Chapter Nineteen - The End and The Beginning
It was less than a week until the Hogwarts Express would take them all back to London. Days were filled with lazing about. They played wizard chess or Gobstones or any of a number of games with the exploding cards. The lake was a popular destination for many students, and the Quidditch pitch was busy with pick-up matches from dawn until curfew.
At dinner one night, a note appeared on Harry's plate as he reached for the smashed potatoes. He noticed it only as he was about to serve himself a generous spoonful. He jerked the spoon sharply, and inadvertently deposited the potatoes on Draco's face.
Everyone else started laughing. Draco sat there in stunned stillness for a second. "You spongy, swag-bellied scullion!" he complained, wiping at his eyes. "What's the big idea?"
"Draco, that's a great new look," Daphne complimented brightly.
"Shut up, Greengrass. Somebody give me a napkin."
"There's no need to be rude, Draco," Pansy reproved with a haughty sniff. "You need to learn to relax."
"Oh please, show me how you relax with a face full of mashers." He grabbed another spoon and dunked it in the bowl and cocked his arm back. "Eh, Pansy?"
"The rest of your miserable life will be short and painful if you dare to keep that spoon aimed at me for longer than it takes me to finish promising you complete and utter devastation unless you lower your arm immediately."
Pansy's glare could have petrified a Muggle-born. Harry had trouble following exactly what she'd said, but Draco considered her for a moment and put the spoon back in the bowl.
"Napkin," he demanded.
"Sorry, Draco." Harry picked up the envelope and turned it over. There was only his name on the front. Harry opened the unsealed flap and pulled out the missive within.
Please drop by my office after dinner.
What could the Headmaster possibly want to see him about? Exams were over. They awaited only the results to declare the holiday official and return home.
"It's from Dumbledore," he said to Draco.
"What's he want?"
"Me to come by after dinner."
"He didn't say."
"Maybe you failed everything," Draco suggested.
Harry snorted. "Not possible. I've been keeping track, and I whip you all in Arithmancy and Defence."
"Maybe he thinks you ought to take Muggle Studies," offered Goyle. "Bole told me that in seventh year you get to do a dissection!"
"What would Bole know about Muggle Studies?" Theo asked scathingly. "He was having you on, Goyle."
"Why would Dumbledore think me learning to dissect Muggles was a good idea?" Harry asked, feeling most perplexed.
"Would you please stop saying that word at the table?" Pansy asked, making an awful face. "You're so vulgar, Theo."
"Shut up, Pansy. I didn't say anything."
"You certainly did! You said the M-word. Why must you be so crass?" Pansy took a delicate bite of her roast chicken.
Harry looked down at the note again.
Please drop by my office after dinner.
Then, with sudden, sure dread settling in his stomach, he knew.
Dumbledore wanted to talk about the Muggles.
Harry wasn't going back to Privet Drive, no matter what Dumbledore threatened. Wild, rampaging dragons could not force him back there. Harry fleetingly wondered how long he would last if he challenged the Headmaster to a duel over the matter.
"Who does he think he is, anyway?" Harry muttered to Draco. "He wants to talk about the Muggles. I just know it. He didn't like it when I left, and I bet that hasn't changed."
"But you're going to live with Sirius. You're going to live with a wizard."
"I knew this was all too easy," Harry griped. "Good fortune doesn't just fall on my head like that."
"Who does he think he is?" Draco said, echoing Harry's earlier question.
Still, one did not ignore a summons to the Headmaster's office. Harry only picked at his dinner, dark thoughts flowing over from his brain and filling his belly as well. As his friends headed out to the hills to watch the sunset, he gave the password to the gargoyle and ascended the spiral stairs.
"Initiate an arrival," came the professor's voice through the door as Harry raised his hand to the knocker.
Harry went inside.
"Ah, Harry, so good of you to be prompt. Would you care for a sherbet lemon?"
"No thank you, sir."
"Well, do take a seat. Have you been enjoying the fine weather?"
"Yes, sir. Without classes to attend, I guess we all want the fresh air. You can't even book the Quidditch pitch any more." He knew. He'd tried.
"A certain amount of cabin fever is to be expected at this time of year," Professor Dumbledore said sagely. "I have seen it without fail with every new face that comes through the gate."
"I never wanted to leave."
Dumbledore's levity lessened just a touch. "Yes, you were different, Harry. It should have concerned me more that you didn't care to go home. I have devoted much thought to the issue in recent months in trying to have modified the legislation that bears your name."
"The Act that takes away Muggle-borns to be raised in our world," Harry replied. "It's a smashing idea, but it doesn't apply to me."
"I've been pondering the just course of action, and it is no easy choice. A few of the arguments made were valid, even if the rest was a bag of so much wind. I will be seeking changes so that any witch or wizard of school age who would otherwise live with only Muggles to request a limited form of emancipation until they complete school."
Harry had been wrong. Dumbledore wanted to talk civics.
"The language of the amendment is specifically designed to affect students who find themselves in similar situations to your own, even though not Muggle-born. It ends the practice of abducting children in the night. It would be very helpful, Harry, if you would support this effort."
"No," Harry said deliberately, staring intently at the old man. "I would rather have lived at an orphanage. I don't see anything wrong with the present Act. I don't need it changed just for me, and I wouldn't want it to be anyway. Sirius said he'd been in contact with you, so I assume he let you know that I'm going to live with him from now on."
"He did mention it," Dumbledore said mildly. "I wonder if you shouldn't get to know him better before you make such a drastic decision."
Harry blinked. "Professor, he was my father's best friend. My father trusted him with his life and mine. What else do I need to know?"
Dumbledore had no answer. He sat immobile, his eyes on Harry, not even seeming to breathe. Stubborn. Very well. Harry pulled on his most insolent expression.
"Whatever you're thinking, stop it," he scathed. "I'm not going back there, and you can't make me. I'll go public again if I have to."
"There's no need for that drastic measure, certainly," Dumbledore offered.
"You don't seem to understand this, so let me be perfectly, absolutely, and undeniably clear: I hate anyone named Dursley."
Dumbledore kept his peace. "Very well, Harry," he said at last. "I can see there's no shifting you."
Harry didn't let his smile show on his face, but inside he was beaming. He hadn't even had to point out that the legal paperwork was all in order and secure in his Gringotts vault; the certified duplicate had arrived by owl post at breakfast.
"May I go, sir?"
The old man looked very tired suddenly. "Good night, Mister Potter."
"Thank you, sir."
Harry practically danced down the stairs. He regained his composure briefly when exiting past the gargoyle, but once outside in the courtyard, he let out a great whoop and threw himself into a cartwheel.
The sun was just touching the horizon. He was just in time. Harry hurried down to the rock formations where many students had climbed up to perch on the top.
"Harry!" Tracy called out to him. "You made it!"
Without much effort, Harry hauled himself up with Tracy, Pansy, and Draco. It was a bit tight, but Pansy and Draco were sitting rather close, giving Harry and Tracy more room.
"What news?" Draco inquired.
"No news," Harry replied with a grin. "What've I missed?"
"Well, I think Theo is absolutely uncouth," Pansy declared.
"This we knew."
When the sun had finally sunk below the skyline, they all headed back to the castle. Harry let his friends go ahead to the common room. He headed towards the Potions classrooms where Snape would be found in his office grading exams.
"Come in," Snape called, sounding very irritated indeed.
"Hello, Professor Snape," Harry said, opening the door and peeking inside. "Is this a bad time?"
Snape was hunched over his desk, still writing ferociously on the exam paper in red ink that made it seem dipped in blood.
"You cannot possibly be any less pleasant than grading this collection of rubbish," Snape opined, gesturing disdainfully towards a stack of parchment. "No student below NEWT level should ever be given a quill or ink."
"Even Slytherins," Snape confirmed. "This is from Bole's written portion. 'The effect of adding four cups of salt water is to thin out the mixture. This makes it not as thick.' A first year could give that answer! Why is a less viscous solution desirable? What effect requires the water to be salinated? Inaccurate, inept, incomplete, insufficient, inexcusable!" He punctuated each adjective with fierce scratching on the parchment.
Snape took a deep breath. "Though I must except present company. You did very well with both the written and the practical. Most of the third years, in fact, did extremely well."
"It's one of our favourite subjects, sir," Harry told him truthfully. "Even Crabbe and Goyle like it, even if they aren't good at it."
"Thank you, Mister Potter. It is, of course, mandatory that all Slytherins like Potions class. Now that you've finished flattering me, what brings you here this evening?" He sprinkled sand on the parchment he'd been working on to dry the ink and set it aside. He took the next exam and began immediately marking it. "I will not release your marks early. Wrong. Wrong! Not the root, the stalk! Idiot Hufflepuff!"
"I just wanted to say thank you."
Snape stopped writing. He looked up, and Harry could see the bags under his eyes and his generally haggard appearance. His hair seemed greasier than normal. Then he actually wiped the tip of the quill off and set it down on the desk.
"You wish to thank me, Mister Potter?"
"For what you did on the full moon. With Pettigrew, I mean. You were ready to kill Sirius, but you stopped and listened to me."
"Of course I did."
"Nobody ever listened to me before," Harry said quietly. "I just wanted to let you know it means a lot. Thank you."
Snape inclined his head. "You are welcome, Harry, but thanks aren't necessary. You are a Slytherin, and thus one of mine. When you, with more cause to hate Black than any other, you spoke such absurdities, I knew it must be the truth or a Confundus Charm. Then I saw Pettigrew's worthless self cowering on the floor. I may have wanted to capture Black personally, but I could not ignore the plain truth before my eyes."
"Everything is going to change now, and I owe it to you. I'm really glad I've got such a great Head of House."
Snape allowed himself to smile. "Thank you, Harry. Now then, the great Head of House and Potions Master has exams to weep over. A good night to you."
"Good night, sir."
Exam results came out a week after the Hogsmeade visit.
As expected, Harry had earned top marks in Defence, Arithmancy, and History. He didn't quite beat out Theo for top mark in Potions (or Charms, Ancient Runes, Transfiguration, or Herbology), but everyone was surprised when Crabbe flashed his Astronomy results at Theo with pride.
Tracy was second in most of their subjects. She was good-natured about it to his face and gave Theo his due, but she went on at great length in less polite terms to Harry when they were returning some books to the library.
"Smarmy, bug-eyed horn-beast that he is," she whispered vehemently. "How does he manage to score one hundred eleven points on one of McGonagall's exams? Perfect scores in Herbology and Ancient Runes! I missed one question on the applications portion of Professor Babbling's test, and Theo's so smug and superior about it I could hex him! And Potions? One hundred thirty-four percent!"
"You're smart, too, Tracy. Missing one question isn't the end of the world." Harry didn't understand what she could be so upset about. Second-best was better than all the rest.
"I know that. I'm wondering if Theo doesn't."
"Maybe I should tell him."
Tracy smiled. "That would be nice." She glanced around, scanning the deserted library. Madam Pince was busy helping a seventh year Ravenclaw over in the Restricted Section, but the library was otherwise empty. Tracy took hold of Harry's sleeve and tugged him back in between the shelves.
Harry swallowed the lump in his throat. Without saying anything, Tracy leaned into kiss him. Their lips touched, but Harry didn't reciprocate. She pulled back, looking intently at him.
"We shouldn't do this."
"What?" Tracy sounded sure she must have misheard. "Shouldn't do what? Kiss in the library"
"I think you're great, Tracy. You're my best girl friend, you know. I don't want that to end."
"It's not ending."
"It could. If we were boyfriend and girlfriend but then we broke up, it would ruin our friendship. It ruined Jamie and Elan's. I don't want that to happen to us, Tracy." Harry knew it would hurt her, but it was the right thing to do.
Tracy stared at him incredulously for a long moment. Harry kept his face impassive, though he was aching for her to stop looking at him like that.
"Who says we'd break up?"
Her voice was carefully controlled. Harry hated himself for this, but there had been nothing for it. He and Tracy had kissed a few times and gone on one date, but it had to end there. Tracy had been his best girl friend since first year, and he didn't want to lose that by her becoming a girlfriend. He knew what he was doing made sense, but his heart felt like it was in his feet nonetheless.
"Jamie tried to hex Elan, Tracy. In anger. It would kill me if that had been us."
"So what you're endeavouring to explain to me is that you are no longer desirous of being my boyfriend because of Elan Malfoy?" she exclaimed in a strangled whisper.
"Yes! I mean no!" Harry felt the situation rapidly spiralling out of control. "Tracy, I watched it."
"What!" she cried, forgetting that they were in the library.
"Sssh!" came Madam Pince's stern warning.
"Draco and I were spying on them, okay? Jamie attacked Elan. She accused him of being unfaithful, and then she tried to hex him."
"Elan Malfoy is a paltering, cozening, two-timing cad!" Tracy said in a fierce whisper. "You're nothing like him!"
"You don't know what you're talking about," Harry said scornfully. "I'd like to be more like him. He's a decent wizard, Tracy! He's always treated me absolutely square. What's more, he came to rescue me from the Muggles in the summer before second year and got in a lot of trouble because of it! He was forced to go to Durmstrang because Dumbledore expelled him for impersonating a Death Eater!"
Tracy gaped at him, and Harry mentally kicked himself. That wasn't common knowledge. Only he and Draco knew, and now Tracy.
"Obviously it was kept quiet," Harry said quickly. "So you can't say anything. Promise me that."
"So you want us to cease to exist as a unified whole and simultaneously request me to maintain your confidence?" Tracy was now the one being scornful. "Your expectations are rather lofty, wouldn't you say?"
"I don't want to hear another word against Elan, even if you are sticking up for Jamie," Harry said imploringly.
"Fine, but you can't say a word about that other thing I shouldn't have mentioned. Swear you won't."
"I shouldn't, but I promise."
Harry gave a small sigh of relief and motioned towards the door with his head, suggesting without words that they leave the library.
"Wait. We're not done. You are not breaking up with me."
Harry could have groaned. "Tracy!"
"So you witnessed the dissolution of their relationship. So what? It doesn't mean we will come to the same end, Harry."
"I don't want to chance it, Tracy. I would rather be your friend."
Tracy assumed a superior expression, and her nose lifted slightly in the air. She reminded Harry of Pansy in that moment.
"You're a confused boy. Jamie told me to have patience with you and eventually you'd come around, and so you did. This is the same. You just need time to think about things."
She tossed her blonde hair back over her shoulder and left Harry standing alone in the stacks with a completely bewildered look on his face.
Girls! Why did they have to be so obstinate?
The Leaving Feast was a merry affair.
Harry celebrated the Quidditch Cup victory with his team, but it was also a somewhat sombre affair. Flint had finished out his full seventh year, taken his N.E.W.T.s, and was going to be leaving the team in Bletchley's capable hands. Charles Warrington the Third would be taking Flint's position, as he had when the captain had missed half the year due to a family emergency. They would all have to try out for their positions again, but they were the best in the house; back in the fall, Harry hadn't even had a challenger during trials, what with his Firebolt and all.
The House Cup had gone to Ravenclaw this year. The Slytherins had rallied late, but had been unable to manage the last seventeen points needed to win. They chose to lose somewhat gracefully, revelling in the retention of the Quidditch Cup once again. Harry quite thought the Cup looked good decorated with all the green and silver ribbons.
"To Flint!" Bole roared, raising his cup in the air.
"To the craziest captain I ever thought to play under!" shouted Derrick.
"To Harry!" Flint bellowed, nearly deafening the recipient of that pledge, who was sitting next to him. "Best damn Seeker since forever!"
"Harry!" the table toasted again.
It was great fun and all, but Harry still wished that it could be over. For the first time, he wanted to leave Hogwarts. He was going to live with his godfather. The statement still gave him chills, even when he only said it to himself.
At last the feast was over. They hurried back to their common rooms, packed a last few things into their trunks, had one last sleep in their beds, bathed, gobbled down breakfast, rode down to the village in the carriages that smelled strongly of mouldy straw, boarded the train, and were on their way back to London.
Harry spent most of the ride staring out the window. His mind was miles away, wondering how he was going to decorate his new room. Quidditch posters, definitely, of the Montrose Magpies. What colours should he paint the walls? Green? Silver? Both?
His excitement built with every passing kilometre. He hauled his trunk out of the compartment even before the train stopped moving. When at last it finally screeched to a halt, he clambered off, looking around eagerly.
There he was, leaning casually against a pillar, scanning the windows of the train.
"Sirius!" he shouted.
"All right, Harry?"
Harry beamed. "Yes." He turned to his friends, who had just gotten off the car. "I'll give you all a fire call in a few days."
"Bye, Harry! See you at the Quidditch World Cup!"
"Bye, Mister Black!"
"No good-bye kiss from your girlfriend, Harry?"
"Can we not talk about that, please?"
"Sure, Harry, sure. Let me get that trunk for you." He lifted it. "Oof! What have you got in here, lead weights?"
"No, just wizard weights."
As they made their way towards the portal out to Platforms Nine and Ten, people seemed to move back out of Sirius' way. A few noticed him suddenly and jumped in their skin from fright. Sirius' smile became a bit fixed, and Harry muttered up at him, "Just ignore them."
"Ignore them. They're going to stare no matter what. Let them gawk if they want to be so stupid. They don't know you."
Sirius considered that for a few steps. "Wise advise, Harry."
Before he could reply, Harry caught sight of a woman with serious grey hair and a monocle coming towards them. Sirius stopped walking as she made her way closer.
"Mister Black," Director Amelia Bones said in a neutral tone. "Good afternoon."
"Director," Sirius replied with a nod of his head.
"You look well."
"Thank you. It's amazing what a little fresh air and sunshine will do for one's health." Sirius' voice was bland.
Director Bones smiled tightly. "Mister Black, your subtle insults do not bother me after the abuse I've been taking in the press for my decision to have Peter Pettigrew given the Dementor's Kiss."
"I admit I had to look up a few of the adjectives the editors at the Daily Prophet called you."
Director Bones harrumphed. "If they think I'm going to apologize for eliminating the threat posed by a very dangerous Dark wizard, they're sadly mistaken. I may have acted with haste, but it was not unwarranted. He was a grievous breach of security, and if he'd been allowed to pass on any of his knowledge to factions still loyal to You-Know-Who, then they'd be calling for my head for allowing that!"
"So there are still those loyal?"
"Oh yes." She said no more, and on a public train platform, that was probably wise. Then her eyes shifted, and a smile broke her stern expression. A Hufflepuff girl in Harry's form approached and gave the old witch a big hug.
"Susan! So good to see you at last!"
Susan noticed Harry and Sirius for the first time. "Oh, hello, Potter."
"Hi, Bones. I didn't know the Director was your aunt."
"Yeah." Bones paused. "She took me in after my parents were murdered by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. She and my dad were always close. She raised me as her own."
Harry was a bit unnerved by her personal disclosure for a second, but in the next instant he suddenly felt very close to Susan. She'd been orphaned too. All at once, he wanted to share something equally personal in return.
"That's what's happening to me now. This is Sirius Black, my godfather, and I'm going to live with him."
Susan didn't show a bit of surprise at Sirius' presence, and she gave instead a little gasp and clasped her hands together.
"Oh, wow, that's galactic, Potter! Congratulations!"
"Susan, you didn't tell me you were friends with Harry Potter."
"I'm not." She immediately blushed. "Wait, that came out wrong. I know him from class. We share History of Magic with Slytherin. He's always been a decent sort, but we only ever talked about goblin rebellions."
"Well why haven't you tried to make friends with him?" Director Bones said as though she couldn't understand why it hadn't already happened. "Harry seems like a pleasant enough boy from what I've seen and heard."
"Aunt Amelia," Susan pleaded, turning red. "Stop it."
"I'm only teasing you because I'm so happy to see you, dear." Director Bones checked her watch. "We've got to go, Susan. I need to be back at the office in thirty minutes."
"Good day, Director," Harry said, echoed by Sirius.
"Good day, Harry," she replied. "Mister Black."
"See you in the fall, Potter," Susan bid. "Have a good holiday, yes?
"Bye, Mister Black."
Susan and her aunt hurried toward the portal, and Sirius poked Harry on the shoulder while grinning mischievously.
"She likes you."
"Beard," Harry said instantly. He didn't believe it at all.
"The way she blushed when she misspoke? Trust me, Harry, that young witch thinks you're a charming lad."
Harry took a step, but Sirius advanced no further. He was standing stock still, staring at someone in the crowd. The people parted as Lucius Malfoy strode forward with his wife just a step behind.
Their eyes were locked; Mr. Malfoy's pale grey orbs stared into Sirius' brown. Sirius didn't give an inch. He waited and waited. Neither of them even blinked, and finally Mrs. Malfoy stepped between them, breaking their eye contact.
"Cousin Sirius," she said warmly, spreading her arms slightly.
The invitation to greet her with a hug was plain, but Sirius did not accept it. He merely tilted his head slightly and spoke through stiff lips, "Narcissa."
"I have missed you these many years."
"Since when have you cared about me?" he asked bluntly. "You didn't visit; you didn't write."
"Nobody visits Azkaban."
"With good reason."
"We are relieved to see you walking free again."
"So you're pleased to see me then, are you, Lucius?"
Mr. Malfoy's voice could have crushed boulders into sand. "Oh yes, Black, very pleased indeed. I hope that your time in Azkaban hasn't done you any lasting damage."
"I understand you've been good to Harry," Sirius said, his teeth nearly clenched with controlled fury. "Thank you for that."
"It was our pleasure," Mr. Malfoy said, suddenly smiling sardonically. "Harry is the one who rescued us all from the reign of darkness."
"You want that, do you?"
"My wants are more complex than you could possibly understand, Black," Mr. Malfoy said with acid dripping off his words. "We may not have seen eye to eye on a lot of things, but you need to understand right now that we are on the same side here."
"That's a laugh," Sirius said with a barking, disbelieving sort of laugh. "I know you, Lucius."
"Everyone changes, Black. Your brother changed his mind."
"You leave Regulus out of this!" Sirius snarled. "Your pack of thugs killed him when he didn't want to be a part of the gang any more."
"The Dark Lord killed him. Which is exactly what would have happened to me."
"No chance of that," Sirius laughed harshly.
"I, too, made a mistake, Sirius. Can I not be forgiven?"
"That remains to be seen."
"Cousin," Mrs. Malfoy said, inserting herself again, "ever since Draco brought Harry into our lives, he has been a delight and a treasure. We are the better for having known him. I wouldn't trade the grace he's brought me for anything. You can mock that if you want to, but it shows you truly don't know the boy."
Her words gave Sirius pause. He looked down at Harry, who was watching the adults in his life argue about him with a degree of apprehension.
"I know all about their past, Sirius," he said, "but it is the past. I've forgiven them for their mistakes. They've taken me in when I needed a place to go. At the same time, you were my dad's best friend, so I know you've got my best interests in mind, too. I would really, really like it if we could all make peace. You all are important to me."
Mr. Malfoy spread his hands. "He's got us there, Sirius. What say you?"
"I say we've still got a lot of talking to do," Sirius said darkly, "but the train platform is hardly the appropriate place to do it."
"Well-spoken, Cousin. I shall call upon you in several days' time."
The Malfoys said goodbye and went to collect Draco. Sirius and Harry headed for Puddlemucker's and waited patiently in the queue. When they finally reached the fireplace, Sirius shouted, "Grimmauld Place!" and gestured to Harry to go first.
Harry stepped into the green flames, holding his breath as things started to spin. He stumbled out of the grate at the other end without falling down, and Sirius came through right behind him.
"Welcome home, Harry."