Ch 40 Fireside Chat
Harry strolled through the portrait hole and back into the Gryffindor common room well pleased with himself. He'd managed to explain everything to the Pride and even convinced some of them to come hunting with him. Truthfully, it was just Rex, but they'd had a good time none the less.
The low glow of the fire gave his powerful Kneazle eyes more than enough light to navigate in the night, something that Harry was always thankful of. Humans were simply not meant to function after the sun went down. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Harry spotted Neville sitting on the floor near the fire. As this was not the boy's nightly routine, Harry decided to be a good friend and find out what might be the problem.
Transforming with no effort, he plodded over and sat down rather abruptly next to the other boy. "What's up, mate?" Harry inquired.
"Not much, I guess. Where were you?"
"Out hunting," Harry shrugged. After a few minutes of silence, Harry moved to stand.
"How did you deal with it?" Neville said, after a moment. His tone was listless.
Sitting back down, Harry thought about it a moment. "Going to have to be a bit more specific. Hermione might ask me the same thing about not doing my homework. I don't think that's what you mean though."
"How did you deal with killing Professor Quirrell?"
"Didn't really have to 'deal with it' I guess. I'd killed before, and I'd lost siblings. Granted I'd never killed a man, but then again I'd never had cause to. He killed a friend of mine. I killed him back. It was that simple."
"I don't know how you do it, Harry. I wish I could be as collected as you," Neville sniffed. "Every time I go to sleep, all I can see is that man's face. I know he was a bad man, but I killed him, Harry. I didn't mean to, but they say the path to hell is paved with good intentions."
After a moment Harry turned to his friend as spoke slowly and deliberately trying to ensure he wouldn't be misunderstood. "Would you rather it had been you, or perhaps Ginny? Maybe Ron, or Hermione?" Neville shook his head mutely. "I didn't think so. Killing doesn't make you a bad person, Neville. You killed to defend your Pride. You should be proud of that. The objective if you get in a fight isn't to die for your friends, though that is sometimes needed, the goal is to make the other sorry bastard die for theirs. You did that. I know you say you didn't mean to, but what was your alternative? You could have run, maybe. Left the rest of us to our fate. Would you have done that?"
"No, of course not!" Neville cried.
"I didn't think so. So, without a wand, what other choice did you have? You did what was needed and you still had the presence of mind to get out of the situation."
"I pissed myself the first time I fought a dog."
Neville smiled a little. "Did you really grow up as a Kneazle? Grandmum never could figure where you were after you disappeared. After rumours got out that you were gone, it started going around that Dumbledore himself had taken you to train you personally."
Harry laughed, despite himself. He couldn't imagine a more different scenario than what had actually happened. "Yes, I did. I'm not so sure I'm not one, but keep it to yourself."
Neville chuckled a little. "Does it ever get better?"
"I think so. Try not to focus too much on it. Remember, we still have exams."
"Bloody hell, you're right, and we've potions tomorrow. So, on that happy thought, I should really get back to bed."
"Me too," Harry replied as he leaned forward, stretching his hands out as far as he could while still sitting.
"You're the real thing aren't you?" Neville murmured humorously.
"What do you mean?" Harry was puzzled.
"You started kneading the carpet. It all makes so much sense, now. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'm quite pleased with the progress you've made in these few days, Mr. Potter. How has tutoring been going with the other classes?" McGonagall asked, setting her wand down.
"They're going well, Professor," Harry replied a little guiltily. It wasn't a lie, exactly, but he still hadn't approached Professor Snape about it, yet. The other Professors were usually suitably inclined after Harry explained to them the situation and Professor Flitwick even commended him on his ambition. Harry had neglected to tell them about his cousin's coercion in the matter.
"I am pleased to hear that, Harry. Especially in light of what happened last week. I commend you on being so quick with your initiative. However, it has come to my attention that you still have not approached Professor Snape. May I ask why?"
"Do you mean apart from the fact that I'm reasonably sure he hates me, Professor?"
"I assure you, Mr. Potter; Professor Snape does not hate you."
"Could have fooled me," Harry muttered. "Well, I was under the apparently mistaken assumption that he did in fact hate me, and as such I was more than a little wary of the idea of placing myself in close proximity to the man, lest some harm befall either him or me."
"While you do have a valid point, Cousin, and at least one professor has met a rather unsavory end due to your direct involvement, I think that Professor Snape is better than that. So, I must insist that you find him and discuss the possibility of help outside of class."
Harry sighed loudly. "I don't suppose pointing out that all this extra studying is cutting into my naptime will get me any sympathy, will it?"
"No, Mr. Potter, it won't. Neither will pointing out that it reduces your frolicking time. You've had plenty of extra time to do both. Your studies must come first this time."
"I suppose," Harry huffed. "Is it alright if I go try to find Snape now?"
"Professor Snape, Harry and yes I think it would be a fine idea. I happen to know he cleans cauldrons and organizes his stock room every Saturday at about this time. That should make him somewhat easier to track down."
As Harry stood and began to gather up his things, the door to the classroom flew open. "Paws, he's awake!"
"About damn time, Sparkplug!" Harry whooped, and dropping everything, grabbed Ginny's hand and raced out the door.
McGonagall stood stock still, and stared intently at the space her student used to occupy and muttered to herself, "I wonder if that boy oughtn't to have been in Hufflepuff."
A few minutes later, Harry, Ginny and Hermione were standing around Ron's bed, the lanky red-head looking a little worse for the wear, but happy enough and definitely conscious.
"How are you feeling, mate?" Harry finally asked, once he had his breath back.
"Did anyone get the number on the Lorry that hit me?"
"A lorry didn't hit you…" Harry trailed off. Ron merely sighed.
"I know, Harry. It was a joke. I feel like shite. Madam Pomfrey doesn't know how I'm even in my right mind. Said the force of the curse would have snapped most people." Ron looked a little shaken at his admission.
"I'm so glad you're alright, Ron. We were quite worried about you," Hermione finally interjected. Her face began to colour a soft red.
"Were you worried then, Hermione?"
"We all were, Ron. I'm sure I was, too. I don't need to tell you how badly you looked when Ginny finally got you back here."
"Right, but I mean were you worried… you know… extra?" Ron's ears began to flame and Harry could smell the tension in the air, and he was about to say something when Ginny interrupted the potential lover's quarrel. Throwing her arms around her brother's neck, Ginny's self-control finally cracked.
"You… you … Git! Why did you have to go and play the hero? You've already wound up in here once this year and Mum was going spare the whole time. I can't believe you stepped in front of that for me," she sobbed.
Ron patted her back awkwardly. "You're my sister, Ginny. What was I supposed to do? I can't let Harry have everything, can I?" He smirked a little at that.
"Have they said when you'll be released yet?"
"Nah, Pomfrey wants to keep me a few days, but I'll be out and about before you can say Quidditch."
"Quidditch," Harry replied.
"Arse." Ron's reply was muffled through the form of his sister, who had jumped on top of him, delivering a bone crunching hug. No one thought it wise to comment on the tears flowing feely down the girl's face.
"Think we should leave them to some sibling time?" Harry asked. Hermione merely nodded. "We'll leave you two alone. I have to find Professor Snape, anyway."
Nodding, Ron made a gentle shooing motion with his hand, while at the same time trying to consol his sobbing sister.
Closing the door behind them, Harry felt a little guilty that it was Ron and not he who had to deal with the distraught female. With that pleasant thought, the young Kneazle mustered up his courage and began the long walk to the dungeons.
Unfortunately, the walk was over far too quickly, and Harry found himself staring at the slightly ajar door to the Potions classroom. Harry's knuckles made a soft rapping sound that seemed to echo eerily in the deserted corridor.
"Come in!" Snape barked, and Harry gingerly pushed his way into his least favourite classroom in the school.
"Professor, I was hoping to talk with you briefly," Harry began.
"Then make it exceedingly so, Mr. Potter. I've no time for attention seeking, delusional idiots in my classroom," Snape snapped.
"I was hoping, sir, that you might be willing to donate a little of your time to assisting me with gaining a better grasp on the fine art of potion making." Harry nearly choked on the words, but it sounded suitably close to something that Hermione might say, so he was hoping the teacher would take it. According to Cousin McGonagall, a good potions master could make a near infinite supply of Kneazle treats, which was the only reason at this point that Harry was bothering the greasy, overgrown bat.
Snape let out an uncharacteristically loud laugh, which reminded Harry rather closely of Mr. Black. He wondered if the two were friends. "Mr. Potter, you, of all my students, are the least likely to grasp even the simplest rudiments of potion brewing, and also the least deserving of my time. You have squandered your chance to improve through your repeated and incessant failure to do your homework and were it not for the talented Miss Granger, I have no doubt that your incompetence would rival even the Longbottom boy's."
Harry glared at his professor. He was asking a simple enough thing, there was no need to be rude, Harry thought. Perhaps a subtle name drop would help the man see the worthiness of the Kneazle cause. He decided to throw in his trademarked 'cute kitten eyes of pleading' for good measure. Ginny was never able to resist them, and Harry doubted the Potion Master's ability surpassed that of his molly… er, human. "Professor McGonagall had suggested that perhaps you might be willing…"
"So it was all her idea? I should have guessed, you are as lazy as you are incompetent, Potter. I, for one, won't be party to her schemes to cover up any further of your misdeeds," Snape growled as he studiously avoided Harry's gaze.
"Ah, so I am to assume that your response is a 'no'?"
"Yes, now leave, Potter."
"You know, it is a shame, Professor."
After hanging in the air for a moment, Snape finally asked, "What is?"
"That my ability in the fine art of potion making is rivalled only by your skill as a teacher, good day, sir."
With that parting shot, Harry strode purposefully out of the dungeons. He knew it wasn't wise to provoke the old man, but Harry bristled at the insinuations against Hermione, Neville and himself. So deep in thought, Harry didn't see anything in front of him until he ran forcefully into it.
"Oohff! Ohhh.. sexing meow," Harry grumbled as he dusted himself off and looked up to see what he'd run into. The amused expressions of Fred and George Weasley stared back.
"Alright there, Harrikins?" Fred asked, extending a hand to help the younger boy up.
"What brings you down to the dreariest of dungeons?" George continued.
"Had to ask Professor Snape for a bit of help. It seems I'm a little behind in my studies."
"How did that go, then?" George prodded.
"Terribly. He told me I wasn't any good at it, and made a few cutting remarks about my friends and then I sort of told him he wasn't a very good professor and stormed out."
"Wait… explain, from the beginning," Fred demanded, slowly. So Harry obliged, recalling as closely as he could word for word the exchange between the professor and himself. At the end, both boys' jaws were hanging open and admiration shown in their eyes. "George, my dear brother, I believe it is our duty,"
"Nay, our privilege," George continued. "To assist this fine and upstanding younger student in his endeavours. "
"I agree, in repayment for nothing less than the finest retort I've ever heard anyone give that grease ball and escape alive."
"Erm… I don't mean to be rude, mates, but I need to do well, we've only a little over a month left, and I don't remember either of you being great hands at your lessons."
"He wounds me, dear brother!" Fred declared, with mock sincerity. A moment later both became serious, and George finally spoke.
"You're right, of course, Harry. We were always too busy with a joke to take school too seriously, though we did get good marks. Not as great as Percy or Bill, perhaps, but more than enough to get the O.W.L. results we want, and we do owe you, Harry, for saving our lives. I think that this is as good a chance as any to begin repaying that."
Harry sputtered in protest. "I didn't do it for payment. You'd have done the same for me!"
"But we didn't, mate. You and that daft git of a brother of ours did, and we take such things seriously. Moreover, we've discovered that our marks have gone up now that we're not so busy trying to make everyone laugh."
"Can we tell you a secret?" George whispered. Harry merely nodded. "We were planning on opening a joke shop, once we're out of here, but I think you knew that. No, my dear brother had a crazy idea. We're still going into business for ourselves, but we'll be designing for the Ministry!"
Harry looked between the two boys nervously. He was on pins and needles waiting for the prank. After a few moments, when it didn't come he finally asked, "Alright, what's the joke?"
"No joke, Harry. We'd already had a couple of product prototypes made up for the joke shop, and we were going to give them to Dad, as part of turning over a new leaf, but this crazy bloke," Fred jerked his thumb at his twin, "Came up with the idea that with a little modification they could be used by the Auror department. We showed them to Bill in Egypt and he agreed. He's even field testing a few of them for us right now. With his help, we might be able to get an 'in' with Gringotts and then on to the Ministry!" Fred finished excitedly.
"That's great, mates, that really is, but what does it have to do with me?"
"The point my long-winded sibling is getting at, is that not only do we have the dedication to help you with your wayward potion skills, but we also have the added bonus of being able to get you to help us a little with some of our creations. Nothing dangerous or too complicated, mind you, but I think this could be a suitable arrangement."
"So, you get some free help, and I don't have to deal with Snape the Kneazle eater?"
"Sounds about right, chum."
Harry grinned. "You're on."
"Harry, I'm sorry to say, but this is the last extra lesson I'll be able to give you." Professor Lupin spoke so quietly that even Harry's human ears had to perk a little to understand him.
"Why, Professor? Is it exams? That time of the month again? We do only have two weeks left, so I understand completely."
Lupin merely shook his head mournfully. "My dear, naïve boy," he whispered and then continued in a louder voice. "No, I'm sorry, Harry. It seems that after thorough review and consideration the board of governors has found me 'unsuited' to the position as Defence teacher."
"Oh?" Now Harry was genuinely confused. The man was a wolf, which was worrisome, but he was a part time wolf so Harry need only be worried part of the time. It wasn't as though students were mysteriously being eaten.
"Yes, it seems that my furry status and the recent run in with Sirius Black has shown me to be 'terribly unqualified for a position of trust and leadership with today's youth'." The professor made a bitter face at the proclamation.
"That's shite. You're a hunter, Professor, and while I don't trust you completely, you certainly have shown due care that you didn't eat any of my fellow students. I find your restraint admirable, along with your assisting me with lessons."
Lupin responded with a dark chuckle. "I admire your honesty, Harry, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valour and tact is not merely a word in the dictionary."
"I will take it under advisement. Who will be teaching us, if not you?"
"Since there is so little time before the end of term, they will be cancelling the remaining lessons and I believe Professor Dumbledore will be administering your exams."
"Damn," Harry muttered.
"Something the problem?"
"Not as long as he doesn't try to grab me, again."
"I see… Well, as this is your last lesson, I suppose we should make the best of it."
"I suppose we should," Harry agreed.
An hour later, Harry felt himself on the edge of exhaustion and was glad when Professor Lupin called a halt to their activities. The older man gently extended his hand, which Harry took tentatively.
"It has been a real treat to be able to assist you, Harry. I wish you luck in the rest of your endeavours."
"Thank you, Professor, though may I ask a question?"
"I understand why I needed to be able to produce a Patronus, and I appreciate the duelling lessons, but why did you tell me all about the Nundu? It isn't like I'm ever going to meet one."
Lupin chuckled. "With your luck, Harry, I'd not bet a single Knut on that."
Harry smiled and was quiet a moment, before asking again, "May I pose another question, Professor?"
"Where did Mr. Black get to?"
A shadow passed over Lupin's face, exacerbating the already hollow look. "He left, Harry. I'm sorry to say there wasn't much left for him here. I'd hoped he could get in touch with you, but to be truthful I don't know where he's gone. We both thought it better that way."
"I suppose. I'm just confused; the Minister promised him a trial or something, didn't he?'
"That's what I'd heard, but I don't think Sirius was terribly inclined to take it. He'd have to explain it to you. Now, if you'll excuse me, tomorrow is my last day here and so I do have rather a lot to do before I'm chucked rather unceremoniously back into the world."
Harry nodded briefly and without a word left the room. Pausing only briefly to catch a glimpse of the nicest wolf-man he'd ever met. Perhaps, just perhaps, not all dogs were evil, he thought.
It was due to his preoccupation with his recent revelation that Harry one again ran into the Weasley twins, head first. "There are better ways of getting our attention, you know," Fred began.
"However, as we've been looking for you, it seems rather lucky that we've found you here. Meet us tonight in the Transfiguration classroom. Say, six o'clock?"
Harry nodded dumbly. What on earth would they be doing in the Transfiguration classroom, he wondered as both boys clapped him on the shoulder and strode off in the opposite direction, leaving Harry to ponder how they planned on absconding with Cousin McGonagall's classroom without her noticing.
At precisely six, Harry found out. He crept timidly into the domain of his older and though he would never admit it, even to himself, wiser cousin. There, he found several cauldrons set up and a variety of potion ingredients.
"Welcome, Harry. My dear brother was just saying how you wouldn't have the nerve to show up."
"I was not, you git!"
After another moment of a sibling squabble, Harry cleared his throat which seemed to narrowly avoid a physical altercation.
"You were saying, gentlemen?" Harry asked.
"Ah, yes, we were saying, welcome to your new potion training site. We spoke with the good professor and she seemed quite willing to allow us the use of this space provided we put things to rights before we leave."
"She was okay with it?" Harry repeated with disbelief.
Both boys smiled broadly. "Unusually so. If I didn't know better, I'd say she fancied you, Harrikins," Fred teased.
"I guess she is family," Harry muttered.
"Right then, where to begin..." George proclaimed, and with that Harry found a new love that he'd never realized before.
"So if I add the asphodel, before the lacewings, it causes the potion to increase in potency, but if I add them after the whole thing explodes?"
"You're getting it, Harry," George praised. Both twins were secretly glad that their pupil was beginning to show a little aptitude after the three hours they'd spent with him, sharing some of their most vital secrets. He finally had begun to understand the fundamentals of the fine art of potion making.
"It's about that time, mates," Fred concluded. "We promised the good professor we'd be to bed before ten."
"Can we do this again? I feel like I've learned loads, already," Harry bounced excitedly. The twins shared a look and both nodded imperceptibly.
"We'll have to ask McGonagall again, but I think we can manage something. This helps us with our O.W.L.s as well." It also didn't hurt that if Harry became a fair hand at potion making, it would infuriate Snape to no end. This too was a noble pursuit in the mind of all Gryffindors. "Now, we'll clean up here, Harry. Why don't you get back to the tower."
Harry nodded and bounded out of the room. He found himself eager, for the first time in his life, to begin brewing his next potion. As he gently fell asleep in his bed that night, Harry found himself enjoying the thought of school. He wasn't sure whether he should be relieved or greatly worried.
"Good night, Sparkplug," Harry whispered as Ginny began slowly climbing the stairs. She waved a sleepy good night, and as Harry began to turn to his own dorm Ron's familiar voice stopped him.
"Where've you been?" Ron asked.
"Out saying goodbye to my friends in the Forest. Angelina is rather upset, with Electrolux not being around. I tried to help, but how do you comfort a car?" Harry wandered over and sat next to his mate. The fire was burning low, but it still put out enough light to see.
"I don't hardly believe it, Harry. I mean, Ginny told me what you are, and what she is, but it doesn't seem real. You're bloody lucky, you know that, right?"
Harry shrugged. "I've got thirteen lives, that's all."
"Wish I did," Ron grumbled. "Bloody hell. Maybe I wouldn't be stuck with this ruddy thing," Ron groused as he tapped his cane on a metal brace supporting his left leg.
"Have they said when it can come off?"
"No, bloody healers. Don't know a bloody thing. Can't even fix a bloke's leg."
"Ron, mate, you were hit by a sexing powerful curse by one of the most evil wizards I've ever run across. You're lucky you ever woke up."
"That's what Hermione keeps telling me, but I don't feel lucky. I can't ride a broom, and now I can't even walk properly. I'm bloody useless, that's what I am!" Ron nearly bellowed.
"Ginny didn't think so, and neither did Hermione. Do you wish you'd let either one of them get hurt instead?"
"Of course not!"
"Then, my best advice is to quit complaining about things you can't change and focus on emphasizing the good."
Ron snorted. "What good do I possibly have? Not like a girl will even take a second look at me now."
Harry smiled a little. "You are by far the bravest man I know. You followed me twice to near certain death. You're the best chess player in Gryffindor, and you're smarter than you ever give yourself credit for. No, you may never be the head of the Pride, but I'd ask for your help in a tight corner without a second thought, leg or no leg. I know for a fact that mollies love a tom with a few battle scars. Shows how tough he is. Not to mention the fact that you helped us embarrass Slytherin in the Quidditch final more than I ever thought possible."
Ron shrugged morosely. "It wasn't that big a deal, Harry. I mean, it wasn't like I caught the bloody Snitch or anything."
Harry smiled broadly at his glum friend. "Ron, somehow you managed to have nearly two-thirds of the pitch chanting 'Draco Malfoy takes it up the arse'. If that doesn't qualify as a monumentally spectacular moment in all of Hogwarts history, I don't know what does."
"We still lost the House Cup, though. Hermione wasn't too pleased about that."
Harry shrugged. "And I'm sure the huge number of points McGonagall deducted from all three houses for your creative chant put Slytherin as the only real contestant to win, but the way I see it, you made the right choice."
"How do you figure, mate?"
"I have a saying, Ron. Never let gold and jewels stand between doing what is right. It is all too common to take the easy way out. It would have been easier to sit back and watch us thoroughly crush Slytherin and that pompous Malfoy git, but instead you decided to add insult to injury and humiliate him as well. Despite the known dangers of McGonagall's wrath."
Ron frowned. "Harry, I don't think what I did has anything to do with your saying. Looking back, it was funny enough, but I'm not sure Hermione wasn't right and it wasn't terribly awful."
"You made Neville smile. He hasn't done that since we got back from the forest."
Ron smiled a little. "You really think so?"
"Hermione told me herself. Why do you think she only ranted at you for a minute or two?"
"I thought she might have found it as funny as we did."
"Nah. I think she was just convinced you were really doing it all for Neville's benefit and not because you hate Malfoy."
"She was wrong."
"I know," Harry shrugged. "But don't tell her that. She loves a man who will stand up for what he believes in. She also loves a man with a good intellect."
Ron sputtered and turned red. "What in the bloody hell does that have to do with anything?"
Harry smirked as he rose. "That, my friend, is a question you're going to have to answer for yourself. I'd just recommend studying a bit more next year. You don't want to be like me and barely pass everything."
Ron glared at him. "You did better than me in Potions!"
"That was only because I have a score to settle with Snape. Anyway, we're heading home tomorrow, so I think I better be off to bed."
"Harry," Ron called after him.
"Is Neville going to be alright? He's been a bit off since we got back."
"In time, but you helped." With that, Harry turned, headed up the stairs, and for the last night curled on top of his bed.
The common room the following morning was a symphony of chaos, and Harry loved it.
They managed to board the train and settle into a compartment. Harry even convinced Hermione to let Crookshanks out of his cage. After a few minutes of distinctly uncomfortable silence with Neville staring off into space, Ron and Hermione trying to be as distant as possible to each other, yet failing spectacularly every time their hands would come into contact, causing crimson blushes to appear on both their faces. Ginny gave Harry a knowing look and then stood.
"I think we're going to get a bit of fresh air. We'll be back in a bit."
"Of course," Neville mumbled.
Upon opening the door, the faces of Harry's three least favourite year mates stood rather unexpectedly in front of him.
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Ron snarled. Ron had become, since his release from the hospital, even more hostile towards the blond Slytherin boy.
"Just to pass on a message, Weasel, so hold your tongue when your betters are present."
"When I see someone better than me, I will," Ron retorted.
"Bloody Filch is better than you, blood traitor."
Harry gazed rather impassively at his nemesis and at the same time put a restraining arm on Ginny. "You know, Malfoy, this compartment may in fact be the only one containing anyone who's actually killed a man. Do you really think it's wise to start something when you're so clearly outclassed?" Harry cocked one eyebrow in the recognized form of a challenge.
"I may be outnumbered, Potter, but I'll never be outclassed by their filth."
"Draco, I have thus far been rather accommodating because today is such a beautiful day that I would hate to make whomever cleans the train have to remove your blood from the carpet, but if you insist on behaving like a common flobberworm, then I'm afraid you leave me no choice," Neville spoke softly, but with an authority Harry hadn't heard before. It sounded almost like something he would have said, himself. Glancing back briefly, Harry noticed that Neville had stood. "And please keep in mind, who in this compartment has killed a man. What's another?" Harry doubted anyone else could see it, but the blonde boy's sneer faltered for just a moment, before he thrust a grimy piece of parchment into Ginny's hands.
"Take it, filth." With that, he and both his gorilla-like companions stormed away.
Ginny stared down at it with an expression of pure loathing. "What's it say?" Ron finally asked.
"Dear Red Weasel, I look forward to playing with you, soon. You aren't free until I'm dead. Be afraid."
"Bloody hell," Ron murmured. Harry grabbed the parchment from his human just as she began to cry.
"Listen here, Ginny," he whispered, as he held her against his chest. "You'll be safe as long as I'm around. He made a mistake sending us that. He won't be able to get to Hogwarts so easily next year, and no one is coming near you at home without me knowing. I'll kill him the first chance I get, Sparkplug."
"Why? Why would you risk yourself again for me, Harry?" Ginny whispered so softly Harry had to strain his ears to hear.
He smiled in a rather lopsided manner. "Because no one makes you cry."
The sombre mood was broken a moment later, by a frantic tapping on the window. Ron stood, laboriously and opened it, allowing a small and highly agitated owl in the compartment.
'Oh, look, a snack,' Crookshanks muttered.
"It's not for eating, git. It's got a letter."
"Open it up then, Harry."
He did so and inside was the untidy scrawl of what Harry assumed to be the writing of Mr. Black.
I'm sorry I didn't get to say goodbye, but I didn't think that you'd be too broken up about that sort of thing when being chased by Dementors. I've left the country, for now, but I'll always be in touch if you need anything. I'm sorry we never got off to the proper sort of relationship a Godfather and his Godson are supposed to have, but I hope you'll learn to give me a chance in time. I hope you had a chance to use your broom in the Quidditch final, as I'd imagine you're rather stranded without a Hippogriff. You are the most amazing young man I have ever met, Mr. Potter, and I believe your father would have been enormously proud of you. From the way you talk, at least one of them already is. Keep up the good work and try not to give me great-Godkittens any time soon. I know how a tom can be when he sees a cute molly. I'd tell you to keep the owl, since you don't have one of your own, but I've grown rather fond of the little creature in a short time and I would hate to have it boiled, braised or prepared tandoori style. Perhaps one of your friends is in need of one?
Your Loving Dogfather, Mr. Black
P.S. I'm sure you're wondering why I haven't turned myself in yet. A friend connected with the Ministry told me a little bit ago that she heard the Minister discussing ways to resolve my situation. I think only one of their ideas involved me getting a trial. Suffice to say, I don't feel terribly assured of justice running its course uninterrupted at the moment. Take care of yourself, kidder. I'll always be here if you need me. '
Harry smiled a little and gently folded the letter into one of his schoolbooks for the moment.
"Would you like an owl, Ron?"
"Is it really an owl, or is it another nutter who's going to try and kill us all again?"
"Pretty sure it's an owl."
"Don't you want it, mate?" Neville questioned.
"Nah, with my luck I'd just get hungry and throw the little bugger in the oven."
Ginny gasped. "Harry Potter! You're almost civilized. Cooking your food first. What would your Kneazles say?"
The entire compartment burst out laughing and then Ron shrugged, "Yeah, a bloke can always use a decent owl."
Harry smiled a little at his friend's feigned indifference. Ron was coming back.
"Blood hell, there's Mum," Ron breathed as the assorted Weasleys and Harry disembarked the train. Harry stared at the woman with a fair bit of confusion. She didn't seem angry or hysterical any longer, though one might expect her to still be. She seemed… unsure.
What she was unsure about, he couldn't begin to fathom, and it was a little worrisome. In all the years he'd been around the family, Harry had never once seen Mum Weasley at a loss for a course of action. He didn't always agree with her course, but he respected the fact that she stuck to it, despite his warning mewling.
"Children, get in the car," she called, and then turned to Harry. "Erm, nice to see you again, Harry. I'm… that is to say… well, I do apologise, but that seems terribly insufficient…" She trailed off again. At this point, Harry was mildly distracted by the fact that it seemed the Weasleys were to be taking Arabella's Volvo, but as of yet no one had sat in the front, and so he was hardly listening to her.
"May I have the front seat, Mum Weasley?"
"Oh, why yes, of course, dear," Molly said a little bemused. Harry patted the woman's shoulder and trotted over to the car and with Ginny's help placed his trunk in the magically augmented boot.
Molly stared after the boy with a confused expression on her face, until a loud pop from the direction of the platform drew her attention. Her moment's distraction was a moment too long as the sound of a car engine firing up and doors slamming drew her attention back around. "What are you doing?" she screamed, but it was doubtful that the occupants of the car could hear her over the squealing of tires.
"Harry," Ginny exclaimed as Harry gunned the engine of the Volvo. "You can't steal Mum's car!"
"It isn't Mum's, it's Arabella's, and I have absolutely no doubt that she would have no problem at all with us stealing her car."
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Ron yelled. "But what about Percy and Mum?"
"They can Apparate, Ron," George interjected. "I'm far more worried about whether or not Harry can drive this."
"Not, really," Harry said. "But I can't really do a lot of things I do, so why should this be any different? Not to mention, I'm sure that Sebastian has put a few special charms on this since Arabella's was in that accident a few years ago. "
"Well then, I don't think we have anything to worry about," Ron said and promptly leaned against the window and did his best to fall asleep around the loud blaring of horns from oncoming motorists Harry managed to barely avoid.
AN: That's it, folks! The end to Growing Up Kneazle. I can't believe it has been nearly two years in the making. Never fear, I fully plan on doing a sequel to this but a break is needed. I want to give you the best story I can, so I hope you'll forgive the delay. I am also looking for any good suggestions on how Harry might go about winning the second task. I'm at a bit of a loss for this one. I hope you enjoyed the ride and I'm flattered that each one of you has taken the time to read to this point. I'm also planning a Ted/Andromeda Tonks story. If anyone has any suggestions about that, please let me know. Thank you to each and every reviewer and faithful reader. Also, I'd like to dedicate this chapter to friends of mine who just got a new job. Nhis and Crikki, I wish you the best.