Notes: Sorry for the delay. I was having trouble with this chapter; it just didn't want to come together. ARG! I do want to point out I had all but one scene (no not the Dumbledore one) written long before the Fifth Book came out. And though many of you asked, I will repeat again for the general audience. YES I plan to continue. I do have a commitment to another fandom first, and I want most of year two written and read by neutral before I post (my muse is a fickle creature), but I intend to continue.
THANKS AGAIN TO NEUTRAL WHOM WITHOUT HER IMAGINATION, CREATIVITY, ASSISTANCE, AND GENEROSITY THIS FIC WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE.
Recommendations: Of all of the "reaction" to Order of the Phoenix stories some of which are good some of which are just that, "reaction" only, the most unique, the one that has struck me as the most interesting which I recommend here today is by Ruxi. The fic is titled "Beyond Redemption" and has the odd habit of updating the latest chapter with new writing at the bottom rather than adding new chapters entirely. A very complex story and well worth a look.
Wishweaver- I've always found it more believable that someone other than Dumbledore rescued Harry, otherwise why didn't he get there sooner and prevent the whole darn thing? I am hoping to carry on with other years though I want most of year two written before I post and want to get a chapter in a couple of other fandom fics I have ongoing written first to stave off furious and ravenous readers. When can we expect more of YOUR story?
LadyFirebolt- I'm glad this story in some small way helped you get over your reaction to Order of the Phoenix. I hope the extra goodies I spend the last week adding to this chapter
MerlinHalliwell- Yes I'm planning on doing more years, though as mentioned above, I want to get lots written before I post as my muse is a fickle creature. Thanks for the lovely review. Hope you enjoy this chapter.
Riddikulus- I am so glad that you thought the battle worked. In your own fic, the suspense levels and fights are so vivid and captivating. It is good to know that the last chapter wasn't just a flat retelling of JKR's work.
BellaMonte- Thank you thank you thank you again for your wonderfully detailed review. I love receiving them.
DragongirlG- I guess I didn't make it clear that Sirius apparrted to Hogwart's gates and then entered the castle. Ooops! My bad! Good of you to catch it.
To all of you who reviewed. Thank you. You have made my first foray into the HP fandom most pleasant. I hope to be a part of it for a long time. grin
CHAPTER XII: The Gryffindor in Summer
"and the taste of
dried-up hopes in my mouth
and the landscape of merry and desperate drought
how much longer dear angels
let winterlight come
and spread your white sheets over my empty house"
-- Vienna Teng "Drought"
Remus got up at the crack of dawn and dressed in a scrambled hurry. Running to Padfoot's room he threw open the door.
He hurried to the fireplace muttering curses under his breath. If Sirius was going to get up and go really really really early he should have least had the sense to wake him up to go too! "Inconsiderate mutt."
Senses tingling, Remus hesitated, floo powder in hand. Harry had been here. Recently. Harry's scent filled the manor once more. Growling and taking the stairs three at a time, the werewolf ran towards Harry's bedroom door and threw it open.
Halting at the threshold, anger drained out of him. Padfoot was asleep against the headboard, one arm over Harry's chest, the other curled in Harry's wild hair.
And Harry, Harry so pale in the morning light, was too still to be sleeping.
Sighing, Remus went around to the other side of the bed and tucked the boy in under a mountain of both infirmary bedclothes and his own red and gold feather duvet. He checked him for fever before toeing off his boots and slipping out of his top robe and curling up on the bed. Both Marauders' flanking their best friend's son, they guarded him through the morning.
Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts . . .
Chaos. Pandemonium. Terror.
Hermione woke up and sleepily turned her eyes towards her two friends. Ron's red hair was shocking against the hospital white of his pillow. And Harry was. . . . Hermione blinked.
Harry was Not There.
The bed was stripped of linen, like the beds in hospital dramas on television her mum liked to watch.
The Gryffindor fought for breath.
They only stripped beds like that when patients had died.
Ron fell out of bed at the sound of a quite uncharacteristic piercing scream.
He sat up gripping his bound arm and stared at Hermione's pale face and wild eyes from across the aisle between the infirmary cots. The last thing he remembered was the Philosopher's Stone, chess, the White Queen advancing with the finality of death. He groaned suddenly as his head reminded him of why exactly he was in the infirmary.
Hermione tore her eyes away from wherever she was staring in fright and informed Ron rather loudly what had so upset her.
"HARRY'S DEAD! HE'S DEAD!"
Shock propelled an unsteady Ron to his feet where he beheld the bare cot, the round rimmed glasses folded carefully, abandoned on a nearby bedside tray.
"No," he breathed. His legs failed him and he collapsed hard onto the stone floor. "Oh no, no, no, no . . ."
Madam Pomfrey was asleep in her office when the noises in her domain woke. The children, she thought in terror. Dashing off so fast that she left her cap behind, she entered the infirmary proper to find a sobbing Hermione clinging to a positively green Ron who was shaking so hard he looked ready to fly apart.
The stricken boy was muttering over and over a mantra of denial. " . . . no, no, no, no, no . . ."
"What are you doing up? What is going on in here?" Poppy glanced around angrily, trying to figure out what had disturbed her patients so, and saw
"Wh-where is Mr. Potter?!" she gasped.
Broken out of daze, Ron met her eyes. "You don't KNOW?!" he howled trying to stand. That proved a bad idea. Hermione dragged him back down just in time for him to lean over a nearby basin and be violently sick.
Rushing back into her office, Poppy activated her fire and yelled for the Headmaster and every other teacher in Hogwarts.
Harry Potter was missing.
Sirius stirred, burrowing his head to avoid the bright sunlight burning though his eyelids. Scowling when that didn't work he growled under his breath, forcing open his eyes.
Surprised for a moment to see a familiar window view from childhood, he blinked and squinted. Stretching he felt his spine crack from sleeping in such an odd position.
His hands brushed something soft and fine. Absently he looked down and saw his godson lying still and straight under the covers, a familiar werewolf flanking Harry to his left.
Sitting up suddenly, he remembered his late night journey to Hogwart's infirmary and back. He ran a cautious hand across Harry's chest, feeling the heavy wrap of bandages and the more comforting rise and fall with every breath the boy took. Sighing, Sirius slid lower and onto his side, eyes never leaving Harry's pale slight features.
On the other side of his godson, his friend stirred to wakefulness.
"Mmm," One amber eye opened, and Moony propped himself up on his elbows. "How is he?" he asked rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Still out," Sirius whispered.
Remus let out an explosive breath, part frustration part relief. He opened his mouth, no doubt to scold, but the black haired Marauder cut him off.
"Don't Moony. Just-- just don't."
"Aren't you angry?" Sirius hissed cutting him off. "Aren't you furious that they let this happen to our Harry, James and Lily's little boy? He was supposed to go to Hogwarts to learn, to make friends, to have fun, not save the staff and the world from their own bloody incompetence! And this hasn't been going on just last night, oh no. At Halloween Harry took out a troll that bastard Quirrell let into the castle. He was nearly hexed off his broom at his first Quidditch match. And did we know about it? Did anyone of those teachers think to inform us that our Harry was in danger?"
Remus eyes flashed dangerously as he heard the list of trials Harry'd had to face. Professor McGonagall hadn't been as forthcoming as he'd hoped she would be.
"Of course I'm angry," he growled. It was nowhere near the full moon, but the wolf suddenly seemed so close. Sirius was unafraid. "I'm angry enough to hurt . . . someone." He reached out and placed his hand across Harry's neck, fingers brushing the scar that had bled the three of them together as one. "We gave him into their care and he was hurt, Harry was hurt." Remus pressed his lips together but not before a high pitch whine escaped. "But I-I can't Padfoot--" Moony withdrew his hand, as if burned, sat up and turned to face the window. "I can't let myself . . ."
Sirius sat up and grabbed Remus's shoulder. "Hey," he whispered, shaking the other gently. "I'll get angry enough for both of us," he said wryly.
Moony turned his head slightly and nodded.
"I'll get angry," Padfoot continued "and we'll both make sure our little Harry Hawk knows not to keep things from us anymore."
"But first," Remus said standing slowly and moving to stare out of the window, "there's an intruder I think we should take care of."
Sirius had his wand out and ready before Moony had finished the word "intruder." He was crouched on the bed, his free hand hovering protectively over Harry's still form. "What intruder?"
"If I'm not mistaken Professor Dumbledore sent one of his staff to make sure we do in fact have Harry, and that some random stranger didn't just waltz out of Hogwarts with him." He replied tartly shooting the Animagus a withering glance. Sirius didn't even have enough shame to blush.
Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Moony peered out the window for a closer look. "I'm not sure who it is, but they're caught in that binding trap you set up in the oak grove."
Padfoot looked visibly torn between confronting the Hogwarts intruder and staying and keeping watch over his godson.
"I'll go," Moony said with an understanding smile, taking a moment to smooth down the boy's unruly hair before leaving the room.
Sirius tucked his wand under a pillow and was prepared to get comfortable before an insistent tapping got his attention. Looking back up at the window he saw Hedwig fluttering at the glass, frantic to get in. Quickly rising he opened the window.
She flew past him, landing silently on the bed bobbing her head low to stare at her boy.
Catching sight of the letter attached to her leg, he snatched at it, ignoring her snapping at his hands. With shaking fingers he turned the envelope over and recognizing Harry's messy scrawl of an address on the front. He tore it open, devouring its contents.
Shutting his eyes tight once he'd read what could have been Harry's last words, Padfoot sat with a thump on the bed. "Oh Harry," he whispered. He reached out and gathered the boy gently into his arms, holding him close, remembering the first time he had done this since that horrible Halloween night, that first time all those years ago in the park near the Dursleys' house where he'd held James and Lily's son.
The despair he felt was too familiar. Too often had he sat in this position in the past years. Each time he'd silently vowed never again. Never again would this child be hurt. Helplessly he could only echo his promise and hope.
Hope that this would never happen again.
Remus followed the sounds of swearing. The voice, he noted, was strangely familiar.
He entered the grove and it took only seconds to identify the intruder.
Severus Snape hung upside down from a tree, no amount of spells or charms able to dislodge him.
Lupin cleared his throat, valiantly suppressed a laugh and bringing a halt to the cursing. "Let him down please," he said in a clear voice and the oak complied, setting Severus right side up on the ground.
Furiously, the man started rearranging his most imposing black robes that currently looked ridiculously tangled and leaf filled. It distracted from whatever effect the now grown Severus Snape wanted to portray. Remus grinned, inexplicably reminded of the quiet fierce Slytherin boy who had pitted himself against four Marauders in mutual warfare and held his own.
"A trap that releases you if you are kind," Snape sneered. "What a . . . Gryffindor type of defense."
Other than Sirius, only Snape had ever made a House name practically an insult to rival "mudblood."
"Hello Severus. I imagine you are here on purpose. Would you like some breakfast? Or," the werewolf corrected, peering at the angle of the sunlight filtered through the leaves. "an early lunch?"
The Potion Master looked down on Lupin. "I am here to check on the Potter boy to make sure that the idiotic bastard Black hasn't . . . injured Dumbledore's precious pupil."
Lupin's affable expression darkened. Perhaps Sirius wasn't overreacting when he claimed Snape didn't like Harry. "I'm surprised you knew to look for him here what with agents of the Dark Lord at the school," Remus responded harshly as he began walking back to the house. "You'd think taking a student out of the infirmary with such a competent staff would be much more difficult."
"When you two didn't show up screaming in the morning it was an obvious answer to the boy's whereabouts," the Professor snapped falling into step with the werewolf. "I take it he is still dead to the world?" he asked silkily.
Remus ignored him, pushing open the kitchen door and put the kettle on.
Severus stood near the door, arms folded, scowl fixed in place. He didn't enter as if simply stepping inside Moor House was a contaminating experience and he wanted to avoid over exposure. "No need to play the house elf, Lupin. Let me see the boy and I'll leave you to your exile."
Remus began to pull out last night's leftovers out of the Icing Cupboard. "Would it be so terrible to eat lunch with a werewolf?" he queried calmly.
Snape smiled, thin lipped, and more akin to a grimace than a look of pleasure. "I tend to abstain from eating raw meat."
Remus finished setting the table and took his seat not waiting on ceremony with the Slytherin. "I'm not that bad a cook, though Harry is better."
The Professor snorted derisively. "Potter? He's absolutely incompetent. He can't even stir a potion correctly. He's done abysmally all year," he said with dark pleasure. "No doubt he will fail the exam if he ever manages to wake up."
Remus stilled. He realized immediately what Harry's problem in Potion's was and would not be surprised nor the least bit angry if Harry failed the class. (Though being held back a year would give Sirius even more ammunition in his impending summer campaign to "Pull Harry out of Hogwarts" that Remus knew was coming with the certainty of the moon.) "And no doubt you spend your time breathing down his neck. I charge anyone to do anything constructive let alone learn with you hovering." Remus finished with a sharp smile. And that hit a nerve, the Marauder knew. Remus had been highly sought out as a tutor during his Hogwarts years; despite his unique and exceptionally powerful skills Snape rarely ever was. Coupled with Snape's venomous dislike of James Potter's son, Harry would be barely capable of concocting anything with Snape growling behind him especially in such close proximity to an open flame.
"Where. Is. Potter?" Snape growled through his clenched jaw.
"With Sirius. I'm sure," Remus continued pleasantly "that Sirius would be so . . . pleased to see you. I believe he corresponded with you earlier in the term?" he asked innocently.
The Potion Master strode forward and threw Harry's glasses down on the table and then turned on his heel and walked out of Moor House, slamming the door behind him.
"Don't forget to be nice to the trees or you'll be trapped again!" Moony called out with false cheerfulness.
Whatever Snape's reply, it was probably better that it was lost on the wind.
Ron, recently released from the infirmary, came to a halt in front of the Great Hall doors beside Hermione, winching at the yelling he heard coming inside.
"What the--?" he asked Hermione.
The witch shook her head. "I don't know," she responded raising her voice to be heard over the screaming. "But it sounds familiar."
"Yeah, it almost sounds like . . ."
The two first years shared a look and then threw open the door. Sirius Black's words became understandable and distinct as they once again shook the entire Hall filled with students who sat stunned in the midst of dinner.
"---YOU HIRED THAT INCOMPETENT! YOU LET THAT SPAWN OF VOLDERMORT TEACH MY GODSON! YOU NEARLY LET HIM KNOCK HIM OFF HIS BROOM AND THEN YOU LEFT! YOU LEFT THAT BLOODY STONE AT THE SCHOOL AND WENT OUT JOY RIDING FOR THE IDIOT FUDGE WHO COULDN'T GOVERN HIS WAY OUT A PAPER BAG! YOU LEFT BEHIND CHILDREN, CHILDREN ALL ALONE IN THE CASTLE WITH THAT FILTH! YOU AND YOUR INADEQUATE STAFF LEFT IT UP TO MY GODSON AND TWO OTHER FIRST YEARS TO DEFEND THE WIZARDING WORLD! ARE YOU SENILE?"
Taking their seats, Hermione leaned over and yelled in Lavender's ear. "How long has this been going on?"
"Fourteen minutes and counting!" Lavender yelled back.
Ron shot Hermione a questioning look from across the table and she held up first ten then four fingers. The redhead's jaw dropped. This had to be a record. Fred and George would know for sure. Ron made a mental note to ask them as soon as he regained his hearing.
"YOUR GREASY POTION MASTER HAD ALREADY STUCK HIS BIG NOSE ABOUT AND FOUND OUT THAT IT WAS QUIRRELL! DON'T DENY IT! THEN WHAT DO YOU DO? DO YOU FIRE THE MAN? INVESTIGATE HIM? PUT HIM ON WATCH? GUARD HIM? PUT TRAPS AROUND THE STONE? TRAPS THAT FIRST YEARS CAN'T GET THROUGH? NO! YOU LEAVE IT TO CHILDREN TO DO YOUR DIRTY WORK! HARRY WAS NEARLY KILLED PROTECTING WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF!"
"HOW DARE YOU CARELESSLY LEAVE IT TO A BOY, A MERE CHILD, TO CARRY THE WEIGHT OF THE WIZARDING WORLD! THE WIZARDING WORLD CAN GO HANG! YOU OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF! YOU AND YOUR STAFF! AND DON'T THINK I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT LITTLE LATE CHRISTMAS PRESENT YOU SENT HARRY AND ALL THOSE "ENCOURAGING" NOTES BEFORE YOU WENT TRAPSING OFF TO LONDON! IF YOU EVER TRY THAT MANIPULATIVE MERLIN SHITE ON HARRY AGAIN, VOLERMORT WILL BE THE LEAST OF YOUR WORRIES! YOU'LL ANSWER TO ME!"
The letter tore itself into smoking confetti and fell silent. Dumbledore blinked repeatedly in the sudden silence.
"Albus?" Professor McGonagall leaned over and placed a solicitous hand on the Headmaster's arm. "Are you all right?"
"Forgive me, Minerva. I was merely . . . surprised." he said absently. "I haven't received a Howler since my thirteenth year and that was for sneaking into the girl's bathroom and setting loose several white mice."
Down below at the Gryffindor table, spirits were high, ringing in the ears was fast fading.
"Harry is alive!" Ron said happily. "I guess Professor Snape was telling the truth."
"A Howler to Dumbledore." Hermione shook her head. "I can't believe it."
"Brilliant," George said in awe, leaning in to join their conversation. "First Professor Snape, then the motorbike, now this. Harry's godfather knows no fear!"
"Of course he's fearless. He escaped from Azkaban," Fred scoffed as he loaded his plate with boiled potatoes.
"So Professor Quirrell was working for You-Know-Who?" Neville asked fearfully.
Ron nodded and swallowed. "Harry saw him in the Forbidden Forest feeding of the unicorns," he revealed.
"You-Know-Who so close!" Lavender whispered, horrified.
"Do you think Harry'll be back before the game?" Oliver called down the table anxiously.
"Oh yeah! The Quidditch Cup," Ron groaned.
"We have a chance of actually getting back in the running for the House Cup too if Harry plays," Seamus said stoutly.
"Oh you boys! Harry nearly died! And all you can think about is Quidditch?" Hermione scolded throwing down her fork. "He's probably still unconscious and all you can think about is the ruddy Cup. He stopped You-Know-Who!"
"Now is not the time for Quidditch," Percy put in authoritatively ignoring Oliver's incredulous glance and sputtering protestations. "All three of you risked your lives to stop You-Know-Who. Not that I'm advocating sneaking out after hours," he said sternly "Breaking rules, cursing classmates, loosing points, I condone none of that behavior! But if you hadn't Merlin only knows if we'd even be alive now."
"Here, here!" Seamus said raising his glass. "To brave Gryffindors!"
"To Harry," Ron and Hermione replied, raising their own.
Harry blinked fuzzily. Red and gold was all he could make out. Uncertain of where he was or what had happened raised one hand and rubbed his eyes, a bit bewildered by its bandaged state. He jumped when he felt careful hands place his glasses upon his nose.
"Shh . . . just me Harry. It's just Padfoot."
Vision clear, Harry realized he was in his bed at home with Sirius sitting beside him, brushing his hair back gently. Harry wondered if he was dreaming. It was the best dream he'd had in a long time if he was.
"How are you feeling?" Sirius asked with a smile.
Harry wracked his brain and tried to think back. Suddenly he sat up with a cry. "The Stone?! Voldemort! What happened? Ron? Hermione?"
It's all right. It's all
right now." Padfoot held him close,
soothing his panic. "You're
fine. You're friends are just
fine. Voldemort is gone and the
Stone has been taken care of.
You're safe. Hush now.
Relaxing with a boneless sigh, Harry burrowed deeper into his godfather's arms.
"He didn't get the Stone?" he asked quietly.
"No, no he didn't. You stopped him," Sirius assured him.
"Ron and Hermione are all right? What about Neville?" he asked anxiously into his godfather's shirt.
"All your schoolmates are fine, just fine. Worried about you of course, but fine."
"What-- what about Professor Quirrell?" he managed, voice breaking.
The hand gently rubbing Harry's back stilled and Padfoot grew tense. "He's gone," Sirius said at last, his voice nothing more than a fridged whisper. Harry pulled back and stared into those ice filled eyes.
"He's dead, isn't he? I killed him," Harry said thinly. His hands let go of his godfather and fell into his lap. "My touch burned him to ash. I grabbed him, I-I did it on p-purpose. I held on and wouldn't let go. He was . . . screaming-- screams in my ear, trying to shake me off, screaming to kill me, screaming . . . it burns, Master, it burns, it burns, it burns . . ."
"Shh, shh quiet now. No more Harry. No more now," Sirius said firmly, holding him tight with a fierce tenderness, rocking him, trying to stop the disjointed flow of words that displayed the true horror of what had occurred in stark detail. "You were so brave. So very brave. You shouldn't have to be, but you are. My little Gryffindor," he whispered, brushing a kiss on his wild black hair. "You don't have to ever go back to Hogwarts. You can stay here. You never have to leave You said it was . . .important to go this year." Sirius nearly choked on the words, a strange desperation filling him. "But it's all over, all over now. You don't have to go back."
Harry fought to regain his voice. It felt like there was a painful lump in his throat and he knew that if he wasn't careful he would start crying and he hadn't cried in forever.
"What about exams?" he managed to croak, fighting off the burning in his eyes. "And the Quidditch final, Padfoot. I have to play for Gryffindor."
"You've been asleep for three days. I think you missed the match," Sirius explained with a sad laugh. "And as for exams, forget about exams. We'll start summer early."
Worried green eyes peered up at him. "But Ron and Hermione will be worried if I don't go back. Ron nearly died when we were playing wizards chess. The White Queen took him, you see. He was the knight and the knight had to be sacrificed so we could cross the board in time."
That was perhaps the wrong thing to say to convince his godfather Harry realized as soon as he felt Sirius go ridged. But then after a long moment Padfoot sighed.
"We'll see how you're feeling and decide whether you can go back for the Feast."
"I think you've had enough excitement and worry without them," Sirius said firmly. Or next year, he thought to himself determinedly. "Lie back down now," he said, tucking his godson in tight.
Harry curled up in his usual tight ball beneath the covers until Sirius eased him into a slightly more natural position.
"No dreams tonight," Sirius soothed taking off his glasses and blowing out the light on the bedside table. "No dreams. Just sleep. I'm here, Harry. I'm here." He hummed an old song, familiar, comforting, under his breath, snatches of words reaching Harry's ears as Sirius sat beside him.
Padfoot wouldn't ever leave him.
Green eyes fluttered closed. Truly relaxed for the first time since his Hogwart's letter came, Harry slept without dreams.
Gripping the railing with one bandaged hand, Harry peered down at the room below. He really wasn't supposed to be up yet, but the sun had woken him and he'd spent almost five days in bed, three of them completely unconscious and now he was tired of bed and ready to get up. He had gone in search of Sirius and Remus. From the kitchen he could here their voices.
Smiling he came down the stairs as fast as his protesting body would let him and pushed open the door to the kitchen, peering around the edge to see what his guardians were up to.
He obviously wasn't as sneaky as he thought because as one Padfoot and Moony turned to see him.
"Harry!" Sirius exclaimed standing up and coming over to him. "What on earth are you doing out of bed?" he scolded.
"I couldn't go back to sleep and I thought that because--"
He began escorting Harry back through the living room to the stairs. "Back upstairs Harry, you're still—"
"I'm feeling much better," Harry assured him, turning to face Padfoot trying to delay the inevitable return to bed.
"You should have called for us instead of coming down the stairs; we were going to bring you breakfast this morning," Remus explained, his focus diverted as he took in the bruises and the scrapes on the boy's face. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right," Harry insisted quietly.
"You sure?" Sirius asked worriedly as in compromise he settled Harry on the couch, tucking a blanket around him. "You really shouldn't be up and about for another couple days at least."
"The Farwell Feast is day after tomorrow," Harry blurted out before he could stop himself. Noting Sirius's stilled hands in mid motion, Harry pressed on. "I missed my Potions and Transfiguration exams, but do you think I could be allowed go back for the feast anyway? I want to see Ron and Hermione, make sure they're all right."
Remus smiled and opened his mouth, no doubt to agree when the Animagus cut him off.
"Well," Sirius said slowly. "We wanted to talk to you about that."
Remus shot Sirius a look that said We? What we is this?
"Is something wrong?" Harry asked anxiously looking back and forth between the two of them.
Padfoot shook his head, "No, of course not. It's just . . . well . . . er, you're not having dreams any more are you?" he asked tentatively.
Harry shook his head, relief evident in his features.
"Well, then, I don't think there's any real need to return for the feast. Your friends are welcome to come visit over the summer or we can visit them," Sirius added, warming to the idea.
"But what about Hogwarts?" Harry wondered. "It's not so dangerous any more."
Padfoot stilled for a moment. "Harry we didn't know," he said hoarsely.
"Didn't know what?"
"About the danger. You didn't tell us about the troll or the stone or the fact that your scar had been hurting, bleeding or-or anything!" Sirius stood, pacing for a moment. "You forgot to mention that you'd nearly fallen off your broom in the first game."
He knelt beside the couch and took out a piece of parchment from his pocket. Harry's eyes widened as he recognized the letter he had written just in case. "I got your good-bye letter the morning after I brought you home," Sirius said in choked voice.
"Good-bye letter?" Remus echoed. He stormed over and snatched it from his friend's hand, reading the few words it had taken Harry over two hours and multiple drafts to write. "Oh, gods," he murmured, falling heavily into a nearby chair. He looked up at Harry with sorrow filled eyes. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Hedwig wasn't supposed to fly home unless--"
"Unless what? You didn't come back? Unless you died?" Remus said, his voice rising. Harry looked away, he couldn't stand to see the disappointment and concern there.
Harry knotted his fingers in his lap. "I didn't want you to get hurt," he muttered.
Sirius and Remus shared an incredulous look. "Hurt?" Sirius asked "Us? How could knowing what was going on hurt us?"
"Last time-- last time I had a dream we all got pulled in together a-and you were captured and . . ."
Sirius took Harry's hands in his. "That wasn't your fault. Look at me," he demanded gently. Green eyes raised and met his. "That was never your fault. If I had a choice and I knew what was going to happen before it did, I would have still gone with you to that other world. I would never never ask you to do what you think have to do alone. Ever."
"No, Harry," Sirius said firmly. "No. This is not something you do alone."
"I can't loose you," Harry whispered. "I can't loose either of you."
Remus got up and moved to sit beside Harry on the couch. "We have a choice remember? Just like your friends did," he said gesturing to the letter. "We all have a choice."
"But the bond--"
"Even without the bond, Sirius and I would not leave you to do what you still think is your task alone. We've talked about this before Harry. I know you understand it here," the werewolf said tapping the boy gently on the forehead. "Even if you don't really believe it here just yet," he said brushing his hand against Harry's heart.
"No more keeping secrets," Sirius said lowly, running a hand up and down Harry's unbandaged arm. "We're supposed to be there for you, to help, to protect you. That's the honor I was given when your Dad asked me to be your godfather. You have to promise us Harry Promise that you will never keep the fact that you are in danger from us ever again. You'll drive me crazy if you don't. I-I'll have to sneak in and spy on you. I'll end up going gray like Remus here," he joked weakly, ignoring Lupin's soft exclamation at the teasing. The corner of Harry's mouth began to twitch.
"Please Harry. You don't have to do this all by yourself."
Harry looked back down at his guardians' hands, firmly grasping his own. Weeks of nightmares, of seeing death, darkness, and demons snatch his family away from him before his very eyes, and before that the Mirror, the unlined, unburdened, happy people that had so captured him-- it was too much, too much to risk them, to drag them down with him, but he loved them, they were his family.
And so he would hold them to him as long as he could, selfish as it was. And he would try and pretend to believe them when they told him that it wasn't his job to face the Dark alone. And he would keep the promise he was being asked to make and tell them everything from This Moment On.
("I must be there for Voldemort to fail. And . . . I must be there for him to succeed.")
Sometimes Harry hated being able to See things.
He forced a smile, sad and wan and nodded. "A-all right. I promise."
The relieved hugs he received were enough, he told himself.
He had Padfoot and Moony and they had him.
That would always be enough.
They apparrated to the entrance gates of Hogwarts. Setting Harry down on his feet, Sirius took the boy's small hand in his.
"I think we're just in time for the Feast," Padfoot said, eyeing the lit up Great Hall with a critical eye.
Swinging their joined hands between them they made there way to the entrance where they were met on the steps by the Headmaster and Hagrid.
The giant man burst into tears at the sight of the slight figure, still bandaged, colorfully bruised and scraped. He made as if to crush Harry in his arms but one sharp look from Sirius reminded him of Harry's injuries, and Hagrid settled for patting the boy gently on the head and asking anxiously for his forgiveness.
Harry gave it freely.
Ignoring Dumbledore who shooed the gamekeeper off inside, Sirius leaned over Harry, both hands on his godson's shoulders. "Moony and I will be at the train station tomorrow afternoon and we'll start summer off proper. Don't stay up too late partying," he teased.
"I won't, Padfoot," Harry promised.
"See you tomorrow then," he said pressing a kiss to that wild hair. Straightening, Sirius watched as Harry approached the Headmaster and enter Hogwarts at his side.
Only when the great doors closed did Sirius turn and walk back to the gates.
"Quirrell's dead, but Voldemort's not gone is he?" Harry broke the silence as they walked side by side towards the Great Hall, the ancient powerful sorcerer and the magical child savior of the wizarding world.
"No, Harry he is not." Dumbledore sighed. "You have managed to delay his return to power only. Nicholas Flamel and I agreed that destroying the Stone was best, but there are no doubt other ways, other methods by which he will attempt to return."
"Mars is bright," Harry said softly to himself.
"Indeed." The Headmaster nodded in solemn agreement.
"What is it my boy?"
Harry bit his lip. He had long wanted to ask this, but had felt the time was not right. But surely now . . .
Taking a deep breath he plunged onward. "Voldemort killed a lot of people, and--and he remembered killing my parents . . . but, why?" Harry asked. "Why did he come after them? Why did they need to hide? Why didn't other people have Secret Keepers? Why was it so important that they remain hidden? He said- he said he would have let mum live. He said that they begged. Was it—did he want . . . did they die because of . . . me?"
The Headmaster stopped and peered down at the boy beside him. "I have never lied to you Harry and I will not lie to you now. What you ask--"
Harry steeled himself for the truth from his mentor.
"--is the one thing I cannot answer. I have no answer to give you."
Harry blinked in shock, his stomach twisting into knots. No answer? There must be an answer! There has to be a reason! Professor Dumbledore always answered his questions.
"Despite your immense skill, your experience, there are some things that only growing up can provide, answers you must seek yourself, answers that come with age. Some things are simply . . . unimportant until the time is ripe. I know no child likes to hear this, but when you are older Harry, you will at last be ready to know." The wizard cocked his head to one side. "Is there anything else you wish to ask me?"
("It burns, Master! It burns!")
(His reflection smiled and nodded at him and then put his hand in his pocket and drew out a blood red stone.)
("You are nothing more than an eleven year old nuisance, much like the rest of your classmates-- ignorant, spoilt, and incompetent.")
("Let me . . . let me see him . . .")
("Not Harry! Please not Harry!")
No answers. He had no answers to give him. And it hurt, it hurt more than Harry thought it would. Professor Dumbledore always had answers for him. He realized the Headmaster was awaiting an answer. Harry tried to force a smile. "Maybe later?"
"Of course, dear boy, of course. We shall have all summer," he said warmly. Dumbledore turned and they resumed their journey. "We'd best hurry. There is a House Cup to award. I don't think that they can hand it out without me present. It is in the job description I believe."
Harry blushed, remembering how Gryffindor was no doubt in last place still, but there was still the Quidditch Cup. "Professor? How-how did Gryffindor do in the final?"
"I afraid that your House team did not fair well in your absence." At Harry's downcast expression, he patted the boy on the shoulder with a smile. "There's always next year. And I believe that tonight's pudding is to be exceptionally tasty, so long faces are strictly forbidden."
"What about my exams?" Harry asked suddenly. Remus had been very very upset about this despite Padfoot's reassurances to Harry that the tests he hadn't taken yet didn't matter. Harry made it a point to ask, though he dreaded the thought of having to make up Potions. Alone. In the Dungeon. With Professor Snape. "I missed Transfiguration and Potions, but I can make them up," he said anxiously.
Dumbledore laughed. "There's no need for that. I believe your professors were good enough to simply use your marks going into the final exam as your grade."
That meant that he had probably failed Potions, Harry thought with a sigh.
"I'm sure you'll advance with the rest of your classmates," The Headmaster assured him drolly, as if reading his mind.
They stopped at the doors.
"Are you ready Harry?" Professor Dumbledore asked softly.
Did it matter if he wasn't?
"Yes," Harry said.
They entered together.
"You'll owl this summer?" Hermione asked as she headed towards the portal and her muggle parents on the other side.
Harry nodded. "I will. Your parents won't mind Hedwig?"
"No. They find the wizarding world quite fascinating. Take care!" she called.
"Sounds like my dad only in reverse," Ron said after he'd extricated himself from his mum's frantic hugs and fussing about his fading bruises. "Hey, Harry, you'll have to come over some time."
Harry smiled. "We can play Quidditch. And maybe-maybe you can come visit Moor House?" he suggested hopefully.
"Yeah and get away from the twins for a couple of days. They're right terrors at home." The redhead looked over the shorter boy, catching sight of someone in the crowd. "I think someone's trying to get your attention."
Harry turned and standing on tiptoes could make out Remus fighting his way through the crowd. He turned back to Ron. "I'd better go. Have a good summer Ron."
"Yeah, you too Harry. Don't get into any adventures without me," he said half jokingly, half in earnest.
"I won't," Harry promised solemnly.
"Good," Ron said in relief. "I'll write to you soon. Bye."
Harry waved his good-bye and then turned and started making his way quickly through the crowd of adults.
"Moony!" Harry called happily launching into a hug with the werewolf, wrapping his skinny yet seeker strong arms around his second godfather's waist. He closed his eyes and sighed as familiar arms came around him.
The farewell feast was a wonderful surprise and he would miss his friends, but Harry was ready for rest and summer, unworried, unburdened, free.
Remus pulled back smiling happily. Another set of arms snatched him from behind, pulling him against a warm chest. Harry looked up and saw Sirius staring down at him.
"Hello Harry," Sirius said softly.
"Hi Padfoot," Harry replied. "Guess what?"
"What?" he asked with an amused smile.
"Gryffindor won the House Cup after all," Harry announced with a pleased smile.
"Really?" Remus asked brightly. "Wonderful! Congratulations!"
"As if there was any doubt," Sirius said warmly. "Ready for summer?" the Marauder asked.
Harry nodded eagerly.
"Well then," Sirius said, all business. "We have only a short amount of time," he released Harry and took the boy's hand in his "and a lot of mischief to get into."
"What about homework?" Harry asked. He turned to look at Remus who had fallen into step beside him. "Professor Dumbledore said that my marks going into exams would count as my final grades for the exams I missed," he reassured the werewolf.
Remus smiled and smoothed the boy's hair. "That's good, I was worried that--"
"You are both crazy," Sirius informed them. "Who cares about exams? And homework? Phfft! Homework! Forget about homework. We have much better things to be hexing and charming than practice spells."
"But Padfoot, I'm not allowed to do magic outside of school. I even have a letter," Harry said pulling the slightly bent envelope out of his cloak.
"Letter?" Sirius snatched the object, inspecting it briefly before tossing it into a nearby rubbish bin. "I don't remember any letter. Do you Moony?"
"Me? You're asking me?"
Catching Harry's slightly worried expression, Sirius ruffled his hair reassuringly. "As if you're likely to float one of us to the sky or something on accident," he scoffed. "What the Ministry doesn't know can't hurt them."
"Padfoot," Moony said warningly as they stepped onto the apparration platform.
"What? You think Harry here needs protection from underage misuse of magic? That's as ridiculous as me needing it."
"That's hardly a compelling argument Padfoot."
Harry smiled as he listened to them argue back and forth. It was going to be a wonderful summer.