In the Face of War
The exclamation broke Harry out of his reverie.
"Get down here!"
Harry groaned and made his way downstairs to face his Uncle. These days he never knew what to expect when it came to his Muggle relatives, and today was no exception. Once he had reached the bottom of the stairs, his Uncle merely muttered, "Come have some lunch."
Harry had been pleasantly shocked by the effect the thinly veiled threat made by his wizarding friends on Platform 9 3/4 had had on his relatives. He had almost become used to the expression on Uncle Vernon's face as he considered berating Harry and then looking nervously over his shoulder as if Mad-Eye Moody were standing behind the curtains waiting for a slip-up. Harry was always floored when his Uncle would then abandon his anger and treat Harry like he was a human being. He didn't think he would ever get used to that.
Harry followed his Uncle into the breakfast room and took a seat at the table. Since he had returned to Privet Drive two weeks ago he had not once been forced to cook a meal or clean a single dish. Aunt Petunia had not abandoned the diet ritual and still served Dudley and Uncle Vernon small portions of some sad wilting vegetable or something deemed equally "healthy". She had, however, seemed to decide that starving Harry might be too risky and had begun to serve him three full meals a day. Dudley found this horribly offensive, but Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley was not suffering at the hands of his diet. Using his position over the neighborhood gang and the overflow of pocket money he was given, Dudley had taken to smuggling everything from snacks to full blown meals into the house under his parent's' noses.
Dudley complained at every meal about the food on his plate versus the food on Harry's plate. Aunt Petunia had given up on explanations and now simply ignored her son's whining. Harry had taken to making a huge production of relishing each bite with enthusiasm just to watch Dudley squirm.
"Oh...this is my favorite." Harry stabbed at the pile of food and took a bite. "Wow! It's so good! Yum…" Harry chewed his food and watched his Aunt and Uncle carefully. He knew he was asking for trouble, but Uncle Vernon kept his face buried in the morning paper and Aunt Petunia stared out the window, absently sipping her coffee.
Harry kept up this ritual at every meal only because he knew Dudley deserved every bit of the punishment. Afterwards, he would skulk back into his room for a good bout of brooding. He knew he should be jumping for joy at the surprising turn of events where his relatives were concerned, but even though he was glad for the changes, he knew they were all because the Dursleys were so terrified of embarrassment. Harry knew they would rather die than let their neighbors find out how different he was.
The day after Harry had returned from King's Cross his Aunt had taken him shopping. While Harry had fully expected to be dragged from store to store acting as a pack-mule for Dudley's presents, his Aunt had other ideas. He was stunned when she began picking out clothes that looked like they would fit Harry and began shoving him into dressing rooms to try things on. He nearly fainted when she bought him two new pairs of trainers in his size. Harry had never had new clothes in his life besides his robes in the wizarding world, and by the end of the day, he had a decently sized wardrobe of new clothes that actually fit.
The whole shopping experience had been a whirlwind. It wasn't until on the way back from London, it became clear to Harry that this trip had been prompted by the threats from Mad-Eye and Lupin. After an afternoon focused entirely on Harry (even though he had no say in what had been purchased) he half expected Aunt Petunia to smile and him and explain that she was sorry she hadn't done this sooner. Instead, she looked him up and down, frowned, and said, "At least now they can't say anything about your appearance. Pity we can't do anything about that mess on your head."
Harry turned to the window and frowned, realizing this was an attempt by his Aunt to fool any onlookers into thinking the Dursleys treated him well. He felt a little solace knowing that his hair, a trait inherited from his father, would continue to offend his Aunt.
Now, sitting in his room, Harry ran a hand through his hair as he got lost in his thoughts again. Yes, his stay at Privet Drive had not been half as bad as he had expected, but he still could not help feeling totally miserable. Every night he was haunted by nightmares replaying the events in the Department of Mysteries. His worst dreams culminated in Sirius disappearing behind the veil over and over again or in Harry, under Voldemort's possession, taunting Dumbledore through horrific pain.
After those dreams Harry, would wake himself up with screams and a wet face. As he cried himself back to sleep, his scar would prickle, and he would feel guilty for not clearing his head with Occlumency. Harry was used to the familiar waves of guilt over past events and would soon feel anger and resentment towards Dumbledore. Even though he had had weeks to process all the confessions the Headmaster had made, he had not made any progress with knowing how to feel about it all. Therefore, he brooded.
He turned towards the sound of ruffling wings as Hedwig soared through his open window and landed next to him on the bed. She nipped at him affectionately as he untied the stack of parchment from her leg.
"Why don't you go have a nice long hunt? Would you like that, girl?" In answer, she clicked her beak and took off again into the setting sun.
Harry had discovered days after arriving that members of the Order of the Phoenix had started a strict regiment of guard duty around Number 4. As he was walking down the sidewalk towards the park an attractive young woman with blonde ringlets passed him on the street and whispered, "Wotcher, Harry."
He blinked and turned to say something but the woman had already crossed the street, ringlets bouncing, acting as though she hadn't even noticed him. That afternoon an explanation had arrived via Hedwig.
Sorry if I startled you on the street today. You should know that a member of the Order will be nearby at all times this summer – almost all of us volunteered to keep an eye out. Mrs. Figg's place is our makeshift headquarters. We'll be bringing your letters personally so there's no risk of owls getting intercepted. Hedwig will be safe flying within the neighborhood so we'll send the letters with her each day then your relatives won't notice that we're here. Don't worry, Harry. I will personally take care of any trouble those Muggles give you. Keep your chin up.
Harry had to admit that even though he felt bad that people where having to go through so much trouble to keep him safe, it also made him feel better that Dumbledore hadn't left the job up to Mrs. Figg and Mundungus Fletcher alone. Judging by the fact that dementors down the street from Number 4 Privet Drive had attacked Harry last summer, he felt that Death Eaters could have taken him at any time with such lax security. He was also extremely glad to be in the know and that had did not have to watch what he wrote to his friends.
Hermione was sending her letters by Floo to Mrs. Figg's while she spent time with her parents. Because of their daughter's recovering injury and the threat of impending war they had decided to spend their vacation time at home this year. Harry had not been surprised at the tone of Hermione's letters, encouraging him to not feel guilty because she knew that he would. He could tell that she was worried about him, and although he appreciated it that she cared, her concern also annoyed him slightly. She just couldn't understand how much rested on his shoulders. Harry was sure that if she did, she would stop giving him advice about his feelings and leave him alone. But then, of course, he would chide himself for being annoyed with someone for caring about him. He knew he didn't deserve their support. Sometimes he couldn't figure out why anybody would put their own lives at risk just for him, but he was thankful for his friends at the same time.
He looked down at the letters in his hand and picked out the one from Hermione. After she told him about her new books, and that she was feeling better, then she gave him the familiar "Don't you dare feel guilty, it was my choice" speech ending with the always frustrating, "Don't bottle up your feelings, Harry." He sighed and skimmed that part. The next sentence caught his eye:
I have a feeling that we might be able to get together soon. Dumbledore may have to personally reassure my parents, but I am getting nervous being away from Ron and you. I really hope the Dursleys are still keeping up their end of the bargain. I can't believe I'm going to see you in clothes that fit this year! Be careful. I miss you. See you soon.
Harry had written Hermione a detailed account of his shopping trip with Aunt Petunia. He knew he couldn't gush about it to Ron since Ron hadn't had new clothes in his life either. He thought about what Hermione had said about them getting together and that she was feeling nervous. Having all the people he cared about in one place would certainly make him feel better as well. He hoped they could all go to the Burrow and spend the rest of the summer playing Quidditch and lazing by the lake. The Burrow…
He looked down at the two remaining letters in his hand. Both came from the Burrow. One was written in Ron's messy scrawl and the other in a handwriting that was still new to Harry. Ginny had been sending him letters since the beginning of summer. At first he was surprised and couldn't imagine what she would have to say to him. Now, after two weeks of letters from her he looked forward to each one and saved hers for last.
He opened Ron's letter and read it quickly. It was short and covered a few subjects Ron knew Harry would care about. He hoped he would see Harry soon, his scars were fading, and he missed Hermione. And Harry too, of course. Harry chuckled and set his letter aside.
Now he picked up the longest letter of the three and eagerly began reading.
I hope you are doing well. Tonks wrote me and said that you looked good. She even mentioned that it looked like your clothes fit better. Have you grown or did those Muggles actually get you some clothes in your size?
-Wow, she didn't miss a beat, did she?
I have been trying to get some work done this past week so I could actually enjoy the rest of the summer, but Ron has been driving me crazy. If I hear one more word about Hermione, I'm going to have to use my Bat-Bogey Hex to shut him up. He is so worried about her that he can barely sit still. The truth is, it would make me feel better to have you and Hermione here, but I know that making myself sick with worry isn't going to help. Ron isn't nearly as calm and collected as I am. The stupid git is currently wearing a new path in the garden in front of the window. He is waiting for me to finish my letter so we can get the letters from Hermione's house. I think I may tell Tonks to start sending her letters first so I can at least have some time to THINK!
I've been thinking about you a lot today. I hope you aren't being too hard on yourself. You need to remember how many people are around who love you, and no matter what, we will all be here for you. Sirius loved you so much, and I am personally going to remind you of that fact so you will never forget it. I miss him a lot. I'm not sure how I would feel about going back to Grimmauld Place this summer. I can't imagine how Lupin must feel. I'm sure you're confused about that, too. Maybe you and I can figure it out together. I know it's only been two weeks and so this may sound crazy but I really miss you, Harry.
-Harry's stomach flip-flopped and he swallowed hard.
I wish I could see you. I don't think we'll have to wait long, though. I hope not. Two more weeks and I may look like Ron! Speaking of which, he's now screaming at me to hurry up. I better go. Think you could write me and send it tonight?
Much Love, Ginny
Harry looked up and stared out the window blankly. He tried to process how he felt. The last few letters from Ginny had had a marked effect on him. He felt a little breathless and his heart was pounding. Her words about how she felt about him had progressively gotten bolder over the two weeks and to his surprise, he had relished them. He read the last part of the letter again and realized that he really missed her too. But he also had the strange feeling that he didn't miss the Ginny that he had last seen on Hogwarts Express. He missed the Ginny that had sent him this letter. He thought that if he had felt this way when she walked away at King's Cross, he might have done something daring.
Even as the image of grabbing her and snogging her senseless on Platform 9 ¾ materialized in his head, he shook it as another thought occurred to him. Hadn't she said something about Dean Thomas on that day? And wait. This was Ginny he was thinking about. Ginny, who he had seen a million times over the last four years…Ron's little sister who used to put her elbow in the butter dish whenever he was nearby. Harry realized with a jolt that that Ginny had liked him. In fact, she had liked him quite a lot. Hadn't Hermione had said that Ginny had given up on him ages ago? "Perfect timing, Potter." He thought. This Ginny was dating someone else: his roommate, in fact. Harry suddenly felt a huge rush of jealously and irrational anger. "Whoa, Harry …calm down." If she liked Dean so much why would she write him about wanting to see him so badly? There it was in writing: she missed him and she was thinking about him a lot. He suddenly got up and went to his desk to find parchment to write her back. He read over her letter once more before putting quill to parchment.
I'm sorry Ron is driving you so crazy. I think Hermione misses him too.
He paused, thinking.
Thank you for your letters. I look forward to them every single day.
Ok, that was good…now what? Did he dare be honest? Here goes…
I've been thinking about you a lot too. Don't worry – I haven't been brooding nearly as much as I want to. The Dursleys have been much better that I feel guilty being so moody. Speaking of which, Aunt Petunia actually did buy me some new clothes. I didn't tell Ron because you know how he can get about that stuff. She only did it because she thought my wardrobe would count as being horrible to me and she is terrified of Mad-Eye showing up at the door.
He looked over at her letter again.
I miss Sirius so much, Gin. I know he loved me. It hurts that I never go to tell him that I loved him too.
He blinked as tears formed in his eyes.
Thank you for understanding about Grimmauld Place. If we have to go there, I hope we go together. Thanks for reminding me that people care about me. I feel like I can tell you about all the stuff I'm feeling. If it's too much, I can stop.
Ok, so far so good. He was going to have to write this part quick while he had the courage.
You don't sound crazy, Gin. I really miss you too. I wish I could see you right now. Maybe we won't have to wait very long. If we do, you may end up looking like Ron but I may end up hopping on my Firebolt and flying straight to the Burrow. I don't think that would make the Order very happy, do you?
Much Love Back, Harry
He quickly folded and addressed the parchment, holding it to his chest before turning around and looking for Hedwig. His heart sank when he remembered that he told her to go on a nice, long hunt. He wanted Ginny to have this letter tonight and he was afraid that if he had to wait to send it, he would end up ripping it up and sending her a letter that wasn't so genuine. Maybe he could take it Mrs. Figg's himself. But he'd have to come up with an excuse. Hmm…this could be tricky.
"Boy! Get down here!"
Harry put the letter in his pocket and headed downstairs. All three Dursleys were standing at the door dressed in their best.
"We have an important business dinner to go to. There's no way we'd leave you here alone. You'll go to Mrs. Figg's, and I don't care if you hate it there or not!"
"Great!" Harry said. He bounded down the last steps before realizing he should probably not appear so eager.
Uncle Vernon looked at him appraisingly. "Right." He opened the door and shoved Harry out as they followed him down the walk.
"Bye!" Harry waved as he practically skipped across the street. The Dursleys ignored him and got into the car and drove away. Harry could not believe his luck. He walked two streets over to Wisteria Walk and started up the front walk way to Mrs. Figg's. Two cats scurried in opposite directions and another cat must have perceived Harry's approach as a way to get back into the house. It ran up and wound around Harry's legs while he stood and rang the bell. Mrs. Figg pulled open the door and beamed at Harry.
"Harry! Good to see you!" She looked down at the cat, "Mr. Cuddles!" She picked up the cat and beckoned at Harry. "Come in, come in. Would you like some tea, dear?" she asked on her way to the kitchen.
"Sure. Thank you."
"They are waiting for you in the next room."
Harry looked at the doorway where she was pointing and saw two smiling faces.
"Hi, Harry." Lupin said as he crossed to Harry. He didn't hesitate and embraced Harry warmly. "Good to see you."
"What are you doing here?"
"Tonks heard your Aunt gossiping loudly about the important dinner they were headed to tonight and thought we might keep you company."
"Brilliant!" Harry beamed as he looked from Lupin to Tonks.
"Wotcher, Harry." Tonks winked and motioned for him to sit down.
He plopped down next to her on the doily covered sofa and looked at Lupin.
"So, how have you been?" Lupin asked as he leaned against the mantel which was covered in at least 20 framed pictures of cats.
"I've been pretty good. Things have been brilliant with the Dursleys. Your threat really did the trick."
"I see you've got some decent clothes. Have they been feeding you?"
"Three meals a day! Almost as good as Hogwarts."
"That's great, Harry." Lupin came over and clapped him on the back. "Have you enjoyed getting your mail personally delivered?"
"Definitely. It's such a relief to be able to write whatever I want. Oh! That reminds me…" He stood up and took Ginny's letter from his pocket and turned to Tonks. "I was hoping to get this to Ginny tonight."
Tonks smiled knowingly and took the letter from his outstretched hand. She walked to the fireplace, threw a handful of Floo powder into the flames, said, "The Burrow!" and put her head into the fire. Harry felt a surge of excitement when he mused that Ginny was just a Floo trip away. He heard Tonks ask for Ginny and then hand the letter into the flames. When Tonks stood up again she was smiling back at Harry. "You certainly put a smile on her face."
Harry blushed and looked at the floor.
Lupin put a hand on Harry's shoulder and said, "Sorry we can't let you see…er…anyone right now, Harry. You won't have to wait much longer. We just need to figure out the safest course of action before we move everybody again."
Harry nodded sadly. "I understand."
Lupin and Tonks exchanged a look.
"Remus, why don't you show Harry what you brought?" Tonks suggested.
"Oh! Of course…" Lupin started feeling around in his robes for something. Soon he had a triumphant look on his face and produced a tattered photo album. "Sirius and I were working on this before…" his voice trailed off and he suddenly looked a million miles away. "Would you like to have a look?" His eyes flicked back to Harry.
Harry nodded and the trio sat down again with Harry in the middle, holding the album. He turned to the first page. A 16 year-old Sirius smiled up at him as he put a rough arm around an unmistakable 16 year-old James Potter. The two of them wrestled with each other for a moment and then motioned for the person taking the picture to come join them.
Harry turned the page. Remus Lupin had joined the two boys. Sirius shoved Lupin into James. James teased Lupin and made a huge show of polishing the prefect's badge that shone on Lupin's chest with his sleeve. Lupin rolled his eyes and the three began laughing.
Lupin looked over Harry's shoulder and chuckled. "Those two always gave me such a hard time about being the responsible one."
On the next page was a picture of Harry's father on his broom, hovering over the stands on Hogwart's Quidditch pitch. His face was screwed up in concentration. Two people whizzed past, and James began yelling out to them and moving his hands as though he was explaining a maneuver.
"James loved being Quidditch Captain."
Harry's head snapped up. "Dad was Captain?"
"He was a natural born leader, Harry. It was obvious at first on the Quidditch field but later it was how he lived his life."
Harry felt himself swell with pride. After what he had seen in Snape's Pensieve he had thought his dad to be a bit arrogant. He had been so sure that his father had been amazing before that point but now it was harder to believe.
He turned the page and took in the chaotic celebration in the picture. It was the Gryffindor Quidditch Team jumping up and down and cheering with James smashed in the middle of the red and gold. Harry had never seen his father in Quidditch robes, and realized how again how much he resembled him. Suddenly James turned as a girl ran towards him, red hair streaming behind her. He bent his knees as she leapt onto him, spun her around and kissed her with all his might. Harry smiled and watched his parents laugh and kiss. His mind wandered to another beautiful redhead and for a moment he pictured spinning her around the Quidditch pitch, hearing her laugh and being able to kiss her with as much passion as his parents had.
"Winning the Quidditch Cup." Lupin stated, stirring Harry from his daydream. "That was a great day." Harry turned the page.
"Ah – the last day of school!"
"You all look so happy," Tonks interjected.
Harry agreed. The group in the picture consisted of Lupin, Sirius, James, and Lily. All four were positively beaming.
"Your father proposed that day, Harry. They were so happy." Lupin said, remembering.
Harry watched his father glace nervously at his mother and then break into a smile again. His mother turned to James with a look that made Harry's breath catch. She was unmistakably in love with him. The doubts Harry had carried about his mother's feelings and whether or not they had been forced were all melting away.
"They were so in love, Harry. It was obvious to everyone that what they had was genuine. What you saw in the Pensieve was a time before anything had even happened between them. Your mum changed James for the better. She helped him become the man that all of us were honored to know. Lily was very special."
Harry looked up at Lupin and tried to choke back the tears. "Thank you."
"It's my pleasure. Now look at the last one."
Harry turned the page and saw something that made his heart stop. It was a close up picture of Sirius holding baby Harry in his arms. Sirius was looking down at the little bundle, watching him sleep. Then he looked up at the camera with a soft expression on his face. Harry had never seen him so content.
Emotion welled up and Harry could no longer control it. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry freely. Tonks put a hand on his leg as Lupin put a strong arm around him. Suddenly Harry leaned into Lupin and buried his head in his shoulder. Lupin put both arms around Harry and fully embraced him. Harry was embarrassed at his show of so much emotion, but he couldn't stop. Lupin tried to calm him and Tonks stroked his back, comforting him.
"It's ok, Harry. I miss them too." Lupin's voice cracked, and Harry felt him shake with a silent sob. Harry held on to Lupin tighter and they cried together for the first time over all the loss in their lives. The tears began to subside and Harry sat up straighter as he wiped his face on his sleeve.
"I'm sorry." Harry said to Lupin's shoes. He felt so bad for jumping on him. He was afraid he'd made him uncomfortable.
Lupin reached over and lifted Harry's head so he could look into his eyes.
"Being honest about how you feel is never something to be sorry for. You and I have lost a lot of very important people, and if we can't remember them together, I think I would be very lonely."
"That's the first time crying actually made me feel better," Harry said.
Lupin smiled and said, "Me too. Look Harry, I know you and I are not technically family, and I know that I am a poor substitute for Sirius…"
"Don't say that!" Harry burst out. "You have been such a good friend to me and you're the only person left who knew my parents so well. If you weren't here, I don't think I'd be able to function after losing Sirius."
Lupin looked at Harry seriously. "I wouldn't be able to either. When I look at you, I feel like I have a reason to live. You're the closest I've got to family."
Harry smiled and put a hand on his shoulder, "Then I guess we're stuck with each other."
Lupin chuckled and said, "I think that is just fine with me."
"Harry?" All three of them jumped at the voice that had come from the fireplace.
"Hi, Mrs. Weasley!" Harry smiled at the worried expression on her face (which was currently floating among the flames). "I'm fine. I promise."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Thank you."
Mrs. Weasley looked at Tonks. "I had to spend 20 minutes convincing my only daughter not to Floo herself over here. Keeping everybody apart is not exactly easy." She glanced at Harry. "Not that I blame you, Harry, dear." She looked back at Tonks. "Ginny finally settled for sending a letter. You better lock this fire in case she's waiting for me to get distracted."
Tonks shook her head in disbelief at Ginny's daring. "She certainly is a Gryffindor. Thanks, Molly. And I'm sorry about the trouble. We'll try to keep the post regular from now on."
Molly nodded and held out the letter to Harry. He hopped up and took it from her. "Goodnight, Harry. 'Night you two."
"Goodnight, Molly." Lupin looked at Harry with a mixture of amusement and apology on his face. "I'm sorry we can't risk anybody traveling by Floo right now."
Harry shook his head. "Don't worry about it. It's my fault. I shouldn't have written her again. We're both feeling a little…er…impatient, but we'll be fine. I'll try and make her promise. But Tonks, just in case, you better lock that fire."
Tonks nodded and moved to the fireplace. "She's got a lot of spunk, that one."
"Yeah, she does." Harry looked down at the letter in his hand and couldn't help but smile.