As Vernon Dursley pulled away from King's Cross Station he looked in the rear view mirror at the black haired boy in the back seat and, sneering, sarcastically asked, "So what did you do at that … school of yours this year, boy?"
Harry Potter, whose mind was still reeling from the loss of his godfather, absentmindedly mumbled a response.
"What's that, boy," Vernon demanded loudly, "I couldn't hear you."
Consumed by grief, Harry snapped, his emotions rising to the surface overriding all of the emotional restraints that had kept him both safe and sane over most of the past fifteen years - ever since Dumbledore had placed him on the front step of Number Four Privet Drive on that chilly November night so long ago - and before he could stop himself blurted out, "I got my godfather killed, alright! You happy now?"
A stunned silence filled the car for several seconds as Vernon, his wife, Petunia, and their son, Dudley, all turned to look at Harry. When the traffic light turned green Mr. Dursley turned the car onto one of the main thoroughfares. Moments later Vernon regained his composure and resumed his caustic attitude towards anything magical. "Oh," he sniffed. "Well, at least that's one less freak we'll have to worry about this year."
"Vernon!" his wife scolded. "He saved Dudley's life. The least we can do is be nice to him for five minutes. What else did you do at school?" Petunia asked in a strangely normal voice.
Harry's emotions were still running high and his mind was now on his meeting with Dumbledore on the morning after the battle in the Department of Mysteries. "I found out that I am the only one who can kill Voldemort. I either have to kill him or die trying."
Silence once more fell over the occupants of the car. No one said anything until they reached the M5 and even then the conversation was strained at best. Dudley talked about his year at Smeltings and his boxing title and Vernon talked about his company and his hopes for another successful year. He talked about drills and bits, financial statements and work orders and contracts and some of the labor problems the construction industry was having. He talked about just about everything. It seemed to Harry, as he sank deeper and deeper into his depression, that his uncle was talking just to hear himself talk. On the few occasions he looked up Harry noticed that his aunt was watching him in the rear view mirror with a look of genuine concern on her face.
"Whose that?" Vernon scowled as they turned onto Privet Drive. A sandy haired man, who looked to be going prematurely grey, was sitting on the stoop in front of number four. He was wearing faded jeans and an oversized, long-sleeved, flannel work shirt.
Harry looked up as they pulled into the drive and, even though he thought he recognized the man as Remus Lupin, pulled his wand out of his pocket and said, "Wait here and be prepared to run. It might be a trap."
Petunia and Dudley paled as Harry got out of the car but his uncle, Vernon, started to get out. In response to a cautioning glance from his wife, however, he closed the door and settled back into his seat. As Harry walked away from the car and approached the person sitting on the stoop he heard his aunt say, "Vernon, please. Give the boy credit for knowing how to deal with his own people."
Harry approached the man and pointed his wand at his head. "Who are you?" he growled.
The man looked up. The wand that was trained on him was shaking slightly. He looked up into Harry's eyes, reading a mixture of anger, hatred, rage, fear, frustration, loss, confusion and the simple desire to be comforted and held in the bright green eyes of the young man before him. He smiled to himself, thankful for once in his life that the wolf's senses could pick up on so many conflicting emotions at a glance. "It's me, Harry, Remus Lupin," he said carefully, as if he had expected this challenge.
"Who's Prongs?" Harry demanded.
"Prongs was your father." The man said with a hint of sadness in his gentle voice.
"How did he get that name?"
"He got it by becoming an illegal animagus so that he could accompany me on full moons. His form was that of a stag." Harry thought for a moment. Wormtail would know these things. He needed some way of verifying this man's identity. Then it hit him. It wouldn't be nice if this truly was Remus and he hoped he would understand but it was necessary. "Who is Wormtail?" Harry asked, almost spitting the words out in disgust.
The man's face darkened and his eyes flashed angrily as he grimaced at some internal demon. "Wormtail," the man spat, "is a no good traitorous rat that goes by the name of Peter Pettigrew."
Harry lowered his wand, putting it back in his pocket. Then, extending a hand to his former professor, asked, "What are you doing here, Professor Lupin?"
Remus took Harry's hand and pulled himself up. "We need to talk. I've lost the last of my best friends and you've lost the only real father figure you've ever known. I hate to say this, Harry, but the only way we are going to get through this thing is if we work together. I've been down this road before and I know how hard it can be …"
"Did Dumbledore send you?" Harry asked darkly.
"No." the werewolf said just as darkly, "Albus doesn't even know I'm here and quite frankly I don't care. I am not his puppet and the sooner he gets that through his head the better. I am here because I want to be, because I know how hard it can be and because I care about you as a human being, not because I have to be." The werewolf's voice very nearly crackled with a sense of outrage and disgust at Harry's treatment at the hands of others but, amazingly, he was able to control his temper.
Sensing this, Harry let his shoulders sag and his head fall forward as he let the pent up tension and energy flow from his body. "I know you're right," he said sullenly. "I just … I just don't know if I'm ready yet."
"I understand," the werewolf said. "Like I said, I've been down this road before. I think I lost almost twenty-five kilograms after your parents died because I just didn't care any more. I thought I had lost the four best friends a werewolf could ever have. It took me almost a full year to come out of it. And do you know what finally brought me around?"
"What?" Harry asked.
Remus looked into Harry's eyes as a gentle smile appeared on his face. "You," he said. "I knew I had to keep living for you. I honestly didn't think we would ever meet because werewolves are, after all, considered to be dark creatures and I didn't think they would let me anywhere near you but I had to try. I had to keep living for you and for Lily and James. I guess it was a matter of … honor that kept me going. I wanted to honor the relationship I had with your parents by somehow doing everything in my power to help you grow up both straight and strong.
"You may look a lot like James, Harry, but you have Lily's eyes and I have a very feeling that you have more of your mother in you than you do your father."
Harry put his wand in his improvised leg holster then put his hands in his pockets and looked down at his worn trainers. "Thanks," he said softly. "At least you are able to look beyond my physical appearance and see that I am not my father."
Remus grinned sadly then asked, "Why'd you ask about Wormtail?"
"To be honest with you, professor, of all the people I know you are one of the few who could have answered the first two questions correctly. And since I don't know how many people Wormtail has told I had to find some way of determining your authenticity and asking about Wormtail seemed to be the best way: to judge your reaction to the mentioning of the name of someone we both know is a traitor. I'm sorry but that was the only thing I could think of at the time."
Remus nodded his head in understanding. "Good thinking, Harry," Remus said. "It was just the kind of question you should have asked. Moody would be proud. And my name is Remus. I haven't been your professor for a little more than two years now and I don't want that title to stand between us."
Harry looked up into his former professor's amber eyes and smiled weakly. "Okay," he whispered hoarsely.
Remus pulled Harry into a tight hug and said, "It'll be fine, cub. I know that the pain will always be there and that it will never really go away; but with a little luck we will get through this thing together." He then glanced over at the Dursleys who were still sitting in their car, waiting for Harry to give them the all clear. "Do you think we should tell them that it's safe to get out of the car?"
Harry looked up. "Huh?" Then, following Remus' eyes, remembered the Dursleys. "Yeah. But let me do the introductions," he said as a mischievous grin began to spread across his face.
Remus chuckled. "Alright, Harry. Try to be nice to them, though."
"Oh, I will," Harry said innocently as they walked over to the car. "I wish I haf a camera, though, because this is going to be something I am going to want to remember."
When they reached the car Harry's Uncle Vernon rolled his widow down. "Well?" the beefy man asked.
"Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, Dudley," Harry began, "I'd like you to meet Pro … Remus Lupin. He was one of my professors a couple of years ago. He was also best friends with my dad and godfather." Harry hesitated a moment before adding, "Oh, and by the way, he is also a werewolf."
The looks of pure terror on the faces of Vernon, Petunia and Dudley were a sight to behold and Harry had to fight to keep from laughing. When he felt he had composed himself enough he turned back to finish the introductions. "Remus, I'd like you to meet my uncle, Vernon, my aunt, Petunia, and my cousin, Dudley."
"Pleased to meet you," Remus said with a straight face, extending his arm through the window to shake Vernon's hand.
"P-p-p-pleased to meet you too," Vernon said as his face rapidly draining of color.
"If you would be so kind as to open the boot I will help Harry with his things and we can all go inside. Harry and I have lost a good friend in his godfather and I will be coming over almost every day this summer so that we can talk and work our way through it."
"Wh-wh-wh-why not every day?" Vernon asked nervously as he released the boot catch.
Smiling over at Harry Remus said, "Oh, I suppose I could if you insist; but full moons can be a bit tricky sometimes."
Harry had to run to the back of the car and stuff his fists into mouth to keep from laughing. As it was, tears were streaming down his face. "N-n-n-no. That's quite alright," Vernon stammered. "Y-y-you can have those days off."
"Why thank you," Remus said and strolled nonchalantly to the back of the car to help Harry with his trunk. When he reached the boot he smiled at Harry and murmured, "Let the fun begin." Harry looked up at Remus, tears of laughter streaming down his cheeks and his face almost as red as Ron's hair.
When Harry and Remus were safely in Harry's room and the Dursleys were cowering in the living room Harry burst out laughing. "Remus, you are too much!" he laughed. "How were you able to pull that off without busting a gut?"
"They didn't call me the most dangerous marauder for nothing, Harry. James and Sirius never could keep a straight face. I, however, never had a problem with it."
"I can tell," Harry laughed. "You're good."
Remus shrugged his shoulders. "Ah, but you set it up. Now, shall we get this thing unloaded," Remus asked indicating the trunk.
Harry looked down at his trunk then back up at Remus. "Yeah, I guess. So what are the plans for this summer?" Kneeling down in front of Harry's trunk and undoing the latches Remus sighed and hung his head. "I know you don't want to hear this, Harry, but under the circumstances I think you will understand why it is necessary. There will always be at least two members of the Order guarding you at all times. In fact, right now I believe Kingsley and Sturgis are on duty. As of this morning, however, I have officially taken myself out of the rotation. I'm getting kind of tired of playing by the rules. I know how much it hurts to lose someone and when you are grieving the rules of 'acceptable behavior' no longer apply. I am going to be here for you whether they like it or not, Harry. So they are going to have to schedule around that. There will be no more of this clandestine operation stuff. I don't care what Dumbledore says. I respect him as a man and a very wise and powerful wizard but you have a right to know what is going on and we both need time to grieve." Remus' voice was tense, laced with frustration and rage, and Harry could hear the anger and rebellion it held.
"Thank you," Harry said softly, gently resting his hand on Remus' shoulder. "Is there anything else I should know about?"
Remus hung his head and sighed. "Yes, there is. Albus wants you to stay here as long as possible this year. I don't know if that means you will be staying until September first or not but I don't think you are going to be getting out of here any time soon. Also, Albus will be teaching you Occlumency and, if he feels you are ready for it, the Legilimens curse this summer. You will be going down to Arabella's house three times a week for that and you will be escorted both to and from those lesson not only by myself but also by at least one other member of the Order as well."
Harry thought about this for a moment then, changing the subject, asked, "What about headquarters?"
A satisfied smile spread across Remus' face as he turned and looked up from his position on the floor. "In his will, Sirius left the house to you." When Harry blanched Remus stood up and pulled Harry into a hug. "I know it hurts, cub," he whispered. "You don't have to do anything about it yet. The official reading isn't for another three weeks, a full week before the next full moon, so we have time to get there." Harry nodded. "Besides," Remus added, "I do have some news on that front that I thing you might actually want to hear."
Harry looked up curiously. "What do you mean?"
Remus smiled grimly and sat down on Harry's bed as Harry walked over to sit at his desk. "Well," Remus said as a genuine smile spread across his face, "it would seem that for a house elf to betray any master to their death is a crime punishable by death. Kreacher knew this and rather than go before the tribunal and bring public shame upon his family he hung himself."
Harry smiled darkly and snarled, "Good. That's no more than he deserves."
Remus nodded his head in agreement. "I couldn't agree more," he said. "But there's more. When we couldn't get the old bat off the wall - and we tried everything - we decided to take the wall down." Harry looked up in surprise but Remus laughed and held his hands up to forestall any rush to judgment. "No," he laughed. "Don't worry. The house is still standing. We just took down the inside paneling. We got rid of all of the portraits, all of the heads and the tapestry. We saved the portrait of Phineas because Albus wants him relocated - he is currently in the loo - but all of the others went. It took some doing but we finally got everything burned. Needless to say, the old bat was the first to go." Remus hesitated briefly then said, "That's when Kreacher injured Buckbeak."
"Stupid elf," Harry muttered.
Remus sighed and looked down at the floor. "I know, Harry. I know. He was sick and delusional but unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that now."
Harry nodded. "I know but I just wish …"
Remus walked over and squatted down in front of Harry. "Wishing won't change it, Harry. I know. I've tried. All we can do is to deal with it the best we can and try to remember the good times.
"An ancient philosopher once said that the lives we lead are little more that collections of interactive parables and that while the lessons are different for each of us, depending upon our needs at the time, they have been arranged in such a way as to prepare us for what lies ahead. He also said that while the learning the lessons of life is never easy it is our choices that, more than anything else, determine who we are, what we will become, what we will take away from each of our lessons and, ultimately, our lives. I don't know if he was right or not but it makes sense. I know that I don't have the right to tell you what to say or do or think, Harry, but if you will let me I would like to offer you the benefit of my experience. It may not be much but I am hoping that it will be enough to at least help you get through this summer."
Harry looked over at Remus - the last of the true Marauders - and saw the hope in his eyes. After thinking it over for a bit he said, "I'll tell you what, Remus, … um, I know I'm not an adult yet; but if you will be honest with me, answer my questions, not try to hide anything from me no matter how much you think it might hurt and, above all, not treat me like some kind of child who needs protecting all the time I'm willing to give it a go."
Remus looked up and softly smiled. "I won't guarantee anything, Harry," he said, "because, as you said, you are not an adult yet; but I will do my best."
Harry was silent for a few more seconds as he contemplated the werewolf's response. Then, looking into the amber eyes of his former professor said, "I guess that's all I really have the right to expect so where do we begin?"
Several hours later, after a tense standoff at dinner during which Harry and Remus chatted about happenings in the wizarding world and various Defense Against the Dark Arts spells and the Dursleys glared at their unwelcome guests, Harry and Remus returned to Harry's room and closed the door. "Do you think they will ever get used to it?" Harry asked.
"What?" Remus asked, glancing up. "Oh, you mean the Dursleys? Yes, I think they will. Petunia knows more than she is letting on and Dudley, quite frankly, is scared out of his mind after what happened last summer. The hard one might be your uncle. He's kind of set in his ways and is dead set against anything 'unnatural.'"
"Boy, you got that right," Harry interjected.
"However," Remus continued, "one can only hope that with constant exposure to us he will come to realize that we are just ordinary people with ordinary wants and ordinary needs. Hopefully, in time, he will come to understand that the only thing that really sets us apart is that witches and wizards are able to tap into and use energies that most muggles don't even realize exist."
Harry nodded and sat down on the edge of his bed. Staring out the window he fell silent for several minutes then broached the subject they had been avoiding all afternoon. "Why did it happen, Remus? I know it was my fault but why did he have to die?"
Remus pulled the desk chair over and sat down in front of Harry. "I want you to look at me, Harry," he said. Harry looked up into Remus' eyes and saw a kind of patience and understanding born of years of torment and torture that he knew would not lead him astray. "Do you remember when you first met Sirius in the Shrieking Shack two years ago? He was still blaming himself for James and Lily's deaths and it was tearing him apart.
"He did what he though was right and asked Peter to become their secret keeper to throw Voldemort off the trail. None of us knew that Peter was a spy. If we had known things might have turned out differently. But we didn't and they didn't. Voldemort took advantage of one of our weaknesses - Peter. That's what he did with you last year. He took advantage of one of your weaknesses and of your love for Sirius. He turned those things against you in an attempt to get something he wanted. I think he was also counting on Snape's hatred of your father to make his job easier, which it did and for which Snape is going to pay.
"There was nothing you could do, Harry. Oh, I'm not saying that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently but the fact remains that Voldemort is very manipulative and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. You are still young, Harry, and you do not yet have access to all of the resources you will need to fight him. This makes you an easy target. If you let him he will destroy you - through guilt if nothing else." Remus paused then looked hesitantly into Harry's eyes. "I hate to say this, Harry, but you are going to have to grow up awfully fast. I'm not saying that there is anything childish about you now because you have already seen more than most full-grown wizards will ever have to face. Albus told us about the prophecy. Not the whole thing of course but enough to let us know that you are the one who has got to face Voldemort. What I'm trying to say, Harry, is that you are going to have to grow up in ways that take most witches and wizards a lifetime to even begin to recognize, realize and comprehend. It won't be easy, Harry, but I promise you that I will always be here for you."
Harry looked down at his hands then stared out the window again for several minutes as he thought these words over. After a while he got up and let Hedwig out of her cage and opened the window so she could go hunting. Then, turning back to Remus, he said, "How do we beat him?"
Remus looked thoughtfully out at the stars for a time then said, "I don't know, Harry. I really don't know. But I do know that the first step is to stop being a victim. And the first step in taking charge of any situation is to stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong in the world. People have free will, Harry, and they are responsible for their own actions. No matter how much you might want to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in the world you can't because it isn't your fault. For many years You have been manipulated into thinking certain things by Dumbledore, Voldemort and Snape. If you want to turn this thing around and get your life back you are going to have got to go on the offensive. We have got to learn his weaknesses and figure out how to take advantage of them." Remus paused. "We are going to do everything we can to prepare you for what lies ahead but you are going to have to work too."
Staring out the window at Mr. Tibbels, one of Mrs. Figg's cats, who was perched on a garden wall across the street watching him Harry nodded then said, "What are his weaknesses?"
"I don't know," Remus said sadly.
A few minutes later, after searching his mind for some sign of weakness in Voldemort's armor and only coming up with his disdain for his muggle name and the fact that he was a half-blood, Harry said, "Where do his loyalties lie? What does he place his faith in?"
"So far as we know he is loyal only unto himself and so far as we have been able to determine he places all of his faith in magic and the magical world."
"Do you know if he has ever studied muggles at all?"
"He's a half-blood, Harry. He grew up in a muggle orphanage. But so far as we know he doesn't want anything to do with muggles. In fact, if anything he seems to want to destroy them."
"Then maybe we can find something in the muggle world that can stop him. But what could they have that would be powerful enough?"
Remus shook his head. "I don't know. I'll have to think about that one. But it's getting late so you had better get some sleep. I think you are supposed to start your Occlumency lessons tomorrow."
"Yeah, okay," Harry said, his numbed emotions a mixture of pain, anger, hatred, determination and guilt. "I'll see you out."
As Harry opened the door to his room and stepped out onto the landing he heard his uncle in the living room, complaining about the weather. But Harry knew that he was really complaining about wizards being in his house and didn't want to provoke him so they crept quietly down the stairs and made their way to the front door. Once there, Remus said, "What's our password going to be?"
"Our what?" Harry asked.
"Our password, so you will know it's me."
Harry thought for a moment. Then, as a determined glint came into his eye, he said, "Padfoot rides again."
Remus nodded as a small smile appeared on his face. "Alright. I'll see you tomorrow then." Then calling over Harry's shoulder he called out, "it was nice to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Dursley. I'll be back tomorrow to help Harry with his homework."
Harry groaned. "Did you have to say that?"
Remus chuckled. "Got to keep up appearances you know." With a smile on his face Remus then turned and walked out the door and into the night.
Harry closed the door and walked back towards the bottom of the stairs. As he passed the entrance to the living room he called out, "Good night."
His Uncle Vernon grunted.
As Harry took the steps, two-at-a-time, to the second floor landing he could not help but smile at Remus' daring. Not only was a defying Dumbledore's orders but he was making the members of the Order of the Phoenix work around his schedule and the time he wanted to spend with him, Harry. This summer might not be so bad after all, he thought as he opened the door to his room. At least he would have a friend, someone who had known both his parents and Sirius, to keep him company. As he got ready for bed he began to wonder what, if anything, could be taken from the muggle world and transferred into the magical world that would be powerful enough to destroy Voldemort.