Author's note: I do not own nor did I create Harry Potter. That wonderful credit goes entirely to J. K. Rowling (*on our knees* We're not worthy! We're not worthy!) I have merely borrowed them for a time.
by Xanthia Morgan
Part One - Inferiortimus
Harry woke up feeling thirsty. He tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. He wanted to recapture the wonderful dream he was having. It was his birthday and he was with Sirius Black and all his friends and they were laughing. Life with the Dursleys had been a terrible dream and he was truly happy. But his birthday was still two weeks away and the driving thirst wouldn't let him rest. Harry sighed and sat up. He opened his eyes and was immediately bombarded with a blinding pain in his head. He moaned loudly and put his head in his hands, taking deep breaths until the pounding subsided, a trick he'd learned his first year at Hogwarts when Voldemort was causing his scar to hurt. After a few moments, the pounding subsided to a dull ache and Harry stumbled to the bathroom. He got a drink and splashed cool water on his face until he felt he could open his eyes without seeing stars. Harry couldn't imagine why he felt so awful. It wasn't his scar hurting, of that he was certain. He tried to think about what it could be but even thinking was painful. He wet a washcloth and made his way back to his bedroom. "Maybe if I lay down for a while," he thought, "it will help." Harry stretched out on the bed again and put the cold cloth over his eyes.
"Harry! Harry Potter, you lazy boy, get down here now!"Aunt Petunia's shrill summons woke Harry abruptly. He sat up slowly, his head still pounding. He got dressed shakily and made his way downstairs to the kitchen. Dudley was sitting at the table eating the last of the bacon and toast, watching cartoons on the television. Aunt Petunia was leaning on the counter, writing out a list of chores for Harry. Since he'd come back from Hogwarts at the end of term, every day had been the same. Aunt Petunia made him a list of chores to do, Dudley harassed him while he worked, and Uncle Vernon checked them when he got home. What Harry hadn't done to perfection, which was just about everything, he had to redo the next day. Week in and week out this went on until Uncle Vernon was satisfied with the job and it was crossed off the list, making room for yet another task for Harry to complete. Today, Harry knew, would be gardening. Normally he liked that. Dudley didn't stay outdoors for long, preferring instead to sit inside and watch television. When he was gone, Harry enjoyed being outside by himself. And he didn't mind the garden work since it reminded him of Professor Sprout's herbology classes, and anything that reminded him of Hogwarts was a welcome diversion.
"Well if it isn't the lazybones, up out of bed." Dudley's snide voice jarred Harry from the fog he was in. "It's about time!" snapped Aunt Petunia, her shrill voice making Harry's head pound again. "You've a lot to do today and you'd better get to it. My garden club is coming at 3:00." Aunt Petunia hated gardening but joined the garden club because is was fashionable among the neighborhood wives. It was also a never ending source of her favorite past time, gossiping. "Yeah, and Dad will be home early today so you'd better do it right the first time," Dudley sneered with his mouth full. "Remember what he said, Harry, you'll get a beating if you don't do it right." Dudley laughed a vicious laugh and spewed little bits of chewed up bacon on the table. Harry swallowed back a wave of nausea and poured some juice. He downed it quickly and grabbed the list from Aunt Petunia. He couldn't wait to get outside. He knew Dudley was watching one of his favorite shows and would be inside for another hour at least. Besides, the fresh air might help his pounding head.
Harry worked slowly. The hot sun made the small garden seem like a furnace. Harry's whole body ached. He longed to go back inside and sit in the cool kitchen, but he knew Uncle Vernon was just looking for an excuse to punish him. Since he'd inflated Vernon's sister, Marge, last summer his uncle had been unforgiving in his treatment of Harry. Uncle Vernon knew that Harry wasn't supposed to use magic and that gave him all the leverage he needed to treat Harry as poorly as he wanted. Only the fear of Harry's wizard friends kept him from putting Harry back in the cupboard under the stairs. This fear had also saved Harry from all but the occasional backhand this summer, but Harry couldn't help but feel he was on borrowed time. So he kept working in the garden, occasionally pouring cool water over his head and neck, and thinking of Hogwarts and his friends. He wasn't aware when Dudley came outside, nor did he notice when Dudley started in on some gardening of his own.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"HARRY POTTER WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!???"
Aunt Petunia's horrified scream brought Harry out of his reverie. He looked up at her, wincing at the pain it brought and squinting at the bright light that surrounded her. "I'm weeding the garden," Harry answered dully.
"YOU ARE RUINING MY GARDEN!!!" she shrieked.
Harry looked at his aunt in confusion. Her arms were gesturing wildly and he was getting dizzy watching her. He finally looked in the direction she was pointing and he stared at the garden, his mind slowly taking in the chaos around him. All of the plants had been pulled up and thrown into a pile with the weeds. Every last vegetable and flower had been shredded beyond help and the hose had been left running, flooding the denuded rose bushes. Harry shook his head, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He couldn't have done this! It wasn't possible. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Dudley wipe dirt off his hands and he knew he'd been royally had. And as if it weren't bad enough, Uncle Vernon had just come home.
"MY BEAUTIFUL GARDEN...!!!!"
"...MY GARDEN CLUB..."
Harry heard the words echo in his head as he stared stupidly at the destruction around him. "I didn't....." he started, but was cut off when Uncle Vernon grabbed him by the shirt and shook him hard. He knew his uncle was screaming at him but the words didn't make any sense. All he knew was that the pounding in his head was getting worse and stars were beginning to swim around in his line of vision. A resounding slap and the pain of Uncle Vernon's hand against his cheek brought Harry to his senses.
".....A MORE DELIBERATE ACT OF MALICE I'VE YET TO SEE!! AND YOU'VE GOT THE NERVE TO TRY AND LIE ABOUT IT!!" Uncle Vernon backhanded him again. Harry felt his lip split. "You -- will -- learn --- your - - lesson -- boy," Uncle Vernon ground out through clenched teeth. "I've been saying you've needed this for a long time". Harry was dimly aware that his Uncle's face was an alarming shade of purple. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry knew that he should be afraid, but he couldn't put any coherent thoughts together. He was only aware of the heat and pain in his face and the thundering in his head. And then, from the corner of his eye, he saw his uncle raise a fist and the beating he'd been promised for thirteen years began.
Harry wasn't sure how much time had passed between the time his uncle started beating him until the time he was dragged into the kitchen from the destroyed garden and thrown against the table. His breath caught as a sharp pain surged in his chest. Harry felt his ribs creak as he tried to push himself upright. "I won't cry out," he told himself. "I won't let them see me hurting." He concentrated on the table top, staring down at the finger sandwiches laid out on platters on the table. The smell of tongue and tuna fish assaulted his nostrils and his empty stomach lurched. Harry swallowed hard and closed his eyes, fighting down the urge to be sick.
"HAVE YOU LEARNED YOUR LESSON YET, BOY?" Uncle Vernon's voice boomed in Harry's ear and he winced at the agony that shot through his head. He felt his uncle turn him around and shake him again. A cry of pain erupted from Harry's lips. "Stop," Harry pleaded. "Please stop, I'm going to be sick." Uncle Vernon didn't seem to hear him. "What do I have to do to get through to you!" he bellowed as he smacked Harry across the face again. Harry stumbled and overturned the table, spilling it's contents all over the floor. He could hear Aunt Petunia in the background, lamenting her ruined garden. He could hear Dudley snickering. He could hear Uncle Vernon breathing heavily. All this sounded as loud as thunder in his ears, tearing into his aching head as he knelt in the ruins of Aunt Petunia's luncheon. He smelled the sandwiches again mingling with the smell of his own blood and lost the battle over his stomach.
"VERNON!" Aunt Petunia screamed as Harry vomited all over her finger sandwiches. Uncle Vernon grabbed Harry by the collar and threw him out the back door. Harry lay heaving in the grass, the pain in his head increasing, his body aching. He pushed himself up onto his knees, arms cradling his aching ribs and opened his eyes. There was flash of bright light and then blessed darkness.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Harry heard voices, dim and unfocused. They were talking about him, he knew that. He tried to concentrate on making out the words.
"He's not sick, he's faking it."
"But Vernon, he's burning up."
"It's a sunburn. He's faking it I tell you."
"You shouldn't have beaten him, so."
"He needed to learn his lesson. I should have done it years ago."
"Maybe we should call the doctor."
"I'll not pay for a house call for the likes of him."
"Then we should take him to the hospital."
"What happens if he starts with that sort of thing at the hospital. How do we explain that?"
"Mum, I'm hungry".
"Oh, my poor Duddle-wuddlekins!" Aunt Petunia simpered in a contrite voice. "I'll get you something right now."
"I want to go out to dinner. The kitchen still smells."
"Of course, we'll go out. Give that boy some time alone to think about what he's done."
"Are you sure, Vernon......?"
"Of course, I'm sure. Now where do ........."
Harry heard the voices fade away. He knew he was alone. He opened his eyes and abruptly closed them against the painful light. It was as if the sun was shining in his eyes, but it was dark. Harry could feel the damp grass and smell the night air. He heard a distant fluttering sound and felt something tug on his fingers.
"Hedwig." Harry croaked. "Hedwig, can you get help?"
Harry felt the owl nip at his fingers again. He tried to move, to sit up, but the pain was too much. He felt like he was on fire and yet he shivered. Harry groaned. Hedwig tugged on his shirt. Harry lifted his head and opened his eyes again. He saw a glimpse of Hedwig next to him and then came the light. Harry cried out and spiraled down into darkness. He didn't see Hedwig's frantic flight into the night sky.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Harry? Harry can you hear me? Come on, Harry, wake up."
Again Harry heard a voice. But this one was familiar, comforting. He didn't want to wake up, though. The voice was far away, too far, and he didn't want to go to it. He felt hands under his shoulders, a cool hand on his forehead.
"He's burning up, Albus." The voice was concerned. Harry wanted to smile, someone was concerned for him. But what was Albus Dumbledore doing here? Harry wanted to ask but couldn't find the words.
"No wonder, with him laying outside on the damp ground. Come on, Harry, you must wake up." Dumbledore's voice again, gentle but commanding. Harry knew he should obey. He clawed his way out of the darkness.
"That's it, Harry, come on. Just wake up a little bit and talk to us. What happened?"
Firm hands tried to sit him up. Harry groaned. "No!" he cried out. "Please, it hurts." Harry barely recognized his own voice, tight with pain as it was.
He was lowered back down. "What hurts, Harry?," a different voice asked.
"My head. Everything."
"Did you hit your head?"
"No, it hurts."
"Like when your scar hurts?" Albus Dumbledore's was tinged with fear.
"No." Harry felt more than heard the collective sigh around him.
"Can you open your eyes for me, Harry?"
Harry panicked and struggled against the hands that held him. "No! Please, it hurts! Don't make me open my eyes!" Harry could hear tears in his voice, feel them leaking from under his closed lids.
"It's alright, Harry, don't open them. Just relax. It's alright, Harry. It's alright. We're here and you're going to be fine."
Harry relaxed and felt himself be drawn up against someone's chest. "Harry," the words, rumbling deep against Harry's ear, were quiet and soothing, "what hurts when you open your eyes?
Harry swallowed. "The light," he whispered.
There was silence around him. He could feel it, heavy and ominous. "Let's have a look then, shall we?" Harry knew this voice now. It was Professor Lupin. "No light, please," Harry whimpered.
"Just a little light, Harry. It won't hurt. Keep your eyes closed, that's a good lad." Harry sensed a lightness beyond his closed eyelids. He braced himself but it didn't hurt, only ached a little. "Keep your eyes closed, Harry, that's it. We just want to see your face."
"Purple circles under the eyes, high fever, chills, bright lights, pain in the head," Albus Dumbledore's quiet voice surrounded Harry.
"What's this, though?"asked the voice that held Harry as a hand gently touched his battered face. Harry stirred, his face turning toward the sound.
"Sirius?" he asked weakly, a bolt of hope going through him.
"At your service," answered Sirius Black.
"But how..." Harry didn't understand. How could they be here?
"I told you Hedwig would know where to find me, Harry," Sirius replied.
Harry suddenly realized where he was and he lunged up out of Sirius' arms in alarm. "You have to go! They'll be home soon!" He tried to stand, his eyes opening on their own, then fell to his knees as pain shot through his head. "He can't find you here!" Harry squinted and tried to focus the faces around him through the blinding light. His reached an arm forward and grabbed someone's hand. "Please leave."
"Harry, who are you talking about?" Sirius Black put his arms around Harry's waist to steady him. Harry moaned as Sirius' arms encircled his battered torso. "Please don't touch me," he whimpered, "it hurts. Oh, it hurts!"
Sirius' raised alarmed eyes to Albus Dumbledore and his companion, who both knelt by the boy and helped lower him back onto the grass. "Remus, give us just a little more light please," Sirius whispered as he ran a soothing hand over Harry's fevered forehead, gently brushing the ever unruly hair away from his eyes. Harry barely had time to wince at the bright that flared against his eyelids before a hand covered his eyes protectively. A collective gasp went up from the three men. "Harry," said Sirius, his voice deathly calm, "who did this to you?"
As if summoned from the air itself, Uncle Vernon's loud voice boomed out into the stillness of the garden. "Who are you and what are you doing on my property!?"
There was a swish of robes as Dumbledore and Lupin stood up from where they had been kneeling by Harry. Aunt Petunia let out a squeak at the sight of the two men who were obviously wizards and hid behind her husband. She reached out a bony finger and pointed, her hand shaking. "They're.......they're....." she managed to stutter.
"I know very well what they are," Uncle Vernon said, more to the men before him than to his wife. "What I want to know is why are they here."
"I am Albus Dumbledore, Harry's headmaster at Hogwart's." Professor Dumbledore's voice seemed cold and dangerous to Harry's ears. "What happened here? What have you done to Harry?"
"What's happened here, you ask?" Uncle Vernon began indignantly. "Well I'll tell you what's happened here. That boy ruined my wife's garden, that's what. A more deliberate act of vandalism and mischief I've yet to see. As for what I've done to him, you should be asking why haven't I done it sooner. The boy's only been asking for it for years. I've always said a firm beating would cure what ails him." Vernon's voice dripped with undisguised hatred. "And what's more, I'm done with him. I don't care what you do with him, throw him to the lions in the zoo for all I care. That boy's done enough damage to my household, what with his treatment of my sister last summer and now this. I won't stand for anymore!"
The three wizards stared at Vernon who was, by now, worked into quite a state and turning a remarkable shade of crimson.
"You beat my godson?"
Harry, despite his discomfort, could hear the cold fury in Sirius' voice. He had heard it directed at Peter Pettigrew and had hoped never to hear that tone coming from anyone again. He wanted this whole thing to end.
"Please," he whispered, "please, let's just go." Harry didn't know if anyone heard him. He couldn't open his eyes for the blinding pain so he addressed the general direction of where he believed his friends to be.
"You beat my godson!?" Sirius roared at Uncle Vernon, his voice almost as loud as the Howler Ron Weasley had received from his mother two years before. "How dare you! You miserable excuse for a Muggle! You dare to beat my godson!" Harry could hear the rage building in Sirius' tone. He felt Sirius move next to him, heard the swish of his robes as he stood. "You will regret this, you miserable bastard! You aren't worth one hair on Harry's head. Inferiortimus!"
"Sirius! NO!" Harry heard Dumbledore and Lupin shout at almost the same instant. But Sirius must not of heard, for Harry felt the familiar stirrings of magic surge through the air and heard Aunt Petunia's and Dudley's screams of terror. He opened his eyes, squinting through the pain and light, at what appeared to be green smoke emanating from the spot Aunt Petunia was staring at with her eyes wide and her mouth wider. As the smoke lifted, Harry saw what appeared to be a very large bug running madly in circles. Dudley screamed, "Cockroach!" and proceeded to launch all of his two hundred plus pounds into the air and land with both feet firmly on the back of the creature. Dudley continued to jump, his chins wobbling, his fat stomach bouncing up and down, until the creature scuttled into a hole under the house. Aunt Petunia fainted dead away. Dudley, having just realized that the disgusting creature he'd tried to trample to death was his father, ran screaming into the darkness of Privet Drive.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Albus Dumbledore, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black stared at the hole where Uncle Vernon had disappeared. Black passed a shaking hand over his eyes. The anger drained from him as it dawned on him what had happened. "I didn't mean.....I mean I never expected......" Sirius stuttered.
"It's alright, Sirius," sighed Dumbledore. "He had it coming. I've been wanting to do it for quite a while now."
Sirius turned his attention back to Harry. He gathered the kneeling boy against him once more and smoothed the hair from his forehead. "It's alright, Harry," he whispered. "Your uncle won't hurt you anymore."
"What....." Harry gasped out, "what did you do....to him?"
"I gave him a dose of his own medicine. Suffice it to say he now knows what it feels like to be beaten on by someone larger than he is. Don't worry, he'll be fine. He'll be his own nasty self again soon enough I dare say. Right now, though we need to get you home."
"Home?" Years of hope were held in that one word.
"Home," Sirius assured him. "I've been busy, Harry. I'll tell you about it soon enough. Right now you need a doctor. I need to lift you, Harry, this may hurt some." Sirius lifted Harry into his arms. Harry tried not to cry out against the pain in his head and body, but a moan escaped. "It hurts," he whispered.
"Harry," Dumbledore asked from close by his side, "how long have you felt this way. Before your uncle got his hands on you, I mean."
"This morning," Harry breathed. "My head ached dreadfully since this morning."
"Well, it's not so bad then," Lupin stated from somewhere over Black's shoulder, "is it?" He tried to affect a light tone, but Harry could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
"Let's get you out of here, Harry," Sirius said with finality. "Albus, could you do something to make the trip a little better for him?"
"Of course," Dumbledore replied, "don't know why I didn't think of it before. Now then, Harry, this will make you feel better." Harry felt a warm glow spread from his toes to his hair, erasing all feeling as it went along. His head went fuzzy and he felt like he was drifting on a cloud.
"Say, Sirius," he heard Lupin say through a pleasant fog, "what about the Muggle. Shouldn't we.....you know, restore him?"
There was a moment of silence. "Let him be for now. Maybe he'll learn something from this." Harry felt more than heard this from where his head lay against Sirius' chest. Then there was a feeling of utter weightlessness and then nothing for a very long time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Part Two - Fire and Pain
Harry was drowning in fire, he was certain of it. It surrounded him, burned his skin, and no matter how hard he fought to escape it, it threatened to consume him.
"Harry," a voice urged over the flames, "Harry, please, drink this." Harry felt a cup placed against his dry lips, he turned away. Whatever it was, it was certain to burn, he knew it. "Harry, you must drink," the voice was firm and commanding. The cup was placed at his mouth again and Harry couldn't pull away. Something held his head firmly. A drop of liquid spilled on Harry's lips and it was cold, icy. Suddenly all Harry wanted was what the cup contained. He opened his mouth and drank the contents greedily. "That's it, Harry, that's a good lad. Drink it all up, that's right."
Rain fell in the fiery world Harry was in. It doused the flames inside him and Harry felt something cool and wet soothe his skin from the outside. He was walking in the rain, across the grounds of Hogwarts. He sighed in pleasure. He walked across the damp grassy field and held his face to the rain, eyes closed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sirius Black held the cup to Harry's lips. "Harry. Harry, please, drink this," he urged. But Harry would have nothing of it. He weakly tried to turn his face away. Sirius put a hand under Harry's head and tried again. "Harry, you must drink," he said more firmly. Harry lurched again and a drop of the cup's contents fell onto his lips. To Sirius' immense relief, the liquid seemed to get a response and Harry drank thirstily. "That's it, Harry, that's a good lad," he said with relief evident in his voice. When the cup was empty, Sirius once again worked at trying to cool Harry's burning skin with a wet cloth. He'd brought Harry home only a short time before and was desperate with worry.
"How is he?" Remus Lupin inquired quietly from the doorway, his face mirroring the concern of his friend.
"I just now got the potion into him. He fought me. The hallucinations must be intense by now. I don't think he knew it was me." Sirius dunked the cloth in the basin of water on the table by Harry's bed and wrung it out. He folded the cloth and placed it on Harry's forehead. "I didn't know that Dragonpox could be so bad."
"It's only severe in teenagers and adults, I'm afraid," Remus said as he crossed to the other side of Harry's bed and sat down. He took Harry's hand in his. "When we get it as children, it's fairly mild. I can't believe we never thought that Harry wouldn't have been exposed to it, wouldn't have already had it."
"None of us thought of it. We all took it for granted that he'd had it." Albus Dumbledore came quietly into the room. "When two of the first years came down with it at the end of the term, I didn't think twice about Harry having been exposed. Or Hermione Granger either, for that matter. If I'd been thinking, we wouldn't have this situation now."
"You mustn't blame yourself, Albus," Sirius said softly. "How is Miss Granger? Does she have any symptoms yet?"
"No, we got an inoculation to her in time. Thank Heaven for Weasley and his interest in Muggles. He came up with the idea of a vaccine from all his studies on the subject. I only wish it could help Harry," he ended sadly.
"Harry will pull through this," said Remus with certainty. "He's a strong boy, much stronger than we give him credit for." Lupin stood. "I'm going to Diagon Alley and get some more of this fever reducing potion. There was only enough here for this one batch."
"I'd be grateful, Remus." Sirius gave Remus a tired smile. "Thanks."
Remus waved him off as he headed for the door. "You'd do the same for me. Actually, you have done the same for me." He smiled. "And I've no doubt that Harry would do it for any one of us. I'll use the parlor fire, it's bigger. I'll be back soon."
Dumbledore stepped away from the door to let Lupin pass. He watched Sirius silently for a moment then cleared his throat. "I'm going to look up Attivus Attlewart and see if he can make a house call for us."
Sirius looked up in alarm. "Is that wise? I mean, I'm still wanted by the Dementors. I've come too far in clearing my name to have them get a hold of me now. And Attivus was very close to James and Lily."
"I'd never endanger you, Sirius," Dumbledore said quietly.
Sirius lowered his eyes. "I know, I'm sorry. It's just that......"
Dumbledore smiled. "It's alright. I understand. Rest assured Attivus is a friend as well as an ally. He has always questioned your incarceration and has been very outspoken in his support of you. Besides, he firmly believes in doctor/patient confidentiality and all that. And judging from the bruises, Harry should be looked at by a doctor."
"You're right, Albus. I'm not thinking. I'd be grateful if he could come."
"Right. I'm off then. And Sirius, don't worry. Harry will be fine."
Sirius nodded. "Good luck," he called as Dumbledore, too, left the room. Sirius looked back at Harry, who seemed to be asleep. His expression grew grim as he looked again at Harry's battered face. He tried not to dwell on the awful sight that greeted them as they got Harry out of his damp, stained clothing and into bed, but his eyes were drawn to the dark purple bruises that stood out starkly on Harry's stomach and ribs. He knew that below the sheet, Harry's legs also showed signs of the beating he'd received. Vernon must have kicked the boy at some point. Sirius ground his teeth together and, with an effort, clamped down on the rage that boiled up in him whenever he thought of the man who did this. 'Why didn't I come for Harry sooner', he lamented to himself. He put his head in his hands and felt the weight of the evening's events fall upon him. 'Why didn't I come for him sooner?'
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A hard blow to his face brought Harry to his senses. He opened his eyes and squinted against a blinding sun. Another blow hit him in the stomach and he groaned in pain. It was the Whomping Willow, striking at him again and again. Once more Harry tried to run, to escape, only to find no way away from the stinging blows. He cried out again and again as the blows battered the breath from his lungs and brought him to his knees. "You're no good!" the tree yelled. But when Harry looked up, the Whomping Willow was gone. It was Uncle Vernon who stood over him, arms like heavy branches swinging down to strike him. "Ungrateful little..." Uncle Vernon continued as he struck at Harry. "No! Stop!" Harry cried. "No! Stop, please, stop!" But the blows kept coming and Uncle Vernon kept yelling.
"It's alright, Harry." The voice was back, distant but distinct. It cut through Uncle Vernon's screaming tirade. "It's only a dream. You're safe now. Safe with me." The voice came closer. A face came unbidden into Harry's line of sight.
'Dad?' Harry thought. 'He's here. But how?' He tried to speak but only a feeble moan escaped his lips.
A gentle hand brushed across his forehead. Strong arms held him and he was safe in his father's embrace. "I won't let anyone hurt you ever again, Harry," his father assured him.
"Dad...." Harry whispered.
"Shhh, it's going to be alright," the voice soothed.
Somewhere in the back of his mind Harry knew the voice belonged to someone other than his father. He knew his father was dead. His mother, too. But right now he couldn't think beyond that. He let the arms hold him and he fell into a fitful sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The cry woke Sirius from the deep sleep he'd fallen into. His head snapped up from where it rested on the mattress and he looked around in confusion.
"NO!" Harry cried out and his arms came up over his face as if to ward off a blow. "Stop, please, stop!"
Sirius scrambled onto the bed and took Harry's struggling body into his arms. "It's alright, Harry. It's only a dream. You're safe now. Safe with me." Harry moaned. Sirius ran his hand over his godson's burning forehead, gently brushing aside the damp tendrils of hair. "I won't let anyone hurt you ever again, Harry."
"Dad?" Harry's weak whisper drove a stake of pure grief through Sirius' heart. He felt tears form as he held Harry tighter. "Shhh, it's going to be alright," he whispered. 'It's going to be alright,' he thought to himself as he let the tears fall. 'I'll make it alright, Harry,' he said silently. 'I promise, James.'
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sirius was slowly became aware of the increasing amount of heat radiating from Harry. He eased him back onto the bed and once again started bathing the boy's skin in cool water. "Any change?" Remus asked as he entered the room carrying a small paper parcel.
"His temperature is rising again," Sirius responded grimly. "You're just in time. Would you mix up some more of this?" he asked, handing Remus the goblet.
"Of course." Lupin took the cup over to a large table across from the bed. "Where did Dumbledore go?" he asked as he opened the package and mixed the fever reducing potion.
"He went to get Attivus Attlewart to take a look at Harry."
"Ah, Attivus Attlewart," Remus smiled, "I haven't seen Attivus in, what is it, eight years now?"
"More like ten, you four footed scoundrel," spoke a voice from the doorway. "Speaking of which, have you been taking your potions regularly?"
Sirius and Remus turned abruptly at the new voice. Both men looked at the newcomer, smiles coming to their faces. Attivus Attlewart was a sight that often generated smiles. He was very short, about five feet tall with long flowing red hair that was always tied back in several pony tails. His multi-pocketed apple green robe ended several inches above his bowed knees and was weighed down with any number strange objects that poked up out of the pocket tops. He had a golden blond beard and a black mustache and wore triangular glasses with bright blue rims. His merry violet eyes twinkled with endless mirth and his ready smile was wide and bright. "And, you Sirius, got away at last, I see. Very good, very good. Always said you had nothing to do with the whole thing, but who listens to me?"
Sirius rose and greeted the doctor with a warm handshake and a smile. "Attivus, it's good to see you again."
Lupin also came forward to greet the man. "Attivus, you old quack, how are you? And, yes, I've been taking my potion, as well you know. Where's Dumbledore?"
"He'll be along. Well, enough with the greetings and such. I understand you have a problem for me." Attivus Attlewart moved beyond the two men to Harry. He shook his head as he took in the boys battered form and feverish skin. "Mm," he mused. "Mm, mm, mm." He held his hand to Harry's brow. "When was his last dose of fever reducer?" he asked without turning away from his examination.
"Oh, right!" Lupin remembered and returned to his task. "I've got it brewing now. Be ready in a minute."
"Make it a short minute, Remus," muttered Attivus. "A little more light, if you would, Sirius." The lamps in the room flared up brightly. Attivus opened Harry's eyelids and peered closely at Harry's eyes. His fingers probed under Harry's jaw and throat and he gently ran his hands over ribs and stomach. He then moved onto Harry's leg, checking the bruises there carefully and making sure the bones weren't damaged, all the while muttering to himself about 'dratted Muggles' and 'hmm'-ing now and then. While the good doctor was doing this, Sirius hovered anxiously on the other side of the bed, clenching his teeth ever harder as each bruise was uncovered.
"Potion's ready," said Lupin as he made his way to the bed with the goblet.
"Hmmm, yes." Attivus looked up from his patient and reached for the cup. He put his hand behind Harry's head and held the cup to his lips. "Here now, Harry, drink up," he said firmly. "It'll make you feel better, it will." Harry opened his mouth and drank, unprotesting. When the cup was empty, the doctor put a fresh cloth over Harry's eyes and straightened up. Attlewart snapped his fingers and the lights dimmed. He looked solemnly at the two men in the room, the ever present twinkle in his eye conspicuously absent.
"I won't lie to you, this is very serious." Sirius and Lupin exchanged glances. "The Dragonpox itself is bad enough," Attivus continued, "but what's been done on top of that. Well, I can only hope that whoever did this has paid and paid dearly."
"I turned him into a cockroach," Sirius said ruefully.
"Too good for the likes of that Muggle," commented Attivus, "but you did your best. Anyway, as I was saying, Harry here's got a couple of cracked ribs and some very nasty bruises. I'll bind the ribs, that'll help with the discomfort, but the bruises'll have to mend on their own. It's a miracle there's no internal injuries or broken bones. At any rate, he's in for a right uncomfortable couple of weeks, allowing he pulls through the fever." The doctor looked up at Sirius' sharp intake of breath. "This illness is dangerous at Harry's age, I'll not lie to you. I've lost a couple of patients to this. And with Harry not ever having been exposed before, it's going to be close. I've asked Albus to pick up some herbs for me that'll go a long way toward helping, and I'll need your assistance. In order to bring the fever down, I'll need a fresh supply of snow every hour or so. You two think you can conjure that up for me?" The two men nodded. "Also, he'll need the fever reducer every two hours and the lighting here kept very low." Attivus looked at Sirius. "Any questions?"
"No, none." Sirius looked shaken. "Will he make it, Attivus?" The stark desperation in Sirius' eyes touched the doctor deeply. He above all others knew the pain this must be causing James Potter's best friend.
"I brought this boy into the world, Sirius, I'm going to do my very best to make sure he stays in it," Attivus' smile sealed the promise and Sirius took a deep breath, unaware that he'd been holding it. The doctor clapped his hands. "Right, then, to work. I'll need some things, gentlemen. I suggest you find them."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Harry lay on the ground, exhausted. He had been battling the fires that raged around him, and the Whomping Willow, on and off for what seemed like years. Right now all he wanted was to sink into the blackness that beckoned just beyond him. But something kept him from letting go. He gazed up at a tangle of branches above his head and tried to pin down what it was. He wondered how he had gotten into this forest, and why the ground was so soft. The branches above him were abundant with cool green leaves and he could hear them rustling in a soft breeze. 'Harry,' they whispered, 'Hang on, Harry.'
Hang on to what, Harry wondered. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head, unable to move any more than that. Someone came toward him. Someone familiar.
"Dad,"Harry croaked, his throat raw and sore.
'Harry,' James said with a smile. 'You must hold on for a little while longer.'
"I'm so tired, Dad,' Harry whispered, tears running down his face.
'I know, Son, I know. But you've got to be strong. You've got so much left to do in your life. And Sirius is waiting for you to return. He's waited so long to be with you, Harry, you mustn't leave him now.' James started drifted away.
"Dad!" Harry yelled. "Dad, don't leave me!"
'Sleep, Harry. Sleep and all will be well.' James was almost gone.
"Dad!" Harry cried, sobs welling up in his chest. "Please! Come back!"
'I love you, Harry. Sleep now. Sleep'
James was gone. Harry cried uncontrollably, sobs shaking his aching body. Strong arms held him and he buried himself in their warm embrace. A hand gently stroked his hair and the soothing motion calmed him. The sobs subsided and Harry fell into a deep, dreamless, healing sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Part Three - Home
Someone was watching him, Harry was sure of it. He opened his eyes and blinked in the pale light, trying to clear the sleep that clung heavily to his lids. Harry squinted and blinked again. 'I'm dreaming,' he thought. 'I must be dreaming.'
Above Harry's head was an array of gently swaying branches, intertwined and covered with green leaves. Directly above his head was something sat unmoving, it's stillness evident among the movement. Harry squinted again, trying to bring whatever it was into focus. "Hedwig!" Harry whispered. The owl flapped it's wings and hooted softly. "What are you doing up there? Where are we?" Harry heard the hoarseness in his voice. He tried to move his head to look around. It felt like it weighed fifty pounds. He finally moved enough to see that he was on a large bed. The posts appeared to be thin tree trunks, their branches reaching toward each other, forming the lush green canopy overhead. The branches moved slightly, as if blown by a slight breeze and the leaves whispered against each other in a soothing song. Harry ventured to move his head further. Someone was sitting next to the bed in a large wing chair, head cradled in arms that rested on the mattress. The face was turned toward Harry and even without the long, scraggly hair, Harry knew it was Sirius Black. He looked as fatigued and careworn as he had the day Harry first met him. Harry moved his hand to touch Sirius' arm.
Sirius awoke with a start. "What...who...." he sputtered. He looked around and then looked at Harry. "Harry!" he cried as he sat up, his hand going to Harry's forehead. "The fever's broken! Thank goodness. Oh, Harry, we've been so worried." A bright smile lit up Sirius face, transforming the careworn visage into that of a young, handsome man. Harry stared, awed at the change. Sirius frowned at the expression. "Harry, are you feeling alright? You're head doesn't still ache does it?" Attivus had warned him about relapses and he was immediately concerned again.
Harry considered the questions. "I feel heavy, like I'm weighted down." he rasped. "But my head doesn't hurt anymore."
Relief washed over Sirius and he sighed. "I'm glad to hear it Harry. You've had us all dreadfully worried, you know. Weren't sure you were going to pull through it all."
"What happened?" asked Harry. "Where are we?"
"You've been very sick, Harry. A dreadful case of Dragonpox to be exact. As to where we are, well, we're home. I've been busy, Harry. I'll tell you about it all later but for now I must get Attivus in here to make sure you're past the worst of it."
"Dragonpox?" Harry asked weakly, not sure he'd heard correctly.
Sirius was at the door. "Attivus!" he called down the hall. "Attivus, Harry's awake!" He turned back to the bed and smiled at Harry. "Dragonpox. It's quite common among wizard children, much like the Muggle, ah, what was it again? Um, chickenpox, that's it. And just as in chickenpox, Dragonpox is much more serious in older children. You were exposed to it at Hogwarts. No one thought that you mightn't have had it. All wizard children get it, after all, and, well, we rather forgot about the unusual upbringing you've had." Sirius was stopped by the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Well, now, what's this I hear about my patient being awake." Attivus smiled as Harry squinted at him, trying to get a good look. "Give the boy his glasses, Sirius. Can't have his face sticking like that can we?" Attivus laughed. "Well, now my boy, let's have look at you." He peered at Harry and felt his forehead. His thumbs propped Harry's eyelids open wider and he peered into Harry's eyes. "Well, looks fine to me. You're one lucky young man, Harry. It was close. Too close for Sirius' peace of mind, I might say." He stood back and beamed.
"Excuse me," said Harry, adjusting his glasses after Attivus had done with him, "who are you?"
Attivus laughed again. "Oh, quite right. We've not been properly introduced, have we. Dr. Attivus Attlewart at your service, young Potter." He bowed elaborately. "I had the distinct honor of delivering you safely into this world and by the grace of God I've kept you here."
"Thank you," Harry croaked.
"Here, now, Sirius, give the boy some water! Can't you see he's parched?" Attivus waved a hand in Sirius' direction. "Now then, Harry, any headache?"
"No," Harry said as Sirius helped him to sit up. He drank deeply of the cup Sirius held for him. He was grateful for the help since he couldn't seem to keep his hands on the goblet tightly enough to hold it.
"Brightness? Painful lights?"
"No. None of that." Harry sighed inwardly as the cool water soothed his throat.
"Ah. Very good. Now, as to the other. Any pain when you inhale? Any pain in your stomach or chest?"
Harry took a deep breath. He noticed that his ribs were tightly bound with cloth. Other than feeling a little restricted, though, there was no pain. Only a dull ache. "My chest feels fine. My stomach is fine. Why am I all bound up?" Harry frowned.
Attivus looked at Sirius and smiled uncomfortably. "Well, I'm off," he said, clapping his hands together. "Must check in on Miss Granger and then I'm going to bed for a week. Or until Mrs. Chummley-Brisket has her twins, whichever comes first. Bye, Harry. Sirius, you know how to reach me if anything changes." And with that Attivus was gone. Sirius watched him go. "Thank you, Attivus," he called to the retreating physician. Harry's strained voice turned him round again. "Miss Granger? Did he mean Hermione? Is she sick too? Will she be alright?"
Sirius smiled reassuringly at Harry. "Hermione is fine. She didn't get sick. I'll tell you all about it later. Now, would you like more to drink, Harry?" he asked. Harry shook his head. "No, thanks," he croaked. Sirius helped him lie back down and pulled the chair up closer to the head of the bed. "Harry, what do you remember? About being sick and all?"
Harry thought hard. "I remember having a headache and there being bright lights. There was fire and the Whomping Willow." Harry frowned again. "That can't be, can it. Was I dreaming?"
Sirius smoothed the hair off from Harry's forehead. His hand lingered at the side of Harry's face as he spoke. "You were hallucinating, Harry. Your fever was extremely high. I'm not exaggerating when I say we almost lost you, Harry. The fire in your dream was from the fever, I imagine. The Whomping Willow, that's a different story, I'm afraid. Harry, do you remember what happened with your uncle?"
Harry closed his eyes and forced his mind back to the last things he remembered. "I was in the garden, I think. Uncle Vernon was angry about something. I think he hit me. I don't really remember."
"Your uncle did hit you, Harry," Sirius admitted hesitantly. "He cracked some of your ribs, in fact, and you're badly bruised. You'll be sore for a few days yet, I imagine."
"How did you know? I mean, how did I get here?" Harry was confused. He tried to set things straight in his mind, but nothing made sense. "I remember something about Professor Lupin and Professor Dumbledore but I don't know if they were real or if I dreamed them up."
"Hedwig," Sirius said plainly. The owl hooted overhead. "She came for me. I told you she'd know how to find me if you ever needed me, Harry. She flew in here in a panic. Albus and Remus were visiting at the time and we all headed out to find out what was wrong. You're uncle came along while we were there."
"Did he hurt you?" Harry asked worriedly. "He didn't hurt you did he." Harry tried to sit up and groaned with the effort.
"Relax, Harry. Lie back down, please." Sirius eased him back onto the pillows. "He didn't hurt me. He didn't hurt anyone but you. As a matter of fact, I'm afraid I may have done him a bit of harm." Black smiled sheepishly. "I was angry at him for striking you. I lost my temper."
Harry was dumbfounded. "What did you do?"
"I, uh, used the Inferiortimus spell on him." Harry looked confused. "It's a spell in which whoever it is cast upon turns into the thing he considers to be the lowest form of life."
"You turned him into a wizard?" Harry asked.
Sirius laughed. "Oh, Harry, you are feeling better! No, it seems your uncle considered something else to be lower than even us wizards. He turned into a cockroach."
Harry's jaw dropped. "You didn't!" he asked. Then Harry began to smile. The smile turned into a chuckle and then Harry laughed, too. "Oh, don't make me laugh," he gasped, "it hurts." Harry brought himself under control, but continued to smile. "Did you turn him back?"
"Eventually. You see the spell only lasts a short length of time. Now Inferiortimus Eternitus will make it permanent, but I didn't think of that. Unfortunately." Sirius' smiled broadened. "He's his own nasty self by now, no doubt. But you needn't worry about him anymore, Harry. You're staying here with me from now on."
"But, the Dementors! And school, won't anyone be suspicious?"
"Everything is working out, Harry, you'll see. Now, I can tell by the drooping of your eyes that it's time for you to rest some more. I'll make up something for you to eat when you wake up."
Sirius pulled the covers up to Harry's chin and headed for the door.
"Sirius," came the soft voice from the bed. Sirius turned. "I dreamed about my Dad."
Sirius smiled sadly. "I know Harry. I know."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Harry woke again, it wasn't Sirius Black by his side, it was Remus Lupin. "Well, Harry! How are you feeling." Lupin beamed at him.
"Better, I think," Harry said after a quick inventory. "Stronger." And to prove it he sat up a bit. Remus sprang forward to help him, placing a thick pillow behind his back and settling the blankets around his waist. "Where's Sirius?"
Remus smiled. "Sleeping. He's been up with you for five days and he's exhausted. I sent him off to bed before he fell asleep on his feet. He's too big for me to carry to bed, after all."
Harry stared. "Did you say five days?"
" I did."
"Really, five days?" Harry couldn't believe it. Lupin gave a short laugh. "Sirius told you, Harry, we weren't sure you were going to make it."
"He stayed with me the whole time?"
"Yes. Albus Dumbledore and I offered to watch over you while he rested but he wouldn't leave. He loves you very much, Harry."
Harry saw the conviction in Lupin's eyes. He smiled. "Where are we? Sirius said 'home' but he didn't say where. Can you tell me?"
"Ravenshold," Harry repeated. "Is that the name of the town?"
"No," replied Remus with a broad smile, "that's the name of the house. Blackthorn is the name of the town. If you could call it that. It's more just a spot really. A lovely one at that."
"Where is it, though?" Harry wondered. "Are we still in England?"
"Oh, yes. We're not far from the Weasley's, actually. About twenty miles I'd say."
"And the house is called Ravenshold? What's it like? Here, I mean." Harry was burning with curiosity.
"Well, I'll tell you, but only if you promise to eat this while I do." Remus produced a large tray from the table by the window. It had an assortment of Harry's favorite foods on it as well a large bottle of butterbeer. He smiled at Harry's doubtful look. "Not all of it, Harry, just what you can handle." And he placed the tray on Harry's lap and sat down in the large chair. "Where to begin? Well, let's start by saying that Ravenshold is enormous. It's got over twenty bedrooms and is over four hundred years old."
"Twenty bedrooms?" Harry almost choked on his chocolate frog. "How did .....?"
Remus cut him off with a laugh. "I'll tell you, you just eat. Where was I? Oh, yes. The house is stone. More of a mansion, really, if you want to classify it. Ravenshold has actually been in the Black family for generations. A very wizardly place, mind you, as magical as any place you'll ever be. Anyway, Sirius returned here after his escape. No one's lived in the place for years and any local Muggles think it's haunted so they stay away. It's surrounded by lovely green fields and a dense forest. I don't believe there are any roads to it, not anymore anyway. There's even a swimming pond. It needs a good cleaning but it's fine on a hot day."
Harry tried to absorb all this. "I'm to live here, then? With Sirius?"
"Goodness, I hope so," Remus smiled again, "else that Quidditch practice field he built for you will go to waste."
"A what?" Harry squeaked. "A practice field? For me?"
"Remus!" came an indignant voice from the doorway. "Are you spoiling every surprise I'd planned for him?" Sirius Black entered the room, his face alight with a beaming smile aimed at Harry.
"No, Sirius, not every surprise. Besides, Harry's dying to know about this place. After all, he's only seen this room, now, hasn't he? Anyway, it'll give him a good reason to get better faster, knowing it's there for him. Right, Harry?" Remus winked and Harry smiled.
"Oh, yes," he told Sirius. "It will definitely help."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Three days later Harry was allowed out of bed for short periods of time. He roamed around his new home, exploring every inch. Sirius was almost always with him, ready to lend a hand when Harry got tired, or to explain some wonderful trick that the house was always producing. After a week he got his first view of the outside. The massive stone structure was grand and graceful. It was surrounded by a moderate expanse of manicured lawns and bordered by a magnificent old forest. The house itself was four stories tall and had a main hall, a ballroom, a huge dining room, and so many other rooms that weren't really anything but held a fascinating cache of items. Each bedroom was different. Harry's was a lovely forest. Hedwig loved to sleep in the branches above Harry's bed and spent a lot of time hopping from limb to limb. Sirius' room was like a green meadow, complete with a stream running through it. One bedroom sparkled with stars, one held waterfalls, one was a medieval ladies bower with looms and embroidery hoops. The house also had several high rising turrets that served as observatories and libraries, and an abundance of stained glass windows that portrayed different scenes in wizard history. When the sun shone through them, they moved just like wizard pictures, and Harry came to love the spectacle they provided. One window, especially drew his attention. It was of Bob the Magnificent, the worst wizard in history, whose only claim to greatness was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and managed to stop a rogue dragon from killing an entire wizard town. The window showed the town and the frightened people cowering from a lime green dragon who breathed orange flame on cows and grilled them to perfection. Bob was in electric blue robes and would always make sure someone was watching the window before he drew back his hands dramatically and cast the only spell he knew. Inferiortimus. The dragon would then begin squealing horrifically and turn into a runty white pig. Unfortunately, Bob didn't add Eternitus to the spell so eventually the dragon returned to his natural form and ate Bob, but that wasn't depicted on the window. At times, when someone was watching, Bob would embellish his hand motions with such phrases as "Takest thou that, thou beast of hell!" in which case the dragon would roll his eyes in disgust at Bob's antics and turn himself into a pig before Bob could say the magic words. This and many other windows provided Harry with hours of entertainment.
After almost two weeks, Harry was beginning to feel at home. The mirrors all knew him and called out greetings as he passed, as did the portraits in the gallery and the windows. Harry loved this place, more than Hogwarts. For the first time in his life, Harry had a home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Harry! Harry could you come down here please?" Sirius called from the main hall. Harry had been waylaid by one of the portraits in the gallery, an old witch who was trying to sell him a love potion.
"Sorry, I must go." Harry backed away. "It's been lovely talking with you."
"Come back again soon, dearie," the witch called after him. "You won't find better anywhere!"
"I will," Harry promised, as he ran off. "In about a hundred years," he added under his breath. He ran to the stairs and slid down the bannister. At the bottom he turned and faced Sirius who waited near the dining room doors.
"What have you been up, too, Harry?" Sirius asked. "I've been calling you for ten minutes."
"Sorry," said Harry. "I was ambushed by Mad Helga. She was trying to sell me a love potion."
"Ah," said Sirius knowingly. "That explains it. She's a pushy one, she is. Just don't buy anything from her, Harry. She once got me to spend my whole allowance on leprechaun bait, told me it would attract them in droves, then I could get them to tell me where their gold was buried." Sirius shook his head.
"What happened?" asked Harry.
"Nothing. She sold me a bag of mixed grain and the only thing it attracted was a Muggle cow from a nearby farm. It wouldn't have been so bad if the cow hadn't eaten Mother's prize rosebushes. They spent the whole summer covering themselves up with oak leaves to hide their nibbled branches."
"What did you mother do?" asked Harry.
Sirius laughed. "She took some India ink and painted a handlebar mustache on Helga's face. Helga hid until it finally faded. Took fifteen years. Mother was thrilled. But, come now Harry, I've something to show you." And Sirius led Harry to the dining room. He opened the door and Harry stepped inside. It was dark. The only light came from the door behind him and when that closed it was pitch black.
"Sirius....." Harry was cut off before he could finish. A blazing light suddenly sprang up and the room was filled with people.
"Surprise!" they all shouted. "Happy Birthday!"
Harry gaped. He realized he must look like a fish what with his mouth hanging open like it was, so he closed it and blinked rapidly. The people didn't vanish. They were really there! Hagrid, Hermione, all of the Weasleys, Albus Dumbledore and Remus Lupin. They were all smiling and laughing at his expression.
"Happy Birthday, Harry," said Sirius, his arm around Harry's shoulders.
"But how? I, mean....." Harry was speechless. He could only gape at his friends and the festively decorated dining room.
"Well, Harry, guess we took you by surprise at that!" bellowed Hagrid as he came forward to embrace Harry in an enormous bear hug. "Ron and I been thinkin' 'at maybe you'd catch on to it."
"I thought for sure you'd figure it out, Harry," exclaimed Ron, the next to greet Harry.
"I had no idea," laughed Harry, finally realizing that this was for real. "How did you all hide? I've been home all day."
"That was easy," smiled Hermione as she gave Harry an awkward hug. "This house is so magical, it can do anything!"
"Even hide a whole party!" Put in Lupin, as he too came forth to offer best wishes.
"Happy Birthday, Harry," offered Ginny Weasley shyly.
"Yes, many happy returns and all that," chimed the Weasley twins, Fred and George.
"Yes, Happy Birthday," said Percy, shaking Harry's hand.
"How's it feel to be fourteen, Harry?" asked Dumbledore, grinning.
"Oh, Harry! How wonderful to see you! Happy Birthday!"gushed Mrs. Weasley as she hugged him fiercely. "And to think you almost didn't see this day..."
"Oh, now, none of that," interrupted Mr. Weasley, also shaking Harry's hand. "What's past is past. Speaking of which, have you given Harry his present yet, Sirius?"
All heads turned to Sirius Black. He smiled. "No, I haven't. I wanted to wait until we were all together. Here Harry, sit down here." He led Harry to the head of the great table where a pile of brightly colored presents sat waiting. "This is for you." He beamed as he held out a gold foil wrapped flat box. Harry looked up him. "What's this?" he asked curiously.
"Open it and see," smiled Sirius.
Harry ripped off the paper and found a flat box about the size of a paper. He opened the lid and pulled out a thin, finely scripted, ornately decorated piece of parchment. He read the words. Twice. Then he looked at Sirius. "Is this real?" he asked breathlessly.
Sirius looked at him happily. "Yes, Harry. It's real."
"What is it?" asked Ginny and Hermione at the same time. They laughed.
"Yes, tell us Harry. What is it?" prompted Ron, Fred and George together.
"It's a pardon," said Harry, as if he didn't believe it.
"A what?" asked Fred through the side of his mouth to George.
"A pardon," repeated Harry. "From the Ministry of Magic."
"It releases Sirius Black from any and all charges and suspicions brought against him in the betrayal of James and Lily Potter and the disappearance of Peter Pettigrew," said Dumbledore.
"He's a free man now," added Lupin. "Free to take his place in wizard society again."
"And free to take his rightful place as Harry's guardian," added Mr. Weasley.
Harry continued to stare at the document. He looked up Sirius. "Are you sure? This is real?" he asked again.
"Rest assured, Harry, it's real. Professor Dumbledore and I have been working very hard these last months to clear my name. That's why I didn't come for you at the Dursleys right away. I wanted it to be completely finished first. I meant it when I said this was your home now. You will never have to return to Privet Drive again."
Harry felt tears forming in his eyes. The faces around him blurred as they fell from his eyes onto his cheeks. "I'm really, truly going to live here with you?" he managed to say. Sirius nodded. Harry launched himself into Sirius' arms and hugged him with all his strength. Sirius laughed. "Does that make you happy, Harry?"
Harry's eyes shined with joy. "It's the best birthday present I've ever had!"