Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, and situations belong to J.K. Rowling.
The day had just passed from late afternoon to early evening, and Harry Potter sat on the swings at a small playground a few blocks from his house. It had been three days since he had come home for the summer. Only slightly less than a week since he had been nearly killed in a graveyard in a town he'd never before seen. Less than a week since he had witnessed first-hand the return of the most evil wizard to ever live: Lord Voldemort. A tiny handful of days since Cedric Diggory had been killed right in front of his eyes, and he learned that his beloved godfather had been under the Imperius Curse for the better part of a year. The days since had been harrowing. Harry wasn't sleeping well. He barely ate. He would never have thought it possible to grieve this much for someone he barely knew, but he couldn't get Cedric out of his mind.
Harry sat on the swings rocking slowly back and forth, running the toe of his trainer through the reddish earth. When he was a child, swinging was one of his favorite pastimes. Now he was nearing fifteen, and his favored activities had matured with him. Still, there was a certain comfort to being on the swings. The back-and-forth rhythm offered a peculiar sureness that Harry's life currently lacked. It was predictable. It was dependable. There was only so far he could rise before gravity would pull him back down again, and the swing was always there to catch him when he began to fall
Harry sighed. He would need to get home soon; he wasn't supposed to be out here at all. As his father kept reminding him, it wasn't safe. Harry nearly rolled his eyes at the word. As though anything was safe anymore. He'd spent the entire past year being told he was safe while his godfather and all the professors and even Dumbledore threw him at dragons and grindleylows and acromantulas. And then, to top it all off, he'd been subjected to the cruciatus, been cut up for potion ingredients, and then been very nearly murdered. Twice.
Safe. That was a lie if ever he'd heard one.
Harry stopped swinging and thought about going home. His father would be angry if he found Harry out here. He would lecture about Death Eaters and spells and things hiding in shadows. He would say he was only trying to keep Harry safe. It made Harry want to scream, all these rules and boundaries and demands. All for the illusion of safe. Harry threw his head back, hanging out of the swing, looking at the world upside down. It almost made more sense that way.
He straightened and began to swing again, pumping his legs furiously as the word echoed in time across his mind. Safe. Safe. Safe. Nowhere was safe. Not home. Not Hogwarts. Not anywhere. No bloody wonder he couldn't sleep.
He looked up at the sky, at the hazy fog of a summer afternoon. He was supposed to be packing. He and his father would be moving to London in a few days, to Sirius' house there. Sirius had grown up there and despised every second of it, which didn't make Harry particularly eager to go. Sirius would be moving there soon as well, and Harry knew he was dreading it. But there was no other choice. The world was not as safe today as it had been just a week before, and it hadn't been very safe then. Voldemort knew where to find them now. He knew how to hurt them. And he would. As soon as he was able.
"Number one rule of warfare, Little Pronglet," Sirius had said just yesterday after Harry asked for the hundredth time why they had to move, "If your enemy knows where you are, don't be there. If it were up to me, we'd be getting out even sooner." He shook his head, guilt crossing his features. "But these things take time, I suppose." Indeed, they did. A person couldn't very well pack up an entire house in two days. Even with packing spells and shrinking spells and cushioning charms for his mother's vase. Magic didn't make anything easier, Harry thought bitterly. All it did was complicate things. Sometimes he wished he could be a muggle, living in blissful ignorance of the dark storm rising.
"Harry Potter," Harry heard someone say, and he jerked out of his own thoughts. He looked up and saw a boy his own age walking toward him. He had not seen the boy in nearly four years, but he recognized him immediately. It was Scott Andrews, a boy who used to bully him when they were younger. Harry's body tensed in anticipation of the encounter. The last time he had seen Scott, the boy had beaten him up and broken his glasses and ended up badly transfigured into a dog for his trouble. The dog part had been an accident. Mostly. Harry knew Scott didn't remember it, in any event; Sirius had modified Scott's memory. Harry's fingers found their way to his waistband, where he had stowed his wand. He had no intention of taking anything off of Scott Andrews today.
"Mind if I join you?" Scott asked.
"Go ahead," Harry said warily, and Scott took a seat in the swing next to the one Harry occupied.
"Where have you been, anyway? I haven't seen you around in ages. My dad said you got sent to boarding school. Is that true?"
Harry gave single curt nod. "I've been there four years now."
Scott frowned. "Bad luck. I can't imagine being sent to boarding school."
"Oh, it's not bad. It's a really good school. The best, actually. My dad went there, too. He comes by from time to time to, mostly to see my matches. And my godfather teaches there, so I get to see him almost every day. "
"Oh, well that's good, I suppose. What do you play?"
"Hmmm?" Harry asked absently.
"You said your dad comes to your matches. What do you play?"
"Oh, erm, well..." Harry stalled, trying to think of how to explain quidditch, and decided instead to blurt out the first muggle sport that came to his mind. "Football! I'm the, er, sweeper."
"Are you any good?"
"Decent. We've only lost one match since I started, but I'm not sure how much that has to do with me. The one we lost was all my fault, though. I let myself get distracted. The captain says I'm good. He says I could probably play for England someday if I wanted to."
"That would be brilliant! And I could say I used to know you!"
"I don't think I want to," Harry said dully. "I think I'd rather be an... be in law enforcement... like my dad."
"Oh, is that what he does? Only I've always wondered. We never seem to see him coming or going. One minute all the lights will be off, and the next moment, they're all on."
"He goes out the back," Harry lied. Lying was not generally his strong suit, but he found it was easier with muggles. They would believe anything not to have face the possibility that magic actually existed.
"Oh. I suppose I never thought of that."
Case in point.
"So, does your school have cricket?" Scott asked after a short pause.
"Sure, cricket. That's what I play. I'm the bowler."
Harry shook his head. "No, we don't have cricket. I don't know very much about it, to be honest." Or care, but Harry kept that part to himself.
"Cricket's brilliant! Maybe I could teach you about it some time."
"Well, actually, my dad and I are moving to London in a few days."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." He sounded as though he really meant it. "I've missed seeing you around."
Harry scowled. "You mean you've missed beating up on me?"
"No. No, that's not what I mean at all. Actually, I feel sort of guilty about how awful I used to be to you. I only did it because I was angry you wouldn't be friends with me."
"You wanted to be friends with me?" Harry asked skeptically.
"Yes." Scott gave a small laugh. "You were so funny. And you used to tell those wild stories about being a wizard. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember." Harry had made the mistake of telling his teacher about being a wizard on his very first day of school. Luckily for him, she had been taken with his stories and praised him for his vivid imagination. "Why did you beat me up so much if you wanted to be my friend? I'd have been friends with you willingly if you'd just been nice to me."
Scott shrugged. "I don't know. I was really little. I suppose I thought someone like you would never be friends with someone like me. I'd never be able to come up with stories like that."
"Well, I would have," Harry said, not sure what else to say. Scott made no answer.
"I suppose I better get going," Harry said after another short pause. "My dad will be home soon, and I'm supposed to be packing. It was nice talking to you."
"Mind if I walk with you? I should probably be heading home myself."
"Sure. It's always nice to have company," Harry said. He discovered that his lips were twitching into a hint of a smile. It was almost a relief to be with someone who didn't know all that had happened to him in the last few months. As they walked, Scott began explaining cricket to him in detail. Harry had learned the basics of the game in his muggle primary school, so it was easy enough to follow along with Scott's explanation. Just was Scott was explaining about the wicket keeper, the two of them cut through an alleyway between Elmwood Court, where the playground was, and Rosewood Lane, where they both lived. They were halfway across it when the sun suddenly went out and the air around Harry grew frigid.
"What's that?" Scott asked. "What's going on?"
Harry tensed, alert for movement. He knew this feeling well, but it was impossible! They couldn't be here! Could they? "Run," he ordered Scott. Scott just stood there, staring at him, a pained expression on his face. "Run!" Harry shouted, giving Scott a push. He and Scott both began to run toward home. They would be safe there. The wards would keep the dementors out. "Stop!" Harry shouted, stopping short himself when a dementor appeared at the entrance to the alley. "Turn around! Go back!" Harry grabbed Scott's arm and pulled him along behind him, trying to cling to a happy thought. Any happy thought. But there were none. There was nothing to be happy about these days.
Harry stopped short again when another dementor appeared. They were trapped. Harry stood in the middle of the alleyway with Scott, glancing back and forth between the two dementors as they glided closer. Harry took a deep breath. In his head, he could hear screaming. Behind him, Scott passed out. There was nothing for it. He would have to do magic.
Harry reached into the waistband of his jeans and pulled out his wand, focusing as clearly as he could on a happy memory. Kissing Ginny by the lake at Hogwarts. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" A silver stag erupted from the end of his wand. It rushed toward the nearest dementor, sending it gliding swiftly in the other direction. Then, at Harry's order, it charged toward the dementor at the other end of the alley, tossing its antlers proudly. When both dementors were gone, the stag returned to Harry. "Go find my dad," Harry told it. "Tell him to come home straightaway." The Stag nodded its understanding and charged ahead so quickly it was only a blur. Harry put his wand away and picked Scott up off the ground.
"Uhhnn," Scott groaned. Harry felt cold and clammy and weak. He hoped they had some chocolate at home. Harry moved slowly, supporting Scott as he walked. He arrived in their front yard just as James apparated, his face nearly frantic with worry.
"Harry, what happened?"
"There were dementors in the alley," Harry reported, pointing in the alley's general direction. "I fought them off, but Scott's hurt."
"Merlin's beard!" James cried. "I knew it! I knew we shouldn't have stayed here this long! We should have already been in Grimmauld Place! I am the world's biggest moron!" James let out a few more choice words that might have turned into a tirade, but an owl flew into the yard and cut him off, depositing a letter at Harry's feet. James fell silent. "Dammit," he whispered as he picked it up. He handed it to Harry. They both knew without looking at it what it was sure to say. James took a deep breath. "Come on, let's get Scott inside." He took Scott's free arm and the two of them half-carried, half-dragged him over the threshold.
"What did you do to me, Potter?" Scott asked when they had seated him on the sofa; then he promptly sicked up on the carpet.
"Lovely," James said with the tiniest of winces, pointing his wand at the puddle of sick. "Scourgify." It immediately disappeared. "Harry, you sit down, too. I'll be right back." Then James disappeared into the kitchen.
Harry sat down, trying to ignore the intense cold and sadness he still felt from his encounter with the dementors, as well as the feeling of dread he felt about the letter his father had just handed him. He regarded it for a moment before tearing it open and reading it over quickly. It informed him in terse, proper language that ministry intelligence indicated he had conjured a patronus illegally, and in full view of a muggle. He would have to attend a disciplinary hearing on July 31st at ten o'clock in the morning to determine whether or not he was to be expelled from Hogwarts.
"Looks like I'm going to have a lovely birthday this year," Harry muttered bitterly, flopping back into his armchair with a miserable groan.
James returned just then with a bar of chocolate. He broke it half and gave a piece to Harry. Harry ate it immediately, reveling in the warmth that spread to his fingers and toes. He let out a little sigh as the last traces of cold and despair were swept from him. He was quite sure there was nothing in the world better than chocolate.
James was busy trying to get Scott to eat the other piece, but he only groaned and pushed James' hand away. Finally, James managed to convince him by threatening to shove it down his throat.
They could see the effects in his face. The color returned quickly. "Hm," he said, regarding the chocolate skeptically. "I've never much liked chocolate before, but this is good stuff."
That was what was wrong with Scott, Harry decided. People who didn't like chocolate couldn't be trusted.
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" James asked just before hitting him with a memory modifying charm.
Scott's eyes crossed, and a goofy grin made its way across his face. He looked around, a pleasant expression on his face. "This is a lovely home. Harry! How have you been? My father said you were sent to boarding school."
"We should take him home," James said softly. "But I think it can wait a moment. Let me see your letter." Harry handed it over, staring angrily at the ground. James stood a little straighter as he read it. "Ministry intelligence," he muttered. "There's an oxymoron if ever there was one."
Harry couldn't argue with that. They hadn't even got it right, anyway. Scott hadn't seen anything. He was too busy being unconscious.
James looked up at Harry. "Tell me what happened."
"There isn't much to tell. We were walking home, and dementors attacked us. Two of them. They trapped us in the alley, so I ran them off with a patronus. Scott didn't even see anything. He passed out."
James looked back down at the letter, reading it again. "What were dementors doing in Derbyshire?"
"How am I supposed to know?" Harry snapped.
James quirked his eyebrows. "It was a rhetorical question, Harry. I didn't expect you to answer."
"Then why'd you ask?" Harry groused.
James jerked his head up from the letter, narrowing his eyes at his son. "You do understand the concept of a rhetorical question, don't you?"
"Yes," Harry grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in the chair once more.
James thought for a moment about whether or not to correct Harry's attitude and decided against it. If ever a person had earned the right to a good sulk, Harry had. James tried to tell himself Harry's sudden sullenness wasn't really directed at him. He was just bearing the brunt of it because he was the only one there. And he almost believed that. Almost.
James ran a hand through his hair and brandished the letter. "I doubt I'll be able to do much about this. I'll see who can find to vouch for you. That shouldn't be too hard. Moody will do it, I'm sure. And Tonks. Don't worry, Champ. It'll all blow over."
"And if it doesn't?" Harry demanded.
James sighed loudly. "It will."
Harry gave him a very pointed sort of look. The same sort of look Lily used to give him when he was trying to dodge her questions.
"If it doesn't, we'll work something out," James allowed. "I'll teach you myself, if I have to. Expulsion isn't the end of the world."
"Spoken like someone who's never been expelled."
"Oh, I certainly thought I was going to be a few times. I'm well aware what a frightening thought it is, but try not to worry. You've got rather enough to be getting on with. These things are usually just formalities, really. You'll have to endure a bit of scolding and a few threats about how they won't be so lenient next time, and that will be it. Honestly, it isn't anything to worry about."
"Yeah, all right," Harry agreed irritably. He wasn't sure he believed that.
James sighed again. Despite Harry's terrible mood, there was a question that had to be asked. "What were you even doing out of the house? You were supposed to be packing."
Harry leapt to his feet as his mood passed like lightning from sulky to angry. "I knew you were going to try to blame this on me!"
"I'm not blaming you! I'm just trying to understand how this happened!"
"I just wanted some fresh air! I thought that if I was about to have to spend the entire summer locked up, I should at least enjoy being outside while I still could! Is that so much to ask?"
James looked as though he were battling with himself and, indeed, he was. He understood quite well how difficult it could be to be to be in hiding. After all, he had been in hiding once before and had chafed under the constraints, and that was when he was older and more mature than Harry, with a wife and a young child to care for. James had also made the decision for himself to join the war, knowing full well what it could mean for him. Harry had been thrust into this fight through no fault or desire of his own. James was full of sympathy for his son.
Still, he had very little patience for Harry's pronounced tendency to throw caution to the wind. He would have thought that the boy's experience in the graveyard in Little Hangleton - where he had seen and heard things that James hated to imagine - would have sobered him a bit. Harry understood now, in a way that he never had before, that this was a battle for life and death, and Voldemort would not spare someone simply because they were young or good. He had always understood that somewhere in the back of his mind, James knew, but seeing his classmate murdered in front of his very eyes had brought the message home in a heartbreaking and terrifying way. James recalled the feeling of invincibility he had had at Harry's age, as well as the fear he felt when he first realized he wasn't as invincible as he thought. The world had gone very quickly from being a friendly place to being a very frightening place.
"I understand that, Harry." James forced himself to keep his tone even. "Believe me. I understand, but we're not particularly safe here at the moment. You have to be careful, son."
"I know!" Harry shouted, throwing up his hands as he began to pace. "I'm tired of hearing about all the things I have to do to stay safe! There's no such thing as safe, Dad! I can't spend my whole life cowering under the bed! If Voldemort's coming after me, I have to be ready to face him! I don't want him to find me hiding away somewhere pretending this isn't happening!"
"That's not what this is about, Harry. I've rejoined the Order. We are facing him. But it's not like we can just run out and jab our wands in his eye and be done with it. Attacks take strategy, Harry. And strategies take time. People who don't plan, die. It's as simple as that. So please don't think we're just hiding away. We're not."
"I want to fight him," Harry declared, his face hard.
James deflated. He reached out a hand to Harry. Harry jerked away. James brought his own hand away, hovering for a moment, hesitating, unsure, before dropping it stupidly to his side. He wished he knew what to say to help. "I know you do," he finally said. "But you're very-"
Harry rounded on him, a threatening finger whipping through the air. "If you say young, I swear on Merlin's dingy gray pants I will never speak to you again!"
"Inexperienced," James finished, thinking quickly to find a new word.
"That's just another word for young!" Harry made a noise of frustration somewhere deep in his throat before kicking at an ottoman. It fell over with a satisfying "thwomp".
"No, it isn't, and please stop attacking the furniture."
Harry clenched his fists to his side, ignoring the slight admonition. "How can you say I'm inexperienced when I'm the only one who's faced him?"
"Fine," James allowed. "Let's take down Voldemort. You and me. Right now. What's your plan?"
"We go after him!" Harry cried, frustrated. Honestly! Why was this so difficult to understand?
"Where is he?" James asked, his voice infuriatingly calm.
"I - I - How in Merlin's name should I know?"
"How will we take him down when we don't know where he is?"
"I don't know, we'll... question Death Eaters! Mr. Malfoy! We can start with him."
"And what if he won't tell us anything? What if he says he has no idea what we're talking about and has never seen Voldemort in his life?"
"Then he'd be lying. I saw him in the graveyard!"
"Prove it," James replied impassively.
"I... You know I'm telling the truth."
"Yes, I do. But how are you going to prove it? How are you make him tell you anything?"
"Veritaserum," Harry said triumphantly.
"Very well," James allowed. "Then what? We know where Voldemort is. How do we get to him? He'll be surrounded by Death Eaters, especially once Lucius Malfoy has warned him we're coming."
"Why would he do that?"
"Because he's a Death Eater."
"Then we'll cast a memory charm on him."
"And Voldemort will break it. Memory charms rarely protect any information from him. So, I ask again, how do we get to him?"
"With an army."
"Where are you going to get this army?"
"We'll use the Order! Why are you making this so difficult?"
"I'm not making it difficult, Harry. It's already difficult. The Order is small. Right now, there are about twenty people in it. Twenty people can't take on Lord Voldemort. We simply can't. Especially not without some sort of plan. Otherwise, we'll be slaughtered, and Voldemort will be able to rise to power without any resistance. So, you see, we're not hiding. We're plotting. It's different."
"It certainly feels the same," Harry muttered. He sat down hard in the armchair he had vacated only a few moments before. "This is bollocks."
James gave Harry a small, sympathetic smile. "Yes, it is, isn't it? Things will be better once we get to Grimmauld Place. We'll both feel we're doing something there. And Sirius has a back yard that's under his family's wards, so you'll be able to go outside. Maybe even do a little flying so long as you don't go too high. And the summer will pass quickly enough, and you can get back to Hogwarts. Dumbledore can protect you there far better than I can here."
Harry nodded angrily.
"Pardon me," Scott piped up from the sofa. "What is going on here? And why is that picture moving?"
"Obliviate," James said, pointing his wand at Scott. Scott's eyes unfocused for a moment before he looked at Harry. "Oh, hello Harry. Where have you been? I haven't seen you around in ages. My dad said you got sent to boarding school."
"We should take him home," James said. "I don't want to have to do that too many times."
"I suppose I'll get back to packing," Harry mumbled, rising.
"No, you're coming with me. There no way I'm leaving you alone after what just happened."
"Perfect. Just perfect," Harry grumbled. "Now I'm going to have my dad following me around everywhere."
"It could be worse, you know," James countered, ignoring the sting of Harry's words. "You could have had a dad who isn't nearly so brilliant as me. Come on, Scott. Let's get you home." James led Scott out the door as Harry followed, huffing angrily.
"It's called the Reasonable Restriction for a reason, you know," James said as they walked home, and he caught Harry sneaking a glance at his letter once again. "No one's going to expel you for protecting yourself against dementors."
Harry nodded. "I knew I shouldn't have been out," he said quietly. "I was being an idiot. Only I'm tired this. Of all of it. Sometimes I wish that if he's really going to come after me, he'd just get on with it already!"
James bit down the moan that wanted to cross his lips at the thought of Voldemort coming after his son. Again. Still, he couldn't begrudge Harry the feeling. He'd felt the same way a few times, just sitting in Godric's Hollow, unable to do anything but wait to see what was going to happen and hope for the best.
James wished once again that he knew what to say to make this better, but he didn't. There was no making it better. They walked the rest of the way home in silence.
Harry stopped in their front yard, looking up at his bedroom windows. "It'll be strange to live somewhere else. In someone else's house." This had been his home for as long as he could remember, and soon he would be leaving. Just like that.
"Well, it's not like Sirius is a stranger. And you remember how huge Grimmauld Place is. There's plenty of space for us there. And it's nice now. You'll like it."
"I suppose," Harry muttered. "But I still don't want to leave."
James threw an arm around his shoulder. "I know you don't. But hopefully it won't be for long. And living with Sirius will be fun. You know it will be."
That was true enough. If there was a silver lining in any of this, that was it. Living with Sirius would be brilliant. Harry was already busy thinking up things they could do to James in his sleep.
James sighed. "I think we should start spending nights there. Beginning tonight."
James nodded. "As far as I know, the dementors are still under ministry control, but they'll be some of the first to switch sides. This is probably only the first wave of attacks. We should have already been there. We should have moved in the first night you came home."
"But we're not packed! I'm not ready!"
"We're almost done. We'll come over and finish packing up tomorrow. I'll stay home."
"I don't want you to do that." They'd had this argument every day for the past three days. James finally agreed to leave Harry alone this morning only on the condition that Harry promise to stay in the house. And after the disaster that followed, James would probably never leave him alone again. He'd probably end up following him to Hogwarts, knowing Harry's luck. He thought he would scream if his father didn't stop hovering over him. At least at Grimmauld Place, James would be confident enough that he was safe that he could have a little space. He hoped.
"Go pack yourself a bag for tonight. We'll start moving things in the morning."
Harry grumbled, but obeyed. He knew that tone; it was the tone that said James' mind was made up and no one - except perhaps Sirius - would be able to change it. Harry returned ten minutes later to find James already ready. Harry huffed again and followed his dad to the floo. Rather than going through it, James dropped to his knees and stuck his head inside. A few moments later, Dumbledore appeared, his face etched with concern.
"Good evening, Harry."
"Professor," Harry greeted him with a small, confused nod.
"I'm terribly sorry for what happened this afternoon."
"It wasn't your fault."
"Perhaps not, but I should have expected it. I will do everything I can at your hearing, provided I still can. I seem to have lost some popularity the past few days. It seems the ministry is quite adamant that no one spread the word that Voldemort is back."
"Idiots," James muttered under his breath.
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. "You two are wise to move to the Order Headquarters. They are located at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, London."
"We know where they are," Harry snapped.
"Harry," James replied sharply.
"What?" Harry asked. "We do!"
James sighed. "I should have thought to tell you. Grimmauld Place has been placed under the Fidelius Charm. That means it can only be located by those who already know where it is. Dumbledore is the secret-keeper."
"I know what the fidelius charm is, Dad."
James closed his eyes, and Harry realized he'd gone to far. "Sorry," he murmured, ducking his head.
"It's quite all right, but I'm nearing the end of my patience."
Harry brought his gaze up again, glaring. "I said I was sorry!"
"I really should be going," Dumbledore said suddenly. "Hogwarts doesn't run itself, you know." Dumbledore disappeared with a tiny pop.
"Through the floo," James ordered, pointing at it brusquely. Harry stepped through, his chest tight, to find Remus and Sirius sitting in a familiar low kitchen.
Sirius brightened immediately. "Pronglet! What brings you here?"
"We're moving in early. Dad doesn't think it's safe at home."
"Brilliant. Is he coming, too?"
Harry nodded. "He's right behind me."
"Even better. Run upstairs and grab his pillow. There's still enough time to freeze it before bed."
Harry gave a little laugh as James stepped through the floo. "What are you all laughing at."
"Nothing," Harry replied, rearranging his features into an innocent expression. "Nothing whatever. By the by, which room will be yours?"