Scars, Whiskers and Sherbet Lemons

Chapter One: Night Scares

By Alexannah

Life without love is meaningless and goodness without love is impossible
- Greg Jurkiewicz

The silence in the house was broken only by the gentle tick tick of the alarm clock on the bedside table in the main bedroom. As it neared seven thirty, the ticking turned into a shrill brill. A low moan came from the bed and a hand sneaked out from under the covers to hit the 'snooze' button for the twelfth time that morning.


"What?" was the grumpy reply.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to get some more rest. I'm tired."

Albus sighed, rolled out of bed and grabbed his jeans. In the summer holidays, they normally wore Muggle clothes, because of the weather and because they found them more convenient. The only exceptions were when Albus was dragged out for meetings. As he rummaged in his drawer for a pair of socks, noises could be heard from along the landing.

"Sounds like the girls are up."


"How come you're so tired? You went to bed early last night. Earlier than me."

Minerva shifted over onto her other side so she was facing her husband. "I just haven't been sleeping well lately. Not since the Third Task – actually, since before that." She paused, then continued, watching Albus closely, "I think I was just so worked up about Harry." She paused again, but Albus was dressing silently, not answering.


"Yes, my dear?"

"When is Harry going to be moved?"

He sighed. "Minerva …"

"Don't 'Minerva' me. You have got to do something about the poor boy's home life, Albus. You don't see what a state he comes back to school in after every summer; he's so quiet, and he doesn't disagree with anyone. Those people are not good for him, especially now! What were you thinking, sending him back there after what happened to him at the end of the year?"

"I was thinking of keeping him safe."

There was a pause, then Minerva said resignedly, "There's no point. We're just going to go through the same thing again, and nothing will be resolved." Without waiting for Albus to answer, she slid out of bed, pulled on her dressing-gown and left the room.

Albus sighed and sat down on the end of the bed. He hated fighting with Minerva over this, but the fact remained was that Harry needed all the protection he could get. True, having him stay with them would make him a hard target, especially as hardly anyone knew where they lived, but it wasn't foolproof, and Albus couldn't bring himself to jeopardise Harry's safety, especially with Voldemort back.

But Minerva's words still lurked in his conscience nonetheless as he made his way downstairs.

That morning started as a typical early summer day in the Dumbledore household. The older of the children started the summer at friends' houses, so Miranda and Philippa were the only ones. They usually got up around the same time or just before their parents, and started on some of the early-morning chores before breakfast. The Dumbledores had no house-elves; instead they shared the workload, believing it to be a much better system, and a nice break from being waited on all year.

Minerva almost tripped over Minstrel on the bottom stair. "What are you doing there, you silly boy?" she said, picking the elderly cat up and carrying him over to the kitchen table. "You should know by now not to hang around the stairs."

Minstrel mewed. Minerva checked he wasn't hurt before shooing him into the living-room. She turned and opened the cupboards.

"Where've they put the orange juice now?" she muttered aloud.

"Morning, Mama!"

Minerva smiled as she saw the small redhead. "Morning, Pip, love. Do you know where the juice is?"

Philippa Dumbledore pulled a chair over to the kitchen bench and opened the cupboard furthest away from Minerva. "Here. Randa put it there."

"Can you girls please remember to put it in the fridge if you're first up in the morning?" Minerva said in exasperation, taking the carton from her daughter's hands. "It goes in with the milk."

"I'll try," Pippa said in a small voice.

"The same goes for Miranda. She should know better; she's older than you. What have you two done this morning?"

Pippa sat down at the old table and poured herself a glass of milk. "Randa's collecting the eggs and I cleaned out the hutches and put in the food."

"Good girl. Did you lock them all securely?"

"Yes, Mama. Can I have some breakfast now?"

"What do you want, love?"

Minstrel slipped back into the kitchen and wound himself round Pippa's legs, which were dangling several inches from the floor. She giggled and scratched behind his ear as she thought.

"Just toast. And jam. Strawberry. And butter, please," she answered.

Minerva was putting four slices of bread in the toaster when the other two (human) residents entered the kitchen, Albus from the stairs and Miranda from the back door.

"Good morning, girls!"

"Morning, Papa!" Randa said happily, waving at him as she tried to pull her boots off, and ended up overbalancing and toppling over onto a stray chicken. "Oops!"

Pippa said something that sounded like "'Or'i' 'A'a," into her glass of milk and ended up choking on it. Albus hurried over to the table and banged her on the back.


"Thanks, Daddy," she said, hugging him.

Minerva rolled her eyes. It was a good thing she was used to drama with the students, or she wouldn't be able to cope in the holidays when the kids were causing mayhem all over the place. She fondly remembered two summers ago when Pippa was little, she'd let the goats loose (they'd had four then) in the evening, and she, Albus and Aberforth had spent till three in the morning rounding them all up.

A knock on the door jerked her out of her memories. "Get the door, love."

Not sure which of them she was talking to, Albus and Miranda ended up running into the hall. (Well, Randa ran. Albus walked.)

"Who is it?" Minerva called. She was answered by a delighted squeal from her second-youngest daughter.


"I've told you not to call me that!" an irritated male voice said, but there was a hint of amusement in his voice all the same. Minerva arrived in the doorway in time to see her oldest son swinging Miranda around in the air.

"You're back early," she said, kissing him on the cheek as he set his exited sister down and fended off Pippa as she rushed in behind Minerva.

"I can't stay," he said regretfully. "I'm needed back in the office later. I just wanted to drop by and say hello."

"Do you have time for a cup of tea?" Minerva gently freed him from his sisters' embraces and led him into the kitchen.

"Just a quick one, Mama, then I need to go."

"All right then. Albus, will you sort the girls out? Rueben, do you want the plain or fruit tea?"

"The plain, please. I never did get into those fancy fruit ones."

"So I remember." Minerva sighed.

"What's the matter?"

"It's just …" Minerva filled the kettle, thinking. "You've all grown up so quickly. I know those two are still young, but it seems only yesterday Pip was still in nappies, and now look at her. It won't be long till she'll be going off to Hogwarts, getting a job, leaving home …"

"Come on, Mum. You can't expect us to hang around forever while you wave rattles at us. Anyway, you're not old yet. You could have another kid."

Minerva smiled slightly. "Thank you Rueben, but your father and I don't dare, not now. You heard about last year."

"I did," he said seriously, whatever humour had been in the conversation gone.

The water boiled, Minerva slowly poured it into Rueben's favourite red mug and stirred the tea round. "I'm worried," she confided quietly, looking up into her son's sharp green eyes, so like hers. "I'm worried for the students, for their families, for the Muggleborns, for this family."

"And Harry Potter," he added.

"You didn't have to remind me. If anything, I'm more worried about him that anything. I know he's got protection, but he's in such a bad emotional state right now. He needs love and support and attention, and he can't get that at the Muggles', and once he's back at school all the stress will be doubled."

"Can't he get love and support and attention here?" Rueben suggested. "We're not blind, Mama. We can tell by the way you and Dad talk about him that he's special to both of you. Why not adopt him? I'll have another brother," he said, his eyes glittering mischievously.

"Don't think I haven't thought of it. But for all the protection he can get here, from the magical point of view he's better off at Privet Drive. Don't ask me about that, love, get your father to explain."

Rueben sighed. "There's no changing your mind, is there?"

Minerva looked at him suspiciously. "Are you that desperate for another sibling? That's twice in one conversation! Don't you have enough?"

"I'm just interested in meeting Harry, that's all. And the baby thing was nothing to do with it. Mum, what's wrong?" he said worriedly. Minerva's attention had drifted during the last comment, and she was looking ahead, her eyes slightly unfocused, one hand on her stomach.

"Mum?" Rueben said again anxiously.

Minerva seemed to snap out of it. "Sorry, love … just a bit distracted, that's all."

"Are you alright, Mum?"

"Yes … no … not really. I haven't been sleeping well lately." She gave him the mug of tea that was steadily cooling. "I think I'll go and lie down for a while; sorry, Rueben. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Don't worry about it," Rueben smiled, kissing her. "Take care of yourself, Mama. Don't make yourself ill."

"Cheek!" Minerva ruffled his auburn hair, causing him to moan "Mum!"

"Love you. Tell your father that the toast's for Pippa, will you?"

"I will. Bye, Mama."

"Bye, love."

Rueben Dumbledore watched his mother go upstairs, heating up his tea again with a warming charm. As he stood sipping it, dwelling on what she had confided in him, he didn't notice Albus slip into the dining-room, having heard the entire conversation.

"Minerva, my dear?"

No-one answered. Albus pushed the door open carefully, wincing as it creaked slightly. The curtains were drawn at the windows, but the ones around the four-poster had been left. He could see the curved outline of his wife lying still, facing away from the door. Listening, he could hear her steady breathing.

He crept nearer and gently lay a hand on her shoulder. "Minerva? It's lunchtime. You've been asleep all morning." He shook her slightly, but she didn't stir. He bit his lip for a moment, hesitating, then kissed her on the forehead and left the room as quietly as he had entered.

"Is Mama awake?" Pippa asked as he entered the kitchen.

"No, she's still asleep. Don't disturb her," he said firmly.

"Is she ill?" Miranda asked anxiously.

"No." At least I don't think so, Albus added silently. He forced his face into a smile. "Now, who was crazy enough to want bacon and mustard?"

"Me!" Pippa yelled, all thoughts of her mother forgotten as Albus picked up the plates of sandwiches from the kitchen bench and handed her hers.

As both girls dug in hungrily, Albus chewed slowly and thoughtfully. He had to admit Minerva had a point about Harry. He'd always had doubts that he was doing the right thing, but now they were growing stronger. Minerva was right: Harry needed love and support, and how could the Dursleys give him that?

Furthermore, he was worried about Minerva herself. She hadn't been sleeping well for at least a fortnight and he could see the stress in her eyes. He knew it was at least mainly about concern for Harry. Rueben was right; she would make herself ill if this continued. The only thing that would set her mind at rest would be if Harry was with them, and even then it wasn't perfect. Although they'd be able to keep an eye on him much easier, there would still be risks and Minerva was worried for her family anyway. Their house may be hard to trace but it wasn't impossible.

Albus sighed. He couldn't decide what to do. Pippa noticed his pensive look and said, "Papa, are you alright?"

He forced a smile on his face. "Yes, I'm fine, sweetheart. I'm just thinking."

"About Mama?"

He nodded. Partly, anyway.

"I thought you said she's not ill?"

"She isn't. That doesn't mean I can't think about her."

"Knut for your thoughts!" Miranda giggled, dropping the remainder of her sandwich. "Oops!"

Albus was distracted for the next five minutes by cleaning mayonnaise off his daughter's dress. Once his mind drifted back to the witch sleeping upstairs, he made a decision.

Tonight. I'll speak to her.

Minerva stretched and yawned. Blinking sleepily, she realised there was a warm weight on her feet, and looking down found Marmite and Moet, two of their four cats, curled up on the end of the bed, watching her with expectant eyes.

"Hello, boys," she murmured, scratching Moet's head. "What time is it?"

"Meow," Marmite said.

"Really?" Minerva looked at her alarm clock. Then she stared. "But – what – that can't be the time! Albus?"

Footsteps and creaks of old floorboards signalled that someone was coming upstairs. Minerva pulled on her dressing-gown and moved across the floor to the bedroom door. "Albus?"

She pulled the door open just as her husband ascended the last stair. "Had a nice sleep, my dear?"

"Is it really half past eight?"

Albus checked his watch. "It is. I was just coming up to check the girls were getting ready for bed. I'm sorry I didn't wake you; I didn't think it was a good idea for you to sleep all day, but when I went to wake you earlier I couldn't."

Minerva rubbed her forehead, her eyes closed. "I can't believe I slept all day. Have I missed anything?"

"Well, Aberforth dropped by to see the girls, Pippa somehow got covered in manure when she tried to help Miranda saddle up Pebbles, Amaya fire-called to say she'd be arriving a day late and apparently Aria's split with her boyfriend and is moving to Ireland, Mushroom decided his new sport is chicken-chasing, Alastor fire-called to say he's checked on the wards at Privet Drive and they're still intact, Minstrel got stuck in the wine-rack under the pew and we had to break it to get him out, the television went fuzzy again, Remus and co are starting work on the Hogwarts wards next week, and Randa dropped the new tub of strawberry ice-cream on the kitchen floor and it split and there was ice-cream everywhere for half an hour … So, no, nothing out of the ordinary."

Minerva gave a weak chuckle, but continued holding her head.

"Minerva? What's wrong?"

"Headache," she muttered, "doesn't matter."

Albus gently folded her in his arms and she leaned against him, her eyes closed, and he began to rub her back.

"It matters," he said quietly. "I'm worried about you."

"I'm fine, Albus."

"So you say. Look, I'll get the girls to bed, and then we'll talk, all right?"

Minerva nodded and put a hand to her head again. "Ow." Albus leaned down and kissed her gently. "See you in a minute."

She didn't nod this time, just watched him walk towards the girls' room, then turned back into their room again. The cats had stayed on the bed, watching her.

"What are you two looking at?" she grumbled, pulling off her dressing-gown – why had she put it on over her dress? – and pulled off her clothes, intent of getting undressed properly and back into bed. Maybe she could catch up on the rest of the sleep she'd been deprived of ever since the Third Task.

The memories of Harry's pale and bloodied face as he appeared at the entrance of the maze, clutching Cedric's lifeless body, made her shudder. She pulled on her nightdress, and a second later ran for the bathroom.


She was shakily wiping her mouth with the back of her hand when Albus appeared in the bathroom beside her. "Minerva?"

"Ugh," was all she could say.

Albus muttered Scourgify and helped her stand up. Minerva's legs were shaking as he pulled her close, ignoring the faint sick smell that still lingered.


Two anxious faces appeared in the doorway.

"I'm alright, girls," Minerva said weakly, managing a small smile at them over Albus' shoulder. "Must have been something I ate."

"You haven't eaten anything all day," Pippa said.

"Well, it must have been that, then. Go on, both of you, back into bed. I'll come and tuck you in in a minute, okay?"

The girls hesitantly obeyed, scurrying back to their room.

"Minerva …" Albus began.

"Albus, please, don't make a fuss."

"But Minerva, you're obviously ill. Look -" he felt her forehead. "You're hot."

"I'm fine," she insisted. "I'm not ill, it's just – You know what it is."

"Minerva …"

"I'm just stressed, all right?" she tried to snap, but it was a rather feeble attempt. "I'm anxious for everyone I love and you're not making it any easier on me -"

"I know."

"If you would just listen to me instead of insisting you know best, maybe this wouldn't happen -"

"Minerva," Albus said gently, cupping her face in his hands, "I said I know."

She blinked at him. "What?"

Albus didn't answer. Instead he lifted her up gently and carried her into the bedroom, where he lay her on the bed and pulled the blankets up.

"You," he said softly, kissing her, "are going to get a good night's sleep, and in the morning I am going to call Poppy if you're not any better. For now I will get you a headache potion and a Dreamless Sleep Potion and then I am going out."

"Where are you going?"

"A long overdue visit to Privet Drive."

Minerva sat bolt upright.


"I thought you were desperate to make sure he's alright."

"Yes, but you can hardly expect the Muggles to take kindly to you Apparating into their house at all hours!"

"I won't Apparate in their house, I'll go in the door."

Minerva rolled her eyes. "That's not the point. Why now? I've been nagging you every summer for the last three years, and you're suddenly going to go rushing over there when they'll be asleep anyway? Who are you and where is my husband?"

Albus chuckled softly, but it was half-hearted. "Because, my dear," he said, kissing her on the cheek, "you made me realise that Harry needs support right now from people who can understand him, after last month."

Minerva sighed. Suddenly it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of her shoulders.

"Finally, the Knut drops. Tell him I said hello, won't you?"

"I'm surprised you're not insisting on coming yourself. Not that I'd let you …"

Minerva sighed. "I would, but I don't want to leave the girls alone. Call me paranoid, but after the third task, I'm not taking any risks."

"I understand. Don't wait up, Mina. Try and get to sleep."

Albus collected Minerva's potions, bade her and the girls a soft goodnight and Apparated to Little Whinging. The street was quiet. He unlocked the door with a whispered Alohomora and stepped in silently. He had no intention of waking the Dursleys unless he had to – he would check on Harry, make sure he was alright, stay and talk a while if needed, and maybe turn Dudley Dursley into a pig in his sleep.

I'm joking! Albus told his conscience. Blame Hagrid for putting the idea in my head.

Harry wasn't sleeping well; he hadn't been since his visit to the graveyard. Woken from a nightmare a couple of hours earlier, he was hunched up on his bed hugging his knees, trying not to hit his head on the ceiling. He was back in his cupboard.

Vernon Dursley had taken his temper to a whole new level that summer. Or rather, Harry just felt the effects more. Guilt over Cedric's death and anxiety over his friends' safety kept him in depression and Vernon, sensing weakness, took his anger out on him rather than the furniture, which he had taken to doing since Harry was seven and fast enough to avoid capture. Harry had only been out of school three days, but they were the worst at Privet Drive in a long time.

A small click made Harry start. Straining his ears, he heard the front door whine ever-so-slightly as someone opened it. He frowned. This was not his uncle coming in late from work; this was someone else. Vernon usually banged the door, most often yelling at Harry as he entered.

Harry's watch was still not working after his expedition into the lake, so he had no idea what the time was, only that it was fairly late. He knelt up and pressed his ear to his cupboard door. The Someone was closing the door as quietly as possible behind them.

Burglars, Harry thought. He hadn't heard a key, so either the lock had been picked or Aunt Petunia had forgotten to lock it. Harry slowly turned the knob of his cupboard door. It wouldn't budge.

The stairs squeaked as The Someone climbed them softly. Harry felt for the knife Sirius had given him and ran in up and down the gap in the door. The lock clicked and he froze, but the footfalls were now on the landing.

Thankful for the recent oiling, Harry pushed his door open and felt behind him for a weapon. His grip tightened on Dudley's old cricket bat – he'd stolen it from school and used it mainly for threatening the kids in the neighbourhood with.

Praying the intruder didn't have a gun or something, Harry sneaked up the stairs and peered round the corner. A dark figure was standing just outside Dudley's door, freezing at the sound of Aunt Petunia turning over in bed. It had its back to Harry, who crept up behind it, the bat at the ready.

The landing light clicked on.


Four people screamed. Harry dropped the cricket bat with a loud thunk; Dudley whimpered and raced into Petunia's room at the sight of the stranger, who wasn't a stranger at all.

"Merlin, Harry, don't creep up on people like that!" Dumbledore gasped.

"I thought there was a burglar, how was I supposed to know it was you?"

"Who are you and what are you doing sneaking around my house?" Petunia demanded, while Dudley whimpered in a corner of the room.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake everyone. I only came to check up on Harry; I didn't want to bother you, Mrs Dursley."

"Well check up on him, and then go before my husband gets home," she snapped, slamming the door in Albus' face. Albus blinked.

"Charming," he muttered. He glanced at Harry, who didn't look very surprised at his aunt's reaction. "Is she always like that?"

He didn't miss the slight hesitation before Harry said, "No … she's just crabby cos we woke her. Speaking of which … what are you doing here, Professor?" He suddenly sounded panicked. "Has something happened?"

"No, nothing's happened, unless you count my possibly being flayed alive if I go home with nothing to tell Minerva," he mumbled to himself. "I just came to make sure you're alright, Harry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"Oh … thanks," Harry mumbled, thrown by the irregularity of the visit, and at the same time touched that Dumbledore had come at all.

The happy feeling Disapparated out of existence as he heard the front door slam.

"Oh no."

Albus frowned. "Is that your -"


"- uncle," he finished, glancing towards the stairs in alarm at the tone of Vernon's voice.

"Professor," Harry said, alarm evident in his voice, "you'd better scram, Uncle Vernon won't like it if he sees you here -"


Albus' heart went cold at the words. He glanced at Harry, who looked as if he was trying to sink into the wall.

"Professor, please go, I don't want -"

The cupboard door sounded like it had been ripped off its hinges.

"I'm staying," Albus said grimly.

"Professor, please -"

Albus drew out his wand as Vernon's heavy footsteps reached the landing.


Completely disregarding Albus, Vernon grasped Harry by the hair and threw him across the landing. Harry hit his head against the stair rail, landing awkwardly on his arm. Before Albus had a chance to react, Vernon had Harry in a tight grasp by his shoulders, his nails digging into his skin, growling, "What did you do this time, eh? You little b -"


Albus pulled himself out of his mixed shock and horror to Stun Vernon before dropping to his knees beside the teen. Harry looked up at him, and suddenly Albus understood the message behind the brilliant green eyes.

"I told you to go," Harry whispered, sounding almost tearful.

"It's a ruddy good thing I didn't," Albus growled, only he didn't say ruddy. Harry blinked, never having heard his headmaster swear before. "Where does it hurt, Harry?"

"Ow -" Harry winced as Albus carefully took his arm. On first inspection, Albus guessed it had been sprained.

"Careful, now. What about your head?"

"Just bruised," Harry mumbled, feeling with his good hand. "And I'll probably have a bump tomorrow."

"Anything else hurt?"

Harry sighed. "Just my pride." He looked into Dumbledore's eyes to find his expression stony. Harry gulped, knowing what was coming next – the million-dollar question: why didn't you tell anyone about this?

Albus could tell what Harry was thinking, but he'd save it for later. Now, they had to get out of there.

"Harry, where are your things?"

"Er … my things?" Harry asked, bewildered.

"Books, clothes, broom, wand …?"

"Oh – in my trunk in the cupboard downstairs. I don't know where my wand is; the Dursleys don't trust me not to do magic with it. Um … why?"

Albus didn't answer but helped Harry slowly to his feet, in case anything else was hurt, and instructed him to show him where his things were. Harry shakily guided him downstairs. He'd been right – Vernon had torn the cupboard door off in anger. Albus' eyes widened when he saw the bed inside.

"You sleep in here?"

"I got Dudley's second bedroom just before I started Hogwarts. I got the right to a room revoked when I came home this summer … Uncle Vernon thought I'd stopped him getting promotion," Harry finished in barely more than a whisper.

"Accio wand." Harry was just in time to catch the wand that came flying out of the kitchen cupboards. "Is this everything, Harry?"

He nodded. "Professor, what …?"

"You're leaving. You're not coming back. Ever."

Harry blinked, opened his mouth, and couldn't think of anything to say. "I-I-I …"

"Ever, Harry."

A huge lump formed in Harry's throat, and he tried desperately to swallow it, with no success.

"Th-th-thank you, sir," he whispered finally.

Albus dragged the trunk into the middle of the hall and looked at the lost boy standing before him. Before he knew what he was doing, he pulled Harry into a gentle embrace which he, after getting over the surprise, cautiously returned.

For a moment they stood there, just clinging to each other, before Albus murmured, "I'm sorry, Harry."

"Um … for what?"

Albus drew back so he could look Harry in the eye. "I was the one who left you here. I thought it was for the best, even though Minerva tried to talk me out of it. I didn't listen to her, and she's been nagging me to do something about it the last three summers. I came over tonight because she persuaded me that you needed some support after everything that happened last year. I for one certainly didn't expect this." He gestured at Harry's bruises sadly. There were older ones on his skin as well as the fresh ones just coming up.

Harry couldn't think of a suitable reply; the statement didn't seem to have one. He swallowed, and said nervously, "Um … what's going to happen to me now?"

"What should have happened fourteen years ago. You're coming home with me."

"Y-you mean Hogwarts?"

"No, Harry. Home."

Harry was almost falling asleep as the headmaster Apparated him into a small, old-fashioned kitchen with dark wooden beams across the low ceiling and a small newer table by the window. Harry was too tired to take in his surroundings more. Noticing the weariness, Albus sat him down at the table and opened a small pot of healing balm for his bruises. Harry said nothing as he applied it, and the silence was comforting.

"Professor?" he said finally as Albus finished.


"Er … right. Is this your house?"

"Yes, me and my wife's."

"You're married?"

"Yes; you'll see Minerva later, and the kids too."

"Kids? How old? – Wait – Minerva? As in Professor McGonagall?"

"Yes, that's right. And the kids here, seven and five. The older ones are away, you'll meet them another time. Are you hungry?"

"Um, a bit … tired, though," Harry murmured, still trying to work out the logic of what Albus had just told him.

Albus heated up some soup in a mug and guided Harry upstairs. Harry was sleepy and a little dizzy from his bump on the head; by the time they reached the first landing, Albus levitated the mug and carried Harry through the girls' room and up the stairs to the attic bedroom.

"It's a bit feminine; hope you don't mind," Albus murmured quietly as he set him down on the bed. Harry shook his head.

"No, s'nice."

Albus waited while Harry drank and took the empty mug when he'd finished; he tucked Harry gently into the large bed and kissed him softly goodnight.

"Don't go," Harry mumbled, half-asleep.

"I won't."

As Harry drifted off, Albus took out some parchment and a quill. He had some letters to write.

"Mummy, wake up! Rueby's coming back today!"

Minerva smiled wearily at her youngest daughter's show of early-morning energy. She for one felt like pulling the blankets back over her and going back to dreamland.

"Not till tonight, dear. Bother Papa and let your old mum sleep."

"Dad's not here."

Minerva sat bolt upright. Pip was right; Albus' side of the bed was empty and didn't look slept in.

"Is he downstairs?" she asked, trying not to get into a panic. Pippa shook her head.

"No, he's not in the house, I don't think. Where's he gone, Mama?"

"I don't know, love." Minerva scrambled out of bed, pulling on her dressing-gown. The events of the last month made her fear. Surely nothing could have happened to Albus while he was at Privet Drive! She cursed herself for falling asleep; although Albus had told her not to, she had fully intended to stay awake until he came back, to ask him about Harry. Glancing at the clock, she saw she had slept in as well.

"Pip, go and ask Randa if she's seen your father this morning," Minerva began, but was cut off by a squeal of "Daddy!"

"Albus?" Minerva entered the girls' room to find her husband at the foot of the stairs leading up to the spare room, trying to quieten Miranda.

"Where've you been all night?" she scolded lightly. "How did it go at …"

Albus put a finger to his lips and pointed upstairs. "We have a guest asleep in the house, girls, so try and keep your voices down, okay?"

"Who is it?" Pippa piped up.

"You'll see later; for now, let the poor boy sleep. Why don't you go downstairs and have breakfast?"

Miranda could tell their father was trying to get rid of them, but she obediently took Pippa's hand and they skipped out of the room. Albus watched in amusement before Minerva jerked him out of his musings.

"Why did you bring Harry back with you?"

"How did you know it was him?"

"Don't avoid the question, Albus."

He sighed and sat down on Pip' bed. "I'm sorry, Minerva. You were right; I should never have left Harry with those … people."

Minerva felt cold. "How bad was it?" she half-whispered, part of her not wanting to know.

Albus sighed. "Do we have something for sprains?"