Harry sat silently in the back of Uncle Vernon's car, stroking Hedwig through the bars of her cage and watching out the window as they pulled away from King's Cross station. In the front seat, Uncle Vernon was giving an angry commentary on the radio news to Aunt Petunia, who was nodding her agreement. Harry ignored them both, using the time to instead figure out how he was going to broach the subject of his adoption to them.
In the end, Harry decided he'd talk to Aunt Petunia alone. He waited until Monday morning, when Uncle Vernon had departed for work and Dudley had gone off to meet his gang for a long day of terrifying the neighbourhood children. Aunt Petunia was in the lounge room, ostensibly dusting the window ledge. In reality, she was spying on Mrs Number Seven, the neighbour across the road who was apparently getting very friendly with the postman. Knowing that nothing put her in quite so good a mood as passing judgement on the moral failings of the neighbours, Harry turned on the kettle and waited for Aunt Petunia to come in for her mid-morning cup of tea.
Sure enough, she walked into the kitchen a few minutes later looking smug, though her smile faded when she saw Harry leaning against the bench.
“Do you want a cup of tea? It's just boiling,” Harry said, gesturing at the kettle.
“I – yes, alright,” Aunt Petunia said.
She sat down at the kitchen table and watched suspiciously as Harry bustled about getting the tea ready. He set her cup on the table in front of her and took his own to the other end. Aunt Petunia sniffed her tea before nodding minutely.
“I wanted to talk to you about something important,” Harry blurted out.
“What?” Aunt Petunia asked, narrowing her eyes and lowering her tea fractionally.
“Er, well, I'm getting adopted,” Harry said.
Aunt Petunia's eyes narrowed further. “You're what?”
Harry took a deep breath and tried to actually think before speaking this time. “I'm getting adopted. Next Monday, actually. You'll never have to see me again.”
A wary delight fought the suspicion on her face. “What's the catch?”
Harry shrugged. “Well, you and Uncle Vernon just need to sign the papers. There'll be two witnesses who sign as well, and then I'll be gone. For good.”
“I assume these 'witnesses' are like you?” Aunt Petunia asked.
“Yeah, they're like me,” Harry confirmed.
Aunt Petunia looked at him calculatedly. “I can suffer the presence of two of those, if it means I'll be getting rid of you.”
Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Well, there'll be three, actually. Severus has to sign as well, since he's the one adopting me. But it shouldn't take long, I don't think.”
Aunt Petunia froze. “Severus? As in Severus Snape?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, then winced slightly. “I know you two knew each other -”
“Oh, we knew each other alright,” Aunt Petunia said venomously, taking Harry by surprise.
“Okay, well, that's not going to be a problem, is it?” Harry asked nervously. “Like I said, it should be quick, and then I'll be gone.”
“How do you know that man?” Aunt Petunia demanded.
“He's a teacher at my school.”
There was a short, incredulous laugh. “Your lot let people like him near children?”
“There's nothing wrong with him,” Harry said, trying not to glower across the table.
“That's what Lily used to say,” Aunt Petunia said.
“Well, it's true,” Harry said.
“And then,” Aunt Petunia said, seemingly not hearing him, “one summer she came home from that school and refused to see him. She made our mum send him away when he came to the door one day, but all she'd say was that he'd changed.”
“They'd had a fight, and he said something he shouldn't have,” Harry said shortly.
Aunt Petunia laughed bitterly. “He was always saying things he shouldn't have. And now you want to go live with him?”
With some effort, Harry managed to bite back an angry retort. “Yeah, I do,” he said instead. “I already have, for a few weeks, that time I ran away from here.”
Aunt Petunia pressed her lips together so firmly that they all but disappeared. “I'm not sure this is a good idea,” she said finally.
Harry stared at her. It almost sounded like she was worried about Harry's welfare with Severus, which was ridiculous. He almost groaned when he realised what must really be bothering her. “Look, they're just coming to sign some documents and pick me up. They're not going to do anything. And I know that both Severus and Narcissa know how to dress like Mug – er, like normal people.”
Aunt Petunia drained her tea and nodded. “Very well then.”
“Great,” Harry said in relief. “They'll be getting here at six o'clock next Monday evening. Uncle Vernon should be home from work by then, won't he?”
“I'll make sure that he is,” Aunt Petunia said.
“Great,” Harry said again. He hesitated for a few seconds as he steeled himself to bring up the other subject he'd been wanting to talk to her about. “Er, one more thing.”
“What is it now?”
“I went -” Harry stopped and sipped some more tea. “Last Christmas I visited my parents' grave. And I don't get why you never told me where they were but... Severus told me that you organised everything. The funeral, and all. So I wanted to say thank you. For that.”
“Someone had to do it, and our parents were already gone by that point,” Aunt Petunia said quietly.
“Yeah, I know,” Harry said. “But still. Thanks.”
Aunt Petunia looked at him a long time before she nodded again. “I'll speak to Vernon about next Monday.”
Harry simply nodded and got up from the table, taking his tea upstairs to his room. He flopped down onto his bed, pleased with how well things had gone. He'd write to Severus later, to tell him that the Dursleys would be home, but Hedwig was still sleeping and wouldn't want to wake up for a few more hours yet.
With nothing else to do, Harry grabbed the Quidditch strategy book that Draco had liberated from the Ravenclaw common room two years ago. The Quidditch Cup would be starting up again at Hogwarts, and after a year off, Harry was missing it dreadfully. He settled down to read it, with visions of Slytherin victories flitting through his brain.
As usual, time at the Dursleys' moved far slower than was normal. By Thursday, Harry had read through An Introduction to Mind Magic twice, thrown out any potions ingredients that were going off, and re-read his snake encyclopaedia. By Friday, he'd skimmed through all of his textbooks (the voice in his head that sounded like Hermione cheered him on in this endeavour) and sorted through his old sketchbooks, throwing out any old drawings he didn't like.
Saturday saw him beginning to pack up all his belongings. This took rather longer than he'd anticipated. He'd never used to have much, but since discovering his Gringotts vault he'd bought quite a bit, not to mention all the presents from his friends. He'd also had something of a growth spurt over the last few months, and had a few clothes to throw out. He ended up taking them into town on Sunday and giving them to a charity shop. He popped into a music store on his way back to Privet Drive and picked up some new tapes and a Pearl Jam poster.
Early Monday morning, Harry was woken up by a soft but insistent hooting. He jammed his glasses on and looked blearily at his windowsill to see Thoth was sitting there. A frisson of dread ran through Harry as he struggled upright and turned on his lamp. Why would Draco be writing to him at this time, unless something bad had happened? He pulled the letter off Thoth's leg and gave him an owl treat from the stash in his bedside table, then unrolled the parchment.
For a moment, Harry thought his eyesight had gotten inexplicably worse since he'd gone to bed. Then he realised that not only had Draco written in Parseltongue, but his handwriting was also far messier than usual. Harry had to hold the letter directly under his lamp in order to read it.
Sorry if you're already in bed when you get this. I told Thoth to make sure you got it as soon as he arrived, so I imagine he's probably woken you up.
Theo ran away from his father tonight. He's hiding here at the Manor, where he'll be staying for the foreseeable future. His father hit him, but before you go feeling guilty, it wasn't just about his being friends with you. There was the whole Muggle Studies issue, and he absolutely loathes Theo's relationship with Tracey. Anyway, his father actually tried to lock him in his room today; he didn't want him going back to Hogwarts, since Theo refused to obey him. He forgot about the house-elves, though, so Theo simply packed up all his possessions and got one of the elves to let him out before Flooing over here.
What scares me the most is that Mother didn't seem at all surprised by Theo's story. She was upset, obviously, but she seemed to almost be expecting it. I think this means that Crabbe and Goyle will be acting rather differently towards us the next time we meet.
Theo says to say hello and not to worry about him. He's also telling me to warn you not to tell anyone where he is; he doesn't want his father finding out. He must think you're an idiot, as surely the fact that I'm writing in sodding Parseltongue tipped you off that this is to be kept secret. Let Snape know, though. If there's going to be a war in the dorm this year (Theo's prediction, not mine), he'll want to know.
Good luck with the adoption tomorrow. I wish I could be there, but Mother says it wouldn't be appropriate, and in any case, I don't really want to leave Theo alone for too long right now. He says he's not upset over his father, but I don't believe him. For one thing, I have my own fair share of experience with an arsehole of a father. More importantly, he showed no sign of interest in plotting revenge when I suggested it. If it were anyone else I'd be reassured, but it's Theo. He loves payback.
Anyway, I didn't mean to worry you. I'll be keeping an eye on him (Quidditch should work well as a distraction), and Mother says that you can come visit after you're all settled in with Snape. God, that feels weird to write! I'll get used to it quickly enough, I suppose. I expect to hear all about it when I see you. Hopefully that won't be too long.
I'll be thinking of you tomorrow.
“Fuck,” Harry breathed heavily, staring down at the letter. He re-read it quickly, the unique mixture of English letters and Draco's made up, serpentine characters easier to read the second time around, then grabbed a piece of paper off his desk and scribbled out a reply. It took some time, given that he wasn't used to writing in Parseltongue. He hoped it said what he thought it said.
Thoth did wake me up, but it's fine. Better than getting woken up by nightmares. I'm glad you told me about Theo, and I hope you're both okay. If you want to keep him busy, maybe suggest he helps you plan some defences for the dorm? I don't think Greg or Vince will try anything, even if they're getting pressured by their dads, but looking up new spells might cheer Theo up a bit.
I'm sending this with Hedwig so that Thoth can have a bit of a rest. I'll send him back to you in a few hours. I'll see you soon, I'm sure.
Harry folded up the letter and handed it to Hedwig. “Take this to Draco. I'll meet you at Severus' tonight, okay?” he said, stroking her head.
Hedwig hopped onto his outstretched hand and butted her head against his shoulder before she took off through the window. Harry stood for a minute, watching her get smaller and smaller in the pre-dawn light. When she'd disappeared he carried Thoth over to Hedwig's cage and gave him another owl treat. Thoth gulped it down and then settled on the perch to sleep. Harry checked his watch and sighed. It was nearly six o'clock: no point trying to get back to sleep now. Instead, he went downstairs to have breakfast before anyone else was up.
He nearly made it. He was just washing his dishes in the sink when Uncle Vernon walked in. He eyed the frying pan in Harry's hands unpleasantly.
“You didn't finish the bacon, did you, boy?”
“No,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Uncle Vernon merely grunted and turned on the kettle. Harry finished the dishes and dried his hands.
“They'd better be on time,” Uncle Vernon said.
Harry rolled his eyes again before he turned around. “Severus and McGonagall are the two strictest teachers in school. Trust me when I say they'll be on time.”
Uncle Vernon grunted. “Make sure that room's spotless after you've packed.”
Harry walked upstairs wondering just how many times he could roll his eyes before he did some damage. He spent the rest of the day packing and cleaning his room, pausing only for a quick lunch before getting back into it. By the time he finished, he was wishing desperately for his own house-elf. He settled for a long shower.
Harry returned to his room and chucked his toiletries into his trunk, then looked around. Apart from his trunk, on which were stacked his Firebolt, a backpack, and Hedwig's cage, his room looked like he'd never been there. He'd even sent Thoth back to Malfoy Manor before his shower. He checked his watch – twenty minutes to five – and flopped onto the stripped down bed. What was he supposed to do for an hour and twenty minutes? He stared up at the ceiling in frustration. He was fully packed, he'd cleaned the room... He could always start his holiday homework, but he was too tingly with anticipation to concentrate properly. More importantly, beginning one's holiday homework a mere week after school had ended was something people like Hermione or Tracey did. Harry had no intention of becoming a swot.
Harry sighed and got to his feet. If he stayed inside he'd go crazy. He needed to get out of the house.
“Where do you think you're going?” Aunt Petunia asked sharply as he walked towards the front door.
“For a walk. I'll be back before they arrive,” Harry said, then slipped outside. The door swung shut behind him, cutting off her reply.
Harry walked aimlessly for a while, wilting a bit in the hot summer sun. He caught sight of the local high school up ahead and decided to go and say hello to the grass snake one last time. He jumped over the chain-link fence and walked through the deserted campus.
Like every other time he'd come to Stonewall High to see the grass snake, Harry couldn't help being thankful that he hadn't ended up going there. It seemed a perfectly fine school, but going there would have meant that he never escaped the Dursleys. The thought made him check his watch again: just past five. Plenty of time to get back to Privet Drive. He crossed the football pitch and was soon picking his way through the field, which was already going brown as the grass faced the summer heat.
“Is anyone here?” Harry called. He stood there, feeling stupid, before a faint voice answered.
Harry spent a good quarter of an hour listening to the grass snake, who had recently laid a clutch of eggs. Harry had learned far more about the mechanics of snake sex, what it felt like to lay eggs, and how to care for said eggs (under a pile of rotting compost, which he declined to visit), than he'd ever wanted to before he managed to get a word in.
“Good luck with your hatchlings. I'm sorry I won't see them.”
The snake reared up slightly. “Why not?”
“I'm moving away and won't be coming back,” Harry explained.
The snake flicked her tongue out. “About time, human boy.”
“What?” Harry asked.
“You're leaving to go find a mate, aren't you? It's about time, you must be at least four by now!”
Harry blinked at the snake. “I'm nearly fifteen,” he said eventually.
“Fifteen?” the snake reared up. “You better get a move on if you want to breed before you die!”
“I think I've got a bit of time left,” Harry said with a grin.
“If you say so,” the snake said doubtfully.
“I'll be fine. Anyway, it's been nice knowing you,” Harry said.
“And you, human boy,” the snake replied, setting back down into the grass.
Harry walked back the way he'd come, before he decided to take a shortcut and walk down the alley that led to Magnolia Crescent. He'd just turned into the alley when he bumped into something large and solid. He looked up and groaned. Just his luck to run into Dudley.
“Watch where you're going, Potter.”
“Ooh, I'm sorry,” Harry said sarcastically, backing away with his hands held up in the air. “Don't let me get in your way to beating up eight-year-olds.”
“I don't beat up eight-year-olds,” Dudley snarled.
“Nine-year-olds, then. Or have you finally cracked the double digits and found a ten-year-old you can take?” Harry put on an overly innocent expression, as if he were genuinely interested.
Dudley narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn't be mouthing off if you hadn't had that blonde bitch threaten us.”
Harry's lip curled and he took a step forward. “You think so? A couple of weeks ago I got tortured by the madman who murdered my parents, while my friends' dads watched and laughed. I told him to fuck off. So what do you think I'll do to you if I hear you talk about Narcissa like that again today?”
Dudley gaped at him, visibly thinking. “What about tomorrow?” he eventually asked.
“You said today. What happens if I say anything tomorrow?” Dudley asked smugly, clearly thinking he had outwitted Harry.
“Don't see why you would. You'll never see either of us again.”
“What, you think I'm going to come back here to visit? Reminisce about all the fun times we had together?” Harry laughed.
Dudley just stared at him.
“Did your parents not tell you?” Harry finally asked. “I'm getting adopted today and getting the hell out of here.”
Dudley snorted. “Someone wants you?”
“Yeah. Quite a few people, actually. So if you'll excuse me, I better get back to Privet Drive. I want to be there to see it if Severus decides to hex your mum.”
When Dudley didn't reply, Harry walked around him and down the alley. He knew he shouldn't be upset that Dudley didn't bother to say goodbye to him (he shouldn't even be surprised, really), but Harry found himself unexpectedly saddened by it. It reminded him too much of being locked in his cupboard, forgotten out of sight while Dudley was fussed over by his parents... Trapped in the dark with only the spiders for company, with only a couple of broken tin soldiers to play with... Crying silently, lest his sobs could be heard over the television and enraged Uncle Vernon any more... Hungry and thirsty... Cold... So very, very cold...
Harry shivered and realised that the cold he was feeling wasn't just memories from the cupboard. Night had fallen, and brought with it a sharp drop in temperature. Harry frowned. It wasn't even six o'clock yet, it shouldn't be getting dark for hours. He stopped and looked around. The alley, which had previously been shadowy but still fairly well lit, was now almost entirely dark. He couldn't see the end of it any more. With a jolt he realised he could no longer hear the sounds of traffic, either. It was as if someone had cut the alley off from the outside world, leaving Harry alone in the cold, silent darkness.
No, not entirely alone, Harry realised. He drew his wand as he heard a long, slow, rattling breath. He was wrong, he had to be wrong, they couldn't be here, not in Little Whinging... Harry backed away, shaking his head in disbelief as the silhouette of a Dementor came gliding towards him through the darkness.
“Expecto patronum,” he whispered, half-convinced this was a nightmare.
His wand flared silver for a moment, but his fawn didn't appear. The Dementor continued to advance on him. Harry stumbled backwards and focused on the thought of getting adopted, of getting away from the Dursleys for good. “Expecto patronum!”
This time, his Patronus emerged properly. It charged straight at the Dementor and head butted it, sending it flying backwards before it retreated, swooping up and away into the night. The fawn watched it flee then returned to Harry, who smiled gratefully at it. A cry behind him made him spin around to find Dudley, crouched in front of another Dementor, cradling his head in his hands as it loomed over him.
“Get it!” Harry urged his Patronus.
The fawn sprinted off towards the second Dementor and head butted it as well. It flew off, leaving the fawn shining brightly at the mouth of the alley as if waiting for another threat before it faded away. With the departure of the Dementors the alley went back to normal. The summer heat returned along with the light, and Harry could clearly see Dudley shaking and crying on the ground. Casting a wary look around him, Harry made his way over to his cousin.
Dudley merely whimpered.
“Dudley, come on, you need to get up. They might come back,” Harry said quietly. When Dudley merely whimpered again, he groaned and began heaving at one of Dudley's arms. “Come on!”
“It's not true... It's not true...” Dudley moaned suddenly.
Harry paused, momentarily wondering what it was that the Dementor had made Dudley remember. “I know. Now come on. Let's get you home.”
At the mention of home, Dudley allowed himself to be hauled to his feet. Harry's knees nearly buckled under the weight of holding Dudley upright. “You need to walk, I can't carry you.”
Dudley began shuffling his feet in small, jerky steps, though Harry was still supporting most of his weight. Harry gritted his teeth and helped Dudley along as best he could, all the while cursing how light out it still was. If it had have been night, he might have been able to risk levitating Dudley, since he was already bound to get in trouble for casting a Patronus Charm.
As it was, he half-carried, half-dragged Dudley all the way back to Number 4 Privet Drive. They came across a group of children, but they rode off on their bikes when they saw Dudley coming towards them. Harry was drenched with sweat by the time he got Dudley to the doorstep of Number 4. He rang the bell and waited impatiently as Uncle Vernon's bulk came into view through the warped glass.
“We're not interested in whatever you're selling!” Uncle Vernon called, not bothering to open the door.
“It's Dudley and me!” Harry shouted back.
The door was yanked open, and Uncle Vernon looked at them in surprise. “Dudley? What are you doing home already?”
“They here yet?” Harry asked.
“What did you do to him?” Uncle Vernon asked, noticing Dudley's pale, clammy face for the first time.
Harry just pushed Dudley onto Uncle Vernon and squeezed past them into the hallway. He was halfway to the kitchen when he heard the sound of Dudley vomiting all over the door mat. He ignored it and entered the kitchen, sagging in relief when he found Severus, Narcissa and McGonagall already there.
Severus was leaning against the wall, holding a thin leather folder and smirking faintly as he watched Aunt Petunia aggressively chopping up vegetables for dinner whilst glaring at him. McGonagall was watching him with amused disapproval. Narcissa was pacing impatiently in front of the patio doors. She spotted Harry first and stopped dead.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Dementors,” Harry said.
Severus pushed off the wall and Aunt Petunia dropped her knife.
“What?” all four adults asked.
Harry spared a curious look for Aunt Petunia before addressing the others. “Two of them. They caught us in an alley. I had to cast a Patronus to get away from them.”
Just then Uncle Vernon appeared in the doorway, leading a still clearly shaken Dudley.
“Diddykins!” Aunt Petunia shrieked and rushed over to him.
“He'll be fine if you give him some chocolate,” Harry said.
“Did they follow you?” Severus asked Harry.
He shook his head. “No. Well, I don't think so. My Patronus drove them both off, but I had to practically carry Dudley home, so I couldn't really check behind me.”
McGonagall walked out of the kitchen and down the corridor to the front door, which Harry heard her open.
“Severus, we need to hurry this along,” Narcissa announced. “I'll Apparate to the Ministry and tell them what's happened before they -”
“No you will not!” Uncle Vernon shouted. “You need to stay here and explain what happened to my son!”
“A dementor attempted to remove his soul,” McGonagall answered, walking back into the room. “Harry saved him with the Patronus Charm. Your son will recover quicker if you give him chocolate like Harry told you to.”
“I'll not take orders from the boy!” Uncle Vernon blustered.
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “Not even to hasten your son's recovery? How utterly foolish.”
“Will this do?”
Everyone turned in surprise to find Aunt Petunia standing in front of the pantry holding up a block of Cadbury.
“Yeah,” Harry said. He walked over, broke off a few pieces for himself and then handed the rest of the block to Dudley.
Just as Harry popped the chocolate into his mouth, a large barn owl flew in through the open kitchen window. It swooped towards Harry, dropped an envelope at his feet and flew back out of the window in seconds. Harry bent down and picked it up, shooting a puzzled look at Severus before he ripped open the letter.
Dear Mr Potter,
We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus Charm at thirteen minutes to six this evening in a Muggle-inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.
The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.
As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9am on the 22nd of July.
Hoping you are well,
Use of Magic Office
“They've expelled me,” he said numbly.
He handed the letter to Severus, who read it with McGonagall peering over his shoulder.
“They can't,” Severus declared once he'd finished.
“Only the Headmaster has the authority to expel you,” McGonagall agreed. “Once we're done here, I'll go to him at once. He'll need to know about this.”
“Could somebody bloody well tell us what is going on here!” Uncle Vernon thundered.
“Your son and nephew were attacked by dementors this evening. Whilst non-fatal, they are capable of extracting a person's soul through their mouth. Harry fought them off and brought your son back home,” Severus said.
“But why were they here? I thought they guarded Azkaban,” Aunt Petunia said, then clapped her hand over her mouth and stared around the room with wide eyes.
Severus rolled his own eyes at her reaction. “Normally, yes. It's possible that the Dark Lord sent them here after Harry...”
“Who's this Dark Lord, then?” Uncle Vernon asked.
“Only the person responsible for the murder of your in-laws,” McGonagall said, shocked.
“He's back?” Aunt Petunia asked fearfully.
“Yeah. But don't worry, you'll be safer with me gone,” Harry said.
“Good,” said Uncle Vernon.
“Much as I would love to sit through another hour of listening to this fool -” she glared at Uncle Vernon “- be appallingly insensitive, I really should be going,” Narcissa said pointedly.
Severus nodded and placed the folder on the table and pulled out two certificates. Harry looked at them curiously. One was from the Office for Births, Deaths and Marriages, which Harry was amused to see was part of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and one from the Muggle General Register Office. Apart from the magical certificate asking about the magical statuses of the child, their biological parents and the adoptive parents; and requiring the signatures of two witnesses, the forms were exactly the same. Severus signed both forms and then held out the pen to Aunt Petunia.
“You and your husband need to sign where indicated to relinquish all responsibilities towards Harry,” he said coldly.
Aunt Petunia looked at Severus with disdain for a few seconds before she condescended to take the pen and sign. Uncle Vernon had no such qualms, and signed quickly and eagerly. Narcissa and McGonagall signed at the very end of the magical form.
“Is that it, then? Are we rid of him?” Uncle Vernon asked once they'd finished.
“Quite,” Severus said with a sneer, putting the forms back into the folder. “Harry, fetch your belongings.”
Harry ran upstairs to his old room. He gave it a quick final check, then shouldered his backpack, tucked his Firebolt under his arm and picked up his trunk and Hedwig's cage. He dragged them downstairs and into the kitchen.
“Harry, I'll come by after I've been to the Ministry and let you know what's happening,” Narcissa said, walking out with the folder.
Severus shrank down Harry's belongings. As Harry was shoving them into his backpack, Severus looked at Aunt Petunia. “Much as I doubt you will ever want or need to get in contact with Harry, should the occasion arise, I would prefer that you didn't attempt to do so directly. Messages can be sent through the Headmaster; I believe you remember how to write to him.”
For some reason, Aunt Petunia went red at this, and merely nodded.
Severus ignored Dudley and Uncle Vernon, and put his hand on Harry's shoulder. “Come on, Harry.”
Harry looked back at the Dursleys, none of whom seemed inclined to bid him farewell. “Bye,” he said, then allowed Severus to steer him out of the room behind McGonagall. He turned back at the front door, unable to resist one last jab. “By the way, I'm gay!” he shouted down the hallway. There was the sound of something breaking as Severus shut the front door with a chuckle.
He felt a giddy happiness steal over him as he walked down the footpath next to Severus and McGonagall. He was finally free of the Dursleys; he wasn't expelled from Hogwarts -
“Are they really going to snap my wand?” Harry asked, belatedly remembering the other part of the letter.
Severus simply sped up, urging Harry to do the same with a squeeze of his shoulder. “Wait until we get home.”
Home. The word echoed in Harry's head, driving away his worry over the Ministry. They walked into the alley Narcissa used for Apparition (thankfully not the same one in which Harry had faced the dementors), and a second later Severus had Apparated himself and Harry to an empty field. McGonagall Apparated beside them a second later.
Harry looked around him curiously. It looked like the moor where Severus lived (Harry could see the dead tree he'd always thought looked like a scarecrow), but there was a distinct lack of any sort of dwelling. He frowned as he realised he couldn't remember what the house had looked like.
“What happened to your house?” he asked, startled.
McGonagall smiled. “Fen House is right here, Mr Potter.”
Harry's jaw dropped open as in front of him, Severus' property seemed to grow out of the ground. The main house and barn popped up, along with Harry's memories of both buildings, which he hadn't realised he'd forgotten. Both structures were quickly being partly obscured by the overgrown garden.
“We performed the Fidelius Charm. As Severus' Secret-Keeper, I'm the only person who could tell you about the place,” McGonagall said. “Now, I really must go see Albus.”
She Disapparated away with a quiet pop, leaving Harry alone with Severus. “Welcome home, Harry,” he said with a smile.
Harry grinned. “Thanks, Sev – er, do I still call you Severus?”
“I've no intention of becoming some hippy parent whose child addresses them by their given name. You may choose from any traditional form of paternal address.”
“Okay... Dad,” Harry said. It felt weird to call a living person that. He had no idea when babies started talking, but his only memory of addressing James was when he'd seen him in the Mirror of Erised, and more recently in the graveyard.
To his surprise, Severus frowned. “Are you sure you wish to use that particular word? I was under the impression that you used it to refer to your father – I mean, Pot – ah, James.”
Harry shrugged. “It's not like I'm the first person to have two dads.”
Severus' smile returned before he cleared his throat and began walking to the house. “You will still have to address me as 'sir' or 'Professor' at school.”
“Yes, Dad,” Harry said, grinning again.
Once inside, Severus made a beeline for the kettle. Harry sat down at the kitchen table and watched as Severus began getting the tea things out.
“So, my wand?” Harry prompted.
Severus leaned against the kitchen bench and looked at him grimly. “Normally, it wouldn't even be an option. You'd get a warning letter, possibly a fine, given that you have already received a warning for this offence before.”
“So what's changed?” Harry asked.
“You've angered the Minister for Magic, along with a lot of other Ministry employees.”
Harry stared at him. “How?”
“You told the truth about the Dark Lord's return. The Ministry does not want to accept that he has returned, and so they're hiding from the truth,” Severus said sourly. “In this case, that means slandering both you and Dumbledore in the Daily Prophet.”
Harry looked at him warily. “Is it worse than Skeeter?”
Severus picked up the whistling kettle and filled the teapot. “It's different. They're not making up stories about you, as such. They've instead chosen to make your name a byword for an attention-seeking liar. Taken separately, each story is relatively harmless. But with one or two stories a day mentioning you in this manner, it builds up the idea that only a gullible fool would believe anything you have to say.”
Harry frowned as Severus poured out the tea. He stirred in the milk and blew on his cup. “That doesn't sound too bad,” he said finally. “I mean, not many people believed me when I said I didn't enter the Triwizard Tournament, and I just had to learn to ignore them.”
Severus shook his head. “It is a concerted smear campaign instigated by the Ministry. I cannot see them easing up until they are forced to concede that the Dark Lord is indeed back. Getting you expelled would have bolstered their position. With Dumbledore unwilling to allow that to happen, they'll try harder to get you in to court.”
“But it was self-defence! What was I supposed to do, let the dementors kiss Dudley and me?”
“Of course not. But the Ministry will try to say that you've made the entire thing up. The only other witness is your cousin, who as a Muggle, cannot even see dementors.”
“But you -”
“I saw you return home shaken,” Severus said, “and your cousin certainly displayed the symptoms I would expect to see from a Muggle having just encountered a dementor. I would of course testify to that, as would Minerva and Narcissa.”
“So I have to go to that trial then?” Harry asked.
Severus sipped his tea. “I very much hope not. When I was questioned before Black's trial, I was all but accused outright of fabricating the story. Minerva told me she suffered the same treatment. And that was just for a trial wherein the Ministry was forced to admit they were mistaken with Black. Admitting they've been mistaken about the Dark Lord won't be any easier.”
Harry swirled his tea dejectedly. “So I'm screwed?”
“I never said that. Have you forgotten who has just gone to the Ministry on your behalf?”
“Narcissa. But – oh. Ohh!” Harry looked up to find Severus smirking at him.
“Exactly. She wields a considerable amount of influence at the Ministry. She comes from one of the oldest and richest pure-blood families, and married into another. Together with Lucius, she has given a lot of money to a lot of different Ministerial departments over the years. Just look at Lucius' arrest and subsequent imprisonment; Narcissa came through that with no loss to her own social or political standing,” Severus said admiringly.
“I'll take your word for it,” Harry said. “I don't know much about all that.”
Severus gave him a look that said he'd be rectifying that later. “There's also the fact that Minerva has gone to apprise the Headmaster of the situation. Despite Fudge doing his best to discredit him, Dumbledore still has quite a bit of clout with at the Ministry.”
Harry nodded, feeling a little more hopeful now. “So we just wait until she gets here?”
“More or less,” Severus said.
Harry pouted into his tea. Waiting was definitely not his strong point. “If the Ministry is still able to deny him returning, does that mean that Voldemort hasn't been up to much? I haven't heard anything on the Muggle news that could have been him, I don't think.”
“We haven't heard anything, no, and we no longer have a spy like last time,” Severus said. “Dumbledore is trying to find someone who could replace me, with little luck so far. The only other members of the Order with any Death Eater ties are Narcissa and Black, and they're very obviously too loyal to you to become convincing spies.”
Harry frowned. “What's this Order?”
“The Order of the Phoenix is a secret organisation founded by Dumbledore, which is dedicated to fighting the Dark Lord. He has reformed it in the last week.”
“And you're in it?” Harry asked.
“I joined when I defected from the Death Eaters. Most of the original living members have returned, with the exception of Pettigrew and the Longbottoms.”
Harry leaned forward. “Can I join?”
“Why not? I can help! I fought him a couple of weeks ago!”
“And acquitted yourself admirably. I do not deny that in the slightest. But you're only fourteen, Harry.”
“Fifteen soon,” Harry muttered.
Severus rolled his eyes. “Yes, you'll be fifteen soon. You're still underage.”
“Then I'll join as soon as I turn seventeen,” Harry said.
“Once you're seventeen I won't be able to stop you,” Severus said grudgingly. “But until then, you're under my protection. You're not the only person with a parent in the Order, you know.”
“Who else?” Harry asked curiously.
“Draco and the Weasleys.”
“And they're all okay with being left out?” Harry asked.
Severus shrugged. “It's not my problem if they are. My only concern is you, and you're not joining. I can, however, let you know some of what we are doing. I trust you enough for that. And I'll take you to Order headquarters. I won't be able to get out of that.”
“Why not? Where are they?” asked Harry.
“I can't tell you that.”
“You just said you trust me!” Harry protested.
“And I do. But I literally cannot tell you where headquarters are. Only the Secret-Keeper can do that,” said Severus.
“It's under the Fidelius Charm too?”
Harry frowned at his tea, then downed it in one. “Your house -”
“Yours too,” Severus interrupted.
“Right, okay. Our house – is it under Fidelius because of me?”
“Yes,” Severus said, holding Harry's gaze. “Though I doubt I'm particularly popular with the Death Eaters.”
“Don't,” Severus said sharply. “I knew what I was getting into. Furthermore, if I had not adopted you, I believe there is a high chance Dumbledore would have begun pressuring me to return to espionage.”
“So now the Order's down a spy, too,” Harry said. “All because I wanted a family.”
Severus glared at him. “As I said earlier, Dumbledore is trying to find a replacement. He was considering Mundungus Fletcher, a petty thief with useful contacts in the criminal world, but after today I doubt he'll be trusted with anything important.”
“What happened today?”
“He was supposed to be guarding you, and you were attacked by dementors on his watch. I'd wager he thought you'd be safe enough with Minerva, Narcissa and myself arriving for the adoption, and left early – if he even bothered to show up at all,” Severus said bitterly.
“This Fletcher bloke's been guarding me?” Harry asked.
“There have been a small group of Order members watching you in rotation, ever since you arrived in Surrey this past week,” Severus said.
Harry gaped at him. “What?”
“You never noticed them following you?” Severus asked, frowning intently.
“I only left the house twice. Once to take clothes to a secondhand shop, and then today, to say goodbye to the grass snake,” Harry said defensively.
Severus blinked. “Grass snake?”
“I met her a few years ago, and I go talk to her every summer,” Harry explained, feeling a little embarrassed. “Apart from Hedwig, she's been my only friend while I'm at the Dursleys'. I'm going to miss her.”
After a moment Severus nodded. “Yes, well... We're going to work on your observational skills.”
Harry perked up. “Like spy training? Cool!”
“It's not a game, Harry,” Severus snapped.
“I know that, Dad,” Harry said. “Sorry, Dad.”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “I know what you're doing, Harry.”
Harry widened his eyes, aiming for the innocent puppy look of Draco's that worked so well on him. “What am I doing?”
“Emotionally manipulating me so I won't get angry with you,” Severus said.
Harry dropped the innocent look. “Did it work?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Go to your room.”
Harry gave him a puzzled look as he picked up his backpack and stood up; Severus didn't sound angry, so he didn't know why he was being sent to his room. It wasn't something Harry had been expecting the first day, but he had to admit it wasn't that bad, since it wasn't accompanied by threats of physical violence or starvation.
He pushed open the door and stopped abruptly. The bed and desk he'd used last time were still there, but were no longer surrounded by overcrowded bookshelves, and the bed had been magically enlarged into a double. The single remaining bookshelf was completely bare. Sandwiched into the corner next to it was a thin wardrobe. There was a tall chest of drawers at the foot of the bed, and a bedside table underneath the window, between his bed and desk. Hedwig was already waiting for him, sleeping on the headboard of the bed. She stirred at his entrance and trilled a sleepy greeting.
Harry put his backpack on the desk and sank down onto the bed and looked slowly around the room. It was his – all his, with none of Dudley's old broken possessions taking up space. He got up and pulled his shrunken belongings on the desk.
“I can remove the bookshelf if you'd like a larger wardrobe,” Severus said from behind him. He returned Harry's things to their proper size, then continued. “You may paint the walls if you like, and buy new bedding if you -”
He was cut off by Harry hugging him fiercely. He pulled away and grinned up at him. “It's perfect. Well, I'd like to paint it, but apart from that it's perfect.”
Severus' lips twitched. “You are embarrassingly easy to please.”
Harry shrugged. “Ten years in a cupboard.”
Severus' face grew stony at that. “I'll take you to a paint shop tomorrow,” was all he said.