AN: I hope you like Hagrid here, my personal theory is that he has to be a pretty decent wizard to manage even a partial unwilling human to animal transfiguration, lasting weeks, with a broken wand, so I ret coned his age from when he was expelled and assumed that he kept studying the stuff he could still do, the man does live in a school after all.
Chapter Seventeen : Schools end
After Bill left, Harry and Neville chatted some more, rekindling their neglected friendship. Harry promised to write at least twice a week and Neville promised to check on him if it was more than one week between letters. At some point in the evening Harry mentioned his plans to form an independent defence study group and Neville had enthusiastically embraced the idea. They bounced ideas back and forth using Neville's knowledge of who held which posts and both of their impressions of their peers, to figure out who they needed to ask what of. Satisfied with what they had hashed out they played chess, Harry enjoying the chance to face an opponent other than Ron, he still lost, strategy was something he could apply to people, but logic puzzles like chess were a bit much, Neville however was a an effusive winner so he didn't gloat to badly.
That night and the following morning, Harry followed what was rapidly becoming his routine, he had switched from the blank room method of meditating to focusing on an image during the week of time compression, although so far this wasn't proving much more effective. Occlumency, even the baby steps, was proving just as hard as Slytherin had warned, but at least the meditation helped him to calm down before bed so he was sleeping better.
In the morning, after his daily check up with Madam Pomfrey, Harry and a semi-willing Neville headed over to see Hagrid and to try and head of any attempt to get him fired by the pure-bigot faction in the Hogwarts Governors. Hagrid was his usual friendly self again, although the legacy of his months in Azkaban remained, his beard was trimmed very short as was his usually wild unkempt hair and he, his hut and clothes all smelt strongly of soap and were exceptionally clean. Harry supposed, as he blinked at Hagrid in surprise (upon seeing his nearly clean shaven face), that Azkaban must be filthy and Hagrid must have needed to be somewhere the opposite of that, as they were ushered into Hagrid's home with a "mornin' 'Arry, Longbottom, good ter see yer" Harry saw that a small fire was blazing despite the July weather and Hagrid had bunches of sweet peas in the windows which were open to the summer air.
"Good morning Hagrid" Harry greeted whilst Neville mumbled a "Good morning Mr Hagrid" and bobbed his head shyly.
Both boys were soon sat comfortably on Hagrid's sinfully comfortable chairs drinking tea and eating 'surprisingly palatable' biscuits. "You look good with your beard trimmed Hagrid" Harry offered after a moment of sipping the tea "and the biscuits are lovely, new recipe?"
Hagrid chuckled amusedly "Thank ye 'Arry, I always preferred me beard short, but me hair's too tough for regular steel, blunts scissors and razors like you wouldn't believe, needs a special spell me Pa taught me ter keep it groomed, and before…."Hagrid sniffed discreetly "Ah can't thank ye enough fer what ye said ter the Minister 'Arry, 'e wouldna given me mah wand rights back without ye and that's a fact, didn't realise 'ow much ah'd lost without me magic, couldn't use it in the summer before ah lost it anyway ye see. Even them biscuits, I were a mean cook with magic but without, well ah likes me cooking but ah know you lot were just humouring me and ah appreciate that ye tried."
Harry blushed " I always appreciated that you were cooking for me Hagrid, even if the cakes needed some softening up."
Hagrid grinned happily "well yer a good one 'Arry, no doubt about that"
"Thanks" Harry murmured blushing awkwardly and looking down at his cup.
The silence lingered for a few minutes until Hagrid found a new topic "So 'Arry, Neville, ye want to hear me idea for the first lesson, I'll prob'le cover it with me third and fourth years since I know they've not seen me beauties yet?"
"Sure Hagrid what can you tell us?"
"Well I'm looking at startin' with a show and tell, give a bit of an overview of the course and how it's useful to the ordinary wizard. Before you showed me that book and said I ought to look over Professor Kettleburn's notes, thank ye for that 'Arry, I were gonna start off with Hippogriffs. We've got the last wild population in the British isles in the forest, and I've a licence to domesticate one foal a year. Now with what you said about those from more Muggle 'omes not knowin' about magical pets I thought to branch out. I'm still goin' ta show a Hippogriff but I'll bring me best behaved, continuing that theme a postal owl and if I've got more in for patchin' up a normal owl for comparison, likewise a cat and a Kneazle, maybe even a cross, a Krup and a terrier. A few more along those lines. I won't be letting anyone in the pen with them in the first lesson, instead I'll be doing a bit of a meet and greet and a course over view, then we will do an assignment followed by a practical lesson for all the common domestic critters, nothing more dangerous than the Hippogriff though. Then I think we will follow that model to fill in the blanks for all the critters on your syllabus up to OWL. I were thinkin' I might offer some extra practical class for those with an interest, gonna need some help keepin' up with me groundkeepin' if I'm teaching too."
When Hagrid paused for breath Harry just blinked in amazement, Hagrid had been really passionate as he spoke, his face lighting up as he described the creatures. Harry was actually really looking forward to his lessons the next year, he hated subjects that were pure theory even if he could see the need for it now that his blocks had been dissolved. "Wow Hagrid, that sounds really awesome, we won't get bogged down with stuff like flobberworms, but we won't miss anything that might be on the exam. If you stick to that it's going to be really hard for Malfoy to do anything to you, especially since Professor Kettleburn hasn't been up to doing a lot of practical since his last accident."
"Ye think so?"
"Yes Mr Hagrid, I'm glad that we are going to get a chance to see them and learn about them before we have to touch anything, I know it's silly but I get nervous, and animals can tell, so them get irritated the I get scared and well you get the picture…" Neville trailed off depreciatingly and Harry had a sudden flash of insight into when he was so pleased to have Trevor.
"Ah didn't think of that lad, but I'm right glad, I wouldn't want ta put off a student who might come to love the creatures the way I do just cause he didn't have time to see what's what and get his confidence. Would me out of class drop in help, so the first time you approach them isn't in front of the class, or is havin' your friends there going to make it easier?" Hagrid leaned forward slightly his face concerned.
"I might feel better if Harry came with me but I'd like to meet the animals before the class when we work with them when I can. It's not the Gryffindors most of the time but the Slytherins especially make me feel nervous." Neville admitted softly.
"Ay I see that, I will do what I can to keep a lid on it but there's bound to be misbehavin' in an outside class like this. I think I might set up two clubs then, one for the keen and one for the more nervous lot."
Neville nodded jerkily but Hagrid just patted him on the shoulder carefully, "don't worry lad, Harry here is a bit of a natural with the critters, you've seen his Owl, between the two of us we'll have you over those nerves in no time!" Hagrid beamed until Neville smiled back hesitantly.
They spent the remainder of the time before the train just chatting with Hagrid and discussing what their assigned work was normally like and what they did and didn't like about each of their other teacher's teaching styles. By the end of it Neville was completely comfortable around Hagrid, though it probably helped that with his magic returned he seemed like a new man. When they left it was Neville that found the courage to ask if they could still drop in for tea the next year and both boys couldn't have been happier than when Hagrid said "Of course, look at the two o' ye, now Neville your dad Frank, he's a few years older than Harry's dad were but they were decent friends for all that not just allies. Right glad I am that the two o' ye are continuin' with the alliance, just what magical Britain needs." Neville never mentioned how much it meant to him that Hagrid had talked about his dad in the present tense when most spoke as if he were dead.
When it was time to head towards the train Harry found himself dragging his feet, his reluctance to leave the relative safety of Hogwarts and return to the Dursleys clear. Neville, despite sometimes being less than happy to see his Gran, was looking forward to seeing his estate and his greenhouse so he noticed Harry's reluctance. Gradually, with coaxing, Harry told Neville some of what he'd had to talk to Madam Pomfrey about and got a little of Neville's home life in return. He even let Neville in on his plans for the contract since both boys were now away from Legilimens and the plans would go through the next morning. Neville spoke about his own avoidance strategies, when his uncle Algi showed up in particular, in the end neither boy was entirely happy with the other's situation but both resolved to do what they could to help. Harry suggested that after the minimum length of time sat the Dursleys' he could visit Neville and Neville promised to use the manor's owl to talk to Harry at least every two days.
As they pulled into outer London Harry got more and more nervous so Neville distracted him as much as possible. He was surprisingly successful and as they began to pull into King's Cross Harry felt lighter and was able to sincerely thank Neville for his support before squaring his shoulders and preparing to meet the Dursleys. As they got off the train however Neville quickly dragged him to meet his Gran.
Platform 9 and 3/4 looked very peculiar with only a quarter of its normal population, the more orderly appearance didn't suit the normally overwhelming setting. A stern woman tall with rigid bearing and eyes very similar to Neville's stood to one side on the platform. Her eyes widened slightly as she saw her grandson dragging a mop haired child, shorter than himself, towards her and she smiled slightly when he bowed shallowly and said "Madam Augusta Longbottom may I present to you Heir Potter, Heir Potter the Dowager Longbottom, my Regent and Grandmother."
At the introduction Harry bowed also and was surprised to see the sincere smile on her face, he supposed that when Neville said she wasn't really so bad he might know what he was talking about after all. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Madam Longbottom, Neville speaks fondly of you and it is my hope that the alliance between our houses can continue."
She nodded regally before replying "That is the current intention of House Longbottom Heir Potter, that you appear to be gladly in company with my grandson implies all goes well in that regard?"
"Indeed madam I am most satisfied with Heir Longbottom's conduct with regards to myself an our Houses's alliance. On the subject of the alliance however I feel I must ask an indulgence of your House."
"Do go on?" she replied in a more neutral tone.
"Madam Longbottom the fact that I know as much about the Noble Houses and their alliances as I do, not to mention proper protocol between Witches and Wizards, is in defiance of, not in testament to, my guardians both mundane and magical." Harry took a deep breath and soldiered on before she could reply, "I find my knowledge as Heir Potter not sufficient to the proper conduct required of my station, as a trusted ally I request your discrete assistance in remedying the deficit post haste. To give an idea of the dearth of knowledge, despite researching for the year and eight months since I became aware of magic, I had received no indication that I was of Noble stock until a house elf mentioned it last week. All of my personal research into proper conduct has therefore been from slightly the wrong perspective and the fact that I was unaware of this suggests that my sources may be corrupted." Harry's eyes had dropped to his feet as Madam Longbottom's expression had become more furious, now he glanced up and saw her exerting iron control over her temper.
"What? Who would leave any Heir so ignorant? This is an outrage, I must notify…"
"No!" Harry cut her off, "please don't, I'm trying to sort the issue of proper guardianship but until its solved and I have more knowledge I need to keep things hidden. Please, we are going to have to do this the Slytherin way until at least next year if we have any hope of succeeding."
"I cannot like this, but I will wait until you give me a proper explanation, and I assume Neville…"
"I know some of it Gran, I can tell her everything right Harry?"
"Yeah Nev, off course, I wouldn't ask you to hide something from your Regent or your Gran."
"Right, thanks Harry"
"Well then, I am going to take you back with us…"
She stopped when she saw both boys shaking their heads "No? And why not?"
"I'm under some powerful wards at my relative's home, they extend some protection outside of their physical boundaries and are being monitored in the event that I don't return. I've checked and they need at most three weeks to charge, possibly less. Given the various threats to my life they seem worth maintaining."
"Well then Heir Potter I formally extend to you an invitation to reside with us on the Longbottom Estate from June twenty fifth until we leave for the express on September first or at any earlier time should you require sanctuary."
"Thank you, As Heir Potter I accept your invitation and express my thanks for your offer."
"Well then Harry, off with you, the sooner you go the sooner we can see you again, you remind me so much of Charles at that age…." She trailed of wistfully.
"Bye Harry" Neville called and his Gran apparated them both out of the platform.
Harry quickly went to meet his relatives, and meekly went up to his room with no supper before 'going to bed'. Of course he really flashed to the Chamber for dinner, his evening dose of tears and some down time with Dobby and Slytherin but nobody needed to know that.
"Boy get down here now!" Vernon bellowed at the top of his lungs the next morning.
Harry woke disoriented after his first night away from the familiar comfort of Hogwarts, however his brain quickly engaged and as he yelled back "coming Uncle Vernon" he was holding back a grin of anticipation and mentally preparing for the verbal tightrope he was about to walk.
When Harry entered the kitchen his Uncle glared belligerently at him and his Aunt scowled then jerked her head towards the official looking owl perched between the geraniums at the kitchen window. "What did you do now boy?" she hissed violently.
"We will not tolerate any more of your freakishness, Ruddy owls, flying cars, that unnaturalness does not belong here amongst decent folk!" his Uncle ranted before Harry had chance to answer his Aunt, rapidly purpling in anger as he recalled Harry's midnight escape the previous summer.
"I haven't done anything" Harry replied quickly in a placating tone "but that's an official Owl, could be the Bank or the Ministry, don't think it's from Hog-the school." Harry focused on speaking English then addressed the large tawny owl "Hello there gorgeous, have you got a letter for me?" he held out his arm and after a moment regarding the proffered limb the owl hopped on, allowing Harry to take the letter in return for scratching its chest feathers "It is for me then? Thanks, do you need a drink or…" Harry trailed of as the owl shook itself and headed off back out of the window.
Harry made a show of examining the seal before he cracked the letter feeling the familiar wash of identifying magic across his developing Mage senses . He glanced at his Uncle and explained "it's from the Bank, I'll just read it to check it's nothing urgent."
As Harry perused the letter checking its contents matched those he'd previously agreed, his Uncle began to mutter under his breath "even the ruddy bank uses the damn birds, why they can't just use the Royal Mail like any NORMAL person I'll never know! I'll bet the stupid boy has got himself into debt buying freakish things for that abomination of a school! Well if he thinks we'll help him he's got another thing coming, the ungrateful little…"
Harry tuned him out as he read, so far everything was exactly as he and the goblins had discussed, he was careful to appear as though he were reading this for the first time, and allowed his brow to furrow and a puzzled expression to appear at the right points. Finally his relatives' 'patience' failed and his Aunt snapped "Well what is it boy? What's so confusing and exciting?"
Harry stammered a little "Um, right, well, er, I was talking to the Bank about the fund I use to pay for my school supplies and anyway one thing lead to another and it turns out I don't have legal guardians."
"What are you talking about Boy? WE are your legal guardians, and what's this about money? We should have been told, a minor certainly can't access it without their guardian's permission!"
Harry suppressed his evil smirk through great force of will "There is a trust vault set up to pay for my schooling, it says here….'no individual has ever signed the ministry approved paperwork required to register as your guardian' so apparently whist you are my um 'de facto' guardians because you house me you aren't my Legal guardians."
"So what's the letter about? Finally going to be rid of you are we?" Vernon barked.
"Ummm it says that" Harry stuttered to a halt.
"Carry on boy"
"Ummm as my 'de facto' guardians you were entitled to maintenance payments for my care and support, apparently the money is just sat in an account accruing interest. It says they've, they've…" Harry drew a deep breath then exhaled in a rush "They've included the guardianship papers should you wish to file for legal custody and gain access to all owed money totalling umm, what's the conversion? About £83,000 to date."
How much?" Vernon asked.
"Umm it started at £250 a month and it's been increased with inflation and as I aged, then there's interest on the account etc with means nearly £83,000 not liable for back taxes" Harry made a show of checking the papers.
His aunt grabbed the papers from his hands and began to read them herself, "Vernon, it's true, I remember this paper its certified legal grade in their world. It says some nonsense about a code of practice and proper conduct and proof of upkeep and expenditure, but we can use receipts from Dudley's toys, they are all in his room anyway. Besides it says anything we can't prove goes to Dudley when he's of age!" She handed the papers over to Vernon who read through rather to fast to actually be paying attention to all of the clauses and sub clauses in the guardianship papers, but Harry supposed that was a good thing.
"Well boy, it looks like you have a use after all! Let's just make things nice and legal and we will see about getting back some of what we are owed for raising you and taking you in out of the goodness of our hearts." Vernon's eyes had a greedy gleam to them.
He plonked the papers down on the table and began to sing in all the indicated places, Petunia hovered anxiously in the background "Vernon are you sure? After all if we don't sign it's a way to be rid of him and surely we can claim some of it regardless?"
"Pet dear, you know they will leave the boy here no matter what we want, and not give us a penny for it. We've seen it the last 12 years why should that change, this just means we get what we are owed for giving the freak house room."
She nodded and agreed "of course Pumpkin, I really should leave this horrible legal stuff to you anyway, go ahead and sign." With that both Dursleys signed until they reached the last page where Harry signed as witness and the papers glowed then vanished.