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Chapter Two: Visitors, Fish Fingers and Custard
13 July 2013
Harry twisted and hopped nimbly over the tangle of players sprawled across the grass. He rushed to meet Swami's wall-pass and take the ball up the field, managing to avoid several tackles. With a scissor kick, he launched the ball just past the goalkeeper's outstretched hands and into the netting behind him with a satisfying pfhwop!
The sidelines erupted with the cries of parents, friends and spectators. Harry smiled as his teammates, boys he counted among close acquaintances from his time at Homefield Prep or around the neighbourhood, enveloped him in excited shouts, smacks on the back, and a few manly hugs. He allowed them to jostle him toward the front of their sweaty, grass-stained number for the photos, and a few moments later he found himself dragged away from the main group by his grandparents.
"Bang-up job, mate!" Pete exclaimed with a tight hug about his shoulders. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah," Harry grinned.
His heart still raced from the exertion, but his breathing had evened out already. Flying sprints for Quidditch practice and performing acrobatics in midair had that effect for ground-bound sport. His grandfather ruffled his sweaty, porcupine hair, and several over-bright camera bulbs went off to paint spots across his vision. Harry kept the smile fixed to his face as his grandmother ran forward with a towel and a water bottle in hand. She swept him up next to plant a loud kiss on his cheek and give him a hug marked by the smell of her perfume – Chanel No. 5 – and the slight stiffness of her cream-coloured sundress.
"Good job, darling!" she enthused, before leaning closer to his ear under the pretence of draping the towel over his shoulders. "I'm so glad you asked us to come. Sorry about the paparazzi."
"I'm glad you did," he said softly. "And don't worry about the press. I know Grandpa Pete's up for re-election. We need someone like him to keep us up-to-speed with the rest of the world."
She smiled at him adoringly and the cameras flashed again. Harry gave her a looser hug about the waist and settled in to wait out the media swarm. Jackie and Harry mostly stood there looking smart while the news reporter asked his granddad questions about inane topics that had nothing to do with his platform. Jackie, meanwhile, doted on her grandson in quiet asides.
"How long are you home from school?" she asked as she handed Harry a banana ice cream with pralines on top.
The boy happily traded his half-drained water bottle for the treat and shrugged.
"'Till September first, though that sort of depends on if I hear back from my schoolmates. We were thinking about doing a few outings either in London or to the beach, maybe."
"Well, just as long as we get to spend some proper time together," the blonde allowed. "Last summer it was like I hardly got to see you, and as much fun as I had on my cruise, Christmas just wasn't the same without you."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I missed you, too. So how's Uncle Tony? I haven't seen him around."
A few moments later, he wished he hadn't asked.
Uncle Tony, Rose's little brother, had passed adolescence and was quickly making his way to adulthood, but his mother did not seem satisfied with the decisions he was making.
"That son of mine finished his A-levels just fine, made spectacular marks, really, but I've not seen a hint of him trying to get into Uni anywhere. What's the point of all that if he's not even going to try? He's not looking for a job, either! He just sits at home all day playing video games and moping about. He doesn't have any interest in girlfriends-"
Harry, who really liked his uncle-cum-pseudo-sibling, quickly tuned her out. He fell into mechanical nods whenever she paused along with the occasional sympathetic smile, and he kept up the pretence of attention and happiness until his grandparents deposited him back home. After he'd waved goodbye and kissed his gran twice, Harry shut the door and fell gratefully into the hammock pitched across the corner of the sitting room without even bothering to take off his stained, sweaty footie kit.
It was in this position the Doctor and Rose discovered their son when they returned home later that afternoon. The parents smiled to one another in the foyer, and the Doctor quietly closed the door behind them while his wife went to wake the sleeping boy. He lay sprawled with one foot and the opposite arm hanging off odd sides of the woven, tasselled hammock. His neck bent at an awkward angle against the large, round cushion that may once have pillowed both shoulders and head, but had slid to support only the boy's crown. Harry's dark, perpetually mussed hair partially covered his eyes, and the rest stuck up all around his face, where a muddy smear darkened his left cheek.
"You've gotten dirt all over my hammock," Rose chided softly as she brushed the fringe off his brow.
Harry woke with a start and sat up so quickly he nearly head-butted her. She laughed and ducked out the way while her son tangled with the many throws and pillows lining her favourite reading spot. The hammock swung precariously, but eventually, Harry managed to get all his limbs positioned in some sense of order.
"Took a bit of a kip?"
"Yeah," he yawned.
His head felt fuzzy.
"It was a good game. I just got so tired when I got home."
"You don't make it sound like it was any good," the Doctor commented as he entered the parlour with an odd contraption in hand.
"Still waking up," Harry yawned and rubbed his eyes. "What's that?"
"Timey-wimey detector. It goes 'bing!' and it can boil an egg at thirty paces."
The shoebox-sized device, which looked like an amalgamation of several other appliances sacrificed for the Doctor's needs, obligingly went bing! Harry could identify an alarm clock, the receiver of an old-fashioned rotary phone, a torch, and a steam pressure gage.
"O.K. What is it supposed to do, though?"
"It's a more precise alarm for time-space flux. Screwdriver says we've got anomalies, but it's not fast enough to analyse what they are before they're gone–"
He waved the contraption.
"This'll help us pinpoint when it happens around us when we're not causing it."
"We've been hiring post owls all week to try and send you mail," Rose cut in by way of explanation. "We've even tried mailing something addressed to ourselves but are written to 'Harry Potter, Harry Potter-Tyler, Harry Tyler,' and 'Harry Smith.' None of them are getting to you, but the letters are registering as delivered, so they've got to be going somewhere once they get to our address."
Harry perked up immediately.
"So you think my friends have been sending me letters? I've just not gotten them?"
The Doctor grinned.
"I've got to floo-call Neville!"
Rose and the Doctor smiled after their son as he leapt from the hammock and rushed to the empty fireplace. A quick incendio and a healthy sprinkle of floo powder later, Harry connected with Longbottom Manor, and Dippy, the Longbottom head house elf, peered down at him as he looked out of the fire.
"Young Master Harry!" she squeaked. "Dippy is very glad to see you, Sir! Little Master Neville is very sad Young Master Harry hasn't written back to him."
"That's what I was flooing for, Dippy. Is Neville free? Can I talk to him?"
Dippy nodded and her floppy, bat-like ears waggled happily.
"Dippy is very pleased to help," she said, but a shy smile came over her face.
"Dippy is wondering, before I get Little Master, is Little Miss Jenny well? Dippy has not had the opportunity to call, and felt it unseemly to contact Master Harry if he was not expecting it."
"Of course you can come over!" Harry quickly assured her. "My sister's mad about you. She's staying at a friend's house until tomorrow, though, so why don't you have Neville floo me again, then, to ask when?"
"Dippy would like that very much!" the little elf cried. "Dippy will fetch Little Master, now."
Harry barely waited after the elf's head disappeared from view before Neville skid around the corner of the drawing room and raced to plop to his belly on the other side of the connection. Harry appreciated the gesture, since he didn't have to crane his neck so badly to see him.
"Hi Neville!" he grinned.
"Harry!" the boy cried, beaming. "I got worried when you didn't respond to any of my letters. I even thought to try the Bluetooth thing, but I can't find it. Dippy can't either."
"Mine's missing, too. I think we may have left them in the room or something. Anyway, Something's messing with my mail. Dad's working on it, but never mind that. How are you?"
"Good. Just bored. Why didn't you floo earlier?"
Harry felt his ears go hot and he coughed around a mouthful of ash when he tried to shrug.
"Well, I didn't know if you'd want to since-" he sighed and looked at the undone button at Neville's collar. "You know, almost getting you and Hermione killed and all that. I sort of thought you reconsidered since it didn't seem like you were answering my letters."
Neville smiled in easy understanding, and Harry felt doubly grateful to have the boy as his friend.
"Listen, I told my gran your birthday's just after mine, and she was wondering if you'd like to celebrate together."
"Sure," Harry beamed. "What'd you want to do?"
Neville's face fell just a little.
"Well, in the morning, I usually go to see my parents at Saint Mungo's. Then we have a quiet luncheon at home with my great-aunt and uncle."
Harry's face slid into thoughtfulness, and Neville grimaced apologetically.
"It's probably a bit boring," he muttered to fill the silence. "Never mind. I'll ask if maybe we could get together after or something."
The dark-haired boy shook his head and smiled reassuringly.
"No, I'd love to come, if you don' think your gran'll mind me meeting your parents, too. Your mum's my godmother, after all. I was just wondering if there's something we could bring."
The Gryffindor smiled appreciatively.
"She'd love that, but don't worry about bringing anything. It's not like…" he grimaced. "Anyway, what about the lunch thing?"
"Why don't you come over? We could have lunch here with both our families, and you can spend the night. Mum and Dad said they'd take me on an overnight for the thirty-first in London, and then do our school shopping the morning after. You could floo back home from there, or your gran could meet us."
The boys lay there plotting for several minutes more, and Harry jerked his head from the fireplace with the promise Neville would call back in a few hours to let him know his grandmother's decision. After his hasty retreat from the floo connection, the messy-haired boy took a minute to lie dizzily on the hearth while his inner ear regained its equilibrium. Excitement bubbled through his system.
It wasn't as though his neighbourhood were devoid of kids his age. He still had mates from his primary school he could spend time with, but theirs wasn't the company he craved. As nice as the Homefield blokes were, he couldn't consider them any closer than acquaintances. Even the boys he played with earlier that day would not have phoned him at all if Danny Brookes hadn't concussed himself in a misguided attempt to do an ollie off a flight of stairs. The kids around Sutton, though friendly, had always thought him a bit weird.
It was why he loved Hogwarts so much. He never had to pretend to be 'normal.' For the first time, he had friends who knew and appreciated his magical ability in addition to his personality; however, the conclusion of the previous year and the subsequent silence convinced him, until his parents had given him reason to believe otherwise, his school friends had wilfully forgotten about him.
Hermione had the perfect reason not to write. Her mum and dad had taken her to visit France for the first part of the summer Holidays. He hadn't really expected to hear much from her until she came back, but to hear nothing at all made him wonder. She'd promised to send him postcards, and he'd written three times already.
Draco, he understood since the beginning of the holidays, might not write at all dependent on how his father (who remained diametrically opposed to everything Harry Potter represented) took the news of their friendship. Daphne and Neville, on the other hand, had no excuse, Harry thought, unless they'd come to their senses and decided being friends with him wasn't worth the mortal danger.
A much bigger part of him than he liked to admit was selfish enough to hope they wouldn't reach that conclusion, even if the sensible portion of his brain had already reassured him it was for the best. So, after spending near a month convincing himself of his abandonment, his brief floo call with Neville was enough to make him giddy.
"Mum!" he shouted from the floor.
"I'm just in the kitchen, not in Antarctica," she called back. "What is it?"
"Is your offer to do a birthday thing in London still on the table?"
Rose snorted half a laugh.
"What's he think?" the Doctor muttered indignantly from his mother's general direction. "That we were just joking? That'd be mean."
"Of course, sweetheart. Is Neville coming?"
Harry, finally over his vertigo, sat up and trotted into the kitchen to happily accept the fish finger sandwich his dad pressed into his hands. He hopped up onto a barstool and grinned.
"He's asking his gran about it," he continued cheerily. "Would it be all right if we visited his mum and dad with him first, though, if she says it's all right?"
"Of course," the Doctor warmly agreed. "It's not easy to love a sick person. I'm sure Alice Longbottom would have been wonderful to you if she had ever gotten the chance, so I think it's fitting to share that with him, so long as they don't feel it's an intrusion."
Rose took the remaining fish finger sandwich only to wrinkle her nose in disgust when the Doctor poured half a carton of custard into a bowl and proceeded to dip his sandwich in it.
"That's revolting," Harry complained, staring at his father with morbid interest.
"Absolutely," Rose groaned.
"Fantastic," the Doctor disagreed. "I think the other me must have regenerated. I've been having odd cravings lately. It took me forever to figure it out, though. I think I fried up six different things before I settled on this."
"Well, I hope it stops soon. That's just foul-looking."
"Oi, don't knock it until you try!" he insisted.
"Impossible," his wife grumbled. "Anyway, on the subject of godparents, do you want to hear how far we've gotten with Sirius Black's case?"
Harry frowned thoughtfully around his sandwich.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "If he's not supposed to be there, we need to get him out. If he is, then he has to know something about the prophecy, or at least something about Voldemort that you and Torchwood could get out of him."
"Our feelings exactly," the Doctor agreed. "So far, we're fairly sure Umbridge is following orders to keep an ongoing cover-up alive to protect older hands at the Ministry. We're leaning toward innocence, because everything we've learned about Black doesn't feel right for murder and betrayal."
Rose scoffed as she shed her fitted jacket and kicked off her tightly laced boots.
"You're not entirely sure," she corrected. "I've met the woman. She's horrible, the worst type of politician, but Amelia's on it, so hopefully we won't have to deal with her for too much longer."
"Right," Harry laughed. "I can tell you really like her. Do you need me to do anything to help, or-"
"'Nah," his dad grinned. "We'll sort it out. Just let us know if you think of anything new or if you want updates."
With plans made and serious business out of the way, the trio went back to their meal. Somehow, they all ended up dipping their sandwiches in the gooey yellowish stuff, and Harry hated to admit it, but fish fingers and custard really did taste delightful.
Afterward, to fill the time until Neville called back, Harry showered and threw his grass-stained uniform in the wash. After another peek into the parlour to check the fireplace, he set about to resume looking for his communicator, just in case it had gotten stuck somewhere in his bag or trunk, or somewhere else he'd missed in his earlier search.
Half an hour later, his books, robes, supplies, and a small heap of rubbish lay strewn around him, but the earpiece remained absent from his inventory. He did manage to locate his third uniform, which he thought he'd left at the Hospital wing that horrible night. He briefly wondered how things might be different if Madam Promfrey hadn't demanded he take his ring off so she could him, or better, if he'd remembered to take the thing out of his pocket and put it back on. He sighed loudly and resolved to have Cuddie look for the earpiece when he returned to school.
Harry took the opportunity to organise his books and try on his robes in preparation for his trip to Diagon Alley. By the end of the hour, his everything-trunk lay clean of debris, and each compartment boasted the satisfying appearance of recent reorganisation. He also penned letters to the rest of his friends, resolving to pass them to Neville just so they knew what was going on.
The boy grinned and clicked his fingers. The open luggage snapped shut, the rubbish flew into the bin under his desk, his too-short robes began folding themselves on the bed, the letters on his desk found envelopes, and three stickers bearing his name and Wizarding-styled address sealed them closed.
He bolted from his room with the letter in hand and thundered down the stairs to meet his friend at the fireplace.
19 July 2013
Harry groaned and rolled over in his bed.
His arm stretched to grope at his bedside table for the digital alarm clock on its edge. He smacked it once and rolled back over.
The boy sat up groggily and stared at the blurry red lights in annoyance. They weren't flashing, as far as he could tell, and yet, he could still hear that annoying noise. He mashed his glasses on his nose and turned toward the source of the disturbance.
Harry scrambled back against his headboard and stared. A pair of glowing tennis ball sized, lime-green eyes stared back at him from the darkness around his desk.
"Eep!" it squeaked.
The lights switched on with a faint whiff of burning dust and ozone to reveal the interloper in sharp detail. The boy gaped. An extremely thin house elf wearing an abysmally dirty pillowcase the same shade of grey as his sallow skin shrank away from Harry as several emotions warred for dominance on his soot-smudged face.
"Dobby is sorry to bother Harry Potter, Sir, but Dobby had no recourse," the elf said in a tremulous voice.
The pitiful elf cowered against the wall as if it wished the blue-grey paint would swallow it up. Harry belatedly realised he held his wand on his visitor, and immediately felt bad for it. He hastily shoved it under his pillow before straightening again to observe the terrified being.
"Sorry," the boy murmured groggily. "You just startled me. What are you doing here, Dobby? Did your masters send you?"
Dobby twisted bat-like ears and whimpered. Every so often, the elf's eyes darted to the door.
"Oh-" Dobby sobbed. "Please, let Dobby leave. Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter! Dobby didn't mean any harm. He just wants to go home, now, please."
"Sorry, I don't understand," he said slowly. "As much as I'd like to know what you're doing here in the first place, I wouldn't stop you leaving. Why can't you? I don't think our house has two-way anti-apparition wards. Just in-bound ones, and I didn't think they applied to elves."
"But there must be!" the elf wailed. "Dobby has tried and tried many times, now!"
He clicked its fingers again for emphasis.
"Ohhh… Hold on a tic."
The boy pulled back his covers and walked over to his desk to pull his sonic scanner from the top right drawer. It hummed happily at him as he activated and pointed it at the intruder. Dobby flinched, and the boy frowned.
"Sorry, I'm taking a scan to figure out what my dad's done. He's a bit mad, and I think he may have messed with something that accidentally prevented you leaving," he explained while he fiddled with the device. "It won't hurt you. Why don't you take a seat for a minute?"
"S-sit down?" Dobby whimpered miserably. "Sit down- Harry Potter is too kind to Dobby! If he knew- If he knew what a bad elf Dobby was, he wouldn't…"
The elf plopped onto the desk, buried his face in his bony little hands, and sobbed. Harry stared in alarm. He hastily finished his examination, and the sonic continued humming its analysis while he awkwardly rubbed the elf's back in hesitant circles.
"It's all right," he said in a voice he hoped sounded soothing. "I'm sorry I scared you. Just tell me what's wrong, and I'll try to help."
"Help Dobby," the little being moaned. "Harry Potter is too kind, Sir, too kind. Dobby heard, but… He never thought a Wizard would speak with an elf like-"
He hiccupped and sniffled loudly.
"-Like an equal. It is Dobby who wishes to help Harry Potter, Sir. Dobby thought perhaps if Harry Potter thought his friends did not want him, that perhaps he would stay away from Hogwarts, and then Harry Potter would be safe… "
The short rant dissolved in hiccough-y tears. Unable to think of another solution, Harry gently folded the inconsolable elf into his arms. When the door slammed open a moment later, the elf buried itself deeper into the boy's chest.
"It went 'bing!'" the Doctor said excitedly, holding his detector aloft as he grinned wildly at him. "And Jen's fast asleep and Dippy's not due for another four hours. Was it you?"
"It was probably him," Harry whispered, nodding to the wriggling bundle of flesh and panic. "I woke up and he was on my desk, and he said he's been trying to leave, but something wouldn't let him. Also, your thing started making noise a while ago. Did you just now hear it?"
"Ah, yes," the striped pyjama-clad man smiled sheepishly. "Also the poor chap's failure to evacuate would also be me. Sorry. I tweaked the security to connect things to the detector. So!"
He loped into the room, and Harry gladly loosened his hold on Dobby so his dad could get a better look. The little elf shuddered but turned bravely to look up at the man as he sat on the desk beside him.
"What's the matter-"
The Doctor glanced at his son.
"Dobby," Harry supplied in an undertone.
"Dobby?" he tacked to the end of his question.
Slightly reddened, lime green eyes searched their faces for several moments. The elf began twisting the hem of his filthy pillowcase. The Doctor noticed, and his easy smile tightened a little in the corners.
"Dobby hoped that if Harry Potter thought he had no friends in the Wizarding world, he would not want to go back to Hogwarts," the elf mumbled miserably. "Dobby heard Harry Potter managed to send letters out, so he came to find out how."
"That's rather unkind, Dobby. I'm disappointed," the Doctor gently scolded. "So you're the one that's been stealing Harry's letters, then."
The elf twisted his ears again, and Harry could not find it in him to resent the pitiful elf.
"Yes, Sirs. 'Tis better than the alternative," he wailed. "Dobby knows… Dobby knows there are horrible things afoot. Harry Potter will be in great danger if he goes to school this year. Please, Sirs. Learn at home, or go to the school in France for a year, but Hogwarts is not safe!"
Dobby whimpered and twisted his ears so hard they reddened. The Doctor carefully unwrapped the elf's fingers and held his hands while sharing a glance at his son.
"We would have listened to your warning if you just told us," Harry murmured. "Thank you for trying to protect me. Can you tell me anything more? Is Hogwarts unsafe for me specifically or for everyone?"
"Oh-" Dobby sniffled. "Hogwarts is unsafe for everyone, Sirs, but the risk is far greater for Harry Potter, Sirs. He is too good, too important, to be lost! Dobby remembers, Sirs. Dobby remembers what it was like before the Dark Lord fell. House elves were treated like lowly beasts, Sirs. It is so much better for the others, Sirs! So much better, Sirs. Even Dobby's treated better for Harry Potter's existence."
He shuddered violently, and Harry looked away from the elf's miserable face. His gut twisted.
"Dobby must go, please, Sirs. Dobby's master will be very cross if he notices Dobby missing."
"All right," The Doctor allowed the little elf to wriggle and hastily made an adjustment on his detector with his screwdriver. "Do you mind giving Harry his letters? Message received and all that."
"Dobby only wanted to help," the elf whimpered and pulled a thick stack of envelopes from the neck of his pillowcase. "Please don't go to Hogwarts this year, Sirs."
With that, the elf popped away, and the envelopes fell to the desk with a muffled smack. The Doctor's machine binged more quietly than before. Harry leaned sideways until his head bumped his dad's shoulder, and the man wrapped a comforting arm around the boy's shoulders.
"Sorry," he sighed. "Looks like it's not going to be as quiet as we hoped."
"At least it isn't Dumbledore," Harry muttered. "And how bad could it be? I mean, we fought Quirrellmort last year and lived through it."
"Ugh," the Doctor groaned, squeezing his son a little tighter. "Your saying that so casually is disturbing in itself. If something does happen, please just let us handle it. You shouldn't have had to last year, and I don't ever want you facing anything remotely like that again. The subjects in Defence and Herbology should be the most dangerous things you deal with until you graduate."
"Gladly," the boy hummed sleepily.
He yawned and his face stretched dramatically with the motion. He was still having nightmares after his jaunt down the corridor, and he had only accomplished a couple hours of sleep before his unexpected awakening.
"Also, your mum would kill me."
"Mm," he mumbled. "Could you turn down the alarm feature on that thing? It's what woke me."
"I think that's the point."
Harry's eyes had closed, though, so the Doctor wasn't sure whether he heard his answer. The boy returned to asleep again before the father had deposited him back in bed. He smiled at his son's placid face, swept his fringe aside to plant a kiss over his scar, and left the room much more quietly than he'd come after switching off the lights with a whirr of his sonic screwdriver.
19 June 2013
We'll be flying out tomorrow. We're going to be staying in Gruissan, which is on the west side of France's southern coast. It's three hours' drive into the Pyrenees to Couflens, which is supposed to be a tiny little village in the mountains looking at non-magical maps, but I wrote a letter to the French Ministry's Office of Tourism and they informed me there's a thriving magical community in that area. I convinced Mum and Dad to take me on a day trip through the mountains to see it, so I'll get you and the others some souvenirs while I'm there.
What do you have planned for the summer? I imagine with your grandfather running again you'll have to do at least some society function or another. I hope you take some time for fun, though, outside of doing experiments with the Doctor.
Also, when I get back, would it be all right for me to come over and practice? Also I need someone to talk to about you-know-what. I keep having nightmares, and I'm worried if I tell my mum and dad why they won't let me come back to school. Please let me know as soon as you can.
25 June 2013
I'm most putout you haven't written me. Since you're a procrastinator, I thought I'd send you a reminder that you're supposed to be a gentleman and should have, therefore, at least sent a note thanking me for my assistance in that mess at the end of the year.
Speaking of which, how are you? You were rather worse for the wear on the train ride home. I remember you got dizzy twice and slept after the trolley witch came by. In any case, I hope you're improved enough to write. It's dreadfully dull here, even with my brother home and my sister excited to start next year.
If I haven't told you about her yet, her name is Astoria, and she thinks you're handsome from the photos I brought home. I've informed her you're as of yet unsure if you're interested in women or men. She said she doesn't care so long as it's not only men you like.
Do let me know if you figure that out, won't you? I believe I know at least one person other than my sister who fancies you. Not me. As fit as you are, I think you're a little too high-maintenance for my tastes.
In other news, my mother was most impressed when she and my brother gave me my practical review. We always duel, and my brother always ends up disarming me, but I managed to catch Phillip off guard for once with a wandless banishing charm. He says he'd like to give you a try, too, since I told him you taught me. In the meantime, I'm showing him how to do the small bit of wandless I know. I hope you don't mind.
In all seriousness, I was teasing before when I said I was putout with you for not writing. I know the holiday's barely started. We're going to our house in Brighton for a week in August, and Mother said I could invite a few friends along. I plan on inviting Tracy, Blaise, Hermione, Neville, and Draco, too. Please let me know by the last week of July so the elves can ready the bedrooms.
I look forward to your letter.
20 June 2013
I hope you're feeling better. You looked knackered coming back from school.
I was wondering, do you think I could tell Gran about what happened this spring? I know I said before I wasn't comfortable talking to her about stuff, but our relationship's really improved, and I'm going a little barmy. I keep having these awful dreams, and I can't keep sneaking dreamless sleeps. They're really horrible for you if you take too many, and I'm already at my limit for the week. Also, do you remember what I did with my Bluetooth? I can't find it.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
29 June 2015
Did you get my letter? I'm a little worried. France is lovely. I visited that magical town I told you about, and I got to swim with gillyweed. It's the oddest sensation. I grew gills and webbing between my fingers and toes. It's definitely the best way to dive, though. There aren't any reefs where we're staying, but it was still lovely swimming underwater and looking up.
What are you getting up to? Have you finished your homework?
Hoping you're well,
30 June, 2015
Did you receive my last letter? I'm becoming actually putout with you. Please write me. It's dreadfully dull, here, and I've already finished my homework.
I hope you're well.
3 July 2013
Are you all right? Did you get my letter? I still can't find my Bluetooth. Should I floo? I can't remember if you said that'd be all right. I know your grandmother and grandfather are nonmagical, and I know Jenny has some nonmagical friends, so I don't want to just call at a bad time. I tried to send you a letter through the Wizzless post, but I couldn't find you in the directory they showed me, or the Doctor or Rose. I thought about sending a letter to your granddad, but I thought he might think it odd if I sent a letter to his office address claiming to be your friend.
Anyway, I hope you're feeling better.
30 July 2013
The days that followed Dobby's unexpected visit passed much more happily than those preceding it. With the mystery of his mail solved and the elf's shenanigans found out, Harry successfully read and sent belated responses to the newly recovered letters. In return, in addition to relieved messages from his friends, he also found himself swarmed in owls bearing birthday wishes.
He got a card from the twins with a small tin of Honeydukes sweets labelled specifically 'for your enemies;' a box of Zonko's Infamous Joke Products from Daphne; a pair of meteorite cufflinks from Draco along with a note apologising for his lack of contact, confirming receipt of Harry's note, and asking he not send a note in return; a stasis-sealed jar of Gillyweed from Hermione with instructions on its use; and from Neville, he got a self-expanding climate controlled apothecary jar with several dittany seedlings poking through the rich, dark soil inside.
So by the time the hour arrived to leave, the doldrums that so stubbornly clung to Harry from the moment he arrived home had vanished. The Doctor, Rose, Jenny and Harry, dressed smartly in summer robes and bearing a bunch of white heather and dark pink roses from their garden, arrived in the lobby of St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries surprisingly free of ash or soot. Harry sniffed experimentally at his sleeve as he stepped aside from the hearth, and his sister stumbled out and into his arms. She quickly extricated herself from him with grumbles of not needing assistance. He detected the faint whiff of an automatically activated sanitation ward and wondered briefly why no one installed them in private homes or businesses.
Hospitals, Harry realised, must always resemble one another, even if one has wards named after stodgy old board members and the other for Spell Damage and Artefact Accidents.
The reception room overflowed with witches and wizards waiting in spindly wooden chairs who sported all manner of magical ailment. One woman's head had shrunken so small Harry could hardly tell it was there atop her dramatically tapered neck. Another wizard scratched at an impressive horn growing rapidly, and crookedly, out of the side of his head. A little boy covered in green pustules cried and complained to his mother, who had spello-taped his hands inside a pair of mittens to keep him from scratching at the oozing blisters. Like any good hospital, the smell of everyone's go-to disinfectant (in this case, Mrs Scower's All Purpose Magical Mess Remover) permeated the air.
A healer bustled up to them from the desk labelled Inquiries with a clipboard in hand and a do-not-mess-about expression on her face.
"Injured, ill or visiting?" she asked without preamble.
"We're the Smith family, here to visit Alice and Frank Longbottom," Rose offered after scanning the gold sign tacked to a wall. "We're supposed to meet Madam Longbottom and her grandson, Neville, at the Janus Thickey Ward."
"Ah. The Longbottoms. I'm afraid we only admit family to the Janus Thickey ward, for the safety of our patients and the public."
The Doctor squeezed Harry's shoulder, and the boy quickly stepped forward.
"Yes, ma'am. You see," he began with a shy smile. "Alice Longbottom's my godmother. I was hoping to come see her, since tomorrow's my birthday and today's Neville's. We're mates in school and we would have been like brothers, if she had gotten the opportunity to raise me."
The healer did a double take, and her steely eyes focused on Harry's upturned mein. He dared not look away or drop the anxiety displayed on his face. She pursed her lips and sighed.
"Fine, go on then, Mr Potter, Mr and Mrs Smith," she finally acquiesced. "Fourth floor, Permanent Spell Damage. Give your name to the orderly and wait in the reception room for Madam and Mr Longbottom to show you in."
"Thank you," the Doctor and Harry simultaneously called while quickly corralling Jenny toward the gleaming brass and tile staircase just beyond the reception.
Harry and Jenny thoroughly enjoyed the trek upstairs for the scenery. Aside from the lime-robed healers, mediwizards and their patients, they also caught posted signs that advertised healer-approved potioneers and apothecaries or wriggled with health and safety tips.
They passed the third floor landing, designated Magical Bugs and Diseases, where framed photographs of faintly green-tinged wizards with vibrant purple spots and rashes framed the large, pane-glass double doors. Above it, a large green banner proclaimed:
Dragon Pox is Highly Dangerous to Older Children and Adults! Vaccinate your Child Today!
"Perhaps we should take the time to check if they have any real records here on you sometime this summer, Harry," Rose hummed thoughtfully. "You might need a whole set of vaccinations we never knew about. Jen, too."
The Doctor made a face. Harry and Jenny groaned in unison.
"Sorry, kids," their father whispered.
On the third floor landing, a poster with faded edges flashed between images of a cartoon wizard bending over his cauldron and of gravestone surrounded by grieving women. Below, in acid-green, bold letters, it read:
A Clean Cauldron keeps Potions from becoming Poisons!
Similarly, a few stairs up, another public safety message animated a shelf full of innocent looking phials labelled with Mum's Miracle Brew, which changed to show a very worried mother and her projectile-vomiting son.
Antidotes are Anti-Don'ts Unless Approved by a Certified Healer!
When they arrived at the door simply labelled Spell Damage, the posters were replaced by self-writing chalkboards between doors that wrote and illustrated the message of the moment.
A Wand in a Child's Hands is a Recipe for Disaster! scrolled across one with a cartoon of a child blowing up his brother like a balloon, only for it to be erased and replaced by:
Remember the Three Ts! Teach safety, Take precautions & Tell a Healer if all else fails!
They followed the hallway around a corner and up a shorter flight of stairs with a sign pointing to Irreversible Spell Damage – Long Term Care to enter the Janus Thickey ward. With just a glance around, it already looked less hospital-like than the areas they passed. A small sitting area held several well-worn sofas and armchairs strewn with crocheted doilies and hand knitted throws. Several tattered board games lay stacked beneath a large coffee table bearing many years' worth of water rings and tea stains that even magic, it seemed, could not remove. A mediwitch worked behind a small desk by the heavy ward door at the rear of the cosy waiting room, and a very large man posed with his thick arms crossed over his chest sat precariously on the spindly chair beside her.
"May I help you?" the witch inquired pleasantly.
"We're here to visit Mr and Mrs Longbottom," the Doctor smiled. "But don't worry about us just yet. We're supposed to accompany Neville and Madam Longbottom."
"Madam Longbottom has arrived, Mr Smith."
The family turned to find the matriarch poised on the top stair with Neville following closely in her wake. Jenny smiled and rushed to hug Augusta about the knees, and the imposing woman smiled beneath her vulture hat at the little girl's enthusiasm.
"Hi Auntie Gussie!"
"Hello again, dear," Madam Longbottom thrummed. "How are you?"
"Very well, thanks. Thank you for letting Neville's stay over tonight and tomorrow. Harry's usually so boring on his birthdays I usually have to cause trouble just to give him something to do."
The adults in the room, healer and orderly included, laughed indulgently at the girl's assertion and her brother's exasperated glare.
"Hi Neville," Harry greeted as his friend emerged from behind his grandmother.
The boy grimaced, and Harry braced his shoulder.
"Hello," he said quietly. "Thanks for coming."
With the entirety of their party in attendance, the mediwitch nodded to the orderly, who stood to unlock the door with a key at the end of the chain he fished from his pocket. The Doctor graciously gestured Madam Longbottom forward, and the woman strode purposefully into the ward with her grandson in her shadow and the Smiths close behind him. Bright sunshine streamed through the large bay windows opposite the door of the long ward and cheery, soft green wallpaper with a scaled deco pattern brightened the walls. Gauzy white drapes hung on tracks between the larger-than-usual beds. Most lay empty, though the nearest contained a woman covered in fur. She barked twice as they passed before rolling over in her bed.
"I am most pleased Neville invited you along to see Alice and my dear Frank," Madam Longbottom declared. "It's only right you boys pay your respects. They sacrificed everything so that you may live in this peaceful era."
Neville's head drooped. Harry twitched guiltily, and he felt the Doctor's long fingers grip his shoulders reassuringly. Madam Longbottom stopped, and Neville stiffened. Harry stepped out a little from their closely clustered group to follow his friend's gaze.
The woman looked so pale Harry had missed her in his earlier survey of the room. Her hair, which he imagined had once claimed the same sandy blonde colour as her son's, had faded to almost translucent white wisps that hung lankly over her shoulders and down her back. Her blue eyes seemed too large for her thin, drawn, wrinkled face. Seated in the bright pool of sunshine beneath the window, the light bathed her so completely as to make her near invisible.
Harry thought her not unlike photographs of recovering war prisoners he'd seen.
"Oh, Alice," Neville's grandmother wearily sighed. "What are you doing down there, dear?"
She bustled forward and helped the faintly smiling woman to stand with one arm while she levitated a cushy armchair beneath the window for her with the other. Alice sat docilely and started humming a tune Harry couldn't place.
"May I ask how?" the Doctor murmured with a hand each on the boys' left and right shoulders, respectively. "I read they were attacked when we were looking into Harry's records, but the papers weren't specific."
"Torture. Continuous exposure to the Cruciatus Curse," the woman replied shortly. "They were so very gifted, the both of them – The best Aurors in the force and very well respected, even at such a young age. I worried Neville had not inherited their talents, but it seems there's hope, yet."
Her thin lips twitched, and she turned to glance appraisingly down at the boy in question.
"I'm sure they would be very proud," Rose assured Neville with a hint of steel.
The newly minted twelve-year-old continued to stare at his feet.
"Hn," the older woman said a little distractedly. "Neville? Why don't you introduce Harry and Jenny Renette to his godmother and your father?"
The Doctor helpfully conjured a cushioned loveseat beside Alice's chair, and the kids shuffled forward. Harry and Neville sat beside one another, and Jenny took the end with a book in hand. Alice looked up and slightly past them. She slipped a bony hand into the pocket of her woollen dressing gown, withdrew a single piece of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, clumsily unwrapped it, and popped the sweet into her mouth. Her unfocused eyes slid over the children, and she offered Neville the wrapper.
"Hi, Mum," Neville whispered.
He looked over at Harry apologetically.
"This is Harry Potter, Lily Potter's son. We're best mates at school."
Harry smiled at Alice.
"Neville saved my life last year," he said in an undertone. "Helped me escape from that dark wanker."
Neville choked, flushed scarlet, and whipped his head around to check for his grandmother, but the matriarch seemed fully engaged with the Doctor at Frank's bedside. Jenny studied him with mild interest, but returned to her book at her brother's wink and smile.
"He was amazing," Harry continued. "He looked almost as afraid as I felt, but he still charged in there and kept me from getting murdered."
"That's not how I remember it," Neville muttered. "Anyway, Mum, I wanted to bring him here because- Well, I don't know. It felt right, I suppose."
He stared at his hands.
"I'm so rubbish at this," the boy sighed. "I thought it would be easier with you here, Harry, but I still don't know what to say."
"She's your mum," Harry shrugged. "You don't have to say anything. She obviously loves you very much."
The woman had stopped humming to extend another sweets wrapper to her son. Neville smiled weakly and accepted the bit of wax paper.
"You know," he said after a short while. "Ever since we faced You-Know-Who, I've been really angry."
Harry leaned into his friend a little and made a sympathetic sound. Mrs Longbottom continued smiling past the children at something only she could perceive.
"I mean, angrier than when we found that stupid mirror," Neville elaborated. "Why my mum and dad? Why yours?"
"We still don't know," Harry replied gently. "We're going to try to talk to Black, but even so, Dad says war doesn't make any sense. Why does anything happen? Prophecy or no, I doubt we'll ever know really. The universe doesn't operate on the basis of human reason, and we just have to try to make sense of the aftermath and move forward the best we can."
"How can we do that if it's not over? It's not good enough."
Neville clenched his hands into fists and sat straighter.
"If he's still out there, it means the war isn't done and gone. He'll try again, and since most of his followers got away with it, before, we'll be right back where our parents were. Stuck in the middle of a stupid war. It might be different if you'd have killed him with Quirrell-"
Harry flinched at the memory, and Neville shook his head apologetically.
"-But he ran away. Hermione said this horrible smoking ghost thing rose from Quirrell's ashes, and it tried to attack you, and you had this sort of fit," he said shakily. "She said she had to hold you down after it went away to keep you from hurting yourself. If he's that powerful without a body, how can we-"
"I don't know," Harry mumbled. "But we beat him."
"We got lucky," the other boy insisted with thinly veiled panic in his eyes. "We're just kids! It's bad enough what my parents went through was a waste, and the ministry didn't believe us about You-Know-Who, so how are we supposed to…"
Harry gave his hunched friend a one-armed hug as the boy struggled to choke back furious tears.
"Sorry," he whispered. "I'm pretty rubbish at emotional stuff, too. Don't worry, though. Dad and Mum weren't involved in the last war, but this time, they'll take care of it. They've already got Amelia Bones in on things. I promise, Nev. It'll be all right, and you and I will be there when it's over to put the rest of the world to rights. That's why I'm sticking around. As I understand it, we're both going to be magically created peers when we're of age, so we'll be able fix everything that didn't get fixed last time."
Neville gave his friend a watery grin.
"C'mon," he said when his eyes had cleared of moisture. "I'll introduce you to Dad."
The rest of the visit still retained a bit of sadness, but the anxiety that had hunched Neville's shoulders melted away. They even experienced a few happy moments.
While Harry and Neville spoke gently to the unresponsive Frank Longbottom, the Doctor and Rose sat a long while with Alice. Somewhere in their interaction, Rose recognized the tune the woman continuously hummed under her breath. This, of course, led to the Doctor rushing out to buy an old crank-up record player, which he brought back along with several Beatles albums.
After convincing the mediwitch of his qualifications with the help of his psychic paper, she and the orderly stepped aside. A few taps of his wand had the record player restored to working order, and another adjustment enchanted its crank to wind itself with a tap of the wand. Rose picked out the appropriate record and organised the rest on the lower shelf of the bedside table. Afterward, he instructed the orderly and mediwitch in the record player's operation, and soon Alice beamed while humming a little off beat to "Something." Augusta harrumphed at what she considered 'overly graphical' lyrics, but did not protest as Alice curled up next to Frank on their oversized hospital bed.
They all decided to leave on that note with Augusta and Neville in tow for their return to the floo downstairs, and everyone quickly departed for Harry's home.