Chapter 4 : Chapter 4: Many Meetings
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Before Harry could ask what that meant, the door to the drawing room burst open so violently that it smashed into the wall, the doorknob leaving a dent in the plaster. It very nearly rebounded shut again on Tonks, who stood framed in the doorway with an enormous grin; today her hair was candy-apple red, and she wore lipstick to match.
"Happy Birthday, Harry!" she shouted, crossing nearly the whole length of the room in one leap to plant a sticky kiss on his cheek, which Harry was certain had left a red imprint that would last all day. Lupin's eyes lit up as she launched to his side and left her mark on him as well. "Come on, you two, you can spare a bit of time for fun! Let's celebrate!"
Lupin tried to pull her into his lap, though it might have been easier to harness a moth; she had no intention of settling quietly into a chair. "No! Bad dog!" she scolded, leering, as she wriggled away. "Harry's got a birthday and a wedding: we're going shopping!"
Lupin closed his eyes and shook his head. "Adora..." He glanced helplessly at Harry, who sat back and soaked up the whole scene with a glowing smile.
"No use looking to 'im, he's coming too. Now get up, both of you!" She pulled Lupin out of his chair and gave Harry a no-nonsense look. Resisting will only prolong the agony, he thought, and obediently got to his feet.
As soon as he Disapparated, Harry was more glad than ever that he'd given his Triwizard Cup winnings to Fred and George. Their shop was by far the liveliest on Diagon Alley, and its colorful cheer did much to offset the gloom of boarded-up storefronts like Ollivander's, or Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. A few other shops were closed as well, but at least there were some people strolling the brick street. Harry wondered if the whole alley might have been abandoned, if not for the defiant mischief of "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes."
They made quite a parade, Harry, Tonks, and Lupin, with their entourage of members of the Order. At least a dozen foreign sorcerers had joined them for the opportunity to see Diagon Alley, while "regulars" like Mad-Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt were carefully keeping Harry in their sight. Bystanders watched with wide eyes as they passed, and frequently tagged along after them. Noses began to press against the windows of shops; the show of strength in the street began to set people at ease. Before they had made their way to Gringott's, there were crowds in the Alley again, for the first time in many months.
With a bag full of Galleons (which he hoped would be enough), Harry followed Tonks' advice and stopped first at the joke shop. Having noted a glint in her eye, he suspected he was in for some suprise, and was delighted to find he was correct: Ron stood behind the counter, beaming at Harry as he entered the shop. "About time, mate! Couldn't they get you out of bed today, what?" said Ron, as he abandoned the counter and threw his arms joyfully around his friend.
"Eh, you're still on the clock! Get back to work!" boomed Fred, or George, loudly from the back of the room.
"Think because you're family, you can slack?" asked the other. But even as they teased Ron, they, too, rushed forward to clap Harry convivially on the shoulders.
"You really work for these idiots, Ron?" Harry asked with a wink.
"Can you believe it? We'll hire anything," said one of the twins, as the other casually twisted Ron into a headlock, rubbing his hair with something that instantly caused every strand to stand on end. Ron wrenched himself free, grumbling about his brothers' uncertain parentage, as he unsuccessfully attempted to mash his hair back down.
"Come upstairs, Harry, we've got you something special," said George quietly. He pointed at Ron and said "You! Mind the till!" Ron dropped his jaw to protest, but Fred made some sort of hand motion that Harry missed, and Ron sulkily acceeded. The twins half-ushered, half-carried him to the back of the shop before he could protest.
"Dress robes, Harry! We ordered them from China," said Fred, as they clambered noisily up the stairs.
"Pure silk," said George. "Stunning."
"Amazing what nice stuff can come from a worm's behind," commented Fred.
"Guys! Hey! You weren't supposed to buy them for me! I can order things, too, you know--" said Harry, but he was cut off when Fred's hand clamped over his mouth.
"Silence, lad!" George said, as he held open the door at the top of the landing. "We never forget a favor, do we, Fred?"
"Can't let a good deed go unpunished, brother!" With that they flung Harry firmly onto a surprisingly soft couch, where he landed beside a parcel wrapped in red rice paper. Though he could clobber them for spending what was obviously a lot of money on him, he had to admit he could never have found such elegant things on his own. The black robes were incredibly soft, and when he held them up, the light playing across the surface revealed hints of dark green and purple within the fibers. Harry gaped wordlessly at Fred and George.
"Let's see them on you, Harry," said Fred, but Harry was still too busy admiring both the gift (and the goodwill behind it) to pay attention.
"You heard him! Strip!" said George. The two of them raised their eyebrows at each other, and Harry realized his robes and trousers were around his ankles. He'd barely seen either of the twins move.
"All right, all right, geez! I'm glad I put on clean underwear today," he grumbled as he pushed his arms into the new sleeves.
"Us too, mate," said Fred, tugging the back of the robe over his head.
There was a rare moment of silence as both twins regarded him. "Well?" said Harry, though he could tell by their identical smug grins that the robes were a go.
"Sharp, Harry," said Fred.
"We've truly outdone ourselves this time," said George proudly.
They threatened to disintegrate his other robes if he tried to put them back on before showing off their excellent taste to the crew downstairs. Harry hardly had any robes to spare, since Fawkes had just done the same thing to another set. When Tonks and Ron both whistled at him, though, his face grew very warm and he retreated up the stairs.
Harry slumped at the long table in the basement kitchen. He felt like staring at a blank gray wall for the rest of the evening. How Tonks could possibly have kept on shopping was more than he could fathom. It wasn't enough that she'd made him try on dozens of linen shirts and a herd of leather boots. Then she had dragged them all up and down Diagon Alley three times to "help" Harry find a wedding gift: the first time they apparently had to look at every single thing that could possibly be purchased, the second to reexamine a few dozen things she liked best, then finally to dart back and forth indecisively between the last three options. She finally recommended a cauldron made of malachite, which Harry had liked as soon as he'd seen it, hours earlier.
Lupin looked no better, although there was an improved flavor to the exhaustion of the bedraggled boyfriend, compared to the careworn leader of the Order. Though barely more than arm's length from the ice chest, Lupin used his wand to summon two butterbeers to the table, and even made them open themselves. "Cheers, mate," he said as he slid one across to Harry, and they each downed half a bottle in one draught.
"Good birthday, was it?" asked Lupin.
They stared at grain of the wood table in complete silence, broken only by the gentle thuds as their bottles returned to its surface.
"See the new Firebolts?" asked Harry listlessly.
"Nice," mumbled Lupin.
When Harry's bottle was empty, he gazed up at Lupin without lifting his head. Lupin peered at him through half-lidded eyes and flicked his wand wordlessly to bring out two more.
A pair of Russian witches, loaded down with shopping bags, eventually came down the stairs. They regarded the scene at the table, then each other, finally bursting into giggles. From there, however, the ladies completely ignored them, chattering to each other in their own language as they bustled about the kitchen, clanging pots and cauldrons and unloading groceries. The empty bottles were whisked away and, to Harry's surpise, replaced with plates heaped with steaming food. Sitting down beside them, the witches handed each of them a bottle bearing an unreadable label. "Kvass," said one, raising her own bottle and pointing at it. Marveling that most of his day had been spent obeying the will of incomprehensible women, Harry clinked his bottle to theirs. "Thank you," he said, hoping they understood.
The one beside Lupin smiled across the table. "Pazhayulsta," she said.
The rich food only made Harry's tired daze more intense, but he felt guilty when the witches shoved him roughly back down in his chair when he tried to help them clean up. "Accept it graciously, Harry," said Lupin. "They won't do it every night, don't worry. But you'll be amazed at the generosity that flows through this house. I just wish Sirius could have felt some of it." They regarded one another sadly.
It happened again. The kitchen disappeared, and Harry was in Lupin's mind. It was different this time, though. After the immense complexity of Fawkes, Harry felt as though Lupin's mind was laid out before him in an orderly tableau, where he was free to wander at will. Presently at the forefront was Sirius. His best friend, abandoned in Azkaban, then imprisoned in his own house, lonely, powerless...then finally stolen for good. Silent tears as he carefully wrapped Sirius's possessions, moved them to the attic, jinxed them against Kreacher's malicious tampering. Tonks. She brought color into his gray life, yet he was terrified that one full moon, she would disappear in a flood of dark red. Deeper than that, the awareness of his thinning hair, his fraying clothes. How long could it last, before someone young, someone with a future, caught her eye and brought her to her senses? Colorless remnants of a dream; Tonks was starving to death, wasting away, crawling through an empty graveyard, calling for Harry Potter...
With the same vertiginous sensation as he'd felt with Mrs. Figg, Harry saw himself through Lupin's eyes. His terrible grief for James had dulled over the years--until he met James' son. All the best parts of James, wrapped up and repackaged with the best of Lily Evans. He hoped desperately that the son would not share the parents' fate, cut down just as they'd begun to bloom. Harry combed through this part of his mind delicately, deliberately, certain he would find jealousy or resentment, but there was none. The dream had been an aberrance, meaningless remains of the day. Lupin held no envy of Harry's youth or wealth. In fact, Harry felt a flicker of envy of the peace at Lupin's core, for his sad but complete acceptance of the twisted path of his fate.
It occurred to Harry that he could withdraw from Lupin's mind of his own accord, and he did so, easing himself back into the kitchen. Lupin was shaking, his eyes wide, his fingers white from their grip on the table. Feeling strangely numb, Harry wondered why he had never felt the fear that was so obviously present in these minds when he touched them. "Why is it so frightening?" he asked evenly.
Lupin drew a stuttering breath and dropped his hands in his lap. It took him a moment to compose an answer. "I guess it shouldn't be...it's not painful." He paused again. "I've done Legilimency, had it done to me...but Harry, there was no wand, no warning! It's...rather a whole new meaning of vulnerability, to find someone else just right there, inside your mind. You can't get much more naked than that."
"I'm sorry, Remus," said Harry, and did a mental double-take; Lupin had never asked him to stop calling him 'Professor Lupin,' but Harry knew he'd been planning to. "This was the first time I've been able to end it on my own, but I still can't control the onset."
Biting his thumbnail absently, Lupin said, "It's okay. I think Ondossi can help you, when she gets back. She's looked me in the eye for a month now and she's never..."
"Violated you?" said Harry, still dispassionate.
Lupin averted his eyes with a mirthless laugh, and took a long pull at his drink before looking at Harry with a disconcerted expression. "That's, uh, that's one way to put it, I suppose. Heavens above, Harry, you're sounding...pretty spooky."
"I feel spooky, Remus. I felt it last night, with Fawkes. We were falling so fast, I knew I would die, but I felt...nothing. Not afraid, not angry, just...blank. I don't know what it means."
"Me either." They sat quietly for a moment, and Lupin finished off his bottle.
"This house is yours."
"You heard me. I'll keep my room, but the house belongs to you now."
Lupin's brows drew together with concern. "What are you--"
Harry interrupted. "I saw the wolf in your mind, Remus. I couldn't go near it. I can't pull it out of you. But I'm tired of watching it drive you. I want you to make this place a home for you and Tonks."
"Harry, I can't accept--"
"You can. Graciously. Goodnight, Remus." Harry pushed back from the table and went upstairs without another word. The Russian witches watched him go, then wondered aloud, in their native tongue, what the boy had said to the man at the table to make him cry so hard.
Harry awoke in his cavelike bedroom feeling like his normal self, but he could perfectly recall the strange way he'd felt the night before with Lupin. At the time, he knew exactly what he was saying and had an excellent reason for saying it. Now, however, the reasons weren't quite so clear anymore, and he felt a bit abashed.
He passed a small group of unknown sorcerers, standing before the screeching portrait of Lady Black. "...just cut out that whole section of wall..." "...paint over the canvas in a solid color..." "...savages, blood traitors..." He shook his head, grinning, as he passed; the portrait was irritating, sure, but at least you always knew exactly what to expect from her.
There was a larger crowd in the kitchen, some of whom he recognized from the trip to the Alley. He dished himself a serving bowl of sweetened rice from the stove, but the table was so loud and full, he decided to duck out into the courtyard to eat it. Lady Black spotted him this time and bellowed her displeasure that he dared to surrender her manor to a non-human, and then it was all fresh grass and sunlight.
Mad-Eye Moody was also dining in the courtyard, leaning against a wall in shadow. Harry gave him an inquisitive look, and Moody beckoned him over, a sunbeam winking off the metal flask in his outstretched hand. Harry had wanted to sit in the grass, but opted to hunker along the wall the same as Moody.
Harry discovered that the rice was extremely sticky. The best he could manage was a muffled "Hey." He reflected that he had no idea what to call Moody now--he had a funny feeling he had yet to earn the privilege of 'Alastor.'
"Quite a trip, yesterday." said Moody. Harry nodded and wished he'd thought to bring some water. Moody poked at a scoop of melon on his plate and raised his brow at Harry, who gratefully took a nice juicy piece. As soon as it touched his tongue, however, Harry realized he'd made a huge mistake. He rolled his eyes back into his head and began twitching, more and more violently, then fell facedown into the grass.
He hoped Moody was smiling. When Moody's hat whapped into the back of his head, Harry knew it was safe to get up. "Smart alec," grumbled the professor. "At least you remembered, though it would've been too late to save yourself, of course."
"Come on, don't you feel safe even in here?" asked Harry, even as he realized he had no idea who had fixed the rice he was eating.
"Potter, as of a month ago, I am the oldest living Auror in 300 years. Why do you suppose that is?"
"Happy birthday," said Harry meekly.
Despite the silence and paranoia, Harry enjoyed eating outside with Moody; the old man would have made a classic grandfather, had he lived in a more placid time. Moody offered him more chunks of melon, always with the same gruff manner that belied the kindness behind the gesture.
"It's good to see so many new faces," said Moody distantly. "Lot of sharp heads mulling things over. Slows things a bit, too, though." He set down his plate and regarded Harry carefully. Harry wondered what it would be like to sink into the "mind" of that magical eye, when he felt himself sliding into Moody.
"Ah, ah, ah, boy, no yeh don't." Harry blinked, and needed a moment to realize what just happened, or, more importantly, what didn't happen. He was positive he had started to connect to Moody's mind--how could he still be sitting here? Then Harry realized that Moody was grinning so smugly, he bore a slight resemblance to Fred and George.
"You're an Occlumens," Harry said.
"'Course I am," scowled Moody. "Though I've never tried it with a Legilimagus, wasn't sure if I could do it without the wand and all. I was hoping you wouldn't mind giving it a go."
"Anytime," Harry replied, feeling an intense flood of relief that at least someone had some control over his new power. "You didn't ask the other one, Ondossi?"
Moody gazed pensively into the distance. "Never. I don't trust her. Albus did, rest his soul, but we've all learned even he could be fooled, ha'nt we?" Harry nodded, also lost in memory, grinding his teeth, then changed the subject.
"Are you going to the wedding?"
"Nah," shrugged Moody. "Can't stand 'em. Security nightmare, all those strangers, everyone facing away from the door, food left out unwatched all evening...to say naught of the mushy stuff! They may as well pass out the stilettos at the door, all those idiots hugging and dancing." Harry couldn't help but laugh, Moody was such a grumpy old bachelor.
But then he caught Moody's eye again, and fell into a well of loneliness so deep he couldn't see the bottom before Moody pushed him back out into the courtyard.
Moody immediately pulled his hat down, not to cover the magical eye as was his custom, but the human one. Harry felt the eerie calm begin descend in him, but he shook it off, undoubtedly because the encounter was so quick--but looking squarely at the bulging, vibrating bulb of the "mad eye" was also enough to unsettle anyone. In the absence of the numbing calm, Harry felt very self-conscious again. Unfortunately, he was unable to tell from the old man's distorted features whether he was angry, afraid, or indifferent.
"Quick little prat, you are," Moody finally grumbled, though without rancor.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I don't know how to stop myself. I'm glad that you could stop me."
Moody nodded, shifting his hat back above his brow again. "There's many kinds of powers that can't be controlled, Potter. Take werewolves. I find the ones that fear what they've become are rarely a problem. The ones that relish it...they're the ones I keep me eye on." He peered sternly over his ruined nose at Harry. "Remember that as you go getting your feet wet."
The house quieted down after breakfast, as members of the Order departed to their tasks. Harry had no idea how many people were actually living in the house, or whether it was just a central meeting point that emptied every night. He wandered through the halls a while, careful not to disturb Lady Black, then returned to his room and flopped on his bed to peer out the window. He'd had enough rest, enough play; it was time to get to work.
After sitting quietly for a few seconds, however, he realized that there was a sound coming from his trunk. Flipping it open, he shoved things around until he found the phone. "Hermione?"
"Hi, Harry! I'm so glad you finally answered! How are you?"
"Fine," he said on autopilot. "Well, not exactly fine, more like okay..." So much had happened since the last time he'd spoken to Hermione, it was hard to believe less than two days had passed. It took a long time to fill her in about Fawkes and the latest episodes of Legilimency, then when she found out he'd gone shopping on Diagon Alley, she insisted on hearing all about that as well. Then he remembered something else: "Say...did you know Ron's been working for Fred and George?"
"He has? Not as a product tester, I hope."
Harry chuckled. "I don't know, I just had a few minutes with him; he was behind the counter when I saw him."
"Well! I wonder why he never mentioned it."
Harry had a feeling Ron wasn't particularly proud that he needed to take a paying job when everyone else was on holiday. "Yeah, funny. And you'll never guess where Hagrid is," said Harry, changing the subject.
"Oops, no, not if it's business--just wait and tell me at the wedding. It's only a few more days."
"Yeah. He may even be back to tell us himself. Although I wonder now if I might not make it."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm not going to sit around any longer. I thought I'd do a bit of research for the next couple days."
Harry palmed his forehead. It was bad enough he'd slipped in front of Moody with the melon business that morning; he could just feel the cogs winding up in Hermione's mind. So much for a quiet exit, he thought.
"I won't ask where you're going, only who else is going with you..." said Hermione pointedly.
Harry wished the cursed batteries on the phone would run out. "Erm, well, I hadn't decided just yet...still in the planning stages--"
"Do NOT tell me you were going to just head off on your own!!"
Harry cleared his throat. "Okay." Another mistake. Little jokes worked on Ron, but they only sent Hermione into overdrive. Holding the phone away from his head helped a little. "Hermione...Herm--...Herm--" It was simply too soon. Harry tossed the phone on the bed so he could rummage properly through his trunk for some traveling clothes.
When the thin droning had noticeably dropped in pitch, he picked it back up. "Okay, look, I see it wasn't a good idea, all right? I'll take someone with me."
"I should think so, too! Where should I meet you?" she demanded.
"Whoa, whoa, you're not--"
"I most certainly am, Harry James Potter! Do you know why? Because I already know you're planning on giving whoever goes with you the slip! I can be in the fireplace at Number Tw--"
Harry interrupted with a violent "Shh!" which meant "zip it" in Parseltongue.
"Sorry," continued Hermione. "I mean, I can be...where you are in half an hour."
"See you then," said Harry, and hung up with a sigh.
"You know," said a snide voice, making Harry jump, "if you don't learn to set your foot down with these women now, it'll only get worse."
Harry glared at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus near his bed. "Keep snooping and I may set it down right through your canvas."
"Mendicant!" spat Phineas, but he promptly disappeared beyond the left side of the frame.
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