Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of... not me. I am not in any way profiting by this story, but merely taking the opportunity to play in JK's sandbox for a bit. Any resemblance to any living person, etc, is completely unintentional.

Waking up the following morning to the smell of eggs and toast, rather than the shouts of his uncle, brought a pleased smile to Harry's face. I could get used to this, he thought as he bounded from his bed- his bed, if only for awhile, rather than a grudgingly given cast-off. With speed born of youth and enthusiasm, Harry was quickly showered and dressed, and found his way down to the kitchen. He was only briefly surprised to see that it was Mr. Bones, rather than his wife, who was making breakfast, remembering from his last visit that Susan's father cooked just as often, if not more so, than her mother.

"Well, Harry, I can't say I was expecting to see you up quite this early!" he said, half turning towards Harry as the boy came quietly into the kitchen.

"I'm used to being up early, especially in the summer," Harry said, instinctively looking around to see where 'his' place was with the breakfast preparations. He looked at the assortment of floating pans helplessly, not sure that he even could help. He doubted the restrictions on underage magic included exemptions for making breakfast, and he'd caused himself quite enough problems with the Ministry this summer already.

Fortunately, Mr. Bones caught onto his plight. He smiled at Harry even as he turned back towards the magical stove. "Tell you what, Harry, if you want to help out, why don't you get the table set. You remember where the silverware is?" he asked, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the drawer that held most of the silverware as he spoke.

Harry nodded, grateful to be given something to do even as he recalled that he was no longer with Dursleys, and he wasn't expected to cook just about every meal by himself. Still, he was glad to help, and soon the table was set, breakfast was served, and Susan and her mother had both found their way down to the dining room.

Despite an initial feeling of apprehension, Harry found himself quickly falling into the same comfort he'd found when he spent the winter holidays with the Bones family, and was soon joining in with the morning small talk and banter as though he'd never left.

All too soon breakfast was done and the table cleared with a few flicks of Mrs. Bones' wand. Harry strongly suspected that him setting the table was not entirely needed, and was more a courtesy to him than because his help was actually, well, helpful. As he went to follow Susan to their rooms, Mr. Bones' voice caught him at the foot of the stairs.

"A moment, please, Harry," he said, motioning Harry towards one of the comfortable couches that the family often used when listening to the wireless.

Harry nodded, hesitantly following his friend's father to the couch, where Mrs. Bones was already seated. Harry felt his apprehension surge. The Bones' serious expression as they all sat down only added to the fear gnawing at his stomach. Were they already wanting to send him away?

Once they were all seated comfortably- or at least, as comfortably as Harry could be with visions of being cast out of the Bones residence dancing in his head- Mrs. Bones spoke.

"Harry, while you're staying with us, Jacob and I wanted to establish a few ground rules," she said, glancing at her husband. His nervousness subsided on hearing those words. They weren't sending him away!

Mr. Bones took up where his wife left off, giving Harry a comforting smile. "It's nothing too bad, Harry. Just a few things to make sure everything goes smoothly while you're staying with us. Dumbledore already spoke with you about, er... you know..." he said, trailing off. Harry frowned, thinking back to the prior night when he'd spoken with the Headmaster.

"What Jacob means to ask is, did Dumbledore talk to you about, well, staying safe?" Mrs. Bones said as her husband sought out exactly how to put it.

Harry nodded, relief evident as he realized what she was talking about it. "Yes, ma'am. He told me how important it is to listen to you and Mr. Bones, and that, um, there might be problems with some of Voldemort's supporters," he said, not really paying any mind to the winces of both Bones parents. He knew that doubting their bravery in light of taking him into their home, even if the name Voldemort still caused a reaction, was silly.

Mr. Bones cleared his throat. "Yes, quite. Now, Laura and I both have work during the days, as does Amelia, of course, so you and Susan will have a fair bit of time alone. I understand Susan has already made plans to spend time with friends during some of those days. She's going to floo them to see if you can be included, but I don't think that will be a problem." He nodded to himself, obviously considering that matter dealt with. "Now, on those days that you and Susan are home by yourselves, the house will be, well, for lack of a better phrase, locked down." He smiled at Harry's look of confusion. "We'll have the wards turned up all the way. No one in, not even through the floo."

"Or out," Mrs. Bones added. "At least not past the garden. I'm sure you've both got plenty of summer assignments to work on, and there'll be a list of weekly chores for each of you. Just some housework to help Jacob and I out."

Harry just nodded, not really surprised by this. He couldn't really imagine a summer without doing loads of chores, and he wasn't sure what he'd do with his time without them.

Both Bones parents seemed taken aback by Harry's lack of complaint. "It's nothing much, keeping your rooms clean, helping out a bit in the garden and around the house," Mrs. Bones said. "We didn't really want to burden you, but it wouldn't be fair to Susan if she still had to do her chores and you didn't have to help at all."

He smiled, realizing that they were more uncomfortable asking him to do the chores than he was doing them. "It's okay, really, I'm glad to help. Besides, they go by faster with someone helping, don't they?"

Mr. Bones smiled warmly, shaking his head. "Hufflepuff through and through, eh Harry?"

Harry just nodded, feeling a surge of pride in his house. No matter what others at Hogwarts might have thought, Hufflepuff really was a great house.

HP – HP – HP

Surprisingly, at least to Harry, there were no chores left for them for the first week of Harry's stay. "They want us to get our school work done first," Susan had explained when he'd asked about what they were to do. He'd already started on his while at Privet Drive, and was very surprised to find that Susan hadn't even begun on hers.

"It's potions," Susan said, rolling her eyes when Harry pulled his half-finished essay and started working on it after lunch the first day. "I was going to wait until we went to Ernie's, and have him pitch in."

"We're going to Ernie's?" Harry asked, his essay immediately forgotten.

Susan rolled her eyes. "Of course we are! Didn't mum and dad tell you we'd be spending days out at friends' places?" He nodded, remembering Mr. Bones' comment from that morning, but still surprised that Susan had acted so quickly to get him added to her visits. "Good. I've already got things sorted out with Ernie, Hannah, and Megan. Justin doesn't have a floo, so we'll have to wait on the post. Probably know this evening," she said offhandedly, shrugging.

"That reminds me," he said slowly, thinking back to the night he'd almost lost his letter from Flamel, "is there anything you know of that might go after a post owl? Something tried to get a letter from Hedwig a couple nights ago."

"Well, post owls are still owls, even if smarter than the usual bird. Anything that might attack a regular owl could go for a post owl, too. Is this about your weird letters asking us if we were going to write you back? Everyone did, you know."

He nodded. "Yeah. I was wondering why I hadn't heard back from anyone this summer. But something tried to get Hedwig the other night, so I'm wondering if maybe whatever it was had gotten ahold of the other letters."

"The letters themselves? Not the post owls?" Susan furrowed her brow and frowned, thinking carefully. "What would go after the letters but not the owls? That's pretty strange, Harry."

Harry just sighed. "I'm starting to think 'pretty strange' is pretty much normal for me."

Susan's laughter filled the room. "Don't worry, you didn't miss much. Hannah and Justin's parents signed a betrothal contract, Megan's a werewolf, and Sally-Anne ran off with gypsies."

His rolled eyes only made her laugh harder. "You forgot Ernie," he said, finally giving in to a smile.

Susan didn't even miss a beat when she quipped, "I definitely try to."

The rest of the week passed by in much the same manner. He and Susan found ways to occupy themselves despite being essentially trapped in the house. For all that Susan had complained about wanting to wait until Ernie could help them with potions, all of their summer assignments were done by the weekend, and Harry had even done a bit of reading ahead, forcing himself to study a bit extra in his weaker subjects. He found the extra hours he'd suddenly inherited by no longer doing all the chores at the Dursley's surprisingly easy to fill, especially with a friend to keep him company.

The next week brought the first of what Harry hoped would be many visits to his and Susan's friends. Sally-Anne, though not as close to Harry as Ernie, Justin, and the rest, was still a friend, and had in fact not run off with gypsies as Susan had jokingly claimed.

They'd been dropped off by something called the Knight Bus, which Harry very quickly decided was likely the unholy union of a Gringotts cart and apparation gone wrong. Harry was not looking forward to the return trip, but as Susan had pointed out halfway through the trip, it was the only way for an underage witch or wizard to get around. Legally, at least.

Sally-Anne's house was very much like what Harry thought Number Four Privet Drive would have been like if the Dursleys weren't, well, the Dursleys. It was a modest two-story home in an entirely muggle neighborhood- not surprising, given that Sally-Anne was muggleborn- with a well-kept yard and small garden. A single car sat in the driveway, gleaming as though freshly washed, and a trio of bicycles- one in the brightest pink he'd ever seen- were propped up against the side of the house, secured together with a single chain.

"Hi Susan!" came the warm greeting as soon as they'd reached the front door. Sally-Anne was a bit taller than Harry had remembered, and was wearing glasses not unlike his own. She pulled Susan into a brief hug, before turning her smile towards Harry. She took a half step towards him before catching herself, and instead stepped aside to the let the pair in.

"Hello Harry," she said as she shut the door behind them. An awkward silence followed as the pair took off their shoes and set them neatly to the side. "So. Um. This is my house," she said, gesturing vaguely behind her. Silence followed, and her eyes sought out Susan's in a silent plea that Harry couldn't help but notice.

"So, er... glasses, Sally-Anne? When did you get those?" Susan asked, in a clear attempt to make conversation as the three of them made their way into the family room.

"First week back after school," Sally-Anne said as she situated herself on a particularly comfortable-looking armchair while Harry and Susan moved some throw pillows from the couch. "Apparently," she drawled, adopting a very put-upon look, "all those hours reading by wandlight wasn't very good for my eyes. And mum didn't want me to get contacts, so... glasses. I've only had them a couple weeks and I already can't stand them. Er, not that there's anything wrong with glasses," she added hastily, glancing uncomfortably at Harry. "It's just that, um, they're not for me. They're fine on you."

Susan laughed, prompting Sally-Anne to throw one of the discarded pillows at her. Susan retaliated immediately- by throwing the pillow at Harry, and a full-blown pillow war erupted, somehow pitting Harry against both girls. Soon all three children were on the ground, laughter filling the once-quiet house.

The visit was much more comfortable for everyone after that, and before Harry knew it, he and Susan were saying their farewells to Sally-Anne and riding the dreaded Knight Bus back to Susan's home.

"So, um, what was that about, with Sally-Anne?" Harry asked without preamble when they arrived.

"What was what," Susan asked, sounding distracted as the pair made their way upstairs.

"I dunno... she was being, well, kind of weird when we got there, wasn't she?"

Susan rolled her eyes towards him, gazing at him with what Harry had privately labelled the 'you're being thick' look. "Well, of course she was. She's never had a boy over her house before. Especially not Harry Potter," she said, sing-songing his name.

Harry felt his cheeks heating at her exaggerated expression, and spluttered, "What's that got to do with anything? We just got done living at school together for close to a year."

Susan giggled and shook her head. "It's just different, okay? I'll tell you when you're older!"

Harry decided that he wasn't going to speak to her anymore until she began making sense.

Too-long A/N- I apologize for the absurdly long wait for the too-short chapter. This was probably the hardest chapter for me to write to date- I just couldn't find a way to write what I wanted to, how I wanted it. I had planned for there to be much more here, but kept deleting it because I didn't care for how it flowed or fit. Specifically, I had planned for a lot more to happen with Sally-Anne, more interaction and such, but couldn't make it work the way I wanted it to. Rather than spend another year on and off trying to tinker with this, I just decided to post it in a streamlined format- it makes for a much shorter chapter, but at least it exists now. Part of me wanted to cut the whole thing, but Sally-Anne does play a somewhat important role in things to come and I really needed to include this stuff. For those of you who have been following and waiting patiently for more updates, I thank you so very much, and apologize for the brevity of this chapter. I'm hoping that, with the Sally-Anne scene out of the way, I can actually get this thing in gear again. If I can figure out a way to put more in that I'd wanted to, I might revisit this chapter and put it in, but the things that relate to future plot stuff are in place with what's already here.