Harry placed his new leather school bag inside his trunk, having to shrink it in order to make it fit, and then sat back on his heels, peering into the trunk and mentally checking to see if he had everything he would need for the new school term back at Hogwarts.
He had done most of his packing the day before, New Year's Day, but he had been rather tired from staying up late at the party and still so euphoric over being freed from the slavery spell that he had to admit that he might have forgotten something.
Five charcoal-grey school jumpers and matching trousers and socks, black loafers, black school robes, his heavy winter cloak and an olive-green Muggle-style coat as well, some flannel shirts, turtlenecks, jumpers, and jeans, underwear, a woolen cap and gloves, two other pairs of shoes…brown loafers and trainers, pyjamas, a dressing gown, soft slippers, and that was only his clothing. He had also packed all his textbooks and other school supplies, and of course, his Firebolt, invisibility cloak, and photo album.
Thank goodness for shrinking and expansion charms, Harry thought ruefully. Even with them, the trunk was crammed full. Harry struggled to close the lid, finally having to resort to sitting on top of the trunk in order to fasten the lock.
"Whew, I hope I got everything because nothing else is going inside this trunk," Harry remarked to Hedwig, who was in her cage on his desk.
She merely hooted sleepily at him and tucked her head under her wing.
Harry cast a featherlight charm on the trunk and shrunk it as well before slipping his wand up his sleeve into a wrist holster that his father had given to him. He took one last look around at his room, at the handsomely carved four-poster bed with its thick light brown duvet and piles of soft pillows, the cozy sitting area by the fireplace with stuffed armchairs, and the window seat where he liked to read and gaze out over the moor.
He wouldn't be back home now for almost six months, unless he and Severus came back for a weekend or perhaps for the Easter holidays. But that wasn't likely, what with Quidditch matches and Hogsmeade weekends and Severus' duties at the school, they would probably be too busy to come home until June.
Harry sighed, feeling a twinge of homesickness already, but then he thought of being at Hogwarts with all of his friends, including Draco now too, of studying together and Quidditch practices and sharing meals in the Great Hall, visiting Hagrid and touring the Hogsmeade shops. The twinge of homesickness vanished beneath a rush of excitement. After all, he had a lot to look forward to.
He picked up his trunk and took Hedwig's cage in his other hand. Being moved disturbed her and she lifted her head to give him an indignant glare.
"Sorry, but we're leaving directly after breakfast," Harry told her. "You've got the whole rest of the day to sleep."
Anyone who thought owls couldn't be expressive had never met Hedwig, Harry reflected. Her expression was positively sulky.
"Aw, come on. You'll be glad to be back at Hogwarts. You can see all of your owl friends again."
That seemed to mollify her somewhat. At least she simply hooted again, but Harry thought she seemed more amiable. But he didn't have time to worry about Hedwig. The clock chimed eight as he turned and hurried downstairs to breakfast.
Severus' own trunk sat by the arched doorway to the dining room and Harry set his belongings down beside it before slipping into his chair beside his father. Naturally Severus was already seated at the table, but his plate of poached eggs and sausage was untouched as he perused the morning paper instead.
But even as he spoke the cheerful greeting, Harry realized that something must be wrong. Severus was staring at the front page of the Daily Prophet, his face grim and his mouth set in a tight line.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked. Surely nothing could be that bad, could it? But Severus certainly looked shaken and it took a lot to rattle him.
Severus looked over at him and Harry had the feeling that his father would have liked to have kept the news from him, but after a moment he just said, "Dolohov and Greyback have escaped."
A trickle of ice crept down Harry's spine. "How?" .
"The paper is vague is on that point." Severus sounded frustrated. "It only says that the authorities suspect they had inside help and that Aurors are continuing to investigate."
"If Azkaban is supposed to be so secure, why does everyone keep breaking out of it?" Harry demanded.
"Well, Azkaban was quite secure, although not impregnable as we well know, until the Dementors joined with Voldemort. Naturally that compromised its stability. But Dolohov and Greyback were not at Azkaban when they escaped. They were in a holding cell at the Ministry. Their trial was about to begin," Severus answered.
"Can I read the article?" Harry asked.
"May I," Severus corrected as he handed the paper to his son.
Harry read the article carefully, but it really didn't offer any more pertinent information than what Severus had already told him. Dolohov and Greyback had been transferred to a holding cell in the basement of the Ministry in the hours before their trial. When guards went to fetch them before the Wizangamot, the cell was empty. The door had been locked and there had been no sign of any disturbances. Aurors refused to make any official comments other than to say the investigation was ongoing, but there were rumours that someone within the Ministry must have aided the two suspects. The rest of the article was devoted to lurid descriptions of their past crimes and warnings to contact authorities if there were any sightings.
Harry laid the paper aside and tried to ignore the niggling sense of unease he felt. "Well, we'll be all right at Hogwarts, won't we? And the Grangers and Weasleys are all under protective wards now, so they should be all right, too. Right?"
Harry hated the underlying note of anxiety in his voice. He was not a child to be frightened of boogey men. He was supposed to be brave, after all. He was a Gryffindor.
But the thought of losing someone he loved was terrifying and Harry couldn't kid himself that protective wards were infallible. People couldn't just stop living their lives and stay home under the wards twenty-four hours a day either. He knew that Mr. Weasley would have to go to work. So would Hermione's parents. He knew there was no chance that Fred and George would stay cooped up. He knew that Hogwarts itself was not invulnerable.
He knew too much, Harry decided grimly.
He looked at Severus and part of him wished that his father would just offer him a comforting lie, but of course Severus was too honest for that.
"We will certainly take precautions and do our best to keep everyone safe," his father said firmly. "We will meet with Albus as soon as we're settled in and discuss the matter."
He nodded towards Harry's plate of food. "Now we need to eat and then be on our way. I will have a great deal to do before classes begin tomorrow and I'm sure you will as well."
Soon enough they had finished breakfast, bid Norie and Zan farewell, and Flooed away to the castle far north in Scotland. They arrived in Severus' dungeons rooms and Harry looked about eagerly as soon as he had recovered his footing. He never could quite manage to keep his balance during Floo travel.
Severus stepped out of the fireplace as gracefully as ever. "I'm glad to see that the elves have kept up our rooms."
Harry nodded. His father had been back to these quarters a few times in the fall since they had left, but Harry had not seen them for several months, not since he had insisted on leaving for Prince Hall right after everyone had found out about the slavery spell.
It seemed a lifetime ago.
But their rooms were just as he remembered them, the spacious parlour with comfortable leather sofas and chairs, bookshelves lining one wall and landscape paintings on the others, Severus' bedroom with dark antique furniture and plaid comforter and drapes, and his own bedroom, decorated in bright Gryffindor colours.
Harry paused in the doorway to his room, remembering how his father had constructed it especially for him when they had first arrived back in late August. The house elves must have lit a fire in his fireplace and the cheerful flames cast a warm cozy glow.
Harry set his trunk and Hedwig's cage inside, but didn't bother to unpack. He had decided to spend tonight up in Gryffindor Tower with his friends. He smiled. He loved living with Severus and he loved having his own room. But it was nice to know that he could stay up in the Tower now too; that he wasn't bound by the slavery spell anymore.
His father must have been thinking along the same lines. He had taken his own trunk to his bedroom and now he came to stand beside Harry.
"I imagine you will stay up in Gryffindor Tower tonight then?"
Harry turned to look at him. "Well, I thought I would, if it's all right with you…" his voice trailed off uncertainly. He had been looking forward to seeing all of his friends and housemates, but he didn't want to abandon Severus to a lonely set of rooms either.
But Severus waved his hand. "Of course. I would be poor company anyhow, as I must prepare for classes tomorrow. I'm sure Professor Grubbly-Plank did her best, but I doubt the students are performing up to my standards. At least Albus took over the NEWT classes. I have hopes that they at least will be on schedule."
He rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "In any case, Harry, I want you to know that I love having you here with me, always. These quarters are your home as much as mine and you are always welcome here, at any time, day or night. But these months at school are also the time for you to spend with your friends and peers. It's perfectly natural for you to want to live in your dormitory with your housemates and now you are free to do so. Enjoy it and do not worry about me."
"Thanks, Dad." Harry smiled up at him. "Actually, I have been thinking about it and I decided on a schedule, if it's all right with you and Professor McGonagall, too, I guess. I was thinking that I'd stay up in the Tower on the weekends, definitely. That's the most fun time, and maybe some other nights too. But I'd like to stay down here for a few nights in the middle of the week."
He gave his father an almost shy glance and added softly. "I've never had my own family and a real home before. I'd miss you too much if I couldn't stay here sometimes."
Severus' hand tightened on his shoulder and he dropped a kiss on the top of Harry's head before clearing his throat and saying in a gruff voice. "That sounds like a fine plan. I'm sure Minerva will agree."
They were quiet for a moment before Harry changed the subject. "Dad, are we going to talk with Professor Dumbledore about Dolohov and Greyback?"
"Yes," Severus' voice sounded grim now. "I want to see what the latest news is before we do anything else."
But Dumbledore was not there. Severus firecalled the headmaster's office only to find it empty. But the call must have triggered some sort of charm, because before Severus could check to see if Dumbledore was in the staffroom, a silver phoenix appeared in the parlour and spoke with the headmaster's voice.
"Good morning, Severus, Harry. I must tell you again how happy I am to have you both back at Hogwarts. I'm sorry to refer to unpleasant news, but I'm sure you're already aware of the escape. I'm at the Ministry now, discussing the matter with Kingsley and other officials. I will contact you when I return to the school."
The phoenix vanished.
Severus sighed. "Well, that's that, then. We shall just have to wait until Albus returns."
He turned to his son. "What are your plans for the day?"
Harry considered. Ron and Hermione were not arriving until after lunch, but some of his other friends might have already returned. "I guess I'll go up to the Tower and unpack, see if anyone's here."
Severus nodded. "If you need me for anything, I shall be here or in my office." He paused. "Harry, you do know to stay on school grounds at all times, especially now."
Especially now that Dolohov and Greyback are free. The unspoken words hung in the air.
Harry nodded, "Yes, sir. I know."
A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Dad, what about Hogsmeade weekends? I'll be able to go on those, won't I?"
Severus hesitated before slowly nodding. "I imagine so. You might need to take polyjuice again."
Personally, Harry thought that his father was being a tad paranoid. After all, he had been to Hogsmeade plenty of times before when Voldemort and all of his Death Eaters had been on the loose, and nothing had ever happened. But he decided not to argue about it now. After all, the next Hogsmeade weekend was still a couple of weeks away and anything could happen before then. With any luck, Dolohov and Greyback might even be in custody again.
So he only nodded and went to collect his trunk.
"Hedwig's sound asleep so I'll come back for her later," Harry told his father as he returned to the parlour.
Severus was already seated on the sofa, spreading stacks of parchment about him. He nodded absently-mindedly at Harry and continued studying notes and lesson plans.
Harry considered Flooing up to the Tower, but almost immediately he decided he would rather walk through the castle and see Hogwarts properly.
The wide dungeon corridor was always dark, despite the torches lit at regular intervals along the walls. The flames cast tall flickering shadows and his footsteps seemed to echo loudly. There was not another soul in sight and Harry had to wonder where everyone was.
Then again, it was unlikely for anyone besides the Slytherins to be down here today, and it was still relatively early. Like most of the other students, many of the Slytherins wouldn't return to school until afternoon and those few who had come early were probably in their dormitory.
Harry paused outside the door to their common room. He wanted to see if Draco had come yet, but of course he didn't know the Slytherin password and the portrait guarding their door was empty. He supposed its occupant must be off visiting another frame. Well, he would try again later. Harry went on his way.
He climbed the stairs leading to the entrance hall and then wandered up more stairs and along various corridors on his way to Gryffindor Tower. The main part of the castle was well-lit and Harry saw Professors Sprout and Flitwick and a few students he knew, Hannah Abbott, Ernie Macmillan, and Anthony Goldstein among them. Everyone stopped to say hello and to welcome him back to Hogwarts. They asked each other about their holidays and Harry joyfully told everyone the news about him being freed from the slavery spell.
On the fourth floor he encountered Sir Cadogan as the little knight chased a dragon from one portrait to another, scattering the fruit in a still-life and upsetting a group of witches at a tea party in another.
"Hail ye, brave lad! Welcome back to our fair domain!" Sir Cadogan paused to salute Harry before urging his fat little pony onto the next frame where two irate wizards playing cards shouted obscenities at him for disturbing their game.
"Thanks, Sir Cadogan," Harry called after him with a grin.
He was still grinning when he arrived at the entrance to the Tower. He loved Prince Hall and it was truly his home now, but it was good to be back at Hogwarts too. He had missed it more than he had known, he realized now.
"Password?" The Fat Lady enquired with regal dignity.
"Umm." Harry realized too late that he had no idea what it was. McGonagall always told them the new password right before the Christmas holidays, but of course he hadn't been at school then and he had forgotten to ask Ron and Hermione. He could always go back down to the dungeons and ask Severus…all the professors knew the passwords. For that matter, once he was back in their quarters downstairs he could just Floo directly to the Gryffindor common room. But he really didn't want to have to walk all the way back down to the dungeons.
He was saved by Lavendar Brown.
"Hi, Harry," she called and he turned to see her approaching from the opposite direction, wearing a frilly blouse and a skirt that was just barely long enough to meet dress code requirements. Her long curly hair was held back with a flowered headband.
"Hi, Lavendar. How were your holidays?" Harry asked.
"Oh, all right, I suppose." She gave him a bright smile and sidled close. "I'm glad to be back at school though. And I'm so happy you're here again."
"Thanks." Harry had to wonder why Lavendar was standing so close. Would it be terribly rude to step away? She was all right, but he didn't want her right up in his face like that. And why was she blinking her eye so determinedly? Did she have a speck of dust in it?
"Um, hey, Lavendar, could you tell me the new password? I'm kind of stuck."
She giggled. "Oh, I don't know. It's rather fun to be stuck out here together, don't you think?"
Harry stared at her blankly, but before he had to think of a response, she just giggled again and said, "It's 'Grodzisk Goblins'. Whatever that means."
"They're a Polish quidditch team," Harry told her, thinking with some amusement that it was just like McGonagall to pick a team for the password. She did like her Quidditch.
"Oh, Harry, you're so smart," Lavendar simpered.
Fortunately the Fat Lady's portrait swung open just then and Harry quickly stepped through. Normally he would have offered to let Lavendar go first, but right now he was just feeling more and more that he wanted to get away from her.
"Thanks, Lavendar," he called over his shoulder as he hurried through the common room and upstairs to the boys' dorms. If she hadn't been acting so oddly, he might have lingered in the common room to chat with the Creevy brothers who were lounging in chairs by the fireplace, but he could come back down in a little while, once he was sure that Lavendar wasn't around anymore.
Inside the sixth-year boys' room, Harry stopped and looked around appreciatively. It looked exactly as it always had. Five beds covered in scarlet and gold, a big fireplace, a couple of desks, and a high leaded window. It was uncharacteristically neat at the moment, but Harry knew that would change as soon as the other boys returned.
He placed his trunk at the foot of his bed and then went to flop down on it, peering up at the canopy above, as he had done a thousand times in the past. He wasn't sure how long he lay there as memories, both good and bad, flickered through his mind, from his first night at Hogwarts as a nervous and eager eleven year old who had just been thrilled to escape from the Dursleys, to the last night he had spent here, at the end of fifth year when he had silently grieved for Sirius and had hoped to die himself.
So much had happened since then as well, Harry reflected. And though he still missed Sirius terribly, he was very, very glad that he was alive. His most cherished dreams had come true, and as his father had said long ago, there were a lot of wonderful things to experience and enjoy. Harry was looking forward to it.
After a while he got up and went to enlarge his trunk and possessions back to their normal size. He might as well unpack before everyone returned.
"Wish someone would hurry up and come on, though," he muttered to himself. "It's too quiet around here."
As if on cue, the door opened and Neville Longbottom stepped in.
***Thank you all again for all your encouraging reviews! I hope you will continue to enjoy the story.