past his throat.
Ron, as always, seemed to know what Harry was thinking,"Do you want me to stay here, 'Ry?"
So, Ron stay with Harry wrapped around him like a little brother seeking comfort from an older brother, intent on finishing the chapter.
Sirius and Remus shot him grateful glances, which he returned with a simple nod.
"Yes, thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember… I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter… After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great."
Harry shivered. He wasn't sure he liked Mr. Ollivander too much. He paid seven gold Galleons for his wand, and Mr. Ollivander bowed them from his shop.
The late afternoon sun hung low in the sky as Harry and Hagrid made their way back down Diagon Alley, back through the wall, back through the Leaky Cauldron, now empty. Harry didn't speak at all as they walked down the road; he didn't even notice how much people were gawking at them on the Underground, laden as they were with all their funny-shaped packages, with the snowy owl asleep in its cage on Harry's lap.
Up another escalator, out into Paddington station; Harry only realized where they were when Hagrid tapped him on the shoulder.
"Got time fer a bite to eat before yer train leaves," he said.
He bought Harry a hamburger and they sat down on plastic seats to eat them. Harry kept looking around. Everything looked so strange, somehow.
"All those people in the Leaky Cauldron, Professor Quirrell, Mr. Ollivander… but I don't know anything about magic at all. How can they expect great things? I'm famous and I can't even remember what I'm famous for. I don't know what happened when Vol-, sorry — I mean, the night my parents died."
Everyone's breath hitched.
Hagrid leaned across the table. Behind the wild beard and eyebrows he wore a very kind smile.
"Don' you worry, Harry. You'll learn fast enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you'll be just fine. Just be yerself. I know it's hard. Yeh've been singled out, an' that's always hard. But yeh'll have a great time at Hogwarts — I did — still do, 'smatter of fact."
That doesn't help at all! Remus thought angrily. Harry was looking for reassurance, Hagrid!
Hagrid helped Harry on to the train that would take him back to the Dursleys, then handed him an envelope.
"Yer ticket fer Hogwarts, " he said. "First o' September — King's Cross — it's all on yer ticket. Any problems with the Dursleys, send me a letter with yer owl, she'll know where to find me…. See yeh soon, Harry."
The train pulled out of the station. Harry wanted to watch Hagrid until he was out of sight; he rose in his seat and pressed his nose against the window, but he blinked and Hagrid had gone.
"And that's the end of that!" Ron said, relieved. He passed the book to Poppy. "Now, can we get something to eat? I'm starving!" Poppy cast a Tempus, revealing that it was now well past one. They had spent roughly an hour reading.
Instantly, the room prepared a typical Hogwarts lunch, only there was one table and not nearly enough food to feed hundreds of children. The food was set upon a large, oval-shaped oak table. The chairs were red, and the cushions appeared to be crushed leather.
Everyone brightened up.
Meanwhile, in the moon-lit room, the watchers looked on happily. It seemed as though everyone had risen to the occasion so far. The orb changed from the happily eating fivesome, and to a person they were most angry with. Severus Snape had reached the final stage of his potion.
"I think old Snivelly should experience a little accident." One of the watchers said vindictively. And with that, the ritual's magic caused Severus's potion to turn from a sapphire blue to a dark, ugly brown. Several laughed in dark amusement as the master of potions struggled in vain to save his work. "You'll learn not to fuck with my son, you git!"
"James, you shouldn't do that!" another scolded. "Severus' potion was highly dangerous! You could have killed him!"
"I don't care, Lily." he said darkly. "He ruined our son's interest in potions, so I'll ruin him. It's a fair trade."
As James and Lily fought, Cadmus had a bad feeling. Though it was understandable to want revenge on those who hurt his son, he'd have to make sure it didn't go too far. As the founder of the ritual, everything rested on his shoulders. He turned back to his notes, studying what needed to happen in the second milestone. Sometimes, it really sucks to be a Peverell.
Chapter 8: The Journey From Platform 9 and 3/4
As the reading continues, bonds of friendship are revealed - slightly AU from the original train ride.
Chapter Seven: The Journey From Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
It was a rather pleasant luncheon, all things considered. They didn't mention the books, or even attempt to broach the subject of their situation; Sirius and Remus opted for a bit of light-hearted story telling instead. The five enjoyed their lunch in various degrees. Hermione and Madame Pomfrey ate with poise and manners, though the same couldn't be said for Ron. True to his rude nature, the redhead filled his plate to the brim and stuffed his face in a most unappealing fashion.
Having eaten a short while ago, Remus and Sirius casually picked at their food, while Harry simply refused to eat. It was as though the mere thought of food made him sick. But then again, when did Harry ever eat more than a small amount at a time? Hermione held back a sigh. Before the awful discoveries that came with the last two chapters, she hadn't thought anything of it. In fact, there were plenty of glaring issues that had gone ignored, simply because she trusted the judgment of Mrs. Wealsey and Professor Dumbledore over her own instincts. She looked over at Ron, who was already on his fourth sandwich.
For all his great qualities, Ronald wasn't exactly the brightest person out there. He didn't seem to contemplate the emotions of others very well, and held very little control over his own. And yet, when Harry had been on the verge of an emotional breakdown, he simply sprang in to action. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least, and showed that there were hidden depths to her friend that she hadn't noticed before.
Speaking of hidden depths...
She glanced over at Harry, who snickered at a joke that Remus whispered in his ear.
"You're so mean, Moony!" Sirius mock-whined.
Remus smirked at him. "And you're a child."
"Only children pout, Siri."
"I'm not pouting!"
"I don't know, it looks like you're pouting to me."
Sirius grumbled something under his breath, and threw a piece of tomato at Remus. The werewolf dodged it expertly, as though it happened all the time. A feral grin spread across his face.
"You shouldn't have done that Paddy. Now, I have no choice..."
Sirius instantly got up and backed away. His eyes went wide as the former teacher inched closer to him. "Now, Remus, let's not do anything hasty!"
Using the Room's magic, Remus summoned two whole, overly ripe tomatoes and proceeded to throw them. Both missed, though the second one stuck to the wall for a moment before sliding to the floor. Sirius tackled Remus, so that they were both on the ground. Straddling the fellow Marauder, Sirius grabbed the nearest tomato and shoved it in his friend's face.
"S-stop it, Sirius!" he sputtered, trying to avoid the savory fruit.
Sirius smirked evilly. "Do you surrender, Remus?"
"What was that? I couldn't hear you."
"Yes! Just get rid of the tomato!"
Sirius softly chuckled in his ear, sending chills down Remus's back. "Alright, but only because I'm bored." He willed the tomatoes to vanish. He stayed where he was though, finding himself far too comfortable to move. For what felt like forever, gray eyes met amber. A strange intensity sparked between them, and the others were momentarily forgotten.
"Um... are you guys alright?" Hermione asked, concerned.
Her voice brought reality crashing all around them. Like lightning, Sirius bolted up and made his way back to the table. "Of course I am." he grinned at her. "Just teaching old Moony whose boss!"
"Oh, thanks for helping me up, by the way!" Remus said sarcastically, getting up."How kind of you!"
"No problem, Remy. No problem at all!"
Harry laughed at their antics. "You guys are so weird!"
Sirius and Remus grinned at each other, blushing slightly. They hadn't planned that, but at least they'd kept Harry entertained. At the same time, they couldn't help but think:
What in the hell just happened?
"Well, if you two are done acting like children, I suggest we read another chapter." Poppy said, all business. "I believe it's my turn."
The positive atmosphere vanished as quickly as the food in front of them. Everyone had different thoughts in terms of reading, none of them positive. Harry, in particular, was unwilling to read, for fear of his secrets being revealed. He felt sick just thinking about it. The fact that they'd continue reading, even if he protested, left a very bitter taste in his mouth. It didn't help that the mediwitch was bearing down upon them with her stern, cool expression. She left no room for argument, no chance for defiance. Even Remus, the most collected of the group, was unnerved. For all her kindness, never let it be said that Madame Pomfrey couldn't get her way when she wanted to. Reluctantly, the group sat in their chairs. After a minute or two, Poppy managed to find where they left off and read:
The Journey From Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
Harry's last month with the Dursleys wasn't fun.
"Of course it wasn't." Remus said, tone dripping with sarcasm "I highly doubt they even know the definition of it!"
True, Dudley was now so scared of Harry that he wouldn't stay in the same room, but the same couldn't be said for his aunt and uncle.
I don't like the sound of that. Sirius thought grimly, biting back his anger. A quick glance at Remus determined that he wasn't the only one.
The three of them had had a long discussion after Harry's day of shopping, where Aunt Petunia bitterly discussed the rules she remembered during Lily's time in Hogwarts. To his deepest disappointment, this
included being unable to do magic outside of school. Apparently, doing so would be grounds for expulsion.
Of course, Uncle Vernon made it perfectly clear that doing so would also gain him the most painful thrashing of his life. Later that night, it was followed with what was deemed a "practical lesson".
Harry paled, remembering it all too well.
"Did he hurt you?" Sirius asked, his tone hard. Harry barely managed to meet his gaze. Memories of that night were now in the back of his mind, and it took every once of effort to push them away.
"All he did was smack me around a little," he said with a half-hearted smile. "The book makes it sound so much worse."
This did nothing soothe the anger and concern of those in the room. If anything, it only made them worry more. Nobody should be able to shrug off a "thrashing" of any sort. And Sirius had suspicions of his own, none of them pleasant. It saddened them immensely. Poppy resisted the well of pity in her heart, knowing that now wasn't the time or place for it.
All in all, very little changed, though Uncle Vernon's mean streak only seemed to grow as the days went by. So, when Harry wasn't cooking their meals, doing yard work or tidying up the house, he kept to his room. It would have been lonely, had he not been able to enjoy the company of his new owl.
Hedwig hooted sadly as Harry petted her head. She had seen many instances of both the Pig-Man and Horse-Woman's temper, and the effects they had on her human. It hurt her deeply to know that, outside of a bit of companionship, she couldn't offer anything else to him.
Dear Artemis, please let the other humans keep him safe! I don't want to think of what will happen if my owling has to return to those horrible people! She prayed.
He decided to call her Hedwig, a name he had found in A History of Magic.
Two thirds of the Trio gaped at him.
"You actually read it?" Hermione said, surprised. Harry shook his head.
"Nope, I just skimmed. Hedwig's name happened to be the only one I remembered." He glanced at the bird, who had taken to perching on his lap. "She didn't like the name at first, though."
Hedwig hooted indignantly, earning small chuckles from everyone.
His school books were very interesting.
Ron and Sirius looked horrified at that, while Hermione, Remus and Poppy smiled approvingly at him. Harry scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.
He lay on his bed, carefully positioning himself to keep the pressure off his aching back. He would often read late into the night, while Hedwig would swoop in and out of the open window as she pleased. It was lucky that Aunt Petunia didn't come in to vacuum anymore, because Hedwig kept bringing back dead mice. Every night before he went to sleep, Harry ticked off another day on the piece of paper he had pinned to the wall, counting down to September the first.
"Hey, I do that too, Harry!" Hermione said, smiling at him.
Ron mock-sighed. "Oh great, just what we need, another bookworm!"
"At least I know how to read." she teased, rolling her eyes.
"Hey! I know how to read! I just choose not to!"
Hermione snickered and pat him on the head, as though he were a small child. "Of course you do, Ronald."
Harry smiled at their antics, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. While grateful that the flippant mention of injuries had gone unmentioned, he knew that their it was lingering in their thoughts. Was this what it was like for the other chapters? Just how much did they know about his home life? A sick feeling blossomed in the pit of his stomach.
On the last day of August he thought he'd better speak to his aunt and uncle about getting to King's Cross station the next day, so he went down to the living room where they were watching a quiz show on television.
He cleared his throat to let them know he was there, and Dudley screamed and ran from the room.
"Er — Uncle Vernon, sir?" Harry asked, timidly.
Uncle Vernon grunted to show he was listening.
"I don't mean to be a bother, but I need to be at King's Cross tomorrow to — to go to school." He dared not say "Hogwarts"; the last thing he wanted was to make him angry.
The Room became uncomfortably tense. Remus and Sirius had taken to grasping one of Harry's hands, assuring themselves he was there. Hermione bit her lower lip, while Ron clenched his fists. Harry, for one, wished they'd calm down. He came out of everythin just fine, didn't he?
Uncle Vernon grunted again.
"Would it be alright if you give me a lift?"
Grunt. Harry supposed that meant yes.
He was about to go back upstairs when Uncle Vernon actually spoke. "Funny way to get to a wizards' school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?"
Harry nodded, though he didn't have an opinion either way.
"Where is this school, anyway?"
"I don't know," said Harry, realizing this for the first time. He pulled the ticket Hagrid had given him out of his pocket.
"I just take the train from platform nine and three-quarters at eleven o'clock," he read.
His aunt and uncle stared. "Platform what?"
"Nine and three-quarters."
"Nonsense!" screeched Aunt Petunia. "There is no platform nine and three-quarters!"
Sirius and Remus glowered at the book.
"Lying cunt!" Sirius grumbled. When everyone gave them a puzzled expression, Remus explained, managing to keep calm.
"Petunia knows about the platform. She used to come with Lily and her parents, reluctantly, though."
"Then why lie about it?" Hermione asked darkly. "What did she have to gain from it?"
Harry shrugged, when neither of the Marauders answered. Revenge. It's always been about revenge with her. He dared not voice it out loud, not wanting to make their anger worse.
Ron gave the book a look of disgust, and Poppy merely sighed. Just how many things did these monsters have to answer for?
"It's on my ticket."
"Barking," said Uncle Vernon, "howling mad,
the lot of them. You'll see. You just wait. All right, we'll take you to King's Cross. We're going up to London tomorrow anyway, or I wouldn't bother."
"Why are you going to London?" Harry asked, trying to keep things friendly.
Aunt Petunia glared coldly at him, while Uncle Vernon's face turned a bright, angry red.
"Taking Dudley to the hospital," growled Uncle Vernon. "Got to have that ruddy tail removed before he goes to Smeltings."
Much to their delight, a poster of Dudley with said tail floated around the room, earning a laugh from everyone, though Remus and Poppy felt a twinge of guilt for doing so. The poster vanished once Poppy continued to read.
Harry woke at five o'clock the next morning and was too excited and nervous to go back to sleep. They smiled fondly. He got up and pulled on his jeans because his aunt and uncle didn't want him to walk into the station in his wizard's robes —
He'd change on the train. He checked his Hogwarts list yet again to make sure he had everything he needed, saw that Hedwig was shut safely in her cage, and then paced the room, waiting for the Dursleys to get up. Two hours later, Harry's huge, heavy trunk had been loaded into the Dursleys' car, Aunt Petunia had talked Dudley into sitting next to Harry, and they had set off.
Harry was delighted to see that Dudley still feared him, and, for once, keeping his hands to himself.
They reached King's Cross at half past ten. Uncle Vernon dumped Harry's trunk onto a cart and wheeled it into the station for him.
"Why his he being so nice?" Remus asked suspiciously.
"If he touches one hair on Harry's head..." Sirius muttered, reaching for his wand.
"I'm right here, Sirius!" Harry said, wishing that they were done already. "Relax, I'm fine!"
Poppy diffused the situation by pushing onward.
Harry thought this was strangely kind until Uncle Vernon stopped dead, facing the platforms with a nasty grin on his face.
Everyone, save Harry glared at the book. Harry, meanwhile, had a genuine smile on his face, which baffled everyone.
"Arsehole." Ron grumbled.
"They just left you there, didn't they?" Sirius asked incredulously.
"Yeah, but it gets better." he looked pointedly at Ron, who finally caught on and smiled back.
"Well, there you are, boy. Platform nine — platform ten. Your platform should be somewhere in the middle, but they don't seem to have built it yet, do they?"
He was quite right, of course. There was a big plastic number nine over one platform and a big plastic number ten over the one next to it, and in the middle, nothing at all. "Have a good term," said Uncle Vernon with an even nastier smile.
He left without another word. Harry turned and saw the Dursleys drive away. All three of them were laughing.
"Bastards!" Sirius growled, anger radiating off him in waves.
"I can't believe they just left you there!" Hermione said angrily.
Harry bit back a retort. Their hair-pin reactions were already getting on his nerves. If they were going to be like this the whole time, he'd rather leave time frozen.
"It's fine, really." he told them with what he hoped was an earnest tone. "They left me, but I found my own way. It was kind of liberating, actually."
Remus eyed his cub wearily. The boy was a great actor, but his wolf-senses picked up on the little things others wouldn't notice; the slight quiver of his voice, the scent of anxiety, and slight pallor in his skin tone. As expected, the others were taken in by Harry's seemingly calm demeanor, even Sirius relaxed a little.
Harry's mouth went rather dry. What on earth was he going to do? He was starting to attract a lot of funny looks, because of Hedwig. He'd have to ask someone. He stopped a passing guard, but didn't dare mention platform nine and three-quarters.
The guard had never heard of Hogwarts and when Harry couldn't even tell him what part of the country it was in, he started to get annoyed, as though Harry was being stupid on purpose. Getting desperate, Harry asked for the train that left at eleven o'clock, but the guard said there wasn't one.
It's a good thing Professor McGonagall explained everything properly. Hermione thought. If my parents and I were in Harry's position, we'd have given up and gone home. She looked to Ron and Harry, who were still sharing knowing smiles. The very idea of never meeting them was enough to make her sad. They had been her very first friends, and she wouldn't trade them for all the knowledge in the world.
In the end the guard strode away, muttering about time wasters. Harry was now trying hard not to panic. According to the large clock over the arrivals board, he had ten minutes left to get on the train to Hogwarts and he had no idea how to do it; he was stranded in the middle of a station with a trunk he could hardly lift, a pocket full of wizard money, and a large owl.
"Why didn't Hagrid tell you how to get on the Platform?" Sirius asked.
Harry shrugged. "He forgot, I guess."
Poppy huffed indignantly. "Too drunk to remember, I'm sure." It wasn't that she disliked him, but his lack of responsibility in regards to Harry wasn't something she could ignore.
This earned a rather nasty look from Harry. "Yeah, he had a few drinks here and there, but he wasn't drunk!"
Remus gave Poppy a scathing look of his own. Though he agreed with her, now wasn't the time to mention such things.
Poppy merely continued, not the least bit apologetic.
Hagrid must have forgotten to tell him something you had to do, like tapping the third brick on the left to get into Diagon Alley. He wondered if he should get out his wand and start tapping the ticket inspector's stand between platforms nine and ten.
At that moment a group of people passed just behind him and he caught a few words of what they were saying.
"— packed with Muggles, of course —"
Harry swung round. The speaker was a plump woman who was talking to four boys, all with flaming red hair.
With that single sentence, the tension melted away. Though his concerns were far from abolished, Harry couldn't fight the feeling of nostalgia that grew in his heart. This was the day it all began. That day, he'd made his first human frined. It was a deeply positive feeling, and had there been a dementor, Harry knew that he'd be able to summon his Patronus in an instant. He looked to Ron, then to Hermione, who were currently whispering something to each other.
The adults, to some extent, noticed this. The abrupt change in Harry's demeanor surprising, but more than welcome. Remus relaxed for the moment, but inwardly vowed to watch for a relapse, and bring some of his concerns to Sirius's attention.
Each of them was pushing a trunk like Harry's in front of him – and they had an owl. Heart hammering, Harry pushed his cart after them. They stopped and so did he, just near enough to hear what they were saying.
"Now, what's the platform number?" said the boys' mother.
"Why is she asking?" Remus asked, confused.
"She shouldn't have to." Sirius said, surprised. "The platform number is always the same."
"Maybe she's just tired." Ron said, defending his mother. "She does a lot around the house, you know."
Poppy nodded. "Sounds plausible to me."
Harry said nothing, but gave Ron a wary glance. Though he loved Mrs. Weasley, he had learned a few hard truths about her long ago. Hopefully, this wouldn't cause a fight later on. Sensing his tension, Hedwig nipped his fingers in a gentle, affectionate sort of way.
"Nine and three-quarters!" piped a small girl, also red-headed, who was holding her hand, "Mum, can't I go…"
"You're not old enough, Ginny, now be quiet! All right, Percy, you go first." What looked like the oldest boy marched toward platforms nine and ten.
Harry watched, careful not to blink in case he missed it — but just as the boy reached the dividing barrier between the two platforms, a large crowd of tourists came swarming in front of him and by the time the last backpack had cleared away, the boy had vanished.
"Fred, you next," the plump woman said.
"I'm not Fred, I'm George," said the boy, as though hurt. "Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"
Poppy, Hermione, Remus and Sirius were stunned by that, to say the least.
"Shouldn't she be able to tell her own children apart?" Sirius asked, while trying to clamp down on his suspicion. Molly Weasley was many things; close-minded, abrasive and far too judgemental, but a bad mother didn't seem to be one of them. And Harry seems to like her well enough. The last thing I want to do is anger him.
Ron glowered at them. "He was kidding! They play this joke all the time!"
"Sorry, George, dear."
"Only joking, I am Fred,"
said the boy, and off he went. His twin called after him to hurry up, and he must have done so, because a second later, he had gone — but how had he done it? Now the third brother was walking briskly toward the barrier he was almost there — and then, quite suddenly, he wasn't anywhere. There was nothing else for it.
"Excuse me," Harry said to the plump woman.
"Hello, dear," she said. At a closer glance, Harry could tell that she was the slightest bit unwell. Perhaps she woke up too early?
"First time at Hogwarts? Ron's new, too." She pointed at the last and youngest of her sons. He was tall, thin, and gangling, with freckles, big hands and feet, and a long nose.
Sirius and Remus snickered, and the barest of smirks graced Poppy's face.
Ron's first instinct was to take offense, but one look at his friend and a sudden stab of pity calmed him. Harry was looking down at the ground, petting Hedwig, and otherwise being generally unresponsive; a sign of shame. I shouldn't be angry. He didn't even know me at the time. So, swallowing his pride, he laughed. "Perfect description of me, 'Ry!"
Harry looked up at him, and the smile he was awarded more than made up for a little self-depreciation. Poppy nodded at him, while Remus and Sirius, for the second time today, wore grateful expressions. Not to mention Hermione's eyes sparkled with what could possibly be pride and – dare he think it? – adoration? Ron felt his ears go warm.
"Yes," said Harry. "The thing is — the thing is, I don't know how to —"
"How to get onto the platform?" she said kindly, and Harry nodded.
"I'm glad someone was there to help you." Remus said, bringing Harry in to a one-armed embrace.
"Me too." Harry agreed, smiling so much that it hurt. "I don't know what I'd have done without your mum, Ron."
"Probably starve to death?" the redhead joked. "She really likes to 'feed you up'."
And suddenly, for no apparent reason, the room went unnaturally silent. It was amazing, how deeply a single joke could cut people; Remus and Sirius turned a deathly shade of white, while Poppy seemed to be on the verge of tears. Harry's smile had slid off his face, and though he didn't look upset, he definitely wasn't amused. Hermione seemed rather confused at first, but then, horrified. And Ron quickly followed.
"Bloody hell!" Ron cried.
"You really would have." Hermione whispered.
Harry shook his head. "No, I wouldn't have, 'Mione. Trust me. They were diet-obsessed last summer, but it wasn't that bad. I still ate." He went back to petting Hedwig, who gave a low, sad hoot. "You should try to get some sleep, girl. It's way past your bedtime."
Hedwig simply stayed there, silently defying him.
"Not to worry," she said. "All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous. Go on, go now before Ron."
"Er — okay," said Harry. He pushed his trolley around and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid. He started to walk toward it. People jostled him on their way to platforms nine and ten. Harry walked more quickly. He was going to smash right into that barrier and then he'd be in trouble — leaning forward on his cart, he broke into a heavy run — the barrier was coming nearer and nearer — he wouldn't be able to stop — the cart was out of control — he was a foot away — he closed his eyes ready for the crash —
"Which doesn't come." Sirius and Remus said at the same time, grinning from ear to ear.
It didn't come… he kept on running…he opened his eyes. A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts' Express, eleven o'clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it, He had done it!
Everyone cheered, including Poppy and Harry.
Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and the scraping of heavy trunks.
The first few carriages were already packed with students, some hanging out of the window to talk to their families, some fighting over seats. For a moment, he simply stared, a pang of longing in his heart. If his parents were here, would they be seeing him off, too? He he had siblings, would they be fighting over seats, or would they stick together as they boarded the train?
Harry refused to look up at the pitying stares he'd surely gotten. Why does it have to be my perspective? he thought bitterly. Is a little privacy too much to ask?
It should have been James and Lily. Sirius thought sullenly, as the dregs of guilt came up once more. They should have been there for him. he bit his lower lip. And if not them, me, at the very least.
Practically sensing the thought process of his fellow Marauder, Remus reached from behind Harry and gave a Sirius's hand a small squeeze. It was a little difficult, but he managed without drawing attention. The feeble pressure he received in return was worrying. Would Sirius turn in to a puddle of misery and self-loathing like he had before?
Harry pushed his cart off down the platform in search of an empty seat. He passed a round-faced boy who was saying, "Gran, I've lost my toad again."
"Oh, Neville," he heard the old woman sigh.
A boy with dreadlocks was surrounded by a small crowd.
"Give us a look, Lee, go on."
The boy lifted the lid of a box in his arms, and the people around him shrieked and yelled as something inside poked out a long, hairy leg.
Ron looked as though he were going to be sick, but seemed to instantly get better when Hermione gave him a small hug. Everyone else smiled knowingly.
Harry pressed on through the crowd until he found an empty compartment near the end of the train. He put Hedwig inside first and then started to shove and heave his trunk toward the train door. He tried to lift it up the steps but could hardly raise one end and twice he dropped it painfully on his foot.
"Want a hand?" It was one of the red-haired twins he'd followed through the barrier.
"Yes, please," Harry panted.
"Oy, Fred! C'mere and help!"
With the twins' help, Harry's trunk was at last tucked away in a corner of the compartment.
Harry smiled fondly at the memory.
"That was nice of them." Hermione said aprovingly.
"Thanks," said Harry, pushing his sweaty hair out of his eyes.
"What's that?" said one of the twins suddenly, pointing at Harry's lightning scar.
"That didn't last long." Sirius groaned. To the surprise of everyone, Harry didn't look the least bit put off, so they left well enough alone.
"Blimey," said the other twin. "Are you —?" "He is," said the first twin. "Aren't you?" he added to Harry.
"What?" said Harry.
"Harry Potter." chorused the twins.
"Oh, him," said Harry, startled. He wasn't used to people saying his name most of the time, and if they did, it was rarely pleasant. Hagrid was the first person who had been truly decent to him. "I mean, yes, I am."
"The Dursleys aren't so bad." Harry said, when the sad looks returned. "They're just strict, and not the most... affectionate people in the world." Nobody missed the small flinch at the word "affectionate".
Sirius wanted to call Harry out on it, but decided not to. His pup was merely speaking out of shame, after all. Facing abuse of any kind was far from easy, and often extremely very humiliating; he had experienced this first hand, in private sessions with Charlus and Dorea, who were both very skilled mind healers. Even James's parents couldn't make the process of opening up any easier.
The two boys gawked at him, and Harry felt himself turning red.
The current Harry did as well.
"Fred? George? Are you there?"
With a last look at Harry, the twins hopped off the train. Harry sat down next to the window where, half hidden, he could watch the red-haired family on the platform and hear what they were saying. He knew that it wasn't right to listen in on others, but he couldn't resist. These people seemed really nice, and he liked listening to them talk.
Again, nobody commented, but their expressions spoke volumes.
Their mother had just taken out her handkerchief. "Ron, you've got something on your nose." The youngest boy tried to jerk out of the way, but she grabbed him and began rubbing the end of his nose.
"Mom— geroff" He wriggled free.
Harry, Remus, Sirius, and Hermione laughed.
"Aaah, has ickle Ronnie got somefink on his nosie?" said one of the twins.
"Shut up." the current Ron grumbled at the book.
"Shut up," said Ron.
This earned snorts from the aforementioned four.
"Where's Percy?" said their mother.
"He's coming now."
The oldest boy came striding into sight. He had already changed into his billowing black Hogwarts robes, and Harry noticed a red and gold badge on his chest with the letter P on it.
Ron groaned at the mention of his least-favorite brother, while Hermione and Harry glared darkly at the book.
"Can't stay long, Mother," he said. "I'm up front; the prefects have got two compartments to themselves —"
"Oh, are you a prefect, Percy?" said one of the twins, with an air of great surprise. "You should have said something, we had no idea."
"Hang on, I think I remember him saying something about it," said the other twin. "Once —"
"Or twice —"
"A minute —"
"All summer —"
"Oh, shut up," said Percy the Prefect.
This caused roars of laughter from everyone but Poppy, who sighed in disappointment at the lad. He had shown so much promise. It was a shame that he had forsaken his family for the Ministry.
"How come Percy gets new robes, anyway?" said one of the twins.
"Because he's a prefect," said their mother fondly.
Ron scowled at the book. It was thanks to Percy's new dress robes that he hadn't gotten a wand of his own!
Though he didn't realize it, the adults were rather put off by this, but for a different reason. All of them knew that the Weasleys were rather poor, and only survived on one paycheck. How had she been able to afford new robes of any sort, and see to it that her children had everything they needed? Thrift stores could only go so far, after all.
"All right, dear, well, have a good term — send me an owl when you get there." She kissed Percy on the cheek and he left. Then she turned to the twins.
"Now, you two — this year, you behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me you've — you've blown up a toilet or —"
"Oh dear." Remus said, eyes gleaming mischievously. "She really shouldn't give them ideas."
"Blown up a toilet? We've never blown up a toilet."
"Bet they will now that she's brought it up." Sirius said, matching Remus's expression.
"Great idea though, thanks, Mum."
Poppy glared at the book, and Harry laughed. Both remembered what the twins had done during Harry's stay in the hospital ward that year.
"It's not funny. And look after Ron."
"Don't worry, ickle Ronniekins is safe with us."
"Poor Ronniekins." Sirius teased, earning a glare from him.
"Shut up," said Ron again. He was almost as tall as the twins already and his nose was still pink where his mother had rubbed it.
"Hey, Mum, guess what? Guess who we just met on the train?" Harry leaned back quickly so they couldn't see him looking.
"You know that black-haired boy who was near us in the station? Know who he is?"
Harry heard the little girl's voice. "Oh, Mum, can I go on the train and see him, Mum, eh please…"
"Aww, it looks like little Ginny's got a crush on you, pup!" Sirius said, playfully messing up the teen's already untamed locks.
Harry groaned. Hermione giggled and Ron snorted; they knew all too well that Harry wasn't into her at all, but Harry's embarrassment was pretty amusing.
"You've already seen him, Ginny, and the poor boy isn't something you goggle at in a zoo."
"Is he really, Fred? How do you know?"
Is he really, Fred? How do you know?"
"Asked him. Saw his scar. It's really there — like lightning."
"Poor dear — no wonder he was alone, I wondered. He was ever so polite when he asked how to get onto the platform."
"Never mind that, do you think he remembers what You-Know-Who looks like?"
Everyone tensed at the mention of Voldemort, and Harry paled considerably. Though the evil man was now gone from their lives, his mark had still been left upon them. Harry didn't think he'd ever be able to fully escape the horrible, oily feeling of the man's soul in his body. His thoughts then turned to Ginny, who had gone through something like that during her first year. For her sake, and his, he hoped that it got easier to deal with as time went on.
Their mother suddenly became very stern.
"I forbid you to ask him, Fred. No, don't you dare. As though he needs reminding of that on his first day at school."
"All right, keep your hair on." A whistle sounded.
"Hurry up!" their mother said, and the three boys clambered onto the train. They leaned out of the window for her to kiss them good-bye, and their younger sister began to cry.
"Aww, that's sweet." Hermione cooed.
"Don't, Ginny, we'll send you loads of owls."
"We'll send you a Hogwarts' toilet seat."
"These guys are awesome!" Sirius said, smirking.
"Yeah, they are." Harry, Ron and Hermione agreed at the same time, causing them to smile at each other.
"Only joking, Mum."
"Wonder if they really did it," Remus said, curious. "I'll have to ask them next time I see them."
Harry chuckled and Poppy held back a sigh.
The train began to move. Harry saw the boys' mother waving and their sister, half laughing, half crying, running to keep up with the train until it gathered too much speed, then she fell back and waved.
Harry watched the girl and her mother disappear as the train rounded the corner. Houses flashed past the window. Harry felt a great leap of excitement. He didn't know what he was going to — but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind.
"It really is." Harry said, as Hedwig started to nod off.
Everyone silently agreed.
The door of the compartment slid open and the youngest redheaded boy came in. "Anyone sitting there?" he asked, pointing at the seat opposite Harry. "Everywhere else is full."
"Oh, I bet it is." Sirius said sarcastically, but not unkindly.
"No, it really was." Ron mumbled unconvincingly.
Harry shook his head and the boy sat down. He glanced at Harry and then looked quickly out of the window, pretending he hadn't looked. Harry saw he still had a black mark on his nose.
"You really notice everything, don't you?" Hermione said, amused.
Harry shrugged."Not that much. I was just really excited, so I kept noticing the strangest things." What he didn't say, but was suspected by them anyway, was that it was a trait he'd developed in order to survive. There were times he had avoided a punishment or a "lesson" by noting the small differences in his uncle's behavior, or if his aunt would allow him to eat that day. Not that anyone would be able to get this information out of Harry, who felt that they were learning far too much already.
"Hey, Ron." The twins were back.
"Listen, we're going down the middle of the train — Lee Jordan's got a giant tarantula down there."
"Harry," said the other twin, "did we introduce ourselves? Fred and George Weasley. And this is Ron, our brother. See you later, then."
"Bye," said Harry and Ron. The twins slid the compartment door shut behind them.
"Are you really Harry Potter?" Ron blurted out.
"Oh – well, I thought it might be one of Fred and George's jokes," said Ron. "And have you really got – you know …"
He pointed at Harry's forehead.
Harry pulled back his fringe to show the lightning scar. Ron stared.
"So that's where You-Know-Who —?"
"Yes," said Harry, "but I can't remember it."
"Nothing?" said Ron eagerly.
As Poppy read over the actions of his younger self, Ron felt more and more embarrassed by his fan-boy like behavior. His eyes wandered around the room, and though they weren't pleased, at least nobody was mentioning it. Harry and Hermione chuckled a few times, but their smiles were genuine, so he assumed that he wasn't being mocked.
Sirius, Remus and Poppy didn't hold it against him, either. Kids will be kids, after all. That didn't stop them from being disappointed, and it was all Ron could do to sigh in relief. The last thing he wanted was for people to be mad at him for something that happened years ago.
"Wow," said Ron. He sat and stared at Harry for a few moments, then, as though he had suddenly realized what he was doing, he looked quickly out of the window again.
"Are all your family wizards?" asked Harry, who found Ron just as interesting as Ron found him.
"Er — Yes, I think so," said Ron. "I think Mum's got a second cousin who's an accountant, but we never talk about him."
"Well, that's rude." Remus pointed out.
"It's not like he ever tries to contact us." Ron said coldly. "So why should we bother?"
"I'm sure there's a good reason." Hermione added, before Remus could counter the comment. "Let's just get back to reading."
Poppy nodded. "Best idea I've heard all day, Miss Granger."
"So you must know loads of magic already."
The Weasleys were clearly one of those old wizarding families the pale boy in Diagon Alley had talked about.
"I don't think Malfoy meant my family." Ron growled.
"I heard you went to live with Muggles," said Ron. "What are they like?"
"Horrible," Sirius said in disgust.
"Rotten to the core." Remus hissed.
Harry thought about it for a moment. While he hadn't been injured during last night's lesson, Uncle Vernon had given him a fair warning. Just thinking about it made him sick. So, instead, he offered up a little white lie.
"What are these 'lessons' the book keeps mentioning?" Hermione inquired, feeling angry. The more she heard about the Dursleys, the more disgusted she became with them.
"I don't know." Harry said, a little too quickly. "It was so long ago that I can't remember."
Hermione's eyes narrowed in suspicion, but she allowed him to cling to the lie for now.
Sirius, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how he'd approach Harry about this. He didn't want to alienate him, but it couldn't go on ignored, either. Over fourteen years' worth of abuse and neglect to fix. Merlin...
"Boring – well, not all of them. My aunt and uncle and cousin are, though. I wish I'd had three wizard brothers."
"Five," said Ron. For some reason, he was looking gloomy. "I'm the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I've got a lot to live up to. Bill and Charlie have already left — Bill was head boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy's a prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they're really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it's no big deal, because they did it first. You never get anything new, either, with five brothers. I've got Bill's old robes, Charlie's old wand, and Percy's old rat."
Sirius and Remus growled, greatly resembling their canine counterparts.
Ron reached inside his jacket and pulled out a fat gray rat, which was asleep."His name's Scabbers and he's useless, he hardly ever wakes up. Percy got an owl from my dad for being made a prefect, but they couldn't aff— I mean, I got Scabbers instead."
You ruined everything, Wormtail. Harry thought fiercely. And for what? A master that I killed – twice! They're worth a hundred of you, traitor!"
Nobody noticed, but, for a brief moment, Harry's eyes flashed a brilliant gold.
Ron's ears went pink. He seemed to think he'd said too much, because he went back to staring out of the window.
Harry didn't think there was anything wrong with not being able to afford an owl.
"Because there isn't." Harry said simply. "Money or no money, you and 'Mione are my best friends. If I had a choice between all the money in my vault, and you guys, well, I wouldn't have a single knut to my name."
This cheered Ron up considerably. Hermione smiled, too.
"I'm only being honest, Ron."
After all, he'd never had any money in his life until a month ago. Though he couldn't say the full truth, Harry decided to say that his relatives were limited on money. He then went in to detail about having to wear Dudley's old clothes and never getting proper birthday presents. Though Ron wasn't cheered up, he seemed relieved not to have someone who understood.
Yeah, I was. Ron thought, feeling a bit guilty. He had originally sought Harry out so that he could brag to everyone else about talking with him. The plan was to ride with Harry on the train, and people would hopefully be interested and no one would notice how...plain he was. Who would have known that Harry could have become such a great friend? I didn't deserve your help, but I got it anyway. Thank you.
"… and until Hagrid told me, I didn't know anything about being a wizard or about my parents or Voldemort —" Ron gasped.
"What?" said Harry.
"You said You-Know-Who's name!" said Ron, sounding both shocked and impressed. "I'd have thought you, of all people —"
"I'm not trying to be brave or anything, saying the name," said Harry, "I just never knew you shouldn't. See what I mean? I've got loads to learn… I bet," he added, voicing for the first time something that had been worrying him a lot lately, "I bet I'm the worst in the class."
"You won't be. There's loads of people who come from Muggle families and they learn quick enough."
While they had been talking, the train had carried them out of London. Now they were speeding past fields full of cows and sheep. They were quiet for a time, watching the fields and lanes flick past. Around half past twelve there was a great clattering outside in the corridor and a smiling, dimpled woman slid back their door and said, "Anything off the cart, dears?"
Harry, who hadn't had any breakfast, leapt to his feet, but Ron's ears went pink again and he muttered that he'd brought sandwiches. Harry went out into the corridor. He had never had any money for candy with the Dursleys, and now that he had pockets rattling with gold and silver he was ready to buy as many Mars Bars as he could carry —
"Mars Bars?" Asked Ron, confused. "What kind of candy is that?"
"It's not just candy." Remus said dreamily. "It's chocolate. Very delicious, tasty chocolate."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "You and your chocolate!"
"Can I help it that I like it?" Remus asked, as a Mars Bar appeared in front of him. He quickly grabbed it and tore off the wrapper.
"Like it? You're in love with the stuff! You never go anywhere without it!" Sirius chortled, as Remus began to devour it. "See, look at you!"
Much to the surprise of everyone in the room, Remus gave Sirius the middle finger, and went back to enjoying his chocolate bar. The effect was instantanious; Sirius gaped at his normally well-mannered friend. Everyone else laughed at Sirius's expression. When nobody was paying attention, Remus winked at his fellow Marauder, who then let out a loud, barking laugh.
Seeing Harry laugh, Remus felt that his tactic to lighten the mood had worked splendidly. The fact that he'd surprised Sirius in the process had been an additional bonus.
but the woman didn't have Mars Bars.
What she did have were Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs. Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Harry had never seen in his life. Not wanting to miss anything, he got some of everything and paid the woman eleven silver Sickles and seven bronze Knuts.
"That's a lot more than it used to be." Sirius said, frowning.
"That's inflation for you." Remus muttered. Since losing his teaching position during Harry's third year, he had been forced to work at a Muggle bookstore in London. Unfortunately, the exchange rates make it so that he earned even less than his pay, which meant only being able to afford the bare minimum for most things. Including clothes. And with his recent work for the Order, he had been fired anyway.
Ron stared as Harry brought it all back in to the compartment and tipped it onto an empty seat.
"Hungry, are you?"
"Starving," said Harry, taking a large bite out of a pumpkin pasty. He hadn't managed to clean well enough to earn breakfast, and was running on no fuel whatsoever.
Harry's glare could have set the book on fire if his accidental magic were to kick in. Damn books! Do they have to mention EVERY BLOODY THING?
Ron had taken out a lumpy package and unwrapped it. There were four sandwiches inside. He pulled one of them apart and said, "She always forgets I don't like corned beef…"
"Swap you for one of these," said Harry, holding up a pasty. "Go on —"
"You don't want this, it's all dry," said Ron. "She hasn't got much time," he added quickly, "you know, with five of us."
"Go on, have a pasty," said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry's pasties, cakes, and candies (the sandwiches lay forgotten).
Remus chuckled. "Of course they would."
Ron thought longingly of all that food, while Harry snickered at him.
"Uh, mate, you're drooling."
Ron snapped out of his daze and wiped his mouth.
"You're hungry again?" Hermione asked, disbelieving. "But we had lunch not too long ago!"
"But I'm a growing boy, 'Mione! I need food to grow!"
Hermione sighed heavily, but she couldn't stop herself from smiling. Harry did as well, though it was forced. Ron's comment about needing food to grow reminded him that though he'd managed to grow, he'd been really short for years.
Thanks, of course, to the "tender loving care" of his relatives.
"What are these?" Harry asked Ron, holding up a pack of Chocolate Frogs. "They're not really frogs, are they?" He was starting to feel that nothing would surprise him.
"No," said Ron. "But see what the card is. I'm missing Agrippa."
"Oh, of course, you wouldn't know — Chocolate Frogs have cards, inside them, you know, to collect — famous witches and wizards. I've got about five hundred, but I haven't got Agrippa or Ptolemy."
Harry unwrapped his Chocolate Frog and picked up the card. It showed a man's face. He wore half-moon glasses, had a long, crooked nose, and flowing silver hair, beard, and mustache. Underneath the picture was the name Albus Dumbledore.
Harry smiled at the name of his mentor, as did Ron and Hermione. Poppy blushed, thinking about her old crush on the man. Remus and Sirius scowled at the book, remembering that it was Dumbledore who had left Harry in the Dursley's so-called care. They hoped it wouldn't be long before they could give the old coot a piece of their mind.
"So this is Dumbledore!" said Harry.
"Don't tell me you'd never heard of Dumbledore!" said Ron. "Can I have a frog? I might get Agrippa — thanks —"
Harry turned over his card and read:
CURRENTLY HEADMASTER OF HOGWARTS
Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's blood,and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling.
The Trio looked at the book sullenly.
All that wasted time, and it was on a card! Hermione thought, shaking her head.
Harry turned the card back over and saw, to his astonishment, that Dumbledore's face had disappeared.
"Well, you can't expect him to hang around all day," said Remus.
Poppy looked from Ron to Remus, and read:
"Well you can't expect him to hang around all day," said Ron.
The two grinned at each other, and Sirius let out a bark of a laugh.
"Wow! Who knew the two of you had something in common!"
"He'll be back. No, I've got Morgana again and I've got about six of her… do you want it? You can start
Ron's eyes strayed to the pile of Chocolate Frogs waiting to be unwrapped. "Help yourself," said Harry. "But in, you know, the Muggle world, people just stay put in photos."
"They don't move at all?" Poppy asked, bewildered. "That's rather strange, if you ask me."
"Do they? What, they don't move at all?" Ron sounded amazed. "Weird!"
Ron gave the normally stern mediwitch a look. "Now this is getting weird."
"Everyone is thinking like Ickle Ronniekins!" Sirius teased, much to the redhead's ire.
"Quit calling me that!"
Sirius smirked at him. "Why would I do that, Ickle Ronniekins?"
Remus groaned. "Paddy, stop acting like a brat."
"'Paddy, stop acting like a brat!'" he mocked.
"Behave, or I'll cast a Flea Attraction spell on you!"
"No! You wouldn't!" he gasped, no longer smiling.
Remus brandished his wand, smirking evilly. "Want to test me, Snuffles?"
Sirius put his hands up in the air. "Okay, okay! I'll stop!"
"That's what I thought."
"All of you behave!" Poppy snapped, annoyed. "I'd like to get through the rest of the chapter, if you don't mind."
When nobody dared to add a comment, she continued.
Harry stared as Dumbledore sidled back into the picture on his card and gave him a small smile. Ron was more interested in eating the frogs than looking at the Famous Witches and Wizards cards, but Harry couldn't keep his eyes off them. Soon he had not only Dumbledore and Morgana, but Hengist of Woodcroft, Alberic Grunnion, Circe, Paracelsus, and Merlin. He finally tore his eyes away from the Druidess Cliodna, who was scratching her nose, to open a bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
"You want to be careful with those," Ron warned Harry. "When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor— you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once."
"But that's half the fun!" Sirius said, grinning. "One time, I gave Snape a dark brown one that smelled like shi-"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence!" Poppy shouted. "I don't want to hear another word about you, Severus and your pathetic school boy days! I will not tolerate it here, understood?"
Sirius gulped. "Y-yes Madame Pomfrey."
Ron picked up a green bean, looked at it carefully, and bit into a corner. "Bleaaargh — see? Sprouts."
They had a lot of fun with the Every Flavor Beans. Harry got toast, coconut, baked bean, strawberry, curry, grass, coffee, sardine, and was even brave enough to nibble the end off a funny gray one Ron wouldn't touch, which turned out to be pepper.
The countryside now flying past the window was becoming wilder. The neat fields had gone. Now there were woods, twisting rivers, and dark green hills. There was a knock on the door of their compartment and the round-faced boy Harry had passed on platform nine and three-quarters came in. He looked tearful.
"Sorry," he said, "but have you seen a toad at all?" When they shook their heads, he wailed, "I've lost him! He keeps getting away from me!"
Harry was just going to tell him to go away, but one look at his face, and Harry didn't have the heart to. What would happen if Hedwig was the one missing, instead? Wouldn't he want someone to help him look?
"I'll help you find your toad, if you want." Harry offered, standing up. "Ron, can you do me a favor and watch my things? I'll be right back."
Ron nodded. "Sure."
With that bit of assurance, he left the room, followed by the round-faced boy.
"That's very nice of you." Remus said, smiling at him.
"Just like your mother." Sirius added, when Harry started to blush.
Hermione beamed. If she was right, this was where she first met Harry.
The two of them split up, and after ten minutes of asking others on the train, Harry managed to find toad in a compartment that held three girls and two boys. And sure enough, when they met by the compartment he'd been in, the boy cried: "Trevor! There you are!" He put the toad in his pocket, and turned to Harry, eyes bright and happy.
"Oh Thank you! He was a gift, and I was afraid I'd lost him!"
A warm, pleasant feeling welled up in his chest. He had never been thanked for anything before.
"Hey, no problem." He opened the compartment door, but stopped before going in. "Hey, would you like to join us?"
The boy grinned. "My name is Neville Longbottom, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Neville. I'm Harry."
And so, they entered together.
"Hey! Welcome back, Harry!" Ron greeted, before eating a Bertie Bott's bean. "Mmm...strawberry." Once the three boys got past their introductions, and Neville got passed the shock of being in the company of HARRY POTTER, they had an overall pleasant time.
"I don't really care much for toads," Ron said, in between bites of a Pumpkin Pasty. "Mind you, I brought Scabbers, so I can't talk" The rat was still snoozing on Ron's lap.
"He's just as pathetic now, as he was back then." Remus sneered.
Sirius nodded in agreement.
"He might have died and you wouldn't know the difference," said Ron in disgust. "I tried to turn him yellow yesterday to make him more interesting, but the spell didn't work. I'll show you, look…"
He rummaged around in his trunk and pulled out a very battered-looking wand. It was chipped in places and something white was glinting at the end.
"Unicorn hair's nearly poking out. Anyway —"
"That's very odd." Remus said, bewildered. "Ron, when I saw your wand two years ago, it looked almost brand new."
Ron's ears turned pink. "That's because it was." he mumbled lowly. "Mum said the wands were too expensive at Ollivander’s', so I ended up using Charlie's old wand."
The room went silent for several long moments, as they digested that bit of information. It seemed perfectly acceptable on the surface, but...
"She lied! She did have the money!" Hermione said, a look of disgust on her face. "Those new robes that Percy got were rather extravagant, if my memory is correct."
"It's not a big deal, 'Mione." Ron said, though it clearly did. "The wand I used worked okay, didn't it?"
"That's where you're wrong, Ron." Remus explained as gently as he could. "Remember what we discussed during the last chapter?" Ron nodded. "It is often said that 'the wand chooses the wizard'; If our wands are not compatible with us, they don't work properly."
"Well, I have my proper wand now, so I don't see why it matters!" Ron all but shouted, becoming annoyed.
"Because, indirectly, she put you at a huge disadvantage." Hermione said, as though it were the most appaulling idea in the world. "You could have learned spells easier! Then there's the issue with the slugs – "
"I think we should stop talking about this." Harry said, before Ron could start yelling and wind up saying something that couldn't be taken back. "He obviously doesn't want to talk about this. We shouldn't make him." He glared at Poppy and the book. "It isn't right to invade someone's privacy, after all." The others were bothered by the coldness of Harry's tone, but Ron smiled gratefully at his friend.
Harry returned this with a nod. After a long, uncomfortable pause, Poppy continued.
He had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. This time, it was a girl. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
"Neville, there you are! Did you find your toad?"
Neville smiled and patted his pocket. "Yeah, thanks."
Hermione smiled. "Good." then she looked at the wand in Ron's hand. "Oh, are you doing magic? Let's see it, then." She sat down. Ron looked taken aback.
"Er — all right."
He cleared his throat. "Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, Turn this stupid, fat rat yellow."
Sirius stopped himself from laughing, not wanting to further upset the youngest Weasley boy. I can't believe he thought that was a real spell! Looks like his brothers got him good.
He waved his wand, but nothing happened. Scabbers stayed gray and fast asleep.
"Are you sure that's a real spell?" said the girl. "Well, it's not very good, is it?
It was Hermione's turn to be embarrassed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be so rude."
"It was years ago." Harry dismissed.
"Yeah, don't worry about it." Ron added. "You've more than made up for it, 'Mione. Where would we be without you?"
This time, her entire face turned a bright, cherry-tomato red. Harry, Sirius and Remus snickered. Poppy, while amused, also looked ready to burst. She hated all of these reading interruptions with a passion!
I've tried a few simple spells just for practice and it's all worked for me. Nobody in my family's magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it's the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard — I've learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough — I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"
She said all this very fast.
Harry looked at Ron, and was relieved to see by his stunned face that he hadn't learned all the course books by heart either.
"I'm Ron Weasley," Ron muttered.
"Harry Potter," said Harry.
"Are you really?" said Hermione. "I know all about you, of course — I got a few extra books, for background reading, and you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
"Am I?" said Harry, feeling dazed.
"Goodness, didn't you know, I'd have found out everything I could if it was me," said Hermione. "Do either of you know what house you'll be in? I've been asking around, and I hope I'm in Gryffindor, it sounds by far the best;
Ron, Harry, Hermione, Remus and Sirius cheered. Poppy, having been a Hufflepuff herself, didn't join in.
I hear Dumbledore himself was in it, but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad… Anyway, I'm going to head off. You three had better change, you know, I expect we'll be there soon." And she left.
"Whatever house I'm in, I hope she's not in it," said Ron.
Hermione looked hurt, and Ron smoothed things over by wrapping his arm around her.
"Hey, I don't feel that way anymore, 'Mione. If you had to go to another house, I'd transfer there, too."
"Even Slytherin?"she asked.
Hermione broke out in to a huge grin. Harry smiled at them, but it was strained. It bothered him that his friends still held on to a petty grudge he had shed after Second Year. Would they start thinking badly of him once it came time to read about the Sorting? He looked to Sirius, whose gray eyes were focused on Remus at the moment. At least he'd understand, what with Regulus and all.
He threw his wand back into his trunk. "Stupid spell — George gave it to me, bet he knew it was a dud."
Everyone, Poppy and Ron included, laughed.
"What house are your brothers in?" asked Harry.
"Gryffindor," said Ron. Gloom seemed to be settling on him again. "Mom and Dad were in it, too. I don't know what they'll say if I'm not. I don't suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin."
Harry stopped smiling all together. This was the moment in which his stupid prejudice was cemented.
"That's the house Vol-, I mean, You-Know-Who was in?"
"Yeah," said Ron. He flopped back into his seat, looking depressed.
Neville had gone very quiet, and Harry assumed it was for a similar reason.
"You know, I think the ends of Scabbers' whiskers are a bit lighter," said Harry, trying to take their minds off houses.
"Thanks, 'Ry." Ron said, smiling.
He may look like his father, but Harry has both James and Lily's best traits. Sometimes, he acts just like them. Sirius thought, while he ruffled Harry's messy hair. "Such the modest little one, aren't you, pup?"
Harry glared at him, but it didn't quite reach his eyes, which sparkled brilliantly. Compared to earlier, this was far better.
"Aww, look, Remy! Our little puppy is sulking!"
"I am not a puppy!"
"And such a defiant little thing, too!"
Remus got out his wand, and said the Flea Attraction spell, but didn't put any power behind it. Sirius stopped in his tracks. Harry chuckled at their antics. When all was quiet, Poppy continued.
"So what do your oldest brothers do now that they've left, anyway?" Harry was wondering what a wizard did once he'd finished school.
"Charlie's in Romania studying dragons, and Bill's in Africa doing something for Gringotts," said Ron.
"Did you hear about Gringotts? It's been all over the Daily Prophet, but I don't suppose you get that with the Muggles — someone tried to rob a high security vault." Harry stared.
"Really? What happened to them?"
"Nothing, that's why it's such big news. They haven't been caught.
My dad says it must've been a powerful Dark wizard to get round Gringotts, but they don't think they took anything, that's what's odd. 'Course, everyone gets scared when something like this happens in case You-Know-Who's behind it."
Harry turned this news over in his mind. He was starting to get a prickle of fear every time You-Know-Who was mentioned. He supposed this was all part of entering the magical world, but it had been a lot more comfortable saying "Voldemort" without worrying.
I'd rather not think of him at all. Harry thought with a shiver.
"What's your Quidditch team?" Ron asked.
"Er — I don't know any." Harry confessed.
"What!" Ron looked dumbfounded. "Oh, you wait, it's the best game in the world —" And he was off, explaining all about the four balls and the positions of the seven players, describing famous games he'd been to with his brothers
"We're going to take you to plenty of games, Harry!" Sirius said, with conviction. "This summer, you're going to be bombarded with so much Quidditch that it will be all you can think of!"
Remus rolled his eyes.
Harry grinned. "I've got no choice, huh?"
and the broomstick he'd like to get if he had the money. He was just taking Harry through the finer points of the game when the compartment door slid open yet again, but it wasn't Hermione Granger this time. Three boys entered, and Harry recognized the middle one at once: it was the pale boy from Madam Malkin's robe shop.
The Trio groaned.
He was looking at Harry with a lot more interest than he'd shown back in Diagon Alley. "Is it true?" he said.
"They're saying all down the train that Harry Potter's in this compartment. So it's you, is it?"
"Yes," said Harry. He was looking at the other boys. Both of them were thickset and looked extremely mean.
Standing on either side of the pale boy, they looked like bodyguards.
"Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle," said the pale boy carelessly, noticing where Harry was looking. "And my name's Malfoy, Draco Malfoy."
Ron gave a slight cough, which might have held a snigger. Neville looked away.
"Think my name's funny, do you? No need to ask who you are. My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford." He then rounded on Neville. "And you! You’re a Longbottom, aren't you?"
Neville nodded, and Malfoy laughed. His goons quickly followed suit. "Been to St. Mungo's, lately?"
Harry, Sirius, Remus and Poppy, being the only ones who knew the truth, were considerably angered by that.
Hermione and Ron were both confused and upset on Neville's behalf. They didn't ask questions though, seeing as how the others looked ready to attack. Poppy recovered before them, and picked up where she left off.
He turned back to Harry. "You'll soon find out some Wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there."
He held out his hand to shake Harry's, but Harry didn't take it.
"I think I can tel who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks." he said coolly.
Draco Malfoy didn't go red, but a pink tinge appeared in his pale cheeks. "I'd be careful if I were you, Potter," he said slowly. "Unless you're a bit politer you'll go the same way as your parents. They didn't know what was good for them, either. You hang around with riffraff like the Weasleys, Longbottoms and that Hagrid, and it'll rub off on you."
"That arrogant little shit!" Sirius growled. "Just like his dear old daddy, that one!"
Remus clenched his fists so hard that his nails were digging in to the palm of his hand.
Both Harry and Ron stood up.
"Say that again," Ron said, his face as red as his hair. "
Oh, you're going to fight us, are you?" Malfoy sneered.
"Unless you get out now," said Harry, more bravely than he felt, because Crabbe and Goyle were a lot bigger than him or Ron. His first instinct was to run, as he'd always done with Dudley's gang. It was the only way he'd faced bullies growing up. However, the thought of Ron, standing beside him, and poor Neville, who was staring blankly at the floor, made him hold his ground.
Remus and Sirius felt a well of pride surge them yet again.
Ron was stunned at the level of loyalty Harry had already shown him.
Hermione and Poppy smiled.
Harry, petting a sleeping Hedwig, ignored them. He didn't see what the big deal was. All he'd done was stand up to Malfoy.
"But we don't feel like leaving, do we, boys? We've eaten all our food and you still seem to have some." Goyle reached toward the Chocolate Frogs next to Ron — Ron leapt forward, but before he'd so much as touched Goyle he let out a horrible yell.
Scabbers the rat was hanging off his finger, sharp little teeth sunk deep into Goyle's knuckle— Crabbe and Malfoy backed away as Goyle swung Scabbers round and round, howling, and when Scabbers finally flew off and hit the window, all three of them disappeared at once. Perhaps they thought there were more rats lurking among the sweets, or perhaps they'd heard footsteps, because a second later, Hermione Granger had come in.
Remus and Sirius's jaws dropped.
"Peter actually helped you guys?"
Harry and Ron shrugged.
"He only did it for the food." Sirius spat viciously. "Remember, when were in school, Remy? He did anything – and I mean anything – for food."
Remus nodded, though he had no comment of his own to make. Back in their sixth year, after the backlash from Sirius's failed prank, he and James had become closer to Peter and ignored Sirius completely. During that time, Peter confided in Remus about his unhealthy obsession with food. Together, the two of them had worked on it. Apparently years of living as a rat had rekindled it.
"What has been going on?" she said, looking at the sweets all over the floor and Ron picking up Scabbers by his tail.
"I think he's been knocked out," Ron said to Harry. He looked closer at Scabbers. "No — I don't believe it —he's gone back to sleep." And so he had.
"You've met Malfoy before?"
Harry explained about their meeting in Diagon Alley.
"I've heard of his family," said Ron darkly. "They were some of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they'd been bewitched. My dad doesn't believe it. He says Malfoy's father didn't need an excuse to go over to the Dark Side."
He turned to Hermione. "Can we help you with something?"
"You'd better hurry up and put your robes on, I've just been up to the front to ask the conductor, and he says we're nearly there. You haven't been fighting, have you? You'll be in trouble before we even get there!"
"Scabbers has been fighting, not us," said Ron, scowling at her. "Would you mind leaving while we change?"
"All right — I only came in here because people outside are behaving very childishly, racing up and down the corridors," said Hermione in a sniffy voice. "And you've got dirt on your nose, by the way, did you know?"
Ron glared at her as she left.
The Trio laughed.
"We did behave rather childishly ourselves, didn't we?" Hermione said, in a mockery of the "sniffy voice" she'd used back then.
Ron was rather amused by this, and Harry was just relieved that they'd taken his earlier thoughts of them so well.
Harry peered out of the window. It was getting dark. He could see mountains and forests under a deep purple sky. The train did seem to be slowing down.
He and Ron took off their jackets and pulled on their long black robes. Ron's were a bit short for him, you could see his sneakers underneath them.
A voice echoed through the train: "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately."
Harry's stomach lurched with nerves and Ron, he saw, looked pale under his freckles.
"Everyone is a little nervous at first." Remus said wistfully.
"Yeah. But that's part of the experience." Sirius agreed, thinking back to the boat he shared with James. They'd been lucky enough to get their own boat, and had spent the ride marveling at how wonderful Hogwarts was. To the left of them had been Remus, Peter, Lily and Snape. He felt a twinge of sadness. Who could have guessed how wonderful – and terrible – their lives would come to be? Many things had certainly changed.
They crammed their pockets with the last of the sweets and joined the crowd thronging the corridor. The train slowed right down and finally stopped. People pushed their way toward the door and out on to a tiny, dark platform. Harry shivered in the cold night air. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students, and Harry heard a familiar voice: "Firs' years! Firs' years over here! All right there, Harry?"
Hagrid's big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads.
"C'mon, follow me — any more firs' years? Mind yer step, now! Firs' years follow me!"
Slipping and stumbling, they followed Hagrid down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark on either side of them that Harry thought there must be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much. Neville, the boy who kept losing his toad, sniffed once or twice.
"Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," Hagrid called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here."
There was a loud "Oooooh!"
The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.
"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore.
Harry and Ron were followed into their boat by Neville and Hermione.
The Trio smiled.
"We even shared the same boat." Hermione said, happily remembering when times were so much simpler.
"Yeah." Ron and Harry said at the same time.
"Everyone in?" shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself. "Right then — FORWARD!"
And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.
"Heads down!" yelled Hagrid as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy that hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles.
Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after Hagrid's lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.
They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.
Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.
"And that's that." Poppy said, as though a heavy burden had been lifted off her shoulders.
"Well, let's get to reading the next chapter!" Sirius said excitedly, feeling uplifted by the ending. "I want to know what happens next!"
Poppy was about to pass the book down, when a letter flashed in front of Sirius. He grabbed it and read:
We are very impressed with the amount that you've read so far. Harry, we're especially proud of the maturity you've shown by allowing them to read. In time, you'll understand why we've had to go to such lengths. For now, all we can do is apologize, and hope that you'll forgive us eventually.. For now, we'd like you to leave the Room for a while, and socialize among the others. Do not, under any circumstance, mention the books. It sounds like a strange request, but please heed it.
Chapter 9: Shifts, Changes and Contemplations
More vignettes, told from varying perspectives. This is the last chapter from FFN! From now on, the chapters will be new!
Interlude: Shifts, Changes and Contemplations
According to the ancient legends, phoenixes are able to know a person inside and out. They can instantly tell when someone harbors impure thoughts, wicked desires, or even the faintest hint of evil in their hearts. After all, they are praised as the ultimate symbol of Light. As many a witch or wizard would tell you, Light is good, and Dark is evil. There is no "in between" or "shades of gray." One is either good or bad, and it is the Light which must always shine brightly to banish the Dark's shadow. A simple, yet important truth that Fawkes had learned as a young fledgeling.
But, that was over a thousand years ago, and Fawkes had been a different sort of phoenix. Back then, he had ventured out in to the human world for the first time, and attached himself to a truly noble wizard; the ever-famous Merlin. Together, they had done wonderful, beautiful things for the Light.
If only it could have stayed that way, he thought sadly, watching Albus intently. Though long since finished with the excessive amount of paperwork, the old wizard was still scratching away at a piece of parchment paper. Obsessively, even. It had gotten to the point where he even refused food and drink. Though the shimmering rainbow-sight that was deemed normal for all phoenixes, Fawkes could see a thick, black outline surrounding both his chosen master and the parchment.
After what had to have been hours, Albus stopped writing and began to read over his work. After several revisions, he read over the parchment once more. He smiled, but his eyes held a dangerous, calculating gleam in them. "This is absolutely perfect, if I do say so myself, Fawkes. Now, for the second page..." Albus opened his desk drawer and pulled out another piece of paper.
Once Albus became absorbed in his work once more, Fawkes trilled mournfully, making former headmasters shiver in their frames. His beady eyes welled up with tears for the first time since the night he aided Harry against the basilisk. Why did you have to lose your way, dear old friend?
Meanwhile, on another plane of existence, four of the ten watchers had left the moonlit room in order to complete one of the more troublesome tasks allotted to them as angels: patrolling Limbo in order to prevent Hell-bound souls from sneaking in. The boarder itself was nothing more than a bleak, half-dead forest. The sky above them is the color of old blood, and the clouds are a toxic green. A chilling breeze tore through the warmth of their clothes, chilling everyone to the core.
Lily longed to use a Warming Barrier Charm on herself and the others, but it wasn't worth the risk. There were after all, things far more dangerous than lost souls wandering about; monsters, demons and awful array of creatures – many of them who viewed them as a delicious meal. Using any kind of magic needlessly could draw their unwanted attention, and make their job that much more complicated.
James held her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "The first time is always the worst, Lily Flower. It gets better with time," he said softly. Though far from comforted, she nodded and smiled back anyway. The atmosphere felt heavy, unnatural and winter-cold; akin to a Dementor in some respects.
"This place is horrible." Relissia, Ignotus's wife, whispered with a shudder. The wind had blown off her hood, revealing long, sleek, black hair. "I cannot even begin to fathom how awful Hell must be."
"It is beyond imagination." Ignotus replied grimly, sharing a knowing look with James. A cold chill went through Lily, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Last week, James and Ignotus had led a group of angels who were charged with escorting a weakened Voldemort there. Even now, she could see the hint of fear lurking underneath the surface of her husband's eyes. She'd bet her magic that, if they were still mortal, he would have had nightmares for years to come. And judging from the pained expression that Relissia wore, Ignotus wasn't fairing any better.
Their search would continue for a few hours before the found the souls who escaped. In spite of the evils they must have committed, Lily felt a twinge of guilt for leaving them at the gate.
Back in the moonlit room, only Cadmus, as the ritual's founder, kept a silent vigil over the floating crystal ball. Though it was unwanted, this pause in action had been somewhat anticipated. It would be foolish to shirk their responsibilities for the sake of one human being; Heaven, like the Mortal Realm, has it own problems and enemies to sort out. In many ways, angels could be considered the Aurors and Hit-Wizards of the Afterlife.
Even so, they should have been able to continue the readings, but Harry's lack-luster response had them worried. Given the fact that they were invading the young man's privacy, they had expected a grand show of rage, anger, or at the very least, hurt from a perceived betrayal. Though they had known Harry tended to deny or push back the worst of his emotions, the fact that it could be so controlled didn't bode well. Worse yet, even before they had included him in the readings, Harry had been having flashbacks. This was rather troubling, as it could be the precursor to a mental breakdown.
So, with the hope that a break would help Sirius and Remus figure out how to talk with Harry about this, it had been decided that a break would be in everyone's best interests. For a time, the orb focused on the readers and their exploits in Hogwarts, but as afternoon gave way to evening, Cadmus felt something stir within the ritual.
In as little as a half-second, the crystal ball showed Dumbledore sitting at his desk, scratching away at a piece of parchment paper. At first, he couldn't figure out what was going on. But, as Fawkes let out his mournful trill, a horrible thought came to mind...
"Everyone, I need your assistance!" he cried desperately.
While both the watchers and Dumbledore went about business of their own, Harry, Ron and Hermione had decided to follow the letter's advice and spend time with the others who remained in the castle – Luna, Ginny and Neville, primarily.
Sirius and Remus apparently had plans of their own, and promised to meet them in the Great Hall a bit later. Madame Pomfrey, however, had stormed out of the Room of Requirement, after stating that she didn't want to be disturbed until it was time to read once more. Nobody argued with her, and, as awful as it sounded, Harry was glad not to hear from her for a while.
It wasn't that he disliked her or anything; quite the opposite could be said, in fact. She was often very nice to him during those long nights in the hospital ward, though just a little too strict. But, now that part of his home life was out Harry knew that it was only a matter of time before she insisted on correcting it. Really though, what could be done to fix him as broken as he was? Was there some special spell or potion that could be use to absolve him of his freakishness? It didn't seem likely.
While Harry was distracted by his own thoughts, it was decided by everyone else to head towards the Great Hall to simply hang out. It should be empty at the moment and they could relax. One look at Harry and they could tell he needed it.
"Harry," said Hermione, suddenly grabbing his attention.
"What?" he asked, looking around. He was standing in the Entrance Hall.
"Are you going to come in?" Ron asked him hesitantly.
Harry looked confused for a moment before he said, "Right. Sorry." He walked in and sat down beside Neville and Luna at the Ravenclaw table. Ron and Hermione joined them and they sat in awkward silence.
When it became too uncomfortable, Luna brightly suggested, "Neville, why don't we have a duel?"
"Sure," Neville said without hesitation. "Sounds like fun."
"We've been doing a lot of that lately." Ginny explained, as everyone stood up. Hermione used a spell to push the other tables aside, in order to give them more room. The "while you guys were recovering" was implied, but unspoken. "We wanted to do more than studying and playing games; something meaningful."
Harry nodded, understanding that feeling all too well. Hadn't that been his mindset during the previous summer?
"Bloody hell!" Ron gasped, once the duel had gotten well under way.
"Remarkable, aren't they?" Hermione said, beaming.
"Definitely," Harry agreed, as Luna and Neville's duel grew more complex. The duo moved around the Great Hall in a graceful, combative dance. Evenly matched, they went after each other as seriously as friends could during a skirmish.
His brooding thoughts were effectively crushed by the well of pride in his heart.
From the start of the DA, Luna had surprised everyone by advancing in the lessons at Hermione's rather fast pace. Not only that, but she showed a sharp sense of awareness in battle, which seemed contrary to her dreamy demeanor. Nobody knew why or how it came to be, only that she had. Neville, meanwhile, had started out as the worst of the worst. But, as Harry had always known, his poor dueling skills stemmed from an extremely low sense of self-worth, not from sheer uselessness. Once Neville began to believe in himself – and had a wand that worked properly – the change was both surprising and rewarding. Not for the first time, he wondered if this is what it felt like to be a professor. If so, he might just have to forget about being an auror.
The match ended in a draw, when both duelists had tired out.
"That was fun." Luna said brightly, before taking a sip of a pale yellow liquid in a clear bottle. "Want some beet juice? Daddy says that beet juice is good for attracting Slinkipecks."
"What are Slinkipecks?" Harry and Ron asked at the same time.
"Slinkipecks are tiny, invisible birds that grant luck to anyone that is wise enough to attract them." she explained, in that dreamy tone. "It is said they ride on the back of Crumpled Horn Snorkacks, though I've never had the chance to see it for myself."
"There are no such thing as-" Hermione started to say.
"I'd love some." Neville interrupted. He gave Hermione a sharp look that clearly said "shut up", before adopting a sincere grin in Luna's direction. "Merlin knows I could use all the luck I can get!"
Luna beamed at him, and gave him her bottle. Neville took a swig, and instead of making a face, he stared at the bottle.
"That actually tastes good."
Luna beamed at him."It's my mother's recipe. I used Yellow-Fanged Beets – their flavor is ten times sweeter than a regular beet." She still had her usual spacey expression, but there was an underlying hint of pride in her voice.
"Er – mind if I try some? I'm not exactly lucky either." Harry asked, trying to quash down the pity he felt for her. After seeing those looks on the faces of his friends, he decided that pity wasn't a worthwhile emotion. Instead, he sympathized with Luna – loosing, or in case, growing up without a parent – is hard on anyone. Hell, he'd almost lost Sirius to the Veil not too long ago. Harry shivered inwardly, doing his best to ignore the unwanted image that followed.
Neville passed down the bottle, giving Harry a grateful smile. Harry smiled back, and took the bottle, and drank. At once, a delicious, sweet flavor burst in his mouth. It was light, fruity, and held very little of the original beet flavor.
"Delicious!" he said, genuinely impressed. "Ron! Hermione! Ginny! You have to try this!"
"Okay..." Ron trailed off, unsure. As expected, the moment Ron tasted it, his eyes lit up. "Wicked!" He then passed the bottle to Hermione. Politely, Hermione took a sip as well, only to take another, larger sip.
"This is very good, Luna." she praised, passing the bottle to Ginny, who drank without hesitation.
"Isn't it, though?" she agreed pleasantly.
And so, for the next few minutes, they took turns drinking the tasty yellow beverage, until no more was left. With each pass, Luna's cheeks grew a brighter shade of red, but her smile never wavered. There was a bright sparkle to her eyes, which had never really been there before.
"If I had known everyone wanted some, I would have brought more!"
"Well, you've made fans out of us!" Neville exclaimed happily. "A lucky drink that tastes good! Who knew?"
"Can I have some more?" Ron asked, licking his lips.
"Yes, but we'll have to go back to the kitchens to get it. The house elves store it for me."
"Then what are we waiting for? Let's go get some!"
Hermione smacked him on the arm. "Don't be rude, Ronald!"
Luna laughed, as though it were the funniest thing in the world. Harry and Neville couldn't hide their own snickers, as it was. Typical Ron and 'Mione!
Severus snarled as he took in the pitiful sight before him. Once again, his potion had gone from its perfect, sapphire blue color, to an ugly brown. Instead of shimmering and giving off a hint of sugar and jasmine, the potion curdled and reeked of rancid goat milk. After banishing the potion, he started grounding up the unicorn horn once more, until it reached a silken consistency. Just as he readied the next ingredient, a very strange thing happened.
His cauldrons, ingredients and other potions paraphernalia vanished in an instant.
Severus could only watch, dumbstruck, as the his private brewing room transformed in to a lavish living room that could fit a large number of people. The cold, dank dungeon floors became carpeted and cream colored, as had the walls. To the far left was a fireplace, roaring with a small fire. In front of him, and a tray of delicious food instantly appeared. But, the oddities didn't end there. Seven people appeared to him, though only one had been in the school before.
"Bloody hell!" Charile and Bill breathed.
"What in the world?" Arthur and Minerva exclaimed at the same time.
"Mother, how did we get here?"
"I have no idea, Draco."
"What is the meaning of this?" Percy demanded grumpily. "I was just in the middle of writing a very important document, and now I'm here!"
"Unfortunately, I have no idea what is going on, myself." Severus muttered, recovering from the shock. "One minute I was preparing ingredients for a potion, and the next, all of you are here, and my potions lab transformed in to a living room."
"Well, this is most unexpected." Narcissa said coolly, masking her surprise and discomfort behind an emotionless Occlumency mask.
Suddenly, there was yet another flash of light, in which a letter appeared beside Arthur. The group of people stared at it for a moment, before Arthur took it and read out loud:
I assume that all of you are wondering why you've been sent here. There are two ways to go about explaining this, but for the sake of your sanity, I'll stick to the short version. In the near future, a person in this school will suffer an unbelievably cruel fate. This person has endured a life of misery and hardship, with little to no respite. After watching over this person for many years, we're finally able to do something about it.
Through the use of ancient magics and a sacred ritual, we're going to send you books of this person's five years in Hogwarts - one at a time. You are not the only group charged with this responsibility, however. In fact, none of you should even be here. But we've hit a bit of a snag, and now you're needed to read.
Weasleys, Malfoys, you're probably wondering why Lucius and Molly aren't joining you. Simply put, they're more trouble than they're worth. If they were to join you, fights would break out."
Arthur, Narcissa and Draco glared at the letter for talking about their loved ones like that. Charlie, Bill and Percy merely nodded along. Yes, they could see how it was possible.
"Trust me - you'll understand in good time. Now, for the rules:
First of all, no glossing over details; there is a reason for every tidbit included, even if you don't understand at the time. Secondly, others will join you when the time is right. Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, start cursing, hexing or otherwise harming fellow readers. Failure to do so will result in having your magic sealed for a day.
Please note that time has been effectively frozen outside of Hogwarts, and you are to remain in the school, or on the grounds, until all the books are read. Up until now, all of you have been affected by this in one way or another – either frozen in time, or had a Compulsion Charm cast upon them to focus on one thing. This was to prevent you from getting involved. As of now, you will be kept in this room unless told otherwise. If you are allowed out, you will find yourselves unable to speak of what you read.
Now, a warning to you before this letter ends: Some of you WILL be punished for your actions, while others will discover or relive truths that will be hard to accept. Either way, this is how it has to be.
A Friend" .
As soon as Arthur finished reading, a book fell from the ceiling above, and landed on the floor with a loud thud. Everyone stared at it, and it was Bill who eventually picked it up.
"Merlin's teeth!" he breathed, reading and re-reading the title over again. "It's Harry!"
Once more, Remus and Sirius took solace in the beauty of the outside world and the frozen stars above. There was peace here, unlike in the school, where that book lay in wait. Sirius sighed, thinking back on all they had learned today.
Just yesterday, he had been in love with the idea of finally adopting Harry, though a little insecure. Of course he still felt that way, but his happiness was being snuffed out by today's revelations. His godson - the one person he was able to cling to while in Azkaban - had been raised in an abusive, neglectful home. All for the sake of blood wards, which did absolutely nothing against the abusers.
This left the ex-convict with a whole spectrum of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he was angry and disgusted that such a thing had been allowed to happen in the first place! What had Dumbledore been thinking to begin with? Leaving Harry with Vermin and Tuna-breath was just asking for trouble! Sirius knew for a fact that Lily and James did not want their son living there! Also fanning the flames of anger were the countless vows of revenge he'd made not just against Dumbledore, but the Dursleys as well. Now that his eyes were open to the truth around him, Sirius would never allow them to close.
His anger and thirst for revenge were evenly tempered by the ever-present guilt of being responsible for what happened that night in Godric's Hollow. Every night since then, their cold, lifeless bodies haunted his dreams at night. But, with all the revelations and truths that came out of today's reading, that guilt had manifested in a new and sinister way. Now all Sirius could think of was how his plan to protect James and Lily allowed Harry to endure years of suffering unaided. And that thought, in turn, paved the way for sadness and hopelessness.
"He's been through so much, Remus." he said miserably. "And we missed out on most of it."
There was no blame or accusation in Sirius' voice, but Remus flinched anyway. Neither one of them had been there for Harry, and while Sirius had an excuse, the same couldn't be said for him. He'd had nothing preventing him from going to Surrey years ago, other than Dumbledore's orders. And that definitely didn't justify it, not after what they'd read. Did it ever though? As a friend to James and honorary godfather, the task had fallen to him to look after Harry. Instead, he'd given that honor to a man who clearly didn't deserve it. Leaving an infant on a doorstep? Who actually does that? Yes, it made for a nice sob story, but the implications were horrible. It was cold out, there were angry Death Eaters running around...anything could have happened! And the years that followed afterward...
"Yes, I suppose we have." he mumbled, taking a deep, shuddering breath.
They sat together by the lake, watching the shimmering, still waters for a while. Having been unable to enjoy a full moon in the past, Remus couldn't help but appreciate the beauty of its ethereal glow and all that it touched. But even this could not soothe the regret that had been festering in him all day.
"I know we went through nearly the same thing, but even then, I knew it was wrong! That's why I ran away! But Harry..." his voice wavered, as though he were ready to cry again. "Merlin! How do I even go about this? What if I can't get through to him?"
"We just have to." Remus whispered, bringing Sirius into a one-armed embrace. "It won't be easy, but we will do it together. You're not alone, Padfoot, and I wouldn't dream of backing down now."
Sirius said nothing, but laid his head on the fellow Marauder's shoulder. Right now, all he wanted was to soak up whatever comfort he could. Luckily, Remus was more than willing to provide it.
It had taken five hours of struggling, but all was finally well in the Afterlife. Well, for the most part. Not too long after things had settled down, James, Lily, Ignotus and Relissia returned from their patrol mission. To their fortune, they came back unharmed; something that usually didn't happen in their line of work. But, as they gathered together once more, today's mysterious circumstances came in to light.
"Wait...run that by me again..." one of the watchers said, genuinely confused.
Cadmus sighed. "Simply put, the ritual we're using is being affected by Harry's trust in Dumbledore. And in order to divert its power, we had no choice but to add a second group of readers. That is why I asked for your assistance earlier."
"Wait...what do you mean by that?" the same watcher demanded, shocked. "Professor Dumbledore is a great man! Why wouldn't Harry trust him?"
"You haven't read the books, have you, Cedric?" James asked tiredly.
The watcher shook his head no. "The angel training left me with very little time to myself, and I didn't even think to look at the books." This single statement left the other watchers utterly flabbergasted. The boy had volunteered himself for a task he didn't understand? Was he mad?
"Accio Lily's' Records!" Antioch growled. In an instant, a small, wooden chest whizzed through the air, and landed at his feet. Antioch thrust the chest in Cedric's direction. "Here! Look through these tonight, once the readings are done! Understood?"
Cedric nodded, too shocked by the man's sudden burst of anger to react.
"Hello, Harry." a voice said from the orb.
"Fancy seeing you here." said another.
Everyone's attention shifted to the orb, and sure enough, they saw that Harry, Sirius, Remus and the rest had returned to the Room of Requirement.