Chapter 02 Breathe
Disclaimer: Some of the lines of dialogue are taken directly from the book. This is meant for authenticity of the timeline, not intended copyright. Seriously, I'm not trying to pretend to be J.K. Rowling.
Thanks to Hahukum Konn for beta-ing the fic for me, and JK Mafia for holding my hand through my incessant writing insecurities.
And suddenly, Harry woke up, small and scrawny and wearing glasses again for the first time in years, clutching a broom servicing kit, in his tatty bed and raggy nightclothes in the second bedroom of Number 4, Privet Drive.
Sitting up from where he was laying on the bed, drenched in sweat.
Like his nightmares. Was it all a nightmare? Well, it definitely was a nightmare…a decade and a half long nightmare. A lifelong nightmare.
He looked at the clock. Half past one AM.
He'd just turned 13.
Gasping, Harry looked down at himself again. He was holding the broom servicing kit from Hermione, with the Sneakoscope and note from Ron and the newspaper clipping of all of them from Egypt with Mr. Weasley's winning money…
He took several deep breaths, getting a rather interesting looking from Hedwig (she was alive!), and Errol, in Hedwig's cage, and oh, god, he was really back, and Ron and Hermione and Ginny were all alive and-
Harry paced himself through the full motions of the damn meditative breathing he'd learned in the process of mastering Occlumency as best as he could. Annoying at times, helpful right now.
He'd been mentally and emotionally preparing himself for this for the whole half-year before coming here, when the Department of Mysteries workers first started working on this job.
Some help that was.
Bloody hell, I'm back!
Then he looked down at the newspaper clipping with all the Weasleys, alive and well, waving at him. So overjoyed at the sight of all of them and the knowledge of them alive, he barely noticed or cared about Peter Pettigrew being right on Ron's shoulder.
Feeling the tears welling up in his eyes, he blinked harshly, and shoved himself out of bed.
He immediately swayed, looking down at his scrawny body, blinking as he remembered. Harry was used to the well trained, very fit body of a man he held in the future – a warrior's body, as Ginny had loved calling it.
Now, he was a gawky teenager with no muscles, no real 'filling', as a majority of the women he knew loved to put it, and he was still so skinny, some of his bones showed through, and his knobby knees were prominent. He was even back to wearing glasses again; he'd forgotten what it was like to wear glasses.
He was loving every minute of it.
Despite the fact he fell right back on the bed, Harry was grinning like a madman as he slowly and carefully flexed his arms, then his torso (god, he was weak, but it was him!), and finally stood up again.
This time, he stayed steady. Slowly, taking careful steps, he paced up and down the length of the bed, until he was steady as he could be, and then he carefully turned, and looked in the mirror, and froze.
Memories of simply being thirteen flooded Harry, and suddenly, he felt disoriented, as already, memories of right now from last time clashed with what was happening right now, and he was momentarily glad his room here was so small, as it meant he was only one step away from the bed when he needed to collapse again.
The kit, clipping, and card all scattered as Harry fell on top of it all, feeling like he'd just run ten kilometers at top speed, drowning in his own air.
His thoughts were racing and were as scattered as his birthday gifts now, feeling suddenly like his brains were being ripped apart right down the middle-
Except, he wasn't sure if it was painful or not, because damn it, it was all so confusing, because for some reason, along with being elated and overjoyed, he was terrified of the future, and at this intrusion, but, what intrusion? And-
He calmed himself down again, carefully. Harry prided himself on his extraordinary self-control, and this was not helping.
He had work to do. He couldn't lose control.
Lives were at stake. Hundreds, thousands…well, no, just a bit over a thousand. A significant fraction of the British wizarding world, to say the least.
All this trouble would go to waste, should he lose control.
So what the hell was wrong with him?
Souls. The one from the future and the one from the past were melting. Not fighting, per se. Just…melding together, and there was bound to be some chaos, despite the fact his future half fully understood the past half, and the past half could see and get all the future memories…
But bloody hell, this was just so weird…
That was more probably the teenager in him speaking.
He giggled, madly, at the thought, until he was laughing at the sheer weirdness of it all, the laughing, heaving.
God, this was so weird. Earlier in the day before Harry had gone down to Doom Zone to do this, he'd had a pushing-off 'party' with Malfoy, Percy, Neville, and Luna, some members of the staff, and a few friends Harry wasn't supposed to have – the only ones who knew what he was doing. That was only hours ago for Harry, felt like only a few hours ago. But he now also knew that time frame was almost two decades away. Oh, god, those people, he would never see them again-
Stop that, he mentally commanded himself, laughing-sobs trailing off, into heavy, heavy breathing, as he lay back against the far-too-thin pillows, delving into his controlled breathing again, fighting the urge for an emotional disconnect, as was his usual response to emotional trials.
They're all alive, he mentally said. Second chances abound.
"I'm back," he said again, out loud in his relatively-high pitched voice to reassure himself.
And it worked. Harry normally wasn't one to be easily swayed, but in this case, he was.
He took a deep breath, and looked back at all the supplies on his bed, and made a mental note of where everything was, more out of habit than anything else. A leftover instinct from fighting in the war.
A war that now had never happened. And if everything went right, never would happen.
He almost grinned at the package he hadn't opened when his future soul had zoomed in, sitting a little ways away on the desk by the windowsill.
Rather than getting up, he tried wandless magic, trying to gauge where his skill level in it was. Wandless magic was difficult, but not impossible. However, he knew it would be harder, simply because magically speaking, he was less powerful at thirteen than at thirty.
The book did come, but slamming into his stomach though, rather than his hands.
Well, at least it came – but then he winced, realizing the book had hit some leftover bruises. He didn't have the clearest of memories of this summer, but he was pretty sure his uncle got rather tipsy, and a little more violent (than usual, anyway), and Harry was the one who'd suffered the backlash, just a bit before his birthday.
And even more bizarre, he grinned at that memory. Pain always brought clarity of mind for Harry, and the slight throb from the bruises only seemed to reinforce that was really, truly back, and this wasn't some mad, mad dream.
Grinning giddily, he plucked the packaging away, and before Hagrid's Monster Book of Monsters had the opportunity to snap at Harry and flee, he was already stroking the spine.
The book calmed down immediately, and Harry, setting the book on his lap and still stroking it, summoned the jar of ink over and a quill, opening it and filling the quill, before drawing multiple runes on the spine, and even inside the covers, focusing his magic to embed calm into them.
Now, even after he stopped stroking the book, the damn thing didn't snap at him.
Smiling, he slipped off the bed, gathering all the supplies, and stuffed them under the floorboard with everything else.
Picking up the Hogwarts letter, and the Hogsmade form, he paused, thinking ahead as he'd trained himself to do now. He'd come up with a better way to get his Uncle to sign this thing. With that in mind, he shoved the papers under the floorboard with everything else, and shut it, hiding them effectively enough to collapse back on the bed without worrying that Aunt Petunia might see something.
Taking a deep breath, he was suddenly grateful that he appeared here first. Sure, popping up mid-second year would've been nice, along with being able to save Ginny from Tom Riddle and that wretched diary. But, if it was later, here was best.
The Dursleys were neutral for Harry – he didn't love them or hate them, but he simply didn't care. Well, no, in the future he was in decent contact with Dudley – enough for Harry to know his second niece would be entering Hogwarts in a few years. But Vernon and Petunia…
Suffice it to say, it was good practice to be here first, get him used to things. He may not have needed it – his mastered Occlumency, coupled with his life-long emotional blockade, left Harry with an almost impossibly high amount of emotional control – but being here first would certainly work towards making things easier.
Swinging his legs up, Harry pondered his sudden predicament of energy. He wasn't apt to sleep, at this point, too excited at the thought that everyone who died was now alive. But, he was physically exhausted, from the soul meld and the time travel.
It wasn't long spent mulling in his sleeping position on the bed before the exhaustion won out. If he was truly going to do this, he'd need some sleep, anyway.
Curling his knees up to his chest, not even bothering to slip under the covers, Harry fell asleep.
He was still 13.
And for the first time in years, Harry had pleasant, sweet dreams.
Breakfast smelt wonderful, even if he was the one cooking it.
All morning, Harry had been jumpy around the Dursleys, but they ignored it, thank God.
It was the shock of seeing them again that was disorientating. Dudley as a boy again (and weighing probably twice as much now than he did in the future), and seeing Vernon and Petunia alive…especially after having last seen them at their funeral.
Bizarre. Everything was bizarre, and he doubted it would get better.
Harry knew (hopefully, depending on how good his memory was) that within a few moments of him sitting down at the table, Uncle Vernon would announce his need to leave to pick up Aunt Marge. So instead, Harry handed him his plate of toast just as he entered, and was still standing there, holding the Hogsmade form, as his Uncle sat down.
Interaction was mentally taxing. Hm – despite all his emotional control, it might still be a lot harder than he thought.
"Yes?" he grunted.
"Can you sign this form?" Harry asked, even holding out a Muggle pen. "It's just so I can go to a little village just off the school. If I get hurt there or something, this form makes sure no one's liable."
Thankfully, Vernon caught Harry's slightly pointed look and bought into the slight lie, and nodded, signing it quickly, Harry having already filled out everything else.
Fighting the urge to grin maniacally, he pocketed the form and pen, and went back to breakfast, Vernon leaving for Aunt Marge soon enough.
When he was finally able to escape to his own room, he quietly shut the door, then leaned against it.
No emotional problems, really. But just the sheer shock of seeing dead people alive again was almost overwhelming. Hopefully, that would fade in time for him to see his friends.
To which extent he mentally reminded himself that they were, in fact, alive again, his friends and family. He was trying to get rid of as much shock as he could to lessen the blow when he finally saw them, which he would – hopefully soon.
Tucking the form safely into his trunk again, Harry headed back out to help Petunia with cleaning up the house before the bitch and her damn dog showed up. He hated that dog. Already, he had to anticipate what was going to happen, making sure to not blow up the wine glass.
Only her, when the time came.
"You there! Boy! Get my coat."
Another strange thing – being called a boy again. Refreshing, even if it was meant to jab. He'd gotten far too used to the prestige that came with his high positions in multiple facets of the government, the respect of being Headmaster of Hogwarts, and the social status of being the Chosen One. The only time he was addressed as 'boy' was as Boy-Who-Lived, which he sadly still was in the future.
Shock measures were certainly a nice way to get used to things.
"Yes, Aunt Marge," Harry said, blankly. Being the Dursley's little house-self again wasn't as refreshing. But, it helped.
This time, however, after putting Marge's things away, he wasn't going to let himself be taken advantage of by that dog. While Harry had always been pretty good with animals, the dog was always the exception. But he'd fine tuned it over the years, and he'd be damned if he let the vicious mutt bit him again. It took some mental concentration on calming auras in his mind, but it worked.
That, and the look on everyone's faces when Harry was found petting the calmed dog instead of running from it, was well worth it.
Focusing on his Occlumency shields, trying mentally to develop it as he always did, Harry kept himself low profile with this bitch around.
And not meaning the dog. Though, the dog was male if memory served correctly.
His capability to handle the new onslaught of everyone being around, even with months of conditioning, did change things slightly, but the over all plan was the same. He'd seen the news report on the telly of Sirius's escape from 'a high security prison', and needed to prepare for that.
Things managed to rush past Harry in a blur of events, suddenly realizing he'd gotten through that dinner with Marge without blowing up her wine glass.
This time, instead of leaving the table with the Dursleys looking at him, it was with Marge thanking Petunia for the lovely dinner, and asking her where she learned to cook so well.
His cooking again. Shit, he still liked cooking, and apparently it leaked into the meal for damn Aunt Marge. He hadn't meant for that, but he'd started already getting lost in fond memories while he'd cooked.
It was with that in mind that Harry changed his plan slightly as he went to bed that night after making a few 'arrangements'. Assuming she went on her rant again, Harry might just bloat her up anyway and pin it on accidental magic. He knew the spell to do it – assuming that his body's accidental magic didn't get to it first.
For a moment, he was glad for the nature of temporal mechanics. The time stream did have its own consciousness – not on a level that any sentient being could possibly grasp, and certainly the consciousness actually wasn't sentient in and of itself.
But one thing that consciousness didn't like was being messed with. If Harry got his numbers right (and if the Unspeakables had been right in confirming it), then the nature of the time stream, when one went back in time, was to try and stick to original events as much as possible.
This played both to Harry's advantage and disadvantage, in the overall scheme of things.
In the scenario of fucking with Marge, it played very much to his advantage.
With a smile, he went to sleep, reveling in the fact he hadn't had one nightmare since he got here. All pleasant dreams.
Mentally preparing himself, Harry set the dishes for dinner that night.
The night before, Harry had packed just about everything short of his wand into the trunk, after picking the lock to the cupboard under the stairs. He'd be able to leave in a flash.
Swallowing down the nervousness, he sincerely wished he could've at least snuck some of the wine while setting the table. He'd wanted to, and had been perfectly able to. However, as much as a little liquid courage would be helpful right about now, he needed absolute clarity of mind to pull this off.
He mentally groaned at the realization it might be a while before he could have a drink.
"Can I tempt you, Marge?" Uncle Vernon offered, brandishing the brandy.
God, Harry wanted to have some. Looking aside slightly, he saw Marge's face was already red. Good.
"Just a small one then," she chuckled. "A bit more than that…and a bit more…that's the ticket."
Harry remembered vaguely wanting to disappear into the bedroom, last time this happened. Not this time, though. As he watched her guzzle the drink, he started already feeling his palms sweat again.
"Aah," she said. Lip smacking – check. Practically slamming the glass down with inebriated force – check. "Excellent nosh, Petunia. It's normally just a fry-up for me of an evening, with twelve dogs to look after…" Burp. Ugh, he could smell it from all the way over here. And then…ah, patting her stomach. "Pardon me. But I do like to see a healthy-sized boy." Wink at Dudley. Please, keep going. "You'll be a proper sized man, Dudders, like your father. Yes, I'll have a spot more brandy, Vernon…"
She poured, and turned her eyes to Harry.
He sorely wanted to go into his emotional disconnect, right now. Using Occlumency to dramatically dampen the severity of his emotions…but no. If he wanted to stand a chance of accidental magic working, his emotions needed to be in full force.
Good old fashioned self-control, then.
"Now, this one here-" she said, indicating Harry.
He fought a smile. Here it comes-
"This one's got a mean, runty look about him. You get that with dogs. I had Colonel Fubster drown one, last year. Ratty little thing, it was. Weak. Underbred."
Poor dog. Harry fought another urge to wince – he liked animals, even the ones he hated in the original timeline. Bizarrely enough, working with them in the future has led to him having a way with them. Marge still didn't get how or why Harry was actually getting along with her dog.
"It all comes down to blood, as I was saying the other say. Bad blood will out. Now, I'm saying nothing against your family, Petunia, but your sister was a bed egg. They turn up in the best of families. Then she ran off with a wastrel and here's the result, right in front of us."
I hope you rot in hell, bitch, Harry thought viciously at her, so sorely tempted to project that thought into her head. But he restrained, focused on channeling magic to hopefully explode in the right direction. Staring at his plate, he fought the strong urge to wrap his hands around her throat to get her to shut up, since he knew what she was going to say next.
And he did know how to kill with his bare hands. Muggle combat had come quite in handy on several occasions in the future.
He vaguely remembered the sleek power of his Animagus form, and felt better already at the thought of ripping her to shreds. Probably not exactly conducive to a healthy mental state, but that went out the window ages ago, anyway.
"This Potter," Marge said, splashing brandy on the tablecloth. He almost felt sorry for Petunia. Almost. "You never told me what he did?"
Already looking slightly smug, Vernon said, "He…didn't work. Unemployed."
That's what you think. Quite the opposite, Uncle Vernon. Quite the opposite.
"As I expected!" Marge practically shouted. Harry tensed. This was when he would have to send things downhill, himself. "A no-account, good-for-nothing, lazy scrounger who-"
"He was not!"
God, that felt good. It was petty and childish, but Damnit, he was thirteen again. He had a right to be. Hell, he was supposed to be.
"MORE BRANDY!" Vernon yelled, before turning on Harry. "You, boy, go to bed, go on-"
"No, Vernon," Marge said, with a nice hiccup. "Go on, boy, go on. Proud of your parents, are you? They do and get themselves killed in a car crash, drunk I expect-"
"They didn't die in a car crash!"
And the magic released.
"They died in a car crash, you nasty little liar-"
And then she stopped.
She was swelling in anger.
Then in magic.
His face morphing into appropriate shock, he felt a rather sick sense of satisfaction as she bloated beyond reason. Eyes bulging out of her head, buttons popping off, fingers stiff with bloating-
And then she began floating up off the chair.
Now she was a giant balloon, vaguely making Harry think of that annual parade in New York that Hermione had made him attend in the future, as she rolled around the ceiling.
Crying out, Vernon seized one of her legs and tried to pull her down, Ripper the damn dog biting down on Vernon's leg to try and keep him down when he was still lifted off, anyway.
Rushing away from the dining room, he ran for the cupboard under the stairs, the thing already bursting open from magic as he approached it.
Magic pouring from his fingers to the trunk, it helped him lift it and drag it out of the cupboard and land by the front door, as he rushed upstairs, this time not tripping, and grabbing his wand from under the pillow, and yanking on a sweatshirt as he left the room.
He ran down and popped out the wheels from under the trunk just in time to see Vernon brambling up to him.
"COME BACK IN HERE AND PUT HER RIGHT!"
Remembering last time explicitly (probably largely to do with actually being here again), he pointed his wand at Vernon.
The panic on his face…he almost wished Colin Creevy were here to take a picture.
"No bloody way," Harry growled. "She deserved it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've had enough of all of you."
And the front door, already unlocked, burst open, and Harry stepped out into the chilly night.
He'd forgotten how dark Magnolia Crescent could be, this time of night, even with the streetlights.
Vaguely recalling the spot from last time, Harry collapsed, letting the anger surge through him, before shutting his eyes and mentally envisioning calming rune after calming rune, almost desperately trying to calm himself down.
He smiled slightly as he remembered how panicked he'd been, last time, about being arrested, as he threw out his wand arm, calling to the Knight Bus, already initiating an emotional disconnect, just in case.
This time, he knew he'd be all right. The Ministry was secretly guarding him, after all, what with Sirius on the loose-
The prickling on his neck couldn't have had better timing as he whipped around to see a large, black down, watching him from the shadows.
He grinned. Oh, dear god, he so wanted to run up to Sirius and hug him and yell his name-
But no. He had a part to play. Harry was intensely grateful for his emotional disconnect – he doubted he would've been able to resist, otherwise.
Padfoot coming into full view, Harry hoped his smile did, too. "Hey, mutt…what're you doing out here? You run away from someone?"
Last time, Harry had driven the dog away in a panic before the Knight Bus came. This time, the dog carefully approached.
Pulling the dog-loving-boy act, Harry said, "It's all right, doggy…I won't hurt you."
The dog cocked its head. Harry knew that at this point, Sirius was playing a part as much as he was.
He wondered if Sirius was fighting the same temptation to maul him in elation.
"Do you know your way home? Stupid question, I doubt you're magical…"
The dog snorted, slightly. It might sound like a sneeze to anyone else, but Harry paused, as if in deliberation. "Okay, maybe you are. Either way, let's look for a collar on you, see if someone's missing you…"
Just as Harry took a step closer, fighting a grin at knowing Sirius's indignation at the suggestion of a collar, Harry's head snapped up as the bus's bright light approached.
Act confused, he reminded himself, his veins flooded with remorse at having to lose Sirius again so soon.
"What the fuck…?" Harry said.
Padfoot ran off, and Harry called after him, before acting as if he gave up, and turned just in time to have the door to the triple-decker bus stop right in front of him.
Then Stan Shunpike stepped out of the door.
Harry took a deep breath, reminding himself that Stan wasn't an Imperiused Death Eater, not yet, and hopefully never. But it was hard to fight back the mental image of Stan killing-
Stop thinking about it!
"Welcome to the Knight Bus," Shunpike said, as Harry firmly planted a dazed and confused look on his face. "Emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step aboard, and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and I will be your conductor this evening."
Harry smiled, pretending to be confused, still, and donning a slowly-rising mask of understanding.
"Yep," Stan said proudly, this time still not seeing Harry's scar. "Anywhere you like, long's it's on land. Can't do nuffink underwater."
"What's the fare to London? The Leaky Cauldron?" Harry asked, already levitating his trunk with his wand. He doubted the Ministry would care for a little levitation after blowing up his aunt like that.
"Eleven sickles. But for firteen, you get 'ot chocolate, and for fifteen, you get an 'ot water bottle an' a a toofbrush in the color of your choice."
Harry nodded and reached into his pocket, his bag of money already in there, as he stepped onto the bus, momentarily just setting his trunk down on his floor. He pulled out eleven sickles, and handed it to Shunpike. "Thanks," Harry said.
Stan shoved Harry's trunk under the bed directly behind the driver, saying, "You 'ave this one."
Standing upright, as the elderly driver turned around, Stan said, "This is our Ernie Prang. And Ernie, this is…er, ne'er mentioned the name, did ye, kid?"
"Oh…" Harry held out his hand to Stan. "The name's Harry. Harry Potter."
Instantly, both their eyes shot up to his forehead, and Harry sighed, tilting his head slightly so the hair fell, and the scar was revealed.
"Bloody hell," Stan said. "Harry-bloomin'-Potter, on our own bus."
"It's an honor," Ernie said, shaking Harry's hand next, before turning back in his seat.
Some fucking honor.
Harry sitting on the bed and wrapping his hand around the bedpost, he smiled slightly as Shunpike said, "Take 'er away, Ern!"
This time, Harry didn't even feel nauseous from the ride. He had a much better equilibrium, now, from some rather more…hectic, or maybe chaotic would be the word…methods of transportation in the future. Shadow-walking certainly took some getting used to.
Harry read the newspaper article about Sirius, and felt his blood boil again, and remembered with a soft smile his plans to free Sirius as fast as possible. He'd clear the man's name and have Peter in prison by the end of the year.
Failure really wasn't an option.
Again riding on numbers, that wouldn't have too much of an impact on the Triwizard Tournament, which is all Harry would need the 'close to the timeline' to stretch out for.
Hell, if everything went right, everything would be set right in just two years. The Horcruxes would be gone, and Voldemort would be dead.
As soon as Harry hopped off the bus, which left promptly after, Harry was fighting a cringe as, "There you are, Harry!" rang out.
Cornelius Fudge – Head Bastard, himself. And sadly, still Minister for Magic. Oh, well – hopefully, Harry could somehow get Percy into the position, anyway, when the time came.
Of course, Harry still had a part to play.
Eye widening, he hopped his stammering sounded genuine as he said, "M-Minister?!"
"Yes, yes, Harry – come along."
And he clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder, who flinched away. He'd come to flinch at sudden contact from life with the Dursleys, lost the habit, and then got it back again from the war.
Strange how these things come and go.
Slightly surprised, the Minister pulled his hand back and simply levitated Harry's trunk into the pub.
The familiar, stooped figure with a lantern appearing, and a welcoming sight of the toothless landlord, Harry said, "Hello, Tom."
"Harry!" he said in greeting, before turning to the Minister. "You've got him!" Harry panicked appropriately, and the Minister said, "Oh, calm down, Harry."
"Would you like anything to drink?"
Pretending to be startled, Harry nodded 'shakily' and said, "Have any Butterbeer?"
Marching them both along, he led them both into the same exact parlor as last time, before taking Harry's trunk with him, and leaving those two alone.
"Sit down, Harry," Fudge said, and Harry took the seat by the fire. Tom reappeared, setting on the small table a tray with crumpets, tea, and two Butterbeers, before vanishing again.
"Well, Harry," Fudge said, as he handed Harry one of the Butterbeers, then set himself to his tea. "You've has us all in a right flap, I don't mind telling you. Running away from your aunt and uncle's house like that!"
"Er, sir?" Harry asked, taking a sip that looked nervous. Hopefully. "What's going on? I mean…I don't get why the Minister for Magic would be greeting me after…I left my…the Dursleys. Or…oh, god, is this about my uncle's sister? Minister, I swear, I didn't mean-"
"It's all right, Harry," Fudge said. "Two members from the Accidental Magic Reversal Department were dispatched two hours ago to deal with Miss Marjorie Dursley. She has been deflated, and her memory modified."
Fudge smiled in an understanding smile. Man was a good actor, Harry had to give him that. Then again, he was a politician. "Your aunt and uncle? They are furious, I won't lie to you. But, they will take you back next summer, don't worry."
"I don't want to go back," Harry said, taking another sip of Butterbeer. Bloody hell, he wished he could get something with some actual kick to it.
"It's inevitable, I'm afraid," Fudge said, finally taking the seat across from Harry. "Besides, they're your family. I'm sure deep down, you're fond of them and-"
"No, not really," Harry said. "I don't really care for them, and the feeling's mutual."
Fudge blinked, not knowing how to respond, before deciding, apparently, to just plunge on ahead.
"So," Fudge said. "You have two weeks left until vacation – I suggest you should stay here. I'm sure there's a room free, here-"
"Wait a tick," Harry said, letting elation, relief, and hope seep into his voice. "I'm not being expelled? Or arrested?"
"No!" Fudge said, smiling.
"Last year, I got a warning because a house-elf did magic. And I got blamed for it."
"Circumstances change, Harry," Fudge said.
"And if I'm not being punished," Harry said, as if working through a difficult problem. "Why…why are you here? I mean, since when does the Minister get involved in underage magic?"
Fudge took a deep breath and said, admittedly diplomatically, "Because you are the Boy Who Lived. There are…many unscrupulous people…out there, who would like to cause you great harm, more so than any other child your age."
Harry paused for a few seconds, hopefully an appropriate one.
"Like Sirius Black?" he asked. "I heard he was a big Voldemort supporter."
As expected, Fudge flinched, almost choking on his crumpet, but then swallowing it down.
Sighing resignedly, Fudge said, "Yes. The risk of harm to you does, unfortunately, increase with men like Black out there."
"Is he trying to finish Voldemort's job, then?"
"Please, Harry, don't say the name. And we don't know for sure what he's planning. But he's the first person in history-"
-That you'll admit to-
"-to break out of Azkaban. He's unpredictable."
Harry sighed, and nodded. "There's always someone who wants to kill me."
Fudge wisely chose to ignore that.
"Well, I shall be right back, Harry. I'll go see if there's a room free…"
Fudge left, and Harry stared into the fire.
Marge blown-up – check.
Seeing Sirius – check.
Meeting Fudge here – check.
"Harry, room eleven is free."
Room here – check.
Everything was in motion – he was really here and really doing this.
"…so, with that charm to defend against burnings, witches also developed a complex system for whenever a Muggle was accused of being a witch," Fortescue explained, as Harry took another bite of sundae. "That way, they could cast the charm, and a variation of the Confundus Charm to get the Muggle screaming, and an illusion charm or two to making them look like they were burning to a crisp. They would shuttle the Muggle to safety, afterwards, to somewhere far away from their home, where no one would recognize them."
Harry grinned, adding that to his notes. "Thank you, Mr. Fortescue. And please, sir, let me pay for this-"
"Not at all!" Fortescue said, as he got up from where he'd been helping Harry with his History of Magic essay on witch burnings. "You're the Boy Who Lived!"
Harry cringed and said, "Being famous sucks."
At this, Fortescue's broad smile softened. "I understand."
But he still didn't let Harry pay for the sundae.
Harry sighed and finished up his last bit of ice cream and sundae, and headed to the bookstore where he bought his school books earlier in the previous week.
As he entered, the manager, Mr. Bott smiled and waved at Harry happily, immediately rushing over to help. Harry had told him the secret of stroking the spines of The Monster Book of Monsters to calm them down, and then said using two thinner strings, rather than one belt, was far more effective in containing them.
Grateful, the man had given Harry's entire book supply for free. And now, whenever Harry came in to search for a random book that would suit his fancy, he got them all half off.
"Anything in particular you're looking for, Mr. Potter?" Mr. Blott asked.
Harry shook his head. "Thank you, but no. Just browsing."
"In that case, I have something you might like. You mentioned having an interest in how magic actually works, and I have a few books on magical physics…"
Harry smiled and walked over, finally selecting a book he hadn't read or even heard of, yet, paying for it, and heading further down Diagon Alley, sitting under in an umbrella-covered table outside a small café, only vaguely reading the new book.
Vaguely, because inside, he was panicking. Tomorrow, he would be seeing the Weasley family, again, and Hermione. He knew he would have to disconnect his emotions the moment he saw them, because he knew he wouldn't be able to help himself. Years since he saw them, last seeing them dead…
He would admit it: he was terrified.
But he would get through this. He always did.
Too much was at stake for him to fail.
It was so weird to see people he knew. Dean and Seamus – his first real friends he'd met, who died in the past. He'd let himself become so immersed in the past, that he hadn't even needed an emotional disconnect to deal with those two. He'd just laughed and chatted and speculated how fun riding a Firebolt would be.
And Neville. He was still alive in the future, and had been talking to Harry hours before he left the future. But it was a sharp, and disorienting, contrast between Neville Longbottom, the round-faced, nervous, forgetful third year, and Neville Longbottom, the well-toned, confident, and sharp Head of the Aurors.
Disorientation, however, was cancelled by the sheer hilarity of seeing Neville being told off by his grandmother. She was still alive and well in the future – and still the only one left who could intimidate Neville. It was like watching the Head of Aurors being scolded by an old woman all over again.
Battling down a strong urge to run in the other direction as he headed out of the Leaky Cauldron, Harry headed towards where the Firebolt was being shown. Any minute, now, in front of the ice cream parlor-
Oh, god, Ron.
Already, he was dampening his emotions as he turned around-
-and that didn't feel like it did much good at all. The problem was he couldn't cut his emotions off completely, and if his natural emotions were strong enough, sometimes they overrode the dampening.
Which just led him to laugh when Hermione launched herself at him and wrapped her arms around him in her typical, bone-crushing hug.
For a moment, he let his senses be engulfed by the papery smell of her hair in his face again and the feel of her arms around him and the sight of her simply being alive-
"Harry, I've missed you!"
Wrapped his arms around her – damn, a teenager again, that awkward, geeky teenager again – he hugged her back, hard, and said, "I've missed you, too."
So much more than you can imagine.
She stepped back, a grin on her face as Ron, rolling his eyes at her exuberance, gave Harry a very brief, one-armed hug and said, "Finally."
Harry laughed as he sat down, those two having already ordered some ice cream, and Fortescue already bringing Harry his usual Butterscotch-Dribbled Vanilla, coated with marshmallows and an abundance of cherries on top.
At least with three of them, he finally let Harry pay for the ice cream.
"So you were looking for me?" Harry asked, fighting the almost smothering urge to jump up and embrace them both and never let go.
"We went to the Leaky Cauldron," Ron said. "But they said you'd left, and we went to Flourish and Blotts, and Madam Malkin's, and-"
"How do you know where I'm staying?"
"Dad," Ron said."He heard stuff around the Ministry."
Suddenly, he started snorting again as Hermione said, "It isn't funny, Ron. Harry, did you really blow up your aunt?"
Making himself look somewhat sheepish, he said, "I didn't mean to. I just…lost control."
"I'm just amazed you weren't expelled," she said.
"I'm just amazed I didn't get arrested," Harry said.
"Probably 'cause it's you," Ron said, still chuckling. "Famous Harry Potter and all that. I'd hate to see what the Ministry'd do to me if I blew up an aunt. Mind you, they'd have to dig me up first, because Mum would've killed me. Anyway, we're staying at the Leaky Cauldron tonight, too! So you can some to King's Cross with us tomorrow. Hermione's there, as well."
He remembered. And oh, god, seeing them all again.
As Hermione explained about her parents letting her buy her own gift, Harry leaned back in his seat and ate a caramel-sprinkled cherry, letting all this wash over again, hoping it wasn't all a dream.
"…I really want an owl. I mean, Harry's got Hedwig, and you've got Errol-"
"Not really. Errol's a family owl," Ron explained, as he reached into his pocket for-
"All I've got is Scabbers. And I want to get him checked over. I don't think Egypt agreed with him."
Now Harry reestablished his emotional dampeners all over again, this time against the fury at the sight of his parents' traitor and Sirius's framer, snuggled up in the palm of Ron's hand.
"There's a magical creature shop just over there," Harry said, gesturing with his hand in its general direction. "We can go there."
"Come along, everyone!" Mrs. Weasley yelled at the lot. "Through the platform, before you miss your train!"
"But Mum!" One of the twins said. The other one said, "We've got half an hour!" The first one said, "No need to fret."
"You don't need to fret," Percy said. "But I have Head Boy Duties to attend to."
"Right, now, Arthur, you first, Harry and Ginny next, then Ron and Hermione…"
As Mrs. Weasley organized them all into an ordered chaos to get them through Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, Harry smiled rather contentedly around him.
Ginny was being her more-embarrassed-than-last-year self, her crush on him and him saving her life in the Chamber of Secrets snowballing into that effect. The twins were, as usual, making a mess of things, causing as much disruption as they could. Percy was being his pompous old self, and Ron was making sure his rat tonic for Scabbers was packed in his bag.
Last night had been erratic for Harry. He managed to not talk much, and sat himself near Percy for much of the night. Even though Head Boy Percy and Minister Percy were drastically different, at least Percy had been alive when Harry had left.
Seeing everyone as they were, last night, was just bizarre, even compared to what he'd last seen of each of them alive. Fred was human, Bill wasn't a werewolf, Ron wasn't neurologically scarred, Ginny wasn't pregnant…
Christ, it had all been so damn weird. That was the only other word he could think of it.
He'd let himself just drown in being here again, letting himself forget that he was from the future. Great thing about being two souls in one, for all intents and purposes. He'd let himself 'overhear' the argument between the Weasley parents as he went to get Ron's rat tonic (and fought the urge to poison it or something), and had gone to bed thoroughly exhausted, more mentally than anything else.
And now, here they were, about to get on the train-
"Harry?" Mr. Weasley said. "Can I talk to you?"
Harry frowned, but nodded, as Mr. Weasley placed an arm loosely around Harry's shoulders and steered him towards the pillar behind which Harry was fairly sure Arthur had talked to him behind last time.
"Harry," Arthur said…Harry was going to have to get used to calling him Mr. Weasley, again. "Some think I should not be telling you this, but I think you have a right to know."
"Is this about Sirius Black?" Harry asked, already dreading this conversation. At the man's surprised look, Harry said, "I overheard you and Mrs. Weasley last night. He's trying to kill me?"
This actually hurt. "Promise me, Harry, that you won't go looking for him?"
"Why would I do that?! He's trying to kill me!"
"Arthur!" Molly – Mrs. Weasley – called out. "It's about to leave!"
"He's coming!" Mr. Weasley shouted. "Harry, promise me?"
Harry just nodded, and let Arthur shepherd him to the train, and before long, he was leading Ron and Hermione down the train.
He already knew what compartment they had – and again, all the others were full – and had to fight a grin at the sight of Remus sleeping in the compartment.
"Who's he?" Ron asked as they quietly filed in.
"Professor R.J. Lupin," Hermione said, as she started levitating their trunks into the racks.
"How do you know?"
"It's on his trunk, Ronald."
"Probably teaching Defense," Harry said, as he took a seat opposite Remus. With a shrug, he said, "Ron, Hermione, listen – I've got a lot to tell you…"
He reiterated everything he'd 'learned' about how Black was most probably after him and the argument and everything. Like last time, they both worried insanely, but it died down quickly.
This time, when they started speculating about Hogsmeade, Harry was able to join right in, having gotten his permission slip signed, this time. The timing was off, when things started to play out, but it wasn't too far off.
"Cauldron Cake?" Harry offered after the food-cart witch left. Hermione gladly accepted one just as the door opened.
Yet another drastic contrast. Draco of the future was an almost polar opposite of the Malfoy in front of him right now.
"Well look who it is. Potty and the Weasel."
So strange to see Draco as such an immature brat again.
Harry, wanting to be gone of this disconcerting Draco, and the killers of many of his friends standing right behind him, snorted and said, "Didn't know you'd be stupid enough to cause trouble with a teacher, here, Malfoy."
Malfoy glanced at Remus, taking in the Professor R.J. Lupin stamp, and hurried himself, Crabbe, and Goyle along.
Ron smiled as they left. "One good thing about having a teacher in here."
Harry smiled back as he settled back in his seat comfortably. Even though he knew Dementors would be coming soon, and he was going to have to put up his act – though without the fainting this time – he was still delighted at simply being here.
He heard someone screaming his name as the Dementor stood at the doorway to their compartment, but he didn't know who – his mother? His friends? Ginny?
He got the feeling it didn't matter.
This time, with intensive Occlumency – and a few extra tricks up his proverbial sleeve – Harry remained conscious throughout the ordeal.
That didn't make it any less harrowing.
"None of us is hiding Sirius Black under our cloaks," Remus said to the Dementor. "Go."
Of course, the Dementor didn't go – Harry was a walking buffet to it – so Remus muttered the Patronus under his breath, and because Harry knew to look for out of the corner of his eye, he saw the vague outline of a wolf going at it, chasing the hell thing away.
After a moment, the lights came back on, and Hermione, quick to react, instantly noted that Harry, who was shaking in front of his seat, somewhat in shock and frozen, even to Neville and Ginny's proddings, was the worst for wear. He didn't faint, this time, but he still had memories resurfacing that were better left untouched. Dementors still had a huge impact on him, even if he could, now, control his reaction to them.
"I'm fine, Hermione," Harry said. He still had slid right off his seat. He hauled himself up and, when noting Ginny's trembling and quiet tears, absently wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. He had no doubt what she was remembering.
"Here," Remus said, handing them all chocolate. Harry made a point to look at it, rather confused, for a moment when he got his rather large piece, to which Remus said, "It'll help. And don't worry, Harry – it's not poisoned."
Harry wasn't surprised Remus was using his first name. And he could get away with it, too – who didn't know Harry Potter? No one here would suspect that Remus simply knew him from babyhood.
"Thanks, Professor Lupin," Harry said, after taking a bite, relishing in the spreading of warmth.
As Remus turned to head back up the train to make sure everyone was all right, Harry looked out the window, and saw the outline of a castle in the darkness in the distance.
It was unnerving, to be going in as a student, rather than a headmaster. But that didn't change the fact that it was home.
Smiling at the familiar sight of it, Harry leaned back in his seat as the train kept going towards Hogwarts, passing the Dementors. There was, however, only one thing Harry was even willing to keep in his mind at the sight: