Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. I'm just playing. No money is being made from this story, so don't sue me.
Chapter One: Farewells
"This is not happening."
It was cold in the hallway. Harry stared down at his hands and chafed the skin, hoping to warm them. He looked up and out the door; the sun had yet to clear the sky of the thin layer of clouds that had arrived in the night. He could almost see the lake, murky in the low light of the morning. It looked peaceful.
"Absolutely not! Harry was supposed to come home with me! With us!"
Chaos reigned in the castle entrance. Harry sat on his trunk with his hands hanging limp in his lap. His breath was coming in short pants – though no one noticed. Which was the way he wanted it. If he spent any more time in the Infirmary he thought he'd go mad.
"Headmaster, how could you! I trusted you to get us Harry's guardianship."
"It has been taken out of my hands, Sirius. The Minister –"
"Screw the Minister!"
"The wards at the Dursley's will protect Harry from the rogue Death Eaters."
"And the wards at the Black Manor would do more than that! Albus you know this."
The Headmaster spread his hands, an unhappy expression on his face. "I know this, yes. But I cannot do anything about it. The Aurors will be arriving soon to take Mr. Potter back to his relatives' house. It has been decided by the Minister and held up by the courts."
"He. Is. My. Godson." Sirius was vibrating with rage. His hair stood up almost on end and his hands were clenched tight at his sides.
"And he is Petunia Dursley's blood-related nephew." The Headmaster's tired voice rang out in the hall. "In these matters, blood will always triumph over the wishes of our hearts."
Sirius spun away. "This is complete hogwash." He approached Harry and crouched in front of him. "Kiddo? Wouldn't you rather come home with us?" He reached out and touched one of Harry's hands. "Kiddo?"
Green eyes flicked open. "Yes…I would." He gulped in a deep breath. "But…the Minister…is doing this…because he can." He shrugged and met his godfather's eyes. "It's his revenge."
"Harry?" Remus put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Someone get Madam Pomfrey."
"You're panting for breath!" Sirius reached for him, but hesitated at the last minute. He stood and face Albus. "See? He can't go to the Dursley's like this!"
"Is there anything I can do?" Lucius Malfoy stood next to his son and watched the upset animagus. Draco left his father's side to sit with Harry, taking one of the boy's hands in his own.
"Yes. Merlin. I don't know." Sirius ran a hand through his hair and watched as the Head Nurse knelt next to Harry and fed him an orange potion. Harry swallowed it with difficulty, making a face at the taste.
"Sirius," Albus laid a hand on the wizard's shoulder. "I am going to challenge the Minister's order myself. But it will take time. Until then, Mr. Potter will have to go to his relatives' house."
"It shouldn't be this way." Sirius shook his head. His eyes were glassy. "He's my godson. You promised, Albus. You said we'd get to take him home."
"I know and I am more sorry than I can say." The older wizard looked away. Two Aurors were walking up the path to the castle.
"Fix this, Albus." The animagus' eyes blazed. He shook off the Headmaster's hand and returned to Harry.
"Hey, Kiddo." He took Pomfrey's place in front of the boy. "We'll come and get you soon. You won't be there long."
Harry smiled at him and the expression twisted Sirius' heart. "I know, Padfoot." Harry looked past him and rose. He threw his arms around his godfather's neck and squeezed. The older man held him tight.
"I'll be with you soon," Harry whispered into his ear and then pulled away. Sirius watched as the boy said his goodbyes, trying to comfort a weeping Ginny and a furious Draco. The blond pulled the smaller boy away and whispered into his ear. Sirius watched as a light blush stained Harry's cheeks and he began to shake his head. Draco said something else, which made Harry laugh and hug Draco again.
The Aurors had reached the small group and were watching Harry. Sirius growled, the sound trickling out of his throat. The Aurors looked at him and their hands strayed to their wands.
Albus stepped between them. "You are the Aurors sent to take young Mr. Potter to his relatives' house?"
The men transferred their gaze to the Headmaster. "Yes," the older of the pair said.
"I trust you will inform Mr. Potter's godfather of his safe delivery?"
The Auror licked his lips as his eyes shifted. "That was not in our orders…"
"You will do so." The Headmaster's voice was flat. The Aurors glared at him.
"Fine." The younger of the pair put a hand on his partner's arm and sent the man a sharp glance. "If it will keep everyone happy, we'll do it."
Albus studied the man. "It would."
"Then we'll owl you the minute we can." The Auror stuck out his hand. "John Rayne. This is my partner, Daniel Gest. We won't let anything happen to him."
"It's not you I'm worried about." Sirius rose to his feet and faced the men. "Make sure those bloody muggles don't hurt him, or you'll hear from me."
Rayne's eyes widened, but he nodded. "Mr. Potter's safety is our first priority." He looked past the animagus and forced a smile onto his face. "If you're ready, Mr. Potter?"
Harry looked from the Aurors to Sirius. "Yeah." He hoisted his book bag onto his shoulder and let the Aurors shrink and pocket his trunk.
Rayne pulled out a bent piece of plastic and held it out for the boy to touch.
Harry's face turned a pale shade of green. "I thought we were taking the train."
"Well, we could, but the Minister would rather we use the port key."
Sirius sent Albus a look. "Mr. Potter does not fare well with port key travel, gentlemen." The Headmaster pulled out his wand and the bent piece of plastic flew from the Auror's hand. "The train, I think, would be a much better option."
"Now look here, old man…"
"Dan." Rayne's smile was gone and a glimmer of anger made his eyes shine. "If that's the way it's going to be, then so be it." He shrugged and turned to Harry. "Let's go."
Harry nodded and fell into step with the men. He looked back once and raised his hand. Sirius echoed the gesture. He let his hand drop once Harry turned away.
He turned to face the Headmaster. "Get my godson back, Albus. Do it quick." He stormed from the castle entrance, heading for his rooms. Silence followed in his wake.
That the Dursley's were anything but pleased with Harry's escort was an understatement. Harry was barley over the threshold when Vernon slammed the door in the Aurors' faces. He whirled on Harry.
"Now see here, you ungrateful brat. How dare you bring those freaks to our door? The whole neighborhood could have been watching. If they had any idea…"
A sharp rap on the door stopped Vernon's tirade. He opened it a crack.
Rayne's foot wedged itself in the sill and an ebon wand introduced itself to Vernon's round chest.
"Open the door, Mr. Dursley. We're not done yet."
Vernon sputtered and tried to force the door closed. He was knocked back by the Auror's shoulder colliding with the wood. Harry moved out of the way.
"I have further instructions, given to me by the Minister of Magic himself, for both you and your family." Harry's eyebrows rose at the look the older Auror sent Rayne. He had to hide his smile with his hand.
"Who do you think you are? This is my home!"
"I am John Rayne and this is Daniel Gest. We are Aurors and we are charged with Mr. Potter's safety while he is staying here in your care. We will be visiting Mr. Potter every three days to ensure that he comes to no harm from anyone inside or outside this house. Have I made myself clear, Mr. Dursley?"
Vernon's face was a dark shade of red. He sputtered while Rayne turned to face Harry.
"Mr. Potter. If you will show us your room? I wish to make sure it is secure."
"Secure? We put the bloody bars back on his window! The imp won't be leaving this house anytime soon." Vernon stood at the base of the stairs, calling up after them. "That boy is a menace! We've put new locks on the doors! And I know that brat can't use that freak power of his outside school! He…"
Vernon's voice faded to a distant buzz as Harry let the Auror into Dudley's second bedroom. The shiny silver locks were many in number and a cat flap had been cut into the base of the door.
Harry set his book bag down on the scarred desk and sat on his lumpy bed. He watched the Auror pace around the room, checking the heavily bolted window and the locks on the doors.
"Potter, will you be safe here?"
Harry blinked at the man. They had not spoken on the long train ride to London or during the cab ride to the Dursley's.
"I'll be fine. They always explode when I first come home. Then they just try to forget about me."
Rayne turned to him, one hand braced against the edge of the door. "They've done this to you before?"
Harry paused, then nodded. "Ron and his brothers came and rescued me once." A sad smile rose at the memory. "They pulled the bars off the window with Mr. Weasley's auto. My aunt and uncle were livid."
"What about your owl?"
"Draco has her." Giving up Hedgwig had been hard, but Harry had wanted her to be able to hunt and fly as she wished instead of being cooped up in her cage for the summer.
"So you have no way to send or," the Auror's eyes went to the window, "receive letters?"
Rayne pulled out the lone chair in the room and sat in it. He planted his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together.
"We were only supposed to see you to the door," he said and shook his head. "But that muggle…"
"Uncle Vernon always likes to shout." Harry shrugged. "It makes him feel important."
The older wizard let out a long sigh. "I will check on you every three days. You will tell me the minute anyone does more than shout, is that understood?"
"Good." Rayne stood and looked once more around the room. "I'm sorry, Potter. We didn't know your family was going to be like this."
Harry's smile was bitter. "No one does. Thank you, though." He stood and let the Aurors out. Gest gave him a piercing look, which Harry answered with a slight nod. The older man's shoulders dropped and they stalked from the house.
There was an ominous silence from behind him after Harry closed the door. He turned to see his aunt and uncle staring at him with identical expressions of mixed hatred and fear.
"You're a damned nuisance." Vernon was shaking with rage. "You get no sympathy here, boy. Know that now. You're a killer, a dangerous animal that needs to be put down. They should have let you die."
Harry blinked. "So the Headmaster did write you."
Vernon sneered. "Don't think we're cowed by a pair of pansy boys in dresses, waving around sticks, freak. Get up to your room. I don't want to see you for the rest of the night."
Harry said nothing more, but turned to climb the stairs to his room. Dudley appeared at the entrance to the kitchen and sneered at him. It's going to be a long summer, he shook his head and closed the door to his room. He checked the time and brought out the potions Pomfrey had loaded him with. The bitter fluids made him grimace, but he swallowed them down. I hope I'm wrong about how long it's going to take. He sat on the edge of his bed and studied the bare room and floor. Hurry, Headmaster. Please.
The Black Manor was a sprawling place. It was three stories tall, made of dark grey stone. The windows were numerous and reflected the overcast sky like giant silver eyes.
Ginny stared up at the structure and felt her mouth drop. "It's huge!"
Sirius put an arm around her shoulders and puffed out his chest. "Just one of many, Gin. Though I think it's the biggest." He guided her towards the door. "We have a villa in Italy, on the island of Capri. Apparently one of our ancestors was the head sorcerer in Caligula's court way back when. The Roman Emperor thought so highly of him, he ceded a huge chunk of the island to our ancestor. It's been in the family ever since."
"Wow." They'd reached the front door, where Bill and Remus were waiting for them.
"Bill, if you please." Sirius handed him the heavy iron key.
The Black heir took it with a small bow and a wide grin. He turned and opened the door with a flourish.
The hall was dark and lined with disapproving portraits. Ginny gulped and dropped her gaze to the flagstone floor.
"Welcome, my dearest Blacks and Remus, to the ancestral home of the most ancient and noble House of Black!" Sirius spun, his arms spread wide and then snorted. "I think we need to redecorate."
His words sent the portraits to muttering with each other. Sirius' grin was sharp and quick.
Ginny's room was on the second floor. Sirius stood back and let her enter by herself.
The petite girl limped into the center of the room. The floors were made of a dark, hard wood. The walls were royal blue and absent of portraits. A wide window seat over looked the formal gardens and a bubbling fountain. The bed was a gigantic four poser, with dark blue curtains. The bedspread held a repeating pattern of fleur-de-lis in silver.
"Oh, Sirius." The word father still did not come with ease for her, but she hoped that would change soon. She turned to face him and he caught sight of the tears in her eyes.
He hurried to her side. "Gin, what's wrong? Do you like it? There's about ten other rooms if you want to pick your own out."
"No!" She threw her arms around him and held on tight. "It's perfect! Just – perfect! I love it!"
Sirius folded his arms around her and bowed his head. "Good. Good."
The room had a separate bath and dressing room. A large fireplace had two plush chairs in front of the hearth. A majestic vanity was peppered with crystal vials and a silver comb set.
Ginny pulled away and wiped at her face. "Merlin. Oh Merlin. This is just…amazing." She moved to the bed and scooted onto it. The mattress was soft and she fell backwards to be enveloped in the satiny comforter. She bounced and grinned.
"Are we all on the second floor?"
Sirius nodded and leaned against one of the bedposts. "You bet. Remus and I have the far bedroom. Bill's three doors down from you. Harry's room…" The animagus faltered. He swallowed hard and forged on. "Harry's room is across the hall."
"What's on the third floor?"
Sirius' grin returned. "You know, I forgot to check. Let's go find out." He held out his hand for her to take. Together they scampered for the stairs.
"What in Merlin's name…"
"Gin, don't…go over there."
The third floor was not what they had expected. Remus and Bill had joined them in their exploration. So far two guest rooms were found filled with junk and unused furniture. The other rooms were a bizarre cross between a mad scientist's lab and a nursery.
"This was the children's…playroom?"
"I hope not." Sirius tilted a jar filled with gray fluid. A tentacle came out and smacked the glass. He shoved it back on the shelf. "The house was taken from my grandparents by the Ministry. I forget why. My mother always wanted it back in the family. The Ministry turned it into a tourist trap – not the house, but the gardens and they used the Pitch to host several championships." His smile turned feral. "Not anymore. And," his eyes flashed, "the Ministry has to give us a percentage of all those past profits. All of them." Sirius stooped and picked up Ginny, whirling her in a tight circle. "Which means, my dear, that you can get anything and everything you heart desires!"
Ginny clasped his shoulders and giggled. "Sirius!"
"Is there an attic?" Bill looked a bit queasy as he studied the jars lined on the shelves.
Sirius put Ginny down and scratched his chin. "Not that I know of. I think there's a few crawl spaces, but that might be it."
"Huh." Bill stuffed his hands into his pockets and tilted his head to one side.
"No. Just asking." He flashed the animagus a smile and headed for the door. "I'm going to get unpacked."
"Excellent idea. Then," Sirius bumped shoulders with Remus. "How about we go out for a nice fancy dinner?"
"Why not eat here?"
Sirius pulled a face. "No house elves and trust me, you don't want to eat my cooking." They all laughed and followed Bill out the door.
Ginny fidgeted in her seat. They were at a pricey muggle restaurant in the heart of London. She tried to hide her cane against the side of the table.
"They're not staring at you, Ginny." Remus' quiet voice made her jump.
"They stared when we came in."
"I think they were staring at Sirius." The dry tone was laced with laughter. "I don't know what possessed him to wear that jacket of his."
The object of the many disapproving stares was a battered motorcycle jacket that had seen better years. It was scuffed grey in areas and the shoulders were decorated with bright patches of a former era. The maitre d' had hesitated when seating them, but the Black name and flash of money took them to a corner table by the windows. The view looked out over the busy square and the bustling muggles moving along the sidewalks.
"Have you been to London before?"
"No, just to the train station." Ginny turned so she could watch the people below them. "M – Mr. and Mrs. Weasley never had enough money to take us anywhere."
Remus laid a hand over hers. "We're near the theater and shopping district. It's a good place to go rambling for a day." The werewolf's eyes took on a sad light. "Lily took us all when we were just out of school. You should have seen Sirius. Like a boy in a toy shop."
She ducked her head to hide her smile. "That'd be fun."
He patted her hand and his eyes became clear once more.
She jumped and glanced at Sirius. "I can?"
The server standing at the animagus' elbow smiled at her. There was an honest warmth in the girl's eyes. "We have a wide selection. Cheesecakes of every description. Ice cream sundaes, a triple layer chocolate cake and tiramisu."
The girl winked. "The most heavenly dessert on this earth, bar none."
Ginny answered the server's smile with a hesitant one of her own. "I'll," she glanced at Sirius, who nodded. "I'll try that."
"Brilliant!" She made a notation on her pad. "And for you gentlemen?"
The server laughed and made note. "One tiramisu and three chocolate cakes coming right up." She winked at them once more and strode away.
The desserts came a few minutes later and they dug in. Ginny stared at the small square cake, which was covered with a pale cream sauce and flakes of what looked like chocolate. She lifted her fork and took a small bite.
"Let's see." Bill's fork inched for her plate. She snarled at him and curled one arm around her plate, protecting her treat. Sirius and Remus began to laugh.
Ginny grinned at her brother, but didn't let him near her plate. Sirius put his head down on the table and howled. She bounced in her seat and swung her legs, ignoring the stares headed their way. It was a good meal.
Harry made a face and pushed the stale bread and questionable ham away. The glass of water felt nice on his parched throat.
He sat cross legged on his bed, surrounded by books. They were last year's textbooks, for all of his classes. A ream of notes sat at his side, filled with his shaky writing.
He was upset with how much he had forgotten. The lessons had taken a back seat to his dream travels and he was now paying the price for it. The OWLs were scheduled for the second week of term, since they had been cancelled due to Voldemort's attack. Harry hoped he'd be ready for them.
The Dursley's only let him out to shower and use the bathroom. He'd been stuck in the room for three days and was starting to feel the walls close in on him.
Muted shouts from the front door reached his ears. He looked up as the locks on his door opened one by one.
Rayne stepped in through the now open door. The young Auror had a scowl on his face as he glanced over his shoulder.
"Go away, Mr. Dursley. I will speak to Harry in private." He shut the door in the muggle's face.
Rayne turned to face Harry. "Hello, Mr. Potter."
They studied each other for a long moment. "Have they harmed you?"
"Are they feeding you?"
"Are you well?"
Rayne frowned and glanced around the room. "Are they letting you of this room?"
The Auror's eyebrows rose and anger lit his eyes. "We'll see about that."
The Auror wrenched open the door, upsetting Vernon's and Petunia's balance against it.
"Were you eavesdropping?"
Vernon pulled himself to his full height. "This is my house. I'll do as I please in it."
Rayne's frown made Vernon take a step back. "Mr. Potter needs fresh air and the ability to leave his room." He pulled out his wand and tapped it against the door. The locks faded away. Harry winced.
"I'm going to get a –"
"I'll take care of it, Potter." Rayne gave him a sharp glance. Harry subsided.
"Now," the Auror returned to the Dursley's. "Do you understand?"
Vernon purpled, but nodded. Harry bit back a sigh and closed his Transfigurations textbook. He could feel the list of chores already piling up in his uncle's head.
The garden was in terrible shape. Harry was on his knees, with his hands covered with mud. His throat ached and his back was protesting his every movement.
He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes and sat back on his haunches. He's fallen out of bed, too tangled in his nightmare to wake up until his back had collided with the piles of books on the floor.
He was right about the list of chores his aunt and uncle had for him. He was also back to cooking for the family, which he didn't mind at all. At least when I'm cooking I get more to eat. The thought made a faltering smile touch his lips.
The gruff threats from his uncle about keeping quiet about his chores didn't phase him. It was his cousin's quiet, watchful smirks that had Harry worried. Under that piggish stare he felt five years old again, when Dudley was at his height of Harry-hunting.
The back gate opened, revealing Dudley and a pack of his school friends. Harry curled a hand around the trowel and watched the boys with his heart in his throat.
"Hey Dudley? Innit this yer criminal cousin?"
Harry pressed his lips together and swallowed back a snort.
"Yeah," a vicious smile creased the sweaty flesh of Dudley's face. "He's nothing but a freak." The portly boy pulled out a pack of slim white cigarettes and lit one up, even as Harry gaped at him.
"Yeah, freak. Whatcha gonna do about it?"
"I'll tell Aunt Petunia!"
"She'll never believe you." Dudley strolled – or rather, tried to stroll – over to where his cousin was crouched on the ground. He flicked a shower of aches onto Harry. He took a hold of the cigarette, pushing the glowing tip near Harry's face.
"What's going on here?"
Dudley snatched his arm back and dropped the cigarette. He stamped it out and kicked the butt at Harry. He whirled and jabbed a chubby finger in Harry's direction. "He was smoking! See? He's got ashes all over him."
John Rayne leaned against the fence and looked at Harry. "Is that true?"
"Thought as much." The Auror pushed off the fence and entered the yard. Dudley's friends scattered out the now-empty gate. Dudley's hands clenched at his sides.
"You – you can't do anything to me!"
"Oh?" Rayne raised an eyebrow. "Says who?"
"That freak government of yours. Harry can't do magic here, no one can."
Rayne's smile was cruel. "That law is only in effect for minors." The Auror pulled out his wand. He waggled it at Dudley. "Now, I seem to remember that someone here once had a tail."
Dudley squealed, clapped his hands over his rear and ran for the house. Harry watched him go with a smile on his face.
"He always been like that?"
"As big as a whale? Yes." Harry uncurled his fingers from around the handle of the garden tool.
"He's a bully. That's all." Harry brushed his hands off on his pants. "Bully's always run away at the first sign of a real fight."
Rayne studied the boy in front of him. The day was pleasant, warm enough so that Harry didn't need a jumper, but not hot enough to push the sweat from his skin.
"I've come with news."
Harry let his hands rest on his thighs. "The courts turned down the Headmaster's first call for appearance."
Rayne looked startled. "How did you know?"
Harry looked away. "A good hunch." He glanced up at the Auror. The man's eyes were a strange shade of hazel, almost gold. He had dirty blond hair and a square chin. "Why are you helping me?"
Rayne squatted next to the boy and picked up a clod of dirt. He crumbled it between his fingers. "A lot of reasons. Not all of us are heartless bastards. Just some of us." He let out a huff of laughter. "Dan tries to be one, but fails miserably at it." He let the remains of the clod fall from his fingers and studied his nails. "I'm muggle-born, you know. There was a…kid across my street that I knew. You remind me of him."
Harry's world tilted and he let his hair fall forward to hide his face.
He saw a row of once respectable houses falling into disrepair. He saw a pack of kids running down the street, calling taunts after a skinny blond boy with glasses.
"You got your eyesight fixed?" Harry's breathless question startled Rayne.
"How did you –," he drew back. "Did you read my mind?"
Harry's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "I could only read one man's mind and I never want to do that again."
"The Dark – Voldemort?"
Harry raised his face and touched his forehead. The scar was gone now, but Harry sometimes thought he could feel it, late at night, hiding under his skin. "This connected us." He let his hand drop. "That's how I found out stuff for the Order."
"You went into Voldemort's mind?" Rayne's horrified tone drew Harry's stare.
"How else were we supposed to know what he did next?"
"You know what? That Snape fellow was right." Rayne shook his head. Pinched lines had appeared around his mouth.
"Professor Snape spoke to you?"
The lines around Rayne's mouth eased as he smiled. "You could say that." He pulled out a small box from his pocked and unshrunk it. "This is for you, from Snape. He said you're to take them with your other potions."
Harry took the box and peeked inside. "My throat's much better now, though." Which was the truth. His relatives' wanted his work, not his words. The silence was a welcome reprieve. There was a note tucked in with the bottles.
Mr. Potter, it began. I'm sure you can recognize the Dreamless Sleep potions I have included. Use them sparingly, if you please. The blue vials are healing potions and the green are to be taken when your throat pains you. I have contacted Auror Rayne and he has told me that he shall be visiting the Dursley house every three days. Leave word with him should you need anymore supplies.
Harry touched the swirling signature and smiled. He looked up at the Auror. "Thank you, sir."
Rayne did not smile, but his eyes warmed. "I'll see you in a few days, Potter." He stood and left.
Harry tucked the note into his pocket and closed the box. The heavy weight was comforting on his lap. His dirty fingers tightened around the fine grain wood. He hoped he wouldn't have to use them.
End Chapter One