Disclaimer: These characters and world are not mine - they belong to JKR, and more the power to her. I write for fun, not profit.
Author's Note: Did I mention that there will be a lot of angst? Good. Oh, and no sex, though it’s implied. If you motivate me I might manage a sequel!
Harry sat silently in the corner of Vernon Dursley’s car, staring blankly out at the passing scenery and ignoring the furious whispered conversation in the front of the vehicle. Dudley was sulking beside Hedwig’s cage, glowering at his parents and shifting about restlessly on his overweight arse, whatever was on his tiny little mind clearly more important than the fact that he was being forced to sit next to an owl, and Harry’s owl at that. Harry was in no state to wonder what his cousin was sulking about now, especially as he was sure to find out sooner or later when Dudley started the tantrum he was clearly working himself up to. A man that looked like Sirius waited to cross at the lights and Harry closed his eyes, his heart aching in his chest. Sirius would never cross a Muggle road again, or any other road for that matter. He was dead, and Harry had killed him.
At least his friends were recovering. Hermione wasn’t pale and shaken anymore and the scars on Ron’s thin wrists were mostly gone by now. He could believe Madame Pomfrey’s prediction that they would disappear altogether in time. He hadn’t disfigured his best friends for life with his foolish actions. Someone had once said that ‘hindsight was twenty twenty’, and Harry knew in hindsight that he should have listened to Hermione and Ron from the very start. He should have ignored the visions of Voldemort torturing his godfather to death and trusted Professor Snape to save the situation. He should have worked harder to do what Snape demanded of him, and swallowed his stupid pride. He’d heard the phrase ‘pride comes before a fall’ and Harry felt like he was still falling.
“NO!” Dudley roared and Harry turned to stroke Hedwig soothingly as she protested the volume, “I won’t have it!”
“Now Duddy-kins,” Aunt Petunia cooed, “It can’t be helped. Mummy doesn’t want to do it, but she has no choice!”
“You said that we could send him to Aunt Marge!” Dudley went red in the face and Harry wondered what was going on. He should have been paying attention - Snape was right, he was a lazy, ignorant boy.
“How can Peterson come over if he’s here?” Dudley whapped Hedwig’s cage and Harry glared at him, before hauling the cage into his lap. He wouldn’t have poor Hedwig abused just because his cousin was in a fouler mood than usual.
“Now Dudders,” Uncle Vernon chuckled, “Marge is off on her hols early this year, it can’t be helped. You and your friend will just have to share your room.”
Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief. Spending the holidays with Aunt Marge was an even worse prospect than spending it with the Dursley’s. She hated him even worse than they did. Between her spiteful comments and her nasty dogs Harry would probably lose his mind or blow her up in a much more permanent and deadly fashion. Maybe that was why she’d taken her holiday’s early this year - she hated him as much as he hated her, and they’d never bothered to hide their feelings from each other.
“Why can’t he sleep in his cupboard?” Dudley continued spitefully, his piggy little eyes glaring at Harry in pure malice. Harry wondered if Dudley had even looked at him since he got off the train. He was rather a lot taller than he had been when he was eleven, and the cupboard hadn’t grown at all.
“That’s a thought, Petunia,” Uncle Vernon mused, “The boy could go back in there.”
“And the first chance he gets he’ll be telling his nasty little friends all about it,” Petunia reminded her husband angrily, “I won’t have his lot in the house, Vernon.”
Uncle Vernon glared at the silent teen in his back seat and Harry met his glare steadily. He’d faced down more frightening things than Vernon Dursley, and anyway, it wasn’t his fault he was a Wizard. If anyone had bothered to ask Harry he’d have chosen to be a squib, or better yet not to have been born when he had. That way his parents might still be alive, and he’d never have been forced to live with these awful Muggles. It was times like this that Harry envied Tom Riddle for being sent to an orphanage.
“What are you staring at boy?” Uncle Vernon hissed and Harry shook his head slightly, deciding not to reply to the loaded question. He withdrew his gaze; looking at the owl Hagrid had given him for his eleventh birthday instead. She was as beautiful now as she had been the first time he’d set eyes on her, and he smiled at her fondly, sticking his fingers in the cage to stroke her feathers gently. She may not be human, but Harry had the feeling that she would be the only friendly face he’d see these holidays.
“Your little friend won’t be here for another week, Dudders, so we have plenty of time to work something out,” Aunt Petunia was cooing and Harry tuned them out again. He was surprised that Dudley had friends from school that wanted to see him outside of term time, but supposed that everyone made at least one friend in their life. After all, even Voldemort had a pet snake.
Harry smiled as he caught sight of Hedwig as she winged her way over the rooftops. The sun was rising on his third day with the Dursley’s and things had been strained to say the very least. He’d been allowed to keep her with him in Dudley’s second bedroom, as the Dursley’s didn’t want to deal with the ruckus she would kick up if she were locked away for days at a time. He’d been reluctant to let her out of his sight, especially after hearing the idiot down the street popping away at sparrows with his air rifle. It would take a very lucky shot to actually kill her, but Harry wasn’t set up to deal with even a minor wound here, and he doubted that the Dursley’s would let him take her to a vet.
As if summoned by his thoughts, the idiot with the air rifle started potting at the sparrows in the tree down the road, and the birds left their early morning roost to swirl into the air, screaming their outrage. They crowded Hedwig, who had to change her flight path sharply to avoid tangling her wings with them, the new course taking her over the roof of the house. Harry shut the window and hurried downstairs silently, opening the front door and slipping out into the street, holding his arm out for his friend to land on. Hedwig hooted in recognition as she soared above him and wheeled gracefully in the sky to return to him. The air rifle barked again and she jolted in the air.
Even as his yell of anger and fear split the morning air, Hedwig tumbled from the sky, right into the path of the car from number seven. He always left early, to beat the rush according to Uncle Vernon, who despised early risers. Harry sobbed as the wheel passed over his owl, the cars brakes screaming as the driver fought to stop in time. He scrambled forward, tears running unashamedly down his cheeks, falling to his hands and knees to get under the car with his beloved pet.
She was completely still, her wings crushed, her eyes glossed over with the cold sheen of death. Sobbing her name over and over, Harry stroked her feathers with trembling fingers, wishing that he knew a spell that would make her better, wishing that he had a time turner that would let him go back and stop this, wishing …
“Son?” the driver touched his leg and Harry scooped Hedwig up tenderly, wriggling out from under the car and cradling her broken body to his chest. The man in the suit made a pained noise and Harry looked up into horrified, guilty eyes. He’d tried to stop, but she’d fallen directly into his path. He hadn’t even been speeding and Harry knew that it wasn’t his recklessness that had killed his friend.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Harry managed to choke out, “The idiot with the air rifle shot her first. You couldn’t have known.”
He got up, ignoring the other man now, concentrating only on his friend. Biting back the wrenching sobs that wanted to tear him apart Harry headed back to number four, walking around the house into the back yard, collecting a spade from the small garden shed and trudging to the back corner that was sheltered by a series of bushes. He’d hidden away there when he lived with the Dursley’s full time, using the cool corner as a refuge in good weather from the house and its inhabitants. He dug a grave for Hedwig and pulled off his t-shirt, clean from the drawer this morning, the only one that fit him decently, and wrapped her in it tenderly. He placed the shrouded form in the grave and used his hands to smooth the dirt back into the grave, taking care not to let it fall heavily on her, taking the time to ensure that she would be comfortable, not really in his right mind as he cried silently. When it was done he knelt there for a long time, his eyes finally running out of tears.
After a while he managed to get back to his feet and trudge back to the garden shed, returning the tool to its proper place and leaning in the doorway for a moment before heading back inside. All three of the Dursley’s were sitting at the kitchen table, a torn envelope sitting in the centre of it, green ink and a familiar spiky hand marking the letter as his. Uncle Vernon was smirking at him in a very superior manner and Harry debated hexing the man into unconsciousness. Deciding that he didn’t want to face another disciplinary hearing because of Uncle Vernon, Harry merely folded his dirty arms around his naked torso and waited for the next blow to fall.
“Your Headmaster has sent you a letter,” Vernon’s piggy eyes swept over him from head to toe and the Muggle came to some kind of decision. There was a hateful gleam of triumph in his look, and Dudley was positively beaming. Even Aunt Petunia looked happy about whatever had been said in the letter and for a wild moment Harry wondered if Dumbledore had somehow heard about Hedwig and was taking him away from Privet Drive.
“You’re to get cleaned up and then get into your old cupboard, boy. It seems that your lot want you about as much as we do.”
There have been some very unpleasant developments over the last two days, which make any communication between us very dangerous indeed. I am sorry to say, dear boy that our common enemy has managed to somehow find the general location of your relative’s house. In order to safeguard you and them as much as possible, you must break all ties with the wizarding world for the summer holidays. Your friends may well be watched for communication with you, and the same source that leaked your location also leaked several of the names of people I would have entrusted your safety to.
I will come for you myself before school begins once more. Molly Weasley will purchase your books, robes and other supplies for the next year on your behalf, and your friends will bring them to the school for you.
I cannot emphasise enough the danger of this situation. I am relying upon you to remain in your Aunts house at all times and not draw attention to yourself by use of any magic in front of the Muggles or any other action. I must also urge you to remember to practice the Occulmency diligently each night. I know you will understand the necessity of this order when you think it over carefully.
Remember, I will come for you when the time is right,
Harry extinguished the light at the tip of his wand and folded the letter away slowly. With no way to beg the Headmaster to remove him from the Dursley’s ‘care’ he’d spent the last three days in the closet, his mood swinging between anger and despair. Banned from even stepping out into the yard, and thus unable to visit with Hedwig, he’d slowly become resigned to the cramped quarters. The Dursley’s let him out twice a day to use the toilet and bathroom, providing him with a days rations before locking him back in the cupboard once more.
Dudley’s guest for the holidays would arrive tomorrow, and Harry had been warned more than once what would happen to him if the new Muggle found out he was there. He’d gotten used to moving silently, spending most of his time lying on the cramped cot, reading through his schoolbooks. He’d come up with a plan to keep boredom at bay for the summer, and could only hope that his Headmaster would approve of the results.
Dumbledore’s letter was not written from teacher to student, or even mentor to postulate. It had slowly dawned over Harry in the light of the prophecy that there was only one thing that he was to his Headmaster - a weapon. Harry was the weapon that Dumbledore hoped to wield against Voldemort. As such, Harry had decided that he must be something of a disappointment to the man - his marks were less than exemplary, and he was easily distracted by the trivial pursuit of Quidditch. He was far too friendly with the people he was supposed to be protecting, and in fact endangered them more often than not with his foolish, egotistical actions. With that in mind, Professor Snape’s constant criticism and outright hatred made a lot more sense to him.
Harry had therefore decided that he was going to not only complete the holiday assignments to a high standard, he was also going to go through every book that had ever been assigned reading for his classes and memorise them fact by fact. The books dealing with potions, Herbology and magical creatures would come first, and once he was sixteen he’d go through the charms, transfigurations and defence spells until he had them down cold. Luckily his trunk had an expansion spell on it to allow him to keep everything he owned in it, including the books he had amassed since beginning his schooling at Hogwarts.
In order to stay fit, Harry would also work on a daily regimen of exercises that would allow him to train his muscles in strength in the small space. In one of the defence books that Sirius and Remus had given him there was a section on hand to hand combat, including a series of exercises that he could perform if he folded his bed away. That proved to be a noisy undertaking however, and when Aunt Petunia had wrenched the door open to shout at him he’d simply pulled the thin mattress and bedding off the frame and shoved the noisy metal out into the hallway without a word. He’d heard Dudley complaining as his cousin was forced to help his mother put the bed frame up in the attic. As it was the only exercise Dudley would do all summer, Harry felt no small amount of satisfaction. He could roll the bedding up into a much smaller shape, and do it silently, so he had more room during the day, and if the thin mattress wasn’t too comfortable on the dusty floor, Harry simply ignored it. He could sit on his trunk when he was reading, anyway.
In order to guard against further mental attacks from Voldemort, and he knew the Dark Lord was very active at the moment from the constant low level pain in his cursed scar, Harry forced himself to recall every single lesson that Snape had ever given him and apply each principal that the Potions Master had tried to instil in him. He was rewarded when the pain lessened to a faint ache, and his dreams became rather tame. Each night he dreamt he was in a rainforest somewhere, sitting on a log, letting the warm rain fall on him. It made a pleasant change from the images of torture and death that the Dark Lord funnelled his way, so Harry didn’t mind too much at all.
Dudley’s guest would arrive tomorrow and spend the majority of the holidays with the Dursley’s. Dudley had already had several major tantrums over the menu, the amount of pocket money he was going to get while his friend was here, and the curfew that his parents expected him to keep. Harry thought the last tantrum had been fairly pointless, as his Aunt and Uncle had never imposed a clear curfew on Dudley in his life, and if they had their son was most likely to ignore it anyway. Harry had been warned repeatedly that he was expected to be invisible for the rest of the summer, a warning he considered to be quite redundant. He had no intention of drawing attention to himself, especially as Dumbledore had already ordered him to stay out of view.
Harry hurried silently down the stairs and slipped neatly into his cupboard just as the front door opened and his cousin and guest entered. From what Harry could tell, Peterson and Dudley were very similar, which made it astonishing that they’d become friends until you realised that between the two of them they pretty much ruled Smeltings student population. It was more an alliance of power than a friendship, and Harry had the feeling that these two would be Sorted into Slytherin had they ever been Wizards.
He unrolled his bed and silently shook up his pillow. The wretched thing was fairly flat anyway, and he usually slept with it doubled over to give him some support. Dressed in cotton pyjamas, Harry was eager to get to sleep tonight. The dreams of the forest had become much more intriguing with the arrival of Prowler. Prowler was a green-eyed panther that had slowly but surely made its way to his side over the course of the last week. Its fur was surprisingly soft and he enjoyed talking to it. The rain had stopped the day Prowler first appeared and the rainforest was alive with animal sounds and all sorts of interesting scents. It was much more interesting than the cupboard and he fled to it each night with something like eagerness.
Last night he’d touched Prowler for the first time, a fleeting caress to a soft ear before the dream had been disturbed by Aunt Petunia’s not so gentle toe to his ribs. He may have imagined the frustrated growl the giant cat gave as the dream dissolved, he knew that he had growled at her himself, still half asleep and glaring up at her in aggravation. They’d penned him in a space that was so small he couldn’t even stand upright, and still expected him to be at their beck and call.
Tonight, Prowler was waiting for him. He’d named the cat after the way it moved, approaching him calmly, with power contained by grace. It hadn’t seemed to mind his name for it, an idle lash of the tail its only response. He talked to it sometimes, though not as he would to Hedwig. Her empty cage had been thrown away, and her owl treats were still bundled up in his trunk. He’d donate them to Pigwidgeon, Ron’s tiny owl, who had a tendency to choke on treats because it ate too fast.
The predator rubbed against his legs the way a housecat would, winding itself sinuously around him before leaping at his chest and knocking him to the ground. He started in his sleep and woke abruptly, his heart pounding, the noise seeming to echo in the stuffy space. From what he could hear, and his hearing was exceptionally sharp tonight, he’d been asleep for a few hours already. The Dursley’s and their guest were in bed already, though his cousin was still talking to Peterson, planning what to do with a rival gang that was threatening their power monopoly.
Harry frowned and lifted his head. His cousin was upstairs, behind closed doors. He should not have been able to hear that conversation at all, and yet... He turned his head to look at his watch, and blinked in astonishment when he realised he wasn’t squinting. There was enough light coming through the tiny vent for him to see much more clearly than usual. Frowning, Harry lifted a hand to touch his face and froze in shock. His hand was not a hand, but a paw. He flexed his fingers and watched claws extend and retract in response. He had turned into Prowler.
He had become an Animagus.
Cautiously, Harry got up, finding standing on all four paws a strange sensation. He had a tail, and if that wasn’t reason to panic, then he didn’t know what was. He wondered if this was how the Marauders had felt the first time they changed, and the thought of James Potter and Sirius calmed Harry immensely. They had learned to be Animagus without a teacher’s intervention, and he would manage as well. He’d done a little reading on the subject, and knew that the transformation was a matter of willpower as much as anything.
It took him some time, but Harry managed to learn how to change between forms that night. Swapping from animal to human form was exhausting, but he now had the advantage of a more compact size in his enclosed space. He would be able to read still, though turning pages would be a bit of a challenge. Explaining claw marks on his books to other people would take a good imagination. Exhausted by his efforts Harry went back to sleep. He’d rest today instead of reading and redouble his efforts tomorrow. He felt that he’d achieved enough for one night.
On his sixteenth birthday, Harry toasted himself in the bathroom mirror with a cup of water, which he then used to rinse out the toothpaste in his mouth. His complexion was as pale as Professor Snape’s, and with his wild hair and thin face, Harry thought the likeness was becoming a bit too true to life. He’d just have to make sure that he didn’t copy the teacher’s unpleasant manner. Gathering up his things, Harry opened the bathroom door and walked quietly down the stairs.
“Hurry up, boy,” Uncle Vernon hissed from where he stood, waiting to put Harry back in his cupboard. Harry stopped deliberately at the bottom of the stairs and glared at his Uncle. This day had been a long time coming, and though the threat was an empty one, he was determined to see a change in their treatment of him.
“I’m sixteen today,” Harry’s voice was low and calm, carrying clearly to the impatient Muggle, “Which means that in the Wizarding world I am of age. The Decree for the Restriction of Underage Magic no longer applies to me. You will treat me with courtesy or suffer the consequences, Uncle.”
He stepped forward, watching Uncle Vernon’s red face and ducked inside his closet quickly, dropping to his knees so he would have enough room to move towards his trunk. The door closed behind him, and his Uncle made heavy weather of sliding the lock into place. Harry put everything away neatly - in such a confined space, disorder quickly became unbearable - and then settled down with the last Potions book.
It had been an empty threat of course; Harry couldn’t start using magic against the Muggles now, or ever. It had occurred to him that Voldemort would be watching for his magical signature - each Wizard had a sort of ‘fingerprint’ that they left behind when casting a spell that could be detected by people with the right skills. Even if the Dark Lord was only checking irregularly around the area, today of all days the Dark Wizard would search most diligently. Fred and George had pulled their wands out at the slightest excuse once they turned sixteen, and Harry had the feeling that most Witches and Wizards did the same in the first few days that they were of age. He couldn’t afford to attract attention to his location, however, which meant he’d be as discreet in his casting as was possible. He couldn’t cast spells indiscriminately, no matter how much he wanted to get some of his own back against the Muggles.
Harry shifted around on the thin mattress, lying on his stomach with the book open on the floor in front of him. He’d cut the legs off his jeans in order to have the least amount of clothes on. The cupboard was stuffy and hot, and wearing too much made it unbearable. He showered each time they let him out of the cupboard in an effort to stay comfortable, cleansing sticky skin and sweaty hair. His Aunt had objected at first, but as long as he wore a shirt when he walked through the house she had been forced to allow it. Harry had made the argument so difficult for her that her defeat had been easy. She wasn’t used to him talking back.
Harry paused in his note taking at noon to eat the fruit that he’d been given, and spent a few moments wondering what Ron and Hermione were up to. Ron had turned sixteen two days into the holiday, and had probably learned to Apparate by now. Hermione would turn sixteen in three weeks time, and Harry wondered if they’d spend the rest of the holidays Apparating back and forth, visiting each other. He mentally wished them good luck and went back to his book.
The subject matter had become extremely interesting and Harry had debated telling his potions master that the way to intrigue his students in his subject was to lock them in a cupboard for weeks on end. The benefit of this had been that Harry’s full attention had been brought to bear on the books he was reading, to the exclusion of all else. He’d finally understood why so many of his potions were less potent than they should be and had made copious notes in the margins of his books to correct his technique. He’d have to wait until he was back in the classroom to see if this would be effective or not, but wasn’t too worried about it. He’d already decided to start sitting alone in class whenever he could in order to maximise his concentration. Dumbledore’s weapon needed to do a lot better than it had been - maybe if he were the perfect student, the Headmaster would be better pleased with him.
Harry tensed and rolled onto his knees, grabbing his wand and pointing it squarely at the door. That had sounded like someone Disapparating, and from the little squeal that Aunt Petunia gave, whoever it was had arrived in the kitchen. Peterson and Dudley were out at the cinemas tonight, and Uncle Vernon was in the back yard, watering the lawn. He shrank his trunk and slid it into his pocket, pulling on the t-shirt he’d left out quickly and putting his hand on his broom. Either this was a Death Eater and he’d need to be ready to fight and run, or it was the Headmaster. The holidays had a few days left, and Harry was starting to wonder when he’d be collected.
His feet had grown this summer, along with the rest of him, and none of his shoes fit any more, so Harry hoped that if it was a Death Eater he wouldn’t have to run over any broken glass or sharp objects. There was a tap on the door and the lock slid open, letting in the light from the hall. He blinked hard to let his eyes adjust.
“Harry?” the Headmaster sounded worried and he scrambled forward obediently, not wanting to make the man wait. He emerged in the hall on his knees and felt the Headmasters hand on his upper arm. He got to his feet and hefted his broom lightly, shifting it into a better carrying position. His other hand held his wand at the ready, just in case.
“Good evening, sir,” Harry flicked his wand to send his neatly rolled bedding into the laundry and the detritus from his last meal into the kitchen. Aunt Petunia would probably fumigate the cupboard once he was gone, but that wasn’t his concern.
“Have you spent the entire holiday in there?” Dumbledore’s eyes were cold and hard, and Harry nodded, worried that he’d done something wrong.
“I studied hard, though sir, and all the holiday assignments are finished. I practiced my casting, too, though I was very discreet about it,” he fidgeted, hoping that he hadn’t done the wrong thing. He’d worked so hard this summer to improve his magical ability, and he’d thought that the Professor would approve. He’d managed to improve his casting a lot, and he was sure he’d be able to do better in his other subjects.
“Why didn’t you send Hedwig to me?” Dumbledore’s words didn’t make much sense to Harry. Hadn’t the letter said that he was to break all ties with the Wizarding world?
“You said it was dangerous to communicate with me, and… Hedwig died three days into the holiday. She was shot with an air rifle and fell under the wheels of a car,” Harry reported with a stoic face. It still hurt to think of his beautiful friend, killed by a stupid Muggle who like to play with dangerous toys. He’d wanted to plant flowers for her over her grave, but hadn’t had the chance to get outside once Dumbledore’s letter arrived. Maybe he’d be able to do this for her next year when he returned for the next summer.
Dumbledore looked away from him and Harry waited patiently. After a moment the Headmaster pulled a key from his pocket and tapped it with his wand. Harry recognised the spell that made port keys and held his hand out obediently. The Professor handed it to him silently, and a moment later the hooked feeling dug into his midsection. When his vision cleared, Harry was standing in the Headmaster’s study, the portraits of the past Headmasters looking down at him in astonishment.
“Here, boy! Where are your shoes?” the portrait of Dippet snapped, and Harry turned politely to face him, the thick rugs under his feet warm and soft, and a little ticklish. Fawkes was on his perch, and Harry resisted the urge to pet the Phoenix. He had things to do if he was to be ready by the time school recommenced.
“They don’t fit me, sir,” Harry replied politely. He walked to the Headmaster’s desk and placed the key neatly on the blotter, before walking to the door. He’d put his trunk away and try on his school uniform. Even if it didn’t fit properly it was better than walking around in an oversized t-shirt and cut off jeans. He padded down the moving stairs, the cool stone floor rough on his soles, and headed quickly in the direction of Gryffindor, hoping that the Fat Lady would give him the password.
The sounds and smells of home whispered around him as he walked and Harry smiled a little, relieved to be out of the cupboard for the rest of the year. Once he was dressed he could head for the library, to find a book about the Animagus process. He wanted to be sure that he was transfiguring himself properly before he spoke to his teachers about it. This year Harry was determined to hand in a better quality of work than he had before. Even Divination would have his full attention now.
Hagrid interrupted his attempts to find a usable set of clothes. The trousers were all too tight and the lengths were all wrong. He knew he wasn’t fat, in fact he could have honestly described himself as ‘bony’, so it was his height that had made his school things difficult to wear. He was contemplating a series of charms that would stretch the fabrics a little when Hagrid opened the door to his dorm without knocking and swept him up in a hug. Harry was glad that he’d put his hand-me-downs back on.
“Hello Hagrid,” his voice was muffled by Hagrid’s shirtfront and the half giant tightened his grip, squeezing the air out of Harry’s lungs altogether.
“I heard about Hedwig, Harry,” was all his friend said and Harry wheezed for a few breaths, hugging Hagrid back. The groundskeeper had been as fond of her as Harry was, and Harry took the time to comfort the man.
“Is the Headmaster back then?” Harry leaned away and Hagrid finally let him go, a suggestion of tears in his eyes. He shook his shaggy head and cleared his throat, shuffling over to Harry’s bed and sitting down. Harry hoped he hadn’t been expected to stay in the Headmasters office, though he was sure Dumbledore would have said so if that was the case.
“He sent me a message that you were here and asked me to come sit with you,” Hagrid revealed, “He also said that you were to go see Madam Pomfrey so she could send yer measurements to Molly Weasley.”
“I see,” Harry sighed and looked down at his clothes, “I’ve outgrown this lot, Hagrid. Do you think she’ll mind if I turn up barefoot?”
“She won’t mind at all lad,” Hagrid said softly.
Harry nodded and picked up his wand, abandoning his clothes where they lay. Hagrid got up off the bed, sensing that he would head for the hospital wing straight away. The half giant had his hand on Harry’s shoulder as they walked down the stairs and Harry sent him a reassuring smile. The walk to the hospital wing was silent, and Madam Pomfrey was busy hovering over another patient when they arrived. Harry was surprised to see Snape in the bed, his surprise turning to concern when he spotted the multiple bandages and bruises on the Potions master.
“Is Professor Snape going to be alright?” Harry whispered to Hagrid, who nodded quietly and patted his shoulder.
“The Death Eaters found out he were a spy only last week,” Hagrid whispered, “They came for him, but Remus and I got wind of it and got there in time to get him away from the mangy mongrels. We were lucky that Malfoy and his group hadn’t arrived yet. He’ll be back on his feet by the time school starts.”
Madam Pomfrey spotted them and hurried over, her sharp eyes sweeping Harry from head to toe. She didn’t like what she saw, that much was obvious, and Harry resigned himself to a full examination and answering lots of pointed questions. He’d done his best to stay fit and healthy, which wasn’t easy when locked in a cupboard under the stairs.
She shooed him behind a screen, made him strip down to his briefs and started measuring him and testing him out with her wand, clucking under her breath and making notes. Halfway through his stomach growled in hunger and she stuck her head out of the screens to send Hagrid off for a hearty meal. Harry hoped she didn’t think she had to supervise him eating, because he wouldn’t be able to eat half of what Hagrid brought. He had very little appetite and wasn’t used to large meals anyway.
Molly Weasley must have gone shopping the minute Madam Pomfrey sent the measurements, as Harry had new clothes delivered by owl at lunch the next day. The school Matron had informed him that he was to see her once a day and that she would be telling the house elves to watch what he ate. If he didn’t put weight on properly she’d have him confined to bed rest with a strict diet until he was a healthy size once more.
Harry made sure that he reported to the kitchens three times a day, and asked for simple food that he thought he could manage to eat fairly easily. When he wasn’t walking to or from the kitchens he was in the library, reading everything he could find about Animagus. He had the booklist for this year as well and immersed himself in the potions text to start with, taking copious notes on parchment. Madam Pince’s anti-vandalism hexes were fierce and he didn’t want to have to deal with a book affixing itself to his nose.
Professor Snape found him there on his second full day at Hogwarts. The Potions Master didn’t look well at all, despite the fact that Madam Pomfrey had released him from her care. Harry let the man read over his notes with a sneer and then followed silently when commanded to. The Head of Slytherin moved slowly, the grace and power that usually marked his walk lacking as they headed down to the dungeons where the potions classroom and Snape’s House dwelled.
“I find that I am unable to unpack the shipment of potion ingredients that the school receives every year,” Snape’s words were reluctant and grudging, “Therefore, I will supervise while you do.”
Harry received this news silently, grateful that his wand never left his side. The heavy containers would need shifting and his teacher would be very critical of any mishaps, no matter how slight they were. Professor Dumbledore had sent no word to Harry since he had appeared at Privet Drive, and Harry was wondering if the Headmaster was displeased with his weapon. Then again, the Headmaster was probably busy with more important things than talking to Harry.
“You will follow my directions precisely,” Snape sat rather heavily on a stool near the potions supply cupboards and Harry moved to stand beside the row of crates and packages that were lying against one wall. In absolute silence he unwrapped, opened and shifted the schools order, moving precisely as Snape directed. He tested the potency of each ingredient cautiously, allowing the Professor to examine the results of each test before putting the ingredient where he was told.
“You make an excellent automaton, Potter,” Snape sneered eventually, and Harry grit his teeth. He would never like the man, but that didn’t mean that he wished Snape ill. The man’s temper was being stirred by the injuries that prevented him doing the unpacking and checks himself. The fact that those injuries had been gained spying for the Order against the worlds most evil Wizard also helped Harry hold his tongue.
They were interrupted by a house elf, bearing a large tray of food, which it put on the table nearest Snape. The Potions Master would have ignored the food, but Harry knew better than to try that little game. Madam Pomfrey would be on their backs in an instant, and Harry had too much reading to do to spend unnecessary time in the hospital wing.
Snape released him from his work when a second tray appeared and the torches in the dungeon ignited in the face of the evening. Harry was instructed to return early tomorrow and he nodded his understanding, escaping to the library to retrieve his notes and then heading up to the common room in Gryffindor Tower to practice the hand to hand skills in the defence books he’d been given by his godfather. In four days time the rest of the school would have returned to begin term one, and Harry made a mental note to find a small room with the Marauders Map where he could practice instead.
Harry learned to be invisible. He learned to blend in with the swirl of students and movement through the corridors, to sit unobtrusively and alone in lessons, to leave before his dorm mates woke, to return when they slept. It was lonely, but the concentration he could now apply to his lessons was a small solace. If his teachers noticed at all, they doubtless put it down to a minor quarrel among friends.
Ron and Hermione had been… strange. He’d smiled in welcome and asked politely after their holidays, but the answers he’d got had been brief and mostly uninformative. He’d ignored the strange looks they gave him and the whispered conversations that stopped when they realised he was nearby. The only explanation he could come up with for their strange behaviour was if they’d been forced into hiding too this summer and blamed him for the ruination of their holiday plans.
Gryffindor House wasn’t too happy that he’d chosen not to try out for his old position of Seeker on the Quidditch team, but Harry knew that he couldn’t afford the distraction any more. He was here to learn and study hard, preparing himself for the eventual battle with Voldemort, not have fun. He didn’t bother to attend the Quidditch matches once they started, which also gained him some very strange looks from his dorm mates. Hermione had gotten a knowing look on her face though, and after a while everyone left him alone.
That suited Harry just fine. Malfoy was little more than a ripple in the daily routine of classes and meals, and besides his former rival was too busy trying to reconcile his favourite teachers duplicity with his former admiration. There were quite a few students in Slytherin in the same boat, and Harry hoped that meant that several future Death Eaters were reconsidering their allegiances.
The only truly unusual thing to Harry’s mind that term, was the behaviour of Professor Trelawny. Normally the woman liked to predict his death in a very dramatic and gruesome manner, a prediction she made at the start of each year and elaborated on over the course of their lessons. The girls in his House ate it up of course, treating him like some poor, ill-fated soul. It had always annoyed Harry to be treated as if he was something special or fragile, and therefore he had always approached that class with a small amount of dread.
Sybill Trelawny had taken one look at him, burst into tears and cancelled their first class of term, unable to go on. Ron had given him some strange looks, but Harry had shrugged it off and headed for the library to catch up on his reading. The next lesson, she had steadfastly ignored Harry in his corner, not even looking over at him. Harry didn’t mind that at all - in fact he preferred it. While the rest of the class wondered what in Merlin’s name had happened, Harry was free to concentrate on the lessons Trelawny provided without having to worry about fending off her predictions. Ron had tried to talk to him about it, but Harry had brushed the matter aside, smiling at his friend and reassuring him that whatever she was on about was unimportant.
The other class that had changed for Harry was potions. Snape had continued to pick on Harry, asking questions in that familiar sneering manner designed to put any student - even the brightest of them - off their game. Harry answered what he could and ignored the rest, ensuring that his answers always ended with a sir, and that he met whatever other requirements that Snape had for his behaviour - requirements that no other student had been subjected to. Even Neville could behave as he wished, providing he kept to some standard of politeness. Snape had abandoned his baiting of Harry’s Housemate in favour of concentrating all his energies on Harry.
Hermione had tried to speak to Harry about Snape’s treatment of him, but once more he had brushed it aside, telling her that it wasn’t a problem at all before disappearing into the library to work on his history essay. He knew that his friends weren’t happy with the brush-offs, but didn’t know any other way to keep them that safe and needed distance. Harry knew that if he started talking to his friends once more he’d never stop and the hard won concentration would disappear. He couldn’t afford the distraction, and though loneliness weighed him down with every passing day, he stuck to the course that he thought would best serve Dumbledore’s interests.
Harry’s solitude lasted to the end of term. He was lucky in that his friends hadn’t pushed too hard for him to break his solitary habits, though Ron was growing more and more restless by the day. Harry had been rather busy with the archival copies of the Daily Prophet to pay much attention to Ron’s disquiet, a preoccupation that allowed his friends to corner him in Hagrid’s house three days before the term ended.
Hagrid was the one person that Harry had been unable to shut out. Polite refusals of invitations were ignored, and after the second time that Hagrid had come looking for him, Harry had given in. He would sit quietly at the half-giants table and listen as the man talked about the creatures they were studying in class and the Quidditch matches that Harry no longer watched. Fang would drool on his robes and Harry would drink cup after cup of tea, listening intently to the recount of the world outside his solitary one. Hermione and Ron turned up unexpectedly just as Harry and Hagrid were washing up the teacups together. Harry had got into the habit of tidying up after himself and Hagrid found it amusing to watch the young man stretch out full length to reach some of the shelves with his crockery.
“We’re glad we caught you Harry,” Hermione said rather determinedly, “I was hoping you’d change your mind about staying here these holidays. I’m sure that Ron’s family will be glad to see you if you change your mind.”
Professor McGonagal had taken the names of those who were staying last week. Ron had looked at Harry in surprise when he stated that he was remaining at school for the holidays, and Hermione had dragged the fuming red head off to their first class. He’d glared at Harry fiercely for a few days, then ignored him stonily. Whatever Harry had done - or not done, he wasn’t too sure - Ron was not likely to forgive him any time soon. It was a bit odd that his friend was so angry about Harry’s decision, for as far as Harry could tell there had been no invitation for him to spend Christmas at the Burrow, and he would never have entertained the idea of going to Privet Drive. Christmas with the Dursley’s would send him off the deep end.
“I… I think it would be best if I didn’t,” Harry said cautiously. He didn’t want to make the family at the Burrow a target of the Death Eaters, even though they were already targets to some degree. They were known to support Dumbledore, but Harry’s additional presence could be a catalyst that just might encourage an attack. He also didn’t want to make Ron any angrier than he obviously already was.
“Best?” Ron spat the word angrily and Harry looked at him warily. He’d managed to trigger Ron’s fierce temper, and that meant they were headed for a row. He wouldn’t knowingly put the Weasley’s at risk. Besides, it wasn’t as if they’d miss him. The house would be full of family, one lone persons presence or absence wouldn’t make a difference.
“Ron,” Hermione put her hands on his arm, squeezing hard enough to turn her knuckles white, “Don’t…”
“Come on Hermione!” Ron glared, “He’s been a shite ever since school started! Nothing is good enough for Mr High and Mighty! He can’t be bothered to talk to us, and as for spending time with his best mates, forget it! After all the three of us have been through…”
“He’s still Harry, Ron,” Hermione put her hands on his shoulders, “He’s just upset at the moment.”
The intimate touch gave Harry pause. He’d noticed that they were nearly inseparable, and surmised that his absence had benefited their friendship, perhaps allowing it to progress to something more. This was the first concrete proof he’d had that he’d been right. They were leaning into each other almost unconsciously, despite their tension. Harry felt an odd mixture of relief and loss. He was happy they’d found each other, but was sad to be left behind.
“Look, I’m sick of pretending that it’s ok for him to treat us like rubbish,” Ron exploded, shrugging her hands off and jabbing a finger at Harry, “I’m sick of him acting like we’re not there. He should just have the guts to face us about it, not …”
“Not what?” Harry asked when Ron realised what he was saying and shut up abruptly. Hermione sighed, looking older than her years, not meeting his eyes as she shook her head. Hagrid shifted quietly in his armchair and Harry knew that his large friend knew what Ron was angry about. Harry had known that his friends had visited Hagrid as well, talking about school and Harry. He hadn’t been worried about it. It wasn’t his place to tell people whom they could and couldn’t talk to.
“Tell me,” Harry said it firmly, his tone hard and commanding. He might not be able to spend his free time with them any more but that didn’t mean he’d stopped caring about them. They were the two most important people in his world, and his solitary life was as much for their benefit as anyone’s.
“Look, we know that you blame us for Sirius,” Hermione whispered her face red, her eyes on the floor, “But Harry…”
Harry dropped the tea towel he still held on the dresser and headed for the door, unwilling to listen to any more. He’d thought they understood. He thought that they realised what he was. Obviously he’d failed to make things clear to them and as a result they thought that he blamed the atrocities they’d witnessed on them.
“I don’t blame you,” he yanked the door open, ignoring the cloak that he’d draped on a chair back, “I blame myself. And I can’t let it happen ever again. I…”
He shook his head and stepped outside. They hadn’t understood and his loneliness was for nothing. It didn’t matter. He’d protect them from Voldemort whether they liked him or not. And when it was all over, maybe Harry could start again. Find a way to explain to the two of them what he’d been thinking; what he’d been required to do. He shifted to Prowlers form, the trees hiding him from the castle, the warm fur protecting him from the snow that fell slowly from the low iron-grey sky. This was his one indulgence. As Prowler he was free.
The carriages carrying his friends to the train had left by the time Harry unsealed his bed curtains. For the last few days, he’d stopped eating in the Great Hall altogether, and arrived almost late to every class to avoid contact with others as much as possible. He’d instructed the house elves to inform Madam Pomfrey that he was eating if she asked, and hid in the darkest corners of the library that he could find, going to areas that he knew Ron and Hermione had never gone in order to make things as easy for them as possible. Now that he had confirmation that they were angry and uncomfortable with him and his role, he’d do his best to ensure that they had access to Hogwarts and its lessons without having to deal with him at all.
He padded silently down to the kitchens for his sandwiches and then headed to the library once more. The halls were practically empty, as it seemed that just about the whole school had chosen to go home for the holidays. The archived copies of the Daily Prophet were very rarely used, and Harry had the area to himself. He spread the papers he was reviewing on a table and sat down to take notes. There seemed to be a pattern to the stories that were being reported - they all seemed to refer to two or three geographic areas and Harry had spent a week going over the maps in the library to get a clear idea of the localities mentioned.
Voldemort seemed to be drawing a very deliberate pentacle on Britain. His Death Eaters were engineering the disappearances of several well-known seers and Healers, and the Ministry seemed to be suffering from a rash of incompetent officials, appointed by no clear authority. The state of Wizard politics was a bit of a shambles, though there were one or two prominent names that seemed to be involved in all the major stories. Fudge was being terribly ineffectual and Harry wondered if that was a result of natural incompetence, or deliberate action. If Voldemort’s followers had managed to get their hooks into the Minister of Magic - and the man had been consorting with known Death Eaters for all his protests of ignorance - then the rest of the Wizarding world could pretty much forget about counting on him for help. That meant the Aurors were likely to be at a disadvantage too, because Fudge was insisting on deploying them personally.
Harry knew that the Headmaster had probably spotted this pattern and doubtless had better sources of information than the Daily Prophet. It made him feel a little better though to know that there was a pattern to the actions the Death Eaters were taking, and he could predict their next actions, predictions borne out by the old news stories he was reading carefully. He made copies of the stories that he felt were key to his work, and kept them, his notes and annotated maps in an old document pouch that he’d charmed to open only for him. He didn’t want to take the risk that there were spies for the Death Eaters among the students.
Some of the back issues of the Daily Prophet had contained small gossip pieces about his ‘withdrawal from the Wizard community’. There had also been a wild story about the ‘Seer of Hogwarts’ who had predicted his death ‘in a manner so gruesome that she couldn’t bring herself to express it’. He’d wondered if Trelawny was pleased with her new title and also who had leaked that particular item. As she’d been predicting his death ever since they met he didn’t pay much attention to the whole situation.
The next two weeks would give Harry the time to finish researching Voldemort’s past movements and allow him to move onto another phase of his self designed training schedule. He wanted to improve his physical fitness and intended to ask the castle to outfit the Room of Requirement with things he might need to do that. He hadn’t realised before how much exercise Quidditch training had given him.
“Harry,” Professor Dumbledore stood at the door to the Great Hall and beckoned him with a wave of his hand. Harry had been forced to return to the Hall for food after Madam Pomfrey had instructed the house elves to stop giving him meals in the kitchens. He’d gotten into the habit of eating quickly, or building sandwiches from whatever was on the table to be carried away. The few students from his House that had stayed over the holidays mostly ignored him anyway, and he spent his days in the Room of Requirement, improving his fitness levels.
Harry stood and moved fluidly to the doorway, his document pouch in one hand. Professor Dumbledore glanced at it, but said nothing, leading the way to his office in silence. Harry wondered what was going on. The Hogwarts Express would arrive tonight, and he was hoping to see his friends. He wouldn’t be able to talk to them of course, what little remained of their friendship was too awkward for that, but he hoped to gauge by their looks how their holidays had gone. He’d wished them a productive and pleasurable New Year at midnight, burning the wish in a magically lit fire as one of Professor Trelawny’s books had suggested. It wouldn’t hurt to cast a bit of ‘suggestive magic’ on their behalf.
“Butterbeer,” Dumbledore swept up the stairs behind the gargoyle, Harry matching him pace for pace as they hurried into the Headmaster’s office. McGonagal was there, as well as Ron’s father and Bill. Harry’s gut clenched at the strained looks on the Weasley’s faces. Something had gone badly wrong, they wouldn’t be here otherwise. Even as Harry took this in his Head of House nodded to the Headmaster and bustled out.
“What’s happened to Ron?” Harry turned to his Headmaster, and Dumbledore sighed gently.
“The Hogwarts Express has been attacked,” he said softly, “Half the returning students were taken by Death Eaters from the train to an unknown location. The Ministry is in turmoil and the Aurors are spread across Britain searching for signs of our friends now.”
“He’s probably taken them to the centre of the pentagram,” Harry mused, “Why am I here?”
“We were hoping you might have had a vision through the scar,” Bill’s eyes were fixed on his forehead and Harry shook his head helplessly. The Occulmency was flawless. He never forgot to protect himself; therefore Voldemort hadn’t been able to influence his mind.
“What pentagram? Albus, what is he talking about?” Arthur Weasley spoke up, the stress in his voice evidence enough that he was afraid for his youngest children. Ginny and Ron were the last of the Weasley family attending Hogwarts, and Harry felt kind of sorry that they were the ends of an era.
“I don’t know,” the Headmaster frowned at Harry, and Harry frowned back. The man was the head of the Order of the Phoenix for Merlin’s sake, and got more information funnelled his way than Harry ever had. How had he missed this? Or was Harry so far off the right path that he was about to make a fool of himself.
“I’ve been tracking Voldemort’s movements through the press. Combining the reports there with my history books I was able to figure out that he’s drawing a pentagram over Britain. He’s copying Grindlewald’s pattern from fifty years ago, sir. Unfortunately, there’s no convergences or alignments that would help him with any Dark Art Rite that I’ve been able to research,” Harry had his map out of his collection and unrolled on Dumbledore’s desk as he spoke. The Headmaster was looking over his notes with a keen eye.
“If it’s not going to help with a Dark Rite, why do it?” Bill asked sceptically, looking over the annotated map closely. Harry sighed and shook his head.
“He’s baiting the Professor,” Harry glanced at his Headmaster, “I’m sure he’s got something in mind, but I can’t figure out what. He’s been killing or kidnapping Seers to prevent them from warning us, and I’m pretty sure that Minister Fudge is compromised somehow. I don’t have any proof of that.”
“Hmmm,” Arthur nodded, “That would bear out some of the reports we’ve had.”
“Harry may be right,” Dumbledore nodded, “He’s seen a very definite pattern that has undoubtedly been deliberately laid out for us. However, it isn’t like Tom to advertise so blatantly. There is more here than meets the eye.”
“Why is it that Harry saw this and not you?” Bill challenged and Harry cringed a little in embarrassment. Bill had a good point; after all he was only a weapon, not the mastermind.
“I am perhaps a little too close to the situation,” Dumbledore admitted sadly, “Fifty years ago, when this pattern was first attempted I found myself in a situation that resulted in the deaths of several good friends and innocents. Additionally there is no conjunction or season that would explain the apparent Dark Rite that Tom is staging now.”
“I saw it because I’m ignorant,” Harry summed up without rancour, and missed the sharp looks the other three men directed at him. He was tracing the pattern out on the map, trying to discern the centre of the pentagon clearly.
“There are several points that Tom may be holding the children,” Dumbledore got them back on track, “We must check them all.”
Harry stood to one side and watched them plan out who would go where and how they would report back to the rest of the Order. Bill and Arthur copied the map several times and headed to the fireplace, disappearing in a whoosh of flames.
“That leaves the centre of the pentagram for us to check,” Harry said quietly, and Dumbledore looked at him in surprise even as he crossed to his fireplace, Fawkes gliding to his shoulder with a soft trill of sound.
“My dear boy,” Dumbledore frowned, “You’re to return to your dorm. There is nothing more you can do now. We will…”
“What’s the point of leaving your weapon behind? I’ve tried to improve myself for you… I know I was doing the wrong things…” Harry broke off at the surprised look Dumbledore gave him.
“Harry,” Dumbledore hesitated, “We’ll talk when I return, dear boy. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
The flames whooshed in response to the Floo powder that Dumbledore threw into the hearth and the Headmaster disappeared up the chimney. Harry slammed his hand down on the tabletop and said a few words that would normally earn him a detention. The portraits on the wall clucked in disapproval and frowned at him. What had been the point of the past term if Harry still wasn’t doing the right thing? What did he have to do to get things right and please the Headmaster?
His face grim, Harry strode to one of the wall cabinets and yanked it open, pulling out the sword he had used to kill the Basilisk. He wasn’t going to stand aside and let them kill his friends. It seemed that he couldn’t please Dumbledore no matter what he did and wasn’t going to try any more. He slid the sword into his robes carefully and snatched up the map he’d left on the desk. He made a quick copy then left the original and his notes on the desk, running down the moving stairs and out into the corridors. From the dazed and shocked expressions on the student’s faces the other teachers had told them what had happened. More than one gave him a second look, and as Harry bounded down the stairs he hoped that they wouldn’t try and follow him. He had a reputation for being in the thick of things and didn’t want them risking their lives needlessly.
Professor Snape’s voice shouted for him to stop as he crashed through the front doors of the castle, but Harry ignored the man easily. He skidded on the snowy path and cursed himself for not thinking to wear clothes that could withstand a change in temperature. He put it on his mental list and slogged forward, changing into Prowler when it became apparent that his shoes and robes were more of a hindrance than a help.
Harry had never Apparated in his life, though part of his self-charted study course had included several books on the subject. He knew the theory and he knew the methods, but with no adult Witch or Wizard in the family to teach him he’d never had an opportunity to practice. He’d made a tentative plan to get his licence the next time he was allowed to go to the Ministry, but with no real idea of when that would be he’d contented himself with knowing the theory backwards and forwards.
Now, with his friends at risk, Harry was going to put the theory to the test, using the map he’d made as a focal point. Long distance Apparation was practiced with a map the first few times, and Harry knew he could get where he needed to without too much problem, as long as no one tried to distract him before he could Apparate. He pulled the copy of the map out and examined it closely, committing to memory the landmarks he needed and the formula he had to use. Once done he stuffed the map back in his pocket and took a deep breath, thinking hard about what he was going to do.
A moment later he was elsewhere. Trees and snow and a biting wind replaced the path that led to Hogsmeade. He shivered and shifted form, glad that Prowlers fur was so well insulated. In Prowlers form his senses were much sharper and it only took him twenty minutes to spot the first Death Eater. The man was patrolling around a clearing and it didn’t take him much to avoid the man in the dark and head for the centre of the circle his enemy was pacing.
Voldemort was standing in front of a crowd of frozen children. His fellow students were ranged in ranks, each standing helplessly with their hands at their sides, feet slightly apart. Even from where he hid Harry could see Ron and Hermione, their eyes shifting from side to side as they tried to see what was going on around them. Harry thought for a moment about the unusual posture, and then recognised the ‘statue’ spell. It was a variation of ‘petrifius totalus’ that allowed the person to stay standing upright. It was just as paralysing, but more frightening for the person under the spell. Harry scowled and shifted carefully on his haunches.
From Voldemort’s pose, and that’s what the man was doing, posing for Dumbledore’s arrival, Harry knew that the Dark Lord was not worried about being attacked from behind. The mans arrogance would be his downfall, because it was a weakness that could be exploited. Harry withdrew from the edge of the clearing, moving slowly and carefully so as not to draw the attention of the poorly hidden Death Eaters. Just because Harry found it easy to spot them didn’t mean that there couldn’t be one that he missed. It wouldn’t do for him to be as arrogant as they were, Snape’s admonishments hadn’t fallen on deaf ears this last term.
Once he was in place, Harry settled down to wait. He knew it was only a matter of time before the Headmaster and the Order arrived, and until then he had to be patient. Voldemort was pacing in impatience now, and Harry smiled to himself. His enemy was not known for putting off pleasure, and Tom Riddle would see the fall of Dumbledore as a very pleasurable thing indeed.
Prowler’s ears warned Harry that a large group of people had Disapparated nearby, and moments later the first of the Death Eaters were discovered and engaged. As curses and counter curses started flying around the edge of the clearing he crept forward into the group of students. His first target was to reach Ron, who was placed in a key vantage point. He leaned into his friend carefully and purred softly in reassurance, having never mastered the art of speaking when in this form. He looked up at his friend’s wide eyes and saw incredulous recognition form there before looking out again to check what was happening.
He caught a glimpse of Dumbledore, duelling with Avery at the edge of the clearing and arched his back to rub along Ron’s fingers in farewell, creeping forward to hide behind Hermione’s robes. She was in the front row and he purred softly for her as well, reassuring her that he wouldn’t attack. The last thing he needed was for her to worry about his intentions here. Then Dumbledore stepped out into the clearing as Avery wilted to the forest floor, and Harry tensed, lifting his head to nuzzle her in goodbye before waiting for the best moment to change form and attack.
“Where is he?” Voldemort’s voice was shrill, “Bring me the boy!”
“Harry isn’t here, Tom,” Dumbledore said softly, and Harry scar prickled in anger. He took a moment to shore up his defences against the cursed mark, and concentrated on the words that the two powerful men in front of him were exchanging.
“… wouldn’t rescue them!” Voldemort was hissing, “My spies were well placed.”
“Harry is safe at Hogwarts,” Dumbledore repeated patiently and Harry tensed. If Voldemort had staged this whole thing just to get him out here then there was a good chance that he’d found out about the second half of the prophecy. That explained why the trap had been so obvious to Harry - he’d tailored the reports in the Daily Prophet to get Harry’s attention. With the reputation that he and his friends had for figuring these things out for themselves, Voldemort would have been relying on him to turn up alone. He could kill Harry in front of his peers and then send them to tell the rest of the Wizarding world what had happened. Now that the plan had been thwarted, Voldemort would have no reason to keep his friends alive.
Harry stepped out from behind Hermione, stepping forward quickly and shifting smoothly from Prowler to his own body, pulling Godrics sword free with his next step.
“Then they’re dead!” Voldemort screamed and began to turn, his wand pointing at Harry’s defenceless classmates. Harry growled under his breath, and swung the sword in a looping arc that took the evil Wizards hand off at the wrist. Ignoring the spray of cold blood and screams, Harry swung again, severing his enemies head at the neck, pulled the sword around and plunged it deep into Voldemort’s heart, following the body to the ground and feeling the blade punch through to embed itself in the soil.
The skin on the back of his neck prickled and Harry threw himself to one side, avoiding the three Killing Curses that were headed his way. He watched as the body he had been kneeling on absorbed the cold green light and shuddered under the impacts. His eyes searched the still crowd for his friends, reassuring himself that they were all right, and stood, planning to release them from their bonds.
The first impact hit just above his heart and took all the heat away from the world as Harry screamed, and the second impact felt as if a million people had cast Crucio on him all at once. The world went away, leaving only the green cold and pain, and an odd scent that teased Harry’s memory. His mother. One minute she had been there, then it had been cold and a frightening presence had loomed above him.
Harry did once more what he had done back when he was a baby, using his instincts to reflect the curse at the evil one looming nearby. The pain intensified for a horrible unbearable minute, and then the cold took over and became the only thing in Harry’s world for the longest time.
The sheets and pillow’s crisp scent told him where he was. The muted echoes of the school infiltrated the hospital wing and Harry recognised the noise pattern as early morning. So early that there probably wasn’t anyone about yet. He didn’t care. He was warm for the first time in what felt like years and the pain was finally reduced to a mere whisper in his bones. He was lying curled on his side, the warm weight of the blankets pinning him comfortably to the bed and at the same time cocooning him from the outside world. He had a vague feeling that the outside world was not a happy place.
Harry let the soft mattress beneath him hold him in place. Once the cold and pain had receded just a little the new, and entirely unpleasant, sensation of spinning movement had taken over, whirling him about until his poor senses couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. He’d withdrawn a little from the world to let it sort itself out, and now knew that he was in his favourite sleeping position in a place that wouldn’t move. There was no way that Madam Pomfrey’s beds would dare to swoop about the hospital wing.
There was a noise that Harry associated with a door and heavy footsteps. Harry felt a small smile cross his face in memory. Those footsteps could only belong to Hagrid, the only friend he had left at the moment. With that thought the door to his memories swung open and he bit his lip. He remembered everything and wondered if he had finally managed to kill his greatest enemy or if he would have to deal with Voldemort again at some point in the future.
“Harry?” there was a wealth of hope in Hagrid’s voice and he opened his eyes in response, focussing blearily on the half giant that was leaning over him, a hand out as if to touch his face.
“Hello Hagrid,” he whispered realising how dry and sore his throat was at the moment, and wondering if there was a glass of water beside the bed. Madam Pomfrey usually left one there for her overnight patients, but he didn’t have a chance to look. Hagrid snatched him up off the bed in a pretty comprehensive hug, that Harry returned wholeheartedly. The cool air from the room he was lying in made the pain strengthen a little, but he ignored it in favour of enjoying the hug. He hadn’t had many in his life and wasn’t about to turn one down now. His feet dangled off the floor, and his pyjamas had ridden up a little, but the discomfort was only a distant note in the warmth of feeling that Harry had for the half-giant.
Hagrid was breathing rather unsteadily and Harry tightened his grip as much as he could, trying to give comfort to his friend.
“I’m sorry,” he knew he sounded rather helpless and pathetic, but couldn’t think of any other way to reassure his Magical Creatures teacher that he wasn’t hurt, “I’m ok, Hagrid.”
“Shh lad,” Hagrid chuckled, “I’m supposed to be telling yer that.”
Harry grinned and Hagrid put him back on the bed, sorting out the blankets and plumping the pillows so hard that Harry was amazed they didn’t burst. Madam Pomfrey came in to see what the fuss was all about and exclaimed wordlessly when she saw Harry sitting up and smiling at Hagrid. Seconds later he was wordless as she pulled him into a much gentler, but no less warm hug. Hagrid sat on the end of his bed - which creaked most alarmingly in response to his weight - and Harry let Madam Pomfrey check him over. She presented him with his glasses when she was done and he put them on, smiling in relief when his vision cleared in response.
“Was anyone hurt?” he asked when she tucked his blankets in once more and sat on the other side of his bed. He was in one of the isolation chambers that Madam Pomfrey used for the teachers or infectious illnesses. The candles on the wall were almost burnt out and the house elves would be in soon to change them. Harry had learned a lot about the night time routines of Hogwarts when the nightmares from Voldemort were at their worst. He hadn’t always waked his dorm with his cries, preferring to leave and roam the halls beneath his dad’s old cloak until dawn lightened the windows.
“No, lad, you were the only one,” Hagrid said sadly, “Ron and Hermione helped get the others back to school and Professor Dumbledore brough’ you here himself.”
“Good,” Harry sighed, “What about… Voldemort? Did I…?”
“He’s dead, dear,” Madam Pomfrey beamed, “We’re absolutely sure.”
Harry nodded and put a hand to his stomach when it growled. Madam Pomfrey was on her feet in a moment, bustling out of the room and muttering about porridge. Harry hated porridge and pulled a disgusted face. He’d much rather have scrambled eggs and bacon and said so a little peevishly. Hagrid laughed and patted his ankle in sympathy, not seeming to mind his small show of childish temper.
“Le’s jest sees how the porridge sits, lad. If you don’t have a bad time with that then maybe we’ll be able to ge’ you some proper food,” the rumble was very comfortable and Harry nodded in resignation. Madam Pomfrey returned with a small tray and Harry seized the pumpkin juice eagerly, slaking his thirst and sighing in relief when his dry throat eased. The juice whetted his appetite and he picked up the spoon, eating quickly and neatly, determined to bear with this meal in order to get a tastier one later.
“Why am I so hungry?” Harry wondered as he put the spoon into the small empty bowl and leaned back. Hagrid stroked his beard and shifted a little before patting Harry’s ankle again.
“You’ve been asleep fer nineteen days, lad,” Hagrid ducked his head and his voice wavered in emotion, “We’ve kept yer alive with Professor Snape’s potions, but there was talk of takin’ yer away to St Mungo’s.”
“I don’t want to go there,” Harry said swiftly, feeling a little panicky at the thought of being banished to the care of strangers, “Please, Hagrid, I want to stay home.”
“You will, lad, they’ll not take you away now,” Hagrid reached over to pat Harry’s hand and he scrambled out from under the blankets to grip the other man tightly. Huge arms held him close and Hagrid rocked a little, the motion comforting Harry and soothing the panic away. He began to feel drowsy again and sighed, shifting closer to the other mans warmth.
“It’s so early, why are you here?” Harry mumbled and smiled when Hagrid’s chuckle tickled under his cheek. The rocking slowed to a stop and Harry shifted so he could look Hagrid in the eye.
“I’ve been coming in at odd times ter see yer whenever I could,” he was told, “The Headmaster comes morning and nights, and Ron and Hermione come after lessons end.”
“I’m glad I woke up when you were here,” Harry snuggled back in and Hagrid pulled the blankets over, wrapping them around him. He didn’t want the cold pain to come back and hummed happily as the warmth cocooned him once more. They sat there quietly for a while and Harry half dozed, content to just rest for a moment. Once the Headmaster arrived there would likely be all manner of things to do, so he enjoyed the peace while he had it.
The door to his room opened again all too soon and Harry sighed, stirring out of his warm nest and squeezing Hagrid in a friendly manner before letting go and sitting up, folding his legs beneath him. Professor Dumbledore stood just inside the door, looking at him with a hopeful expression on his face.
“Hello sir,” Harry drew a blanket higher around his shoulders and smiled politely for the Headmaster. The strain was over now, and apart from a few loose ends Harry could start to reclaim his life for himself and hopefully mend his fences with Hermione and Ron.
“Harry,” there was a wealth of satisfaction in Dumbledore’s voice and Harry took that to mean that the man wasn’t unhappy with the performance of his weapon, “How are you, dear boy?”
“I’m fine, sir,” Harry glanced at Hagrid with a smile, “Though I wouldn’t mind a real breakfast.”
Hagrid snorted and rubbed his shoulder in rough affection. He didn’t get up though, and Harry was glad to lean back into his side when a large hand tugged on him. He’d grown enough that when he was sitting like this he could rest his head on Hagrid’s shoulder, and did so, secure in the knowledge that he was welcome.
The conversation with the Headmaster was difficult. Harry quickly realised that his conclusion about the prophecy was not the same as Dumbledore’s, but resigned himself to explaining what he’d thought in a calm manner. Hagrid shifted to put his arm firmly around Harry, and he was too embarrassed by his errors to worry what the Wizard standing in front of him thought. At one point the Headmaster made a pained sound, but Harry kept his eyes on the floor, not wanting to see the anger and disgust that he was sure was heading his way.
“…I guess I was wrong about all that, though,” Harry concluded and smiled at Hagrid for a moment rather sheepishly, “Alls well that ends well, I suppose.”
He was angry with himself for destroying his friendship with Ron and Hermione for no reason, but now that it was all over perhaps they’d let him explain his thinking. They’d never want to be his friend again, but Harry had pretty much resigned himself to that during the past term.
“Harry…” Dumbledore trailed off and Harry forced a smile for the other man. He hadn’t meant to hurt the Headmaster with his revelation, though it seemed that he had.
“I knew you had become withdrawn from school life… I should have made a better effort to…”
“It’s ok, I knew you were busy,” Harry forgave the older man easily, not seeing the tiny flinch his words garnered, “And Hagrid used to come and drag me out of the library on a regular basis.”
“True,” Hagrid rumbled, “I only had to threaten you once.”
“I make it a habit not to argue with people who can tuck me under their arm and walk away easily,” Harry grinned at the pleased smile on his friends face and then turned to look at Madam Pomfrey as she entered. The smell of food made his stomach growl again, and he blushed.
“Eggs!” he crowed and wriggled loose from Hagrid’s friendly embrace, “Thank you!”
“What have you done to my bed?” Madam Pomfrey tsked, “You should be resting, Mr Potter, not turning my hospital into a wallow.”
Harry scrambled back to sit properly in the bed, pulling the blankets after him. Hagrid chuckled and got up, remaking the bed around him, and Harry watched anxiously as Madam Pomfrey placed the bed tray over his lap. There was tea and toast too, and he spared a moment to smile at her in gratitude before plunging his fork in and savouring a mouthful. The moment he’d been reminded of food he was hungry, and from the loose girth to his hospital pyjamas he had some meals to make up.
“Mmm, much better,” he mumbled for Hagrid and the half-giant laughed at his antics. Harry chewed slowly, swallowed and took a more decorous bite the next time. The toast dwindled rapidly and he was sipping his tea by the time Professor Snape arrived. Hagrid got up and leaned over to hug him, saying his goodbyes and promising to come back for lunch. Professor Dumbledore also said his goodbyes, following the grounds keeper out.
“Hagrid said that your potions kept me alive,” Harry wanted to get this over with, sure that anything he had to say to Snape would be received with derision, “Thank you, Professor.”
Instead of sneering or dismissing the words, Snape gave a half bow and a movement of the lips that may actually have been a smile. Madam Pomfrey came to collect his tray and gave a little exclamation of surprise when she saw Harry’s new visitor.
“Oh, Severus! I completely forgot to send you a message!” she apologised, and he held up a hand to calm her.
“It’s alright, Poppy,” his dark voice held none of the anger or impatience that Harry had expected to hear, “I would have come to see Mr Potter anyway. I have to thank him myself.”
“For what?” Harry frowned, unable to think what he might have done to earn thanks from his irascible Potion’s master.
“You removed my mark,” Snape said the words quietly, “Minister Fudge came to arrest me as a Death Eater, but the mark was gone. All other Death Eaters were permanently branded by the death of Voldemort, but you spared me.”
“Are you sure it was me?” Harry couldn’t recall sending any magic Snape’s way except of course in class when he was required to use it for a potion. The Head of Slytherin nodded solemnly, and Harry mentally shrugged. If that was what the man thought then he wouldn’t presume to argue with him.
“You’re not a Death Eater,” Harry reminded him, “I’ve never seen the point of persecuting someone for a mistake they made years ago. You redeemed the error when you joined the Order and became a spy.”
Snape sneered lightly at the words, but there was no heat behind it, and when the door shut behind him Harry settled back against his pillows, wondering idly if Madam Pomfrey would let him up to take a bath.
The hot water had felt good, and the clean clothes even better as he sat in an armchair in Madam Pomfrey’s study and read a book. There was a Healer coming from St Mungo’s after lunch to check him over, and no amount of arguing on Harry’s part had swayed that decision. He’d rather be seen by the school Matron than a stranger, and even telling her that plainly hadn’t deterred her, though she’d gotten a very maternal look in her eyes.
No one had asked what it had felt like to be hit twice with the killing curse, though Harry had found two new lightening shaped scars on his body, one on his shoulder blade and one above his heart. He didn’t think he had the words to adequately describe what had happened, or what it had felt like, and was hoping that no one would ask. He had on several layers against the cold and his winter robes besides, in an effort to stem the cold ache in his bones and to appear more robust than he looked. He‘d been surprised to be able to clearly trace his rib cage with his fingers. Madam Pomfrey had stirred up the fire for him and he’d spent the morning nibbling away at the small meals she presented him with. Dobby had stopped by, cried a river on Harry’s knee - which he was hugging at the time - and left again, promising a special lunch.
The study door opened quietly, and Harry marked his place in his book, looking up to see who was there. Ron and Hermione were shutting the door quietly, directing nervous glances into the corridor. Harry realised they must be skipping a class, and stood up quietly, dropping the book onto his seat.
“Hello,” he said nervously and they whirled to face him with wide eyes. He wasn’t sure what they thought of him any more, after this morning’s meeting with Dumbledore he felt like he’d be second-guessing himself for the rest of his life.
Ron crossed the room with swift strides and pulled Harry into an unashamed bear hug, which Harry returned in surprise. He felt Hermione plaster herself to his back and wormed one arm free to fold back around her, his hand resting on her hip. Neither of them spoke, just held him tightly and breathed unsteadily. The first glimmers of hope lit in Harry’s heart. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed and his two friends would forgive him the abuse of their trust.
Ron took a deep breath and leaned back enough to look Harry in the eye.
“Don’t you ever do that again, you stupid prick!” the words seemed to be torn from Ron against his will, “You scared the hell out of us! They could have killed you!”
“Sorry,” Harry gasped, horrified to see tears in Ron’s eyes. He was yanked back into the hug, and held on in sheer bewilderment. Of all the things that Ron could have said, Harry sure hadn’t expected that.
“And if you ever, ever shut us out like you did again we’ll hex you to next year!” Hermione’s muffled voice drifted up from Harry’s neck. She shuddered in memory and Harry patted the hip his hand was resting on rather futilely.
“Promise you won’t,” Hermione demanded and Harry nodded as best he could, letting them shake him in remonstrance.
“I promise!” he vowed, “It wasn’t much fun for me either!”
Ron sniffed and reached up to ruffle Harry’s hair in what seemed to be sympathy. Harry held on as best he could and breathed deeply. It felt good to be held, touch was one luxury he’d forced himself to do without for the past term. They let go after a while and Harry forced himself not to grab for them, returning to his armchair instead and holding his book in his lap. It wasn’t that interesting to read, but it gave him something to do with his hands.
“Professor Dumbledore told us at the end of breakfast that you’d woken up. The whole school cheered, Harry, but classes were still on, and we couldn’t get out any earlier. Professor Binns won’t miss us at all, and after lunch we’ve got Hagrid, so he’ll understand when we don’t turn up,” Hermione settled on Madam Pomfrey’s small couch with Ron close beside her.
“Are… are you alright?” Ron asked hesitantly, “I mean…”
“I’m fine,” Harry smiled for them, “There’s a Healer coming this afternoon to look me over, but it’s not necessary. Hopefully, Madam Pomfrey will let me go after that.”
“When did you become an Animagus?” Hermione asked, and Harry bit his lip. There was no way to explain about Prowler, without explaining his summer and his mistakes. He tapped the book and put it aside before swallowing his pride. The Headmaster knew all about his errors, but these two people were more important to him than Dumbledore. Harry took a deep breath and started to explain everything from the beginning. He’d rather they knew it all now, than found it out later from somewhere else.
The Healer had arrived at the end of his tale and ushered Hermione and Ron out, not even giving them time to say goodbye. Harry resigned himself to being poked and prodded, and took the time to brood over their possible reaction to his recount of the past few months. He’d consciously picked and chosen his words in an effort to make the tale as factual and unemotional as possible. He didn’t want them thinking he was some pathetic figure that sought their pity.
The Healer tsked and hemmed, making Harry strip completely to his underwear in front of the fire and casting all sorts of uncomfortable spells. By the time he was finished Harry was aching all over and shivering violently. He dressed gratefully, swallowing the humiliation he felt. He’d been nothing more than an interesting case to the man, not a person at all, and this was one of the reasons he hated having strangers around him. It was bad enough when the only family you had treated you as something less than human without having people you didn’t know doing it too.
Harry fastened his winter robes with stiff fingers and flinched when the man grabbed his hands and examined them minutely before roaring for Madam Pomfrey and the Headmaster. Harry shrunk back from the volume and the man turned to push him back into a chair. Ron and Hermione burst into the study behind the Headmaster and Madam Pomfrey and the Healer started yelling at all four of them.
Ron ignored the man, heading for Harry. He sat on the arm of Harry’s chair and slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders. Hermione perched on the other arm; her arm added to bolster Harry while the three adults in the room snapped at each other angrily.
“What did I do?” Harry asked Ron in bewilderment and Ron shook his head, just as confused. Hermione leaned over and captured one of Harry’s hands. He let her have it apprehensively, worried that whatever the Healer had felt when he touched Harry’s hand would harm or upset her.
“You’re freezing cold,” she clucked and he shrugged. It was a side effect of the curse, and he supposed that it would go away eventually. The ache was slowly dispersing as he warmed in their arms and the fire added its own heat.
“I’ve been cold since I woke,” he told her quietly, “It’s a side effect of the curse. It’s ok I warm up pretty quickly. He had me take my kit off, too, standing around practically starkers isn’t a warming activity.”
“Depends on whom you’re with,” the words slipped out of Ron’s mouth without his permission, and Harry grinned up at his blushing friend. If Ron could relax like that around Harry maybe things weren’t as bad as he’d feared.
“Harry?” Madam Pomfrey’s voice broke into their quiet conversation and he looked up obediently. Hermione was still rubbing his hand with hers, warming the fingers and soothing the ache.
“Yes, Madam Pomfrey?” he asked in polite enquiry. The Headmaster looked uncharacteristically upset and he glanced at the Healer in dislike. It wasn’t Dumbledore’s fault that Harry had been hit with the killing curse.
“Healer Simmons thinks it would be best if you were to leave the school for a while to recover from your ordeal,” Madam Pomfrey was obviously repeating what had just been said, “Is there any place you’d particularly like to go?”
“I don’t want to leave,” Harry objected, “Can’t I stay home? Please, Headmaster, I won’t be a bother to anyone. I can go to class, I promise.”
To be sent away from everyone he cared for was more than Harry could bear to think about. He wanted to stay where he could fix his friendship with Ron and Hermione, and where he could talk to Hagrid. His grip on Hermione’s hand tightened and he leaned into Ron’s side.
“Harry…” Madam Pomfrey stopped when he shook his head stubbornly, “Now, dear, you need the rest. It’s for your own good.”
“Please, Headmaster,” Harry wasn’t too proud to beg. He didn’t want to leave his only true home and friends behind. The sharp blue eyes softened and the white haired man nodded reluctant permission.
“Very well, you can stay,” Dumbledore gave in, “But you’re not attending lessons. I’ll tutor you in the mornings, and your friends can bring the homework assignments to you. You’ll stay in the hospital wing for now, when you’re stronger you can return to your House.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry breathed and leaned back into his friend’s arms.
Harry had been mortified the first time he dozed off during one of Dumbledore’s lessons. He’d been woken by the arrival of the school Matron with his lunch on a tray and the Headmaster sitting nearby reading a book. Dumbledore had brushed aside his apologies lightly, reassuring him that the lesson wasn’t a complete failure, and finally promising to continue to teach Harry each day. It had taken Harry nearly a month before he could stay awake for an entire morning, though he still fell asleep after lunch.
Ron and Hermione had taken to crawling onto his bed and curling up with him. He’d wake from his afternoon sleep with them laying either side of him. He’d been astonished the first few times, and then accepted the contact gratefully. On the afternoons that one of them had other commitments - Hermione had joined the schools charm club and Ron had Quidditch, and they were both Prefects besides - the other would curl up regardless. He made sure that they knew he was no threat to their relationship and let them do whatever they wanted. The intimacy was one that he cherished.
Hagrid would come every night after tea and they’d play checkers or cards together. There was no further mention of Harry’s ability as an Animagus, though he knew his friends were curious. He’d decided not to change into Prowler unless it was an emergency until the Ministry had properly registered him. He’d likely get in trouble for not doing it straight away, but there had been no mention of trouble from Professor Dumbledore, so maybe the Headmaster had intervened on his behalf.
One week before the Easter holidays were due to start, Madam Pomfrey released Harry back to his dorm. Ron had already made it more than clear that Harry was to come to the Burrow for Easter and Harry had accepted quietly. His energy levels were still low, and Madam Pomfrey was eyeing him with displeasure, as he still hadn’t recovered all the weight that he’d lost. He was almost back to the weight he’d been in the cupboard that summer, and the cold ache had receded during the day, coming back at night when he was the most tired. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that the ache would dog his heels for the rest of his life, probably manifesting as some kind of arthritis or something. He didn’t want to ask because he didn’t want to know for sure.
The school Matron waited until he’d eaten the large lunch she insisted on before letting Ron and Hermione in. Quite a few of Harry’s books had found their way to the room he slept in and he shrunk them with a wave of his wand before bundling them into his robe’s pockets. Ron was grinning and Hermione held his hand as Harry headed for the doors, Madam Pomfrey’s instructions on rest and food still ringing in his ears. He would continue to take his lessons with the Headmaster this week, and they would reassess his condition after the holidays. He wanted to be back in class, but was resigned to obeying the strictures that the adults in his world placed on his activities.
There were quite a few people in the halls as Harry headed to the Gryffindor tower and he had to resist the urge to become one with the walls. He had become accustomed to walking along the edges of the halls to avoid people, and keeping his head down, effectively making himself invisible to those around him. Ron wouldn’t let him though, bracing him with an arm around his waist.
“You’re not going to be a ghost around here anymore,” Ron informed him quietly, “No more avoiding people.”
Harry gave in with a nod and bore the stares and whispers from his fellow students as best he could. He had never wanted to be the centre of attention, and hated the spotlight. The only good thing about spending a term in the Hospital wing was that he’d avoided the media speculation that the Daily Prophet was sure to have stirred up about his recovery from the Killing curse.
Gryffindor greeted him with unaccustomed hugs. Harry was passed from one person to another, ending up on a couch in front of the fire with the students from his year group sitting around him. He was grateful when they started talking about the latest in the school Quidditch tournament and the latest gossip from the other Houses and lessons. He soaked it up, catching up on the events occurring in his home, glad to see that after the unusual welcome he was treated as of old, just another face in the crowd.
Ron broke it up when he caught Harry swallowing a yawn. He pulled Harry up off the couch, told everyone that it was time for Harry to rest and marched Harry off to their dorm without another word. In short order he was horizontal, warm and heading for sleep, Ron’s hand rubbing his head lightly, Ron’s breath warm on the back of his neck. He missed Hermione a little, but was too drowsy to cause a fuss. He knew that the days of cuddling with her on a bed were over now that he was back in the dorm, and resigned himself to the loss.
Fawkes was pleased to see Harry on his first morning in the Professor’s study, and the Headmaster let him spend a few moments saying hello each morning. Harry found it a bittersweet treat at best, he liked the Phoenix and enjoyed their chats, but at the same time it brought home to him the absence of his own sorely missed owl. There had been no question of replacing Hedwig, as far as Harry was concerned she was irreplaceable and he’d make do with post and school owls. Even Hagrid hadn’t been so thoughtless as to urge him to replace his pet.
Harry worked hard in the four hours that Professor Dumbledore tutored him, demanding perfection of himself when casting or brewing. He was supposed to rest in the afternoons after lunch, but found that as long as he was on a couch or his bed no one bothered him too much and he could read through his textbooks closely, and complete the homework assignments if he pushed himself. He didn’t want people to think that he was just coasting on his fame or something, so he worked as hard as he could.
His weight was not what Madam Pomfrey had wanted it to be by Easter, but it was pretty close, so he wasn’t too worried by it. He had more energy too, and he thought he looked a bit better than before. Ron insisted on walking with him wherever he went, and Hermione had gotten into the habit of taking his hand whenever they were together. The one time that Malfoy had sneered about the contact she’d slapped him again, this time much harder and in front of most of his friends. The blond left them alone after that.
The weather began to warm slowly, spring sunshine starting to break through the bleak clouds and miserable winds that howled around the castle. Harry found that by sitting in the sunlight and allowing it to warm his cold flesh he could stave off the worst of the ache. He only managed this for a few hours each afternoon, but the relief meant that he could sit up later with his friends. Ron and Hermione wouldn’t let him go to the library yet, but they would let him play a short game of something or other for an hour or two before ganging up on him and sending him to bed. The last week of term seemed to fly and crawl by in inimitable fashion and before he knew it he was stepping into the Headmasters fireplace for the trip to the Burrow.
Molly Weasley welcomed him to the comfortably crowded home with a gentle embrace and a kiss to his temple that had him rather flustered. He gave her a cautious smile and hug back, and hoped he didn’t look as rattled as he felt. Ron chuckled and hugged him too, then passed him to Hermione and Ginny for their hugs as well, before ushering him to a chair by the unlit fire. He was still wearing several extra layers to beat the cold back, but the room was warm from the sun streaming in through the many windows.
“I’m not sick, Ron,” Harry objected and watched the people in the kitchen exchange strange looks with each other. He subsided, recognising that he wouldn’t win this argument and decided to save his breath for more important arguments. From the look in Mrs Weasley’s eyes he was looking at a rigorously enforceable schedule of sleep and eating that she would devise and have his friends help police. If he wanted to be able to sit up past teatime he’d have to marshal his arguments for then.
“I’m much better, honestly, Mrs Weasley,” Harry smiled for her hopefully, and then blushed as his stomach growled in hunger. Molly clucked under her breath and turned to go into the kitchen, muttering something about ‘if that’s better then it’s a mercy she hadn’t seen him ill’. Ron chuckled and took their trunks up to his room, while Ginny ushered Hermione to her room as well. Harry relaxed, letting the sun from the nearest window warm his feet, soothing the ache out of them for a short time. If he’d been alone he’d have sat on the floor in the sunlight, as had become his habit when he was alone in the dorm.
Molly came back with a plate of her raison scones and a cup of tea, took one look at him and put them on the counter top next to the stove. She helped him up, though he didn’t need it, and dragged his chair over to catch the heat from the wood fired Wizarding stove. He sat down with a sigh and held the hot cup of tea in both hands, relaxing a little when the heat reached his cold bones. Molly checked his forehead with a worried noise and then kissed his temple again before bustling up the stairs after her children and their guest. Despite his best efforts, Harry was asleep when they returned ten minutes later.
The twins lost all colour in their faces when they first spotted Harry and wrapped themselves around him in a comprehensive hug. Mr Weasley looked just as aghast, and Harry did his best to look healthy and robust for them all, not wanting anyone to feel they had to fuss over him. He wasn’t allowed to help set the table for tea, nor was he allowed to help prepare the dishes in the kitchen. When Bill arrived - it seemed the whole family was coming home for tea tonight - Ron was excused from the chores to sit with Harry and ‘make sure he rested’. Even Percy looked a bit taken aback by the green-eyed teens appearance. Harry hated being fussed over, but kept his temper under tight control. His experience with family care and concern had been minimal, and he didn’t want to be ungrateful to the Weasley’s.
The twins took Harry out to the front room and sat either side of him on the couch, distracting him with talk about the shop. Things were going well for them at the moment and Zonko’s had actually sent an agent in to look at what they were selling. They’d spotted this person pretty quickly and ushered them out politely, but were delighted to think that they were apparently worrying the major chain store. Harry asked some questions about their products and was genuinely interested in the way they developed their merchandise. Before he knew it they were being called to tea, and Hermione and Ron were ushering him to sit between them.
Molly Weasley’s cooking was excellent as ever and Harry dug in with enthusiasm, his appetite better than it had been since he woke up. She smiled proudly when he took seconds without being urged on, and Ron and Hermione kept sneaking extra spoonfuls onto his plate. He managed to stop that eventually, and by the time pudding came around he was fairly full and starting to feel sleepy again.
Determined to stay awake, Harry managed to get hold of a tea towel to help with the washing up, which Ron and Hermione were in charge of. Ginny and the twins took the dry items from his hands and whisked them off to the correct cupboard, and Ron and Hermione kept a very close watch over him. The minute the job was done Ron herded him upstairs to the small room beneath the attic that his friend had papered with Chuddley Cannon pictures. Harry sat on the edge of the cot and admitted to himself that he was rather tired. Ron sat next to him for a while, his arm around Harry’s shoulder, stirring finally and squeezing Harry a little.
“I want to ask you a favour, mate,” Ron said quietly, “I want you to take things as easy as possible. I know that you’re not some invalid or anything, but… we’re all concerned for you, and it would make us happy to see you just rest and do nothing all holidays.”
“I don’t want to take advantage of your mum’s hospitality,” Harry said awkwardly and Ron chuckled, wrapping his other arm around Harry so they were hugging.
“There’s nothing she’d like more than for you to let her wait on you hand and foot,” Ron told him gently and Harry nodded. He knew that Ron’s mother had a huge heart, and was a generous soul. She wouldn’t mind if he lazed about the house for the next two weeks.
“I’ll try, ok?” Harry replied tensely and Ron smiled and rubbed his back before letting go. Harry got changed into his pyjamas and got into bed, curling up into a ball and squeezing his eyes shut. He heard the door open and Hermione’s hands brushed over his shoulders. He lifted his head and smiled at her and she leaned down to kiss him on the lips.
“Hermione!” he hissed, jerking back and looking at Ron fearfully. He knew they were together and didn’t want to come between them. Ron simply smiled and leaned down to kiss his girlfriend, before kissing Harry too. It didn’t help that bits of Harry were stirring gently in response to the intimacy, and he was confused about where this was going.
“It’s all right, Harry, you can kiss us,” Ron murmured, and Harry shook his head.
“I won’t come between you,” he protested and Hermione smiled from the doorway.
“You won’t,” she agreed, “Goodnight boys.”
Ron got into bed and turned out the light, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.
Madam Pomfrey agreed to let him attend class after the holidays, and Harry rejoined his peers gratefully. The tutoring from the Headmaster had been a kindness, but he didn’t want to be different from the rest of the school. He’d fall into bed each night exhausted, and Ron had to wake him every morning from the wallow of blankets and pillows that Harry made of his bed, curling up in a ball in the middle of the mattress to conserve warmth. Dobby had placed extra blankets out for him, and although the weather was warming Harry continued to wear his winter robes and an extra layer to stay warm.
Hermione and Ron had continued to kiss him all through the holidays, saying hello or goodnight with a kiss, or simply cuddling up in a warm place with him and letting him doze. The Healer that had first examined Harry on his awakening gave him another examination upon his return to school, not that Harry wanted him to. He wanted nothing more to do with the Wizard, but was overridden by the Headmaster. At Harry’s insistence Madam Pomfrey stayed in the room for the examination, and she had made it more bearable by smiling at him and holding his hand when allowed. The Healer wasn’t too impressed with Harry’s progress, though Harry thought he was doing very well for a person who’d survived the killing curse on two separate occasions.
The rest of the student body tended to leave a bit of space around Harry, staring at him when they thought he wouldn’t notice, and whispering behind his back. Harry ignored it as best he could, grateful that Ron and Hermione made such a big effort to get into his personal space and stay there. Ron kissed him good morning behind the curtains that shrouded the four-poster beds in the dorm, and Hermione kissed him freely in public. He’d become almost used to it, and made sure to return the kisses when they were offered. He’d even taken the daring step of reaching out and taking Hermione’s hand or sitting close to Ron when he could.
Class work was intriguing, and thankfully the teachers treated him just like any other student. Professor McGonagal monitored his progress in all his classes though, and he’d even caught her watching what he ate at meal times, along with Madam Pomfrey and the Headmaster. Ron and Hermione continued to sit either side of him and ‘sneak’ extra items onto his plate when they thought he wasn’t looking. He was touched at their concern and didn’t fuss, though getting through everything they wanted him to eat was often a struggle, as his stomach felt full after a few mouthfuls. In addition Dobby had taken to the habit of popping up in a corridor between classes with a snack for Harry, which the green eyed teen took out of politeness, though he didn’t eat them. He couldn’t, his meals were so large that snacking between classes would have ended with a stomach-ache or something worse.
The only teacher whose treatment of Harry did change was Professor Snape. Prior to the death of Voldemort, the Potions master had been in the habit of blaming Harry for everything that went wrong in the classroom and picking on him for no reason at all. That had gotten even more intense the past year, as Harry had isolated himself in the classroom, and Snape had seemed to sense that his student was more vulnerable to his attacks. He’d taken his temper out on Harry without mercy, and the green-eyed teen had put up with it meekly.
Now, though, Snape ignored Harry completely. The teen continued to work hard at each lesson, though he was once more sitting with Ron during the class, which made reaching the former level of concentration more difficult. The Potions Master taught each lesson with his usual vigour and force, but Harry didn’t seem to exist as far as the man was concerned. His work was marked without comment, but he was no longer called upon to answer question after complex question. Truth be told, he didn’t mind being ignored; it was a pleasant change.
He’d been working so hard on increasing his stamina and keeping up with each class that the end of year exams came as something as a shock. Harry hadn’t realised how late in the year it was, and the prospect of returning to the Dursley’s for the summer holiday’s was suddenly before him once more. He didn’t let them see him brooding, though he was certain that going back to the Dursley’s would send him right round the bend. Ron and Hermione were obviously not discussing their plans for the summer either, so Harry didn’t bring up his. With Voldemort gone, the reason he’d been forced to stay with his mother’s only living relative was also gone and maybe he’d be able to spend the time at Diagon Alley instead. He didn’t want to put Mrs Weasley through the trouble of having him as a guest, and he wasn’t going to even ask Hermione if he could stay with her. Once in Diagon Alley he could look around for somewhere better to stay - perhaps take a real holiday if it didn’t cost too much.
Either way, his sojourns with the Dursley’s were over, and he was going to tell them the good news right there at the station. He could get a cab to Diagon Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron would know where he could stay if they had no rooms. Perhaps he’d even come back to Hogsmeade for a while to visit with Hagrid. He made a mental note to find out what his large friend was doing over the course of the holidays and also one to check the contents of the vault under Gringotts Bank. He was almost finished with school, but didn’t want to beggar himself in the meantime. He was definitely going to purchase new glasses and some clothes that fit now that he didn’t have to explain to the Dursley’s where the money had come from.
Before he knew it the exams were over and he was sitting with his friends for the leaving feast. Hermione and Ron had still not confided their holiday plans, and Harry wasn’t going to push. They may seem to have forgiven him his treatment of them, and seek his company out at school, but with the passing of time their concern over his brush with the Killing Curse had faded and he wasn’t about to foist himself on anyone. He spent the feast listening to the people around him and soaking up as much of the atmosphere around home as he possibly could, storing it away for the summer holidays until they would be reunited next school year.
At the end of the feast, Professor Dumbledore sent him a note to report to the Headmaster’s study at once, and Harry wondered idly if there was some further use for Dumbledore’s weapon. He showed the note to Ron, and headed away from their common rooms obediently, walking through the swirl of students and teachers as if they weren’t there, brooding over his tentative plans for the holidays. Hagrid hadn’t been able to give him a definite answer about his plans, so Harry had been forced to rethink part of it. Instead of coming here, he would have to find a small out of the way place, a bed and breakfast or something that would let him spend the holidays quietly.
The gargoyle stepped aside as he approached and Harry looked up instantly, relaxing a little when he realised that Dumbledore had come down to meet him.
“I thought we might take a quick walk, Harry,” the Headmaster smiled at him, and Harry turned obediently, following along silently again as the Headmaster led the way down the stairs and out into the early summer evening. They walked along the edge of the lake for a while; curiosity consuming Harry, though he felt it wasn’t his place to press the Headmaster for information. They reached a tree that had fallen at the edge of the water and Dumbledore sat on it, patting the trunk to indicate that Harry should do the same.
“I see by your clothes that you have yet to throw off the cold of the curse,” Dumbledore sounded sad, and Harry smiled for him, shrugging the matter off. He was much better than he had been, and he’d gained a little more weight. Madam Pomfrey hadn’t looked quite so pained when she checked him over last week.
“I’m much better than I was, sir, really,” he promised, “The ache only becomes a problem in the dungeons, so I sit closer to my cauldron during Potions, and Dobby has given me extra bedding so the problem doesn’t come up at night. By winter I should have the hang of managing it.”
His well-meant words didn’t seem to appease the Headmaster, so Harry stopped talking and folded his hands in his robes, waiting for the older man to regain his composure. After a moment the Wizard stirred and sighed sadly.
“Well, perhaps the summer holiday will help,” the man’s voice almost sounded old, and Harry looked at him curiously, “We owe you a great debt, Harry, you paid a terrible price for our freedom.”
“I don’t see it that way, sir,” Harry reminded him uncomfortably, “I just did the best I could.”
“Your best is something that most people could never aspire too,” Dumbledore put a gentle hand on Harry’s knee, “I don’t wish to make you uncomfortable, dear boy, but without your presence this world would be a much grimmer place.”
Harry thought that was rather obvious, seeing that he had killed the Dark Wizard trying to take over the world and remake it in his image. That was what the prophecy had predicted though, and Harry was rather glad that they’d won in the end. He offered his Headmaster a smile and nod, and waited for the man to come to the point of their chat. He didn’t think that they were out here so the other Wizard could tell him what he already knew.
“I won’t ask you to return to the Dursley’s again, Harry, unless of course you’d like to see them.”
Harry shook his head briskly, his heart speeding up. Maybe he wouldn’t have to go against the Headmasters wishes after all.
“This is, of course, all negotiable, but I’ve booked for you a room in the Leaky Cauldron for two days. I thought you might like to spend a little time for yourself. On the first Monday of the school holidays, two messengers will meet you in your room and accompany you to a holiday house that I have the use of. The climate there is very warm, and I believe the company will meet with your approval. You are to have the use of the house for the holidays, and there will be rooms waiting at Diagon Alley again for you upon your return to London. This will allow you and your messengers to prepare for your final school year.”
“Who are your messengers?” Harry frowned a little. He didn’t want to spend the summer with Moody, or Shacklebolt. Dumbledore got a mischievous look in his eyes that Harry had learned meant a little harmless joke was coming his way.
“I’d rather not say just at the moment,” Dumbledore replied, “Though I will tell you at once, should you insist.”
Harry decided to give the other man one last chance and shook his head. They got up and headed back to the castle.
The first thing Harry did was check on his bank vault. To his great surprise one of the senior Goblins escorted him personally to and from the vault, a courtesy that Harry made sure not to abuse. He’d learned enough at school to know a little about the manners of goblins and did his best to convey his humble gratitude to his escort for interrupting his busy workday. That seemed to go over well, and Harry left with a sound knowledge that his fortune was in no danger of drying up suddenly, and a fair amount of coin in his pockets to pay for his new wardrobe.
The glasses were fun to choose, and he settled on square rimless lenses with an unbreakable charm on them and silver arms. He wandered from the opticians to Madam Malkins robes, trying to ignore the way people stared and whispered as he passed. There were two other customers in front of him at the store, and Harry insisted on waiting his turn. Madam Malkin herself came out to take his order, and Harry left the store with a couple of sets of everyday robes. He would have to go to the Muggle stores to buy Muggle clothes, and returned to the bank to exchange some of his coins for Muggle notes.
The next day found him in Muggle London, buying clothes that actually fit him and were brand new. He chose very carefully things that could be layered for warmth and were durable. He didn’t want to have to deal with buying new clothes every time he went up against a new enemy. There were quite a few sales on, with stores getting rid of their winter stock, and Harry found himself some bargains.
His trunk was much fuller when he packed it that night, and he wondered who the messengers would be tomorrow. He had enjoyed his freedom today, and mentally reviewed his purchases, leaning in the open window to watch the crowds of people below. After a while the stares got too much for him and he stretched out on his bed, wishing for the anonymity of Muggle London.
The innkeeper had offered Harry a private dining room, which he’d accepted reluctantly. He didn’t want to be stared at as he ate, and yet didn’t want to seem to be setting himself above others. He ate his meals as quickly as possible and carried the dirty plates to the kitchens himself. Breakfast on Monday morning was no different, and once done he hurried upstairs to await his guests.
At eight, two familiar sets of footsteps sounded in the corridor and he flung the door open before they could even knock. Ron and Hermione grinned at him, then gaped at his new clothes and glasses. He fidgeted nervously and shot them both an anxious look.
“You don’t like it?” he asked and Ron snorted, wrapping Harry in a pretty comprehensive hug, before kissing him in the ear and letting Hermione take him from the red head’s arms.
“You look smashing,” Hermione grinned, “Close the door then and get your things, I want to get to our holiday house. The port key will activate in three minutes.”
He obeyed her commands meekly, pulling out his trunk and hefting his broom. Hermione produced a tin of biscuits and they all made sure they were holding onto it and an item of luggage. The familiar tug behind his navel and whirling sensation overtook Harry and when his vision cleared they were standing in the foyer of a sun washed house.
They spent the morning exploring the house and reading the notes that had been left for them. Ron and Harry would share a room, and Hermione would have one to herself. The cupboards in the kitchen would restock themselves, and the pool in the back garden would clean itself once every three days. There were instructions to ensure they watered various plants and requests that they tidy up after themselves before they left the house. As they were going to be there for at least the next two months, Harry didn’t think that would be a problem. Aunt Petunia had trained him to be tidy, and he knew his friends would help out.
“Ok,” Ron said after they’d eaten lunch by the pool. The patio was gorgeous, surrounded by plants that sent heady and enticing scents into the air. They got to it through a set of French doors, and Harry thought he’d spend most of his time in the deliciously warm place. He was feeling warm enough to wear a t-shirt and shorts, and bare feet.
“Harry, Hermione and I need to talk to you, and we thought it would be best to do it now,” Ron continued, “So budge up a bit.”
Harry frowned, wondering where he was supposed to ‘budge’ to. He was lying on a sun lounge, and though he was still skinny, he wasn’t sure all three of them would fit. Before he could point this out, his friends had rolled him on his side. Hermione slid in partially underneath him and Ron slid in behind him. His friends tangled their arms and legs around him for balance and Harry stayed perfectly still, not wanting to risk sending them to the ground in a heap.
“Harry, Ron and I started a relationship at the start of our sixth year,” Hermione rubbed her fingers along his arm soothingly, “We love each other very much, and we missed you a lot.”
“I…” Harry stopped obediently when Ron put a finger over his lips. He hadn’t meant to make them upset, and he was happy they’d found each other. He thought that maybe they were telling him that they wanted to share Hermione’s room this summer and relaxed. It wouldn’t bother him if they did. They deserved time together too.
“Don’t apologise,” Ron shushed, recalling Harry’s attention, “We know why you did what you did. It’s in the past. Just listen.”
Harry nodded and nipped the finger over his lips mischievously. Ron yelped and smacked his leg in retribution and Hermione rolled her eyes at them both. Harry didn’t mind too much, they were warm and he was starting to relax. He wasn’t sure why they were making heavy weather of telling him they wanted to be together, but was willing to let them do this their own way.
“The thing is Harry, that after a while we both realised that as much as we loved each other, we loved you just as much, and without you there was something missing. Then the Death Eaters attacked us and well… the point is we want you to join us. We don’t want to split the three of us up, so …”
“Join you?” Harry shifted to look her in the eye, “You mean in bed as well?”
“Yeah,” Ron breathed onto Harry’s neck, “We’ve been a trio ever since the troll nearly killed Hermione in the girls toilets on Halloween. Let’s make the partnership equal in all ways.”
Harry shivered in response to the words breathed over his hot skin and his friends shifted even closer, anxiously rubbing his arms to counter the chill. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. They were everything he wanted in life, friends, comrades and family rolled into one incredibly sexy package. He’d dreamed of one or the other at night, and woken with messy sheets, but never had he dared to think he could have them both, openly and without reprisal. For a moment he wondered if he was still dying of the Killing Curse and this was a last fevered dream before the end came. He decided he didn’t care, he’d take whatever they were willing to give him.
“That was a good shiver,” Harry chuckled and took Hermione’s lips in a chaste kiss, before turning his head to take Ron’s as well.
Prowler’s black fur was perfect for soaking up heat early in the morning, and Ron found him sprawled in what had become ‘his’ sun lounge. Harry purred for his friend and twitched his tail lazily, too comfortable and drowsy to even consider moving. There was no cold ache at all now, and Harry was luxuriating in the feeling while he could. Ron chuckled and climbed onto the lounge with him, stroking Harry’s fur and snuggling in. The three scars stood out in a pattern of ruffled fur, the lightening marks a distinctive brand. Harry wondered if it meant he had six of the nine lives a cat was supposed to have left, but hadn’t mentioned his notion to anyone. Ron went to sleep, and Harry let his thoughts drift, content to lie with his best friend and be held in the knowledge that there were two people in this world that wanted him just the way he was.
Return to Archive