Title: "The Time of Destiny," Chapter 1
Author name: Abraxan
Sub Category: Romance
Keywords: Harry, Remus, Dursleys, Ginny, Ron, Tonks
Spoilers: SS/PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, OoTP, The Refiner's Fire
Summary: Harry Potter returns to Privet Drive for the last time, prior to his Seventh Year at Hogwarts. Much to the Dursleys surprise, Remus is going to stay with him due to a head injury Harry received on the train. The Dursleys are not happy with this situation, as you can well-imagine. This fic covers both the summer before Harry's seventh year, and his entire last year at school. Canon-based with some OC. Ships, for those who care: H/G, R/H, R/T
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author notes: The details about phoenixes below come from both canon and Newt Scamander's "Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them" (one of Harry's "schoolbooks" written by JK Rowling for charity). The Lexicon gives Dudley's birthday as June 24, and Hogwarts gets out of school near the end of June, so Dudders is already 17 when the Dursleys pick Harry up at the station. In England, the emergency number is "999" not "911" as it is in the States. What we in America call an "EKG" is "ECG" in England. Many thanks to Blakevich for the title of this fic, and to my brilliant Brit-picker, Kelpie, and my beta readers, Blakevich, Starfox, Iris and Asad! Thanks, guys! If you have not read my Sixth Year fic, "The Refiner's Fire," you will have trouble understanding this one. I strongly recommend you go read that one first.
Chapter 1 – The Heart of the Problem
"I don't see how we're going to manage both of you, that bloody great bird and your luggage in our car," Vernon Dursley whinged to Remus as they left King's Cross Station, with Remus pushing his and Harry's trunks on a trolley.
Harry Potter, his godfather Remus Lupin, and Harry's phoenix, Merlin (who looked like a scarlet macaw now, thanks to a Glamour Charm) were about to go home with the Dursleys. Hedwig, Harry's owl, was staying with Ginny for the summer in order to carry her letters to Harry so they wouldn't wear out poor Errol, the Weasleys' elderly owl. Harry had suffered a serious head injury on the train ride home when a Slytherin boy attacked him. The injury was already much improved, but he needed to be watched for several days to make certain he was all right. When Remus had told Harry he'd be staying with him until he was well, Harry was ecstatic. At one point, he'd whispered to his godfather that it was almost worth a fractured skull to have his company at Number 4, Privet Drive, for at least part of the summer holiday.
Now Remus looked at Vernon's resentful face and smiled pleasantly as they proceeded to the car. "Just leave the luggage to me," Remus said amiably. "It won't be a problem."
Harry grinned at his godfather, and tried not to laugh at the horrified look on his uncle's face.
"You won't be, um, you know. . .?" Vernon asked in a tremulous voice.
"I'm good at fitting things into tight places," Remus said mildly, then winked at Harry over the other man's head. He saw Harry bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing out loud.
When they reached the car, Vernon opened the boot and stood back, apparently waiting to see how Remus was going to manage to get both Harry's huge trunk and his own in that small space. Remus had partially shrunk both trunks to fit them onto one trolley, but they were still too big for the car's boot. Remus grinned at his godson again as he hefted the boy's trunk into the boot. As he lifted his own, he quirked an eyebrow at Harry, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Harry got the message and instantly, the boot area expanded to fit both trunks comfortably. He tucked his hand into his pocket, pleased with his very unobtrusive bit of wandless magic. He did the same enlarging charm to the car's interior, so when he, Merlin, Remus and Dudley sat in the back seat, there was room to spare, when normally, Dudley took up two-thirds of the seat by himself. Harry sat in the middle, his long legs bent at an uncomfortable angle to fit in the small amount of legroom in Vernon's mid-sized car.
Uncle Vernon's face was purple. He had no idea how the three of them, and that huge red bird, had managed to fit in the back comfortably, but he was certain there was magic involved. But how did they do it without showing those infernal stick-things of theirs? He glanced in the mirror and saw his nephew's face filling it. With a growl, he snapped, "Get your head out of the mirror!"
Harry looked from his uncle's livid face to the mirror. Harry was six foot three now, thanks to the Refiner's Fire and a natural growth spurt, and his head nearly brushed the car's headliner. He tried to scrunch down out of the line of the mirror, but there simply wasn't room for his long body in that amount of space.
Remus sighed, seeing Vernon still glaring at Harry in the mirror when he should be looking at the road. As unobtrusively as possible, Remus put his hand in his pocket and used his wand to push the back seat farther away from the front one.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief and slumped down a bit more comfortably. "Thanks," he murmured.
"What the devil did you do back there?" Vernon demanded.
"I got out of the line of sight of your mirror, Uncle Vernon," Harry said as mildly as he could.
Since Harry had done exactly what he'd asked him to, Vernon lapsed into tense silence, taking his rage out on other drivers with shouted oaths and squealing tires as he fought the London traffic.
On the ride to Surrey, Aunt Petunia rode silently, her back stiff as a board, having given her most disapproving sniff every time she glanced at Remus before he climbed into the car. He no longer dressed shabbily and he didn't have that gaunt, haggard look he'd had the previous summer, but still, there was something about him that simply unnerved her. Possibly, it was simply the fact that they had a fully grown wizard who was a friend of her peculiar nephew now riding in their back seat. She felt as if a target was painted on the back of her head, with Remus sitting directly behind her. How was she going to survive with that man in the house? And if he expected her to cook for him. . . .
Dudley did his best to cringe away from his cousin, but the huge red bird sitting in Harry's lap caught his interest and he began watching it. "What is that thing?" he finally said.
Harry pondered whether to answer his cousin's question or not, then decided he may as well at least try to start the summer off on the right foot. "He's a phoenix, but I've put a macaw glamour on him so he'll look like a normal bird to Muggles," Harry explained.
"What's a phoenix," Dudley asked, staring at the bird, "and a 'macaw glamour'?"
"He doesn't normally look like this. He's a magical creature the size of a swan, and he's red with a gold tail. His tears have healing powers, he can disappear and then reappear somewhere else whenever he wants to, and he can carry very heavy loads. Phoenixes are quite rare – you can't buy them. If they decide to bond to a wizard, they'll come to him when he's a teenager and be with him for life. He came to me recently." Harry stroked the back of the macaw, smiling at the cheeky expression in the bird's eye. "His name is Merlin. And the macaw glamour – a 'glamour' is a spell you put on something to make it look different." He glanced at his cousin, who was still shrinking away from him but seemed intrigued by the bird. "You can pet him if you want, Dudley. He's very gentle."
Merlin raised his head and looked at Dudley quite seriously, studying him. He stood up in Harry's lap and moved closer to the other boy, bobbing his head as macaws do when they're excited, doing his best to appear charming and friendly.
"Why's he doing that?" Dudley asked nervously.
"He thinks he's being cute," Harry said, smiling at the bird. "Sit still, Merlin, so Dudley can pet you." The bird stilled instantly. "Go on, he won't hurt you."
As Dudley reached out a timid hand and started to pet the bird, his mother snapped, "Birds carry all kinds of germs! Don't touch that thing, Dudley!"
Dudley jerked his hand back and looked at it as if there was a pox on it.
Harry shook his head in disgust. "Merlin does not have germs, Aunt Petunia. He's a very clean bird."
"Parrots can bite your fingers off!" she cried, turning around and glaring at him.
"He's a phoenix, not a parrot," Harry said, losing what little patience he had with the Dursleys. He glanced at his cousin, who had gone back to looking at Merlin uncertainly. "He won't hurt you, and he's not dirty, nor does he carry germs, Dudley. If you want to pet him, go ahead. You can always wash your hands when you get home." He gave Dudley a challenging look, daring him to defy his mother.
Exactly as Harry had expected, Dudley couldn't resist such a challenge. He lifted his hand and touched Merlin on the head very gently, then began to stroke him. "He's soft."
"Yeah," Harry said with a smile.
"Dudley Dursley, you will obey me!" Petunia snapped.
"Mum, I'm seventeen years old!" Dudley countered. "I'm old enough to make decisions for myself. And I can wash my hands when we get home."
"Don't talk back to your mum!" Vernon snapped.
Dudley sighed, stroked Merlin's gleaming feathers once more just to defy his mother, then settled back in his corner and looked out the window, acting as if nothing at all had happened.
Harry stifled a grin. Dudley was disobeying his mother to her face? Maybe there was some hope for him yet. He glanced at Remus and saw his godfather's mouth quirk as he forced himself not to smile. Harry ducked his head and went back to petting Merlin, hoping there would be no further blow-ups with his relatives on the way home.
When they arrived, Petunia and Dudley made a beeline for the house, leaving Harry and Remus to deal with their trunks on their own. Vernon opened the boot, then stood back with his hands on his hips, looking disapproving and grumpy until he noticed nosy Mrs. Next-Door peeping out of her window. He wiggled his fingers at her in a simpering wave, and then took Remus's trunk from him, trying to act the gracious host since he realized he had a witness. Remus let go of the trunk with a smile and a hearty "Thanks!" as soon as Vernon took hold of it, which meant that it fell directly to the ground, being far heavier than the older man had expected. With a huge grunt and much puffing and redness of face, he manhandled the trunk into the house, and then stood inside the doorway glaring at Remus and Harry as the older wizard carried the boy's trunk, with no apparent effort, up to the door.
Harry smiled and nodded at Mrs. Next-Door, who sniffed huffily and turned away when she noticed him. He closed the boot of the car, ignoring the neighbour's snub, watching the scene before him between his uncle and his godfather, which he found quite humorous. He was inordinately glad that Remus was spending the week with him. The Dursleys looked to be well beyond exploding, even to the point of trying to lock him in the cupboard – if it still had a door. He wondered if they'd replaced the door in his absence.
Remembering the door being gone reminded him of Casey and Doug Asher. One day the previous summer, Casey, a Muggle who was Harry's first real girlfriend, had arrived at the Dursleys with her parents to pick Harry up for an outing, and heard Harry yelling from inside the locked cupboard under the stairs. Vernon had grabbed Casey roughly by the arm, making her scream, which was the breaking point for Harry's temper. The cupboard door exploded outward, releasing Harry to protect his girlfriend from his uncle. In the aftermath, Casey's father, Doug, told the Dursleys not to replace it, or they'd have more trouble then they wanted to face. Harry smiled sadly at the fleeting memory.
For a good bit of the past year, Harry's Pensieve had held his memories of Casey and her family, all of whom Voldemort had killed last summer. Harry had visited those memories from time to time in the months after her death. Finally, he came to terms with the loss of his girlfriend and her family and put those memories back in his mind, then did what he could to cherish them and put the pain behind him. The memories had become mists in his mind, mere echoes of reality unless he allowed them to intrude on his consciousness. As the memories now surfaced in his mind, he pushed them back and pulled up the remembrance of his latest kiss with Ginny. The thought of her always cheered him. Yes, there was a Casey-sized hole in his heart, but the rest of his heart was overflowing with Ginny's warmth and vitality. He'd loved Casey, but that love paled in comparison to how he felt about Ginny. Holding fast to her image in his mind, and the feel of her lips on his, he walked into Number 4, Privet Drive, to face whatever his summer holiday held in store for him.
Dinner that night was a solemn affair. Petunia had not called Harry and Remus to join the family for the evening meal, but the smell of cooking food brought them downstairs anyway. Harry noticed with disgust that the door of the cupboard under the stairs had, indeed, been replaced. He sighed and did his best to suppress the flash of anger brought on by the sight of that door.
"What's wrong?" Remus asked before they reached the kitchen.
"They replaced the door," Harry said, sounding disgusted. "Doug told them not to. I guess since he's dead, they thought nobody would care." He glanced at his godfather. "It's so tempting to just Vanish it, but I suppose that would cause trouble."
Remus grinned. "Keep that in mind in case you need to put a good scare in them later."
Harry chuckled. "I'm so glad you're here," he said, clapping his godfather on the shoulder.
"Me, too," Remus replied.
When they entered the kitchen, they saw Petunia was setting the table. "What can we do to help?" Remus offered pleasantly.
"Nothing," Petunia snapped, carrying dishes to the dining room from the kitchen.
Harry grimly strode into the kitchen and picked up the glasses and silverware needed for the meal. He silently counted the plates in Aunt Petunia's hands – three. Opening the cupboard, he added two plates to his load and carried them to the dining room.
Petunia glanced up at him, a mixture of fear and disgust on her face, piled the dishes on the table and then hurried back into the kitchen.
Harry and Remus set the table for five, then pulled up the two extra chairs needed. The air was thick with tension. Harry knew it wouldn't be long before his aunt or uncle, or both of them, started spewing ugly, derisive comments. He glanced up at Remus uneasily. "Sorry about this," he murmured.
"About what?" Remus replied good-naturedly. "So far, so good."
"This is the quiet before the storm," Harry whispered. "Trust me." The two of them stood politely behind their chairs waiting for Petunia to sit down.
The Dursleys looked at them in astonishment, but said nothing as they came to the table and seated themselves. After everyone was settled, Petunia served, giving Harry and Remus miserly portions, taking little for herself, and loading Dudley's and Vernon's plates to overflowing.
Remus looked at Harry, his eyebrows raised in question. The boy just shrugged in reply. Remus smiled and thanked Petunia for his food, then ate quietly for a while, soon cleaning his plate. He sat waiting for the polite thing to be done, but when an offer of second helpings wasn't forthcoming, he said, "Everything is delicious, Mrs. Dursley. May I have more?" He held his plate out expectantly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Harry watching warily for his aunt's reaction.
Petunia didn't want to be nice to these . . . these. . . BLOODY WIZARDS! Her inner turmoil was marked outwardly by the twitching of her mouth, the flashing of her narrowed eyes. She jerked the plate out of Remus's hand and gave him another, even smaller portion.
"More, please, if you have it?" Remus prompted amiably. "Don't you want another helping, too, Harry? It's a lovely casserole, Mrs. Dursley. What's your secret?"
Harry held his plate out mutely, watching his godfather work his charms on his aunt. He was shocked when Petunia not only added to Remus's plate, but added a decent amount to his own. "Thank you, Aunt Petunia. It is good," he said, trying to stay on the right side of things.
"Do I taste a touch of lemon?" Remus asked graciously. "There's some subtle seasoning that's just wonderful. I simply can't place it. Since I'm a bachelor, I cook for myself quite a lot. I'm always looking for ways to improve my cooking."
Petunia, as Remus had surmised, was a sucker for flattery. "Oh, well, yes, there is a bit of lemon in the sauce," she allowed. "Just a touch. And a bit of tarragon."
"Ah, tarragon. That must be the other flavour I noticed. It does go well with chicken, doesn't it? I'll have to remember that. Thank you!" Remus smiled with genuine appreciation. She wasn't as hard to deal with as he thought she might be. He racked his brain for some other conversational gambit, but it was a losing battle, and neither the Dursleys nor Harry were helping.
Vernon cleared his throat importantly. "I'd like to know exactly how long you intend to be here," he demanded.
"As I said," Remus replied mildly, "I have to stay at least a week, possibly more. It depends on how quickly Harry heals. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I'll stay in his room with him. We get along quite well, it won't be a problem."
"I won't have anything unnatural going on under this roof!" Vernon snapped unexpectedly.
"What do you mean, 'unnatural'?" Harry demanded. "I'm allowed to do magic at home now, but we won't do any more magic than we need to."
"It's not. . .that's not. . ." Vernon sputtered.
"Then what is it?" the boy asked, confused. He was distracted a moment by Dudley's sniggering. Apparently his cousin had an idea what Vernon was talking about, but Harry was lost.
"He can stay with you, but you two need to . . . you mustn't. . . ." Vernon's great melon of a head was turning an interestingly splotchy plum colour.
"Mustn't what?" Harry queried, totally mystified.
"You know what! I won't have it!" Vernon exploded, spittle flying from his mouth as he clamped his lips shut to avoid saying what he was thinking.
Harry blanched, horrified as realization finally struck. "Remus is my godfather! And my professor! And my FRIEND! There's nothing unnatural in any of those things," he snarled. "And I don't like your implications. You saw us at the station with our girlfriends, for Merlin's sake! You didn't offer him the spare room, so we thought you'd prefer it if he stayed with me." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dudley watching this exchange avidly, his head going back and forth between speakers as if he were watching a tennis match.
"I have to stay in the room with you, Harry, so I can make sure you're all right," his godfather said quietly.
"Merlin's sake?" Dudley said suddenly. "Why are you bringing that bird into this?"
"Oh, shut up," Harry grumbled. "Read some history, why don't you. Learn about him for yourself."
"About your bird?" The boy was completely at a loss.
"About Merlin, Dudley," Harry said, disgusted with his cousin's ignorance. "King Arthur's wizard? Don't you read at all?" He shoved back from the table, thoroughly annoyed with his relatives.
"Where are you going?" Remus asked.
"Outside," the boy snapped. He turned and looked at his godfather and his face softened. "I'm sorry they were so rude, Remus. Would you like to go for a walk with me?"
"Yes, that would be nice," the older wizard replied, standing and picking up his dishes to carry them to the kitchen. Harry followed his godfather's example, leaving the stone-faced Dursleys alone in their dining room.
"I can't believe them, I simply can't believe them," Harry muttered as they walked down Privet Drive. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched as if expecting a blow, his head bowed.
Remus put a companionable arm around the boy's shoulders and gave him a brief hug. "Don't worry about it. I did have some idea what to expect. I didn't realize it was quite so bad, though. You've kept it to yourself rather well."
"I didn't see any reason to tell you what it's like here. Ron and Hermione know. And Ginny. But I haven't really told anyone else before. It's not worth thinking about, y'know?" The boy barely turned his bowed head, glancing at his godfather through the fringe of hair hanging over the top edge of his glasses.
"I understand." They walked quietly for a while. The farther they got from the Dursleys, the more Harry relaxed, until finally he straightened up and looked around, appreciating the beautiful summer evening. "Fresh air. It's a wonderful thing."
"Highly underrated, I'm sure," Remus mused, a smile tickling his lips. When Harry seemed to be his old self, Remus commented, "We shouldn't go too far. You're supposed to be resting."
The boy growled in frustration. "I'm so tired of having to rest, having to stay in bed, having to take care of myself. I'm not fragile!"
"No, you're not. That blow would have killed most people, you know," his godfather said seriously. "You're lucky to be alive. And you do need to rest."
"I know. It just makes me so angry. . . ." He reached up and rubbed his temples with his thumbs.
"Do you have a headache right now?"
"Yes. It started before dinner. Their behaviour didn't help a bit. I can't believe them. Uncle Vernon, saying what he did. What a sodding idiot!" The boy's face was twisted in disgust.
"Getting angry will just make your head hurt worse," his godfather reasoned. "Let's turn back, all right? Healer Pomfrey gave me some potion that will help your headache. We could get started on our homework, too."
"'Our' homework?" Harry said, the beginnings of a smile tugging at his lips. "What's this 'our homework' stuff? I thought I was the only one with homework."
"I have things to do, too. And if you don't tell anyone, I'll help you with your homework while we're together," Remus confided with a cheerful smile.
"You're on!" his godson replied with a grin.
Two evenings later, Harry, who had gone to bed early due to another headache, was asleep when he heard Ginny's voice near his ear. "Harry? Harry, are you there?"
"Huh? Ginny?" he muttered, struggling to wake up. He pulled his hand out from under his pillow, sat up, put on his glasses and gazed blearily around the room.
"Harry? Oh rats, I don't know how to tell if he's taken his ring off," she muttered.
He finally twigged that his ring was talking to him – or rather, Ginny was talking to him via the Communication Charm in their promise rings. He smiled as he pressed the ruby and said, "Ginny Weasley."
"Harry! There you are!" she said, her face glowing with delight. Her face floated, disembodied and translucent, above Harry's ring. His face would appear the same way above hers now that he'd answered her.
"Hi! Sorry I didn't answer right away. I was asleep. When I heard your voice, I thought you were here," he said, smiling tenderly at her image.
"I wish we were together. I miss you terribly already."
"Me too. If it's like this after only a couple of days, how are we going to survive the summer?" he replied.
"We'll just have to arrange to get together as often as possible. Do you suppose Mrs. Figg would allow Ron and me to use her fireplace to floo over there?"
"Yeah! That's brilliant!" Harry replied. "I'd love to see you both!"
"I'll have to see when we can arrange it. Ron knows how to get to your house, right?"
"He should. If you get lost, you can call me on your ring. No, wait, you can't do that here, the area is crawling with Muggles." He heard a low voice rumbling in the background behind Ginny.
"Ron says he knows how to get there. He says 'Hi,' by the way. We'll try to come over soon! Is there any day that's better for you?"
"I don't have a summer job yet – I have to rest because of my stupid head injury. If I have to rest much longer, there won't be any summer jobs left," he said with a disgruntled shrug. "So I'm free all the time – come on over!"
"We can't this evening, but soon!" She smiled happily at him, and then lowered her voice. "I wrote to you today."
"Yeah, Hedwig got here a little while ago. I really enjoyed your letter. Thanks! I wrote a reply, but I thought I'd send her back with it in the morning so she can rest for a while." He smiled at her. "What did you do today? It is so good to see you. I just can't tell you how happy it makes me."
"Me too. Oh, today wasn't anything special. We helped around the house, getting ready for the party on Saturday, that kind of thing. Ron and I were de-gnoming the garden until dark. I don't know why we bother – they always come back straight away." She smiled at him, studying the dark circles under his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"I had a headache a while ago, but I'm feeling better," he replied.
"So how was your day?"
"Dursleyish," he said with a sigh.
"Dursleyish? What did they do this time?"
He filled her in on all that had happened since he and Remus had left the station with the Dursleys, trying to make each situation sound funny rather than as nasty as it had felt at the time. He soon had her laughing at the antics of the wildly bizarre Dursley family – at least, he was painting them as wildly bizarre rather than cruel and small-minded, as they were in reality.
Remus came into the room and raised an eyebrow in question at Harry. Harry blushed and raised his hand, showing his ring with Ginny's translucent face hovering over it. Remus grinned and left again.
"I'd better go. Remus just came in and left again straight away. I'm keeping him from going to bed," Harry said regretfully. "Thanks for calling, sweetheart. I miss you."
"I miss you too, baby. Are you taking good care of yourself?"
"Yes, Remus is watching me as closely as you do. You'd be proud of him," he said with a wry grin.
"Tell him I said 'thanks!'" she said.
"When you called, you said something about not knowing how to tell if I took my ring off. I don't take it off except to dry my hands when I wash them, and then I just move it enough to dry under it. It isn't going anywhere, don't worry."
"OK. That's good to know. So if you don't answer, you're probably snoring too loudly to hear me calling then, right?" she teased.
"Yeah, that would be it," he agreed, chuckling. "I love you, baby," he murmured.
"I love you too. Good night!"
"Good night." They pressed their rubies and the connection was broken. Harry snuggled back into his bed, putting his hand under his pillow as it had been before. That was why he'd thought Ginny was there with him – the ring was just inches from his ear when he slept this way. He smiled as he took off his glasses and put them on the bedside table. He'd sleep much better now that he had a fresh image of Ginny to think of as he drifted off.
"Why are you in such a dither?" Remus asked with amusement as he watched Harry dig through his wardrobe, chucking shirts all over the floor.
"Ginny and Ron will be here soon," the young man explained, digging through the discarded shirts and finally finding the one he'd been looking for. He pulled it on over his head, then grabbed up the rest, shoving them unceremoniously into the wardrobe. He opened a drawer and pulled out his comb, looking at his reflection in the mirror. He'd already tried on four other shirts before deciding on the one he now wore, and his hair reflected the many times his head had been shoved through a shirt's neck opening. He sighed and went to work, trying to make his hair lie in some semblance of a hairstyle, or at least look a little neater. "I haven't seen her in days. I want to look nice for her."
"Have you ever tried any hair potions?" Remus asked, watching the boy's face screw up in frustration as he tried to get his hair to lie down.
"They just make it sticky and it's still a mess. I haven't found anything that helps," Harry grumbled, still fighting with that big cowlick at the back.
"Then why don't you make it stand up all over like Tonks does?" Remus asked reasonably.
Harry looked in the mirror, staring at his godfather in amazement. "Like Tonks? D'you think that would look good on me?"
"It wouldn't hurt to try it," his godfather said with a shrug. "Lots of young people wear their hair sort of pulled up in all directions these days. Your hair seems to want to do that anyway. Why not go with it instead of fighting it?"
Harry dropped his hand to his side, staring at his reflection in the mirror again, his face thoughtful. He set the comb down and ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it up away from his head in various directions. "It's too long, it looks silly sticking up like that."
"You could shorten it," his godfather offered, "but I like it long like that. Why not just make it stick up a little bit – let it do what it wants to but exaggerate it? Sometimes Tonks does her hair that way and I actually prefer that to when she has it sticking straight up all over. It feels nicer, too. I think she does that with magic – when she does it that way, there aren't any sticky potions in her hair. It might work for you."
"Really? Huh," the boy said thoughtfully. He smoothed his hair down the best he could and then started pulling it up a little, lifting it from the roots with his fingers, then pulling the ends out a bit, concentrating as he worked. Soon his hair looked fluffier but somehow more organized, with his fringe thinned out a bit on the right side, thicker on the left, the hair lying over from a hint of a part on the right side. "How's this?"
Remus stood up and walked around Harry, surveying what he'd done. "I like it! What do you think?"
"I like it too! Thanks, Remus! I've been fighting with my hair for years. What a great idea!"
"Thank Tonks, not me. You know how she likes to experiment with hairstyles. She wears it like this on our dates now, since I said I liked it."
"She's brilliant!" Harry was back to bouncing on his toes in excitement, a huge grin on his face as he sped around the room straightening his covers, piling his books neatly, quickly cleaning the tray below Merlin's perch, giving the phoenix a friendly pat when he finished. "There. That's as good as it will get, I think."
"It looks great," Remus commented. "What are you three going to do this afternoon?"
"Dunno. Since it's raining so hard, I suppose we'll just hang around in here, play some Exploding Snap or gobstones or something. Maybe go to a film. I forgot to look at the listings. Shame Hermione can't come today, we could have a double date. If Tonks could come, we could try a triple date!" he laughed. "You're welcome to come with us."
"That would be fun, but I have some work to do. We'll have to plan that triple date sometime."
Harry froze as he heard the doorbell ring. His face then split in a delighted grin. "They're here!" He raced out of the door and started downstairs.
"Slow down, Harry! Be careful!" Remus called, realizing as he did it that nothing he said was going to deter the boy from bounding down the stairs as fast as he could.
Harry got to the door too late. Vernon had already opened it and was staring aghast at the two redheads standing on his doormat.
"What do you want?" he demanded, a sneer of disgust on his florid face.
"Hello, Mr. Dursley. I'm Ron Weasley, and this is my sister, Ginny," Ron said politely. "We've come to visit Harry."
"I have too many of your kind under my roof as it is! You are not welcome here!" he snarled, and started to slam the door in their faces.
Harry reached out with one long arm and stopped the progress of the door, swinging it wide open again. "I live here too, whether you like it or not, and my friends are here to visit me," he told his uncle. "Hi, guys! Come on in!" he told his friends. Ron and Ginny came in nervously, and Harry closed the door quietly behind them. "Let me take your wet things. Do you want something to drink?" he offered graciously, taking their jackets and umbrellas and hanging them on the hooks behind the door.
"I am not feeding any more of you! They are not welcome here!" Vernon snapped.
"Maybe we should go somewhere else, Harry," Ginny suggested carefully.
"It's pouring rain outside," Harry said, "or we could go to the park. Let's go upstairs. Come on." He turned and started up the stairs, holding Ginny's hand. He turned around, startled, when he felt her hand jerked out of his and heard her gasp.
"Let me go, Mr. Dursley!" Ginny cried. Vernon was holding her arm in both of his hands and pulling her toward the door.
"YOU. ARE. NOT. WELCOME. HERE!" he cried, trying to drag her across the hall.
"Let her go!" Ron and Harry shouted together, advancing on the man with their wands out. A vision of the bruises on Casey's arms after Vernon had similarly manhandled her the previous summer flashed through Harry's mind, enraging him further.
"Everyone calm down," Remus advised. "There's no need to argue." The boys glared at Vernon, not backing down.
Vernon let go of Ginny's arm, but glowered from one wizard to the next, ending up with Harry, who had put his wand away when Ginny was released. His uncle advanced on him boldly, his finger poking the boy viciously in the shoulder with every word. "I've told you and told you. There will be none of your shenanigans in this house! You will not use those things in here! You will behave like a normal person! We put a roof over your head and food in your belly and this is the thanks we get?"
Dudley and Petunia watched the scene with morbid fascination, Petunia with her hands covering the lower part of her face, Dudley with some kind of manic gleam in his eye. He sidled up beside Harry, avidly watching his father dressing down his cousin.
Harry was leaning back away from his uncle's diatribe, trying to avoid the spittle flying from the furious man's mouth. Vernon's pokes in his shoulder were getting harder and harder, and Harry's temper was near the flash point. He fought with all his will to force his mind to go over the twelve uses of dragon's blood to help him stay calm. He did not want to blow up the house, especially with Ron and Ginny in it. But the humiliation he was bearing with his friends and godfather as witness . . . the fourth use of dragon's blood was oven cleaner, yeah, that was it. Or was that the twelfth use?
A small redheaded ball of fire inserted herself insistently between Vernon and Harry. "Mr. Dursley! You need to calm down! Harry's had a serious head injury and all this stress is bad for him! We'll go somewhere else with him if that will keep you happy, but you must not treat him this way!" Ginny glared up at the rotund man, whose many chins were vibrating as his rage escalated.
"You. . .you bitch! How dare you tell me how to behave in my own house!" Vernon snarled.
Both Harry and Ron bristled, but it was Ginny who beat them to the reply. "A bitch is a female dog. I, Mr. Dursley, am a witch and proud of it!" she snapped.
Vernon bristled, and opened his mouth to speak again, but Harry had endured enough. "Shut up! Just shut up!" he snarled at his uncle, pushing Ginny protectively behind him. "You have no right to speak to her that way!"
Vernon's face was violently red, his tiny eyes nearly hidden by the engorged rolls of fat around his eye sockets, his many chins quivering violently, spittle flying as he mouthed incoherently. He swung at Harry. The boy caught his uncle's fist in his hand and stopped it cold, then threw it down as if it were a disgusting piece of rotting meat. Vernon growled and bent over, readying a heavy swing at Harry's stomach. Remus raced down the stairs to put a stop to the confrontation, but before he got to them, Vernon grabbed his chest and collapsed, his face suddenly ashen, his body thudding resoundingly to the floor. Petunia screamed, then was silent.
Everyone stood frozen for a moment, and then Harry fell to his knees beside his uncle. He rolled him over, put his hands on the man's chest, and leaned down to listen for a heartbeat. He ripped Vernon's shirt open and tore his vest in two, placing one hand on the man's massive chest and the other on his left side. He felt for a heartbeat, then sensed inside his uncle to see what he could learn.
"Get away from him!" Petunia cried tremulously. "Leave him alone!"
"I'm trying to help him, Aunt Petunia," Harry snapped as his magic probed inside the man's chest.
Dudley made a lunge for his cousin. "Get off him! Get off!" he cried, just before Ginny turned him into a large, shivering gelatinous confection not unlike a fruit salad in jelly.
Ron chuckled nervously as he lowered his wand. He'd been about to hex Dudley too, but Ginny beat him to it. "Nice one, Gin." She gave him a tiny smile in reply.
"How is he, Harry?" she asked, kneeling next to him.
"He's had a heart attack. I'm trying to get it to start beating again. I've seen on TV where they do an electrical shock to make the heart restart. I'm trying to do that with magic." He went back to concentrating, then looked around again. His aunt was wringing her hands nervously. Where Dudley had been, a giant mound of multicoloured gelatine trembled and shimmered on the floor. Remus and Ron were watching seriously, but neither seemed to know what to do. "Do any of you know how to use a phone?" he asked his friends.
"I called you that time," Ron offered, "but I don't think I was very good at it."
"Could you go to the kitchen and bring the phone to me? It's on the wall by the door," Harry directed, still working his magic on his uncle. "Ginny, get back. I'm going to try some surges instead of steady power." When she moved away from him, he poured magic in a sudden jolt through his uncle, causing the man's body to lift from the floor then slam back down. "Damn," he muttered, then tried it again. . .and again. . .and again, every jolt accompanied by a scream from Petunia. Finally, he cried, "It worked!" his face alight with amazement. "He's got a heartbeat again!"
"Well done, Harry!" Remus cried, patting him on the back.
"I need a rhythm," Harry said distractedly, still holding his hands on Vernon's chest.
"A rhythm?" Ginny questioned.
"Yes. I have to listen to him too closely to match his heart beat to mine. I need an audible rhythm to follow. Listen to your heartbeat. It goes 'da-dump, da-dump, da-dump,' right? I need you to say the rhythm out loud so I can match it in his heart. His is just fluttering around. There's no steady rhythm."
Ginny put her fingers on the pulse in her throat and began solemnly reciting, "Da-dump, da-dump, da-dump, da-dump," in time with her own heartbeat, hoping her heart wasn't racing too fast from nerves to be a good tempo for Vernon's injured heart.
Tonks Apparated into the room and removed the Disillusionment charm that made her blend into her surroundings. "What's going on? We registered some underage magic here, and then a surge of serious magic that's continued."
"I turned Harry's cousin into a jelly," Ginny said, nodding toward the massive mound nearby. "He was trying to attack Harry while Harry was trying to help his uncle."
Harry glanced up at the young Auror. "Nobody's going to break her wand, Tonks. They'll have to get past me first," he warned.
"Yeah, I knew that. That's why I insisted on coming. Don't worry about it. We were afraid you were under attack. The house is surrounded by Aurors right now," Tonks replied. "What happened?"
While the others explained the situation to Tonks, Harry continued to work frantically, trying to get Vernon's heart to cooperate and work with a steady beat. His aunt had started keening, her voice rising and falling like a siren, grating on his nerves. "Silencio!" he cried, taking a hand off of Vernon just long enough to shut her up. "I'm sorry, Aunt Petunia, but I can't concentrate with all that noise!"
"Do you need help, Harry?" Tonks asked as she watched him work.
"Do you know anything about heart attacks?" he asked hopefully.
"Not really. I know more about wounds and spell damage," she replied apologetically.
"That's OK. I think I've got it going fairly well. There's a fluttering in there, though, something that opens but doesn't close properly. The blood is gushing through that spot, not pumping properly, and I don't know how to fix it." He shook his head in frustration, moving his hands a bit and trying something else. "Nope, that didn't work either. All I can do is keep it pumping, and I'm barely managing that. The veins have narrowed spots that are constricting the blood flow, as well. It feels like there are chunks of stuff in there somehow, where it doesn't belong. I'm trying to clear some of that out so the blood will flow better, but I'm afraid to try a repair on that flutter because there's too much wrong with him and I don't know what to work on first."
"Here's the phone, mate," Ron said, holding out the cordless receiver to Harry. "It wasn't hanging on the wall. I had to look everywhere for it. Sorry it took so long."
"Thanks. Dial 999 for me, then put the phone on my shoulder, OK?" Harry directed. "Emergency?" he said into the phone after a few moments. "Yes, my uncle has had a heart attack. Yes. Number four, Privet Drive, Surrey. Vernon Dursley. He's 50. Yes, that's right. This is Harry Potter. My aunt is here, but she's too upset to come to the phone." He glanced up at Petunia and saw he'd spoken the truth. Her eyes were huge, glassy, and she was shivering. She seemed unaware of her surroundings now.
Ginny saw Petunia's distress and went to her, led her to a chair and helped her sit down. Then she pulled a throw off the back of the settee and draped it around the woman's shoulders. Remus went to the kitchen and found a bottle of brandy, coming back with a good sized splash of it in a glass and handing it to Petunia. The woman downed it in one gulp, then handed the glass back, her eyes pleading for more. Remus went to refill her glass and she downed that one quickly as well, then seemed to sink into herself, her eyes still huge but not quite as glassy as they had been.
"Aunt Petunia, has he ever had heart trouble before?" Harry asked. He waited for an answer, and then saw a tiny shake of her head. "I think this is his first heart trouble," he said into the phone. "No, I'm away at school most of the year, and I just got back, so I don't know what's been going on with his health. My aunt seems to be in shock."
"I'll just pop out and tell the others they don't have to stay," Tonks said quietly. "I'm near the end of my shift. I'll stay with you in case you need help here, all right?"
Remus smiled at her. "That would be wonderful. Thanks." She Disillusioned herself, then Disapparated with a loud POP.
"I've been doing CPR on him and got his heartbeat back," Harry said, continuing his conversation with the emergency operator. "No, no first aid classes. I saw it on TV and just did what I remembered from it. Yes, pumping on his chest, that's it. Oh, I hear a siren in the distance now. Is that them? Great! We'll go open the door for them. Thank you. Goodbye." He glanced up at Ron, who took the phone and held it gingerly in both hands. "Press that button that says 'Off,' OK?"
"Oh. Yeah. Got it," Ron replied as he turned off the phone, and then put it down on a nearby table.
"Ginny, we can't let the Muggles see Dudley like that. Could you either change him back or move him out of sight?" Harry said, continuing his work on his uncle.
"Erm. . .I don't know how to reverse it. I've only just started reading up on that jinx, that's why it came to mind."
As Ginny spoke, Tonks returned with a loud POP and removed her Disillusionment charm.
"I'll reverse the spell," Remus told Ginny calmly. "We just have to worry about what he's going to say when he's himself again."
"I can take care of that. Go ahead and change him," Tonks said with a cheeky grin.
Remus transfigured Dudley back into himself. The massive boy stood trembling, much as he'd done as a jelly.
"Dudley, my dear," Tonks said sweetly, "what's it like to be a jelly?" The boy's mouth moved but no coherent sounds came out. "Remember that feeling, would you, precious? Because that's mild compared to what's going to happen if you ever breathe a word, or write a word, or even THINK about writing, saying or in any other way telling anyone about Harry and his abilities, about what happened here, about any of us, or about the wizarding world in general. It will be perfectly fine for you to be incoherent when the paramedics arrive. You've suffered a great shock today, after all, with your father being so ill. But sweet boy, listen to me closely." She leaned in, her spiky blue hair nearly mingling with his thick curls. "If you so much as think about revealing Harry's secrets, or any of ours, for that matter, to ANYONE, EVER, not only will you lose your voice forever, but your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth so you can't eat easily. You could stand losing a few pounds, you know," she said, smacking him in his huge belly. "Oh, and your little willy will fall off so you'll pee like a girl for however long you live." She smiled sweetly as he grabbed his crotch protectively. "Yes, that's right. That willy. I see we understand each other. I'm putting an irreversible enchantment on you that will last the rest of your life." She waved her wand and muttered a long incantation. "This is what we Aurors – that's the wizard equivalent of Scotland Yard, the police and MI-6 all rolled into one, so you understand who you're dealing with here – that's how we deal with potential traitors. You now have the control over your voice and the way you pee. Take good care of them, won't you, luv?" She patted him lightly on the shoulder and moved away from him, glancing around at her friends with a twinkle in her eye. Harry was still concentrating on Vernon, but was chuckling quietly. Ron's face was completely astonished. Remus was laughing out loud. Ginny's eyes were huge.
"You know a spell that does all that?" Ginny said in awe.
"Oh, we Aurors know all kinds of interesting things," she assured the girl. "He's fixed for life, he is."
"Wicked!" Ron breathed. "That's absolutely brilliant! Can you teach me that jinx?"
"Sorry, mate, Aurors only," Tonks said with a cheeky grin. "Keep up the good school work and you'll be in Auror School learning that and loads more before you know it." She glanced over at Dudley. "Oh dear." A wet stain was spreading across the front of his pants. "He peed himself. What a baby." She waved her wand at him, making him scream in terror. "Oh, give over, you great oaf. I just dried your pants for you. The polite thing to do would be to say 'thank you, Miss Tonks.'" She stood with her arms crossed, holding her wand loosely, tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for him.
"Th-th-th-thank y-y-y-you, M-m-m-miss T-t-t-tonks," he stammered. He was weaving as he stood there. Remus Banished a chair to slide underneath him as Dudley's legs gave out. He fell into the chair with a resounding thump.
"Now say 'thank you' to Professor Lupin as well," Tonks prompted.
"Th-th-thanks," he muttered, glancing from her to Remus and back.
"Good boy! You'll learn some decent manners by the time I've finished with you! I think I'll take you on as a project. It should be interesting, teaching you to treat people kindly." She stood there with her hands on her hips, a roguish grin on her face, her eyes dancing with mirth. Harry was snorting with laughter by now, as were the others.
A knock on the door quieted the room. Remus crossed to the door and opened it, just as Tonks changed her hair and clothes from her punk look to a sedate, professional woman's casual attire with long, wavy dark red hair and a businesswoman's restrained makeup rather than her normal wild colours. Dudley's eyes popped at the transformation. Tonks leaned over to him and whispered, "Get used to it. And remember what I said before." He nodded mutely.
The paramedics poured into the house and over Vernon's still form like a swarm of locusts. Remus, Ron, Ginny and Tonks backed against the walls, getting out of the way as well as they could. Petunia still sat silently in her chair. Dudley trembled in his. Harry worked like a machine pumping on Vernon's chest, having switched to the Muggle CPR method as soon as Remus opened the door.
"All right, lad, we've got him," one of the paramedics said kindly, sliding his hands under Harry's and taking over the cardiac compressions as his co-workers readied their diagnostic and treatment equipment.
Harry stood up, gazing down at his uncle and weaving on his feet in exhaustion. Remus quickly wrapped an arm around him and pulled him to a chair. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly. The boy nodded, then leaned forward and put his face in his hands. Remus stood rubbing his back comfortingly. Ginny moved in front of him and embraced him, bending down and kissing his bowed head. He wrapped his arms around her slim waist and held on tightly.
"Headache back?" she whispered. He nodded miserably.
"I'll get your po. . .medicine as soon as they leave," Remus said quietly, glad he'd caught himself before saying "potion" in front of the paramedics.
"Good job, lad," one of the paramedics called over his shoulder. "The ECG shows he had a massive coronary, and he's still got a lot of problems, but you kept him going until we got here. Well done." The man turned and looked at Harry, who had sat up when the man spoke to him. "You all right there?"
"Yeah. Just tired. That's hard work," he replied, pushing his glasses up to rub his eyes.
"He's going to be just fine," the man said, misunderstanding Harry's emotion. "Your family should be proud of you." He glanced over at Petunia. "Mrs. Dursley? Are you all right?"
Her eyes flashed momentarily from Vernon's still form to the man. She barely nodded before moving her eyes back to her husband.
"A bit of a shock, I'm sure. Can you drive yourself to the hospital? Maybe one of your friends here can drive you. Or shall we call you a taxi?"
Petunia grew even paler, fear apparent on her face, but she was still silent.
"We'll be taking him to Queen Mary's Hospital in Guildford. You can catch up with him in the Emergency Room." The paramedics had hooked Vernon up to all kinds of monitors and IVs and were wheeling the trolley bearing him out of the door as the man spoke.
"Thank you," Remus said as he closed the door behind them. He turned back to the others. "She's had a good bit of brandy," he commented, nodding toward Petunia. "Can any of you drive a car?" Ron raised his hand hesitantly.
Petunia snapped out of her reverie and tried to speak. Harry waved his hand absently and reversed the Silencing Charm. As soon as she was able to speak again, she spat out, "I will not allow that boy to drive my car!"
"No problem," Ron said with a shrug and a snort of unexpected laughter. "The only car I've ever driven flew. I don't know how to drive in traffic anyway." Ginny chortled and even Harry grinned at Ron's casual reply and its effect on the Dursleys.
"That was you?" Dudley cried. He was still pale and trembling from his encounter with Tonks.
"Me and my brothers," Ron said with a cheeky grin.
"I can drive," Tonks said. "Unless you want to, Harry. I don't think Dudley's in any fit state to drive either."
"You think they bothered to teach me to drive?" Harry replied, a suddenly disgusted look on his face. "Not bloody likely."
"You should know how," Tonks said seriously. "It's an important skill for an Auror." She was silent a few moments. "Tell you what, I'll teach you!" she said happily. "In the meantime, let's get this lot to the hospital. Then you can get back to having your day with your friends."
He smiled at her gratefully. "That's brilliant. Thanks."
"All right, Dursleys, let's go. Harry, where do they keep the car keys?" Tonks said, all business.
"On the hook by the door."
"Got 'em!" she said triumphantly as she snagged them off the hook. "Dursleys. By the left, Quick March!" When they didn't respond, she added, "Or I'll make you!" Petunia and Dudley hesitantly got to their feet and trudged out to the car.
"I'll come with you," Remus offered. "Hang on a sec." He turned back to the three friends left in the room. "Ginny, Harry needs a dose of his headache potion – the one that doesn't make him sleepy. That's the one in the blue flagon up in his room. The purple flagon is the sleepy one. Don't get them mixed up unless you want him to sleep the day away! He knows how much to take, but you need to make sure he takes it – you know how stubborn he is!" He smiled at Harry, who made a face at him. "We'll be back as soon as we can." He waved and jogged out of the door, joining Tonks in the front seat of the car. Petunia and Dudley clung to each other in the back.
Tonks waved cheerily to Harry, Ron and Ginny, who were now watching from the doorway as she backed out quickly, burned rubber as she shifted gears and took off after the ambulance.
"At least the rain has stopped," Ron commented.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Otherwise, Uncle Vernon might have drowned on the way to the ambulance." His wry comment made all of them laugh nervously.
"I'll get your potion," Ginny said, running up the stairs as Harry closed the front door.
"Thanks," he called after her. He led Ron to the kitchen. "Want something to drink? Or eat?"
"Food would be good," Ron agreed, plunking himself down into a chair and watching Harry move around the kitchen, getting down plates and rummaging around in the fridge and cupboards. "D'you need any help?"
"Nah. Thanks." Harry sat out bread, various cheeses, some fruit and three cans of Coca-Cola. "How's this?"
"Brilliant!" Ron said, grabbing the can happily. "Is this like the stuff in the cinema?"
"Same thing. I thought you'd like that. I hope Ginny will."
"She'll love it. She's wanted to try some ever since I told her about having it at the cinema last summer," Ron said with a grin, trying his best to twist, pry or pull the top off of the can.
Harry quelled the memory of that good time with Casey that tried to sadden him. He sighed, then looked up at Ron and smirked, then laughed out loud as he watched his friend trying to open the can of Coke. "No, no, no. Like this," he said, holding his own can and lifting the pull tab to open the top.
"Oh! What a great idea!" Ron enthused, popping the top open with glee. He lifted the can and looked inside. "Where's the straw?"
"You don't need one. Oh, would you rather have a glass? I'm sorry; I should have given you one. Cans are rude." He shook his head and started to get up to get some glasses from the cupboard.
"Rude, huh? That sounds like your aunt talking."
Harry snorted. "You're right. That's simply horrible! Enjoy the can, mate."
"No problem." Ron watched as Harry lifted the can and drank from it, then followed his example. "It still tickles my nose! Great stuff!" he said with a laugh.
"Yeah." Harry sat his drink down and put his elbows on the table, his face in his hands, and rubbed his temples.
"Is it bad?" Ron said kind-heartedly.
"Not so bad. Just annoying, I guess." Harry stopped rubbing his temples then looked at his hands, leaning forward to smell them. "Eauw."
"Eau de Dursley," Harry grimaced and went to the sink, soaping his hands liberally and scrubbing them hard. "Yuck."
Ron watched his friend for a while, wondering what was going through his mind. Harry silently washed his hands far longer than necessary. "What's up, mate?" Harry just shrugged in response.
Ginny bounded into the room, the flagon of potion in her hand. "Here you go, sweetie! This will fix you up."
Harry turned to face her, his eyes tragic.
"I'm sorry I took so long. Go on and take it. You'll feel better soon," she said sympathetically.
"Thanks," he muttered dispiritedly as he took the flagon from her and swallowed his dose. "Want something to eat?"
The two of them joined Ron at the table. Ron showed Ginny how to open her can of Coke and laughed with her when the fizz tickled her nose. Harry was uncharacteristically quiet.
"Harry?" Ron said after a few moments of silence. "What is it, mate? What's wrong?"
"Not nothing," Ginny said, reaching over to rub his forearm. "Something's bothering you. A lot. Talk to us."
He sighed. He didn't want to talk. He didn't want to think. He just wanted to be alone, yet he wanted his girlfriend and his best mate to stay and visit. It had started out to be such a good day. Trust Uncle Vernon to make it miserable for him.
Ginny and Ron looked at each other uncertainly. They let the silence stretch longer, just watching Harry's face as he dealt with some inward struggle. His shoulders were tense, he was chewing his lower lip, his eyes were distant. Ginny got up and started massaging his shoulders. After a while, he began to relax a little, and then leaned his cheek on her hand.
"Thanks. That feels good," he murmured. "I'm sorry. You two came all this way to have fun visiting and it's been bloody awful so far." He glanced up, finally looking directly at Ron. "It's been a hell of a day already, hasn't it?" he said with a hint of his crooked smile.
"Too right it has," Ron agreed. "So what do you want to do today? We've just arrived a few minutes ago, and we've enjoyed our snack and a quiet visit so far. You've been cooped up in bed for a while, right? D'you want to go somewhere? Or just mess around here? We're open to suggestions."
"You've just arrived? I like the way you think," said Harry, a sad smile spreading slowly over his face. "I thought we might see what's at the cinema, or just stay here and play Exploding Snap or something. If it's not raining, we can go for a walk. Whatever you want."
"I've never been to the cinema," Ginny offered, still working the knots out of Harry's shoulders. "Could we do that?"
"Yeah," he replied, taking her hands off of his shoulders and kissing each palm before getting to his feet. "Let me go and see what's showing." He went into the living room and picked up the paper from Uncle Vernon's chair. He stood immobile, the paper in his hand, staring at the chair.
Ron and Ginny had followed him from the kitchen. They looked at each other nervously. Whatever was going on in Harry was coming to a head. They could feel the change in the atmosphere, as if a storm was coming over the horizon.
"Harry? Mate? Talk to us before you explode," Ron said quietly. "What's bothering you?"
Harry's back stiffened as he realized his torment was being witnessed. He took a deep breath and blew it out, trying to control his emotions. Finally, he spoke, his voice disgusted and angry. "I held his life in my hands. He's given me nothing but hell my entire life. He's lied to me, beaten me, locked me up, called me names, and humiliated me in every imaginable way. I hate him, I really do. He was dead when I first touched him." Harry turned and looked at his friends, his eyes anguished. "He was dead! And I brought him back." His face twisted in fury. "I don't know why I should've worked so hard to save the life of a monster like him, but I brought him back. Why? Why did I do that? I actually thought about letting him die several times. It was so hard to get a decent rhythm and keep his heart going. It would've been so easy to let him go, but I couldn't. I hate him! Why did I save him? What's wrong with me? Am I so into saving people that I'll try to save Voldemort when I kill him?" He dropped into the chair, his face in his hands, pulling at his hair in torment. "He won't thank me for this. He'll find a way to blame me. So will she. If my life was hell before, I can't imagine what it's going to be like after this."
"I think I know what's really bothering you, sweetheart," Ginny said softly, sitting on the arm of the chair and wrapping her arms around him, laying her head against the back of his. "You're shocked that you even considered letting him die."
Harry grew very still when she said this. She bent her head and nuzzled under the hair on the back of his neck, kissing the tender skin there softly over and over. Her hair fell from behind her shoulder and spilled over his shoulder and arm. As she continued to kiss his neck and rub her cheek against his thick black hair, he sighed and took the silky red tresses in his hand, running his fingers through them, watching the sparkles of red-gold as the strands caught the light.
"How did you get so wise?" he asked finally, turning around so he could pull her into his lap. He held her close, his face buried in her shoulder, drinking in the scent of her. She smelled like wild roses and strawberries and fresh air.
"I just know you too well, that's all," she replied, lacing her fingers in his hair and gently pushing his head up so she could look him in the eye. "That's it, isn't it? You're torturing yourself for having a bad thought?"
"I suppose," he said quietly.
"I think there's something else, too," she added.
"What, Miss Knows-Harry-Too-Well?" he said with a slight smile.
"I think it hurt you that he might die. I think you've always wanted him to love you, and it hurts you that he hasn't. And I think you were sad that there would never be a chance for you two to love each other."
He sat up and stared at her, shocked. "That's. . . ." He wanted to say "That's ridiculous," but something stopped him.
"He was the only father figure you had growing up," she reasoned, ignoring his interruption. "Even if he was horrible to you, there has to be some feeling there. You probably always wanted his attention, his approval, his kindness. At least fair treatment. Right? Be honest with yourself, even if you don't answer me."
Harry couldn't meet her eyes.
"Ah-ha. That's what I thought. You love him in some fashion, and don't want to love him because he doesn't deserve it. So now you're upset because you had the power of life and death over him and chose to give him a second chance at life." She ducked her head so she was in his line of sight again. When he'd finally locked eyes with her, she added, "That's it, isn't it?" He was silent, but he didn't glance away this time. "What you did was heroic. You gave him a second chance. What he does with it is up to him, but you did give him a second chance. I hope he's bright enough to make good use of it and realize what a treasure he has in you, Harry."
He snorted with unexpected laughter. "It will be a very hot day in Antarctica before he considers me any kind of a treasure."
"You are a treasure and someday that block-headed man will realize it. I just hope he does before it's too late."
He gazed into her serious brown eyes. "You do know that I love you, right?"
"I had a clue, but it's always good to tell me these things," she teased. The tip of her tongue darted out and barely touched the end of his nose. "Got your nose."
"Changing tactics, are we?" he replied, charmed at last out of his bad mood. "I thought it was the dimple in my chin you wanted."
"That too," she agreed, and promptly began chewing on his chin.
"Oy, get a room!" Ron said with a laugh. "And do it soon, because Tonks and Remus just got back."
"A room. Why didn't I think of that?" Harry said with a grin at his girlfriend, smacking himself on the forehead with his open palm. Ginny kissed the spot he'd smacked, then proceeded to playfully kiss every inch of his face, pushing his glasses and hair aside as necessary. She had him laughing in a very short time.
Ron opened the front door for Tonks and Remus. "Everything OK?" he asked them as they walked back into the lounge where Harry and Ginny were still playing kissy-face.
"He's doing as well as can be expected," Remus replied. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stood in front of his godson. Harry's and Ginny's smiles faded as soon as they saw Remus's face. "It doesn't look good. He needs a valve replacement – that valve not working right was the fluttering you felt, I suspect. They expect he'll need bypass surgery as well, but they were still doing tests when we left. Muggle medicine works much more slowly than wizard medicine, as well, so he'll be sick longer than a wizard would with the same ailment."
Harry gazed up at his godfather silently
"Your aunt is taking this all quite hard," Remus added. "Dudley isn't being much help, either."
"I'd be shocked if he was being any help at all," Harry muttered darkly.
"The paramedics were very impressed with what you did, keeping him alive so long. The tests they did here showed he had considerable damage to his heart, as well as long-term blockages in his blood vessels. They said chronic obesity and no exercise were underlying causes of the attack. They were surprised you didn't come along to sit with the family. They wanted to talk to you."
"About becoming a paramedic. They think you'd be good at it. They were quite enthusiastic about how well you did, especially with no training."
"I don't want that kind of responsibility," Harry replied grimly, glancing at Ginny, then Ron. They understood what he meant and gazed back at him sympathetically. Desperate for a change of subject, he noticed the newspaper still clutched in his hand. "We were thinking about going to the cinema. Want to come with us?"
Remus's eyes lit up. "The cinema? Moving pictures, right?"
"Yes, moving pictures, like wizard photos, but with a story," Harry replied. He repositioned Ginny in his lap so he could open the paper in front of her and check the schedule. "There's a comedy, an action picture and a romance film to choose from at our local cinema. I don't know anything about any of them. What are you lot up for?"
"Comedy!" Ron cried with no hesitation. Everyone agreed with him and soon they were walking down the sidewalk on their way to the cinema.
Nosy Mrs. Next-Door was ostentatiously sweeping her porch. "Boy! Oy, you there, boy!" Despite having lived next door to them all of Harry's life, she still refused to call him by his name.
"Yes?" he said in as polite a voice as he could manage.
"What happened at your house? I saw an ambulance earlier."
There seemed no point in lying. "Uncle Vernon had a heart attack. He's in the hospital now."
"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that!" she said insincerely. "How is he? Is he going to live? How's your dear aunt?"
Harry could see she was licking her lips in anticipation of starting the neighbourhood gossip chain. "He's as well as can be expected. Aunt Petunia's upset but doing OK. Dudley's with them."
"And where are you off to, with your dear uncle in the hospital?" she demanded.
"My friends came to visit today," Harry replied, wishing he didn't have to deal with her.
Remus stepped into the situation. "Hello. I'm Remus Lupin, Harry's godfather. These are our friends, Ron and Ginny Weasley, and Miss Tonks. We've done what we could for the Dursleys. Harry is understandably upset. We're trying to find a way to keep his spirits up."
The woman cast a suspicious eye over the group. "Well, make sure you lock the house when you leave it. Some crooks follow ambulances around to loot the houses of sick people, you know."
"It's locked, no problem," Harry assured her.
"Do give your dear auntie my best when you talk with her. I'll bring over a casserole or something when I see she's home."
"Thanks. I'm sure she'll appreciate that," Harry replied, starting to walk away. "Bye." His friends were silent for a while, giving him time to deal with his emotions again. "What an old busybody she is," he grumbled finally. "You'd think, if she wanted to bring over a casserole, she'd offer to bring it whenever she got it done, right? But no, she'll wait until Aunt Petunia is home because she wants to make sure I won't get any. As if I'd eat anything she cooked." Ginny already had her arm around his waist. Ron clapped him on the shoulder and made an unrepeatable remark about old biddies that made all of them laugh.
At the entrance to the cinema, Harry said, "Five adults for the two PM show, please."
"You're not paying for all of us!" Ron protested.
"You can buy the drinks then, all right?" Harry said reasonably.
With hands full of drinks, popcorn and sweets, the five friends found seats in the nearly empty theatre.
"Is this not a popular film or something?" Ginny asked. "Where is everybody?"
"I don't know," Harry replied. "I suppose there aren't a lot of people here because it's a weekday afternoon and most of them are at work or something." He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "This is the best part about films, as far as I'm concerned."
"What?" she asked, glancing around to see what could have caught his attention.
"This," he said, leaning down and kissing her tenderly. "Snogging through the credits is an accepted practice."
"What are credits?" Remus asked, overhearing Harry's conversation.
"The list of who did what in the film," Tonks replied. "And Harry's right about the accepted practice, you know," she added cheekily, leaning close to Remus and tickling the end of his nose with her eyelashes.
"Crikey, and me with no date," Ron grumbled. His face brightened as Harry wordlessly passed him two huge boxes of sweets. "What's this?"
"For you," Harry replied with a warm chuckle as he gazed into Ginny's sparkling eyes. "I have enough sweets right here."
"Works for me," Ron said with a grin, settling in to devour three full boxes of sweets as well as his super-sized popcorn.
As they walked back toward Mrs. Figg's after the film, Remus had a bemused look on his face. He and Tonks had followed Harry's and Ginny's examples in the best method of enjoying the credits. "If I'd known films were that much fun, I would've tried them years ago," he commented wryly, giving Tonks a squeeze around her waist.
"You didn't know me years ago," she pointed out, "so you wouldn't have had nearly as much fun as you did today." She grinned cheekily.
"You are a wonder, I must say," he said, smiling down at her.
Ahead of them, Harry, Ron and Ginny were having a spirited discussion about all the illogical things in the film, laughing at the silly situations presented and the foolish ways the characters had reacted to them.
"Then again," Harry reasoned, "if they were sensible people dealing with problems in a mature manner, there wouldn't be any film." His friends agreed.
"But for a grown man to jump into the mud like that – how stupid!" Ron chuckled.
"But funny – and I suspect that's the only reason it was there," Ginny commented.
"Damn," Harry said suddenly.
"What?" Ginny replied, surprised at his vehemence.
"We're here. Mrs. Figg's." His shoulders slumped, knowing Ginny and Ron would have to leave soon.
"Oh," Ginny said in a small voice.
Ron looked at his watch. "We're due home now anyway," he said with a shrug. "We promised Mum we'd be home before tea. There's still a lot to do to get ready for the party."
Harry held Ginny close for a long moment, then kissed her tenderly. "I love you," he whispered in her ear as he nuzzled her neck one last time.
"I love you too. See you in a few days!" She stood back from him, her hands stroking his cheeks. "Where's my beard?"
"I'll bring it for the party if you'd like," he promised.
"No, they need to see how handsome you are. No point in covering up that dimpled chin. But after the party's over, then you can grow it for me."
"As you wish, m'lady," he promised, then kissed her forehead and hugged her again, holding her close and rocking her in his arms. He was reluctant to let her go.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you how nice your hair looked today!" Ginny added, leaning back in his arms to look him over carefully. "You did something different."
"Thanks," he said with a blushing smile. "I never had a chance to tell you how pretty you look today."
She smiled, her eyes sparkling. "Thanks."
Harry looked up at Ron. "Mate, thanks for coming with her. I know it's been a bummer without Hermione."
"After what you told me about Dudley's gang, I wasn't about to let Ginny come alone. We'll be seeing a lot of you while you're here. And Saturday's only a few days away! Take care, mate!" Ron replied, waving as he and Ginny walked up to Mrs. Figg's front door and knocked. She opened it promptly, waved at Harry, Remus and Tonks as she let Ron and Ginny inside. They turned and waved again before the door closed behind them.
When Harry, Remus and Tonks arrived back at the Dursleys, Harry stopped at the door, then turned and sat on the front stoop, his arms crossed over his upraised knees. He looked miserable again.
"What is it?" Remus asked, sitting beside the boy.
"I don't want to go in. I hate this place." Harry rested his head on his arms, the very picture of misery.
"I know. It won't be much longer. But you've been up a long time today and should go in and rest. That's what Healer Pomfrey would say," Remus commented quietly.
He sighed. "I know." After a few more moments, he got up and put his hand on the doorknob, and was shocked to find it unlocked. He cast a warning glance behind him and pulled out his wand. Tonks pushed him aside and was the first inside the door, her wand at the ready, Harry and Remus close behind her. Keeping their backs to the walls, they peeped through the archway into the living room. Nobody there. Tonks signalled that they should head for the kitchen. The door was closed. With Tonks on one side of the door and Remus and Harry on the other, Tonks silently Vanished the door and burst into the room, the two men hard on her heels. They drew up short at the sight of a terrified Petunia and Dudley Dursley sitting at the breakfast table, untouched cups of tea sitting cold in front of them.
"Oh, it's you!" Tonks said in relief. "Sorry about that," she said, gesturing toward the open doorway that used to contain a door. "I'll replace it." With a sweep of her wand and a short incantation, the door was replaced. "When we found the house unlocked. . .well, your neighbour warned us about thieves who. . .well, we were worried. Sorry we scared you."
"Why are you home so soon?" Harry asked uneasily. "Is he. . .?"
"He came through the surgery as well as could be expected. He woke up in a flaming rage and there was nothing we could do to calm him down. They sedated him and told us to go home. He could undo all they did with the surgery if he loses his temper like that again while he's healing." Aunt Petunia made this speech in an accusatory snarl, glaring at Harry as if it was all his fault.
He saw her look and understood what was behind it. His face grew stony as he stiffened his back and stepped away his relatives. "I'm going to my room," he told his godfather, then turned on his heel and left.
Remus and Tonks stood still, not believing the scene they'd just witnessed. They heard Harry taking the stairs two at a time. They looked at each other, stunned.
"Um. . .I should probably go check on him," Remus offered after a few uncomfortable moments of silence.
"You go on. I want a word with the Dursleys," Tonks said in an uncharacteristically stern voice. Remus looked at her curiously, but she shooed him out of the kitchen.
As he went up the stairs, there was a knock on the door. "I'll just get that, shall I?" Tonks said quietly. "You lot stay here." She saw Remus starting back down the stairs, trying to see through the convoluted glass in the door. "I'll take care of this," she told him. "You take care of Harry." She opened the door and found the nosy neighbour standing there, a casserole in her hands, a hopeful look on her face. The woman kept trying to look around Tonks, who was expertly blocking access as well as the view of the house with her body.
"Oh, hello. We met earlier. I'm the next-door neighbour?" the woman simpered, trying to get on the good side of this suddenly formidable-looking young woman.
"Yes, I remember," Tonks said sweetly. "I also remember your saying you'd bring over a casserole! How nice of you. With so many in the house, it will be welcome. Thanks!" She started to close the door.
"Wait! I'd like to see Petunia. I want to know how Vernon is," the woman pressed.
"He's doing as well as can be expected. He came through the surgery and is resting now. The hospital sent Petunia and Dudley home because Vernon's asleep and won't notice they're gone. They need to rest right now. They've been through a terrible ordeal. I'm sure you understand," Tonks replied, a charming smile on her face.
"Oh. Oh, I see. Yes. Well. . .tell them I called, then, all right?"
"I certainly will. And I'm positive the casserole will be much appreciated." This time, Tonks did manage to get the door closed. She stood to one side, keeping an eye on the woman outside but staying out of sight herself. She sensed a movement on the stairs and saw Remus standing there, wand at the ready, prepared to back her up if she needed it. She smiled at him, and went back to watching the woman outside the door, who finally stopped standing on the step and left, going unerringly to the other next-door neighbour's house. From there, the story was bound to spread like wildfire.
Tonks nodded at Remus as she turned away from the door. He headed upstairs while she carried the dish into the kitchen. "Mrs. Nosy whatever-her-name-is, lives on that side?" she said, nodding her head in the appropriate direction, "dropped off this casserole and said to tell you she called. She asked about your husband and you lot. I told her what she needed to know – and no more than that." She put the casserole in the oven to stay warm.
"Are you cutting us off from contact with our neighbours?" Petunia asked tremulously.
"No, certainly not. But I want us to have a few things straight before you start spreading around, um, shall we say, 'coloured versions of the truth.'"
Petunia's eyes widened in shock. "Coloured versions. . .well, I never. . .!"
"Yes, you have. You do it on a regular basis. I didn't have to spend much time here at all to see how things are. The way your neighbour looked at poor Harry when we were walking past, you'd think he had the plague. He hasn't done anything to deserve that, but YOU. . .you and your family tell lies about him all the time. You tell people he's a criminal, that he goes to school at St. Brutus's Secure Centre for the Severely Criminal Mind or whatever the bloody hell you call it! He's a GOOD BOY! Not a criminal! But your neighbours are scared of him – because of you! You are despicable people. I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard about you, things wizards I trust have witnessed or overheard when you've been out, or even in your garden but none of us were allowed, by Dumbledore's orders, to interfere. Harry was to grow up in as normal an atmosphere as possible. The atmosphere here wasn't even normal for Dudley, poor kid. You've ruined him. At least Harry had the strength of character to withstand the treatment you gave him and turn out all right."
"How dare you. . .?" Petunia spluttered, incoherent with rage.
"Oh, ducks, I haven't even begun. You and Dudders, here, and I are going to have a little talk. It will take a while. I'm going to point out the error of your ways, and tell you the truth about your nephew."