Harry gazed up at the ceiling, unwilling to move from the comfort of the bed. This was the first time he had ever been anything but eager to go to Hogwarts on September 1st. Then again, this was the first summer that he was leaving a family of his own behind – Sirius, Remus and Buffy would all be staying in London, and after a month living at the Council HQ, the three surviving true Marauders had become almost parents to him: Buffy as a mix of aunt, mother and protector, Sirius as father and brother rolled into one, and Remus was more like an uncle and guide. Then there was Dawn, his aunt who was more like an older sister, and the two 'older brothers' he'd gained in Connor and Nix, even if they didn't appear to be able to get along for more than ten seconds. At least his 'siblings' would be at Hogwarts this year, all in their seventh and only year at the magical school. He'd also be leaving the first bedroom he'd had, as he obviously disregarded his old cupboard, and the unwillingly passed over Dudley's second bedroom. Generally, bars on the window stop a room from being a sanctuary. His room at the Council, on the other hand… Definitely homey. He was almost sorry to be leaving it for the familiar dormitory that he'd inhabited for the past four years.
During the last month living at the Watchers' Council, Harry's life had definitely changed. He'd begun training within two days of moving in, and his friends had joined him before the end of the first week, having successfully convinced Mrs. Weasley that the t'ai chi he was learning wouldn't actually teach them to fight, and the rest of his training was only designed to increase his fitness and agility. Needless to say, they'd argued it mainly on the basis of increasing their Quidditch skills, Hermione claiming that t'ai chi was a known stress reliever. Harry was still hoping to get some actual combat training, but he was happy with the progress on the training front. As another first, he'd been able to do his homework in comfort, not hiding under his sheets at night. Possibly because of this, he was more confident than he could remember that his assignments would score well, if not highly – though he'd probably lose at least half marks on his Potions simply for being himself. To be fair, his improved homework could be done to the willing help of his 'siblings' and 'parents', not to mention the rest of the Scoobies, who could often offer a place to look, if not a solution.
The three seventeen year olds had been right about him being kept in the loop – Giles had even invited him to Council meetings, reasoning that if he was living in the building, he had a right to know what was taking place, and that perhaps by understanding the inherent dangers in their lifestyle, he would more easily accept the sometimes incredibly odd warnings and temporary rules handed down to him. Through this, he'd become involved in the day-to-day life of the Watcher's Council, mainly comprised of manning the front desk for the odd shift, and occasionally helping to take deliveries. He had to admit, it took a while to get used to being thanked so genuinely for things he'd have been expected – ordered – to do at the Dursleys'. He could still remember his third day at the Council, when a harried Willow had almost passed out with gratitude when he'd offered to cook the evening's meal for her, seeing her buried under piles of spell research. Since the discovery that Harry could cook (at least his imprisonment in Privet Drive had taught him something useful, he supposed), Willow, Andrew and Dawn had included him in the meal rota, along with Lupin – Sirius could just about manage toast, and then it tended to be burnt – when they'd expressed a wish to help out more.
His father's oldest friends had changed a lot living under the Council's roof, as well. Both seemed happier, and moved with renewed purpose that had been somewhat lost living in the cramped conditions of Grimmauld Place. And Harry wouldn't doubt that even without the extra opportunities in their new situation, Sirius especially would have been a hundred times happier than he'd been in his ancestral home. His godfather had been spending a lot of time with Dawn, using his knowledge of Wizarding Pureblood customs and politics to help her find the right approach as the Council's emissary to the Ministry. Privately Dawn had told Harry that once they managed to dispel the charges against Sirius, she was planning to offer the position to him almost instantly. Remus had already been hired to work alongside Giles and Andrew – the werewolf had become almost instantly enamored with the massive library, and when approached about being joint head of the department he had jumped at the chance. After all, the Research and Ancient Artifacts department, as it was now called, really did need more than one person guiding it. His acceptance had clued the Council members in as to just how biased the Ministry was against werewolves, Giles had begun a project to investigate the options for the werewolf populations, and given the reins over to Remus.
Around the Council's work, Buffy and Sirius (with Remus sitting in to keep them on track) had been teaching Harry, and the other three teenagers about the way the Wizarding World worked, giving Harry his first insight into the family he was a part of, its traditions, power and legacy. As a bonus, most lessons ended with various stories about the Marauders in Hogwarts, meaning for the first time he knew more than the bare minimum about his parents. Dawn had obviously had a lot of these lessons before, as she seemed to barely pay attention, or perhaps she'd picked a lot of the etiquette stuff up from Nix, who regularly interjected with tips about the wider world, or different ways to manage things. Harry supposed being raised as royalty had impressed half their instruction into the Shade's head. On the other hand, Harry had no idea that being a Potter would mean quite so much politics. But, as Remus explained when he commented, it was better to be able to outmaneuver an opponent than end up in a duel. Or as Sirius put it, these skills could get him out of detention easily.
Despite the change in residence, he had not been separated from his friends very much at all. He and his 'siblings' had visited Grimmauld Place every other day, both to visit the Weasleys and Hermione, and to conduct their training in the room they'd claimed. Sirius had unsurprisingly stayed away, and so he and Remus only returned to his ancestral home on the evenings of meetings, with Dawn and occasionally another Scooby accompanying them. By some unknown agreement, the entire Weasley clan, Hermione, and often a few other Order members had a standing invitation to the Council for Sunday lunch, and also on a Wednesday night for dinner (in reality, the deal was nominally to give Molly a break from cooking such large meals every day, but served nicely to reassure the Order of Harry's safety and Mrs Weasley of his good treatment). The first time Molly had walked in to see Harry working with Dawn to prepare the meal, she had almost broken a window with the force of her displeasure. Of course, both teens had quickly reassured her that they enjoyed cooking, and were both good at it, and had offered.
Between all this, he had managed to make it to Diagon Alley twice, and had had a couple of trips into Muggle London as well. As Dawn's department had little to do besides attending Order meetings, she'd convinced Buffy that she, Connor and Nix were more than strong enough and fast enough to protect Harry should something go wrong, and after a particularly taxing training session, they'd been allowed to go. Harry had then found himself in the rather odd position of being the supposedly 'knowledgeable' member of the group, and had been entirely relieved when Remus had asked to accompany them. Apparently, the werewolf's new salary meant he could afford to replace some of his battered and threadbare belongings, and he would also be purchasing a number of items for Sirius. With Remus' help, they'd made their way to Oxford Street, and suddenly realized their mistake as Dawn went into a previously unknown 'serious-shopping-mode', that Harry privately thought might resemble the seriousness of the nightly demon hunt, the way she searched things out. Nevertheless, they'd all survived, Harry thought with a grin at his ceiling. During the course of these trips, Harry had been presented with a Muggle debit card, linked to the existing Potter account, as well as a small book of parchment bearing the Gringotts seal, which apparently served as a Muggle cheque book for his own vault.
"Still in bed, Pronglet?"
His godfather's amused voice broke his thoughts, and Harry automatically grinned. His new family had brought about another change – nicknames. All three Marauders called him Pronglet, eventually explaining that Sirius had used it when he was a baby, and they'd picked it up. Buffy and Dawn also occasionally called him 'kiddo', and he'd yet to convince them otherwise. He'd also had to get used to the Marauders referring to Dawn as 'Pixie', and each other by their old nicknames. In fact, all four teens had become accustomed to getting more of a response (especially from Sirius) by yelling the Marauder names. And that didn't even cover the strange habit of speaking in the third person they seemed capable of dropping into.
Harry sat up, leaning back on his pillows to look over at his doorway. Raising one eyebrow, he asked:
"You're awake before noon?"
"I'm not that bad," Sirius argued jokingly, "Eleven at the latest, most days."
"Emphasis on the most," Harry muttered, grinning.
"Anyway, my sleeping habits aren't the problem here," the Animagus said, dragging the conversation back on track. "The fact is, you are lying in bed and the train leaves in two hours. And Willow said that if I don't get you downstairs in the next twenty minutes, I don't get any breakfast."
"Ah, so self-preservation is your motive," Harry replied, nodding his head wisely.
"Well, yes, but that's besides the point," Sirius countered, dropping unceremoniously onto the end of Harry's bed. "The point, Harry, is that you need to be up – you leave for school today! I'd love to be going back to Hogwarts…" he finished just a little wistfully.
Seeing his godfather slipping into memories of better times, Harry slipped out of bed and headed for the shower.
Forty minutes later, Council Lobby.
"Yes, Buffy," four voices chorused, with varying degrees of annoyance. Dawn and Nix rolled their eyes at each other during the surprisingly long checklist the blonde Slayer was reeling off. So far, not one thing had been forgotten, and anything that was could just be sent by owl post, but the list continued. Connor merely grinned and allowed the process to pass him by, giving the automatic response in a blank tone. Harry, on the other hand, was enjoying the caring shown by the endless questions, it being the first time a family member had been around to care if he forgot something. Heaven knows the Dursleys wouldn't have given a toss.
"Books?" Buffy asked, checking her list.
"Buffy, that's the third time you've asked, and you've said everything else twice already. You're being paranoid," Dawn pointed out, tossing Harry a grin. The boy laughed quietly at his young aunt's typically irreverent behaviour, shaking his head slightly. He could hardly wait to see if the three elder teens continued their reign of terror – mainly random comments, and the occasional prank, really – once they hit Hogwarts. Mainly because he and Ron had a small bet on whether they'd team up with the twins and cause mass chaos or start a prank war and cause mass chaos, as until now the two sides had not set themselves against each other. Harry's Galleon was on the prank war, but that was because he'd seen how quickly the Council inhabitants had become used to checking any room as if it were a battle ground before entering, as living with the Marauders and the teens was almost considered an extreme sport, according to Xander.
"Details, details," the blonde Potter waved her hand dismissively, refusing to be embarrassed by her repetitions.
"Well, now we're all satisfied that everyone has everything," Remus smoothed over the moment, hiding a grin, "shall we get moving?"
The teens reached for their cases, Buffy snagging Harry's on the basis of super-strength. The Scoobies gave a round of hugs to the leaving teens, Harry starting slightly when he realised he was included in the rather enthusiastic goodbye session. Only Remus and Buffy would be accompanying the group to the station, with the rest needing to stay behind to run the Council. Sirius had argued the point for days, until Nix suggested placing him under a S.E.P. (Somebody Else's Problem charm) as Padfoot, so no one would notice the black dog, and he was then allowed to join the group, much to the Animagus' delight. Harry's surprise at being included obviously didn't go unnoticed, as when Xander clapped him on the back instead of hugging, the eye-patched man said quietly:
"Family isn't always who you're related to, it can be who you choose. We chose each other a long time ago, and now you're a part of that."
The hugs over, Sirius transformed, and Nix chanted softly for a moment, before declaring them ready to go. They'd be meeting the Weasleys and Hermione at King's Cross in half an hour, and there was Council limousine ready and waiting outside. They'd sent another to Grimmauld Place, having successfully convinced Moody that a private car, with a driver with full security clearance and in no way linked to the magical world was the safest possible option. Remus led the way out of the imposing building, the boot already open to receive the four trunks. Once they were safely stowed, the group settled into the limousine, Padfoot bounding inside. Looking out at the city through the tinted windows, Harry smiled to himself. Yeah, this definitely wasn't like another September 1st he'd ever experienced. And who knew what the year ahead would bring?
A/N: Okay, so the end's a little cheesy. But a little cheese every now and again won't kill us, right? Well, that's The Fifth Marauder done and dusted, and look out for the sequel, This Year's Girl, with in the next couple of days. I hope you've enjoyed, and haven't hated me too much for my ridiculously bad update rate. Thank you for reading.
~ FireSkies xxx