Disclaimer: No matter what the Plot Ferrets say, I am not hidden away in a love nest with Ms Rowling, I did not secretly write any of her books, and chocolate coated rats are not at all tasty. Not even if it's Swiss chocolate.
There are times when it seems as if owl post, much like any other type of delivery, is governed primarily by the special magic known as Murphy's Law. The letter or package that is the most anticipated always seems to take the longest to arrive. This morning, August the tenth, was no exception.
Two days after their expedition to Diagon Alley, Harry had sent an owl order form to Quality Quidditch Supplies. He'd spotted the new Nimbus Pro Chaser Edition, along with the sign telling that it was the exclusive broom of the English, Irish, Bulgarian, and Brazilian national teams. It was supposed to be a good blend of speed, stability, and maneuverability. He'd also seen the look on Ginny's face when she'd spied it through the window, and that, more than any testimonial, was all he needed. Looking through Which Broomstick, he'd read the specs on it and gone through the comparison tests, seeing that it beat the new Firebolt C.E. by a mile. The order form had gone off while Ginny was in the shower that morning, and he made sure to let the shop know that it had to be in his hands by the tenth. He wanted to make sure he had it put safely away, because Ron had told him that she was extremely persistent when it came to birthday or Christmas presents. Apparently, she usually knew well in advance what most of them would be and had the best instincts for finding hidden things of any of the Weasley family, including the twins.
As a result of all of this, Harry was up early on the morning before his girlfriend's birthday. Truth be told, he was starting to get a bit nervous. He'd heard her door open a few minutes ago, followed by the soft footfalls she made on the way to the loo. It wouldn't be long before she was done in the shower, and he knew it would be difficult to think of a plausible reason not to let her into his room first thing in the morning, as had been their habit lately. Thankfully, just as he heard the shower stop, two large barn owls showed up with a long box. He stepped back from the window so they could glide in and drop it off. They were off again before he could thank them, and he quickly shrunk the box and tucked it into the back of his underwear drawer.
If it'd been almost anyone else, he could've just placed an aversion charm on it, or disillusioned it for that matter, but he was fairly sure that wouldn't work on Ginny, whose formative years had been spent in close proximity to Fred and George. Ron? Maybe. Not with Ginny, though.
As he was musing on this, his door opened and in walked the subject of these thoughts. Her hair was still wet from the shower, she wore no makeup, and she had donned a simple t-shirt adorned with the legend, 'Hand over the chocolate, and nobody gets hurt...much...,' over her cut-off jeans, but she was perfect to him. Ginny walked right up to him and draped her arms over his neck, his arms around her waist. She laid her cheek against his chest, breathing deeply. After a moment, she looked up at him, and he leaned down to kiss her. It was a short kiss, but intense. When it was done, she grinned at him.
"Best way to start off the day, I do believe. At least until Mum starts letting me sleep in here like I want to."
Harry gave a short laugh. "Yeah, that's going to happen, Gin."
She shrugged, still smiling. "Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?"
"Believe me, love, you're not the only one who's dreaming of it." He gave her another quick kiss, then pulled away to put a shirt on. When he turned back to her, she was pouting.
"Fine, then. Just ruin my fun. Put a shirt on. See if I care."
He rolled his eyes. "Somehow, I don't think your mum would be too happy to see me shirtless at the breakfast table. The rest probably wouldn't be too thrilled, either."
She wasn't giving in. "So? They don't have to look."
The two of them bantered back and forth as they made their way down to the kitchen, and through breakfast. The only thing that made them stop the mutual teasing for the moment was the reactions of the others around them. Hermione was clearly amused, while Ron looked almost offended.
"Oi! You two don't get to do that!"
Ginny turned to him, one eyebrow raised and her arms crossed. "Oh? And why not, dear brother?"
He grinned and put his arm around Hermione. "Because that's our act."
Everybody rolled their eyes at this, including the twins, who were around most mornings for breakfast, as neither could cook. In fact, both had been banned by their landlord from even attempting it, ever since their last foray into the culinary arts. Though the incident in question had been months ago, the poor woman still couldn't look at kippers and scrambled eggs without flinching, and the less said about goat cheese, the better. At least she'd finally gotten past that unfortunate twitch.
Fred said, "At least when these two do it -"
"They're entertaining -" George continued.
"And kind of cute."
"At least they don't - "
"Require earplugs to be around -"
"Or inspire a search for an empty broom cupboard -"
"To lock them in."
Even Molly had to laugh at that, though she tried not to.
"Actually, you don't know how close that came to happening." Ginny said.
Harry joined in, looking at Ron. "Good job you confessed when you did, mate. You know we would've done it, rather than listen to that in the tower next term."
Ron gulped, looking a bit nervous for a moment. He looked between his best mate and sister, wondering for a moment if getting these two together was such a good idea, after all. Of course, now that they were a couple, it'd be infinitely safer to leave them that way, instead of trying to get them back apart. Less painful, too. The youngest male Weasley quickly changed the subject.
"So, you two fancy some flying after breakfast?"
His sister rolled her eyes at this. "What do you think, Captain Obvious? If I'm going to try out for Chaser next year, I'd best get some practice in. Like you could keep Harry off his broom, anyway."
Ron shrugged. "If there's one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's not to assume anything when it comes to Harry. I mean, who would've thought he'd actually get a clue about girls?"
Hermione, seeing the look in Harry's eyes at this, thought it would be a good idea to cut in at this point."Ron, you're hardly one to talk about anyone else getting a clue. It took you four years to figure out I'm a girl. Anyway, why don't we head outside? I'll just get the book I was reading last night, and-"
Her boyfriend interrupted, saying, "Uh uh, Hermione. I'm getting you on a broom if it's the last thing I do."
"Ronald, you know I don't like flying. Why do we always come back to this?"
"Harry and I were talking last night, and he brought something up. We all know that the next time we fight the Tosser and his goons, they'll exploit any and all weaknesses they can find. On top of that, you never know when we might be lured into an area where we can't floo out, Apparate, or use portkeys. In a situation like that, it may well turn out that running or flying could be the only way of getting away. I just want to make sure that we're on as equal a footing we can be. Besides," He flashed a grin at her. "You just might find out you enjoy it."
Presented with logic like this, she couldn't find a way to refuse. Truthfully, she was a bit stunned that he'd actually managed to beat her, Hermione, with logic. She shook her head and decided that it would be better to concede gracefully. She couldn't resist just one little dig, though.
"Fine. I'll try it." She saw his grin widening. "But, you get to be the one to explain to your mum and mine, when I fall off and break every bone in my body." Seeing how pale he went at that almost made losing the argument worthwhile.
Both Harry and Ginny snickered at the other two as they led the way to the broomshed.
Just as Hermione was shakily leaving the safety of Terra Firma, a meeting was getting underway in the Headmaster's office at Hogwarts. The topic of this gathering was the training for the leader of the little group currently soaring above the Burrow. Once everybody was seated, Dumbledore brought the meeting to order. In attendance were the faculty members of his school, as well as a few select members of the Order of the Phoenix.
"Thank you all for coming on such short notice. The reason I've called for this meeting is, quite simply, that it's been pointed out to me quite recently that I've been remiss in ensuring that Mr Potter receive the training he will need to defeat Lord Voldemort. Aside from the natural talents he's displayed already, there are others that are just now manifesting."
Not surprisingly, the interruption came from his Potion's professor. "Natural talents? Headmaster, I really must protest. Potter can hardly be called 'talented.' I mean, this is the same student who had such trouble mastering a simple accio charm, is it not? He's hopeless when it comes to Potions, passable in Herbology, is unable to manage even the fundamentals of Occlumency and is pitiful in Defense. How can you say he's naturally talented?" Thinking his point had been made, Snape sat back in his chair, his customary sneer firmly in place.
The surprise came when the person speaking in his defense wasn't the one he'd expected. Instead of McGonagall, it was Flitwick who spoke. "Severus, the variant of the summoning charm Mr. Potter was working so diligently on in his fourth year wasn't simply calling a book or a feather from a desk, or across the room. It was a way to bring his broom to him, from over a half mile away. Have you ever done any research into the Firebolt series of brooms?"
Snape drawled, "I have no interest in them. They are an international standard broom, far above what ninety percent of the public can afford or is willing to spend on a broom. They are especially designed for Quidditch, which I have next to no interest in, except as a way to prove my House's superiority."
The diminutive Charms professor smiled and replied, "I thought as much. One of the reasons they are considered international standard is the fact that the charms used on them are specifically designed to conform to all guidelines for League play. They have the most robust anti-tampering charms available, including anti-summoning charms. You may recall that Mr. Potter's Firebolt was confiscated by our departed and unlamented Defense professor, Dolores Umbridge. Before it was given back to him earlier this summer, Minerva, Albus, Rolanda Hooch and myself ran a battery of tests on that broom, to ensure that she wasn't able to tamper with it while it was in her possession. I had some concerns about that, as she seems to be just slightly less vindictive than your former master. What I found astounded me. All of the charms placed by the manufacturer were still in place. Indeed, they seem to be stronger than those put on during manufacture. When I visited their headquarters, they told me that the charms grow in strength with the affinity the owner has with the broom. In other words, the better a flier someone is, the better protected the broom is. I think we can all agree, even you, Severus, that Harry Potter is the most natural flier any of us has seen in all our time here. It follows then, that the protective charms on his broom have to be the best of any broom we've seen yet. So, if he doesn't have a high natural talent, how would he have been able to summon a broom with an anti-summoning charm on it? Bit of a paradox, isn't it?"
Before Snape could even start to think about a response to this, Alastor Moody's gravelly voice was heard. "Pitiful in Defense? Don't tell me you've been listening to that Umbridge toad. I've heard all about her, and she's the one pitiful in that subject. I've known her for twenty years, ever since she was a student here. During her OWL year, I was the Defense professor, and she had absolute bollocks for marks in the class. She might've done a bit better, but she spent too much time mooning after Quirinius Quirrel. That name ring a bell?
"True, Potter does have his shortcomings in Defense, but I've never met a student who didn't. He's got a lot more on the ball than ninety percent of the students that walk through those doors, even with all the crap he has riding on his shoulders. Snape, you're talking about a student who killed a sixty foot basilisk at twelve years old, knocked your skinny arse nearly through a wall at thirteen and cast a fully corporeal Patronus and dueled Voldemort to a standstill at fourteen. From what I understand, he dueled Snake-Face only after getting bitten by and defeating an Acromantula and a Blast-Ended Skrewt, getting stabbed in the arm, and being put under the Cruciatus. At fifteen, he and five friends rode part of a herd of Thestrals to the Ministry and dueled against most of the inner circle of the Death Eaters. Only one of those Death Eaters got away that night, and she only did because Voldemort took her with him. From what Albus says, he also led a study group last year in Defense, due to the incompetence of the Ministry -appointed instructor, and the students who learned from him were the only ones in the school, bar a few Ravenclaws, to get O's on their Defense Against the Dark Arts OWLs or NEWTs. To be honest, I'd rather have Potter and his friends next to me in a fight, than most of the active- duty Aurors currently lounging around the coffee room at the Ministry." Sitting behind him, Tonks and Kingsley nodded fervently. Both of them had seen those students in action, and agreed whole-heartedly.
"As for Potions, Severus," came from McGonagall, "I'd suggest that you take a good hard look at the OWL scores, and ask yourself how a student who was given the barest minimum of instruction in 'the subtle arts' could manage O's in your class as well." Snape started to interrupt, only to be stopped by his colleague's stern visage staring him down. "Yes, we know all about how you treat students from houses other than your own. I also know how you treat Mr. Potter in particular, and hold grudges until well after the fact and against the wrong people. You really must learn how to tell the difference between dead people and those still alive. Harry is not James Potter, and never even had the chance to know him or Lily. You treat Harry as if he was as arrogant as your little prince, Draco Malfoy. If there is a student who fits the profile you seem determined to prove Mr. Potter personifies, it's the Malfoy child. I've never seen anyone more arrogant, swaggering, and stuck up than that little ponce. If anything, Harry seems a bit too humble at times, all too willing to forsake the limelight for his own accomplishments. Unlike Mr. Malfoy, Harry Potter has accomplished a great many things in just the few scant years he's been among us. Most people would be content to rest upon their laurels, especially if they had the monetary resources to fall back on that he does. If he wished, he could finish his schooling, retire to one of the properties granted to him by both his parents' and Sirius Black's wills, and never lift a finger again. The money left to him, though I'm not sure he's even aware of this, is enough to buy and sell all of London, several times over. Even if he does know the true extent of his fortune, I doubt that it means much to him, except as a means of providing for the people he loves. In case you weren't aware, he's decided that he wants to become an Auror upon finishing here. That's possibly one of the most difficult, strenuous, and thankless jobs the wizarding world offers. In addition, those that do it are in no way compensated for it to the level that they should be. In speaking with him at his career counseling, as well as since then, I have made sure that he is aware of all of this. He doesn't care. When I asked him why not, he told me that his greatest wish, other than a family of his own, is that no other family should ever be split asunder at the whim of, and I quote, "Some wanker in search of power." That no other child should have to deal with being orphaned and left in the care of people who despise him, and treat him worse than the Malfoys treat their house-elves. Severus Snape, I will hear no more of you denigrating that young man is my presence!" Seething, the head of Gryffindor House took her seat again, glaring at her erstwhile colleague.
Albus Dumbledore had watched all of this with no small amount of trepidation. While his Potions professor was widely acknowledged to be without peer in his knowledge of his subject, the Headmaster had heard all too many reports of his treatment of non-Slytherin students over the years, most especially the Golden Trio, as they were known. Due to Snape's usefulness as a spy, as well as his knowledge of useful and obscure potions, Dumbledore had turned a blind eye to much of his misconduct, hoping his conduct would improve. Well, that would end.
"Severus, you and I will have much to discuss after this meeting has concluded. I feel that there are things we need to go over, regarding your attitude and conduct concerning those students not under the banner of your House. I realize that you have the responsibility of providing the image of being set against the Light, as a great many of your own students have one or more parents in the service of their Dark Lord, but I do believe that it may be time to practice moderation in this. This is one of the things we will discuss later. The only reason I bring it up now in front of your colleagues is that they are some of the people who have mentioned these issues to me in the past, and I need them to know that things will change.
"The other thing I wanted to mention, in the context of Harry's training, is the fact that you will no longer need to provide any instruction for him in the art of Occlumency. He has, despite some setbacks," here, the venerable wizard looked at Snape over the rims of his half-moon spectacles, letting him know that he had a fair idea of what those setbacks were as well as who was the cause of them, "mastered Occlumency to a degree I haven't seen in a century. I doubt that even Tom would be able to erect mental shields as formidable as Harry's. Thus, your tuition on that subject will no longer be necessary. In order to maintain security, and for your own protection, I ask that you leave and return later. I will have Fawkes notify you when this meeting is over."
Snape swept out of the office without uttering a single word. He was obviously fuming that he'd been talked to in such a fashion. He'd effectively been read the riot act by people he'd never expected it from, and in a surprisingly logical fashion. He'd been given a great deal to think over. It was a good thing there were no students in the castle at this point, or they probably would have been scared out of a few years of growth with the way he stalked through the empty corridors. If nothing else, the rumors that had sprung up periodically over the years about his being a vampire would have gotten just a bit more reinforcement.
As he reached his dungeon domain, the meeting in the Headmaster's office continued on. By the end of the day, it was decided that Flitwick would teach Harry and his friends dueling charms and techniques, having been a dueling champion for nearly twenty years running. He would also work with Bill Weasley to teach Harry and Hermione about Curse-Breaking, as well as advanced ward construction. The reasoning was that it would be more useful for them to learn first how the wards went together, so that they could dismantle them easier if the need arose. Albus would work with Harry on learning Legilimency, and with Ron on strategic planning. Strategy and planning seemed to be more his forte than anything else.
Poppy Pomfrey would work with Harry on his aura reading skills and his newly emerging empathic abilities, as well as teaching Ginny and Hermione about healing techniques and potions. Minerva would work with all four of them in advanced transfiguration of small items into larger ones, for use as shields, as well as other spells that would be useful in combat or emergency situations. She'd also be working with them to see if any of the four would be capable of the Animagus transformation.
Moody, Tonks and Kingsley would get them started on a physical fitness regimen to get them into better shape, as well as teaching them all some Auror- level spells that the others wouldn't be expected to know. It wasn't that any of the four students were physically out of shape so much, as it would be better for them to be in better physical condition than any of the Death Eaters they'd eventually have to face. They'd also be teaching them how to Apparate, as well as special techniques that went with that, known only to the Aurors.
None of the adults here were eager for their charges to have to do battle with Voldemort's forces any time soon, but they all knew it was inevitable. All four of them had done so in the past, and there was no reason to believe that would change any time soon. There was also the fact of the prophecy. Harry had given Dumbledore permission to reveal the contents of it to the people who would be training him and his friends, as he wanted to make sure that they knew what they were getting into, as well as knowing how seriously he took it himself. All were bound with a magical oath not to reveal it to anybody without Harry's express permission, so the knowledge should still be safe from discovery. Much like a secret-keeper who held a Fidelius, the type of magical oath they swore was protected, even from a Master Legilimens. The same oath had been extracted from Harry's friends the day before.
Once the meeting was finished and the remaining faculty had gone, Albus left his office behind and made his way down to the dungeons, for a long-overdue discussion with his Potions professor. He needed to find out exactly what methods were used last term in the attempts to teach Harry Occlumency. He knew for a fact that the shields that Harry had displayed were nothing that Severus would have taught. They were much too straight-forward for the Slytherin mind to find of any use. Hopefully, though, they should prove quite frustrating to the heir of that esteemed House. Ruminating on this, he almost didn't realize that he'd reached his destination. Dumbledore stepped through the door of the Potions classroom, ready to confront Severus Snape. What he saw there wasn't quite what he expected. Snape was sitting at his desk, leaning back in his high-backed chair, looking thoughtfully down into a tumbler of Firewhiskey.
"Severus?" queried the venerable wizard.
It was a moment before the younger man answered. He raised his glass, taking a slow sip. Finally, he looked up at Dumbledore with an expression the Headmaster hadn't seen reflected in this face before, an expression of uncertainty. Seeing that look gave Albus hope that things could be salvaged.
"Headmaster, I have to admit to no small amount of confusion. From the time that I heard that James Potter's son would be attending, all I could think was that he would be as arrogant, as full of himself, as bullying, and trouble making as his father, my old nemesis." He dropped his eyes back to his glass as he continued. "As loath as I am to admit it, the dressing down I received in your office a little while ago has forced me to re-examine a few things, about myself and the way I've treated Mr. Potter. I even went so far as to look back in my Pensieve at the first day I had him in class. I was trying to reassure myself that I was right, due to his behavior in that first class. I mean, he was writing, for Merlin's sake, while I was talking. That's not the usual, at least not in the first class. I have to admit that I was curious about what could be so important as to distract him from what I was saying. While I was in the memory, I stood behind him to see what it was. You can't imagine my shock when I realized that he was actually taking notes. That would be something I'd expect from the Granger girl, or possibly from Miss Weasley. I realized that he was actually taking things much more seriously than I'd ever imagined, and that I'd followed that up by asking questions that he couldn't have known, as they weren't to be covered until the next year or possibly later., I finally saw what I've been doing. With what I know now about his childhood, it's obvious that he wouldn't have had any way to study the material beforehand for first year, much less anything later." His head shot up now, something having clicked into place for him. "Albus, how much do you know about what his childhood really was?"
Dumbledore was startled by the question, especially considering the source. His answer was more than a bit hesitant. "I know after speaking with Molly Weasley a few nights ago that his childhood with the Dursleys couldn't have been pleasant. Why?"
Snape nodded, having suspected that his mentor couldn't have known the true situation with the young Potter scion. "When I had my sessions with him with the Occlumency training, I used Legilimency to try to break into his mind. I, well, to be truthful, used more force than was necessary, which I now regret. In the process, I saw what I hope were the worst parts of his life growing up. At first, I'd thought that he'd seen into my own childhood and was trying to mock me. That only made me angrier at him, and I used even more force to break in." Albus, having a fair amount of knowledge of how Severus had been treated by his father, paled as he realized the implications of this. "Headmaster, I am going to ask you to do something that I normally would not. I would like you to use Legilimency to take a look at what I saw in his memories. I want you to know everything I've seen of him. I think that it might aid you in avoiding the same mistakes you admit you've made with him already, and worse."
Dumbledore peered at his Potions professor over his half-moon spectacles and asked, "Are you quite sure, Severus?" At the nod he got in response, he silently cast the spell to allow him access to the younger man's mind. The memories he sought were at the fore, and quite easy to find. These were quite possibly the most disturbing memories he'd ever had occasion to witness.
A huge man was bearing down on the small dark-haired child, who was curled up in a ball on the floor, his arm at an unnatural angle. His foot, seeming huge from this perspective, struck out at the child's back, hard. "You freak!" he thundered. "You ungrateful little freak! Do you think we want you here one bit? Do you?" The huge foot came for the child again.
The same child, a bit older, was being thrown bodily into an extremely small cupboard, his leg snapping as he hit the back wall. The door was slammed shut, the click of a lock clearly audible. Even at the child's young age, it was obvious that there was nowhere near enough room for him. A grate slid open high on the door and Vernon's face pressed against it as he insulted the boy inside and told him that he would be locked in here for the next three days, no food and no water, not even allowed out for visits to the restroom. That was what the coffee can in the corner was for.
Vernon was dragging a twelve-year-old Harry up the stairs to the smallest bedroom by his arm, nearly wrenching the arm from its socket as they went. Harry was thrown into his room and collapsed under a window with bars across it. The door was slammed and multiple locks were thrown. Harry looked emaciated, as though he hadn't eaten in quite some time.
Many more memories like this one flowed before his mind's eye, each worse than the rest. Each of these visions took their toll on the old wizard, showing him just how bad it had been for his young protégé, how much of a mistake had been made by Dumbledore's handling of the situation. He'd been warned, as long ago as the night he'd placed Harry there, but hadn't listened, dismissing Minerva's concerns as simple prejudice against Muggles. He should have known better, should have checked on the poor boy. By the time he'd finished viewing it all, he was slumped in the chair, all twinkle gone from his cerulean eyes. A tear streamed down his face and into his beard, as the impact of it all hit him. With a flash of flames, Fawkes appeared in front of him and alighted on his shoulder. His familiar nuzzled his head against Albus' cheek and crooned encouragement. After a few moments, the phoenix song broke through and comforted the tired leader of the Light. He turned his head toward his companion and brought a hand up to stroke the feathers at the bird's breast. The two of them sat that way for a few moments, Dumbledore taking strength from Fawkes. Finally, he gave a decisive nod and turned to the younger man.
"Right, then. Severus, I do not expect you to become fast friends with Harry any time soon, but I do expect you to treat him like any other student in your class. He came by his OWL score in Potions honestly, so please do not make any protest regarding his enrolling in your class this year. As for Occlumency, he will no longer require your instruction in that subject. One of the subjects that we covered in the meeting after you left was the fact that he has, on his own, mastered the subject. He has the capability to erect a shield that even I cannot penetrate, even with direct eye contact. I doubt that Voldemort would be able to either at this point. We still need to have a discussion of your methods of instruction used in his tutelage, but that will be a matter for another day. In the meantime, I must take myself to the Burrow, in order to advise Mr. Potter of the manner of instruction he will receive over the remainder of the summer holidays." By the time he'd finished, the twinkle was back in place. "I have promised him that I would no longer conceal vital information from him. I have to admit that I am greatly heartened to see that you are giving some thought to your behavior of late. I can only hope that it continues." Severus only nodded with a slightly resigned air as the Headmaster peered at him over those spectacle of his, the twinkle back in his eyes, before leaving.
August eleventh dawned extremely early for Harry Potter, as he hadn't slept much the night before. For once, it wasn't due to nightmares or visions, but to the celebration that would be held today. It was Ginny's fifteenth birthday, and there would be a party for her. He'd found out from the twins that she had asked that her birthday not be celebrated starting the summer after her first year at school, and had made sure that nobody raised a fuss over it since. Of course, what the two of them conveniently forgot to mention was that the reason she didn't want a party was that she didn't want to have to worry about spending the entire day looking over her shoulder to avoid anything they might do to prank her. After all, she remembered some of the birthday pranks they'd pulled in the past, all too well. It had taken nearly an entire day the year before she went to Hogwarts for her to change back, after being changed into a squirrel. Of course, the day after that had been when she'd learned the fabled Bat-Bogey Hex, so it wasn't a totally wasted experience.
Harry decided that it was time to change that, and talked the rest into it, as well as letting them know he'd take the blame if she got upset over it. The talks he'd had with her brothers had make it eminently clear just how much they feared her temper, as well as how she chose to express it when the need arose. They'd also sworn that there was no way they'd try to prank her again. Ron may have issue with spiders due to the two of them, but they still couldn't look at a squirrel without cringing. No matter what the twins said, he doubted that she'd ever make good on her threat of changing them into Bludgers and taking them to the next World Cup match, but it certainly kept them in line.
The young wizard dressed and made his way down to the kitchen, enjoying the feel of the early morning cool on his skin. As warm as it had been lately, it was a welcome change. He quickly put on a pot of water for tea and a pot of coffee, and then set to work. He'd spent a fair amount of time over the past couple weeks finding out what Ginny's favorite foods were, especially for breakfast. While he may not have qualified as a gourmet chef, his time with the Dursleys had ensured that he knew his way around the kitchen, and that he was a fair cook. He'd never starve at any rate. Harry had also spent some time with Molly, working with her to see how the Wizarding equivalent of the Muggle appliances he was used to worked. As he started getting everything ready for this morning's breakfast, the teen mulled over what the Headmaster has presented to him last night. The training program that had been outlined to him sounded very thorough, and would enable him to use his powers, including the newly emerging ones effectively, both in the brewing war and afterward. The young wizard was gratified that the adults around him were finally taking him seriously. It would make taking care of everything he knew he had to that much easier. He wasn't much chuffed that Snape had shared the information he had with Dumbledore, but knew why he had, and wouldn't call him on it. Time would tell whether the Slytherin Head of House would keep his word as to how he would treat Harry in class, but it would be nice if it worked. If not, Harry could always owl the twins for assistance.
Harry was just placing the last plate on the table and making sure that he'd cast warming or cooling charms where appropriate, when he felt a warm body press against him from the back, and two slender arms wraps themselves around his waist. A smirk came to his eyes as he addressed who was behind him.
"You know, Hermione, if we keep this up, Ron or Ginny is bound to find out about us."
A bite on one ear was the only response to his joke.
"Ow! Good morning, Gin. Happy Birthday, love."
From behind him, he heard a soft, "Hmph! Hermione. Please. I know you knew it was me to begin with. For one thing, she's much larger up top than I am, and I'm reliably informed that even the denser males of the species can discern that kind of difference."
While she was speaking, her boyfriend had turned in her arms to face her, and kissed her as soon as she paused. When they stopped for the moment, she gave a throaty chuckle. "Also, you should have seen the look on her face when I described how you kiss me. Her face kind of scrunched up and she shut her eyes, as if she was trying not to picture it. I thought it best to stop describing at that point."
Harry was amused at the mental image, but gave her a mock offended look. "So, she was that offended by the thought of kissing me, eh? I should feel hurt."
Laughing, Ginny replied, "I asked her about that, and she said that she thought that it would be rather like kissing a brother or something. Although, she did say that if she didn't feel the way she does about you, she'd have jumped you long ago. The she got this weird look on her face and said something about having "squicked" herself, turned to the wall, and went to sleep." Both of them laughed at the mental image, as well as Hermione's choice of words. It was then that the petite redhead looked over his shoulder at the table, and her eyes went wide. "Harry? Did you make all of this?"
On the table were rashers of bacon, plates of bangers, a towering stack of pancakes, a huge platter of scrambled eggs, fresh fruits, and scones straight from the oven. Next to the place where she usually sat for meals was even a plate with fried tomatoes, mushrooms, and kippers. He'd even made sure that the jam in front of her plate was elderberry, the only kind that she'd put on her toast.
Nodding, Harry replied, "Erm, yeah. I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to do something nice for your birthday. I know you don't normally want it celebrated and all, but I was-mmph!"
The last sound was created because he could no longer speak, his girlfriend having attached herself to him at the lips. She had jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms firmly around his neck. His hands went almost automatically to the most natural place to support her, prompting an interesting squeaking sound from the young witch. They would have explored this a bit more, if not for the groaning sound they heard from the doorway.
"Merlin, you two! It's way too early to walk in on something like this."
Harry grinned and replied, "Good morning to you too, Ron. At least the two of us aren't missing any items of clothing, and we are vertical, unlike a certain other couple I happened to walk in on yesterday in the broom shed." Ginny had dropped her feet back to the floor and let go of Harry, so she could turn in his arms and lean back against him, his arms still around her small waist. She was simply enjoying being held by the man she loved, as well as watching the bantering between him and her brother.
Ron's ears quickly turned an impressive shade of pink as he remembered the previous day. Hermione had berated him rather soundly for having forgotten the locking charm on the door to the shed, though he'd at least remembered the silencing charm. He quickly decided to cut his losses and change the subject. He looked towards the table, remembering what had originally brought him downstairs at this early hour.
"Hey, who made breakfast already? Something smells really good! Where's Mum?" He looked around, clearly confused at the dilemma of so much good food in sight and his mother nowhere to be found.
Harry rolled his eyes at his friend's obvious attempt at changing the topic of the conversation, but let it go for now. It would be as much fun to see the confusion that the explanation would bring.
"Actually, Ron, she's not up yet, so far as I know. I made it. I wanted to do something nice for a certain little spitfire." He gave Ginny's waist another squeeze and bent to lay a soft kiss on her neck, just behind her ear. Again came that interesting little noise, half squeak, half moan. She turned again and laid her hands on his chest as she looked intensely up into his emerald eyes.
"You are going to pay for doing that to me in front of my brother, you realize," came the low voice, pitched so that Ron wouldn't hear. "Just wait till I get you alone on the train." Her eyes gleamed as she said this, causing some rather interesting blood flow issues in the young wizard. Of course, Ron would have to interrupt again.
"If you two don't stop that, you may end up doing something that may cause me to lose my appetite."
A snort came from right behind the youngest Weasley male. "As if that would ever happen." Hermione gave him a kiss on the cheek as she walked past him, followed by the twins as well as Molly and Arthur. Everybody gave their morning greetings, Molly of course hugging everybody in sight before they all sat down to breakfast. The twins started to compliment their mum on the lovely meal, but she merely shook her head, letting them know that it wasn't her doing. Raised eyebrows prompted her to nod towards Harry, causing six heads to swivel toward him as one. Harry simply chuckled as he watched the byplay.
"When did you become such a master-"
"Of the culinary arts?"
"And is it something-"
"That can be taught?"
Laughing, Harry replied, "Well, among other things, cooking and baking were skills learnt the hard way, by trial and error." He shrugged. "I've been doing it since I was tall enough to see the hob. Petunia is rather a bad cook, but I somehow became proficient at it, probably due to all the practice I've had over the years. I'm also rather good at gardening, as that was usually what they had me do after breakfast, when they didn't want to look at me." Bending back to his food, he didn't see the looks that went around the table. None of the people seated here were at all happy about the way Harry had been treated during his time with those people. Molly made a mental note to herself to discuss a bit of product testing with the twins later. She was sure that they would be sure to have a few interesting new products that wouldn't go amiss in a certain household in Surrey.
At the same time, in a certain house on Privet Drive, a violent shiver traveled up Petunia Dursley's spine. Seeing no reason for the sudden cold feeling, she walked to the thermostat on the wall and pushed it up by a few degrees. For some reason, it seemed to have no effect.
A/N: I'm very sorry that it has taken me so long to update this story. Since my last update (October of '04? Yikes! :ducks the tons of rotten fruit thrown his way:) I hope everybody has enjoyed reading this, as well as the other stories I've posted in the meantime. I have a couple of new stories I'm also working on right now, but this one is back to being the priority. I won't be so foolish this time as to attempt to say when the next update will be, but I will guarantee that the wait for the next chapter will be nowhere near as long.