Harry Potter sighed as he sat in the plush chair in the middle of his living room, just staring at the fire place. He'd never been one for television, that was Dudley, and a long time ago. He'd picked up books instead. Hermione was pleased to note that he actually did read, as little as he seemed to pay attention in class. What she didn't understand was how he always managed to only just pass his subjects when he studied so much. She'd asked him once. He hadn't answered.
Harry blinked. Why was he thinking about an old conversation with Hermione? It didn't much matter he supposed. He had all the time in the world now to think about nothing much. Since the insomnia had set in, Harry had taken to reading through the library of books that his parents and godfather had left to him. Hermione would have been both impressed and jealous at how quickly he got through them all. He'd just gone out and bought more. One book at a time, to make sure that he got out of the house for at least a little while every day. He usually bought enough fresh food to make himself a healthy dinner while he was out as well. Only just enough for one, no left overs. His one meal a day. Hogwarts hadn't been able to break him of the habit ingrained into him by the Dursleys, however plentiful the food was there. He'd never eaten very much.
"Why is Master Potter staring at the fire?" asked the house elf that he had employed – a creature by the name of Pip. Harry had asked the elf, upon hiring, that the elf sometimes approach him and ask him pertinent questions like that to snap him out of his haze of memories and pointless thoughts.
He remembered Hermione hadn't approved of him getting a house elf, until he explained exactly what was going through his head at the time. He had several estates to his name now, and he'd prefer if they were all kept clean. House elves liked to clean – he'd asked enough of them to know this – and as he was himself so used to being forced to clean, he knew what it was like. He just wanted one elf to make sure that the dust and cobwebs didn't stay settled for too long, they could work at their own pace over all the Potter-Black estates, and sometimes remind him that he was alive, rather than an ornament in a chair.
"I've forgotten why Pip," Harry answered at length. "Thank you. What did you do today?" he asked.
"Pip cleaned all of Master Potter's bathrooms today!" Pip answered enthusiastically. "All the bathrooms in this house, and all of Mastter Potter's bathrooms in the rest of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland! Pip also aired Master Potter's linens," he added more quietly. "Pip noticed that Master Potter had soaked his sheets with sweat again."
Ah, the secondary reason why Harry had hired Pip. He needed someone to take care of him. The nightmares from the war were still plaguing him.
"Yes, I apologise for that Pip," Harry said quietly, turning back to the fire. "I think I will do the laundry tomorrow morning. My sheets as well. Will you help me air my mattress and quilt once I've started that?"
"Of course Master Potter!" Pip answered. "Pip intended to clean bedrooms tomorrow anyway!"
Harry chuckled fondly at the house elf's enthusiasm. "I'm glad that you enjoy your work so much," he said. "If only everybody were as luck as you, hmm?"
"Pip is luckiest house elf in the world," Pip agreed with a large smile, rocking back and forth from his heels to the balls of his feet and back.
"Are you sure you won't like me to employ another house elf, someone to talk to while you work?" Harry asked. He'd asked several times before.
As always, Pip shook his head fiercely, large ears flapping against his head with the motion. "Pip has kind and thoughtful Master. Pip doesn't need any help with the work yet."
Harry nodded. "Just let me know when you do," he reminded the elf, as with every other time they had that short conversation. "I should hate to burden you."
Pip came a little closer to the chair and tentatively, gently, as though afraid he was doing something wrong – which according to regular house elf practice, Harry supposed, he probably was – patted Harry's hand, giving some small measure of comfort.
"Master Potter is a good Master," Pip assured softly.
The clock in the hall – an old mahogany grandfather with a buffed brass pendulum swinging in the column below the face – chimed the hour then. It was one in the morning. Harry didn't remember it striking twelve.
"It is late, Master Potter," Pip noted. "Master Potter needs to try to sleep. Master Potter's bed is made up ready."
Harry sighed. "Thank you Pip. I'll, as you say, try to sleep," he agreed, pulling himself out of his chair. Though between the nightmares and the insomnia, he didn't sleep much, and what sleep he did get wasn't all that restful.
Between all of the reading that Harry had been doing – to avoid confronting his nightmares and insomnia – he'd been slowly modernising every house in his name. He'd almost finished with the one he was in right now actually. Wiring was put in, cables, wall sockets, electric lights, and then there was the re-plumbing and new white-goods. Walls stripped of their hideously dated wallpaper and were given fresh coats of paint. Carpets were lifted and the floorboards underneath were sanded, varnished and polished up – it was easier to clean wood floors than carpets, and Harry liked cleaning to be easy. Furniture got re-upholstered. He'd taken to clearing out the lofts on his own as well. He knew that Pip would happily do the task for him, but Harry wanted to sort through them himself. See what he wanted to keep, toss out, turn into a gift or donation, or burn. The talking portraits were all removed from his houses as well. They weren't too pleased about it when he started, but in the end he had convinced all of them to let him sell them – except for Mrs Black. She'd let him take down the tapestry of the family tree, but she would not be moved herself. In the end, he'd removed the bit of wall that her portrait hung from as well, and then replaced it. That had certainly made her scream, as had the bonfire he'd thrown her onto. Harry was surprised no one else had thought to do that before.
But sleep now.
He was running. Hermione, Ron and Ginny were all running with him. They had to get away. A flash of green caught Ron. Ginny and Hermione screamed as he fell, but Harry grabbed each of them by their upper arm and forced them to keep moving. Ron was dead, and if they stopped then they would be too. There was nothing that they could do for his best friend now.
Another flash of green, and Ginny screamed again before she fell, limp and dead. Harry let go of her and forced Hermione to run faster. They had already lost Neville, long ago, and now Ron and Ginny just then. Luna waved frantically for them to hurry to the door that she was holding open for them.
Harry pushed Hermione in first, then followed. Another flash of green, and he heard the thud of Luna falling dead behind him. His eyes burning with furious, terrified tears, Harry closed the door and locked it with both key and spell.
He had to keep Hermione safe. They were the last two from the whole DA apart from Fred and George. Fred and George. Pranksters. Perfect. Harry dragged Hermione along behind him – she was tired, so was he, but if they didn't get to safety then they would be dead.
Hogwarts was empty. The teachers had evacuated the students and were guarding them in several places. Dumbledore was dead. So was Voldemort. Harry had destroyed every bit of his soul that was still tied to this world and then snuck into the Death Eater camp and shoved a stake through the bastards heart and cut off his head, like he was some kind of vampire. His followers, particularly Bellatrix, hadn't taken too kindly to that. Hence their running.
Harry took Hermione to Myrtle's bathroom, hissed the words and then pushed her down into the passageway that lead to the Chamber. He followed and the way closed after them.
Harry woke up sharply, gasping. Another nightmare memory. It was all true, all real. That was part of what made it so horrifying. When he woke up, it wasn't just a dream. His friends were dead. Fred, George and Hermione were all still alive and well, but they were the only ones. The only ones who really knew him anyway.
The clock down in the hallway on the landing – the same one that had chimed the hour just before he went to sleep – chimed again now, calling out in soft tones that it was now five in the morning. Four hours sleep. Harry sighed and picked up the book from his bedside table. He was nearly finished it. He'd have to go and see what else the shops had once they opened.
Finishing the book on quantum physics – fact was always stranger than fiction, even if fiction had a better plot – Harry finally got out of bed, stripping it and gathered his linens and dirty clothes into a bundle before heading down the stairs towards the laundry. Stopping at the library along the way, Harry slipped the book into place among the others of its kind before he continued down the hallway. Glancing at the clock, it now read ten past six in the morning. That was at least slightly more reasonable of an hour for someone to be awake.
"Good morning Master Potter," Pip greeted, finishing juicing the four oranges that Harry had bought the previous day for just that purpose. They shared the juice, and then got to work.
The laundry washed and hanging out to dry, Harry left Pip to do what the house elf did best – take care of everything else – he was going to buy another book.
An owl was waiting for Harry by his front door when he got back to the house – perched on a post that was stuck there for a plant to grow up. There was, as he had expected, a letter tied to its leg.
"Harry Potter, one of the Potter-Black residences, UK," he read out, taking the letter and giving the owl a treat from the pot he kept of them just inside the door – never knew when mail would come, and the owls appreciated it after a long night flying.
The handwriting was Hermione's, and if that hadn't given it away, then that it had been scrawled onto the envelope in standard blue pen certainly would have been.
Inside was a short summon to the experiment lab of Weasley Wizard Wheezes, demanding that he arrive immediately if not sooner, and with no explanation as to why. Hermione was the only one he let get away with it. Of course, Hermione was the only one who would do it in the first place, since he'd blatantly ignored all similar Ministry summons. He didn't answer to them after all. He was in business with his three remaining friends, providing pranks to all and sundry, making life hell for Filch and caretakers around the globe like him.
Of course, he was really just the one who provided capitol so that materials for new ideas could be bought, and then the pranks tested, sometimes on him. Which could be why he was being summoned.
Pip never minded when Harry came and went – largely because Harry never minded when Pip came and went. Harry locked doors in the knowledge that Pip could get into the house despite them, and Pip went from house to house doing what he did best with a hum on his lips.
Harry put everything away where it needed to be and then apparated to the shop.
"Now what's this all about?" he asked once he'd landed.
"She refused to tell us until we were all here," Fred stated.
"But now that you're here Harry, hopefully she'll tell us," George added with a sigh.
Harry turned to Hermione, who was behind him. She was grinning a grin like the twins grinned when they were making that portable swamp back in their sixth year.
"Animagus potions," she stated, her eyes bright.
Three grins broke out to match hers on the faces of her business partners and best friends.
"Find out what we'd be," Fred suggested.
"Sell them ready made so that other trouble-makers can discover their true selves," George added.
"Invent a new potion that you can slip into someone's drink, and they turn into a pre-determined animal for a set length of time," Harry put in, recalling the mistake that Hermione had made with a cat hair in her Polyjuice potion.
"All of the above," Hermione stated with glee and an almost manic fire in her eyes.
"And then some," Fred and George added in an awed whisper as they stared at Hermione for a moment before the four of them all began to move.
Harry headed for Gringotts. They'd need to buy ingredients, and that was his main part of this business apart from test-subject and sometimes extra pair of hands. Hermione was pulling out books – correct procedure and all that. Fred and George started cleaning and setting up their potions station.
Several hours later, a pair of golden lion tamarinds were sitting on the floor of the workshop, staring at an Afghan hound and a man with black hair, green eyes and glasses. Harry had volunteered to be the one to keep an eye on things while they all tried the potion to reveal their 'inner animal'.
"Mischief making monkeys and one of the more beautiful dog breeds," Harry noted. "We got the potion right anyway. You guys should be turning back in five, four, three, two..."
Fred, George and Hermione all returned to their own forms.
"Well, that was fun!" George said happily.
"And we know what we are, so if we can make a potion that changes us into an animal – and we get a different one, then we know we've done something," Fred added.
"Your turn now Harry," Hermione said happily, holding out a vial of the potion to him.
Harry took it and held it up in a toast. "Cheers," he said, then brought it to his lips and tipped the whole thing down his throat.
"Of course he's a bird," Fred quipped, leaning on George's shoulder. "The way he's such a natural at flying."
"Bit surprised it's not a more impressive bird though," George returned. "Or at least one that isn't just black."
"Black birds that feed on carrion are a part of magical lore," Hermione said sternly. "I think it's very impressive."
Harry changed back shortly after that. "It also means that no one's going to bother me. Crows, rooks, ravens, blackbirds, all very common wherever you go. No one would look twice unless they were looking for an omen. Like with Sirius – if you didn't know about the Grim, you'd just think he was a big black dog. Perfectly normal. So, keeper of knowledge, which am I?"
"You're a crow. If you were a rook you'd have a white or grey beak, the common blackbird is smaller, with a bright orange beak, and it eats bugs, rather than carrion. Ravens are, I suppose, more streamlined in the beak-to-head sort of shape," Hermione answered.
It was Harry's twenty-sixth birthday. He'd finished fixing up all the houses that he owned just the week before. His business partners, geniuses all three, had sorted out the animagus potions, animal-for-an-hour potions, and their own animagus forms a long time ago now. Currently, Harry himself was sitting in a tree in his own animagus form, watching as a man walked towards what looked like a pink, slightly wrinkly and vampiric version of Voldemort.
That... didn't look like a good idea.
Harry quickly dropped from the tree and flapped his wings in the man's face, cawing at him to stop, go another way.
"Sorry to disturb you bird, but there's a monster I need to stop," the man growled from behind the arm he had raised to defend himself from Harry's onslaught.
Harry stopped cawing and latched onto the man's arm instead, folding his wings and calming down as he stared at this man from his new perch. So the man knew there was a thing that was big enough – and probably hungry enough – to eat him just a few steps in further into the wooded area, and he'd come to clear it out. Oh, well in that case.
"Odd bird," the man said, surprised to find that the bird had taken perch on his arm and was now staring at him. He didn't make any move to shoo the bird off though. "I don't suppose a bird your size would be any help against a weevil, would you?" the man said quietly, not making a move to pet it and even trying to hold him as far from his face as he could. "No, more likely to get eaten yourself."
So it was called a weevil. Harry ruffled his feathers and shook his head, a bird version of snorting in agreement to the negative statement.
"I hope you don't mind bird, but I'm gonna need that arm back so that I can catch the thing," the man said, still holding his arm away from himself, wary, perhaps, of Harry's sharp beak as his strange behaviour.
Harry obligingly took off, but only flew as far as a nearby branch, watching the strange man intently.
"Little creepy, and if I didn't have a weevil to catch right now, I'd be looking into your behaviour," the man said, clearly dubious, as he reached for his weapon and then focused once again on the task of hunting the wrinkly Voldemort look-alike.
Harry flew from tree to tree, keeping an eye on the man and the weevil until the creature was locked up in the back of the man's SUV, and when the man drove off, Harry followed him, wondering if and hoping that this man would be able to make him take an active interest in life again, beyond the Weasley's joke shop.