Summary: It's Harry's sixth birthday, and he's looking forward to finally leaving the Dursleys for good, but someone else has other ideas.
Rating: PG for angst
Disclaimer: I do not own JKR's fantastic creations, I merely like to borrow them at playtime. Also the name for the Puffskein was my bro's idea.
Author's notes: Not as AU as you might think. It will make sense in the end.
Harry checked his bag for the third time. Over the years, the amount of stuff he took for the weekends had lessened – he did not need a toothbrush, or clothes, or pencil case, as Uncle Albus now kept spares for him. All he took now were his teddy bear, homework, and presents he'd made for Albus at school – drawings, stories, paintings. The dining room was wallpapered with them. Harry didn't keep any toys other than his teddy at Privet Drive, for fear of Dudley breaking them.
Friday was a wonderful day. For Harry, it meant two whole days Dursley-free, two whole days seeing lots of magic, and most of all, two whole days with people who cared about him. Harry didn't even mind that Dudley picked on him more than usual on Fridays, or that Aunt Petunia gave him more morning chores to do, as if to make up for the days they would not be able to torment him. Nothing, nothing could spoil his mood on Fridays.
It was three minutes to four. It was the school holidays, so Harry had been impatiently waiting all day; he had changed clothes after he had come back from Mrs Figg's to get rid of the smell of her house, and was now standing in the hall, bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement.
This weekend was even more special than usual, because the next day would be Harry's sixth birthday.
He was hoping Uncle Albus might get him a broomstick. He'd seen photos and thought it looked wonderful, but Albus and the Dursleys had an agreement that he wouldn't give Harry anything magic. Harry knew Albus didn't want to make Harry's days with them worse by provoking them, so he kept to the agreement. Still, if Harry kept it at Albus' house, the Dursleys need never know.
The clock struck the hour, and right on cue, a figure Harry knew well rounded the corner of Privet Drive.
"See you Monday, Aunt Petunia!" Harry yelled, bolting towards the corner. He was greeted enthusiastically as usual, swept into the air by Albus, Harry's weekend bag falling to the ground.
"There's my boy!" Harry flung his arms around Albus' neck and the man chuckled. "Looking forward to the weekend, I see?"
Harry turned and saw Aunt Petunia watching from the front door. He gave a quick wave to make Albus happy and turned away.
"Good boy. Are you all ready?"
Harry was deposited back onto the ground, and he picked up his bag, bubbling over with excitement. Albus held out his hand and Harry took it firmly.
The only sensation he didn't like; as if being squeezed through something, but emerging safe and sound on a familiar road. The passing villagers didn't notice them appear out of thin air in the Apparition point, but once Albus stepped forward, Harry following and still holding his hand, a woman outside the bakery called "Good afternoon, Mr Dumbledore. Hello, Harry!"
"Hi, Mrs King," Harry replied.
"My, you've grown, haven't you! You look miles taller than last week!"
Harry grinned and Albus chuckled. They walked down the high street and round a corner, occasionally being greeted by a neighbour, until coming to the curled black iron gate which Harry rushed to open. Beyond stretched a front garden, bursting with colourful flowers, and a gravel path crunched under their feet to the front door, which was old and heavy oak, with studs painted like the gate.
"Can I -" Harry began, but Albus picked him up again before he could finish and held him in front of the lion-shaped knocker so he could bang it.
"Come in," Albus joked, and put Harry down again so he could open the door.
As Harry entered, his heart leapt in excitement. The walls of the hall were hung with banners reading "Happy Birthday!", and balloons were fixed into corners of the ceiling.
"Do you like it?" Albus asked, looking down at his young charge.
"I have another surprise for you, young man. Go and take your things up to your room, and then come into the kitchen and I'll show you, all right?"
Harry raced up the stairs, and found the door labelled "Harry's Room". He always felt a warm glow at the sight, even more so after five days in a cupboard. Behind the door, the room was big, brightly coloured and homely. Harry jumped onto his bed, with the jungle animals duvet, and tucked his teddy bear into the covers. On top of the bookshelf was a host of other stuffed animals, mostly ones Harry had never seen before except in books. He paused only to take off Dudley's old jacket and stuff it in the cupboard, before hurrying back downstairs to see his surprise. The polished oak stairs protested as Harry ran down them, jumping the last four.
Apart from his bedroom, the kitchen was his favourite room in Albus' house. It was always warm and inviting, and there was often goodies on offer such as biscuits or cakes. Although Albus insisted that on the weekends, Harry didn't have to do any kind of chores, Harry enjoyed helping with the cooking. It was the only thing he did for the Dursleys that he liked.
Albus was in the kitchen by the stove, holding something cupped in his hands, and smiling more widely than Harry had ever seen him.
"I have a present for you," he announced.
"But my birthday's tomorrow."
"This isn't a birthday present, it's something extra."
Harry brightened even more. "What is it?"
Albus knelt down so Harry could see the ball of custard-coloured fluff in his hands, and Harry's breath caught in his throat. "Is it -" He couldn't get the words out.
Albus carefully transferred the Puffskein into Harry's hands. "What are you going to call him?"
Harry had been dying for a pet Puffskein since his first trip to Diagon Alley two years ago, so he knew the answer immediately.
The Puffskein snuggled up against Harry's chest and he giggled as it tickled him. He remembered exactly the words Albus had spoken two years ago when he had asked.
"I don't think a pet is a good idea at the moment, Harry. I'll tell you what. When you move in with me permanently, I'll buy you a Puffskein, I promise."
"Do you mean – I can live here all the time now?"
Albus pulled Harry and Piff into a hug in response. "Welcome home, Harry."
Harry had never looked so happy.
The boy was always happy when Albus around, but Albus knew that during the week, Harry was usually miserable. Well, now that would change.
"Uncle Albus?" Harry said, breaking Albus' train of thought.
"Yes, my boy?"
"Will you Ap—Ap—"
"Appate me to school?"
"No," Albus replied. The thought that Harry's current school was miles away from home had occurred to him only two days ago, at which point he had begun hunting for information on the local schools. "Would you prefer to go to a new school?"
"One that Dudley isn't at?" Albus added.
"Oh—yeah, definitely," Harry said, grinning again.
"That's what I thought. There's a school down the road that seems nice," Albus said. "Mrs King's children go there, she says it's very good." He paused. "And they've got climbing frames in the playground."
Silence fell again as Harry went back to playing with Piff on the rug. Albus watched him, unable to stop himself from smiling. Ever since Harry could talk he had been asking when he could move in with Albus for good instead of spending the week at the Dursleys; it had pained Albus every time to explain that he didn't know yet. Protective magic was far too complex for a six-year-old to comprehend; Albus had been forced early on to come up with a simpler, if less truthful, explanation: that his job kept him too busy to look after Harry during the week.
But now, finally, Albus had cracked the protections that would enable Harry to be as safe here as at Privet Drive. The Dursleys had never meant to be permanent; he could not believe it had taken nearly five years to achieve the same level of protection as the blood wards.
Only a few things needed working out. For the last few years, Albus had been working in his office only school hours, with Minerva acting on his behalf on weekends. He had moved most of his things from his rooms at Hogwarts to the cottage so he could also live there during the week, and he was only expected to be present at Hogwarts mealtimes once or twice a week, for which he could take Harry along easily.
Harry would love Hogwarts. Child-like excitement filled Albus as he pictured seeing the look on Harry's face when he first stepped inside. He had seen hundreds of students glimpse the Great Hall for the first time, and it was always incredible, but when the child was your own – well, not in blood, but in every other way … Albus loved the little boy by his feet as if he were his own, and the moment the Dursleys signed the legal documents on Monday, he would be.
Albus could hardly wait to take Harry to Hogwarts—to buy him his first broom; see him playing, carefree and Dursley-free, with other children his age in the playground down the road; to take him to buy his first robes; to see him Sorted; to take him to his first Quidditch game …
Of course there were far less pleasant prospects on the horizon, but Albus felt optimistic that everything else would be worth it.
On the floor, Harry was looking as pensive as Albus felt. He recognised the expression immediately.
"Something you want to ask?"
For the first time that evening, Albus felt a stab of sadness. Although Harry had not ever been short a loving parental figure, the majority of his time had been spent with the Dursleys, who had nonetheless done damage. Harry had accepted that some standards laid down by the Dursleys, for example "Don't ask questions", did not hold true for Albus, but he still needed a little encouragement now and then.
"Is Auntie Mina coming over tomorrow?"
As he spoke, a jingling noise came from the fireplace, signalling a call. Albus chuckled. "That's probably her now."
Sure enough, it was Minerva who stepped out of the Floo, to be bombarded by an excited Harry. "Auntie Mina, Auntie Mina, guess what!"
"I can't imagine," she said playfully, her eyes sparkling madly. "Is something special happening tomorrow?"
Completely ignoring the reference to his upcoming birthday, Harry presented her with Piff. "Look what Uncle Albus got me!"
"Oh, it's lovely—is it a he or a she?"
"A he! He's called Piff. Guess what?"
"I thought you'd just shown me what, Harry."
"I'm living with Uncle Albus now!" Harry was literally jumping up and down in his joy. Albus couldn't help but grin as Minerva hugged the boy tightly, Puffskein and all.
"I can't stay long, I'm afraid," Minerva said. "I came to have a quick word with Uncle Albus; I'll be seeing you tomorrow, Harry."
"Harry, I think it's bedtime, don't you?" Albus spoke up.
"Can I take Piff with me?"
"If he doesn't mind," Albus replied. "Say goodnight to Auntie Mina, and I'll be up to tuck you in in a few minutes."
Minerva bent down so Harry could give her a big sloppy kiss on the cheek, and then he ran upstairs, babbling to Piff all the way up.
"Is that boy going to sleep at all tonight?" she asked, frowning slightly.
"I doubt it," Albus replied. "But I'm sure he'll be just as excitable tomorrow nonetheless. What was the quick word you wanted?"
"Well, congratulations for a start."
Albus smiled. "Thank you. After all this time, I can't believe it's finally happening."
"I also came over to give you Harry's present." She dropped her voice on the last couple of words. "I know how children like to open things the moment they wake up, and besides it's magic so he shouldn't open it at his party. That's all arranged, I take it?"
"Oh yes, everything's ready."
"Does he know about it yet?"
Albus glanced up at the ceiling. "I'll tell him in the morning."
"Happy birthday dear Harry, happy birthday to you!"
Harry's face turned almost scarlet as he puffed out the candles, to cheers from the crowd of children. The sixth candle flickered but remained stubbornly lit until Julian King joined in, to be reprimanded by his mother. Harry, grin still plastered to his face, pushed the party hat out of his eyes and looked up in time for Albus to snap a photo. The flushed cheeks and shining green orbs perfectly captured for evermore.
Albus enjoyed the party as much as, he suspected, the children; the milestone was celebrated in a whirl of madcap games, brightly coloured hats and chocolate cake smeared over every child's mouth; and then it was over. The local children were being mopped up by their parents and being asked to say their goodbyes; Harry and Julian disappeared, causing a panic, and were discovered playing one last game of rock-paper-scissors in the boys' toilet; and in a flurry of party bags and balloons, they were gone. Harry, suddenly rubbing his eyes, yawned and almost fell asleep in Albus' arms as he carried him home.
"Heigh-ho," Albus sang softly as they made their way back up the path to the house. "Heigh-ho, it's off to bed we go. With lots of sleep with teddy bear; heigh-ho, heigh-ho heigh-ho heigh-ho."
"Not sleepy," Harry said from Albus' shoulder.
"Do I detect a fib, young man?"
Albus gently tutted as he opened the door, but didn't say more. Once inside, he made to take Harry upstairs but Harry pulled on his sleeve. "Uncle Albus?"
"Yes, my boy?"
"Can I have a drink of water please?"
Albus took his foot off the first step and instead moved into the kitchen, set down Harry in a chair and turned on the light.
In the split second the window took to fracture into pieces, Albus' reflexes had kicked in and pulled Harry down to the floor. The explosion left his ears ringing; he could feel Harry shaking under him and dared lift his head slightly to survey the damage.
Glass was everywhere. Fire was climbing the wall behind them. If the explosion had meant to kill them, it would have succeeded; this was means to another end,
Harry. Get Harry out.
"Harry, go to Auntie Mina," Albus gasped. "You know how."
He stood up, acting as a shield for his quaking charge, who despite his fear ran from the room towards the living-room—towards the fireplace. Once he'd heard Harry's call of "Hogwarts!" and the accompanying whoosh, his fingers tightened on his wand and he braced himself before exiting the house.
"Who's there!" he demanded. "Show yourself!"
And then he saw them—two people in cloaks, their faces masked. Death Eaters. Of course. The first spell was sent at him, and he dodged before sending another back.
Whilst skilled, the two Death Eaters were far from the cream of Voldemort's former circle, and it took a matter of minutes for Albus to disarm both. Before he could completely overpower them however, they both Disapparated.
He cursed, and then the stone dropped into his stomach. They had broken into his house, and then Disapparated within the wards.
He lifted his wand and tested.
"Broken," he whispered. He couldn't believe it. Five years' work, shattered like glass. What had gone wrong?
What was he going to tell Harry?
Albus slumped to his knees, not even caring that he was still outside and the moist from the ground was seeping into his robes. He knew he needed to get a grip on what he should say before he went back to get him. If the wards were gone and Death Eaters were around, here was not safe even for one night. He would be much safer at Hogwarts for the time being.
He didn't know how long he was out there, sitting on the ground, trying to absorb what had happened. After picking up the fallen wands—perhaps the Ministry could identify who they belonged to—he retreated inside.
The first thing he was aware of was someone calling his name. It was Minerva, coming from the living-room.
"Minerva?" Albus entered the room and stared at the fireplace. Her head was sitting in the flames, a frown etched on it. "Is—"
"There's a Dementor in the castle," she said before he could formulate the question, and his heart turned cold. "I don't know what it's doing there, but the Ministry haven't responded and you have the best Patronus—" She saw his expression. "What?"
"I just sent Harry to you," Albus said, his throat dry. "Didn't—"
"He didn't come out my fire." Minerva went white. "Sweet Merlin. Albus, you know what they do to children—"
"Get out the fire, I'm on my way!"
Once through the Floo, Albus conjured a Patronus and told it, "Find Harry." The silver phoenix flew off, and Albus followed it, hoping against hope that Harry had avoided the creature—it was a large castle, maybe he hadn't had the misfortune to stumble across it …
The horror, a pure dread, was pulling at his gut and telling him it was too much to hope for.
Finally, he skidded to a halt in the Entrance Hall. The Dementor was advancing on a quivering child. The Patronus flew between them; Albus ran to Harry and dropped to his knees beside him.
"Harry, it's all right. It's all right, Harry …" Albus cursed the lack of chocolate on his person. There was still icing from the cake smeared on Harry's mouth; Albus wiped it off with a finger and then put his finger in Harry's mouth. He didn't respond, just continued to shake with his eyes closed—too little, too late.
He tore his eyes away from the pale boy in his arms and looked up. The Dementor had been driven out, and his Patronus had now disappeared. It was one of the few moments in his life when he felt completely powerless.
He cast the Patronus again, and told it to bring Minerva and Poppy, but he knew Harry was beyond either of their help. The boy stirred a little, and Albus rocked him gently. "It's all right, Harry. Sshh, it's okay."
Those green orbs flickered open; not so long ago bright with joy, now empty and confused. "Wh-where am I?"
"You're at Hogwarts, Harry," Albus murmured, his hold tightening slightly. "Don't you remember?" Please remember, please remember, please remember …
"N-no—I don't—what's Hogwarts?" A lump arose in Albus' throat, and he nearly choked as Harry surveyed him without recognition. "Who are you?"
An hour ago, I was going to be your father.
Swallowing the truth, Albus forced a smile and replied, "I'm no-one. You're dreaming, my boy. Just a dream."
With every effort, Albus pointed his wand at the boy in his arms, and whispered a sleeping spell. Harry's eyes closed again and he felt him relax in his arms, just as Minerva rounded the corner. "You found him! Is he—"
"Too late," Albus said. He didn't trust himself to say any more.
Minerva dropped to her knees beside him. "Sleeping spell?" Albus nodded. "Did he remember you?"
It took every effort to shake his head. Minerva put a hand on his shoulder. "I suppose you should take it as a compliment. It's only his happy memories that are gone." She paused. "He was never unhappy with you."
"That's supposed to make it easier?"
"No, it's not. I'm so sorry, Albus."
"That's not all." Albus took a deep, shuddering breath. "The wards are broken. Gone completely. Even if he hadn't—he wouldn't be able to live there."
"Oh, Albus. After all these years; all your hard work; all the hopes …"
"So what's going to happen to him now?"
Albus knew the answer. He hated it, but knew there was only one choice now. "He goes back to the Dursleys. Permanently. And he doesn't visit me again."
Minerva had offered to do this for him, but Albus had turned her down. She had then offered to do it with him, and he had turned her down again. This was just between him and them.
Albus Apparated under cover, and then walked what seemed like miles with Harry in his arms down the road to Number Four.
It was late. Petunia finally opened the door about five minutes after the doorbell had been rung. "Yes?" She blinked at the sight of Albus. "What are you doing here?"
"Could I possibly come in?" Albus asked, and she grudgingly moved aside to allow him to pass.
Albus paused at the cupboard, before making his way upstairs and gently laying Harry down on a bed in one of the spare rooms. Petunia had followed him, and he braced himself for the inevitable explosion from Vernon Dursley once he heard him in the house.
"It has come to my attention," he addressed Petunia, tearing his eyes away from Harry, "that Harry living with me was not as safe as I had thought."
"So what, you're going to palm him back on us? My husband will never stand for—"
She quavered under his stare. "Believe me, Petunia, I am even less happy about this arrangement as you are. I know Harry was miserable here and I don't want that for him. But nor do I want to see him killed, or worse." He swallowed. "I will naturally continue our financial agreement, if you're still worried about the cost of a second child." Not that, he knew, they had been spending the money on Harry. But he feared ending the agreement would result in an outright refusal.
"How long?" Petunia demanded. "How long, Headmaster? Because I seem to remember a promise some years ago that we would only be put out for a few weeks. Then that became months, and now you're asking us to put him up indefinitely."
"Not indefinitely. He will be going to Hogwarts after he turns eleven; after that he will only need to return during the holidays until he turns of age. I imagine if your treatment of him does not improve, his seventeenth will be the last time you ever lay eyes on him."
Petunia pursed her lips. "It is not for you to dictate how I run my household!"
"I'm not dictating anything, Petunia, merely reminding you that I am not oblivious to the fact that you don't give him enough to eat and clothe him in second-hand rags whilst your son is the recipient of the money you are paid to care for him. Also the fact that you keep him in a cupboard like a piece of household equipment, when you have two spare rooms. That stops now."
Her eyes flashed. "You are dictating!"
"Harry will not be seeing me again until he starts Hogwarts," Albus said. "Since our weekends together will no longer be continuing, you can no longer blackmail me with your threat of taking legal action to stop them. And so I am free to insist that from now on you treat him as an equal member of the household."
There was a pause. Finally, Petunia said, "Ten thousand pounds."
Albus was taken by surprise. "What?"
"I said ten thousand pounds, Headmaster. I don't know what that is in your currency but I imagine you, as a man in your position, can rustle it up from somewhere."
"Out of the question," Albus said.
"Then we refuse to take the boy." Petunia shrugged. "We'll put him in a Home. You can't actually stop us—at least, not within the bounds of your law."
Albus stared at the woman in front of him. Had she gone stark staring bonkers? He thought quickly. Harry's safety was obviously more important than money, but he had no idea where he was going to get ten thousand pounds—roughly equivalent to two thousand Galleons.
Time to bargain.
"One thousand," he said. "And you agree to treat him equally. No bed in the cupboard, no more dressing him in rags and feeding him on leftovers. No more calling him a freak."
"Eight thousand," Petunia said. "And no dictating of the sort."
"Three thousand, and the same agreement."
"Five thousand, and no agreement."
Albus thought fast. "Five thousand, and the agreement already outlined."
Petunia hesitated. "No. That was my last offer."
"There's no money without the agreement," Albus said, his patience wearing thin. "I strongly suggest you agree, Petunia; I have had a long day and my respect for the law concerning using magic on Muggles is waning."
She slowly nodded. "Fine. I'll take you up on your last offer. Five thousand pounds, and a promise to treat the boy properly."
"You can start by calling him Harry and not 'the boy'."
Albus sighed in relief. "Agreed. I'll send you a cheque tomorrow."
"You had better go," Petunia said. "Before my husband comes home. He won't be in a mood to listen once he sees you and the b—you and Harry here."
"I shall leave then." Albus descended the stairs, and she followed. "Oh, and Petunia."
"When he wakes up …" Albus swallowed. "He won't remember me. So there's no point bringing up the subject."
As he walked away from Number Four, he wouldn't let himself look back. His Harry was gone; the shadow that was left would be left in the tender loving care of relatives who disliked him. With every step Albus wanted to run back, to take Harry in his arms again and take him somewhere else, anywhere; but he couldn't. He had risked enough, making trips to Privet Drive every week to take him away; if the wards were going to be needed for another twelve years, then magical visitors should be kept to a minimum.
It was best the Dursleys did not know this. Albus had a feeling that once they had cashed the large cheque, he would have no control over them. They knew that it would take life or death for him to do anything to them magically; short of that, there was nothing he could do. Once they refused to take him back, Harry would have nowhere to go. He needed them to keep Harry, and they knew it.
His boy could have grown up loved and cherished an hour ago. But now everything had changed. The Dursleys would never care for him, and most likely break their promise the moment they thought his back was turned.
Albus Apparated back to the house, changing his mind on the way and almost splinching himself. He had bought this house specifically for Harry; it was in the ideal location, a tiny village far from wizarding society, and perfect for raising a child in—a comfortable size with a large garden and winding passages to delight a youngster's mind. Without Harry, it wasn't needed. Albus certainly didn't want to remain there on his own.
He stepped indoors, and surveyed the damaged kitchen, before moving into the living-room where he had received the fateful news. On the mantelpiece stood photos of Harry, sometimes on his own and sometimes with Albus. After staring, for how long he didn't know, into the happy green eyes he would never see again, Albus reached out and in one movement swept all the photos off the mantelpiece. The sound of smashing glass rang through the house again as they all fell to the floor. Not content with limiting his rage to this, Albus threw the jar containing Floo powder at the wall, and then, remembering his wand, blasted spells at the wall. By the time the rage seeped from him, the living room was in as bad a state as the kitchen, but he didn't care. Albus sank to his knees and finally broke down.
"Get up, boy!" Rap rap rap.
Harry jerked awake, and groaned. Why did Aunt Petunia have to wake him up just then?
"All right, I'm coming."
Her footsteps retreated into the kitchen, and Harry sat up, looking around his cupboard. No, it definitely wasn't here.
As he dressed, he pondered the dream he had been having. It was quickly fading in his head, but he remembered being with someone—an adult he couldn't quite name, or picture—who had made him feel warm and safe, and loved. An experience Harry had never in all his life experienced, or at least never in his memory. The dream was so vague he could barely remember anything tangible, except for one thing.
While he had been with this comforting person, he had also been holding his teddy bear. It wasn't until the dream that it had occurred to Harry he had not seen his bear since he had turned six.
If Dudley had tried to flush it down the toilet again, he would be sorry …
AN: Forgot to add this in when posting, probably a bit late now, but I will be posting a sequel to this story at some point. Actually, two sequels: an angsty one, and a fluffier one for those who don't want to read the angsty one. I don't know when or in what order, but let me know if you want to be notified.