DISCLAIMER: I own nothing except some old clothes and the computer I'm typing this on, (which is a different one than I used for the first three chapters). Other people own everything else. J.K. Rowlings and others own all things Harry Potter. I'm merely borrowing them for the fun of it.
Author's Note: I no longer own either the old car or the broken porch swing. My dog is no longer with me. I honestly did not mean for this fic to go SO long without an update! I think it's been about four years now. I have been continuing to write, but have had no way to post. I was very sick, even when I began writing this fic. Shortly after my last update, I was put into the hospital for three bone surgeries in less than two weeks time. After that, I was placed into a nursing home, bedridden for six months. Talk about a culture shock! It's a whole 'nother world out there that I wasn't prepared for at all. (And, no, Shelley, if you're still reading, not all people in nursing homes are elderly folks. My old nursing home even had two people in it who were younger than I was.) Writing this fic is one of the things that helped me keep my sanity, I think. OK, it may sound strange, but it's true.
This is my first "Chapter" fic. PLEASE take a moment to review and honestly tell me what you think of it! Thank you and God bless. Randi.
Harry Potter and the Child Legilimens
SUMMARY: Harry Potter's family was warned by the Order that they should give him better care this summer. That clearly meant more free time and nutritious food. But, when Uncle Vernon throws a seven-year-old daughter into the equation, it's a roller-coaster ride wilder than any Gringotts' cart could provide. Rated PG for some mention of child abuse.
Last Time: "You have been locked in your room more recently than that summer as well, am I right?" asked Snape. "The Order members who came for you last year said they'd found your door locked."
"Yes, sir," Harry agreed.
Arising from his chair, Severus crossed the room to the door and aimed his wand at each lock in turn. When he returned to the seat, he was holding a gold key. "This will unlock all the locks but only from your side of the door. Be careful with it, Potter. Don't lose it, and don't let it be seen. You need a way to escape this room, should such become necessary. Now let's talk about your next most noticeable need, food."
After seeing the hiding place under the floorboards, Snape recast the freshening charm on the remaining food. With a wave of his wand, he conjured canned goods and an opener as well as silverware and bottles of water. "This will prevent you both from starving at any rate. Now for bedding."
After both beds had been made up with linens, fluffy pillows and comforters, with extra bedding stored under the head of Miranda's cot, Severus turned his attention to the furniture. Several 'reparo's later, the familiar furnishings no longer appeared about to collapse in a strong wind. Lastly, the Potions Master turned his attention on Hedwig's cage, whispering several charms over it. "She will now have adequate food and water, Potter, and be able to break any locks put on her cage should the need arise. Remember to write the Order every three days or we will send someone into the house to check on you. Expect Miranda's potions to be restocked the day after tomorrow. Goodbye." With that, he was out the door in a billow of black robes, leaving one stunned Gryffindor and one sleeping child Legilimens behind him.
When Miranda awakened several hours later, the two went back downstairs. Harry was disappointed but not entirely surprised to find that the wizards were gone. It was very surprising, however, to have Aunt Petunia say, "Get yourselves a glass of milk and an apple each. Then we have to go shopping."
"Oh, goody!" cried Miranda. "I love shopping!" The girl gasped then and threw a hand over her mouth, as if she couldn't believe what she had just dared to say.
Petunia, uncharacteristically, ignored the comment. She only said, "Hurry it up. We haven't got all day." Harry quickly got the food. Indeed, Miranda had no sooner thrown her apple core into the bin when the woman hurried them out the door to the waiting automobile. "They've eaten and we're leaving now," she announced to thin air. "Will you be coming with us, or do you just want to follow our auto?"
Severus Snape appeared in front of Harry, wearing a pair of Muggle trousers and a khaki cotton shirt. His hair was pulled back and tied with a leather owl thong. The expression he turned on Petunia as he folded the Invisibility Cloak, however, was entirely too familiar to Harry. "Would it not attract a lot of attention in the neighborhood to have me running behind your vehicle? It might even attract unwanted attention from the Muggle police once we reached the motor way." Without waiting for permission, he opened the front passenger door and climbed in.
Petunia wordlessly opened the back door before walking around the vehicle to take her seat behind the wheel. Motioning Miranda in, Harry followed her into the auto, closing the door behind himself.
Once they had left the neighborhood, Petunia ventured to speak in a shaky voice. "Is that disease the girl has the same one Lilly wanted Harry and that other boy tested for when they were born, Severus?"
"Legilimens' Lament is not a disease," sneered the Potions master. "It is what you Muggles would call a birth defect. No one can 'catch' the disorder from Miranda, as they might catch dragon pox, you know."
Harry made no comment, but he silently decided to ask someone at his earliest opportunity why his mother would want him tested for a disease at birth. He had just about decided that Hagrid would be the most likely person to give him an honest answer, when Snape continued, "Yes, Lilly and James had requested that Harry be tested at birth, because Lilly was becoming an accomplished Legilimens when she became pregnant. She had not, however, progressed to the point where it was a danger to her fetus. In Potter's case, it was strictly precautionary. The other boy's parents were both Auror-Legilimens, which is the highest level of Legilimency training available. It turned out to be a waste of my time to test either of them. Potter had very little risk of being born with the disorder, and Neville Longbottom's only accomplishment, at birth or since, has been his flawless ineptitude."
'Neville?' thought Harry. 'I know we were born around the same time, but-'
Petunia was speaking again, however, and Harry listened intently, not wanting to miss a word. "Auror-Legilimens? If Lily was a Legilimens and James an auror, wouldn't that mean-?" She broke off, hesitantly, as if she suddenly regretted having spoken at all.
"Wouldn't that have made Harry as much at risk as the Longbottom boy?" sneered Snape. When the woman did not respond, he continued in his snarkiest tone, "In his case, both parents were aurors and extremely accomplished Legilimens. He definitely possessed the genetic chance of developing the condition. Lily was not even close to approaching Auror-Legilimens status and Potter was not a Legilimens of any stripe. There was much more likelihood to have Neville Longbottom developing with the condition than Harry. I agreed to come and test him more out of friendship than for any chance that Harry would have need of my potions."
'Umm,' thought Harry, 'Neville could have been sick like Miranda is. He certainly has some of the same characteristics that Miranda has. I wonder if that test was accurate. Might Neville have Legilimens' Lament after all? Could that be why he acted like a Squib for so long? Could the disorder not have killed him, but affected his powers somehow? He certainly is a genius at Herbology. That doesn't really require a lot of magical ability. Of course, neither does Potions, but Snape has been so terrible to him that that could definitely prevent Neville from excelling in Potions as he does in Herbology.'
"What is dragon pox, please?" asked Miranda suddenly.
"A disease that people usually get when they are children," Severus said when no one else had spoken for a long moment. "Almost everyone only gets it once in their lifetime. It is caught by being exposed to someone else while they have the disease. Parents are usually glad, in a way, for that reason, when their children get it as youngsters, because when adults get it, they can become very sick indeed."
"Have you ever had it, Harry?" Miranda inquired then.
"No, I don't think so, Mite, I-"
"Both you and Dudley got chicken pox when you were four," Petunia interrupted. "You were over it quickly enough, but Dudders had run a high fever, and had to be put to bed for almost two weeks."
Thinking back, Harry thought he remembered something like that. "It made me itch all over," he said at last. "I remember Dudley had to wear like mittens or something."
"That was to keep him from hurting himself when he scratched," said Aunt Petunia. "How you avoided lasting scars, I'll never know. Determined to scratch and pick at yourself as you were."
"Some people might have said he needed special mittens as well, uumm?" Snape asked with caustic interest.
Petunia set her jaw and did not answer.
They continued in this awkward silence until they had reached the shopping district. Then Aunt Petunia pulled up in front of a children's shoe store. Taking a fifty-pound note from her purse, she passed it over the back of the seat to Harry. "Buy the both of you a pair of shoes. I have someplace else to go. I'll return in one hour. Try to be ready."
Harry gaped at her. "You-- you want us to buy shoes? New shoes? For ourselves?"
Petunia's face took on its customary expression when confronted with a question from Harry. "Out! Now!"
Miranda nearly broke her hand trying to force the unfamiliar door handle down. Indeed, by the time she, Harry, and Severus were standing on the pavement, she had passed the point of tears and was approaching hysterics.
"Stop this nonsense immediately!" Snape commanded in his silkiest of dangerously low tones. Nevertheless, he took the offended hand in his and gently examined each finger in turn. "It is only a minor sprain," he added in a calmer tone. Massaging it with his other hand, he whispered a charm.
Miranda's sobs died away to hiccups.
"You need to act more like your age," the man continued. "That small injury couldn't possibly have hurt enough to merit that degree of performance."
"I hadn't even noticed that my hand was hurt, Professor Snape, but thank you for fixing it anyway. It does feel better now."
"Yes, sir, thank you very--" Harry began. Severus didn't appear to even register his presence however.
"If you were not crying with pain, then what--" His voice trailed away as his eyes widened in understanding.
Harry would have given a lot for some of that understanding. HE was thoroughly confused. When Miranda had been unable to open the door and had hurt her hand, he'd found that an understandable reason for a little kid to cry, though Snape might have had a point about the volume and intensity of the tears. But the girl had just stated that she hadn't even noticed the pain in her hand. Dudley used to fake noisy tears to get his own way with his mother, but Miranda hadn't asked for anything, nor had a promise been broken to her.
"You mean you were scared because you couldn't get the door open, Mite?" he asked, though rather doubtfully.
"No, Harry," sniffled the girl. "Well, maybe a little bit, but you know how she feels? Well, it was worse than that!"
When Harry only remained silent, clearly waiting for something more to be said, Severus finally spoke up. "Many people have those strong emotions. Often things will seem that bad or even worse, Miranda. If you continue to react that violently to each situation, however, you will end up being the one hurt. Not the least of it is that Petunia and Vernon Dursley will not tolerate it. Nor should Harry. You did not train for your ability as Professor Dumbledore and I have done, but you need to learn to deal with the side effects the same as we have. Through some quirk or other, you have more ability to be affected by them than adults, and therefore have a greater need of learning to combat them."
"How would she combat them, Professor?" Harry asked.
"The best way is with Occlumency, Potter," Severus glanced around to make sure no one was near enough to overhear them before answering. "This is neither the appropriate time nor place to discuss it, however. Only enough need be said to get through this trip in one piece with all our sanity intact. Speaking of the trip, we are here for a reason. Let's get on with it." Turning, he led the girl into the establishment.
'Right,' Harry thought grimly, following Miranda through the door. 'It's no concern of his what would best help my daughter. He's only here because nobody else could stay, I'll wager, just like Dumbledore said that first night. Greasy-haired git!' Glancing around the small shop, he noticed Snape watching him in the security mirror; by the man's expression Harry could tell he had Legilimened the thought. He glared back at the reflection of the elder wizard, unrepentant.
"These are the shoes Auntie Nell let me wear on the plane, Harry-Daddy!" Miranda called excitedly from a display in the middle of the floor.
"Let's see then, Mite!" Harry put a bright tone into his voice, but his mood never got the chance to brighten with it. One look at the price tag told him it was no good. "I'm really sorry, Mite. These cost more money than I can spend."
"That's OK, Harry." But the girl's eyes hurt Harry's chest somehow.
"They would be appropriate as a birthday gift or Christmas present," Severus added grimly, "but they are far too dear for a necessary purchasing trip. No, they certainly are not the thing we are after today."
"When is your birthday, Mite?" Harry asked then.
"December twentieth, Harry. Daddy always told me that I was his Christmas package not tied with a bow." Her chin quivered. "Do you think I can still be his Christmas package even though he's an angel now, and I'm not one yet?"
"I think so, Mite," said Harry gently.
"And I'm sure of it!" came a jolly voice from behind the pair. Turning, Harry found a beaming salesman standing there. "Fathers never forget things like that, little girl," the man continued. "Such love is forever."
"Forever and ever and even another forever?" asked Miranda then.
"As many forevers as you want to say, little girl. That kind of love never goes away."
Miranda beamed back at him, all traces of sorrow forgotten. "Thank you, sir!"
"You're very welcome and my name is Fred, by the way. How may I help you today?"
"How do you do, Mr. Fred? My name is Miranda, and Harry and I both need new shoes please, but I don't think we have a lot of money."
"It's very nice to meet you, Miranda. Let me see. I'm sure we can find something that will suit."
"Sure of a great many things, are you?" Severus' tone was scathing. "The part about not a lot of money is all too accurate."
Fred only smiled more broadly still. "My paycheck is not dependant on stealing from children, sir. What sizes do the young people wear?"
"Uh, I don't think we know for sure," Harry stated when Snape only glared.
"Not a problem, Mr. Potter," replied Fred. "That's what measurements are for."
'How does he know my name?' Harry wondered.
Snape grabbed his arm in a painful grip as the salesman moved off. "Cover up that blasted scar now!" he hissed, pushing Harry after the man before following along behind with Miranda.
Reaching up to feel of his forehead, Harry suddenly understood what had probably happened. His head had been sweaty from the summer heat and when he had wiped his brow, his wet bangs had clumped together, leaving the scar exposed. Smoothing out the offending hair, he thought, 'But that still doesn't explain how he knew my name.'
"He's a Squib," came Miranda's voice from behind him. "His family has been talking of you for fourteen years."
"We certainly have been doing that, Miranda," grinned Fred, apparently only hearing the last part of the girl's statement. "How did I give away which world I come from? Was it truly only knowing your cousin's name?"
"What else could it have been?" Snape asked sneeringly, holding Miranda's shoulder firmly as he glared at her. "None of us have been to this establishment before."
The girl closed her mouth silently.
"Oh, well," laughed the salesman then, rivalling even Dedalus Diggle at his most bubbly. "I've never had a famous customer before-- let alone one like Harry Potter. I can't wait to get off, so I can write my mum of it."
Severus just glared at the man with that look he usually reserved for Gryffindors at their most unruly.
"Uh, which shall I measure first?"
"Miranda, please," said Harry quickly. And so it was accomplished.
At length, a pair of oxfords and pink kitty slippers were found for Miranda and new trainers and a pair of bed shoes for Harry. Miranda, he guessed, didn't care much for the oxfords but the kitten heads on the slippers made up for it. The bill came to forty-two pounds even.
On the sidewalk waiting for Aunt Petunia, Severus lectured Miranda about the importance of supportive shoes in her condition. "I want to hear that you are wearing those oxfords at least eight hours daily, unless you are in bed sick." he stated firmly. "For a few hours a day, you may wear your sandals. Your slippers are to be worn only within the house. The soles are not appropriate for outside wear."
"Yes, sir, Professor Snape," she agreed, albeit with a pout.
When Petunia arrived, she did not even pull up to the curb. Rolling down the window, she snapped, "Let's go! We haven't got all day." So Harry, Miranda and Snape all crowded into the backseat. It was a huge relief to Harry, crammed against the door handle, that they only drove three blocks before Petunia pulled over and parked outside the clothing store where she bought all Dudley's clothes. "Get out and come to the window, Boy!"
When Harry had obeyed, she handed out a 100-pound note. "Go inside & buy yourself some clothes that fit. The girl has enough clothing now. She can stay with me."
"I don't think so," sneered Severus, opening his own door and exiting the vehicle, pulling Miranda out after him. "The children are both under guard, whether you join us or not. And Molly Weasley reckons that Miranda needs at least four new pairs of knickers. At her size, Ginny Weasley did not have a great need of Muggle undergarments."
"Oh, right then," Harry said when Petunia did not respond. "What size knickers do you use, Mite?"
"What are knickers, Harry?"
"Umm, er, well--"
Aunt Petunia shoved open her door with an exasperated sigh. Harry only just succeeded in jumping out of the way in time to keep from being bowled over. Severus was not so fortunate and caught the offending door in the knee.
"Oh, for mercy's sake!" exclaimed the woman, climbing from the auto. "I'll buy the knickers too or we'll be here all afternoon with no supper to show for it. But if your uncle asks, Boy, I only bought her the shoes. Come on!" Grabbing Miranda's arm from Snape, she dragged the girl, whimpering, into the store.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Dursley," greeted the proprieter with a most welcoming smile. "Where is your strapping boy today? We have a new line, just in, they are. I'm sure he'll love them. All our teenage boys are lining up to buy them."
"Dudley isn't with me today, Mr. Friske," Aunt Petunia said, affecting a light tone. "We merely stopped in to see if you were carrying them yet. He'll be back with me soon to look at them. Good day!"
"Let's go!" she snapped, pushing Harry backwards into Severus, shoving Miranda into him and slamming the door of the store vehind her. "This was a huge mistake. Get back in the car. We're leaving."
Snape appeared to be muttering curses to himself as he trailed behind the trio. It became apparent that he had not been doing quite that when Remus Lupin, wearing worn denim jeans and a crisp new shirt with pictures of howling wolves painted on it, sauntered up to the group as they were about to enter the auto. "Mind if I join you, Harry?"
"Even if he does, you're still coming, of course!" snapped the potions master, by way of greeting.
"I was endeavoring to be mannerly, Severus," Remus winked at Harry. "It can make the day seem brighter for everyone."
Miranda giggled, recalling herself to Harry's mind in the instant.
"No, sir, I don't mind at all," he beamed at the man as he spoke. "I'd like you to meet my daughter, Miranda Bentley. This is Professor Lupin, Miranda."
"How do you do, sir. It's very nice to meet you."
"I'm well. It's very nice to meet you too, Miranda." Lupin shook hands with the girl as he spoke.
"And this is my-- er, our aunt, Petunia Dursley," Harry continued. "Aunt Petunia, this is Remus Lupin."
"We've met before." Petunia's voice was frigid. She was staring in horror at Remus' shirt, as if she believed it would come to life and attack her at any moment.
"Remus?" queried Miranda when Lupin made no reply to Petunia's comment. "I like your name, Professor Lupin."
"Thank you very much, Miranda," said Lupin with a light bow. "I like your name as well."
"If you're coming with us, you can sit behind Severus," Petunia climbed into the auto and inserted the key into the ignition as she spoke. "In less than one minute, I'm pulling out of this parking space. Anyone not in their seats before that happens gets left behind."
Piling into the vehicle with Miranda, Harry settled her on his knees to give Lupin room to climb in the cramped rear section. Only when both men were settled with seat belts snapped did he reach out to close his door. The glare he received from his aunt, via the rear-view mirror, bothered him not at all. He was glad Lupin had joined them and most unwilling for him to be left behind.
"Thank you, sir." Miranda continued the interrupted conversation as the auto exited the parking lot. "My mommy and daddy gave that name to me before they became angels. Pro-- professor Dumbledore says no one can make them stop being angels and come back to me." Her voice sounded wistful.
"I'm afraid that Professor Dumbledore is right, Miranda."
The girl sighed and her chin began to quiver. "Mr. Fred, though, said I would always be daddy's Christmas package not tied with a bow, forever and forever and forever I would be." She gazed at the man hopefully.
"Of course you will be!" Remus smiled gently as he spoke. "My dad died too and even though I'm all grown up, I'm still his 'Mussy', as he used to call me when I was little."
"What did your daddy call you, please, Harry?" asked Miranda then.
"Er, I don't really know, Mite. My mummy and daddy died when I was only one year old. I-- I don't remember much of them at all."
"'Sonny Boy' is what James called you most often," Lupin volunteered , "unless he wanted to annoy your mother, that is. Then he called you 'Pickles'."
Miranda giggled again.
"'Pickles'!" exclaimed Harry in surprise.
"Because you have your mother's green eyes," Remus explained. "The one thing she got detention for when she was at school was duelling with another student who called her 'Pickle Eyes.'"
Harry thought of Ginny and her first-year poem: 'His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad...' "Was the student a boy?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact, he was."
"I bet he had a crush on her. Was it my dad?"
"No," Remus said thoughtfully. "Your mum and dad got together in seventh-year, remember?"
"Oh, yeah. I hope if that other boy did have a crush on her, he got over it before then so that didn't make him sad."
Snape, seated in the front seat, made a strangled sound in his throat.
"I'm not so sure there was a crush to get over," Remus said lightly. "It could have been nothing more than a case of house rivalry."
They had pulled up in front of a moderate-sized department store. In the bustle of all five climbing out and Aunt Petunia fussing in her usual manner about locking the doors and closing them tight (but not too hard) the conversation was dropped.
Inside the store, the five split into two groups. Remus took Harry to the boys' department while Snape accompanied Petunia and Miranda to girlswear. "How are you managing, Harry? Everything as good as is possible with a congenitally-ill seven-year-old daughter suddenly dropped into your lap?" Lupin held a pair of denims before Harry to check the size as he spoke.
"Well, Snape told her something today about her needing to learn to--," Harry faltered, trying to remember the words Severus had used. "I-- I don't remember, but like block or something, but when I asked him how she did that, he snapped that it wasn't the time or place to discuss it and the only important thing was getting through this trip with everyone's sanity intact. How can I teach her to do something if no one even tells me what that thing is? I know he's a greasy git who cares only about himself. I can even accept that he hates me more than he hates anyone else, but I don't want him to act that way with my child!"
Lupin just stared mildly back at the frustrated teen, reproving neither the lack of title nor the name 'git'. Indeed, until Harry had visibly relaxed with a sigh, the man said nothing at all. Then he spoke quietly with a sigh of his own. "Yet, he took on Albus Dumbledore, removed you from Privet Drive against the strongest of orders not to do so, and delivered you to Dumbledore's office under Dumbledore's very nose all because Miranda had been without potions for five days. Seems to me, if he were as self-serving as you state, he would have taken a less risky tack, no matter what the cost to the child."
"He doesn't have to care what Dumbledore wants--" Harry began, but Remus cut him off.
"Oh, yes, he does. We all do, but him most of all. No matter which side you consider him to be working on, Dumbledore's orders are more important to him than to any other Order member. Yet Miranda's health was important enough to him for him to risk a very great deal indeed for a small child he had never laid eyes on before. Name one time on this trip when he has left the girl's side."
As hard as Harry tried, he couldn't recall a single instant when the potion master had so much as turned his back on the child while they were outside the auto. "OK, so he's a very skilled guard, but he still could have tol--".
Remus raised a hand with such a commanding expression that Harry broke off mid-word. It soon became obvious why Lupin had wanted silence. Miranda's voice reached them from the aisle behind Harry. "But I have to go to the BATHROOM! Please, Professor Snape! I have to go NOW!"
"That is where I am endeavoring to take you, Miranda Bentley. A lavatory is a bathroom. If you continue to cry loudly about it, I'll give you something to cry about while we're in there..." Severus' voice died away as the pair retreated down the aisle.
"He can't take her," Harry objected. "She's a girl. He can't go in with her!"
Lupin chuckled lightly. "You still have some things to learn, I see." His tone, however, was friendly. "In public places, it is not only safer, but one might say expected, for fathers to take their daughters into the men's lav with them. As polite as Miranda's dad taught her to be, I suspect he probably cared enough to do that with her before. Most likely, she will not think anything about Severus taking her to the men's room. It does prove out my point, however. He could have just sent her with Petunia, at far less embarrassment to himself. After all, he's never had a daughter either. And I didn't end up with you by accident. The adult Legilimens is protecting the child Legilimens at his own request. If, when you are both safe back at home, he does not explain how to protect Miranda, then I shall bring it up to Professor Dumbledore myself. Fair enough?"
Harry still wanted to argue, to find some thing to prove that Snape was the greasy-haired git Harry knew him to be, but try as he might, he couldn't come up with a single argument. "Fair enough, thank you, sir," he finally said with a sigh.
"Good!" beamed Lupin then. "What do you think about this shirt?" He held up a T-shirt with a screenprint of guitar-jamming pickles.
"I think it's great!" laughed Harry. "Let's get it!" Pushing the potions master from his mind, he gave himself over to the enjoyment of this strange treat of shopping for new clothes with his dad's closest remaining friend.
They had found more shirts and just decided to add summer pajamas (on a huge sale for under five pounds) when Miranda came skipping up, followed by Severus with Petunia trailing far behind. "Guess what, Harry-Daddy!"
"What, Mite? Are you doing all right?"
"Yes, sir, I'm fine. I found undies like Mommy always bought me, and Professor Snape said they were perfectly serviceable knickers, so I got seven pairs because they were on a sale, buy six and get one free, so now I can wear undies like Mommy wanted me to have every day!"
"That's great, Mite!" Harry enthused, even while privately wondering how in the world the man had talked Petunia Dursley into buying two extra pairs of knickers just to take advantage of a sale.
"She wanted to buy some other kind that my mommy never liked, Harry, but when Professor Snape said how Mommy's kind were so serviceable, she got them instead. Then the woman selling them said there was a sale. Professor Snape said then how it would be a shame not to take advantage of it, so we did!"
"Ah!" said Harry then as if that had explained everything. "We found a sale too, Mite, on something I needed, summer pajamas. As soon as we find some in my size, we'll be ready to pay."
Petunia snorted. "You have pajamas now."
"That fall down every time he takes a step," Snape growled. "How can he properly care for a child if he is always tugging up his trousers?"
Lupin handed Harry the proper size package as Petunia made a sour face. Not sorry to get away from the adults' tension, Harry moved off to pay. The bill came to 94.63 pounds.
"Give me the change," Petunia demanded as Harry and Lupin returned laden with packages. With a sigh, Harry set down his bundles and dug the 13.37 pounds from his pocket. Surprisingly, however, Petunia passed up the bills, taking only the coins. Digging a one-pound note out of her purse, she passed it to the astonished teen. "Don't let your uncle hear change rattling in your pocket, or I will not be responsible for the consequences. You hear me, Boy?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harry replied swiftly as he returned the bills to his pocket. "Thank you so much!"
Snape grunted at that and Petunia did not seem to register the words. "Let's go! We've been gone too long now."
Once back at home, Harry sent Miranda into the house to take her nap. Then he glanced around. "What do you want done, ma'am?"
"Nothing, but the girl shouldn't go down for a nap without lunch. Go and bring her to the kitchen, and I'll fix us all something."
"Yes, ma'am." Harry was amazed and couldn't easily hide the fact. He had been planning to get both himself and Miranda ham sandwiches when he got upstairs. However, he didn't want the Dursleys to know about either the hiding place under the floorboards or the food and supplies it contained. He smiled at Petunia therefore in a most grateful manner. "We'd appreciate that very much, ma'am."
As he started for the house, Snape called after him. "What time does the girl go to bed at night, Potter?"
"I try for 8:30, Professor, but it was 8:45 before she was settled with her bath and all last night."
"I will meet you in the garden at 9:15 to discuss what we were speaking of at the shoe store, Potter. I wish to speak with you alone."
"Miranda panicks if I leave the house without her, Professor."
"She needs to learn to get over that. Tonight is as good a time as any to begin. She trusts both you and me, so it should be easier for her to let you go knowing you'll be meeting with me right downstairs."
Harry rather doubted that but saw no other way out but to agree.
The men said goodbye and left then. Opening the front door Harry called up the stairs, "Come back down, Mite. We're having lunch before you take your nap."
"Goody! Goody!" sang Miranda bounding down the stairs. "May I please have some milk, Harry-Daddy?"
"I don't know--" Harry began, but broke off at Petunia's curt nod. "Of course you can, Mite!"
"I love milk!" Miranda beamed up at them. "I always had it at home."
Seemingly unable to look at the child, Petunia called over her shoulder, "If you're out there, you might as well come in out of the heat. Neither Vernon nor Dudley are home. I'll fix us lemonade."
Harry didn't believe anyone would take the woman up on that offer, but a gray tabby stepped daintily onto the step and rubbed against Petunia's leg.
His aunt, however, recoiled in horror, kicking out at the cat. "Go away, you filthy beast! I didn't mean you!"
He bounded forward before Petunia's next kick could connect with the tabby's head. "She's not a filthy beast!" he cried, snatching up the cat and cuddling it to his chest. "She's an animagus, and you just invited her in for luncheon!" Moving into the foyer, he gently set the cat on the floor. "Welcome once again, Professor McGonagall."
Miranda danced around both him and the cat, crying, "Professor Kitty's head is hurt, Harry-Daddy. Make it better, please!"
"Pro-- professor?" Petunia stared wide-eyed at the cat on her carpeting. "That thing is an actual person?"
"Yes!" snapped Harry. "She's my professor and Head-of-House. She's also deputy headmistress."
Surprisingly, Miranda quit crying and calmed down. "Professor Kitty says her head isn't really hurt, Harry, but she wonders why Mrs. Dursley does not shut the door. She has to stay a cat until the door closes."
"Why?" asked Petunia, against her own will it seemed to Harry.
Miranda gazed at the cat thoughtfully. "Because it's the Law of Secrets-- or something like that. They're big words I don't really understand, but that's what they mean, Professor Kitty says."
"The Statute of Secrecy!" Petunia quickly shut the door then.
Harry could only gape at his aunt. How did she know all this stuff she had spent most of his life pretending did not exist?
"Thank you for both the invitation to come in for lemonade and for shutting the door, Mrs. Dursley." Professor McGonagall's voice sounded at his elbow, causing him to give an involuntary start. "And why does Miranda call you 'Mrs. Dursley,' if I might be so bold as to inquire? Didn't you and your husband agree to take her? It seems she would at least be invited to call you 'Auntie' or some such thing."
"Do-- do I have to?" queried Miranda, cowering behind the older woman. "'Auntie' is special."
Minerva reached behind herself and pulled the girl into a hug. "I didn't mean to frighten you, Lassie. I was just trying to suggest something besides Mrs. Dursley."
Miranda considered this carefully, cuddling into McGonagall's side as she did so. At length, she announced, "My mommy and daddy had a friend who had a really pretty dog named 'Lassie.'"
The deputy headmistress chuckled then. "Yes, people do name their dogs 'Lassie,' and there's nothing wrong with that. In Scotland, where I come from, however, the word 'Lassie' means a little girl, usually one for whom the person speaking has some affection."
"Does that mean you love me, Professor Kitty?" asked the child.
"It's McGonagall, Mite," Harry corrected. "Mac-gon-uh-gall. Remember? You've said her name before."
"But she calls me 'Lassie,' Harry-Daddy. That means she loves me. Why can't I call her 'Professor Kitty' because I love her too, please?"
"Uh," stammered Harry, "er, well, what if she--"
"Oh, I don't mind, Mr. Potter," McGonagall assured him, gracing Miranda with one of her rare smiles. "Many of my old students' children grow up calling me 'Auntie Minn.' You used to try to say that yourself. How James did laugh the first time you managed to put together 'Aw Minn!'
Harry thought hard but could not remember anything like that. "Would you like Miranda to call you 'Auntie Minn,' Professor?" he asked then, using the question to cover his confusion. "I-- I'm sure she could manage that."
"I daresay she could, Harry, but, as she has just stated, 'Auntie' is special to her. No, Professor Kitty suits me just fine!"
"Goody!" sang out Miranda. "I like 'Professor Kitty' better."
"I know you do, Lassie," replied Minerva, giving the girl another hug, at which Harry merely shrugged with a shake of his head.
The horsey-faced woman spoke from the door. "You may call me 'Aunt Petunia,' Child, the same as he does." She nodded curtly in Harry's direction.
"Yes, ma'am, Aunt Petunia," said Miranda, though she cowered a bit behind McGonagall as she spoke.
"Good. Now that's decided, let's get the two of you some lunch." Aunt Petunia pushed past them and led the way to the kitchen. "If Harry can get down four glasses, I'll pour the two of you some milk."
No time was wasted in the completion of this chore, and soon all were seated at the table. After a meal of bread, cheese, and fruit, Harry told Miranda to go back upstairs. Before leaving the kitchen, she hugged McGonagall's neck. "I am so glad you came, Professor Kitty! Thank you for eating with us!"
Harry was tempted to point out that the deputy head had eaten nothing but thought better of it immediately.
Minerva did not seem concerned by the incongruity of that statement, however. Pulling the child into another hug, she said, laughingly, "Well, I've enjoyed the time with you as well; enjoyed it immensely, in fact. But I think the proper person for the both of us to thank is your Aunt Petunia, who invited me in."
"Thank you, Aunt Petunia," said the girl immediately, arms still wrapped around the older woman's neck.
Petunia blushed mightily and looked a bit flustered. "Well, you are welcome, I am sure." (though she sounded not at all sure as she spoke). "Maybe your kitty can come to tea again, when your uncle and cousin are not at home."
Harry dropped his milk in astonishment at that. The sound of shattering glass was loud as a gunshot in the silent kitchen. Miranda gave a little shout and began to cry.
"There's no use crying over spilt milk, as they say, Child," Petunia continued, still talking to the girl. "Harry knows where both the rags and the broom are kept. He is more than capable of cleaning up his mess. Maybe you could show the professor out while he does that." She gave McGonagall a forced smile that resembled a grimace more than anything pleasant. "You will, of course, be the only animal allowed into our house, except for the blasted owl that stays in its cage."
McGonagall nodded curtly. "Thank you for that concession, Mrs. Dursley, and thank you very much for the excellent lemonade. It was most refreshing and," her arm came around Miranda as she continued, "I believe, extremely helpful."
"Well, let Dumbledore know that when you see him," said Petunia, rising. "I hope to never have that pleasant experience again."
With a nod of her own, the deputy headmistress replied in turn, "I shall so inform the headmaster upon my return to school tonight." She led Miranda into the foyer out of Petunia's and Harry's sight.
The girl's voice carried back clearly enough, however. "Seeing Professor Dumbledore is a pleasant experience, Professor Kitty. Even Aunt Petunia said so. But why does she hope never to have the pleasant experience again, please?"
"Umm, some things are meant to be savored for a long time between repetitions, Miranda. Perhaps Aunt Petunia believes her meeting with Professor Dumbledore was one of those kind of experiences."
"Oh, I hope I NEVER have an experience like that. I want to see Professor Dumbledore often, Professor Kitty!"
These words were greeted by a delighted chuckle. "I know for a fact that Professor Dumbledore wants to see you often as well, Miranda. I don't think you need worry about that. Now I hear you are making excellent progress with your reading."
"Yes, ma'am! The last time Harry counted, I could read fifteen words on my own, and we have another lesson before I take my nap. We have three lessons every day. Harry's a really good teacher."
"I'm sure he is. It doesn't hurt either that you found the confidence to be a good student. Keep on learning and you will go a lot farther than you think now."
"I will, Professor Kitty! I'll bet I can learn another fifteen words today."
"Learn all you can every time and there'll be no need to count." McGonagall's voice sounded as if she were holding back another chuckle with difficulty. "That is what all my best students do. Some of the most helpful advice I've ever heard given was to ask oneself each day 'Is there one more thing I could do today?' If you think of something, do it if you possibly can."
"All right! I'll start doing that today. Thank you, Professor Kitty! I-- I want to learn to be one of your best students as much as I want to learn to read."
Having cleaned up the mess in the kitchen, Harry appeared behind the pair. "I like that you want that, Mite. It's one of the things I want for you as well."
With a final hug, McGonagall requested, "Open the front door, please, Lassie." Then she resumed her tabby form.
After Miranda's lesson, she willingly lay down and soon fell asleep. Harry was just getting parchment to write Hagrid everything that had been happening when a quiet rap sounded on his closed door. Opening it cautiously, he found his aunt standing there, looking uncomfortable. "I came to tell you that you will be required to fix breakfast Monday through Friday before Vernon goes to work. If there are clean clothes folded on top of the dryer, the girl will be expected to carry the piles upstairs and put them neatly in the appropriate rooms. Every Wednesday you both will spend the day helping with the weekly cleaning and working in the yard. Other than those things, your time is yours to do with as you wish, as long as you don't get into any trouble."
"Yes, ma'am," said Harry.
With a curt nod and no explanation whatsoever, the woman turned and went back downstairs.
Finding he had nothing to do at the house, Harry decided to take Miranda to the play park when she awakened. Grabbing a water bottle for each of them, he stuffed them into an old knapsack Dudley had discarded the summer before as being 'not new enough' for him. Thinking hard about what he had seen mothers bring to the park in the past, he added a roll of paper towels from the linen closet and Miranda's jacket from Mrs. Weasley.
When she awoke, Miranda heartily approved the plan. Harry, however, first sent her downstairs to see if there was any clean clothes folded on top of the dryer. She soon returned with their new clothes folded over her arm. Taking them from her, Harry quickly put them away. "Come on then, Mite. We're off!"
"Goody! Goody!" sang out Miranda. "We had parks in Hawaii too, Harry. I love to go to the park. Do they have a seesaw?"
"I don't know for sure," replied Harry, uncertain what the child meant. "We'll just have to wait and see when we get there."
"OK, Harry," the girl agreed with a grin.
'At least she is easy to please,' Harry thought to himself as they started down the stairs. 'Whatever would I do if she were a second Dudley?' He shivered at the thought.
Halfway to the play park, they were accosted by Mrs. Figg. "Oh, coming to see me, were you, Harry? And is this Mirandy? Yes, you both have mail waiting. From the Ministry of Magic, one of your letters is. I can certainly understand why you're keen to read that one. Well, my cats won't starve without food for two hours more. Come along with you then."
"Ma'am?" Harry questioned blankly.
"Well, I'm not up on such things, being an old Squib, but Albus did mention something about OWL results-"
"My OWL results are at your house?" Harry questioned excitedly. "But why would they be there?"
"Your aunt and uncle didn't tell you?" Mrs. Figg queried, peering at him suspiciously. "Come along to my house and stay for tea. I'll explain everything, then you can tell me if Petunia and Vernon are living up to their side of the bargain." Turning, she began to lead the pair toward her home.
"I'm sorry, Mite," Harry whispered, leaning close to Miranda's ear. "I really think I need to check this out before we go to the park however."
"All right, Harry," the girl agreed. "But is she a stranger, please? Mommy, Daddy, Auntie Nell, Ee-Ee, and all the house elves all told me not to go with strangers."
"Uh, that is right, Mite. I don't want you to go with strangers either. When we get to her house, I'll introduce you to Mrs. Figg. She's not a stranger to me. She's my old baby-sitter."
"Oh, goody! Baby-sitters are not strangers, Harry."
The pair caught up with the older woman at her garden gate.
"Mrs. Figg, uh... This is my daughter, Miranda Elaine Bentley. She's seven years old..." Harry began awkwardly as soon as the front door had closed behind them.
"How do you do, Mirandy? My name is Mrs. Figg. I've known your new daddy since he was younger than you are now."
"I know," replied the girl calmly. "He told me that you were his babysitter. It's nice to meet you, ma'am. Are you my babysitter too, please?"
"If you ever need a babysitter, you may call on me, Mirandy," laughed the older woman. "It's very nice to meet you too. Come and sit down, both of you. I'll fetch the posts and put the kettle on to boil."
Soon Miranda received three parchments and Harry received four. "Who are my letters from, Harry-Daddy, please? I never gotted even one letter for myself before!"
Harry examined the letters. "This is from Ginny, this one from Professor McGonagall, and this from Professor Snape," he replied in the most patient voice he could muster. He had recognized Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid's writing on his letters and the official Ministry seal on the fourth seemed to be calling to him like a siren's song. "Which do you want to read first then?"
Mrs. Figg returned from the kitchen in time to hear that last part. "Why don't you let me help you read your letters first, Mirandy? That way you can impress your daddy by needing less help from him later."
"Harry?" queried the child excitedly then. "Please? I'd really love to be able to impress you with my reading."
Seeing nothing dangerous in this plan, since he had started trusting Mrs. Figg more ever since the previous summer when he'd realized she'd been protecting him for Albus Dumbledore, Harry nodded quickly. "All right then, Mite. Mrs. Figg is not a stranger, and I'd love for you to impress me." He grinned as he added silently to himself, 'To say nothing of the fact that I can check out my own mail in peace.'
As soon as the two had retired to Mrs. Figg's comfortable old recliner in the corner, Harry tore open the ministry envelope and read:
OWL Results for Harry James Potter. June 1995
Astronomy: Practical: A. Theoretical: E.
Care of Magical Creatures: Practical: O. Theoretical: E.
Charms: Practical: E. Theoretical: E.
Defense Against the Dark Arts: Practical: O. Theoretical: O.
Divination: Practical: P. Theoretical: P.
Herbology: Practical: E. Theoretical: A.
History of Magic: A.
Potions: Practical: O. Theoretical: O.
Transfiguration: Practical: E. Theoretical: E.
Total OWLs: 8
"Yahoo!" he cheered, startling even himself. Looking up in embarrassment, he met the questioning expressions of the room's other two occupants. "Uh... I, er, passed eight of my OWLs and now I can take the classes I want this year," he explained lamely. "Sorry for shouting and all, ma'am."
"Nonsense!" sniffed Arabella Figg. "You have every right to be proud and thrilled, Harry. Eight OWLs sounds wonderfully many to me. Getting the NEWT-level classes you want and need is nothing to turn your nose up at either. Now come right over here, and let us give you a hug."
"Er, well, yes, ma'am." Very red in the face, Harry approached the pair and permitted himself to be embraced and kissed.
"Congratulations!" said Mrs. Figg. "This calls for a party. Can you both come back Friday night at 7:00? I will bake a cake. What kind do you prefer?"
"Goody! Goody! I love chocolate with white icing." Miranda's eyes danced merrily. "Don't you like that too, Harry-Daddy?"
Not having many memories of cakes to compare anything against put Harry at the disadvantage. "If Mrs. Figg can manage it, that sounds very good, Mite," he mumbled at last.
"Oh, that is easily arranged," Mrs. Figg assured him.
So it was decided that they would have chocolate cake with white icing on Friday at 7:00 to celebrate Harry's good OWL scores. "Do you want to hear my letter from Professor Snape, Harry?" Miranda asked then. Receiving a affirmative reply, she began to read, with little help from Mrs. Figg.
It is indeed wonderful thhat you can already read 15 words by yourself. Keep up the hard work because we know you are capable of much more than that.
You are welcome, both about the book and the blankets. Use them all well.
"That is super reading, Mite!" Harry praised her. "Now I'd best see what my other letters say."
"Me too, Harry." Miranda picked up her next parchment as she spoke.
Gratefully, Harry returned to his place and picked up Ron's letter.
Hey, Harry, (it read)
Mum and Dad said you have a daughter now and that she's already seven years old. I'm sure there's a big story behind it all; can't wait to hear about it! The really weird thing is that Snape seems to know about her too. He says she is sick or something. The greasy git wasn't even a trifle mean about it. I hope that doesn't mean that she's like dying soon or something, Mate.
Mum is all over Dumbledore to move you both here. I know he's always good at holding up against her, but I've never seen her quite this fierce! Maybe we'll be seeing you soon. I hope so anyway. There's a million things we could do together before school starts.
"I hope so myself," Harry muttered, reaching for Hermione's note.
Dear Harry, (this one said)
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley told us about you having a daughter now. However did you get a seven-year-old for a daughter when you're not even sixteen yourself yet? They said that she was sick and Professor Snape knows how to make the potions that she needs. He is going to be brewing them here, and we all have a special job to do to help him. Ginny calls Fawkes and asks him for three phoenix tears; Ron keeps everyone away from the lab when Professor Snape is brewing; and I prepare and lay out Professor Snape's ingredients for him. They have to be chopped in just the right lengths, and it is so interesting the things he uses! I found a book on healing potions here, and he seems to be combining the best parts of several potions to make an entirely new potion. Of course phoenix-tear potions are the most potent of all healing potions anyway. I'm sure your daughter is receiving the best care it is possible for her to get.
Was she the one you needed the hair-calming potion for, by the way? Professor Snape hasn't made any of that here (at least I haven't prepared the ingredients for him, I mean.) Do you need more yet? I can always whip you up some more. It's no trouble at all to make.
Have you gotten your OWL results yet? I received an E on my Defense practical. I bet you got two O's in that though. I'm ever so pleased with my grades anyway. What did you get in Potions? I got two O's, so I'll be taking the NEWT-level classes. I hope you got O's as well. Write and let me know, if you can.
Love from Hermione
Harry couldn't suppress a grin, thinking how much like Hermione's speech her letter had sounded. He'd actually found himself reading with bated breath, imagining Hermione rattling out all that about potions without stopping to breathe. As for her OWL grades, of course she had passed everything. He knew that without even asking. He felt his body relaxing in a way it hadn't since his return to Privet Drive. Yes, he'd needed this break with letters to read from his friends, even though it had meant postponing the play park outing. He silently vowed to make that up to Miranda soon.
As if his thoughts had called to her, the girl's voice came from across the room. "Ready to hear my letter from Ginny, Harry-Daddy?"
"You bet I am, Mite!"
"Dear Miranda," she began, "I was very sorry to hear that you got hurt this morning. I hope you are better. I look forward to meeting you and hope it will be soon. We are preparing a surprise for you when we see you. I think you'll like it a lot! Give my best to Harry and Mr. Bear please.
"How wonderful, Mite!" Harry smiled. "I hope you get to meet all the Weasleys and my friend Hermione soon too."
"So do I, Harry-Daddy!"
"And that's the water ready for teabags," remarked Mrs Figg, as the whistle of the kettle was heard from the kitchen. "How about taking a break from mail and let me explain why your letters are coming to my house."
With a visible start, Harry realized that, in the excitement over OWLs and his friends' letters, he'd forgotten that an explanation was still to be forthcoming. "Yes, please, ma'am."
"But I still haven't read Professor Kitty's letter, Harry-Daddy. She will be very hurt if I don't read it soon."
"You can read it later, Mite. I haven't read Professor Hagrid's either. We'll both have one letter to read after tea."
"All right, Harry," agreed Miranda, albeit with a pout, "but when are we going to the park please?"
"Oh, uhm," Harry stammered, before getting an idea. "Well, we can go to the park almost any day, Mite. But we won't often get letters from Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, Ginny, Professor Hagrid, Ron, Hermione, and the Ministry of Magic. In fact, that has never happened to me before. If we don't want to hurt their feelings, we need to see what is happening so we can plan how to write them back. That's what people do when they get letters."
Miranda thought that over very carefully. "Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Nell always used to answer their mail," she said at last. With a smile, she added, "Now I get to do it too. You're right, Harry-Daddy. That's better than going to the park."
"The tea is ready, and I found us some biscuits," called out Mrs. Figg from the kitchen before Harry could answer. "Come along, both of you."
Over shortbread biscuits and tea, Harry learned that it had been decided that, in exchange for providing Harry and Miranda with food, proper clothes, and time to themselves, all owl posts to Number Four Privet Drive would be diverted to Mrs. Figg's house. "I can check up on things that way as well. Albus wants daily reports on how the Muggles are treating you. So if you would be good enough to pop in each day and let me know how things are progressing, we would all appreciate it greatly."
"All right, ma'am. We have chores all day on Wednesdays, but we are free most other times." Harry nodded thoughtfully. 'It doesn't sound like we are going to be going to the Weasley's anytime soon,' he grumbled to himself. 'But then why should this year be any different?'
"I could write to Auntie Nell too, Harry-Daddy," Miranda said suddenly. "She'd be very surprised, I bet. She doesn't know that I'm reading and writing letters now!"
"Where does your Auntie Nell live, dear?" Mrs. Figg asked curiously.
"In Hawaii," replied Miranda. "I lived there too all my life, until Mommy and Daddy went to become angels and the baby went away." Her chin was quivering violently and tears started down her cheeks. "I want them to come back to me! Professor Dumbledore said no one could help it, but he might be wrong. Can you make them not be angels anymore and come here to live with me, please?"
"Oh, my poor lamb!" exclaimed Arribella Figg, pushing back her chair and extending her arms toward the girl. "I'm sorry to say I can't, Lovey, but we can and shall contact Professor Dumbledore about you writing your Auntie Nell. Let us call him right now!" First, however, she cuddled Miranda on her lap until only a sniffle remained of the torrent of tears. Then rising, she took Floo powder from the mantle and threw it into the fireplace. "Hogwarts, Headmaster's Office!" she called.
Soon Dumbledore's head appeared. "Arabella, Harry, and Miranda!" he greeted with a twinkle. "This is a pleasant surprise indeed!"
"Mirandy would like very much to write to her Auntie Nell in Hawaii, Albus," stated the woman without so much as a 'Hello' in greeting. "Someone could take the letter to London to be sent, I presume."
Dumbledore blinked. "Who is Auntie Nell?" he asked blankly. "Every report I've gotten says that the girl has no living relatives, and-"
A piercing shriek from Miranda cut through whatever else he had to say. "No! No! No! I won't let Auntie Nell become an angel. I know she loves Mommy and Daddy and told me that she missed them too, but I want her here with me! I do!"
"Shush, Mite," said Harry, going to kneel beside the trembling form. "Professor Dumbledore is not saying that Auntie Nell is an angel. He just meant that he'd never heard of her before. You need to tell him who she is is all."
"She's Auntie Nell," sniffled the girl, drying her eyes with the back of her hand and pressing against Harry so hard that he was in danger of being bowled over into the fireplace. "She went to school with Mommy and Daddy a long time ago. The other kidses called her 'Mrs. Benson' and the other peoples called her 'Nella,' but we all called her 'Auntie Nell' at my house. She liked that name best; she told me so herself. She did, Harry-Daddy. She'd want to know I can read and write now. She would!"
"Well, I'm sure," smiled Albus Dumbledore. "You go ahead and write your letter. We'll find a way to get it to Mrs. Nella Benson for you. How would that be, Miranda?"
With a very wet grin, the girl beamed at him through her tears. "That would be wonderful, thank you, Professor Dumbledore. I could tell her how I'm reading and writing and getting letters. She'll like that. Let's see... What else could I tell her?" She paused to muse about the matter.
"Tell her how you are getting your potions now," the headmaster urged. "I daresay she'll like that news too."
"Yes," replied the girl. "And I'll tell her how Severus Snape doesn't like to be called that. She can start calling him 'Professor Snape' just as Harry and I do. He'll like that a lot better, I bet!"
"All right," Albus agreed with a twinkle.
"And I could tell her how I don't have to go back to that horrid orphanage because Harry is keeping me now."
"You may tell her from me that you will not be going back there while any of us are able to help it, of course." Dumbledore sounded very thoughtful indeed. "Tell her about the rest of us as well."
"All right! About you and Professor Lupin, Madam Pomfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Ginny. Mrs. Figg too. And Professor Kitty, of course!" She fairly crowed the last.
Dumbledore blinked again. "Who is Professor Kitty? I don't remember ever meeting him." His tone was light enough, but he seemed trying to X-ray the child with his eyes through the flames.
Miranda laughed gayly. "Professor McGonagall isn't a man, Professor Dumbledore! You know that already! How funny you are, sir!"
"Miranda Elaine Bentley!" Harry spoke in a reproving tone. "How was he supposed to know you insisted on renaming Professor McGonagall 'Professor Kitty?' Do not laugh at him that way. Do you want to hurt his feelings?"
The chin quivered again. "I-- I'm sorry, Professor Dumbledore. I didn't mean to hurt you, sir. I-- I thought we were playing a game, or something."
"I know that, Miranda," the elderly wizard's tone was gentle. "I, in my turn, never meant to give your daddy the impression that I thought you meant anything bad by your words. So when you say 'Professor Kitty,' you are talking about Professor McGonagall?"
"Yes, sir," sniffled the girl. "She calls me 'Lassie' because she loves me, and I call her 'Professor Kitty' for the same reason. That name suits her fine, sir. She told Harry-Daddy so herself!"
"I daresay she did," said Albus thoughtfully. "She calls you 'Lassie,' you say?"
"Yes, sir. She comes from a country where people don't just name their dogs that. She told me it means a little girl for whom the speaker has affection. That means she loves me. Harry suggested that I could call her 'Auntie Minn' because I love her too. But I had gotten scared when she had said I could call Aunt Petunia 'Auntie' instead of 'Mrs. Dursley.' I told her then 'Auntie' was special. It's Auntie Nell's name, after all. She told me then that she didn't mean to scare me. She just wanted to suggest something beside Mrs. Dursley.' She called me 'Lassie' then. I told her about Mommy's and Daddy's friend's dog named 'Lassie'. Then she laughed (but not in a mean way). She told me what 'Lassie' means in her country. So I called her 'Professor Kitty' because I love her too. She told Harry that was OK because 'Auntie' was special to me. But so is 'Professor Kitty.' And it's just her name like Auntie Nell's is hers."
"Of course it is," Dumbledore assured her then. "What happened next?"
"Aunt Petunia said I could call her 'Aunt Petunia' just like Harry does. Then she poured Harry and me milk and made the lemonade. We got bread, cheese, and strawberries too. I love strawberries and milk! Then Harry dropped his glass on the floor, but Aunt Petunia told me not to cry because he knew how to clean it up. She told me I could show Professor Kitty out while Harry cleaned up the milk. She told me my kitty could come to tea again when Uncle Vernon and Dudley were not at home. She told Professor Kitty she would be the only animal permitted in her house besides the blasted owl who stays in its cage. Hedwig likes to fly though, Professor Dumbledore. Couldn't Harry and I go and visit Mr. and Mrs. Weasley so Hedwig could fly? Please?"
"Yes, you can, Miranda. Soon you will both be moved to stay with the Weasleys. I haven't forgotten avout that. But there are many compelling reasons why I cannot just let you move there as soon as you'd wish it. Harry knows what they are. I don't believe it would be good for you to know them now, however. You and Hedwig will just have to trust me as Harry does."
The child glanced at Harry in high confusion. Not sure how he should respond to the expression in her eyes, he settled for the role of father-guardian. "Professor Dumbledore is waiting for an answer, Mite. It would be polite to tell him 'yes, sir' or something."
"I'd settle willingly for something more truthful, Harry. Truth can be a beautiful, dangerous thing. Sometimes, however, it is the necessary thing, no matter be it beautiful or dangerous."
"Sir?" asked Harry, glancing toward the fire in high confusion of his own.
The headmaster, though, directed his next comments to the girl. "There is such a thing as a so-called 'social lie,' Miranda, that people tell so as not to hurt another's feelings. If you do not agree with what I told you about trusting me, but you said you did because you didn't want me to feel bad or because Harry told you to say 'yes,' that would be telling not a bad, dishonest thing, but not the truth either. I wish to have the brutal truth now. Do not worry about respect or hurting me. Do you think you and Hedwig can trust me when I say you must still stay on Privet Drive?"
Miranda thought for a long time. Finally, she said, "I think I can trust you, Professor, even though I don't like staying. I think Hedwig will trust you as well when I explain it to her. Mr. Bear will understand too. But I really think you should tell Harry when we can move. He doesn't have to tell me or Hedwig, or even Mr. Bear, but it's hardest on him not knowing."
Dumbledore blinked. "That sounds like a very accurate, and very adult, assessment, Miranda. May I ask who told you that, please?"
The child stared back at him steadily. "No one tells me stuff like that, sir. But that doesn't mean it isn't true."
"But you know this from somebody," persisted the man. "Who was feeling that, please?"
Miranda pressed her lips together in a pout but made no further reply.
"Was it Harry?" the headmaster persisted.
Miranda turned away. "May we go to the park now, please, Harry-Daddy?"
Harry opened his mouth to say-- well, something-- but no sound would come out. He shook his head violently to clear it and opened his mouth to try speech again, but the headmaster cut him off.
"You neither angered nor hurt me, Miranda. I know you know this already, but I need to say this for Harry, so I do not hurt his feelings. I am going to talk to him as if you had told me 'yes' just now. Would you permit Mrs. Figg to take you into the other room, please?"
"Come on, Mirandy. You can help me pick out a recipe for Harry's OWL-party cake."
"Oh, goody! Let's pick out a good one." Miranda willingly took the woman's hand and skipped from the room at her side.
"I-- I'm sorry, Professor," Harry stammered. "I don't know where she gets these things."
Albus nodded. "I know, Harry. Professor Snape already informed me of her ability in that area. I confess it is more pronounced than I noticed the one time I met with her. I suspect, and Severus concurs, that this is probably a normal level for her to be functioning on. By that I mean her abilities were hampered that first night by being almost a week without her potions. I do not believe we are in for any more surprises like this one. For the child's own mental health, however, I believe we need to address this soon. I heard of her reaction to Petunia's anger in the auto. While it seems Professor Snape was able to impress on your aunt some sense of accepting the girl, even if it is a forced feeling, we cannot depend on that happening with either your uncle or cousin. We might be better taking her out of that environment. It is a very bad time to move you, however. What we might be looking at is if it is better to leave Miranda and help her combat the effects of her power or move her immediately to headquarters alone. I know seperating her from you would cause terrible trauma, so I would be more likely to employ the first method at this time. The problem is: Would it be as traumatic for her to stay with her abilities as it would be to separate you?"
"Why do you have to separate us to move her, sir? I've been here three weeks now. There are years where I didn't stay this long. Moving both of us now could be another option." Harry tried to keep his voice composed and respectful, but it was a difficult battle. Were the adults just going to snatch Miranda away unannounced one day? As little as he knew about being a father, or of taking care of a child at all, he realized that, having met Miranda, life at Privet Drive would be unbearable if she left. Didn't the adults care about that?
Albus appeared not to have heard him though. "Could she have been Legilimening Severus? Does the girl truly possess the ability to break his Occlumency when he's trying his hardest not to be read? Her comment certainly was a strange one for a seven-year-old child. She got it from someone. If it wasn't you, it was an adult with the power to read you."
The idea of Snape, the greasy bat of the dungeons, reading him totally unnerved Harry. "She probably picked up on my wishing I could see Ron, sir. I was thinking that only a little bit ago."
"No," Dumbledore was frowning now. "It was more than that-- much more. I wish I could recall the exact words Severus used after our meeting with your aunt and uncle this morning. If she used his words, it would prove the extent of her powers. Or, she could be echoing what Minerva heard him say. I wish they had not seen each other before I spoke with Miranda, but then I did not even know we'd be having this conversation, and it appears Professor McGonagall was a help with the relationship with your aunt. Since Petunia is the one you both will be around the most, that alone could prove beneficial enough for Miranda to remain relatively unharmed."
Losing his temper, Harry employed a curse word that would have shocked Hermione. Albus seemed to sit up and really take notice of the boy for the first time. "Why is it always about you, Professor?-- what YOU think! what YOU believe! what YOU want! My daughter has lost almost everything she has ever known. Yet, there you are, calmly talking of taking her from me as well-- no! That did not come out right! I meant taking me from her. Why can't this year be different? Why can't we both go someplace where we are welcomed, so she can heal in peace?"
"Those are fair questions, Harry, and you are not the first to raise them.--"
"Why don't you listen then? Are you truly so sure of yourself as all that or do you just not care?"
That brought another blink from the older wizard. "I care very much, Harry, for both you and Miranda. That is why we are having this conversation. I assure you, I want only what is best for the both of you. I apparently need not worry about the girl's abilities. I believe I have just found the source of her confusion. We will move the both of you to the Burrow within the next two weeks. Any tighter time frame I cannot give you now, as the residence must first be fortified with the strongest of wards. Have you been reading the Prophet, Harry?"
"No, Uncle Vernon attacked the first delivery owl and no other has shown up. Why do you ask, sir?"
"Ah! Because Voldermort has been anything but silent since the Ministry learned their lesson about him. People have been disappearing under very mysterious circumstances. Some parts of the country have been covered with dementor fogs. There is even unrest within the Ministry itself. Folks are calling for Fudge's resignation."
"And Umbridge's, sir?"
"Dolores is very busy calling Fudge a dottering fool and insisting he had forced her to proclaim Voldemort gone and you a liar. No, Harry, she will not be joining Fudge in his demotion."
"But all the students, sir? Everyone who was at Hogwarts last year knows the truth!"
"Yes, and when you become old enough to run the government, I daresay her career might meet an unexpected end, if enough of you are not turned into toadies by the taste of political power and the quest to be the new rising stars in the Ministry's service." The older wizard sighed then. "And, if you will recall, there were students willing to do her bidding, even at your young ages, either out of fear of their parents' reprisals or want of the glory she offered."
Harry thought immediately of Draco Malfoy and that jerk of a girl who'd snitched on the D.A. because her mother worked in the Ministry offices and was one of Umbridge's adult toadies. That girl was a Ravenclaw even! "I see what you mean," he admitted ruefully. "It wasn't just the Slytherins who thought she was fantastic."
"No, it wasn't," sighed Dumbledore again, "though they were the most obvious, least-surprising supporters. We have had control of Hogwarts reinstated to us, however. No Ministry officials will be on staff this year. The downside to that is that I must yet again seek out a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor before September first. But the choice will be the best I can manage to make and will not be forced upon me."
"That is good then, Professor."
"Yes, a great improvement over last year, Harry. What I wish to impress on you, however, is not my staffing difficulties, but rather your safety. Your uncle's house is well-warded. Even as willing as the Weasleys are to live with the restrictions of multiple-warding, approximating the protection you have there would be difficult. Duplicating it would, of course, not be possible. We will move you with your friends before school begins again, but I cannot promise it will be this week. I can only promise that it will be as soon as we can arrange it."
"Yes, sir, Professor," Harry agreed then. He was not pleased with the statement, but it had shown more concession than he was expecting from the man. He also had to admit (if only to himself) that Dumbledore had a valid point about the safety of one place over the other. "Professor Snape is going to meet with me tonight about what Miranda needs to do," he informed Dumbledore then.
"That is good, Harry." The headmaster shook his head. "Whatever you may think personally, please rest assured that Severus will do for Miranda exactly as he would have for his own child. None of us want to hurt her."
"Yes, Professor. Thank you, sir."
"Certainly, Harry, now I hear a knocking. As I have an appointment scheduled, I rather suspect that the sound is coming from my door. Therefore, I'll let you go for now. Please ask Arabella to call again if you have need of anything." At the teen's nod, he left the flames. Mrs. Figg's fireplace immediately became as dark and lonely-looking as ever a fireplace did on a hot summer's day.
Going in search of the women, Harry found them in the small guest bedroom off the living room. Miranda beamed at him from the floor. "Look at all the kitties Mrs. Figg has, Harry! Aren't they just the sweetest things?"
"Uhm, I-- I've seen them before, Mite. They're all right."
"They certainly are! I want to write both Professor Kitty and Auntie Nell about them. May I do that, please?"
"Er, OK, you can write them tonight and we can mail the letters off tomorrow."
"Goody! Goody gumdrops! Thank you, Harry-Daddy."
"Now let's see if we can help Mrs. Figg clean up the tea things."
"That's already done, Harry. Mirandy was a great little helper with that. Now you can both finish your mail. Do you want me to help you, Mirandy?"
"Yes, please, ma'am!" So the two headed back to Mrs. Figg's chair with Harry trailing behind them.
Seating himself back on the sofa, he picked up Hagrid's note and began to read:
'I heard what those Muggles did to you, giving you a sick daughter and all. If I'd of been there, I'd of given them what-for about that! Are you OK, though? Professor Dumbledore says the girl is very good and that Professor Snape knows how to make the potions she needs. I've heard tell as well that Professor Snape has had to make several emergency trips there to help the girl.
'Know you're safe and all, of course, but I hope that you're both having some fun as well. It is summer after all!
'Write back if you possibly can.
Harry permitted himself a grin, strangely warmed by Hagrid's caring. His thoughts were once again interrupted by Miranda's query. "Do you want to hear my letter, Harry-Daddy?"
"Of course I do, Mite!"
"Dear Miranda," (the girl read then.)
"Professor Snape tells me that you now can read fifteen words by yourself. That is wonderful! Keep studying hard and soon you will be able to read many whole books by yourself.
"When you are ready for them, you may use my old schoolbooks to study from. I am not worried about this because I know both that you are capable of learning all the material and that you will take care of the books and return them in good condition.
"Wow!" Harry was genuinely surprised. "That certainly was nice of Professor McGonagall."
"Yes, it was," agreed Miranda willingly. "That is because she loves me so much, Harry."
"I know she does, Mite."
Back at Privet Drive that evening, after an uneventful, if extremely unpleasant supper, Harry took Miranda upstairs to help her write her letters. She did a very thorough job of telling her Auntie Nell everything she and Dumbledore had discussed as well as about the kittens. Harry, who had expected to have to make many suggestions or reminders, was pleasantly surprised and impressed with her memory, persistance, and intelligence in general. Praising her brought on a smile that remained throughout her bath and dressing in her pajamas. Indeed it only disappeared when Harry explained he was going to the garden to wait for Professor Snape who would be arriving in five minutes.
"Take me with you, Harry-Daddy, please! I'll stay out of the way and be quiet as a mouse. I promise-- double-promise even!"
"I'm really sorry, Mite. Professor Snape said he wants to talk to me alone, and so--"
"I could stay with the lady, Harry-Daddy. Just so I'm not without you, I don't care if she doesn't trust little girls."
"What lady, Mite? You mean Aunt Petunia?"
"No, sir, I mean the invisible lady in the garden."
In high confusion, Harry finally ended up leading Miranda out to the garden to tell Snape about the woman. Severus didn't seem at all disconcerrted by the fact that Miranda, inside the house, could tell that there was a woman standing under an invisibility cloak in the garden. He did, however, seem very concerned by the fact that Miranda thought the woman did not trust little girls much.
"Mrs. Jones has daughters of her own. Why wouldn't she trust little girls?"
"She trusts her own little girls. They don't live with Harry. But I'm not going to hurt him, Professor. I double-triple promise that!"
Severus suggested that Miranda go across the garden and tell that to her teddy bear where Mrs. Jones could hear her. "Do not raise your voice and do not look at her, Miranda. You are merely talking to your stuffed friend. She will hear you, however."
"OK, Professor Snape," agreed the girl without much enthusiasm. "I did promise Harry that I would stay with the lady out of the way."
"That is very well," replied the man. "You need to understand, however, that Professor Dumbledore and I trust Mrs. Jones very much. I wish her to hear how you are feeling, like you know how she feels. If things do not change tonight, Professor Dumbledore and I will take drastic measures to assure nothing develops from them. As I have stated, we trust Mrs. Jones, however, so we would like to give her an opportunity to understand. Now, obey me or answer for it."
"Yes, sir, Professor Snape." She retreated across the summer grass immediately.
Snape looked at the boy now glaring at him with open hostility. "My daughter did nothing to you, SIR! What gives you the right to threaten her in any way?"
"I am her healer and the only adult Legilimens in this garden, Potter? What gives YOU the right to talk to me in that tone?"
"She's my daughter!"
"And you asked my advice on how to help her combat the side effects of her powers. One way is confronting ignorance with respectful teaching on what it is like to be a natural-born Legilimens. If we can teach Miranda to do that, not only will it empower her and help her gain confidence, it will help the Order members who are not as familiar with Legilimency to understand her as a child, and not as a threat to the 'Chosen One of the Wizarding World'.
"Yes, I see you are unfamiliar with your new title, Potter. You must be so proud!"
"But what am I chosen for? Who chose me?"
Severus merely raised his brows at the boy, and at last understanding dawned.
"You-- you don't mean chosen to kill Voldemort? Who thinks that?"
"You have become the new Ministry poster-child, Potter. Professor Dumbledore is going to get your subscription to the Daily Prophet reinstated. In the meantime, you need to realize that people who desire your safety do not all look kindly on a natural-born Legilimens being dumped on your doorstep when the Dark Lord is so skilled at Legilimency."
Harry's face came alive with understanding. "'She trusts her own little girls. They do not live with Harry.' But I don't think for one second that Miranda came here to hurt me. She's my cousin; well, she's Dudley's cousin, and he's my cousin. Isn't that close enough?"
Severus sighed. "Let's not argue family ties right now, Potter. Suffice it to say, the girl is, at some point, to become your legal child, and you wish to know how to help her."
"I do. Professor Dumbledore says you can teach me how as if she were your own child."
Snape stared at the teen with a very strange expression for one micro-second before sneering. Later, Harry, thinking it over, wasn't sure he hadn't imagined the expression.
"Well, for one thing, Potter, if she were my daughter, she'd be upstairs in her bed right now, with or without a smarting arse to show for it."
Harry rubbed at his face in tired frustration. "What would you have told her about the woman, sir?" 'If you condescended to tell her anything, that is,' he added silently.
Severus must have Legilimened something of the last thought or guessed at it from his past relationship with the boy. His sneer held firm. "While it is true I would not have been surprised by her knowledge, neither should you have been, knowing what Legilimency does as you do, Potter. Do try to use your brains this summer! Hopefully we can bring something good from the situation, but be forewarned. Bedtime not held sancrocinct will soon become no bedtime at all. Next will follow nap-time, lesson-time, and meal-time until the child's whims rule the roost, whatever your parental needs to the contrary."
"Maybe that is true with most children, Professor, but Miranda really understands--"
"How to manipulate you to get her own way? Yes, indeed! She knows that better than any other child alive. If Child Legilimens are not held to as much accountability as they can manage, they can become the cutest terrors you could wish away."
Harry thought of Dudley. "What would you do if something like this happens again, sir?"
"Give her the choice to come down before bedtime and tell her teddy bear about things as she is doing now or deal with it in another way we shall discuss presently. She should not, however, be allowed to discuss instead of going to bed at the appointed time. If it is bed-time, nap-time, lesson or meal-time, there is no choice. Coming out to talk to Teddy is not an option."
"What would you do if it is bedtime and she notices this?"
"Put her to bed and tell her to Occlumen."
"Does Miranda know how to Occlumen?"
"When will she know, sir?" Harry privately wondered why the man had called him out to the garden in secret to tell him something that seemed not to help at all.
"She will know when we teach her and not before, Potter."
Harry suddenly comprehended what Albus had meant when he had said in the Floo that afternoon, 'Whatever you may think personally. . .'
"You-- you wish to teach her Occlumency as you did with me, sir?" He fought to control the rising panic in his chest and keep his voice from carrying across the small stretch of lawn between himself and the child currently burying her face in Mr. Bear's fur. "Isn't she suffering enough to satisfy everyone now? She's only seven, after all!"
"And according to the historical records available to us, the most successful Child Legilimens began around the age of three and had learned to clear their minds when required by the age of five. I'm not trying to fault her parents. They succeeded very well with her for a mother who was just learning Legilimency herself and a father who had no skills at all. It is entirely possible that she had little need of Occlumency in her sheltered environment. Things are very different here, however. Besides, I intend to successfully teach her, unlike you."
"By doing what, sir?"
"Keeping the trust she has in me is one place to start. You never trusted me at any point in your training: either in Potions or Occlumency."
Harry was forced to admit to himself that was only too true. Miranda DID trust the potions master. If he was determined to retain that trust, mightn't things go better than they had with himself. "I don't want to see her hurt, Professor," he said then, not even bothering to try to keep the threatening tone out of his voice. "If you do not respect that, do not even try to begin with her because I will make your life miserable if she is harmed in any way!"
"Fortunately, Potter, your daughter is the one I care about helping. If I were here to help you, I would walk away and never look back right now."
A shriek from Miranda cut off any reply Harry had intended to make. "Murderer! You've killed him and he didn't hurt you at all!"
Harry and Severus both sprinted across the grass as Petunia ran from the kitchen. "Dudders!" she exclaimed. "What did you do that for?"
The chunky teen halted in the process of twisting the arm of a headless stuffed bear to gape at his mother in shock. "I was only teaching the girl to wrestle, Mum."
The distraction cost him the bear. "You did it, Severus," came a disembodied voice before the head flew back on and stuck of its own accord and the animal seemed to jump into Miranda's ready arms.
"I would have, Hes--"
He broke off with a curse as Dawlish came barreling across the lawn with his wand drawn. "Well, if it isn't Dumbledore's pet Death-Eater! I've had my eye on you for many a year, Snape. Who would have thought I'd get to haul your sorry arse in for using Ministry-restricted spells around the Chosen One? My! My! What will Dumbledore say?"
"Probably that no one knew 'Reparo' was a Ministry-restricted charm." Severus' voice was cold. "Is Fudge trying to drum up business, or has the power gone to Scrimgeour's brain so soon as this?"
"So you think all this is about a simple 'Reparo' charm? Who else is in this garden, Snape? I don't believe for a minute that even that dottering old coot, Dumbledore, would permit Harry Potter to be cursed and uncursed again by you within the bounds of this warded house."
Severus opened his mouth, but Miranda spoke before he could draw in a breath.
"I -- I-- I did it, sir. I-- I'm ever so sorry! I wasn't trying to hurt Harry. I-- I'd NEVER do that, sir. I-- I-- It was for Mr. Bear, sir. Dud-- Dudley had him and he-- he saided that he-- he-- he woulded tear Mr. Bear--" She stopped to choke down a hiccupping sob. "Limb from limb, he said, sir. I-- I didn't kno-- know what that meaned, but it didn't sounded nice at all, sir! The-- then he pulled-- he pulled Mr. Bear's head right off, sir! I-- I-- I didn't want Mr. Bear to DIE, sir! So-- so I-- (It was wrong, I know!) I wished him with dragon pox, so he'd get all sick like when he was four. He-- he'd have to stop hurting Mr. Bear if he were sick you know, sir. But then Aunt Petunia came running out of the house, and she was scolding Dudley for killing Mr. Bear. She-- she wouldn't want her boy sick again, you know, sir, so I-- I wishted the dragon pox away. Be-- besides Harry and Professor Snape were coming too, and I-- I didn't want a spanking, you know, sir. I-- I wasn't going to tell, because I'd get an awful spanking, but it isn't right to blame Pro-- Professor Snape, sir, when it was-- it was me, sir. And I am ever so sorry too!"
"Well, well!" Severus had his sneer firmly in place. "Is this what our taxes buy these days, Dawlish? Trained aurors who spend their time running around defending teddy bear killers from seven-year-olds? The new minister must be so proud-- your old boss, isn't he?"
"Stow it, Snape!" the man growled. "Who would have expected a young witch with a teddy bear in this garden?"
"You might have, if you'd taken the time to find out."
Harry had gone to kneel by Miranda's side. "His arm is still hurt, Harry. He doesn't want his arm hurted! See?"
Petunia, who had begun to speak quietly to the men, turned and addressed the girl instead. "I will fix your friend's arm, Child, as soon as we go back into the house. Now, do not mess with it. We don't want it getting worse."
"Yes, ma'am, Aunt Petunia." Miranda, tears still on her cheeks, kissed the bear's ear. "Professor Kitty agrees it's best to wait for Aunt Petunia to fix your arm, Mr. Bear. We must be patient, she says."
The child had said the last with her lips pressed against the furry ear. The adults had all turned back to their discussion and appeared not to notice. Harry bent over her, as if examining the bear. "Professor Kitty is here now, Mite?" he asked in a whisper.
Miranda nodded towards the tool shed nearby.
"Professor," whispered Harry. "Do you know what Professor Snape and I were talking about? Uhh, please mew if you want to say 'yes'."
Silence. "She knows," whispered Miranda at last. "She was hiding closer before I screamed. But she can't let anyone hear her. She wants me to tell you yes and that she thinks it would be very good for both of us. She knows it's hard to trust that, but she wants you to try."
"OK, then, thank you, ma'am." Harry leaned closer to the girl. "Thank you too, Mite."
Miranda dropped the bear and wrapped her arms around Harry's neck. "You're welcome, Harry-Daddy. I love you."
Harry awkwardly patted her back. "I do you too," he muttered.
Snape approached. "We need to talk about Mr. Weasley."
Miranda looked up in concern. "He's not sick, is he?"
"No; he wrote a law."
"A real one, like police use?"
"Yes, a very real one."
Miranda picked up the bear. "That was very smart of you, sir. I bet everyone is proud of it! I will be from now on."
Something in that action bothered Harry. Severus, however, appeared to notice nothing.
"Mr. Weasley would not be proud to know that you broke his law tonight."
Miranda looked aghast. "I didn't even know he wrote a law. I LOVE Mr. Weasley! I'd never breaked his law!" She began to cry.
"It is called the Muggle Protection Act, Miranda." Snape's voice was coldly unaffected by her tears. "Do you know what Muggles are?"
"They're people who can't do magic," sniffled the girl. "Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Nell all said so."
"Who in this house are Muggles?"
"Uncle Vernon and Dudley."
Snape just stared at her. "Do you know what 'protection' means?"
"Not letting someone get hurt."
"Exactly. And what is an act?"
"Something you do."
The man sighed. "The word can mean that. In this case, however, it means a law. So Mr. Weasley wrote a law about not hurting Muggles--"
Miranda gasped. "And when I gave Dudley dragon pox?" She looked both hopeful and abashed. Harry found himself wondering how it was possible to be both at once.
"Exactly," nodded Snape. "Your Aunt Petunia, however, did not wish to press charges at this time. Do you know what that means?"
"Umm. Pressing is something the Muggle laundry did to Daddy's good shirt. But the boy didn't knowed how to do it right, so Daddy's shirt burned. The boy's daddy hit him hard, but my daddy made him stop. He gave me the shirt to play nurse with. The boy's daddy bought him another one. Then we moved, so we didn't have to play at being Muggles anymore, and Ee-ee could play outside with me."
"That is one kind of pressing, but not the kind I meant. 'Pressing charges' means complaining to the law enforcement officers and having someone arrested."
Miranda started to tremble and hid behind Harry. "Mr. Bear and I don't wanted to go to jail! We wants to stay with Harry; we do!"
"You're not going to jail, Mite," Harry promised, pulling her close. "Professor Snape said Aunt Petunia was not going to press charges."
Miranda sniffled. "Thank you, Aunt Petunia. Mr. Bear thanks you too."
"However," Snape continued. "It must NEVER happen again! Are we clear on that issue, Miranda Bentley?"
"Because if it does, someone will answer for it, and that someone won't be the teddy bear."
The girl hugged Mr. Bear tightly. "I'm really sorry that I broke your law, sir," she informed the animal. "I didn't know is why, sir. I promise not to do it again."
"Mite?" Harry spoke hesitantly. He had unconsciously noted Petunia's approach, but the auror seemed not to be listening to Snape, being more interested in watching Dudley's safe return to the house. "Why do you say it's Mr. Bear's law?"
"Because I'm not allowed to talk to Mr. Weasley, but he is disappointed, so I wanted him to know that I'm sorry and didn't mean to hurt him or break his special law. I want to tell him how I love him too, and Mrs. Weasley and Ginny. I hope to meet her soon."
Dawlish nodded back toward Petunia and hurriedly left the yard as the screen door snapped shut on Dudley.
Harry relaxed in relief as the auror retreated from sight. Then he turned a comforting smile on the still-trembling child. "I'm sure you will be meeting her soon. You can write Mr. Weasley a letter tomorrow explaining all that.
"Come into the house with me, Child, and I'll fix your teddy's arm now." Petunia beckoned imperatively.
Miranda closed her mouth on whatever she had been intending to tell Harry. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you," she whispered at length. Hugging the bear tightly, she retreated behind the woman.
"Why was she talking to the bear like he was Mr. Weasley?" Harry wondered aloud.
"Use your brain for something besides a seperator for your ears, Potter!" Snape snapped. "Why was she talking to the bear as if it were Hestia Jones?"
"Because Hestia was there, and you told her not to talk to the guard, and..." Harry's voice died away as his eyes widened. "Now Mr. Weasley is standing there?"
"Unless he's a blathering idiot, he has chosen a different location in which to stand. But basically, you are correct, Potter. Your daughter knows when the guards change and who they are, if she has met them before, that is. It is information we never intended you to have, but now the headmaster has accepted that it is unavoidable. You always complain that people do not tell you enough about the Order you would love to join. Figure out a way to find out who is around, and you have a great means of protection at your very elbow twenty-four, seven."
"Miranda always knows, Professor?"
Harry could see problems ahead. Miranda had been traumatized by Hestia, a gentle woman who probably would not wish to hurt the proverbial fly. "I-- I think it would be a very good thing for you to teach Miranda Occlumency, sir. Thank you for--"
The bang of the screen door caused both to spin around. Miranda was already almost upon them, eyes wide with fright. Petunia ran after her, lugging her sewing basket.
"Uncle Vernon said he was locking up now and anyone not inside the house would be sleeping elsewhere. I don't want to sleep here without you, Harry-Daddy, please! Mr. Bear doesn't either!"
Out-of-breath, Petunia reached the trio. "For mercy's sake, Child, your uncle was only joking. We would NEVER lock Harry out for the night! Just ask him if we ever had before."
"No," began Harry. 'But you've threatened it often enough,' he added to himself.
Miranda was thoroughly unconvinced. "If you have to stay out all night, keep me with you, sir, please! And Mr. Bear too!"
"Let me have the animal back, and we'll go over to the bench and finish fixing him. He will not like being snatched from me in that rude way again however. His arm almost came completely off, and it was nearly fixed before. See here?" Petunia showed the most recent injuries to the animal as if showing off a new automobile. "When we get this fixed, maybe your daddy will be ready to come back into the house with us." Her eyes informed Harry that he had better be ready, like it or not.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry I snatched Mr. Bear that way, ma'am. I-- I didn't mean to be rude."
"Well, as long as it does not happen again." Petunia led the child over to the garden bench.
Snape regarded the boy for a long moment. "You think so?" he asked at length. "That it's a good idea, I mean."
Another silent appraisal followed. Finally Snape agreed. "It would be a very good thing indeed, Potter. I shall contact you tomorrow with a schedule."
"Thank you, Professor."
Miranda returned, clutching the bear. "Aunt Petunia says it's time to come in now, Harry-Daddy. I'm sorry I ran away from her before."
"I understand, Mite. You thought Uncle Vernon really was going to lock me out, and that scared you. It would have scared anybody in your place. Come on. It is WAY past your bedtime now!"
"Yes, sir. Good night, Professor Snape. Good night, Mr. Bear. I love you both SO much!"
"Good night, Professor," Harry echoed. "Thank you, sir. And good night, Mr. Bear!" He laughed.
"Mr. Bear says," Miranda called back from the stoop where she waited, "Good night. Sleep well, Son!"
Severus, glancing at Harry's face, could not miss the grin that suffused it. In a moment, however, it was gone again. "Goodbye, Professor."
As Snape walked away, perhaps he imagined the husky voice behind him. It sounded like tears were threateningly near. "Good night, Mr. Bear. I hope you sleep well too, sir." Looking back over his shoulder showed Severus only an empty garden and a screen door that snapped softly closed as he listened.