Author: nos tres reges PM
VINCET 2: Every so often, a momentous individual makes their way through the world, making ripples in their path. Dumbledore and Voldemort were two such men, sending waves crashing, obliterating all else, and Harry grows sick of wearing a life preserver.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Harry P. & Katie B. - Chapters: 7 - Words: 67,564 - Reviews: 444 - Favs: 1,113 - Follows: 1,331 - Updated: 08-22-12 - Published: 10-12-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5438875
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A (Brief) Message from the Authors
If you are too dumb to recognize within the first few paragraphs that this is a sequel, we highly recommend sticking your tongue in an electrical socket to stimulate neuron growth. Also, if you are curious to know the status of the next chapter, feel free to check in with us on Twitter. You can find the link on our profile.
CAPUT PRIMUS: CASA DULCISSIMA
When Harry Potter had stepped off Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters a month previous, it hadn't ever crossed his mind that he would ever feel like he did at the moment.
He was bored.
The summer had started well enough. He had suffered the ride home with the Dursleys; he hadn't dared do anything to them while they were on the platform, or in the confined space of the car, but the second they were in the privacy of Number Four, Harry Confunded the Dursleys to near oblivion. Opting for a quiet summer with a minimum of turmoil, he had made himself all but a non-entity in their minds. He had, of course, considered hexing them until they could no longer walk, but in the end he had held off. It was not his promise to Hermione that had stayed his vengeance—as far as he was concerned, he and Hermione were square, since he had rescued her and she had helped him crack the Trace—but rather the thought that any such action would undoubtedly call attention to his underage magic usage. As the Director of Grunnings, Vernon could not go AWOL without turning heads.
In truth, it had started as bliss: an entire week of no bullying, no harassment; a week to practice his repertoire of spells, to lie in the sun in the backyard, and to enjoy a brief respite from ponces and body-sharing mind-rapists. It was the first peaceful time in his life.
Really, it was no wonder he tired of it so quickly.
The spells were interesting enough, and he knew better than most the value of knowing them. In the end, though, he was still a twelve-year-old boy at heart, and spending his summer holiday hidden away in a suburban community felt more like prison than paradise. And so he found himself taking more and more risks, and tormenting the Dursleys more and more—something that he would never tire of, despite how unnerving it had been to confront his own heart's deepest desire. He liked the peace, he really did, but...
The first true breakthrough in his boredom came two weeks later, when his aunt noticed that her triple-layer chocolate ganache cake—prepared painstakingly for a dinner party—was missing a large slice. Unable to blame (or even remember) Harry, she spent an hour fussing at Dudley, much to Harry's amusement. From then on, it became a game to make mischief in the night, just to see how the Dursleys would rationalize it in the morning. Vernon's clothes all became a few sizes too small; Dudley's bottom was the recipient of innumerable stinging hexes; and Petunia's new wedding ring disappeared once more (the gaudy three-carat ring wound up in Harry's possession, since he had a great inclination to sell it to the first person to offer him a fiver for it).
And yet, life at Privet Drive remained unbearably dull. Without an owl, he had no way to contact anyone in the wizarding world. Too late, he realized he should have asked Hermione for her telephone number; it would have had the added bonus of ringing up the Dursleys' bill.
Instead, he ceased renewing the charms, and let the Confunded Dursleys slowly recover to the point that they seemed to recognize him (if still ignoring him) when they passed by him in the house. It took another week for them to remember him without first bumping into him:
Harry grinned and rose from the desk in his room. It was time to play.
When he found the Dursleys downstairs, Harry had to bite his tongue to prevent bursting out laughing. Dressed in a suit that looked extraordinarily expensive and fit extraordinarily poorly was Dudley, whose pinkish face made him the spitting image of pigs-in-blankets. Petunia, with her green dress and the last vestiges of a tan from their weekend in Majorca prior to Harry's return, could have doubled as a Christmas tree. Uncle Vernon, who was dressed just as Dudley was, had his meaty hands clasped around Dudley's shoulders. His mustache bristled when Harry came into sight.
"There you are," said Vernon.
"There you are," said Harry, as he sized up the three.
The knuckles on the hand gripping Dudley's shoulder turned white. "Listen, boy, we want no nonsense from you," said Vernon. He clearly did not remember the month-long absence of Harry. "We have very important guests coming—worth far more than your sorry self. So, no... freakishness. Am I clear?"
"Of course, uncle," Harry replied.
Vernon Dursley turned slightly pink. Dudley gave a yelp and twisted out from under Vernon's grip. "See to it, then," he said. "You're to stay in your room for the rest of the evening. Once our honored guests go home, you can eat some of the left-overs."
"Your generosity overwhelms me."
It was a mark of how important the dinner was to Vernon that he did not try to cuff Harry for his cheek. Instead, he turned to Petunia. "All right, dear: at quarter past, you will serve the hors d'oeuvres in the living room. And Dudley, you will—"
"I'll offer to take their coats," the boy responded proudly. He held out a pudgy arm to an invisible guest. "Good evening, Ms. Mason. May I take your coat?"
Petunia gave a loud coo of motherly pride.
"Perfect!" exclaimed Vernon.
Harry rolled his eyes and made his way back up the stairs.
"And that's why you should never play golf with a Chinaman!"
Vernon's joke earned a hearty chuckle from Mr. Mason and tittering laughter from his wife. "—Oh, Lucretia, the man does know how to tell a joke, doesn't he?"
Harry crouched on the landing of the stairs, and listened to the conversation as it cycled between discussion of drills, to the failings of the prime minister, to off-color jokes (mostly involving the aforementioned Chinese). At first, he had been disappointed: he was sure that the Dursleys would screw themselves over without his own special brand of interference. Their failure to do so was, at first, startling. As the evening wore on however, it was clear that the Masons and the Dursleys were two pea-pods in a pot. For all he had been raised by talk radio, Harry was not particularly fond of the sort of persons the Masons were, and so, as he resolved to end the good time being had by all except for him, the phrase 'acceptable civilian casualties' sprang to mind.
"Petunia, dear, I think it's about time for the cake, don't you?" Vernon twisted at the waist to explain to the Masons: "Petunia makes a most delicious Pineapple Upside-Down Cake—a real treat, it is."
"Show time," whispered Harry. Under the guise of a Notice-Me-Not, he strolled through the dining area, and stopped in the kitchen. Petunia was in there, cutting knife in hand. Harry watched her pace across the kitchen to retrieve dessert plates and forks. She scooped them up in one hand adroitly, and then hoisted the cake with the other.
"Can I offer you a piece of cake, Roger?"
"Oh, yes, please!" said the large man. "Anyway, I remember when I was your age, Vernon, my father took me on a safari in Rhodesia—shame, isn't it, that we're not allowed to do those things anymore? I say that a man ought to have the right to own however many guns that he wants, and the right to shoot whatever he wants—"
"Yes, yes, quite!" replied Vernon. "I'd have liked to take Dudley out hunting, but you know the hassle that is, these days. It really is a shame; you can't really be a man without having killed something, can you?"
"Indeed!" Roger Mason paused for a second to accept the piece of cake that Petunia was handing him. "You seem like a reasonable man, Vernon: don't you agree that people need guns to protect themselves?" At Vernon's nod, he continued: "If more people had guns, and if those louts in government didn't discriminate against carrying them, why, there'd be no crime to speak of!"
"Delicious cake, Petunia!" pipped Lucretia Mason. "You'll have to share your recipe—"
"—If anyone tried to mug a chap, he'd just pull out his pistol and teach the hooligan a lesson!"
"Right!" agreed Vernon. "And what if the government keeps sliding even further to the lunatic left? Now that the Communists have been defeated, we just can't simply allow them to walk into England!"
"If we had guns—Lucretia, are you okay, dear?"
Lucretia Mason had gone very pale. "I—" She stood up. "P—Petunia? Bathroom?"
"Up the stairs and on the right, my dear—"
She made it barely two steps before she bent over and vomited all over the floor.
"Lucretia!" Mr. Mason stood up, and moved to his wife. Harry watched with a grin. In the hubbub, nobody had noticed Dudley greening...
The great big lump of a boy bent over, wretched twice, and ejected the two pieces of cake he'd already consumed on Roger Mason's Italian shoes.
"Dud—?" Vernon's questioning words ceased, as he, too, vomited all over Roger Mason's shoes.
Harry sat back with a grin.
Twenty minutes later, once the EMTs had finished loading the four ill into a pair of ambulances, and after Petunia's histrionics had subsided long enough for her to summon a taxi to the hospital, Harry pocketed his wand, waltzed through the living room, took a piece of the cake (which, admittedly, was excellent), and made his way up the stairs.
He opened the door and tossed himself on his recently improved bed—
He rolled off the bed and fell onto the floor with a heavy thunk. Even having hit the floor so awkwardly, his wand was in his hand, pointing up at whatever it was that was sitting on his bed. "Who are you?" he asked, pointedly. "More to the point, what are you?"
The thing—it was roughly humanoid, though only about two feet tall—looked at him with massive eyes the size of and as green as tennis balls. It certainly was hideous-looking, and it was not doing itself any favors when it suddenly burst into tears. "Harry Potter is asking who Dobby is! Too kind, too kind! Dobby knew that Harry Potter was great, but Dobby had not expected—"
Harry tightened his grip on the wand. "Who are you?" he asked once more, as he got to his feet.
At last, the thing seemed to recognize how hostile Harry's posture was. It stood stock still, and looked up with him apprehensively. "Dobby! Dobby the House-elf! Dobby has come to warn Harry Potter about terrible things that shall come to pass!" Somehow, even whispered, the intensity of this declaration, and of Dobby's conviction was clear.
Harry frowned. He had heard the term 'House-elf' a few times, but had never given it much interest. This, apparently, was what one was. He was suddenly very curious about them. How had Dobby managed to gain entrance to Number Four?
Maybe if he humored the beast, it would tell him. "Warn me about what?" Harry asked, though he made no move to lower his wand.
"Terrible things! Terrible things will happen at Hogwarts! And Harry Potter must not go back!"
His first reaction was to tell the elf to shove off, that Dobby was wasting his time trying to convince him not to return to the only home he'd ever really had. And yet he'd snuck in on Harry, and was either trying to help him, or was working for someone who didn't want Harry back at school...
Harry nodded. "I reckon you're right," he said, voice full of dejection. "After last year with You-Know-Who, it's too dangerous for me to go back. And I don't have any friends either..." He couldn't help but wince. He was laying it on pretty thick, and he was not much of an actor. Fortunately, the House-elf seemed to lap it up.
"Oh, don't cry, Harry Potter sir! Harry Potter is too good a wizard to cry!" The elf looked down, as if internally debating some great matter. "If—if Dobby—Harry Potter mustn't be angry at Dobby. Dobby was doing it for Harry Potter's own good—Dobby thought Harry Potter might not try to return, if his friends had forgotten about him!" The elf thrust a hand into his tattered old robe—which looked to be a pillowcase, Harry noted—and pulled out a tightly-wound bundle of letters. He handed them to Harry.
Harry was furious. Dobby had obviously noticed, because he unplugged Harry's desk lamp and began to whip himself with the cord in what seemed to be an act of penitence. Harry almost felt bad for Dobby; he certainly empathized, since he, too, had been taught to be extremely contrite, thought not to the point of self-flagellation. Still, he didn't feel too bad: the little bastard had been stealing his mail, and he was mad.
He was also impressed, though. He doubted that he, even with his wand, could manage to intercept every single letter to a person. Dobby was a potentially powerful adversary, even if he was apparently none too bright. The upside to the whole matter was that Dobby obviously idolized him, and that such a potent adversary was ripe for the picking as a potent ally.
He grabbed Dobby by the scruff of the collar and set him down on the bed. "It's okay, Dobby. I know you were looking out for me. Just—just don't prevent my mail anymore. It'll be nice to write to people, even if I can't see them anymore."
"Harry Potter is so wise! And Dobby is sorry! Of course Dobby will not interfere any more, now that Harry Potter has heeded Dobby's warning!" Suddenly, and again, great tears filled his eyes. "Harry Potter listened to Dobby the House-elf! What a noble wizard Harry Potter is!"
"So, listen, Dobby. What inspired you to come find me—?"
Dobby looked around warily. "Dobby overheard—" He started to wring his hands nervously. "—Dobby overheard his master speaking with another wizard about—bad Dobby!"
And with that, he threw himself at the wall and began to bash his head against it. Patience wearing thin, Harry reached out, snagged the House-elf, and again sat him down.
"Dobby just about betrayed his master's trust," said the House-elf. "Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter, but Dobby cannot tell him much. Dobby's master is a... is a bad wizard—"
Harry beat the elf to the punch—nearly literally. He clapped his hand down on Dobby's shoulder before the elf could lift himself off the bed again.
"No more punishing yourself, Dobby."
"Dobby cannot help it, Harry Potter, sir," replied the elf. "Dobby's master has instructed Dobby to punish himself whenever Dobby errs—"
"Well, there are rules in my house," replied Harry, "and surely your master would want you to follow them while you were here?"
Dobby nodded nervously.
"One of the rules here is that you are not allowed to hurt yourself for what you say. Is that clear?"
Again, Dobby shifted nervously, and began to wring his hands again.
"Now, I don't suppose you can tell me who your master is—?"
"Dobby cannot betray his master's trust—"
"Didn't think so," said Harry. "Maybe you can tell me what the great danger is, though?"
Dobby didn't say anything, but looked down at his feet.
"Is it—is it You-Know-Who?"
Dobby looked up, with a strange glint in his eye. "No, Harry Potter, sir—not You-Know-Who—" He said it in such a manner that Harry was sure that the elf was trying to insinuate something. Unfortunately, far too many possible meanings sprang to mind, each of them seemingly as unlikely as the last.
"Not You-Know-Who?" asked Harry.
"Not He Who Must Not Be Named," clarified Dobby.
"Gee, thanks," muttered Harry. "Dobby, I need some time to think on this. Is there any way I can get a hold of you, if I need to talk to you—?"
Dobby looked like he was about to burst with happiness. "Harry Potter only needs to say Dobby's name, and Dobby will come as soon as he can." The elf reddened a bit, though, as he continued. "Dobby may be some time in coming, though, Harry Potter. Master's estate in Wiltshire is very large, and when Dobby is not cleaning, he is getting into trouble and having to punish himself."
"That's just fine, Dobby," said Harry, who stood up. "Er—you're not hungry, are you? There's a whole half of perfectly good Pineapple Upside-Down Cake downstairs that's just going to get thrown out when my Aunt gets home—"
Dobby gave Harry's left leg the tightest hug it had ever received. "Harry Potter is a great wizard," he said. "Dobby had heard tales of Harry Potter's greatness, but had never imagined—but Dobby must be getting back home, Harry Potter," he finished, and looked at Harry. "Dobby will have to iron his fingers for neglecting his duties for so long. Harry Potter swears he will not return to Hogwarts this year?"
"I swear I'll listen to what you say, Dobby," replied Harry.
"Dobby thanks Harry Potter for listening to Dobby!" With a snap of his fingers, Dobby dissolved into a mist, and then disappeared entirely.
The room was suddenly silent.
"If I ever see that thing again," said Harry to himself, "I'm going to kill it, and then I'm going to get myself a House-elf just like it."
It was only slightly infuriating to Harry that the Dursleys, when they arrived home the next day, were in no mood for confrontation, despite his attempts to attract their attention.
In truth, he was not unduly saddened. His mind was elsewhere—specifically, on Hermione.
Her letters had been a substantial part of the stack that Dobby had handed him. In fact, they had been the only letters that he had received, bar one from Katie, one from Blaise, one from Weasley, and another from Neville. He wrote back to the latter four, first, since their letters were fairly straightforward, spoke of banal things, and mostly just wished him a good summer. Katie's letter was sarcastic as ever, but it ended, he noted with slight nervousness, with a 'Love, Katie'. Weasley's letter was a bit over-the-top, and repeatedly hinted at the secret that he was keeping for Harry, admittedly, but the letter was nothing like the letters that Hermione had sent him.
The first was dated two weeks after term let out, and contained, in typical Hermione fashion, an over-analysis of the debacle with Quirrell. She had methodically thought out everything that he had told her about the confrontation, and while that was far from everything, her comments were clever, fairly insightful, and almost entirely useless. He already knew the things that she had identified, but he accepted it as a necessary evil with her that she would try and educate him.
The second was along the lines of the first—mostly more thoughts that she had come up since writing the first. It was only the impeccably penned end of the letter that gave him pause for a very brief moment.
I've forgotten that you don't have an owl. Call me when you get this.
Her phone number followed.
The next letter was dated a few days after that.
I miss you, and I miss school. It's been so incredibly bizarre to be away from Hogwarts, and all the incredible magic. If I didn't know better, I would think I had hallucinated the whole thing. It just doesn't feel real, yet, despite the fact that we've spent an entire year away at school, surrounded by it all. I am so pleased that I am able to do magic, and my parents are, too—when I explained to my mother that I was skirting the law in doing so, she actually patted me on the back and told me that I was growing up! It was nice to show magic to them both. My father has always been fairly accepting and laid back, but my mother, because she tends to be a bit critical, well, she really appreciated seeing the dividends of all the hard work that I did. My dad just asked if Geminio would produce undetectable counterfeits—he really is so silly, Harry.
At any rate, I wonder if you're on vacation. I know you hadn't mentioned it, but that seems like the logical conclusion. You do know how to use a telephone, right?—of course you do. I know those Dursleys are terrible, but surely you would have had to call someone at some point. Do give me a call, would you?
The next letter was dated a further two weeks from that, and the writing was a lot messier than Hermione's normal handwriting.
You're either on vacation—that makes the most sense to me—or else you don't know how to work the telephone. It's simple. Just stick your finger in the hole of the number, turn the wheel completely, and let go. Repeat that for all the numbers.
I would call you myself, but I had Mother look up the Dursleys' phone number, and she says that it's not listed.
Harry put the letter down. There were seven more to go. He knew that he should stop reading and call Hermione immediately, but he also felt the pull to read the rest. He could hardly call her without knowing what he was getting himself into, could he? He didn't really feel like calling to her and listening to her scream at him for being a bad friend...
The next letter was unmercifully short, and it was dated another few days after that:
Why are you ignoring me?
The one following it was not much longer, but it was dated quite a distance from the one before it. Hermione had obviously tried to forget him for a while.
I'm not sure what it was that I did to you. Are you still angry that I went after Neville, Ron, and Dean?
If you are, that's a very childish reason not to call.
From there, the dates on the letters were spaced every few days. Three were variations on the same theme as the last few, but both of the last two—sent a week earlier and only a day ago, respectively—caused him to raise his eyebrows.
I'm sorry! Dear God, I'm sorry for whatever it is I did to you! You've been such a good friend to me—my best friend ever, really—and I'm so sorry. I don't want to lose this. You mean a lot to me, and I think I'll be crushed if you don't call. I can't imagine Hogwarts without you, Harry. Please, please, please call!
I'm sorry for going after Ron, Dean, and Neville without letting you know. I'm sorry for not listening to you. I'm sorry for making you come and rescue me. It's obvious, now, that you didn't want to, and so I'm sorry, too, that you found me alive. Maybe it would have been better if I had died in that room...
Just call. Even if it's just to tell me that you hate me, you think that I'm ugly, you never want to see me again—just call. I can't take this. I'm not going back to Hogwarts if you don't call. I can survive antipathy, but I can't survive this terrible, terrible doubt.
I love you. You are my best friend.
He paused again, and sat the letter down again. Why had he gone to rescue Hermione?—he asked himself that question without any doubt that what he had done was the right thing to do, and without doubt that he would do it again if the situation presented itself. Yet he still did not understand why, and that troubled him. Why did Hermione mean enough to him that he would risk his life to save her, while he had condemned Dean and Ron and Neville to what had been likely death at the hands of Dumbledore's traps and Voldemort's malicious tendencies?
He had no easy answer. Perhaps he should have let her die. There was no question that it was what his head had told him to do. The traps were designed to be deadly. His head told him that he should have left her for Dumbledore.
And yet he had done the opposite. It was troubling. He knew that his actions were what some would call heroic, or the mark of true friendship, but that was not him at all. Hermione was not his friend. She was as close to an equal as he had met, admittedly, but they were not friends; they were contemporaries. His actions were not heroic. They were just—well, he didn't know. Not heroic, at any rate.
He did not understand why, and he desperately needed to understand.
They weren't friends, were they?
The last letter was the one that roused him from his desk to call her.
If I don't hear from you by Monday, I'll bust down your door and raise hell.
He made his way down the stairs and picked up the receiver on the phone. From memory, he dialed Hermione's number. It rang three times—
"Oh—no, this is Hermione's mum, young man. Would you like me to get her?"
"Yes, please, Mrs Granger." Hermione's mother sounded uncannily like Hermione herself.
Harry could hear Mrs Granger yell for Hermione. A few seconds later, there was some shuffling and clicking as the phone was handed over.
"Harry?" Hermione's voice was inscrutable.
"Yeah, it's me—but wait, don't get mad," said Harry quickly. "It's not my fault that I didn't call. The story's a bit weird, too."
"Oh?" asked Hermione. Harry winced—her voice was cool, and despite the fact that it really was not his fault, he could not help but feel a bit of a twisting in his gut like he was in serious trouble. "Well, go ahead, Harry—let's hear it."
He told her.
When he finished, she didn't say anything for a few seconds, though it felt like a lifetime. "Well, Harry, I don't think you could make that story up. That is just too bizarre—"
"Am I forgiven, then?" He couldn't help but grin.
"Yes, I suppose so," she said, and he could tell that she was smiling, too. "I've really missed you, you know—"
"That came across in your letters," he said.
"Oh—" When she spoke again, it was more rushed. "Well, Harry, you should just throw out those letters. I—uh—I've probably embarrassed myself ten times over in those—"
"—One hundred times over, actually, but I thought they were touching."
"Oh." There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. "So, have you finished your homework."
"Within the first two weeks or so," replied Harry. "Did you beat me?"
"Yes," she replied, "but that's only because we went away to the Czech Republic for a few weeks right at the start of the holiday. I finished it on the plane."
"Ah," replied Harry. "And how was your vacation?"
"Eh. Could have been better. I couldn't really use magic there, you know, so I spent the entire trip wishing I was at home."
Harry smiled. "Yeah. I know what you mean."
"And how have the Dursleys been?"
"To tell you the truth, they really haven't been bad," he said.
"Is that because you hexed them?"
"Of course not!" he lied. "I kept my word to you, Hermione. I've been living under a Notice-Me-Not Charm for most of the summer, and there was one point where I had to Confund them—"
"—You know how to Confund?"
"I looked it up before I left school. Needed something to do if they came after me. Anyway, I had to Confund them at one point, but I let that wear off once the situation was under control."
"Well, that's good."
"So what do you have planned for the next few weeks, before you come here?"
He had no easy answer to that. "Well... I don't know. I've gone through my textbooks as much as I can bear to, pretty much. I really need some more things to study..."
"Can you ask your relatives to take you to Diagon Alley?"
"No, but that's a brilliant idea, Hermione. That's what I'll do."
"If you need me, just owl me, 'kay? I have your address written down somewhere, and I'll call before I come."
"Wait, Harry. What are you going to do?" Tinny though her voice was over the phone, he could detect the concern in it.
"Relax, Hermione," he said soothingly. "I'm just going to make a trip to Diagon."
Hermione sputtered. "But—but I thought you said that your uncle wouldn't take you—?"
He couldn't resist rolling his eyes. "There's more than one way to skin a salamander."
She was silent for a long moment. "There's nothing I can do to dissuade you, is there? You're going to do this anyway, even if I beg you not to?"
"Well, I might tell you that I'm not going," he replied. "But there's no way to dissuade me, really, short of killing me."
"Have fun, then, I guess."
"That seems too easy, Hermione. Can't you try to convince me to stay put? I was all ready for an argument..."
"I'm not going to waste my time arguing something I can't win." She let a harrumph that he heard over the phone. "Unlike you, I already have the second-year books, and am making good progress. By the time we get to school, I'll be so far ahead of you, you'll score second in all of our classes."
"That's dastardly!" he exclaimed. "But—wait, you really think you'll beat me?"
"I'm going to!"
"If you say so," he said dismissively. "Anyway, Hermione, I'm off—the day's going to be a wash, by the time I get to London, and if I waste any more time, these delusions of yours are just going to keep growing. I'll see you in a few weeks."
"Be safe, Harry."
"I will, Hermione. Bye now."
He hung up the phone with a heavy sigh. Merlin, he thought: for a pedantic and socially inept girl, she sure could talk.
His understanding with Dumbledore notwithstanding, he had nothing to keep him at the Dursleys for the rest of the summer. It was so boring there that he thought he was willing to take the risk of being discovered doing magic in Diagon Alley just for the thrill of it. And so, with that thought, a lightening charm on his trunk, and fifty pounds from Vernon's wallet, Harry set off with his entire set of worldly possessions in tow. Turning from Privet onto Wisteria, Harry walked past the perfectly manicured lawns, and let himself into the back garden of a house with a sign in the front yard that read For Sale - Associated Realtors of Surrey.
In the brief time he'd had at school after the confrontation with Voldemort, Harry had corrected his ignorance of magical transportation. Thus, he stuck his wand out, gave it a flick, and jumped three inches when a giant red bus appeared in front of him. Somehow, it squeezed into the length of the garden—magic, he supposed.
The rear door came to a stop just a foot from him. A disinterested boy who couldn't have been more than eighteen or nineteen had an arm hooked around a pole. He was rather unfortunate-looking, and his voice was as mellifluous as metal-on-metal. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transportation for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and I will be your conductor this aft—"
"Here's my trunk," said Harry, and he handed the trunk up to the boy. "And here's a fifty for the trouble of having to exchange it for me. Keep the change." With that, he stepped up onto the bus and made his way into the deserted cabin.
"—ernoon. Oi! Get back 'ere! Where d'you fink you're goin', eh?"
"I'm going to Diagon Alley, please. Could we depart? I don't have all day."
Stan Shunpike just stared at Harry.
"What?" snapped Harry, after a minute of mounting irritation. "Do I have something on my forehead?"
Stan was obviously not familiar with the expression, because he looked right at Harry's forehead and let out a small yip of surprise. "You're 'Arry Potter!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "That's right, I'm Harry Potter, and right now, I'm stuck in Little Whinging, when I should be on the way to London!"
Stan blinked once or twice, then gestured at the driver. With a bang, they were off. For the rest of the journey—all of four minutes—Stan stared down at the fifty-pound note, and resolutely avoided eye contact with Harry.
The journey was unique, if not entirely pleasant. For the first time, Harry appreciated that geography meant very little to the magical world. Having read about Floo and Apparition, he supposed that made sense, but here he was seeing it for the first time. After leaving Little Whinging, the giant map of Britain on the ceiling informed him that the Knight Bus had gone through Donegal, Bedford, York, and Swansea, then Cambridge, Redding, Ipswich...
After the bus rolled to a stop in front of what Harry assumed was the Leaky Cauldron, and just as Harry had grabbed his trunk and was about to disembark, Stan called out to him. "Oi, a'fore I forget it—nex' time you call us, do it on the road. The Muggles can't see us anyway, and we keep a tight ship, we do."
Harry raised an eyebrow—the bus was a picture of chaos, and was driven by a disembodied head, after all. Still, there was no need to pick fights. He nodded. After a return nod from Stan, the bus disappeared with a loud crack.
It turned out that the bus did not stop in front of the Leaky Cauldron, where he had entered with Hagrid the year before. Instead, it stopped in the alley itself, just off the main plaza. Harry was delighted that he could already hear the cacophony of sounds arising from the alley as the morning's business began. He supposed he would need to go to Gringotts some time that day, but for the time being, it was liberating to simply be out, and he fully intended to explore the center of magical London.
And explore he did. While his time with Hagrid had been eye-opening, he had not had the time or inclination to absorb the finer details. Since he had the opportunity, he drank in the alley. Merlin Square lay at the head of the alley, and it was adorned with a giant statue of its namesake cast in polished stone. Around the square were the most ornate shops Harry had seen; clearly, it was an attempt by Diagon Alley to put its own best foot forward.
As he moved further down the alley, Harry realized that the name was a misnomer. Various lanes protruded from the original, and he began to see Diagon more as Londonesque in its own right than a one-off extension of the Muggle city. He felt the urge to explore—there were so many things that piqued his curiosity as he walked by—but he resolutely stayed on the main road, though he did stop every few feet to press his nose to the shop windows and examine the incredible variety of treasures in them.
As he finally approached Gringotts, the imposing goblin bank with an entirely marble façade and gigantic bronze doors, Harry literally could not help but note that a large stage was being erected. Four House-elves, wearing blue overalls with the word 'Facilities' stenciled in black across the back, were performing a sort of gymnastic act, threading themselves through all the scaffolding, tossing various parts to each other and generally raising the stage with impressive alacrity. There were robed men and women with clipboards running around, yelling at each other and generally panicking.
The most noticeable, though, was the small gaggle of slick-dressed individuals that stood to the side. They had bright gold badges on their robes—some even had medals pinned to their chests, of all things—and they had attracted a hoard of cameras between them. Harry wandered forward, curious to listen in.
"Nothing to worry about at all. This is run of the mill; times haven't been better," puffed a short dumpy-looking fellow in a black robe and a lime-green bowler. He frowned. "I do hate these ceremonial robes though. I don't envy the new inductees; they are going to wear these for the next few weeks! All these years, and you'd think we could have made them a little less itchy, wouldn't you? Ha! Bureaucracy in action! Due process! Due process!"
The man standing beside him nodded distractedly. He was entirely occupied by a long roll of parchment he kept writing on. "Very good, sir, very good." He was still writing on the parchment, but continued to address the other people standing there. "Now, when you present the Order of—Merlin's saggy testicles!" The man had looked up, and was staring directly at Harry.
"It's Harry Potter!"
Harry was instantly blinded by cameras, and barraged by questions. His response was instinctual—he began to back away, unable to do respond any way else. He hated how insecure he felt amongst them, but they were closing, pressing in on him, shoving lenses in his face...
Oddly enough, it was the stodgy man in the lime-green bowler who saved the day.
He put his hand on Harry's shoulder and puffed out his chest. "Ladies, Gentleman," he said with a massive smile, "give the poor boy a breath of fresh air—especially you, Charlie; I know what you're like when you smell blood in the water."
A tall reporter dressed in smart blue robes—presumably Charlie—laughed, and endured a few seconds of good-natured ribbing from his colleagues, who seemed to agree with Green-bowler's assessment. Harry, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how this man had managed so swiftly to relocate to Harry's side.
"Now then, Mr. Potter, it's a pleasure to see you. Here for the ceremony, are you?" He leaned down to Harry and whispered in his ear. "Ignore the cameras. Pretend they're not here, and you'll do fine!"
Harry shifted from foot to foot. It was difficult to do so when they were pressed right into his face. "I'm—I'm afraid not, sir," Harry replied. "—or, at least, I'm not here for that purpose, exactly. I'd be delighted to come, of course, but I'm afraid I don't know what's going on."
That seemed the right thing to say, as the man beamed. "Of course there's a place for you, my dear boy!" He put an arm around Harry, and turned them both towards the simmering crowd of journalists and photographers. "After all, if ever there was a VIP to witness the reception of an Order of Merlin, who else would it be but the greatest hero of our time?"
Cameras flashed and quills scribbled. Clearly, Harry realized, this man was someone important. If he could learn the man's name, and appear to know the man in front of the cameras, he could extract nearly anything he could name, he was sure...
"Minister Fudge! Minister Fudge!" Ah, there it was. "Minister, what do you say to the claims that the prestige of the award has diminished since the fall of You-Know-Who? Adlai Crockford—"
Minister Fudge's face briefly became sour. "I've heard Adlai's claims, Tom; who hasn't?" A chuckle from the crowd. "But I assure you that there isn't a recipient of the award who hasn't rightly earned it. Those who maintain the peace and order of our world are just as worthy of recognition as those who valiantly fight for it in times of war.
"Now then, despite what I'm sure some of you will be telling your readers this time tomorrow, Mr Potter's presence here is unexpected. Welcome, of course, but unexpected. I'll be back to talk to you chaps in a bit, but let me get our young hero settled in and up to speed before we go any further, eh?"
And with that, the minister tightened his grip on Harry's arm, and steered him away from the cameras.
"Now then, Harry," the Minister continued when he had dragged him far enough away, "not that I'm not delighted to see you, but what have I taken you away from for the rest of the day? If it's school supplies you're after, I'll have someone fetch the lot while you're occupied. What'll it be?"
Harry stared. The man was either a massive idiot or a brilliant genius. Possibly both. "Well, sir," he began slowly, "I did come for a few things, but we haven't got our school lists yet. Mostly though, I was hoping to find a place to spend a few nights. My family—well, they—they don't really understand magic, but they said I could stay here a few weeks so I could be around it again. They were a little concerned about me being alone, but when I told them how safe the Wizarding world is, and how tough the Ministry is on crime, they decided it would be okay, so long as I sent them post every few days."
Harry never imagined a person in a lime-green anything could preen, but Fudge nonetheless gave it his best effort. "Yes, well, I like to think that looking out for the safety of our children's future is one of my principle duties. Children are our future, after all—heh heh. But, yes, the Muggles you live with, yes—I do remember your file; how very curious it is... Ah, but never you mind. No doubt they have the best intentions, but they do tend to be a little uncomfortable around magic, don't they? A bit too much for them, I imagine..."
"Anyway—" Fudge snapped back to the conversation. "—think nothing of it. I'll have the Ministry pay your tab for a couple of nights at the Mary Celeste; it's the finest hotel in Britain and it's on a boat!" he exclaimed with exaggerated enthusiasm, probably assuming it would excite the young boy. Harry, for his part, smiled dutifully. "Does that sound good to you, Mr. Potter?" Fudge's voice was amusingly needy.
"Yes, Minister," Harry replied enthusiastically. It did sound good, truthfully. He had planned to stay at the Leaky Cauldron on his own dime, so a Ministry-paid stay at a five-star hotel was really quite smashing.
By the end of the ceremony, Harry was glad for that bribe from the Minister. Fudge's speech was decent, but there were many speeches that had preceded his that were the equivalent of literary sandpaper: any more, and Harry would have thought they were trying to whittle him down to nothing.
Even the recipients, who he had thought would be marginally interesting, turned out to be intractably dull. There were three; one, a graying and disheveled woman, had been awarded third-class for her 'tireless work with housing stray Krups.' The other two were not nearly as interesting as even that; both were Ministry hacks, and were inducted third-class for their role in some unimportant legislature enacted years ago.
After the ceremony, though, the day—and then the few after it, too—passed in a blur. Harry's Hogwarts letter had finally arrived. He had picked up a number of books, both those on and those not on his school list. He had also decided to gift himself with his own broom. Though Hogwarts—thanks to his 'efforts'—had a massive supply of state-of-the-art brooms, having one that was his and his alone was too tempting. Rationalizing that such a move was wise in terms of security, since any student could access the school brooms, he purchased the Polish-made Devana, a broom specifically made for racing, rather than the more 'well-rounded' Quidditch brooms. It was not quite professional standard, but it was close enough for Harry.
He also purchased a small brown owl. After the disaster with Hedwig, he knew that he did not want another owl; however, as he wrote in the note he sent to Hermione, he thought it was important that they had a reliable method of communication between them. He also added in the final lines of the letter to her that he was looking forward to seeing her, and that she would not believe his own adventures; with that, he sent the owl off to its new owner. He would make sure that Hermione's owl did not meet Dudley Dursley (although he thought about doing so once he had learned the Engorgement Charm and the Beserker Hex...).
A few days turned into a few more, which turned quickly into a week. Early Saturday evening, he went out for a walk along the Thames. The Mary Celeste was, as the Minister promised, exceedingly posh, but Harry enjoyed Diagon Alley so much that he barely spent longer than the night in it. It turned out that the hotel was actually a merchant's ship that had been nearly scuttled at the turn of the century. Some enterprising wizard had bought it for Knuts on the Galleon, evicted the Poltergeist that had been the cause of much trouble, and moored it near King's College, only a short walk from Diagon Alley itself.
That was the reason he was out walking. It was a very beautiful place, compared to Privet Drive, and having really never seen something like it, he lapped it up.
Without paying much heed to it, he passed an older gentleman and a middle-aged man sitting on a bench. Ten steps later, though, he stopped, turned around, and went back to sit beside them.
"Hello, Harry," said Professor Dumbledore gaily, once Harry had sat down next to him. "Pleasant evening, isn't it?"
"Yes, Professor," he replied. "Sir—"
"You ask about my companion here?" asked Dumbledore, who inclined his head toward the rather haggard-looking man whose clothes were frayed and ripped, though clean and sharply pressed. "Feel free to speak freely."
"Ah," replied Harry. "Um—fancy seeing you here, sir. I almost didn't notice you."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Indeed? I had thought that robes this purple would draw quite a bit of attention. Next time, I suppose I will have to wear pink ones."
"Not aiming to be incognito?"
"If I were aiming to be incognito, Harry, I doubt you would even think about me the whole time I were in your presence."
There was an amiable moment of silence between the two of them. Dumbledore was the first to break it. "Our meeting is not coincidence, however, Harry. Cornelius informed me that you were staying here, and I confess I chose this route in hope that you might be out and about, as young men are wont to be."
The final events of the school year had done much for the once-strained relationship he'd had with the headmaster. As he had a far greater understanding with the venerable wizard than once, Harry did not even think twice about smiling good-naturedly. "Most people, sir, would just call the front desk and ask to speak to one of their guests."
Dumbledore nodded; he, too, was clearly in good spirits. "Yes, I will admit that was my back-up plan. Of course, I had intended to offer you an invitation out to eat this evening, but it was hardly so pressing as to interfere with your plans. Alas, we have eaten, and I believe you have, as well."
"Yes, sir," Harry responded, curious. "And, pardon my manners, but a good evening to you, too, sir—?"
"Remus Lupin," the other man responded, and he smiled at Harry and offered his hand, which Harry shook.
"Mr Lupin, after some measure of badgering on my part, has agreed to take on the role of Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts," explained Dumbledore. "I felt that the pool of applicants this year was far too shallow and—dare I say it?—talentless to settle with any one of them. I am familiar with your disdain for Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry, from your conversation with Ms Zabini last Christmas. It may please you to note that I did not spend half as much time considering his application as I did rejecting it with prejudice and ranting to Professor McGonagall about the man's astounding arrogance and pretense. He was the top candidate of the bunch, but I do not think I am a match for the wrath that his hiring would inspire in you."
"But, ah—Mr Lupin, yes. He is a man of many talents, and in addition to teaching the general class, he will be aiding me in a task that involves you.
"As you might recall from our last conversation, I shall be working with you throughout the school year to teach you to defend your mind from those who would do you harm. However—" He nodded to Lupin. "—it will be both impolitic and impractical for us to hold these lessons in any great number. Hogwarts and all its pupils must be my primary focus, as must be preparing for and divining Voldemort's future actions. For that reason, I expect we shan't meet more than once or twice a fortnight, and even that may prove at times impossible."
"Thus—" The headmaster continued over Harry's objection. "—Mr Lupin has agreed to act as an intermediary. Talented though you undoubtedly are, I imagine it will be a few years before you require my exclusive attention." The headmaster laughed softly at this.
Harry eyed the other man. He seemed awkward—uneasy, almost. It was hard to imagine the headmaster entrusting him to the care of such a shady character.
Perhaps sensing Harry's unease, Lupin spoke. "You'll have to forgive me, Harry. I'm not feeling quite myself tonight. I was very close to your parents—your father, particularly... They told me you looked like him, but I had no idea just how much. Except your eyes, of course—you have your mother's eyes."
"You went to school with them, then?"
"Your father was my best friend, and your mother— though we weren't quite as close—she helped me through a couple of rough spots in my life."
"Professor Dumbledore told me that my father and his friends were mischief makers. Was that you?" It was hard to picture a man so down-in-the-dumps as a predecessor to the Weasley twins.
"The rumors were greatly exaggerated," replied Lupin.
Professor Dumbledore coughed into his hand, and it sounded distinctly like a poorly concealed snigger.
"If you'd like, though, I could tell you all about them sometime. I have an album, somewhere... I can dig it out from wherever it's hiding."
Harry nodded, grateful that a link to his parents still existed, and more than a little suspicious at its convenience. "And you'll be teaching me to defend my mind? What are your credentials?"
"Pushy one, isn't he?" asked Dumbledore to Lupin, with a smile.
"Well, someone has got to take my education seriously," retorted Harry.
Dumbledore raised a hand. "I yield, Harry."
Harry looked at Lupin expectantly.
"Well, I've been a student of Occlumency for more than twenty years, now. I'm not particularly good at Legilimency, though, so I can teach you the theory behind closing your mind up, but once you progress beyond a rudimentary state, we'll have to ask Professor Dumbledore to drill you while I continue to teach you."
"Sounds fine to me," replied Harry. "Thanks for being willing, Professor."
Lupin smiled. "Not at all."
"I'm pleased to hear that this has worked out," said Dumbledore, as he stretched his arms out. "There is but one thing to discuss, Harry, and we shall let you on your way. I was quite surprised and concerned to note that you had left your home early. Is there any reason you didn't notify me?"
Harry snorted. "I didn't think you would approve in the slightest, sir, considering you told me that I had to stay there until two weeks before term."
"Ah. Then you were operating on the maxim that it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission?"
"Something like that, yes, sir."
"Don't do that in the future, Harry," said Dumbledore, with patience that Harry was surprised that he had. "I cannot—will not—stop you from doing anything that you do not want to do, but I hope you will recognize that my suggestions are the product of many, many years of experience."
"I recognize that, sir," replied Harry. "And, sorry, really, but you can't know what it's like there. It's either hell or beyond boring. This year it was both."
"Whatever your reasons, Harry, let me know in the future. I would much rather know that you are about to disobey me than hear that you have been for the past week."
"With all due respect, you'd try to stop me, sir."
"I would try to persuade you otherwise, Harry, but like I said before, I cannot stop you from doing what you want to do. I have neither the legal jurisdiction over you, nor the inclination to do so. Where I may not order you, though, I would aim to persuade you."
Dumbledore got to his feet, and Lupin followed shortly thereafter. "But I feel that we have discussed this topic sufficiently for one night. If you decide to take a field trip elsewhere, Harry, please send me a letter so that I may, at very least, know where to send a reply. Good night, Harry. Have a very enjoyable end to your summer, and give my regards to Ms Granger."
"Good night, sir," replied Harry, and he shook the Headmaster's hand. "Good night to you too, Mr Lupin."
"Night, Harry," said Remus. "I look forward to seeing you in our lessons together."
With a nod from Dumbledore and a final pump of the hand from Remus, both of them disappeared with a loud crack.
Harry remained sitting on the bench for quite a bit of time, trying to discern exactly what was so pressing to bring the Headmaster there to see him.
It was the second-to-last day of Harry's vacation in London, and he was enjoying an ice cream at Florean Fortescue's while thumbing through his second-year Transfiguration text. As he took another bite of the chocolate, trying careful not to spill any on the book, he was interrupted by a sudden jab to his left shoulder.
"Katie!" he exclaimed, quite startled. It took him a second to marshal his own face out of surprise. He schooled it into a very disinterested look. "Guess you got my owl then."
"Mm-hmm," she replied, grabbed Harry's ice cream from the table, and took a big bite. "Strawberry's better."
"Get your own then!" replied Harry indignantly. "I paid good money for that, I'll have you know!"
"That's really kind of you to do so, actually," replied Katie, and she plunked herself down beside him, flicked her hair over her shoulder, and took another bite.
Harry couldn't help it; he was soon grinning madly. "How's your summer been?"
"Well as could be expected," she replied. "Mum's a Warder, so she won't stop nattering on about how I need to take Runes and Arithmancy. I don't mind Runes I suppose, but ugh, Arithmancy. No thanks."
Harry, who had in fact been planning to take both those classes when the time came, wisely kept his mouth shut, opting instead to nod sympathetically.
"Anyway, the Harpies haven't won a game all summer, and the Weird Sisters are canceling their show in Bristol—Dad was gonna get tickets, so that's a wash. Right bummer it is, too."
"Now I know you're full of shite," said Harry with a laugh. "You hate the Weird Sisters."
"No, I don't," said Katie with an overdramatic huff. "I hate Fred's rendition of them. Big difference."
Harry nodded. "Fair enough. Now can I have my ice cream back?"
Katie grinned, and passed him the empty cup. She had such an innocent look on her face that he couldn't even help but go buy another one for them to share.
The two spent the rest of the day wandering the shops in the alley, before Katie demanded to see the hotel. "Of course I've seen it," she muttered sarcastically in response to his asking. "Some of us weren't born yesterday, you know. I want to see the inside."
When they arrived, Katie was suddenly (and rarely, for her) at a loss for words. "It's not much, I know," Harry responded when she continued to simply stare, gobsmacked. "Crystal's a bit sparse and the gold could use a polish, but then, I'm a hero. Don't have much use for life's luxuries. It's all on the Minister for Magic anyway."
"Git," she responded at last.
"Yeah, maybe—but a heroic one," Harry shot back.
"Next year, if you plan on murdering any professors, let me help," she whispered, her eyes still lost in the glitter of the magically expanded and lavishly decorated interior.
"Sure," Harry replied, as he took a moment to once more admire the décor for himself. "How's Snape sound to you?"
"Bonus," she whispered.