Harry accepted another biscuit from Mrs Figg, before going back to staring at the one paragraph he had written. It was a not very nicely worded definition of what type of potion a solution was. Next, he supposed he ought to define what a shrinking solution was in particular. But however he phrased it, it sounded awfully obvious:A shrinking solution is a solution that shrinks plants and animals. It just would not do. Snape would cover his parchment in red if he saw a sentence like that.
Dudley's new hand-held gaming console – one of his many birthday presents – was emitting a tinny upbeat tune from the armchair next to Harry. He did not notice his cousin's glance, engrossed as he was in his game, his fingers only leaving the tiny buttons to pick up another square of chocolate. The last of the giant Honeyduke's bar Harry had given him for his birthday was lying in pieces on the coffee table in front of him, being devoured by the boys, with Mrs Figg's occasional help. For the time being, though, she had moved to the opposite corner of her cramped living room, and was now coaxing her various cats to have lunch.
Harry drew the ripped paper with his notes closer. He had written down that the solution shrunk organic matter, which meant more than just plants and animals, he supposed. Next to animal he had written non-magical, non-human being. He went back to reword the last part. There were a few other notes taken from his textbook. Reversible – swelling solution and Gamp's Law were circled, while other Law – intent had several question marks following after it. He sighed.
Dudley looked up, having heard him. "How're you getting on?" He glanced over, taking note of the paper and parchment spread out on the little coffee table. "Doesn't look like much…"
Harry grimaced. "Yeah, well. Snape has insane standards – and really likes theory."
Mrs Figg, still surrounded by several of her cats, drew near enough to look at his work. "My, my. He sure must have high standards – you've written a whole paragraph!"
Harry snorted and shook his head at Dudley's smirk. Now that Mrs Figg was no longer keeping her identity secret from him, Harry had to admit that she was far less boring than he had believed – though no less eccentric.
She had actually apologised for having bored him on purpose, making him look through the photographs of her cats, when she had looked after him before his Hogwarts days. Then she had explained that it had been necessary to make sure that he did not enjoy himself too much, because his aunt and uncle would have put an end to Harry's visits otherwise. Dudley, who had been there as well, had looked clearly uncomfortable, and Harry had felt sorry for him, for having to hear his parents' faults so openly discussed – truth though it was.
It had not surprised Harry to learn that Dumbledore had told Mrs Figg not to reveal her connection to magic to Harry – at least before he had gone to Hogwarts. His aunt and uncle had no wish to have any connection to the magical world, and Dumbledore had made sure the magical world as a whole had respected that. Harry was less clear on why he had not been told since then.
As things were, it had taken some manoeuvring on his part to explain to Mrs Figg how he knew she was a squib. Sirius had been eager to help, to plan the little manipulation. He had suggested approaching Hagrid, who was always the weakest link, when it came to keeping secrets. Harry, with a conspiratorial grin, had then brought up the photo album Hagrid had given him the year before, and suggested asking Hagrid which of his parents' friends had supplied the photographs. Sirius had returned the grin, and Harry had got the feeling that this must be what planning a prank was like.
It had worked beautifully. Hagrid had hummed and hawed for a little bit, before saying, "There's some from th' school archives, an' some from Rem… er, from an old friend of yer dad's."
Harry had almost asked after Remus, but had at the last moment decided to stay on track. A few more subtle nudges, and finally Harry had asked after the cat seen in some of the photographs that showed him as a baby as well.
"Tha's yer mum's ol' cat, don' remember th' name. Went ter stay with ol' Figgy, I think, after, er…" Hagrid had told him, much to Harry's satisfaction.
He, Ron and Hermione had barely contained their cackles while in Hagrid's presence, and had to leave soon after, deeming the information received enough for Harry to work with. And it had been. Mrs Figg had been bemused at first, when Harry and Dudley had dropped by, surprised that Harry knew of her connection to the magical world. But she had accepted his explanation of hearing of her from Hagrid easily enough, and had seemed happy at the visit – and all the visits that had followed after that.
As much as Harry appreciated the Grangers' attention, their calls and visits did have a somewhat unpleasant side effect: his aunt and uncle were keeping a closer eye on him this summer, making sure no one else noticed anything strange about their nephew. This meant that doing homework in the park had become unwise, because his aunt might drop by at any moment to make sure Harry was not up to anything suspicious that any of their neighbours might notice. Harry had therefore relocated some of his school supplies to Mrs Figg's house, so he could do his school work there, unobserved.
Dudley read through what little Harry had written. "Shrinking solution? Sounds weird."
Harry shrugged. "I think it's one of the things used to make Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans." He perked up at having remembered that, and hastily noted that down.
Dudley snorted. "You're going to talk about making sweets in your essay?"
"Snape doesn't like us to just copy things from the textbook. But obviously I don't have access to any other potions books right now. It's a good thing I remembered reading about Bertie Bott's – that'll be one extra thing, at least, that's not copied straight from my book."
"Oh, Bertie Bott's," said Mrs Figg. "Haven't had those in a while."
"What's those laws?" asked Dudley. "Sound kinda sciencey."
"Ah, those." Harry grimaced. "The first one's Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. It says that the mundane – er, non-magical – property that you've changed, together with the magic you've used for the change, are constant. It's a kind of conservation law. It tells you that if you change the properties of something non-magical, you can always undo what you've done – in this case with a swelling solution. But transfiguring magical things is a bit trickier."
"Er…" Dudley gave him an uncomprehending look.
"So… Say you have something non-magical. Say some food. If you shrink it with a shrinking solution, its size will change, but so will its internal magic – its magical properties will become different, and so in a way the end result 'remembers' what it used to be like before the change. Does that make sense?"
"Kind of," said Dudley. Then he frowned. "What about Bertie Bott's, then? Have I been eating bits of magic?"
Harry almost laughed at his cousin's worried face. "It wouldn't do you any harm, even if the beans did have magic. But actually no. In first year, I actually looked this up to write to you about. It's one of the company's secrets how they do it, but the beans don't have magic – so you can't untransfigure them and find out the recipes." Harry frowned. "This might have to do with the exceptions to Gamp's Law – but I don't really know." He groaned, reaching for his textbook again.
Mrs Figg grabbed a biscuit herself and then sat down at the other end of the sofa. "That does sound a bit sciencey," she said. "Not that I'd know much about it – science, or magic. Never got to go to school, did I."
The boys shot her perplexed looks.
"My parents didn't know enough about the muggle world to send me to a muggle school – apparently. And I could hardly have gone to Hogwarts."
"But…" Harry stopped, as he realised there was no polite way to end the question.
Dudley was not as easily deterred. "But how did you learn stuff?"
Mrs Figg's eyebrows climbed up her forehead. "How strange. You almost sound concerned about education, Dudley."
"Er, well…" Dudley looked flustered.
"I'm just wondering, because for all the times you two have visited this summer, it's always been Harry doing his homework, and you… Well, you've mostly become really good at playing with that thing." She pointed at Dudley's console.
Harry watched his cousin's face grow red, and thought that the criticism was not entirely deserved. Dudley had remembered to write down his summer assignments this year, and had actually done some of it during Artie's second visit that summer, a couple weeks after Dudley's birthday.
Mrs Figg pulled a face at the reaction her words had caused, then shrugged. "Like most children from magical families, I was taught things like reading and numbers at home. Some history and literature and the like later on as well, when it was clear I was a squib. I also passed the WOMBAT test – a basic aptitude test, all theory, that shows a working knowledge of the magical world – magical beings, laws, and the like," she explained when she noticed the boys did not know what she was talking about.
Harry caught Dudley's glance. His cousin looked as bewildered as he felt. He schooled his facial features, because it seemed vaguely impolite to react in that way.
"But what about—" began Dudley, but broke off, as even he realised that anything he might say would sound rather rude.
"What about finding a job? Or just being able to function in the muggle world – using electrical appliances, the underground, and so on?" Mrs Figg stated the unasked questions herself. She looked amused at the boys' bewildered faces, but also vaguely sad. "I don't think they ever considered that I'd want to live in the muggle world." She began to say something else, but stopped.
Harry looked around the small living room, taking in the television in front of the sofa he was sitting on, the telephone in the corner, the radio on the shelf. That last one might receive the Wireless Wizarding Network, he supposed, but as for the rest, he doubted they could be found in many magical households. "Mr Filch, the caretaker at Hogwarts, is a squib," he said. "So, I guess, squibs can live and work in the magical world…" He was beginning to wonder if that was the most enjoyable life for them, though.
"Well, yes," she conceded. "My parents were hoping that I'd do something like that – or just marry a wizard – and continue to live in a world based on an ability that I didn't have – when there was all this other world out there, full of muggle culture and technology and science – well, muggle science, I suppose." She fell silent for a moment, then went on, "When I met my husband – well, he wasn't my husband at first, of course – I found out just how many pitfalls there are for someone raised solely in the magical world when pretending to be a muggle—"
"Was your husband a muggle?" asked Harry.
"Did he know about magic?" asked Dudley.
"No." Mrs Figg looked down. "Neither do my sons. My husband died before you were born – quite unexpectedly young, even for muggle standards. My sons had both left home by then as well, and that's how I ended up joining the – well, reconnecting with the magical world, and meeting your parents, Harry."
Despite her backtracking, Harry could guess what she had almost said: that she had become a member of the Order of the Phoenix. Sirius had told him all about that.
"But…" Dudley was frowning. "But why? Why can't you tell your family, at least?" He looked visibly upset. Catching his cousin's surprised look, he grimaced. "I'd never have been told about magic if you hadn't come to live with us, would I?"
"Your parents did their best to keep you from finding out as it was," Harry said drily. But thinking about it, he suddenly felt sorry for Mrs Figg, stuck between the two worlds all her life. He became acutely aware how a squib's life was the flip side of a muggleborn's life – or his, for that matter. It had felt awful, when his aunt and uncle had tried to keep him away from his school, from his world. Mrs Figg never got to go to school at all…
"But it's also an actual law, isn't it?" came Dudley's petulant reply. "Even if my parents had wanted to tell me…" He trailed off, as it dawned on him just how unlikely that scenario was.
"Well, no," said Mrs Figg. "You can usually get permission to tell your family members – and even close relatives. It's just…" She trailed off on a soft sigh and stayed silent for a long moment. "I just couldn't think of a good enough reason to tell them. Magic never played a part in their lives, after all. My eldest son's a chemistry teacher – he works at a boarding school not far from Surrey." She named a school Dudley knew from sports competitions with his school. "My son – he really enjoys science – teaching it, and also living by it. He often gets frustrated with me for – well, for checking over dark corners to make sure there are no boggarts hiding there, or laying traps for gnomes in the garden—" She spread her arms, in a show of helplessness. "He thinks I'm being superstitious."
Harry was about to ask about boggarts – or explain to Dudley that gnomes were indeed real – but then another thought came to him. "Mrs Figg, you wouldn't happen to have any of your son's chemistry books, would you?" he asked.
"I think so, yes. The boys do like to leave their stuff here…" She looked surprised at the question, and then her eyes wandered down to the coffee table, where Harry's books and parchment were spread out. "You think you can use them for your homework?" she asked dubiously.
Harry nodded. "It's always a nice exercise to separate out the mundane part of the effect of the potion. It shows theoretical understanding, and all that. And it'll be another thing I didn't copy from the textbook."
"Alright." She rose from her seat, and headed farther inside her house. "I'll go find them. Be right back," she said, with her back already turned to him.
The cousins stared after her, before letting their faces communicate the bewilderment they had felt when hearing her story. Not wanting to discuss her affairs in her hearing range, Harry instead went back to staring at his homework – what little he had written so far. He ought to list the ingredients and the brewing method, he supposed.
Mrs Figg returned before he was finished with that, holding a few books. She settled back on the sofa. "I brought everything I could find. Well, you can have a look through them, see if you can find what you need."
Harry discarded a couple books that looked to be university-level, and also set aside one book that seemed too easy. He was left with a couple likely candidates, and began leafing through one of them. He had a strange sort of déjà vu, as he tried to learn something from a muggle book for the first time after primary school.
"And your teacher won't mind muggle references?" asked Mrs Figg.
Harry cringed a bit. Chances were, she knew who his potions professor was. She might even have heard of Snape's dislike of him, if she kept in contact with some other members of the Order, like McGonagall (Sirius had told him about her as well). "He can mind all he wants," he settled on saying, "but that's what he'll get." He kicked Dudley under the table, as his cousin opened his mouth – Dudley still tended to forget which secrets were to be kept from whom. Snape pretending to dislike him more than he actually did was definitely supposed to stay a secret from virtually everyone.
Mrs Figg shot him a dubious look, but left him to his reading, picking up a newspaper herself.
Dudley picked up one of the books as well. "Look, Harry. This looks just like what you were after!" he said a moment later, shoving another book in front of him. It was opened to a page describing some experiment with an egg.
"Yeah, that looks useful," said Harry, once he had skimmed the text, drawing the book towards him.
"I thought you couldn't do it without magic?" asked Dudley.
Harry rolled his eyes. "You can't. Here, you're just removing some water from the eggs. You're not really shrinking them," he said, pointing to the book. At his cousin's disappointed look, he relented. "It's still part of how the shrinking solution shrinks things."
Dudley was listening intently, and he was not the only one. Mrs Figg was shooting them covert glances, paying attention to what he was saying.
"So … the magical potion would give you a smaller egg – but one that's exactly like the bigger one?" asked Dudley.
"Yes… But that's not even the main difference. There's also that other Law I meant to write about…" Harry opened another of his books, titled Theory of Magic. "Ah, here it is: the Law of Opposing Intents. This one applies if you want to shrink animals. Instead of miniature animals, you end up with younger animals – who, of course, happen to be smaller." Happy to have remembered this, he wrote down what he understood to the best of his ability.
"That's weird," said Dudley. "Why not just shrink them?"
"Because it goes against their intent too much. It takes more force, or effort – magic – to turn animals into their miniature selves – because being shrunk wouldn't be very good for them, which means you're opposing their intent. So the potion does what's easier: makes them younger. The more you, er, oppose somebody's intent, the more force is needed…"
On the way home, Dudley dragged his feet. This was easier said than done, as Wisteria Walk was only a couple streets away from Privet Drive. Harry could tell he was thinking of something difficult by the way his face had contorted into a bizarre grimace. Back before Harry had gone off to Hogwarts, this expression used to be reserved for heavy mental challenges, like adding numbers larger than ten. This time, however, Harry suspected his cousin really was grappling with a problematic issue.
"Mrs Figg's sons don't know about magic," Dudley finally began. "And her parents didn't know enough about muggles to send her to a normal school."
Harry did not think lack of knowledge had been the real issue in her parents' case, but did not comment.
"So she's stuck in the middle, right? But she's the one who decided not to tell her sons…" Dudley went on, then fell silent, his face once again contorted into lines of thought.
Harry was beginning to get the uncomfortable feeling that he knew where the conversation was headed. "It's probably as she says: there never was any reason to tell them. She's not magic, and neither are her sons." He kept his tone light and unconcerned.
"You don't think, maybe, she thought it'd be better for them if they didn't know? Like, maybe she thought they'd be sad that they don't have magic?"
Harry suppressed a sigh. "Or maybe she thought her husband might not react well – some muggles don't. And then she just carried on with her sons as well."
Dudley shook his head, looking unsatisfied. "But why do you think some muggles don't like knowing about magic? Don't you think it's, well—"
"Envy?" said Harry, thinking of Aunt Petunia, and only realised how sharp his tone sounded when he saw his cousin draw back. "I don't mean … ugh…" he backtracked sheepishly.
They were talking about Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, of course – though neither was bringing up their names. It was not the first time that summer that they were having that particular non-discussion, either.
"I'm just saying," huffed Dudley. "Not all muggles dislike magic, right? So some people can get over their jealousy—" He meant himself, but would not say. "—And maybe Mrs Figg's family would've as well! But she never gave them the chance—"
"It's not just envy, Dudley. Some people are genuinely weirded out by magic," said Harry impatiently. He was thinking of his uncle, who was set in his ways when it came to absolutely everything, and who – more than Aunt Petunia, Harry thought – would have loved nothing better than to be able to reassure himself that his understanding of the world was complete. Magic – something he definitely did not understand – was not giving him that option.
Dudley opened his mouth to say something else, but they saw Malcolm walking across the street. They had walked almost to the end of Wisteria Walk, and reached the street cutting across it, leading to Privet Drive. Malcolm did not react to seeing Harry walking with his cousin the way he used to the year before. He just waved, answered Dudley's quick greeting, but did not stop. He was among a couple of other boys – boys Harry did not recognise.
Dudley's soft sigh was the only indication the blond boy gave that he was unhappy. He was slowly drifting apart from the boys they had gone to primary school with. There had not been any fights this summer, as there had been the year before, but it seemed, the other boys had begun spending more time with their classmates from Stonewall High – and less time with Dudley. If the same was true for Piers, the social isolation might explain why he seemed less antagonistic towards Dudley this summer. Harry was not sure he liked it, but he was trying to stay out of it.
Once Malcolm and his friends had gone out of sight, they turned the corner. Privet Drive came into view. Dudley slowed down again.
It was Harry, however, who picked the topic back up. "I guess… I guess it wasn't just the muggle side that would've worried Mrs Figg," he said out of a sense of fairness.
He recalled his reunion with Dudley, the worry that had been etched on his cousin's face that he had been unable to alleviate during the entire journey from King's Cross to their home in Little Whinging, and during the uncomfortable dinner that followed, up until Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had finally gone to sleep.
Dudley had been worried for many reasons. There had been the abrupt end to any real updates about the happenings at Hogwarts – Harry's letters had turned into insipid meaningless greetings, barely letting Dudley know he was unhurt, while Sirius' letters had stopped entirely. Dudley could not have failed to realise that his cousin's life must have become more complicated, rather than less, if he dared not write about anything important any more. So he had worried – about Harry, as well as Sirius.
There had been another worry, however, related to the last letter Harry had received from him before the end of term, which he knew he had been unable to answer the way it deserved in his response letter. Dudley had apologised, had taken responsibility for the way he had treated his cousin, for all that they both knew his parents had had the lion's share of the fault. But Dudley had seen in Harry's report of Draco's behaviour, and Snape's favouritism of the Slytherin boy, something of his own faults reflected back to him. The Malfoys had passed on their prejudices to their son, just as the Dursleys had. But Dudley had – with Harry's help initially – chosen to break free of his parents' faults.
With halting words, Harry began to explain the prejudices held in the magical world about muggles to Dudley – ending with Mrs Figg, and how she might have been protecting her husband and children from her birth family's prejudices by not telling them about magic.
Dudley nodded. "I think my parents may have thought something like that as well – that they were protecting me." He held up his hands, to forestall Harry's protests. "I know. They were awful. They treated you horribly. You didn't have your own room, you never had any presents, or a birthday party. You had to do my homework. And they never even told you about your parents – well, they never told you the truth." He rushed all this out in one breath, without looking at Harry. "But I think – and I really don't mean this to be any kind of excuse – that maybe they were trying to make sure I wouldn't have reason to be jealous of you." He fell silent, but would still not look at his cousin.
Harry sighed. He knew Dudley was wrong, but found his words failing him, getting lost in the face of his cousin's hope. Dudley's parents loved him, doted on him, gave him everything he wanted. Of course he loved them back – even if he could see their faults. Harry was not unaware that Dudley was on some level betraying his parents by helping him, and that this was anything but easy for the other boy.
"I – I know, the way they went about it – giving me everything I wanted, and not giving you anything you wanted – was all wrong," Dudley continued haltingly, after Harry had found himself unable to respond. "But if they see that I'm not jealous of you – that I'm happy with my school, and friends, and all that – maybe they'll realise that what they're doing isn't necessary—"
"Dudley," interrupted Harry, but then did not know how to go on.
It dawned on him that his cousin had been trying to get that message across to his parents for weeks now, letting them know that he was doing better at school, that he did not need to copy anyone's homework any more; that he was improving his boxing skills, and hoping to even compete the following year; that he enjoyed his new friendships with the boys from Smeltings – Artie, as well as a few boys from the boxing club.
"You don't," Harry finally managed to say. "Have reason to be jealous of me, I mean. You've been doing so much better this year…" Harry had written encouragements for his cousin's achievements in his letters, but it was different saying such things out loud, with Dudley standing in front of him. But he persevered, giving Dudley credit for all his effort.
A part of Harry wondered if Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon had done the same. At least in his hearing range, there had been no change in how they talked about their son, no acknowledgement that he was trying in a way he never had before. In their eyes, Dudley was always clever, no matter what his marks or teachers said. He was always the best boy, even if other children complained about him. But encouraging his effort? If anything, Aunt Petunia had been trying to feed him more, because he had managed to lose a little more weight. As for Uncle Vernon, he had joked about nerds, when he had witnessed his son doing his summer school work.
And yet, Dudley thought he could change his parents, if only he showed them how well he was doing… Harry would have laughed, had he not found the thought so sad.
The awkward moment following Harry's words lengthened, before both boys decided simultaneously to head back home. Harry did not find the words to caution his cousin against his hope of changing his parents. If anything, he felt like his talk about Mrs Figg had given Dudley more ideas.
Harry excused himself quickly once they were back. Dudley made an aborted gesture, trying to invite him to stay around until dinner was served, but Harry glossed over it, before disappearing up the stairs. They had arrived home together. That was more than enough to land him with suspicious looks from his aunt and uncle, without adding to it. Once in his room, Harry decided to ask Sirius later that night how to talk to his cousin. If he did not say something, he worried that Dudley would have his hopes dashed in a very unpleasant manner. And that might not even be the worst outcome.
The problem was partly that his relationship with his aunt and uncle had changed – first, after learning about magic, of course, but then again, after the first visit by Hermione and her parents the previous summer. A respectable, muggle couple looking out for Harry's well-being and keeping tabs on how his aunt and uncle were treating him had made a difference – even if the Grangers' daughter was a witch.
On the one hand – on the surface – things had improved. Harry had fewer chores to do, was allowed to leave the house during the day as he pleased, was rarely bothered in his room and was generally treated with a little bit more politeness. He was even allowed to let Hedwig out at night, provided she did not carry any letters. That last point he had not bothered to argue against, because he was being paranoid about his letters falling into the wrong hands, anyway. Besides, he was able to keep in contact with Hermione over the phone.
The drawbacks of this change were more difficult to sum up. His aunt and uncle had always made sure to remind him that he was foisted upon them against their will. Despite this, he had still been a part of the family – no matter how unwanted or disliked. But the more the Grangers kept an eye on him, the more they tried to make his aunt and uncle treat him better, the more he was beginning to feel like a foreign particle in the house – something that was to be tolerated resentfully, but really did not belong there. Despite everything, he found it decidedly unpleasant to constantly be made to feel like he ought to disappear.
Dudley's close relationship with his parents meant that Harry could not discuss the situation with his cousin, either, despite their strengthening friendship.
Harry went back to his room as soon as dinner was finished and he had done the washing-up. He had to wait for his aunt and uncle to go to sleep, before he dared to call Sirius. Even if such a blatant use of magic in their home had not been enough to push them over the edge, a much bigger problem was that they would recognise Sirius. His godfather had recently made an appearance on the muggle news, and Harry suspected his aunt and uncle would relish the thought of assisting with putting him behind bars.
Harry tried to doze in the mean time, but ended up falling asleep. When he woke, the house was quiet, it was dark outside and he could no longer hear his relatives' voices coming up from the living room, intermixed with the sound of the television. Hoping he had not worried Sirius overmuch by missing his usual call time, he reached for the two-way mirror, his torch, and also checked the clock. It was just after midnight – only a little later than usual.
Sirius' face appeared immediately when Harry called him. "Did you fall asleep again?" he asked right away.
Harry grunted. There was no point in denying it – he probably still looked bleary-eyed. "Where are you now?" he asked instead.
Sirius rarely told him his exact location – because he was no less paranoid than Harry – but he usually showed Harry some of his surroundings through the mirror. At the moment, he appeared to be inside a cave, lit dimly by a small campfire.
"Look what I found," said Sirius, holding up a newspaper in front of his mirror. It contained a moving photograph of him in Azkaban, looking filthy and emaciated, with an almost deranged expression, silently shouting at the viewer.
Harry had seen a number of such photographs of Sirius in the previous weeks, and the initial reaction had long since worn off. "Yeah, there was a picture of you in the muggle news as well. Not quite as flattering as that one, I'm afraid—"
Sirius mouthed the word 'brat' and held up the page of the Daily Prophet close enough to the mirror that Harry could read the title. It was about dementors at Hogwarts. "They're going to be, er, guarding the school come September," explained Sirius.
"That's where Pettigrew and I were seen, and Fudge's imagination doesn't extend beyond that." Sirius shook his head. "No, unfortunately, it's not just that. Dumbledore might've argued him out of it in that case. No, there's some speculation that the letter I received before my, er, prison break—" Sirius rolled his eyes. Did almost dying count as prison break? "—was sent by a Hogwarts student—"
"Oh, no. Do you mean that horrible letter I sent?" asked an alarmed Harry. "Did they find it?"
"No, I still have it. And what do you mean, horrible? It's almost as good as the letter you sent Dudley – he shared it with me last year, you know—"
Harry, feeling his face heat, returned the conversation to the topic at hand. "Do they know it was sent by me?"
"Not yet. They don't know much of anything, really. But apparently it's obvious that I'd want to take revenge – hence the dementors."
"So they're still focused on you and not Pettigrew?"
"Oh, yes. I'm the mastermind behind our shared villainy—"
"Same in the muggle news. Pettigrew is talked about like he's your sidekick or something." Harry scowled, thinking back to what Sirius had told him. "All because of that sham of a questioning they put you through. A few stupid questions, and they never let you explain yourself!"
"It was war. That's how all Death Eater trials were conducted. I made the choice not to tell them about Pettigrew myself – after the botched Veritaserum questioning. I didn't want to mention him without any evidence, because I knew if rumour got out, he'd run for good – leave the country, live as a muggle – something like that."
"At least, if they'd focus on Pettigrew… Maybe if I'd tried harder to convince the teachers that it was Pettigrew who was attacking us, and not you—"
"Nonsense. They were there – they hardly need you to tell them what they saw with their own eyes. And anyway, it's better this way – for the moment. It's better for Pettigrew to feel somewhat secure, so he doesn't try too hard to flee—"
They stopped, both knowing that they had discussed the same point almost every day since the end of school.
"Why are they so eager to put all blame on you?" Harry asked with a morose sigh.
Sirius did not respond.
Finally, Harry changed the topic, and told his godfather of his talk with Dudley – as well as Mrs Figg. Sirius did not dismiss his worries. If anything, he looked unexpectedly troubled.
"Make sure Dudley knows you don't want him to defend you publicly," he said. "It – could get ugly. He's never had his parents' disapproval, and if the first time it happens is because of you—" Sirius trailed off, shaking his head.
Harry got the feeling that the situation was not entirely unfamiliar to his godfather. He asked.
Sirius nodded. "Yes. It does remind me a bit of me and my brother, growing up. He tried to defend me a couple of times, but always ended up regretting it once my parents' ire turned on him…"
This time, it was Sirius who switched topics, bringing up Harry's summer homework. He grimaced at hearing about the potions essay – the subject had never been his favourite, but knowing that the homework was for Snape really disagreed with him. He perked up when Harry told him about including information from a muggle book. After thinking it over, Sirius suggested a few simple calculations Harry could do, like the difference in volume due to the mundane action of the potion, versus the magical action.
Sirius had helped Harry to include similar calculations in his summer homework in several subjects, explaining to his godson how the formulas he had been learning in the past couple of years were all arithmancy. He had been happy to hear that Harry would be taking arithmancy as an elective, and had admitted that it used to be one of his more liked subjects at school. Harry appreciated this, as he found it reasonably interesting himself.
What he found less reasonable, was Sirius' opinion of his astronomical charts. They both agreed that astronomy was not the most useful subject, but while Harry was happy to do his homework in a perfunctory manner, Sirius just could not abide seeing Harry's messy charts. As far as Harry could figure, it had to do with the Black family's obsession with stars, and their indoctrination that Sirius still had not been able to fully rid himself of. And Harry was the one suffering for it. He had been forced to redo his summer homework, after tiring of Sirius' constant comments about it. They finished Harry's second attempt in torchlight, and after Sirius finally deeming it tolerable an hour later, they said goodbye.
Harry lay in the darkened room, trying to fall back asleep, but the worries of the day would not relinquish their hold. He ought to talk to Dudley, he thought, but did not know what to say. It was tempting not to say anything at all, but Aunt Marge was due to arrive in a couple of weeks, and he feared how that would affect the already precarious balance of the Dursley household.