Disclaimer: Nope. Still not mine. Dammit.
Like cinnamon and sugar
-Growing up, the boy was allowed exactly one comfort food. Cinnamon & sugar toast. This was because it was the absolute cheapest thing they could think of. The other reason was, Vernon and Petunia had deducted that, in order to get a stubborn mule to pull it's load, you sometimes needed a carrot, as well as the stick. As a result, this taste was one of the few happy memories the boy ever had of his childhood. What childhood there was, that is.-
Slowly, very slowly, eyelids fluttered open. It didn't seem to be a good idea to let the light in. There didn't seem to be much of it, at the moment. A little farther open now. It was quite dark in the room, except for the stars that could be seen through the window. The moon was visible from here, too, just a sliver in the sky. The eyelids were fully open now, pupils dilated, eyes looking around.
Slowly, sounds from outside started to filter in. A car passing by on the street. Snoring from down the hall. A cat meowing outside. Crickets chirping. A radio playing somewhere, very quietly.
Smells making themselves known. On the tongue, as well as to the nose. The ghost of a casserole from dinner a few hours earlier. The odor of cooked cabbage still drifting over from the neighbor's, like a fog. It almost overpowers everything else. Cooked too long apparently. Much too long. The faint scent of lilacs from under the window. Then, a perfume, almost spicy. Startling.
Nerve endings in the skin fire, sending sensations to the brain. The rough texture of very cheap sheets. She'll never buy him any other kind. The soft feel of flannel pajamas. Those weren't his to begin with, so they're much softer, much nicer. The feel of the pillow on the back of his head. Oh, yes. The pain in the scar. Can't forget that, can we? Less than it was earlier in the evening, but still there.
Harry Potter sat up in his bed at 4 Privet Drive, finished for now with his nightly meditation exercise. He had never believed in this particular discipline before last year. After his first few abortive attempts in the Divination classroom, he'd had no inclination to try it again. As the weeks after his return to the Dursleys' wore on, his nightmares had gotten worse, more vivid, more painful. The visions had come one after the other, all through the night.
The dreams were entirely too vivid and real. He would see them all in his dreams, all the ones who had died because of him. He would see his parents, Cedric, countless others. He could see all the people Voldemort had killed since he'd returned. He had seen them all, or so near as made no difference, in the visions his scar brought him. The scar that was his link with the Dark Lord.
Almost as bad was when he saw the ones who had been hurt because of him, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, too many others. The worst dreams, though, were the ones where he saw Sirius. There was one dream that recurred almost every night. It was the one that always woke him up, his throat raw from keeping the scream in. He saw Sirius, slowly tumbling through the veil. Over and over and over and over. The worst part about that one was the look on his godfather's face. It started out as surprise, and turned to one of terror, as he passed the veil. This was the image that was burned into his brain night after night.
Finally, he had sent Hedwig to Professor Dumbledore, with a request for Dreamless Sleep potion. She had returned a few days later, with an envelope and a small vial. In the envelope was a letter cautioning him not to use too much of it, and only when absolutely needed. It was very potent, and just a drop or two under the tongue should be all he would need. If he used it too often, he would need to use more every time, as his body built up a tolerance to it. Two drops went under his tongue that very night. He didn't feel much better the next day, but he was more rested.
The next day, his Aunt Petunia had him sort through a box of books she was going to donate to her church. As he looked through the romance novels, never opened cookbooks, primers, and fad diets, he found a book about East Indian meditation. The picture on the back of it seemed somewhat familiar to him, so he carefully put it to the side. The next time his aunt went outside to gossip with a neighbor, it was taken upstairs and deposited in his cache under the loose floorboard. He continued his sorting, as well as the usual long list of chores she had for him. That night, after the dinner dishes were washed, he took a flashlight under the covers with him, to read it. If he could help it, he wouldn't be sleeping that night anyway.
Within half an hour, he knew why the previous experiments hadn't worked. In the first chapter it said that, in order for it to work, a beginner had to work in an area as free from external distractions as possible. As the student progressed, the surroundings wouldn't matter as much. However, Harry suspected that even the most practiced mystic would have had difficulties meditating in Sibyll Trelawney's tower room, with it's incense, flickering candles, and stifling heat.
He tried it that night for the first time. He started by ensuring that there was nothing in the room that would distract him. Not hard to do, really, as his aunt and uncle had made very sure he was never given anything not absolutely necessary. He had Dudley's hand-me-down clothes, as well as all of the cast-off or broken toys his lump of a cousin didn't want anymore. All he had to worry about were his school things, putting away his books for now, and turning the occasional wizarding picture toward the wall, so the movement wouldn't distract him.
He lay down in a comfortable position, as the book had advised. His arms were to his sides, his head on his pillow. He first concentrated on his breathing, maintaining a regular rythym. Deep breaths, in and out, in and out. He next focused on each part of his body, starting with his feet, trying, as the book had said, to picture tension leaving him. He envisioned it as the gutter that ran around the eaves of the house. Tension running through the gutter, being funneled to somewhere else, so it could drain from him. Next were his legs, letting the muscles relax, feeling the stress leave his body. By the time he had worked his way to the top of his body and out, almost seeing the tension run away from his fingertips, he was almost totally physically relaxed.
His mind, on the other hand, was a completely different matter. As was usually the case for the young wizard, his mind seemed to be racing along at a hundred miles per hour. There were too many things chasing each other's tails for him to be able to shut them all out now. The dreams he'd had, the guilt he felt for everyone who had been hurt because of him, the worries he felt for his friends, not having seen them yet this summer. He'd had letters, but they were the same sort of vague missives he had been sent the previous summer. He suspected they were at Grimmauld Place, but of course, he'd had no confirmation. The only real acknowledgement he'd had of the wizarding world at all, since he'd gotten off the Hogwarts Express was the fact that he'd heard the people on guard duty outside. It was only occasionally, and just at night. He knew that one of his guards was Tonks. The metamorphmagus was brilliant at blending in with a crowd, but only if she was able to stand completely still. The moment she had to move, she gave the game away with her poor coordination. Poor didn't even really cover it. Abysmal was a better word, really.
Harry realized that his mind was no clearer or at peace than it had been since he'd started. All these thoughts of friends were keeping him from clearing his mind.
A near photographic memory could be a curse at times, but at others, could be a blessing. Luckily, even with everything that was going through his mind, he was able to search through, and remember the techniques that had been detailed in the first chapter.
He cast around for one thing to focus on. Flying was no good, as it just reminded him of the fact that, because of the ban imposed on him in his last year, he would no longer be able to fly his Firebolt. The broom had been given to him by Sirius, whose death he was still trying to come to terms with. That would just lead to more guilt, more self-recriminations. He thought about getting back on the Hogwarts Express. This could be better. except that he would again see the people he had put in danger. More guilt. Damn! Faces started to float into view now, Ron, with the scars from his encounter with the brains from the tank. Hermione, with that awful slash across her chest.
Then Ginny's face came into focus. There was, strangely, no guilt associated with her. Actually, there was a niggle of something, but he couldn't determine what it was. It was just outside where he could see it. She had gone with him on that ill-fated journey, that was true. But, if the whole truth be known, she had all but forced him into accepting her decision to go. She had also been much less severely injured than the others, so he felt a bit easier about her.
Now he focused just on her face, allowing her to force all other thoughts from his mind. One by one, the others seemed to drop off, losing importance. As each one fell away, her face seemed a bit more solid, more real. She also seemed to take on a glow, that intensified as the rest diminished. By the time there was nobody else impinging on his awareness, the glow had seemed to settle around her, like an outline on a picture. The outline was a more intense version of the color of her hair. It seemed palpable to his other senses, as well. Cinnamon & sugar/velvet/ruby was the only way his mind could express it. It was almost something he could reach out and touch, taste, the scent wafting to his nose.
Just then, a loud noise outside startled him, and before he knew it, he was halfway to his feet, wand in hand. Just in time, it registered as being just the backfire of a passing car, and he forced himself back down to the bed. The wand back on his bedside stand, he pondered the interrupted exercise. He hadn't quite achieved what he had set out to do, but had gotten a good start on it. The one thing that surprised him was whose face had allowed him to achieve what he had. Until just recently, Harry had never seen her as anything more than the little sister of his best friend. Over the past few months, however, she had really started to come into her own. He remembered how startled he had been to see her for the young woman she was growing into. He'd been told by Hermione that Ginny had told her that she'd given up on him. He had felt a bit relieved at that, but a little saddened, as well. He hadn't given it much thought lately, but those conflicting feelings had confused him at the time.
Now, two weeks after he had started meditating, he was getting much better at it. He was at the point where he could shut off input from his senses, as he entered a meditative state. It made for much easier concentration.
He had also found out a few other things that had helped him in his meditations, as well as with occlumency. For his birthday, Hermione had sent him a book (what else, really?) about mind control and reading methods, as well as ways to fight them. The most important thing he had discovered was a technique that should have been taught to him before he even attempted to practice keeping somebody out of his mind. It involved retreating inside yourself and picturing yourself building a wall around you. It had to be pieced together brick by brick, until you were completely encased in the wall. It was an exhausting process, as you expended the same energy as you would as if doing the same thing physically. Once it was done, however, it could be almost impervious. This depended, of course, on the strength of the witch or wizard. There were many who couldn't do this, as they lacked the strength of will. To anybody who could survive in the atmosphere Harry had been brought up in, though, stubborness was something ingrained. It was a part of his very nature. He had completed the wall his first night, then fallen into a slumber that had lasted two full days. After the fact, he worried that he would be noticed for breaking the restrictions on underage magic usage. He had fretted over this for a couple of days, until he came across another passage in the book that explained that, while magic was definitely being used, it was all internal. Thus, no sign would show, to alert any watcher.
Harry got up from the bed to look out the window. He wanted to see if he could spot who his guardian for the night was. As he cast his eyes around, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, next to the shrubbery separating the Dursley's yard from their neighbors. He looked over that way, letting his eyes unfocus, and caught a faint glimmer of silver. That would be Remus Lupin. He was under an invisibility cloak, but that wouldn't hide the outlines that Harry had found he could sense around most people. Not everybody had these outlines, but there were enough that he had learned to differentiate between them. The sense he got of Remus was that of leather/paper/silver. So far, the only one he had sensed a multicolored one around was Tonks. She was sharp citrus/stone/rainbow. The impressions he would get from people were confusing, and something he would have to talk to Professor Dumbledore about, when the fall term began. Maybe he could get a straight answer from the old man on this, at least. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see what the headmaster's aura looked like.
The young wizard lay back down, wondering again how Ginny's face could be the only one that could help to keep everything at bay. Attempting to puzzle this out, he drifted into the first real sleep he had really had in quite a while.
The next morning, he awoke a bit earlier than his usual, to a tapping on his window. He put his glasses on and slipped quickly across the room, to open the window. A small fidgety owl flitted into thde room, seeming to bounce about on air currents only he could feel. Harry spent the better part of ten minutes trying to get hold of Pig, Ron's scops owl. Finally, Hedwig took pity on her master, and gave Pig a short but decidedly quelling hoot, and the flighty little owl landed on the bedside table.
"Bloody little idiot. Thanks, Hedwig." Finally able to get to the letter, the young wizard untied it, and indicated the glass of water that was sitting there. "Go ahead and have a drink, you little twit, while I read this." He opened it, and saw neat handwriting he didn't recognize, in a pink script.
I hope your summer is going well. As well as can be expected, at any rate. Those horrid muggles better be treating you right. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't like a bat-bogey now, would they?
Harry laughed at this. Just the thought of the expression on the face of any of the Dursleys as their own nasal mucus came flying out of their nostrils and attacking them was a happy enough thought to sustain him for quite a while.
Hermione got here about a week ago, and she and Ron are driving me round the bend. I swear, if I have to listen to them bicker for much longer, I'll soon be haunting toilets with Moaning Myrtle. When will they admit they fancy each other, and let the rest of us have some peace? Maybe when you get here, we can get together and swap ideas on how to handle them.
He knew exactly what she meant, and had a few notions on how things could be resolved.
I know that you're probably sitting there blaming yourself for everything, especially Sirius. STOP IT! Not your fault. That's all I'll say in a letter, but we will have a talk about this when I see you.
Harry was taken aback by this, but for some reason, couldn't take offense at Ginny saying it. Maybe it was because she took such a direct line, rather than hemming and hawing around it, like Ron and Hermione. He knew the two of them were only trying to help, having his best interests at heart, but it still got on his nerves a bit. Okay, a lot.
That brings me to the reason my mum asked me to write you (Besides the fact that Ron's writing could give anyone headaches, and you get quite enough of those, thank you). Mum and I will be there on Friday, around five o'clock, to bring you to the Burrow, for the rest of the summer. Make sure you're ready, as Mum really doesn't want to have to worry about bat-bogeys carousing around Privet Drive. Her words, not mine. As well, I'm sure you'll want to be out of there as quickly as possible, right? We'll see you Friday.
ps. tell the muggles not to worry, as we'll have a car for tomorrow. No floo powder this time.
Harry shuddered, remembering the wrath he had suffered when he had returned after his fourth year. Vernon had been extremely upset (maybe pissed would be a better word) about the way the male Weasleys had entered, using the boarded up fireplace, sending splinters, ash and boards across the room. Arthur had cleaned up the mess, and repaired everything, but that hadn't mattered to Vernon.
The young wizard had a thought that made him grin. If Vernon and Petunia thought that they would have a better time of it with the Weasley women, they had a big surprise coming. Ginny and Molly, especially, were fiercely protective of Harry. Molly saw him as one of her own, and no mother lion was ever more ferocious in protecting her young. Ginny, on the other hand, had been a member of the DA the previous year, and had done quite well. She was also very quick to come to the defense of her friends. The confrontation the next day should prove to be quite interesting indeed.
Pig was starting to look a bit restless, so Harry told him to settle down for a bit, while he wrote out a quick reply.
I can hardly wait to see everybody tomorrow. The muggles have been alright, I suppose. Moody must've given my uncle more of a scare than I realized, as he's let my aunt 'deal with' me all summer so far. At least she only gives me inside chores to do, and I'm usually in bed not later than one AM, so that's better than the usual.
I look forward to the talk we'll have. I have a few things to say, to everybody. Don't worry, I won't explode on everybody or anything. Just some things I found out after everything happened last year.
As to Ron and Hermione, you are absolutely right. Their arguing, while entertaining at times, and almost always inventive, has got to stop. I don't know how many times I had to grab my cloak and escape, just to get a chance to hear myself think. We will definitely have to put our heads together over this.
I'll be counting the hours until tomorrow night. It'll be brilliant to have one of your mum's dinners again. That's one of the things I've missed most this summer. By the way, good thinking on somebody's part, about the car. I really don't want to have to deal with my uncle over a 'destroyed' wall in the sitting room, again.
See you tomorrow. I'll be ready well before five.
He tied the letter to the leg of the little scops owl, and carried him over to the window. "Alright you little git, get home with you now."
Harry was feeling much more optimistic about the rest of the holidays, as he watched Pig fly off.