Chapter 7 : Congratulations and Commiserations
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Nothing is so good it lasts eternally
Perfect situations must go wrong
But this has never yet prevented me
Wanting far too much for far too long
The days went by. Albus watched Harry closely as the time went past, without appearing to do so – he’d sensed that *too* much attention put Harry on edge. He’d become adept at keeping a subtle eye on the boy over the years, but it was a more difficult feat to pull off when the two were shut in a four-bedroom house with only each other for company (the Dursleys didn’t count, as they were only being let out their rooms to use the bathroom). Harry didn’t seem to have noticed he was being watched however, and they carried on the routine that had been started when they returned from France – with one small difference.
After Harry had woken from a vision of Voldemort, Albus decided (despite Harry’s protests) that he ought to take up Occlumency lessons again.
Harry had been so anxious about starting it again he’d been unable to sleep. But he needn’t have worried – Albus was teaching him himself, and anyone was better than Snape. Especially as Albus didn’t insist on ‘Professor’ or ‘sir’ every two seconds.
Or at all, come to that.
Albus started with asking Harry exactly what Snape had taught him before, and was both angry and guilty about the answer. Harry knew very little about different Occlumency methods, but he worked out from Albus’ reaction that Snape had jumped directly to an advanced level. No wonder Harry had found it so difficult.
Once Harry had figured out the method he found best, he had no problems fine-tuning it. Albus was pleased with his progress and said Harry seemed to be a natural. Harry stored that information to think about the next time Snape criticized him.
Albus still hadn’t got a reply from Madam Pomfrey, and was worried. He knew it would take a while for her to research the problem – it was hardly a common ailment, after all – but as each day passed he grew more anxious about it. The appearing wounds hadn’t got any worse, but they weren’t a lot less frequent than they were at the beginning of the summer. He could sense Harry was troubled about it as well, and was relieved that Harry hadn’t yet asked him about them. He didn’t want to express his concerns until he was sure either way.
Harry could tell something was worrying the headmaster, but knew better than to ask, instead wondering if it had anything to do with his nightmares. Albus seemed to suffer from them a fair amount – not as much as he did himself, but Harry had still been woken a couple of nights to hear him crying out in his sleep.
At one point he had offered him the Dreamless Sleep Potion, but Albus had refused politely. He’d said something about using them too much having unfortunate effects. He’d mentioned that before, which was why Harry wasn’t using the potion every night either – only when it grew really bad.
Unfortunately, Harry discovered the potion was beginning to lose its effects on him. It was still sending him into a sleep, but not a dreamless one; one he couldn’t wake naturally from, because once he’d taken the potion it kept him asleep or at least partly for hours. After several nights running, Harry had given up using it.
If he’d been aware of the fact that there were different types, he would have asked Albus to get a different one from Madam Pomfrey; but he hadn’t, so he didn’t.
A week before Harry’s birthday, he decided to clear out all his old things from the cupboard under the stairs. He’d been meaning to do it ever since he’d moved into Dudley’s second bedroom – he’d left a small collection of his childhood possessions there – not that he’d ever had many.
Albus offered to help, but there wasn’t really much to do. An old tin with Harry’s old ‘treasures’ and a small cardboard box held some old clothes and his teddy bear. Albus took a great interest in the bear (whose name was Monty), and was sad to see it was almost ruined. Harry told him about the time Dudley had got hold of him and practically ripped the bear apart in spite. Albus, who hadn’t been aware of that particular incident, was aghast.
Harry decided to change the subject to a less dismal one, and explained how he’d come to own the bear in the first place (once when Mrs Figg was ill, Harry had gone with the Dursleys to the fair, and the woman on the coconut shy had given him a free go). Albus knew already, but listened anyway. As Harry opened the rusted biscuit tin, Albus sneaked Monty out of the pile. Harry didn’t notice.
The reason Harry was clearing out all his things was because Albus had been dropping hints about being ‘nearly’ ready for them to leave Privet Drive – for good. That is, unless something else happened – these things had to be taken into account – but Harry was unusually optimistic about it, and hoped to never see number four again once they’d left. He’d have to remember to get Albus to let the Dursleys out first, though – although the idea of leaving them locked up was tempting, much as the idea of shutting Vernon in the cupboard (see how he liked it) had been – but Harry’s good side had won, and he’d managed to talk a disappointed Albus out of it.
Harry wondered where he would be going. As much as he wanted to believe it, he couldn’t bring himself to think that Albus would carry on looking after him once they’d left Privet Drive – after all, the reason he’d come was so Harry wouldn’t be alone with the Dursleys. Wasn’t it?
He doubted very much it would be the Burrow. From what he could gather, the Order had been having huge problems with the protection wards. That didn’t leave many places. He hoped it wasn’t Grimmauld Place – he’d never be able to set foot in that house again – he’d never be able to get rid of the memory of the trapped and restless Sirius inside it.
That only really left two options. Albus had said back in France that Hogwarts was overrun by Ministry officials. If they’d left by now, Harry figured it would be safe for him to stay there in secret, as long as he was able to hide from them if they ever came again – if Fudge knew Albus was deliberately breaking one of his own rules just so Harry could spend the summer there, they would both be in big trouble – not to mention it would attract Voldemort’s attention.
Harry remembered Albus mentioning something about a Manor, and wondered what and where it was, and if that was where he was going if Hogwarts wasn’t an option. Albus had mentioned something about wards, so he supposed it must be in the same shape as the Burrow. In other words, probably not.
He was curious to know what it was, though.
A tiny part of Harry was still sore about the events of last year, but it was shrinking with each day. He felt like it was slowly being erased by Albus’ actions now. However, he could not suppress the thought that Albus was only acting out of guilt; that at some point – probably when they left Privet Drive – he would feel he had made it up to Harry and leave him alone again. Harry knew that would hurt far more than anything he had done already, and secretly wished Albus would hurry up and decide to get it over with – the longer he stayed for, the more Harry would know what he was missing, and the more it would hurt.
Once Harry was asleep (or probably asleep), Albus slipped out of the dark room to hold a conversation he’d been putting off for a while.
“Petunia?” he said softly, knocking on the Dursleys’ bedroom door (Vernon, naturally, was spending the night in the bathroom).
There was the sound of movement the other side of the door. Albus unlocked the door and Petunia glared out at him, in a pink dressing-gown.
“What do you want?” she hissed.
“I wish to speak with you, if I may. Can we go downstairs?”
Petunia looked warily at Albus’ wand, which he was keeping carefully in her sight.
“I suppose so.”
Once they were in the living-room, Albus shut the door and cast a silencing charm around it. He decided to make the conversation quick, in case Harry needed him.
“Now, what’s all this about, Headmaster?” Petunia asked a little warily.
“I believe I sent you a letter at the beginning of the holidays, Petunia.”
She turned from white to red in a matter of seconds. “Yes, you did,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “And?”
Albus braced himself.
“You did nothing of what I asked you. You didn’t help Harry one bit. You even stood by while your husband abused him!”
“How dare you make such accusations!” Petunia snapped.
“I dare because I know they are true. I’ve seen the evidence myself.”
“It was an accident!”
“Harry even told me it was true.”
“That boy’s a liar!”
Albus gripped his wand so tightly he was afraid of breaking it.
“For someone who’s lived with Harry all his life, you are extraordinarily ignorant of him, Petunia. Harry wouldn’t lie about this. It was all I could to get him to tell me in the first place. That’s your fault.”
“How is that my fault?”
“You raised him! You taught him he was somehow inferior to everyone else. That’s what he’s grown to believe. He never comes to anyone for help; he doesn’t believe people when they say they care about him. You have no idea how much damage you have done, and I don’t just mean physically.” Albus paused for breath, and Petunia cut in.
“I never said any such things, and as for the damage -”
“Petunia, you should know by now that actions speak far louder than words. By not caring for Harry, you rejected him. Nothing can ever make up for that. Your actions were a crime, morally if not legally. I didn’t realize until recently just how much damage you have done to him, and still I feel there is more.
“As for the physical abuse, I don’t know how serious it is; whether what I’ve seen on Harry was a one-off or whether it’s been happening all along. I have been keeping an eye on this household for fifteen years, but not close enough, apparently. The good news for you is that by the time our government has sorted itself out enough for us to take legal action, the proof will have gone. The emotional wounds Harry has suffered at your hand all his life, however, are unlikely to ever heal.” Albus knew Vernon was mostly to blame, but Petunia was much more likely to listen and understand. “I am Harry’s new guardian and I care for him as if he was my own. It is possible that, after this summer, there may be times when Harry will need to return here, and he knows this. If I EVER find out he has been mistreated by one of your family again in ANY way, Merlin himself will come back from the dead before anyone will be able to stop me taking legal action. I will take the case to the Muggle courts if necessary.”
Petunia was stock still, her face impassive. Only her eyes showed how much his words were affecting her.
“I will not press charges on this occasion as Harry has been through enough, but I will be watching your family like a hawk. Even if I don’t go to the courts, you can rest assured I will not stand by and do nothing if Harry suffers again.
Harry is a wonderful boy in so many ways. You should have counted yourselves privileged when I left him in your – I hesitate to use the word ‘care’, because you didn’t care at all. If I could change one thing in my life, I would have taken him in myself; it would have been the best decision I had ever made, instead of the worst.
You and your husband were the luckiest couple on the planet when I gave Harry to you. But you threw it away, and in doing so ruined Harry’s life far more than you can ever understand.
The mental damage he has suffered from living with you may turn out to be permanent. You never loved him; you made him believe he isn’t worthy of love. He can’t believe there are people out there who really care for him, because his own family never did.
If this damage is permanent, I suggest you prepare yourselves, because I will not let this go unsettled.
I hope one day you realize what you have done.”
Albus finished his speech – he’d said a lot more than he’d originally intended. Petunia’s face was blank, but her eyes showed her guilt.
“I shall let you think about what I have said. Goodnight, Petunia.”
Albus slipped silently back into the bedroom. He saw the light on the landing glint on a pair of eyes.
Harry quickly pretended he was asleep – to no avail.
“I know you’re awake, Harry, stop faking it.” Albus’ voice was firm but gentle. Harry opened his eyes again. Albus sat down on Harry’s bed.
“Bad dreams?” he asked gently.
Harry shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “It’s okay… it’s not Voldemort or anything.”
“Do you want the sleeping potion?”
“No!” Harry protested a bit more violently than he had intended. Albus looked taken aback. “No… thanks.”
Albus frowned. “Hasn’t it been working?”
“Spot on,” Harry replied dully. The potion had still only been half-working – it sent him into a sleep, but the nightmares kept coming, and he couldn’t wake from them. It was worse than going without the potion. He explained this to Albus, whose expression softened.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have got Madam Pomfrey to send a different one to try.”
Harry looked up at the ceiling. Albus sighed. “Is there anything that *does* help?”
Harry squirmed slightly, embarrassed. He *had* noticed something – the nightmares ceased when he had company. He figured the subconscious knowledge made him feel more secure, which let him sleep more peacefully. The couple of nights he had spent close to Albus had been dream-free, looking back. But he wasn’t about to ask.
Albus – Harry was shocked to discover the name was coming to him more naturally now – seemed to realize what the answer was though, and stood up. With a flick of his wand, the beds joined and he slid back in beside Harry, wrapping his arms around him.
“Is this what you wanted?” he asked in a whisper, already knowing the answer. Harry didn’t answer, but snuggled into the warm fatherly embrace. Albus smiled sadly. “Harry, don’t ever be ashamed to ask for this.” Harry nodded sleepily and closed his eyes.
Two figures stood duelling heavily before his eyes. He struggled to free himself on the curse pinning him to the ground, but failed. Light flashed across the sky from the fight. There was a scream, and a muffled *flump* of body hitting ground.
His face was deathly pale, blood drying on his skin. His eyes were still open, but the light was gone. He reached out a tentative hand and felt the cold flesh –
Albus gasped, suddenly awake. He lay shaking for a few minutes before remembering where he was. He sat bolt upright, unintentionally pulling the covers off Harry, who didn’t make a sound. The nightmare still clear in his mind, Albus reached out a trembling hand, relief engulfing him when he felt Harry’s breathing. Still shaken, Albus lay back down and gently wrapped his arms back around Harry, trying to get the image of his dead face out of his mind.
The rest of the night was more peaceful, but still not untroubled. Albus was used to nightmares and/or strange dreams, but they seemed to be coming more regularly now. He figured it was probably linked to his worry about Harry’s well-being, likely mixed with his guilt over the fact that Harry was suffering because of *him*, at least indirectly. Although often his dreams didn’t make much sense. That night he had one that puzzled him – it had been a recurring one a few years back, but had gradually stopped. It was a vision of a teenage boy – around Harry’s age – with chocolate-brown hair and bright blue eyes. He knew what the dream had meant before, but he had no idea why it was coming back to him *now*, of all times.
When Albus woke for the fourth time that night, he borrowed some of Harry’s Dreamless Sleep Potion, hoping that it would work on him and thankful that the next day was Harry’s birthday, so at least he’d be distracted the next night.
“Happy birthday to you; happy birthday to you…”
Harry groaned and tried to pull his covers over his head, but failed. Albus was kneeling on the end of the bed, making it impossible.
“Gerroff,” he grumbled.
“Come on Harry, wake up! Do you remember what day it is today?”
“Let me guess. Christmas? How could I *not* know with you singing in my ear?”
Albus chuckled and tugged the covers right off him. Harry moaned.
“Are you going to get up or am I going to have to drag you to the Burrow in your pyjamas?” he asked.
That got a reaction. “The Burrow?” Harry asked, his eyes snapping open. Suddenly he felt wide awake.
“By special invitation, the Weasleys have requested you spend today with them, courtesy of a few temporary wards. They’ll fall down by tomorrow morning, however, so I’m afraid you cannot stay the night -”
“That’s okay!” Harry was already out of bed and grabbing some clean clothes. His heart soared – he was going to the Burrow! He hadn’t expected to see it all summer, so it was a terrific surprise.
“Good. I’ll see you downstairs – don’t be too long; I’m assuming you don’t want your breakfast to get cold.” Albus smiled at him and left the room, humming “Happy birthday”.
In an hour, Harry was washed and dressed and had just finished his special birthday breakfast – a stack of chocolate-chip pancakes. He and Albus walked together over to Mrs Figg’s house, where she wished him a happy birthday and offered him a flowerpot of Floo powder.
He tumbled out of the fireplace in the Weasley’s living-room, brushing off soot from his clothes. Looking around, he saw the whole place was pitch-black. He began to worry he’d arrived too early and they were still in bed before a second *whoosh* indicated Albus’ arrival and there was a split second pause before pandemonium broke out.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY!”
Harry staggered backwards as the whole place lit up. The Burrow was transformed – streamers, coloured lights and banners were everywhere, and someone had let off a box of Fred and George’s Wildfire Whizz-Bangs. The room had been rearranged and expanded to fit in not only all the Weasleys (minus Percy), but Hermione, Remus Lupin, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, Heather Louise, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, the Creevey brothers, Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell and, to his enormous surprise (or rather shock), Severus Snape.
His mouth fell open.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s rude to leave your mouth hanging open like that?” Ginny teased, stepping forwards.
“How – who – what?”
“We wanted to give you a proper birthday party, Harry,” Mrs Weasley said, hugging him tightly.
“You didn’t have to -”
His voice almost cracked as he saw the table, which was piled high with what looked like the entire contents of Diagon Alley’s largest store, all wrapped in gleaming paper. He didn’t think even Dudley had ever had this many presents.
He felt a lump in his throat at the sight. They didn’t have to do all this for him … but they were all looking so pleased that he didn’t have the heart to ruin it.
“Harry, are you all right?” Mrs Weasley asked, drawing back and looking at him carefully.
“Yeah,” he said, finding his voice. “I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“Well, yeah. That’s what surprise parties are meant to do. So, what are we gonna do first?” Ron enquired.
Harry opened his mouth and closed it again.
It was as if every person in the Burrow had been transfigured into a nine-year-old for the day. Even the adults (except Snape, who said he preferred to watch) joined in, rushing around playing mad children’s games. Hermione triumphed at Blind Man’s Buff, and Albus surprised everyone by turning out to be a champion at Musical Chairs (played along to the Weird Sisters). Even Heather Louise managed to put aside her fresh grief for a day and join in, teaching them to play Spin the (Butterbeer) Bottle, during which Harry had a wicked idea to dare Ron to kiss Hermione in front of everyone. His face was redder than his hair, and she wasn’t exactly cool about it either.
They took a break for the adults to talk and the younger ones to calm down after the last game. Ron and Hermione interrogated Harry about his last letter, where he’d mentioned getting ‘lost’ in France. Harry told them the (slightly edited) story. They got very confused and knew parts didn’t add up, but Harry was determined not to tell them the reason he’d left Privet Drive in such a hurry. When it became apparent they weren’t going to get the blanks filled in, Ron changed the subject by asking Harry if it was true Dumbledore was staying at number four with him, and how did it come about. The ones who hadn’t heard about the arrangement were surprised, to say the least. Harry muttered something vague about protection, which they seemed to buy. He wasn’t about to go into the details of his sudden guardianship transferral now, in front of a crowd. Neville asked what it was like living with the headmaster, and Harry thought hard before responding.
“Not as awkward as I thought it would be,” he replied honestly. “It was a bit, at first, but I think we’ve both got used to having the other one around now.” He carefully avoided mentioning any of the little heart-to-hearts they’d had over the course of the time they’d spent there together. Those were private. He mentioned the chess, and the fact that Albus could cook better than his Aunt (now he knew how, but Harry didn’t say that), and left it at that.
Harry had a suspicion that someone had gone around, telling everyone to make a big fuss of him this year, and he wished whoever it was (he had a strong suspicion who) hadn’t. The evidence was in the huge stack of presents on the kitchen table.
Various members of the DA had clubbed together and bought him a watch like the clock on the Weasleys’ wall, only the hands were all the DA members (Marietta Edgecombe seemed to be missing) and the places where the numbers should be were various points in battle. It wasn’t the most uplifting of presents – where number twelve should be was ‘Dead’, but he knew it would come in useful in the future battle against the Death Eaters. Molly Weasley frowned as he thanked Neville and Luna (who had brought it with them), but said nothing.
The two present Professors had each chipped in their contribution – Flitwick gave Harry a box of squeaking sugar mice like the ones he had given him last year, and Professor McGonagall had brought him a book on turning into an Animagus. Harry was surprised and pleased at the gift – he’d been curious about Animagi ever since he’d learned his father was one. McGonagall accompanied the book with strict orders not to try anything without her or Albus present, and a card that included a letter informing him his Quidditch ban was lifted. Harry was delighted.
The next present was also from a Hogwarts Professor, and also a book. Harry, who hadn’t expected Trelawney to even remember his birthday (giving that she seemed to think he was born in winter), let alone give him a present, could only have been more surprised if Snape had given him one.
Harry, who had expected a title like *1001 Ways to See Death Coming* was pleasantly surprised when he found the book was on seeing people’s auras. Hermione didn’t say anything, but Harry could tell what she was thinking – however, after reading the back, he had to admit the book sounded interesting, which was more than he could say for Trelawney’s classes. From Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy teacher, he received a smaller model of the animated dome of the galaxy he had coveted back in Diagon Alley, and from Sprout a Muggle Game Boy. It wouldn’t be any use at Hogwarts, but it would be good for the holidays. If Harry hadn’t been sure Albus had been in on the present-thing before, he certainly was now. He doubted any other students had received birthday presents from practically all their teachers.
It turned out Snape had bought him a present after all. After getting over the shock, Harry figured *someone* must have bribed/blackmailed/persuaded him to do it. He wasn’t sure he wanted a present from someone who didn’t want to give him anything, but when he saw what it was (it wasn’t wrapped), he didn’t have the heart to decline.
The grass snake curled around his wrist (Ron, who didn’t like snakes any more than he liked spiders, backed off hurriedly) and hissed, “Hello.”
“Hello,” Harry hissed back, ignoring the strange look Dennis Creevey and Mr and Mrs Weasley (who hadn’t heard him speak Parseltongue before) were giving him. Hermione whispered quickly into their ears and relief rushed across their faces.
“What’sss your name?”
“I’m Harry. What’sss yoursss?”
“I do not have one.”
“Oh. Do you want me to give you one?”
“I would like that.”
Harry considered. “What about Conan?”
“What doesss that mean?”
“It’s Celtic; it means intelligent.”
The snake’s tongue flickered. “I like that name.”
“Good. Conan it isss.”
Conan draped himself round Harry’s neck while he opened the rest of his presents. Hermione had bought him a jar of broom-handle polish (he’d mentioned his previous had run out) as well as a book (big surprise) on chess strategy. Harry fully planned to read it; he might be able to avoid to losing as badly to Ron and Albus.
Dobby had added a lumpy package of (naturally) socks, none of which matched. Harry got another penknife from Remus, as the one from Sirius had been ruined back at the Department of Mysteries. Heather Louise had bought him his own copy of *Quidditch Through the Ages* and he had a pair of protective goggles from Oliver. Angelina, Alicia and Katie had each chipped in to get Harry a miniature Quidditch board with moving figures – a tiny version on the real thing for rainy days.
The Weasleys had gone overboard. Fred and George showered Harry in samples of jokes that hadn’t even made it to the shop yet, Ron had bought him his own Golden Snitch (which must have cost the earth, but Harry didn’t make a scene), Ginny had thoughtfully picked out something that looked a little like a Remembrall, except the glass was crystallized and if he held it in his hand it gave off a relaxing aura. Dead useful for stressful study and bad days. Harry felt extremely grateful – not only would it probably help with his Occlumency, but it could come in useful on a bad night. Bill had bought a small collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts he’d collected from various places. Everyone took an interest in that. Most of the items were powerfully magical, only part of their properties of which was suspected to be known. Mrs Weasley tutted at her son, saying it wasn’t really a suitable thing to give a teenage boy, but Harry was pleased – he’d always had a curiosity about Egypt as a child, and it had only increased when Ron told him about their visit there.
Mrs Weasley had knitted another jumper (“But it’s not Christmas yet!”) and baked a large selection of home-made sweets. Charlie had given Harry a miniature dragon like the Horntail one Harry had pulled out of the silk bag back in the Triwizard Tournament, only this one was a Common Welsh Green. It didn’t seem to get on very well with Harry’s new snake.
Harry was really touched.
As he helped Mrs Weasley clear away all the wrappings, Harry realized that there was one person at the party who hadn’t given him anything. Normally he wouldn’t have been particularly disappointed, but now he felt hurt. Perhaps it was a sign that Albus had finally decided Harry had had enough.
Harry’s birthday cake was huge, chocolate, layered with thick chocolate butter-icing with the words *Happy Birthday Harry* written on it and topped off with sixteen candles. Everyone sang “Happy birthday” (Fred and George added some alternate lyrics to get sternly told off by their mother) and everyone cried, “Make a wish, Harry!”
He thought hard, but it didn’t take long to decide.
*I wish for a real family that loves me* he thought, and blew out the candles.
The real surprise came when they arrived back at Privet Drive at nearly midnight. Albus, who had some paperwork to complete which he had been putting off, ordered Harry to bed, and he was glad to oblige. Leaving Albus downstairs, he made his way to his room and stopped short. Propped on his bed was something he hadn’t expected.
It was his old teddy bear.
Monty was unrecognisable. His fur was no longer threadbare, his ears had been carefully fixed back on, and he had brand new, button eyes. Rolled up in his paws was a note.
You now know why I chose not to give you your present at your party earlier. I hope you like it – I had a lot of trouble getting the eyes right. I think he appreciated it.
Harry suddenly realised he had tears in his eyes. He wiped them away, staring at the old bear. He had to admit, the kind gesture had touched him.
Albus looked up at the dog-tired raven-haired boy who descended the stairs in surprise. “Harry? I thought I told you to go to – oh,” he said, suddenly remembering the surprise he’d left. “Did you find him?”
Harry grinned and held up the transformed bear. Albus smiled. “So? What do you think?”
“I -” Harry’s words got lost and he couldn’t think of any way to verbally express his gratitude. After an awkward moment of silence, he suddenly reached forward and hugged him. Albus froze, surprised. Harry noticed and began to draw away but Albus, realizing his mistake, wound his arms round Harry and clutched him tight.
Harry didn’t want the moment to end, but he knew it would. After several minutes, Albus gently pulled away.
“Harry, you look dead on your feet. You should be in bed,” he said quietly. Harry confirmed his statement by rubbing his eyes and stifling a yawn. Albus, noticing that Harry was unlikely to make it half-way up the stairs without falling asleep, lifted the boy up, who was so tired he didn’t protest, just tucked his head in Albus’ neck and went still. Abandoning all thought of completing the paperwork, Albus carried Harry swiftly upstairs and deposited him in the bed, which had stayed as a double. Deciding work could wait, he used magic to change them both into pyjamas, pulled out the chain around his neck that held the enchanted emerald twin to the one he’d given Harry, and placed it on the bedside table, before sliding in beside Harry, who was already asleep.
Harry woke up still in darkness. He wondered what had caused the abrupt return to consciousness, but not for long – he felt the bed trembling and turned his head to see Albus shaking in a nightmare. He was sobbing quietly into his pillow and quivering madly. Harry pushed the covers off himself and sat up, leaning towards the elder wizard.
“Profes – Albus? Can you hear me?”
Albus moaned in his sleep. Harry couldn’t make out the words – something like, “No, not again…”
“Albus!” Harry remembered how Albus would rub his back to calm him when he had a nightmare, and reached out and rubbed Albus’ shoulder gently, whispering, “It’s alright, Albus … just a dream …”
*Talk about role reversal.*
Albus gasped and his eyes snapped open. Harry hesitated, wondering if he’d done the right thing, but Albus, still trembling slightly, rubbed his eyes and focused on Harry. He seemed to instantly relax when he saw him.
“Are you okay?” Harry whispered, continuing to rub his shoulder comfortingly. Albus nodded wordlessly, obviously still shaken.
“Bad dreams?” he asked. Albus gave a slight smile. “Just one. Thank you, Harry. Am I squashing Monty?”
Harry looked down and was surprised to find the bear – who had been in Harry’ hold – had somehow worked his way under Albus’ elbow. Albus shifted out of the way and picked him up, and then spoke to him.
“I do apologize, Monty. It seems when I am asleep I have no control over my actions.” Harry smiled, and Albus, encouraged by this, put on a gruff voice and replied.
“No problem, Mr Dumbledore. If I can put up with Dudley Dursley pulling my ears off, I can cope with some old coot using me as an arm-rest.”
Harry sniggered and joined in. “Monty, don’t be rude!”
Albus tweaked Monty’s nose slightly so it looked like he was pouting. Harry laughed out loud. Albus tried to pass Monty back to Harry, but Harry pushed him back.
“You keep him. You need him more than I do.” Their eyes met, and both laughed. Albus tucked Monty neatly in between them.
“There. Now we can share him.” Harry and Albus chuckled as they lay back down properly.
“Albus?” Harry asked quietly.
“About your … do you want to talk about it?”
There was a moment of silence before Albus replied. “Thank you Harry, but this was one thing I’d rather forget.” Harry nodded understandingly and burrowed further into the covers, putting his arms round both Albus and Monty, and feeling secure with the pair of arms that held him in return.
“Goodness, this brings back memories,” Albus chuckled into the dark. “I think I must have been about your age the last time I shared my bed with a teddy bear.”
“Did you have a bear of your own then?”
“Actually, no … I had a stuffed dog called Ruff till I was ten. Before Aberforth – er – disposed of him.”
“Flushed him down the toilet.”
“He flushed your dog down the toilet?”
“Yes … mind you, he was only five at the time – not that I ever forgave him for it.”
“Why did he?”
Albus chuckled again. For a moment Harry didn’t think he was going to answer, but then he spoke up. “Our family were going on holiday, and they requested we only took one toy animal each. I only had Ruff, so that was all right, but my brother wanted to bring his entire teddy bear collection. He had an argument with my mother and he got rid of Ruff as vengeance.”
“That wasn’t very nice.” To Harry, Aberforth Dumbledore sounded uncomfortably like Dudley Dursley.
“I didn’t notice Ruff was missing until we were about to leave. We spent about three hours looking for him before Aberforth burst into tears and confessed. We had to have a plumber in and everything. My darling brother was made to pay the bill, and the holiday got cancelled.”
Harry lay quietly, contemplating this. Maybe Aberforth wasn’t so bad after all – he *had* only been five, and he had admitted it. That made him far outstrip Dudley, in Harry’s opinion.
“I thought you said you were my age the last time you shared your bed with a teddy bear.”
“I was. When I went to Hogwarts, I only saw my brother and sister in the holidays – at least until Aberforth started school. When I was home, they used to come into my room at night – and bring their entire animal menageries. It got a bit crowded, but it’s one of my more pleasant memories.”
“You have a sister?”
Albus went quiet. Finally he said, “I used to.”
Harry swallowed, wishing he hadn’t said anything. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them for a few minutes before Albus spoke again.
“Aberforth only had bears, and Aminta had a variety of different animals – or was it the other way around? Goodness, I must be getting old if I can’t remember that.”
Harry smiled slightly.
“Yes, it must have been that way around. I remember Aminta’s favourite was the giraffe – and Aberforth got teased in his first year because he insisted on taking his entire bear collection with him.”
The silence fell again. Harry was bursting to ask about Aminta Dumbledore, but knew better. Instead he said, “Where does your brother live?”
“No idea. He travels around all over the place. He’s been to Egypt a lot; I think he likes it there particularly. He’s very interested in the Ancient artefacts. You’d better keep that collection of yours secret if you ever meet him, or he’ll have it off you faster than you can say ‘Tutankhamen’.”
Both Harry and Albus overslept the next morning. Hedwig woke them rudely by hooting loudly. Harry, who had been lying on the edge of the bed, started and fell off, and Albus, who had still had his arms round him and Monty, followed.
Both laughed as they scrambled to their feet. Hedwig hooted again indignantly.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming. What post do you have? … Albus, this one’s for you.”
Albus caught the letter flung at him in one hand, stifling a yawn with the other. He recognized Minerva’s handwriting and slit it open, his eyes widening with pleasure when he saw what was written.
Harry had already taken his post off Hedwig and left the room. He sighed and tucked the letter in his pocket. He’d surprise Harry with it later.
After breakfast found Harry absorbed in his Animagus book, Conan the snake coiled up in the sun on the windowsill. Albus left them to it, instead rounding up all of their belongings, which had somehow got scattered all over the place. When he checked on Harry again, he’d turned to the Game Boy. Albus made a mental note to ask him how to work that thing, and called Dobby.
“Yes, Professor Dumbledore, sir?”
He lowered his voice so Harry couldn’t hear.
“Dobby, can you return to Hogwarts and tell Minerva I got her message, and Harry and I will be arriving tomorrow.”
The elf’s eyes widened. “We is going back to Hogwarts?”
“Yes, Dobby. I think Harry and I can manage on our own until then.”
“Very good, sir. Dobby will see you at Hogwarts!” The elf smiled and disappeared with a *crack*.
Harry couldn’t sleep that night. It was nearing four in the morning. Albus had dropped off hours ago. Harry was lying still, on the edge of the bed away from him.
The prospect of returning to Hogwarts had far from cheered him. In fact, it was the reason he was unable to sleep. He had acted happy when Albus had told him the news, but he wasn’t.
He guiltily recalled all the attention Albus had been giving him ever since he’d arrived at Privet Drive. When Harry had put aside his bitter feelings for the sake of some comfort, he had no way of knowing what trouble it would land him in.
Because, once Harry was back at school, Albus, he knew, would no longer have time for him, what with being the headmaster. Harry wouldn’t be able to go to him any time he liked, and there was the matter of the nights. He was sure that, had he not reached out to Albus (or was it the other way around? He wasn’t sure), it wouldn’t be so bad. Sirius, wonderful as he had been, hadn’t been a very good fatherly figure. Now Harry had had a taster of what it was like to have someone always there, to offer him the parental support he’d secretly craved all his life, it would hurt ten times more.
It seemed whenever he found someone he could turn to, they left him.
Harry also felt guilty for feeling like this; wanting to keep Albus – *Dumbledore* – with him, when he surely had more important things to do. He’d already lost his holiday because of him. Try as he might, Harry just couldn’t bring himself to accept the fact that Albus *wanted* to be with him.
He didn’t believe Albus’ claim to loving him either, although he desperately wanted to. No-one had ever said it to him before; why should they start now? He was sure everything Albus had said and done was to clear his own guilty conscience.
Harry heard Albus stirring beside him. He kept still, hoping he would go back to sleep, but no such luck.
“Harry? Are you awake?”
He knew from experience that summer that it was pointless to pretend, so he nodded, keeping his head turned away, ignoring the screams from his instincts.
“Nightmare?” Albus asked gently, placing a hand lightly on Harry’s shoulder. Harry shrugged it off and Albus paused, confused. “I thought we’d moved on from that.” He spoke lightly but could not conceal a trace of hurt in his voice. Harry bit back his guilt and said nothing.
“Harry? What’s wrong?”
He could almost see the frown. “That’s not true. Something’s bothering you.”
“It’s nothing,” Harry insisted.
Albus sighed. “Remind me that we need to work on sharing your feelings more.”
“Better hurry up, then. We go back to Hogwarts tomorrow – I mean, today.” Harry tried to speak matter-of-factly, but Albus noticed the underline of bitterness.
“Is that what the problem is? Going back to Hogwarts?” His tone sounded somewhere between incredulous, hopeful and disbelieving.
There was silence for a minute. Harry could feel Albus staring at him. He couldn’t picture the expression on his face, but judging by his tone of voice, it seemed he’d caught him off-guard.
Albus watched the teenager carefully, before lying back down beside him and stroking his back gently. As well as offering affection, it gave him time to puzzle out Harry’s answer. Harry, however, loosened up enough to accept the attention and pressed himself into it, secretly relishing the gentle touch in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible before that summer. He figured Albus was still trying to work out what he meant, and decided to help him out, despite his normal plan, which was to keep his feelings concealed from everybody.
“It’s just… I’ll miss all this.”
Albus was silent. After a long pause he reached out and pulled Harry into a loose hug, who despite himself, welcomed the embrace and turned into it, wrapping his arms around him.
“Harry,” Albus started, “obviously, when we’re back at Hogwarts things will be a bit different, but I don’t want anything to change between us.”
“Really?” Harry asked, surprised. Albus nodded.
“Yes. You know you can come to me any time.”
“Even in the middle of the night?” Harry half-joked.
Harry fell silent, thinking.
“Harry, I have a – spare room opposite my own; if – if you wish, it… can be yours. For as long as you want.”
“Yes, *really*. I wouldn’t be offering if I wasn’t sure.”
Harry was silent for a moment, thinking about it. The offer had left him with a sudden warmth of gratitude. He pulled himself closer, whispering, “Thanks.”
Albus smiled. “And you’re always welcome to come and wake me if you need to – if you’re having a bad night, or just want some company… just don’t use water to do it. I’ve never liked a wet bed.”
There was a pause before they both laughed.
“Better?” Albus asked.
Harry nodded, yawning. “Lots.” He snuggled further into Albus’ embrace, ready to go to sleep.
“I’ll let you sleep in later if you want, seeing how you’ve been awake all night.” Albus paused, but Harry had already fallen asleep.
Albus left Harry asleep and went downstairs by himself later. The post had arrived, bringing mail from Madam Pomfrey. She’d sent a potion for Harry’s bike-pump wounds with strict instructions, and a reply to his request to research the other problem.
Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, but I only just received your letter. I’ve been researching Latnem Misfacio like you asked, and have enclosed what I have found out.
I don’t know what you think, but I don’t think what you described necessarily sounds like Latnem. The circumstances don’t fit – he seems to be almost normal during the day, or as normal as a boy who’s just lost his godfather can act. Also, you said he’s been suffering from nightmares – they could be completely unrelated; Harry has been through a lot recently, it’s only to be expected, and sometimes the Dreamless Sleep Potion doesn’t work. The only thing that sounds similar is the wounds on the wrists. This is not my area of expertise, so have a look at what I’ve enclosed and talk to someone who has a better understanding of it than I do. I’m sorry I cannot be of more help.
Honestly I have no idea what else it could be – unless it’s not an illness he has. If it’s not, you have a big problem on your hands; it sounds to me like it could be Dark magic. This is not my area of expertise, so you’ll have to look for other help there. I’ve sent what I found from my research, but I don’t think it quite adds up. Have a look yourself and see what you think.
Albus put aside the letter and unfolded the sheaf of parchment that came with it.
Ten minutes later, he put it aside and put his head in his hands.
*This is very bad.*
Dark magic they could deal with. Latnem Misfacio was another story.
“Harry, wake up! HARRY! Harry, wake up, now!”
Harry groaned and turned over, cringing as someone pulled off his covers.
“Harry, come on, get up, this is an emergency!”
“Whaa…” Harry mumbled. Someone seized his shoulders, pulling him up.
“Albus … what …?”
“Harry, come on, wake up, get your wand, now!”
A shower of something cold and wet sprayed over him. He gasped, now fully awake. Albus was pulling him to his feet hurriedly, thrusting his wand into his hand. Harry could hear noises outside his room – screaming, banging and a crackling sound.
Albus had his own wand out. He seized Harry by the arm and pulled him out onto the landing. The screaming and banging was coming from the locked doors. The crackling was downstairs. Harry and Albus started down them, but stopped halfway.
The kitchen was ablaze, and thick smoke was filling the hall. Harry and Albus began to choke and the older wizard pulled Harry back up the stairs as the carpet caught light. Albus sprayed water from his wand, but it only made the fire worse.
The noises from the other upstairs rooms were becoming more and more frantic. Harry pointed his wand and yelled, “Alohomora!”
He had been concentrating on making the spell powerful enough to open all the doors, but wasn’t prepared for them to be blasted off their hinges, expelling the Dursleys in a cloud of dust. Vernon roared when he saw Albus and started towards him, but he neatly dodged him and pulled Harry into the Dursleys’ room.
Harry shot the Reductor Curse at the window, but to his surprise the window stayed intact, the glass absorbing the spell. Albus tried too, but the same thing happened.
It was becoming more and more difficult to breathe. Harry slammed the bedroom door shut and Petunia, who seemed to have snapped out of her panic, blocked up the crack at the bottom with the bedclothes.
Albus tried spell after spell, but the window soaked up each one, staying as solid as ever. Vernon pushed him aside and flung the dressing-table stool at it. Splinters of wood flew everywhere, but no glass.
They were trapped. Dudley was shaking in his mother’s arms. Vernon was attempting to break the window using brute force. Harry and Albus crouched low to the ground, the former clutching at his headmaster, who had one arm round him firmly and clutching his wand in the other. Several times he tried to say an incantation, but they were all coughing on the smoke seeping fast into the room. Finally he managed to choke out, “Portus!” at one of Uncle Vernon’s slippers.
“Everyone grab on!”
Harry lunged for the slipper at the same time as Petunia and Dudley. Albus turned to Vernon, who was still frantically trying to shatter the glass.
“Dursley, here, quick!”
Vernon took another swing at the window.
“You can’t do it like that! Come on, I’ll get us out of here!”
“You FREAKS!” Vernon roared. “You did this! You brought all this down on my family, you and your blasted kind, so excuse me if I don’t want to put my faith in your magic right now!”
The door burst into flames.
“VERNON!” Petunia screamed, but was cut off as Albus grabbed the Portkey, activating it. Harry felt a familiar jerk around his navel and the Dursleys’ house was lost in a whirl of wind and colour.
***IMPORTANT*** Author’s Note
In light of some points expressed in some reviews I’ve received, I’ve decided to answer them here in a group in addition to the review responses.
- Heather Louise will NOT take over the story – she has been given a main part in chapters 3-5, because this is where she is being introduced. As the story continues, she will become a less major part until near the end, where she will play a major role – the reason she was brought into this fic in the first place. The story will circulate around Harry and Albus all the way through.
- In terms of timelines, the story will continue well into term, and I can guarantee it will go past Christmas – it will probably end somewhere after Easter. Twenty chapters minimum (probably more if I continue to write long chapters that need to be cut).
- Albus never had kids, so Heather Louise can’t be his grand-daughter. She’s only 26, so there’s no way in heck she can be Harry’s mother. I’m not saying any more on the subject.
- Lastly, I don’t think I made it clear in the previous chapter that the Dursleys are all locked in separate rooms – Vernon’s in the bathroom, Petunia in her bedroom and Dudley in his room. It’s a necessary precaution. Can you imagine what Vernon would have tried to do to Albus if he wasn’t locked up? Er, perhaps you don’t want to think about that. Understandable. Having them shut away keeps them out of trouble. Don’t worry, they’re being fed – well, sort of. Look back at Vernon’s scene in ch 5
About Aberforth: I know perfectly well he’s the barman of the Hog’s Head. However, I started this fic before I found out, and by the time I had he was too involved in this fic for me to change. I did try to edit this in several different ways, but I couldn’t. So this is a very non-canon Aberforth Dumbledore. Enjoy my characterization of him, and please don’t criticize me.
A note to Anastasia: Thanks so much for the banner, and Chocolat_Chaud has asked me to tell you how brilliant it is
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