Author's Note: Hi gang
Author's Note: Hi gang! Sorry it took so long to update. Things have been crazy. It involves full-time work, ballet, a car crash (my poor little car...it may never be the same again!) and a fussy little muse intent on ignoring me. Please excuse all typos and errors. This is un-betaed, as I wanted to get it out as soon as possible; it has been so long since I last updated. I'll come back and fix things later. This is the last chapter for first year. The next story will be the start of Harry's summer. ;)
"I have investigated the rumors myself, Severus, and I found them to be unfounded. Harry will return to his relatives home this summer and every summer until he is of age." Dumbledore said firmly to Snape.
"Are you sure, Headmaster? I have heard many rumors of the boy's home life. Can we really take the risk?"
"I daresay the boy and his family squabbled. He'll be fine. Now, no more talk about suspected abuse. The claims are groundless. What of this mysterious student of yours?"
"A mysterious student?" Snape said in a distracted voice. "Headmaster, you really shouldn't listen to groundless rumors. By your leave." Snape stood and left the office, his temper mounting by the second. He warded his private quarters against all intruders and activated the Floo. "Malfoy Manor!"
"Severus?" Lucius Malfoy said on the other side of the flames. "What is it?"
"Dumbledore will not be a problem."
Harry fastened his jacket and hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder. His trunk was safely shrunken and in his pocket already. Serry had packed him a lunch and snack for the train ride home and informed Harry that he needed to eat all of it. He had promised Serry that he would eat every morsel. Now, he stood in the Entrace Hall, waiting to board the Hogwarts Express the return to London. His first stop would be a meeting with Remus, then a tube station, and then he would head to his flat just outside of Knockturn Alley, in a dark little section of neighborhood called Spider Warren. Neighborhoods like Spider Warren were decaying remnants of previously nice places to live, with their residents so invested in their own lives that many oddities escaped their notice...especially an almost twelve year old boy called the Boy Who Lived.
Harry reached up one hand to rub his forehead. He had a headache and it wasn't going away. It would fade with a painkiller potion, but it would come back at the slightest provocation. He decided it was the stress of returning to the Dursleys...that, and trying to fit a lot of last minute details into exactly one last minute. Quite annoying, really, but he had pushed aside physical discomfort before. He knew how much he could take. It was only a headache, and he supposed it would leave once he finished his two weeks at the Dursleys and move onto better things, even if that was a little flat in Spider Warren.
He looked up when he heard footsteps coming down a side hallway. It was Professor Snape. The man only raised an eyebrow, but Harry seen that sign enough to know what it meant. We need to talk. He waited a few minutes before following the man down the hallway. Snape ducked into one of the classrooms and left the door open behind him. Harry pulled out his wand and walked into the room. "Prove you are you," he told Snape.
"I gave you a Potions journal for Christmas," Snape said calmly, waiting for Harry to put away his wand. "Your caution is good."
"I do try not to risk my life more than necessary," Harry said as he took a seat at one of the desks.
"Yes, I thank you for that," Snape turned a desk around to face Harry and sat. "How are you feeling?" Snape asked suddenly.
Harry shrugged a bit. Snape had taken to asking after his health whenever the two spent time together. Harry had a feeling he was reporting his findings to Madame Pomfrey, but kept his suspicions to himself. No reason to give Snape ideas. "Fine," he answered. "A little tired from time to time, as though I didn't get enough sleep the night before. That's all."
"Any soreness? Aches?"
"No, sir. Well, a slight headache, but nothing a painkiller fix." Harry kept a close eye on the clock. It currently read Almost Time to Leave. He hoped he would get a warning before he had to get to the carriages.
"Take this with you," Snape said as he pulled out a small leather case. "It has a few potions you may need. Pepper-up and the like. I know you know the correct dosages..."
Harry opened the case and looked inside. Pepper-Up, Soothing potions, pain reliever, sleeping potions...even Dreamless Sleep. "Thank you, sir." He could not articulate how much he appreciated the potions. They were in shatterproof containers, and the case was small enough to hide in a pocket or satchel.
"Should you need more, just owl me...or call me. You'll find my address in there as well." Severus Snape, paranoid master spy, giving me his Floo address. I feel honored.
"Thank you, sir," Harry could read between the lines. Snape was concerned about him. "What happened with Quirrell?"
"Quirrell is still at St. Mungos, mostly unresponsive to outside stimuli. The medical team assigned to his case remains optimistic as to his changes for recovery." Snape laced his fingers together and studied Harry. "You are returning to your relatives?" Snape asked. They played this game with questions lately, one of question for a question, where Snape would answer a question for Harry, provided Harry answered Snape's questions. As soon as Harry quit answering, so did Snape. Harry had learned to ask the big questions first and minor questions after that. It was the only way to ensure he received the answers he wanted.
"Yes, I am returning to my relatives' house," Harry told him. "Did Dumbledore get rid of the Stone?"
"He assures me that it was dealt with, but he refuses to explain the method." Snape studied Harry. "Are you looking forward to returning to your relatives?"
Now there is an easy question! "And leave all this behind? Professor, I thought you didn't approve of pointless questions?"
"Quote my words back to me, whelp?" Snape gave Harry a half-hearted sneer. "What-"
"It's my turn!" Harry interrupted.
"Very well, ask your question." Snape gave him a tiny 'go ahead' motion for good measure.
"What happened to the Dark Lord?"
"Surely you know that story?" Snape asked, surprised.
"Not that. The Dark Lord sticking out of Quirrell's head."
Snape didn't move or speak for a long, quiet moment. Then he exploded. "WHAT?"
"Er, Dark Lord...possessed Quirrell?" Harry offered in explanation.
"It was a rumor started by the children," Snape bit out, obviously fighting for his center, or control, or whatever it was the man did to keep calm.
"It was the Dark Lord, Professor," Harry said, his tone the same as Snape's, measured and calm. "The Dark Lord possessed Quirrell, and then used Ron Weasley for energy, or magic, or something. I haven't figured that out yet."
Snape stared at him, blinked, and then buried his face in his hands and gave a world-weary sigh. "Potter, do you ever stop being complicated?"
"How do you know about Quirrell and the Dark Lord?" Snape was clearly pulling up his endurance; Harry could tell that he was starting to get to Snape.
"I had a dream about it while I was in the Hospital Wing."
"A dream?" Snape paused. "Of course. Why wouldn't you have a dream about it? Random predictions, prophetic dreams. What's next?"
"Me going to the train." Harry said, getting up from the desk.
"Potter!" Harry stopped at Snape's call. "Do let me know if you need anything."
"I will, sir." Harry glanced at the clock and slipped through the door. He dashed down the hall and practically fell down the stairs to reach the carriages.
"Harry, there you are!" Draco said frantically. "Come on, I've been saving you seat." Draco grabbed Harry's arm and tugged him onto the carriage. "Where were you?"
"Oh, just saying good-bye to friend."
Harry looked up from his book as the train slowed to go into the station. "London!" Hermione said happily.
"Yes, Hermione, London," Ron said patiently. "It's not like you've never been here before."
Harry rolled his eyes at the two Gryffindors and shook his head. Draco snorted from across the aisle and stood from his seat, avoiding Ron's side of the compartment. Draco had spent half the train ride with his friends from Slytherin and the other half with Harry and Hermione. He had ignored Ron for the most part, but that was all to the good, considering that Ron couldn't stand him. Ron hadn't said more than three words to the Slytherin. Still, they hadn't started a physical confrontation, which was a step up from Harry's previous life.
"My parents cannot wait to meet you, Harry. I've told Mum and Dad all about you." Hermione chattered, her excitement about returning home for the summer practically lighting up the compartment.
"You mean you told them about your crush on him, Granger?" Draco asked.
"You take that back!" Ron demanded suddenly, only to be drowned out by Hermione.
"For the last time, I do not have a crush on Harry!" Hermione looked close to pulling her wand on the blond.
Harry scoffed loud enough so that all three children turned and looked at him. "I'm going to lock the three of you in this compartment until you stop bickering." Harry told them. The only indication that they had heard was the widening of their eyes. "I'm serious. Stop bickering. It's childish, and slightly annoying to the person forced to listen to it."
"Wow. What happened to you, Harry? You're usually not this...short." Ah, Hermione, you are the diplomat, aren't you?
"Sorry, Hermione. I think I'm just a little out of sorts. Going home and all..."
"You don't want to go home?" Hermione asked in a shocked tone.
"Well, no. I can't do magic, and I have to wait until September to read more magic books, unless I buy them, and I can't see my relatives allowing me to purchase new ones. I wanted to stay at school." Harry shrugged. "I'll have to wait."
"My parents mentioned you visiting us this summer, Harry," Draco said. "I would expect an invitation in two weeks or so."
"Thanks, Draco. I'm not sure what my family's plans are, but we'll see what happens." Harry said.
"Sounds good," Draco said, absently helping Hermione sort out her satchel.
"Come on, let's go! The train's stopped!" Ron nearly flew out the door.
Harry nearly tripped over his feet when Hermione suddenly latched onto him and Draco and dragged them from the compartment to the platform. She looked around frantically and then waved to someone. "MUM! DAD! I'M OVER HERE!" Hermione started jumping up and down and then launched herself at her parents.
Harry and Draco stood and snickered at the various pet names her parents called Hermione. The girl finally extracted herself from her parents and turned towards the boys. "Mum, Dad, these are my friends, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Guys, these are my parents."
Harry saw Draco's eyes go wide. He must have realized that Hermione's parents are Muggles. This must be an interesting quandary for him. I wonder how he'll respond. Harry stepped forward and offered his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Granger."
"It's nice to meet you as well, young man." Mr. Granger said. "We've heard quite a bit about you."
Harry only smiled as Draco stepped forward. Looks like you found some courage in you after all. Harry thought. Draco had already managed to make the Grangers laugh. He works fast.
"RON! OVER HERE!" Hermione called to a crowd of redheads. Ron broke away from his family and joined Hermione. "Mum, Dad, this is Ron Weasley."
Harry dug into his bag and pulled out an updated scroll of defense books. He had made a new list of medium-level defense books for Ron. One book, called Practical Defense for the Determined Student, was rather thick, but he was convinced that the book should be a part of Hogwarts defense curricula. It not only listed spells by level – from annoying to potentially lethal- but it also gave suggested and creative uses for each spell, recommendations for dueling with each spell, and appendices covering dueling practices, combat scenarios, and even laws concerning self-defense for various countries. It was a gold mine, in Harry's opinion.
"Hey, Ron," Harry said quietly, slipping away from Draco and Hermione. "This is the new list I was talking about." He handed the scroll to Ron. "I put stars next to the essential books, so I would recommend actually purchasing those if you can. The rest can come from the library or borrowed, if you like.
Ron nodded and opened the parchment. His eyes grew wide at the detailed list. "Blimey, Harry. You have practically every subject listed.
"Knowledge is power, Ron. Defense shouldn't be limited to the Dark Arts. You can use Transfiguration or Herbology in defense, just as well as the Disarming Spell." Harry could see that Ron was skeptical. "Imagine turning your opponent into a butterfly..."
"Ah, I see," Ron said thoughtfully.
"Read through these this summer, and we'll get together at school, perhaps get some practice in."
"Thank you, Harry," Ron looked ready to say more when he winced at his mother's sharp call. "I have to go. Have a good summer, okay, Harry?"
"You too, Ron." Harry returned. Ron dashed off towards his family, calling a quick good-bye to Hermione and his parents. Harry shook his head in bemusement. Ron was different, but he still had the old enthusiasm Harry had known. It would be that enthusiasm and this new determination that would ensure his success in the coming war...if there was a war.
"There they are!" Harry heard Narcissa Malfoy say. He turned and saw the Malfoys coming through the crowd towards them. Harry rejoined Draco and Hermione and prepared himself to greet Narcissa and her mothering skills. "Oh, welcome home, boys." Narcissa drew the both of them into her arms and proceeded to strangle them with affection.
"Hi, Mrs. Malfoy," Harry said as she released him. "I hope you're well." Narcissa only smiled and nodded. Harry could read between the lines: she was happy now that her child had returned home.
After Harry and Draco greeted the Malfoys, Harry introduced them to Hermione and her family. Harry saw the slightest hint of hesitation from them, but they did manage a few polite words before giving their good-byes. Hermione told them that she would write to them before leaving with her parents. Harry picked up his bag and turned to say good-bye to the Malfoys. "I hope you have a good summer, Draco."
"You, too. Just be sure you don't bury yourself under your books."
"Don't fall off your broom," Harry told him quietly. He turned to the adults. "It was good to see you again."
"We were hoping to meet your relatives, Harry," Harry felt himself go a little cold at Narcissa's words. "When are they arriving?"
"They're not," Harry said calmly. "They've arranged transportation for me." Harry pulled on his cap and shrugged. "I need to leave now to catch my bus, so if you'll excuse me?"
"Not dream of keeping you," Lucius interrupted his wife. "Are you sure you'll be alright on your own?"
"Quite sure, Mr. Malfoy. My family trusts me on familiar trips." Harry gave a half-hearted smile to everyone there and left the Malfoys.
"Are you just going to let him go off on his own?" He heard Narcissa hiss to her husband. He didn't hear Mr. Malfoy's reply. He left the train station as quickly as possible and found the nearest Metro station. He had an appointment to keep with a friend.
Harry walked into the tiny diner Remus told him about and sat down at a table. A waitress bustled up, dispensed ice water and menu, and then paused. "Are you here by yourself?" She asked Harry, her voice taking on the "I'm talking to a child" tone Harry was secretly beginning to hate.
"No ma'am. My uncle had to park our car. He asked me to come in and find a table," Harry told her. "He should be here in just a second."
"Oh, all right. May I get you something to drink?" She asked, pointing him to the beverage options on the back of the menu. He skimmed through the offerings and smiled back at her.
"Just water, thanks. Uncle Remus says I drink too much sugar." Harry saw her smile and snickered inside his head. So easily misled...
"You be sure to tell your uncle he's a smart man. I'll be back to get your orders when he gets here, okay?"
"Thank you," Harry said. She scurried away to wait on another table and Harry saw Remus through the window. He waved to get the man's attention. Remus saw him and waved back. He dropped into the seat across from Harry and received the same attention as Harry regarding a beverage. Remus ended up with hot tea and a shocked expression.
"Is it just me, or is she really quick on her feet?" Remus asked.
"She's a professional," Harry told him with a shrug. "I'm just grateful she left me alone after I told her my uncle was coming."
"Yes, about that. What did you mean that you weren't worried about a place to stay this summer?"
"I'm going to my relatives only at night. The rest of the time, I'll be out and about. Mostly at my flat."
"Your flat?" Remus blinked. He wasn't sure he heard right. Had Harry said that he had a flat?
"Yes, my flat. I found one at Christmastime and I'll be spending the majority of my time there."
"Harry, you know I said you could stay with me, if you wanted to do so."
"I know. This is the first place that I've had that is all mine. Not my parents, not Sirius', not the Dursleys', not Hogwarts...mine." Harry waited while Remus studied him. The man seemed to be looking for something.
"Alright. I can see how much that means to you." Remus said reluctantly.
"More than you can know, Remus," Harry answered. "More than you can know." Harry smiled at the waitress as she came back and gave his order when she asked what he would have. Remus had to make a quick decision, and the waitress was off again.
"How does she do it?' Remus asked rhetorically.
"I'm not sure I want to know." Harry said. The pair talked about school matters and the fact that Voldemort (known as Tommy boy between the pair) was still out there. Harry told Remus that the Horcrux hunt would be underway once Harry turned twelve. "I know where they are, you see. They're safe for now. No one is disturbing them, and I have to admit I need time to devise how to get to one or two of them. I mean, the last time required a bit more effort than I wanted to expend. Quite frightening, really."
"Harry, why don't you let me handle them?" Remus asked.
"I can't let you handle them. It's my task." Harry studied his hands, only to look up sharply at Remus' next comment.
Harry stared at him. Had Remus just used...
"Your problem, Harry, is that you don't know how to ask for help. I don't know who told you that this was your task alone, but I refuse to just sit by and twiddle my thumbs while you're running around..." Remus had to pause as their food arrived. Harry smirked at the chips on his plate and decided he liked going against direct orders, especially in terms of food. He would eat balanced meals, but every occasionally couldn't hurt, right? "running around, risking your life and currently tiny limbs!"
Harry stared at him, sure that his eyes were going to pop out of his head. Had Remus really just said that? He hadn't felt that way before, had he? When Harry was older and stuck with that horrible training? Had he 'twiddled his thumbs' then? "I-"
"Don't say anything now. Just know that I'm here, and I'm capable of helping you, for most of the days of the month." Remus gave him a sheepish smile.
"Ok." Harry agreed, afraid to do anything else. Sirius had once told him that Remus could be quite vehement when he so chose, but Harry hadn't really seen it the way Sirius had while he was at Grimmauld Place. It was a little intimidating.
"You should eat," Remus said, sliding into his role of affable uncle. "You're still a little scrawny.
Harry did the most mature thing he could think of at that point. Unfortunately, it involved making a face at Remus, so it didn't come off as the brilliant argument he had hoped it would be. Things couldn't always go his way, could they? He and Remus spent their meal in small talk, discussing the finer points of Harry's classes, Remus's new job, and their future plans to get together some time during the summer to plot and plan things like Sirius's release from prison, the search for Tommy boy's toys, and how to save the world. The waitress thought them terribly amusing and hovered to hear more of the fantasy story the two were obviously writing between them.
Author's Note 2: That had to be the hardest chapter I've had to write in a long time. Look for the sequel!