Well, after catching the muse, hammering it into submission, and having my way with it, I finally managed this chapter.
August 4th, 1993
Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London, England
"I'll kill him," Sirius growled, staring at the Daily Prophet, where Wormtail was still staring out of the front page under the headline: Pettigrew Still At Large.
"You may, but you're not going rat hunting anytime soon," Remus replied, fixing the longer-haired man with a stern look. "You've got a godson to take care of. James wouldn't want you getting yourself killed chasing after Wormtail."
"You think he could take me?" Sirius said with a rather doglike snarl. Remus rolled his eyes with a little nod.
"Honestly, I think he could handle either of us," he said. "Don't forget what he did to those twelve muggles. He hid being a Death Eater from us; who knows how strong he actually is with magic?"
Sirius let a noise of contempt, tossing the Daily Prophet into his fireplace, which wasn't lit but took the liberty of bursting into flame once the paper hit the logs. Out in the hall, the house was bustling with movement as Harry's army of house elves (and Dobby) packed up his belongings from the France manor, readying for the move over to Dunlap, North Carolina, where the McGildenhurst Central School was located. Hermione had left for her parents' home only a few days prior, packing up her own things before meeting Harry at the airport in two days. They would be travelling the muggle way, as trans-continental portkeys took a lot of paperwork and were quite expensive (Harry could afford it easily, but Sirius was eager to fly in a plane anyway.).
"Look," Remus said, "the point is, the Ministry knows you're innocent. They know who the real bad guy is now. They'll have dementors all over the country looking for Wormtail, and while they do that, Harry will be safely in America with his loving, doting godfather."
As if to underscore this point, said godson poked his head in the room, a huge grin on his face, Dobby on his heels.
"Padfoot," he said, "what did you do with my cloak?"
"Which one?" Sirius asked, quirking an eyebrow with a little smirk.
Harry rolled his eyes. "My black one with the Potter crest on it, since North Carolina is so chilly my invisibility cloak."
Chuckling, Sirius shrugged. "Haven't seen it," he said. "It is invisible after all."
Harry pointed his wand at Sirius. "Don't make me give you another flea dip, mongrel."
Remus burst out laughing while Sirius's eyes narrowed. "We agreed to never speak of that again."
"And you agreed to borrow the cloak only with my permission," Harry countered, stuffing his wand back in his pocket. "C'mooooon, Sirius, if I'm gonna take this McGildenhurst place by storm, Marauder style, I need the cloak."
He stared imploringly at Sirius, and Remus could see his resolve crumbling to pieces.
"Oh, it's in that great ugly brown chest in the attic," he said. "The one that's got the stain that looks like Snape on it."
"Thanks!" Harry said, dashing from the room, leaving the older pair in momentary silence before Remus spoke.
"He's got you wrapped around his pinkie, you know," he said matter-of-factly. Sirius huffed in response.
"Master Harry is excited to go overseas?" Dobby asked, ticking off "Invisibility Cloak" on the list of items Harry wanted to make absolutely sure he had as the pair strolled through the hallways of Sirius's manor, which had transformed over the past few days from a musty old ruin to an immaculate Victorian manor that Harry might even like to visit for the occasional weekend.
"Nervous, but yes, I'm really excited," Harry admitted. "Hermione's been reading up on what it's like over there, and it sounds completely different from Wizarding Britain. In a good way, though."
"Dobby has never been to the United States before," the elf confided. "But as long as Dobby gets to help Master Harry Potter in any way he can, Dobby will be happiest!"
Giving the elf a grin, Harry, mounted another staircase. "I'll just be glad to be in a country where no one knows who I am. Apparently, the whole thing with me and Voldemort isn't nearly as big a deal as over here."
"But…" the elf looked baffled, "everyone should know what a great and wonderful person Master Harry is!"
Harry laughed as he stepped into the room containing the chest that supposedly contained his invisibility cloak. He made it a few steps before stopping and glaring at the chest. It seemed too easy, really, to simply walk up and open the thing. He looked down at Dobby, who was looking unsurely back up at his hesitation.
"Something wrong, Master Harry?"
Pulling out his wand, Harry gave it a few waves, muttering various detections charms taught to him by Harold and Charlus during their weekly lessons. Sure enough, Harry found that the chest was charmed to blast him with a skin-dying powder that would render him an unknown color for at least a few hours.
Harry smirked, whipping his wand and casting a quick dispelling charm that sent the booby trap flickering out of existence. At Dobby's questioning look, he explained, "Sirius thought he could pull an easy prank on me." He went to open the chest, undoing the lock. "Don't think he knows who he's – "
The rest of his comment was cut off as a giant boxing glove came flying out of the chest, catching Harry in stomach and sending him flying onto his back. The massive thing was heavily padded, feeling like nothing more than a giant pillow smacking him to the ground. As Harry watched, it coiled back on a giant spring, like a Jack-in-the-box, angling over his head as he lay on his back. Then, as if to punctuate the whole ordeal, his invisibility cloaked fluttered off of the end of the contraption, landing over him and causing him to vanish.
"I'll get him."
Subject: Re: Peter Pettigrew
Kingsley Shacklebolt had already told me about what happened a few minutes before I got your mail. They're still baffled here; no one has any idea how Pettigrew could have gotten away. The guards say the only thing that seemed off was a little burst of "unpleasant feeling" before he escaped. No one here knows what that could possibly mean, but maybe you might know something. Any input would be appreciated.
On a related note, we've decided to send our children to the school Harry's enrolling in, in the United States. I know you probably don't want to hear that, but Pettigrew's caused our family enough grief already. Ron looked stricken when I told him what happened. If this Pettigrew business ends quickly, we may even bring them right back over, depending on how they take this this McGildenhurst place. Until then, I think it's best to have him far away from England and all of this nastiness.
Hope you're well,
Albus sipped dolefully at his firewhiskey, staring at the computer screen while Fawkes slumbered on his roost, the portraits around him doing the same. By rights, Albus should also have been in bed by this point; tomorrow would hold yet another day of preparations to open the newly made-over Hogwarts, setting to rights some apparently lacking safety practices and general policies.
All for a student who would apparently not be attending the school again.
He chided himself for thinking that way; these changes were for the safety of every student, current and future, not to simply entice Harry back in some Machiavellian scheme. He certainly knew the boy had the potential to play a sizeable role in the future of the wizard world, but his physical and mental well-being was first and foremost, as with any of the headmaster's charges.
Then why did Harry being so far away give him such a nagging worry in the back of his mind?
He knew that Tom wasn't completely dead, as the events of the past two years had only served to emphasize. And now, with Peter Pettigrew on the loose and almost certainly searching for a way to restore his defeated master to some semblance of life, the thought of Harry, who had unwittingly landed himself in an integral role in all of this, overseas….
Perhaps, he allowed himself, some degree of strategy was at play, even if he didn't like to think of himself as such a man anymore. But, more than anything, he didn't want to let Harry down again.
"Ah," he said to his quiet office, his soft voice seeming to ring in the still air. "That explains it."
Harry leaving, deciding to take his schooling elsewhere, was the final nail in the proverbial coffin, his dismissal of Albus as any sort of protector, and fond as he was of the boy, that just wouldn't do. But nor would coercing him back to Hogwarts or, worse still, forcing or manipulating him, work any better.
Perhaps ensuring his safety while overseas, then? A guardian of sorts to watch over Harry and keep tabs on him for Albus. Even as he thought this, a perfect candidate jumped to mind. Grabbing a pen and parchment, he quickly jotted down a short reminder and stuck it to his screen with a tap of his wand, powering down the computer and making for his bed, satisfied with his plan.
How things had changed, yet remained so similar, he mused to himself as he stared at his own face, watery eyes gazing back at him from the wanted poster, which was unmoving due to being posted in a muggle village. Mere weeks ago, it had been Sirius's face glaring at passerby, the posters announcing his escape, his status as man on the run.
Now, the truth was out.
All thanks to Harry Potter.
He hated the boy, loathed everything about him, his near-identical resemblance to his father, Peter's friend and protector growing up.
But his emerald green eyes were the worst, staring at him, full of accusations, reminding him on the beautiful woman whose life was brought to an early end because of him.
He was, essentially, a walking embodiment of Peter's self-loathing, his weakness. A constant reminder of everything he threw away.
And for what? A deadly master who was nothing more than a painful memory for most and an obsessive rallying cause for others. Peter knew for a fact that the Dark Lord had appeared in Hogwarts two years ago, even confronted Harry Potter a second time, but by all accounts, he'd been a shade of his former self, barely able to keep his host body together.
Ducking into an alley, Peter reached into his pocket, drawing out the long, thin wand that belonged to his former master and staring at it, pondering.
He had no friends to go back to, no family that would accept him. The Death Eaters would likely be less than accommodating, no doubt believing that he had sent the Dark Lord to his death. The Dark Lord himself was who-knew-where and in no state to really do much of anything.
Leaving the country seemed a nice alternative. Perhaps setting up a life as a muggle in, say, Australia or perhaps Canada. If Voldemort returned, he would simply go straight to him and hope that he was feeling merciful. He knew a man in Italy that could set up an "off the books" portkey for a hefty sum, but it would be a simple matter to scrounge up that much money on the way. Peter's animal form was well-suited for petty theft.
Glancing quickly around to ensure that no one was watching, Peter, leaned forward as his form shrank, the world growing around him until he was skittering along the alley on his tiny clawed hands, bound for…somewhere.
"Packed already?" Hermione's mum asked, poking her head into the room. "I was just going to ask if I could help."
Hermione looked up from her book ("Magical Education in the United States") and gave her mum a smile as she shook her head. "Ringo and Macca showed up earlier and said that Harry had asked if they could help me pack up. I barely had to lift a finger."
"I hope you thanked them somehow," Mum said, moving into her room and sitting at the foot of her bed, the mattress dipping creakily. "Those elves of his are so sweet."
"I offered them a drink or some food," Hermione said, marking her spot in her book, "but they said it would be 'inappropriate to accept such extravagant rewards'. So I sent a letter home with them telling Harry to make sure they at least got some butterbeer for their trouble."
"You two are so adorable together," her mum remarked, causing her daughter's face to heat up.
"Muuuum," she whined, only serving to amuse the older woman.
"It's true, though," she pressed. "He's absolutely crazy about you. Even your dad likes him, and he swore up and down when you were just a baby that any boy that tried to get near you before you were eighteen would be in for a world of hurt."
Hermione rolled her eyes, realizing that sounded just like her father.
"Now, I think he's just glad you found someone who…well, accepts you," her mum went on. "You're the smartest girl I've ever known, and so many boys would be intimidated by that or feel inadequate or, heaven forbid, try to bring you down because of it. Harry…I think he likes you all the more because of it."
"It's saved his life more than once," Hermione said. Her mum only sighed, long since ranted out about the dangers of Hogwarts.
"What I'm trying to say, sweetie," she said, "is that your father and I are very happy for you. And, no matter what, we're so proud of you, of everything you've accomplished."
Hermione felt a lump beginning to form in her throat as she wrapped her arms around her mum, squeezing her tightly.
"Somehow, it's different this time," she said. "I mean, I was going far away when I went to Hogwarts, but…I'll be across the ocean. In a whole different country. I'm so excited, but…it's kind of scary, too."
"You'll be fine, sweetie," Mum insisted. "Like I've said, you're the smartest girl I know, and I went to medical school."
That got a laugh from her daughter, and the older woman poked her in the stomach. "And remember, you'll have Harry every step of the way. I daresay that boy would go to the ends of the earth for you."
And as much as that comment was intended as an exaggeration, Hermione couldn't help but feel that such a situation was possible in this strange world she'd come to inhabit.
August 5, 1993
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland
Albus rapped sharply on the massive wooden door, the knock disappearing into the misty morning air of the grounds. In the distance, a construction crew was working on building a massive brick and iron wall around the Forbidden Forest. It was barely past eight in the morning, but even Hagrid's propensity for a few tankards of mead before bed wouldn't keep him from rising early.
"Oh, mornin', Professor Dumbledore," the gamekeeper's deep rumbling voice came from behind him, and Albus turned with a smile to see the massive man carrying a rucksack labeled Pumkins.
"Ah, Hagrid. How goes your morning?"
Hagrid smiled beneath his beard. "Jes' plantin' the pumpkins," he held the sack up. "Gotta get 'em in the ground now if they're ter grow nice an' big fer the Halloween feast."
Albus chuckled. "You never disappoint, Hagrid. I'm afraid, though, I have to ask a favor that will take you away from your gamekeeping duties for the foreseeable future."
Hagrid blinked, his massive brow furrowing in confusion. "Wha' you mean, Professor?"
"I am afraid that Harry will not be returning to Hogwarts this year."
"What?" Hagrid bellowed, his loud voice scaring off a few birds in the distance. "No, no, he can' leave Hogwarts. We jes' got everythin' all up to snuff!"
"Be that as it may," Albus went on, "Hermione Granger's parents are reluctant to send her back, understandably so. And Harry has grown rather fond of her, thus he goes where she goes. That is where you come in."
"What d'yeh need, Professor?"
"There is no guarantee that Harry will be completely free of danger in America. Trouble as a habit of following him around, and with Peter Pettigrew on the loose, we have every reason to be worried for him."
"Yeh wan' me to keep an eye on 'im?"
"Yes," Albus took a sip of his tea, reaching a hand out as Fang clicked over and scratching the dog behind the ears. "He has Sirius, but I would feel better knowing that you were there as well. Your presence alone would probably deter all but the most stubborn of foes."
Hagrid blinked. "Yeh wan' me ter go keep an eye on Harry? I'd be honored, Professor. But who'll be gamekeeper while I'm gone?"
"We'll find someone," Albus assured him. "Harry's safety is our first priority, however, and I believe you will be a great help to that end."
"O' course, Professor," Hagrid said earnestly. "I'll guard him wit' my life."
"I knew I could count on you, Hagrid," Albus said, and Hagrid beamed with pride.
Harry yawned, blinking blearily as he sat in a hard plastic chair, sipping at cup of cocoa Sirius had bought for him a donut shop nearby. Sirius himself was next to him, also dozing in his seat. It was about seven in the morning, an hour Harry was not fond of being awake to witness. The pair were sitting in an airport terminal, awaiting the seven-thirty flight to North Carolina (Harry forgot the name of the city), where they would then hop a shuttle van to Dunlap. All around them, people moved with varying degrees of urgency through the airport, toting bags, suitcases, briefcases, all kinds of cases. Overhead, every few minutes, a cool female voice would announce an arrival, a departure, a delay, a lost child, and once, a code fourteen in gate 4C, which had sent about four security guards running frantically to an escalator.
He felt himself start to nod off again. His head dipped before it was caught by a slim pair of hands, and seconds later, he felt a puff of air on his face.
"Wake up, sleepy," a voice whispered in his ear, and his eyes opened to see Hermione smiling at him. He grinned, standing and wrapping her in a hug.
"Hey, you," he said, and she giggled, pulling away and planting a little kiss on his lips.
"Hey, yourself," she replied. "Are the poor boys sleepy?"
"Neither of us is what you'd call a morning person."
She laughed at that, moving over and leaning down to stare into Sirius's sleeping face. She smirked. "I heard he gave you a bit of a pranking yesterday. That true?"
"That it is."
She pouted. "He should know better than to pick on my boyfriend. "Magnus eructo." She tapped Sirius on the nose, and he began to shudder, though he didn't wake just yet.
"What did you do?" Harry asked, already grinning. Hermione walked back over and took his arm, wrapping it around him.
"Just watch," she whispered in his ear. Sirius's eyes suddenly shot open, and upon spotting Hermione with her wand just barely visible up her sleeve, opened his mouth to say something –
And belched. Hugely. This monster of a burp echoed off the walls of the airport and turned heads all around. It lasted a definite ten to fifteen seconds before Sirius went quiet and slumped, clutching his stomach with a grunted, "That was painful…."
As one, the pair burst out laughing, Harry moving to slump into his seat with Hermione plopping down next to him and collapsing onto his shoulder in a fit of giggles. After a few seconds, Sirius joined in, his laughter punctuated by the occasional burp.
It was amazing how socks could simply move around, seemingly of their own free will.
"Ron! Your mangy cat scratched up my broomstick!"
Ron glared at Fred, scratching Crookshanks behind the ears as his older brother held up his Cleansweep Five, which was sporting a few noticeable claw marks along the handle.
"Maybe you shouldn't have sneaked that flatulence elixir into my soup last night," he replied, stuffing a shirt into one of his many trunks and facing the shorter Weasley. "I think Crookshanks got mad and wanted some revenge."
"Why, 'cause you stunk up the room last night?" Fred asked with a smirk, his twin appearing over his shoulder and peering curiously into the room.
"Oi, I found your quidditch gloves," he said, tapping the garments in question against Fred's head. "What's with the pre-duel atmosphere?"
"I showed you what his cat did to my broomstick," Fred complained defensively, holding up the Cleansweep again.
"Oh, get out of it, Fredward," George said, tapping his doppelganger on the forehead. "Gonna let an ickle pussy get the best of your broomstick?'
There was a stunned five seconds of silence before Fred shook his head slowly. "You really just said that. I can't believe you really just said that."
"C'mon," George said, taking Fred's collar and tugging. "We need to pack up last night's research endeavor before Mum finds it."
With one last glare, Fred allowed himself to be dragged away, leaving Ron to chuckle quietly to himself as he gave Crookshanks another affectionate scratch around the ears.
Across the ocean, in a small corner office in what appeared on the surface to be a completely normal high school, a black-haired young man sighed in boredom, his eyes darting longingly to his window, which showcased another beautiful day in Dunlap, North Carolina. Still, there was work to be done. McGildenhurst Magical Academy was taking on quite a few new students, seven of them from overseas. There were forms to fill out, accommodations to be made, and courtesy letters to parents (assuring them that the school would take the utmost care of their children) to be sent.
Leon Mason had a busy day ahead of him.
Sighing again (he was doing that far too much), he leaned back, tugging his glasses off and rubbing his sleepy eyes. As he sat there, a knock sounded on his door, the last one punctuated by a worrying snapping sound that told him whatever was knocking was about to break his door.
"C'min!" he called, and the door opened. As his visitor entered, Leon was glad for the school's high-ceiling rooms and magically reinforced floors. The sheer size of the man was obscene, really. No person that big should have been allowed to exist.
Chastising himself and telling himself that even huge people were people to, Leon gave the huge man a cordial nod. His face and head were dominated by thick bushy hair the color of coal, giving him the appearance of a sasquatch, albeit one that had been hitting the growth elixir a little hard.
"'Lo there," the man said, nodding back in a little head-bow. "Name's Rubeus Hagrid. Keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"Ah, Hagrid," Leon said, the name sparking in his memory. "Professor Dumbledore told me about you. Nothing but good things, of course."
Hagrid smiled at that, moving across the room and peering calculatingly at one of the small metal chairs across from Leon's desk. Opting wisely to stand instead (the chair would undoubtedly crumple under his weight), the large man chose to simply stand smartly as he spoke.
"Professor Dumbledore sends his regards and a letter," he said, reaching into a pocket of his thick coat and fishing out a small white envelope. At least, the envelope looked small in his beefy hand as he held it out. Leon took it and quickly extricated the letter.
First, greetings to you, and I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. Since our many f-mail exchanges, I've come to count you as a good friend, and I hope the feeling is reciprocated. This is why I have sent Hagrid here to introduce himself.
You've no doubt heard that Harry Potter and a cadre of his friends will be attending the school at which you work this coming term. I could not convince him to stay and would never dream of coercing or forcing him to do so. However, this does present a dilemma, as I do regard the boy rather highly, and I do not believe that he has seen the last of the troubles life has to offer for him. Thus, I have sent Hagrid to watch over him and see that any trouble that does find him is met with extreme prejudice.
This leads to a request. If you could keep Hagrid abreast of any suspicious happenings you notice, I would be deeply grateful. Despite his appearance, Hagrid is one of the noblest men I know, and he would give his life for Harry's safety.
Thank you for any assistance you can offer.
Yours most sincerely,
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Leon felt himself grinning as he set the letter down, giving it a little shake of the head.
"He sure knows how to spin some words," he said to no one in particular, though the giant man gave him a chuckle.
"I always tol' 'im he shoulda run fer Minister o' Magic," he said, and Leon had to listen intently to pick through some of his accent. "Albus Dumbledore could convince a fish ter start hatin' water."
Leon laughed at that, saving his progress on the current document and standing with a little stretch.
"I would be happy to help you keep an eye on Harry Potter," he said. "His flight's due in the next day or so, I believe, but until then, how do you feel about heading down to Mosley's for beer and some chicken wings?"
Hagrid's smile grew wider. "I think I could get ter like yeh, Mr. Mason."
"Kreacher was always so alone, so alone. Once, his home was full of the greatest the Black family had to offer, but then, they were all gone, and it was just you and Kreacher, Mistress."
Tragic…. Again, her voice seemed to float through Kreacher's head, smooth and calming. Kreacher was such a devoted elf. It's a shame that all of that should come to naught.
"Such a shame," Kreacher repeated, shaking his head, staring into the locket's depths as he trailed a finger gently down the side of the smooth metal. "A shame that Kreacher's mistress was reduced to such a state, a shame that Kreacher should have to watch you suffer alone."
And then, the voice sympathized, its tone full of commiseration, to be kicked from our house, thrown aside like garbage. Kreacher deserves better, doesn't he?
"Deserves better…." Kreacher nodded. "Kreacher deserves much better. To be cast aside like this by the little blood-traitor brat! Kreacher will teach him a lesson! But…Kreacher doesn't know if he is powerful enough…."
Then let Mistress empower Kreacher, the voice said. Kreacher will be able to exact his revenge, not only on Mistress's brat of a child, but on all like him. Kreacher will be able to carry on Mistress's wishes and annihilate mudbloods and blood-traitors alike!
"Yes, Mistress," Kreacher said, still caressing the necklace, which had begun to glow a sickly green. "Kreacher will do as Mistress commands…."
So, hopefully next chapter will feature far less perspective changes, since everyone will be back together again. Hopefully. Also, the Gollum/Kreacher parallels are meant to blatantly intentional.
Next chapter will (tentatively) feature some pretty exciting stuff. Thanks for reading and for you interminable patience with my sporadic publishing schedule.