Thursday, five days later, Harry sat still on the edge of his bed, his arms at his sides, his feet comfortably flat on the floor. He was completely silent; not humming, not chanting under his breath — nothing. His mind was blank, filled only with a lightness and calm, as if he were floating in nothingness.
“Very good, Harry,” voiced the Dumbledore card, breaking the silence. “Very good.”
The sound reached Harry as though through a light fog, but it was enough to slowly bring into focus the world around him. He opened his eyes and the smallest bedroom of Privet Drive, his present sanctuary, came into focus. Light was streaming in through the window and he felt the warmth of the sun on his flesh.
“What were you feeling just then, Harry?” came the question from where the card was sitting, in its pewter base on his desk, the image of Dumbledore eyeing him intently.
“I was feeling… nothing, really. It was just a void, I suppose. Silent… white,” Harry replied, struggling a little to put the feeling into words.
“And for how long did you feel this?” Dumbledore asked.
“Only moments, sir.”
“Good… very good,” the card praised him. “Now look around you and tell me how long.”
Harry glanced at the sunbeams coming through the window and then to the clock on the bureau. The time was a quarter past noon.
“Over two hours?” he exclaimed. “How could that be, sir? It seemed to be no time at all!”
“You are taking to meditation very nicely, Harry. It is a valuable discipline; these exercises will help you greatly in the study of Occlumency.” Dumbledore paused and sighed. “We shall have to find you a true teacher soon - I am afraid all I can do for you at present is to guide you through these exercises of mental discipline.”
“Why did Snape never give me anything like this to do, sir?” Harry questioned.
“I suspect, Harry, that Professor—” he stressed the title, “—Snape found it necessary many years ago, due to certain hardships, to protect his mind. I think he did so, in a way by simply muting out much of his humanity and has, sadly, very little wealth of emotion that he must hide in order to successfully Occlude.”
“No strong emotions? How can that be true? He hated my dad and his friends!”
“That’s true, Harry,” Dumbledore responded. “I am not saying that Severus does not feel things strongly, but rather that his emotional range is somewhat narrow. The emotions he tends to feel acutely are jealousy, envy, hatred… I have a feeling that it is the nature of his emotions that make him such a formidable Occlumens.
“Hatred is a powerful emotion — almost impossible to conceal from an accomplished Legilimens — but it is also a slippery, cloudy emotion, and easily twisted and disguised. Purer emotions; love, grief, happiness, are far more difficult to belie. Hatred, by its very nature, obscures itself easily in deceit and partial truths.”
After an audible breath, Dumbledore continued, “Professor Snape’s success at Occlumency lies less in preventing someone from accessing his thoughts, and more in his ability to adapt and shape his thoughts to what he wishes the Legilimens to see.” He paused for a moment, looking contemplative. “I suppose that what he practices is not even true Occlumency — true Occlumency entails building strong mental barriers, not dealing in deceit.”
His tone lightened. “And in order to do that, you must learn how to make your mind first blank, and then a protected place, hence these meditative exercises. And as I said, I am extremely pleased with your progress!” He smiled, his eyes crinkling at their edges beneath his half moon spectacles.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
On Harry’s first morning at Privet Drive, he had awoken from a deep and peaceful sleep. His dreams, if he had dreamed at all, had been pleasant and calming — not the type of dreams that linger in your consciousness or wake you in distress.
Upon waking, Harry had immediately retrieved a Dumbledore card from his collection, set it in the enchanted base and greeted his former headmaster. They talked at length about the events of the previous evening at Privet Drive, and Harry had asked whether Dumbledore had any idea what Aunt Petunia could wish to talk to him about. The card, however, could provide no insight, and so they concluded that Harry would have to wait for his aunt to raise the issue again. They were interrupted then, by a sharp knock on the door and his aunt’s shrill voice summoning Harry to breakfast.
It being a Sunday morning, Harry could hear his Uncle Vernon in the sitting room listening to a political program, with a nasal sounding commentator going on about Parliament something-or-other.
Again, Aunt Petunia had prepared him a plate, this time kept warm in the oven: sausages and kippers, toast with jam and scrambled eggs. Harry sat on the same stool he’d used the night before and thankfully ate as he listened to his aunt puttering in the dining room behind him and spritzing plants with a spray bottle in the adjoining patio sun room. He finished and washed his dishes as before and then stepped quietly around to the patio.
Harry stood silently in the narrow doorway for a moment and then softly and politely spoke, “Aunt Petunia?” She turned to him, her face expressionless. “I was wondering if there was anything you needed help with?”
“No,” she replied, then after a short pause, added, “but perhaps you would do a bit of weeding in the garden later this afternoon?”
“I’ll do that,” Harry agreed. And, as she turned back to the plants she was tending to with her garishly gloved hands, he considered the conversation concluded and returned to his room.
Upon reaching his room Harry sat down on the edge of his bed and waited for Dumbledore to appear on the face of the Chocolate Frog card. When he did, after only a few moments, the two of them began the conversation that Harry had been looking forward to the least — the one in which he would explain the circumstances of Dumbledore’s death.
After a few encouraging words and reassurances from the card, Harry recounted the tale — beginning with his summons to the Headmaster’s office. In as much detail as he could, he recalled his encounter with Professor Trelawney, her sherry bottles and the Room of Requirement. He continued, uninterrupted, to his anger at learning that Snape had been the one to reveal the prophecy to Voldemort, and the way in which he had yelled at Dumbledore, lost in his fury. The Dumbledore card made small noises of understanding at times, but did not interrupt.
Harry told of how he had asked Ron and Hermione to patrol the hallways and watch out for Malfoy and Snape. How he had given them the vial of Felix Felicis and asked them to share it with whatever D.A. members they could round up to help. Then he recounted going to the cave.
The memories flooded back as Harry recalled the chilling cold breeze of the sea and the salt air, as he described swimming into the cave, and Dumbledore’s careful inspection of its interior, finding the hidden passage and then opening it with blood.
Harry described the interior chamber and moving along the lake edge to find the hidden boat on its chain, and mentioned his attempt to use the Summoning Charm. He told of seeing the Inferi beneath the water as the boat approached the island and of how Dumbledore had determined to drink the potion from the stone basin, insisting that Harry ensure that he completed the task.
The first cracks in Harry’s voice came as he described his feelings while forcing Dumbledore to drink the potion. How he lied in response to Dumbledore’s pleadings and pushed the eighth and ninth goblets upon him, how he could not get the goblet to remain full of water as Dumbledore begged of him and how the Inferi began to attack when, in his desperation, he drew water from the lake.
As completely as he could, Harry described their escape: how Dumbledore fought off the Inferi with fire and how, once they had reached the mouth of the cave, Harry had been able to Apparate them back to Hogsmeade.
Tears finally began to fall as Harry described the Dark Mark; Rosmerta appearing and pointing it out to them, and their desperate flight to the castle on borrowed brooms.
Harry had to slow down as he retold his witnessing of the encounter with Malfoy from beneath his Invisibility Cloak — frozen there by Dumbledore’s Freezing Charm — and of the arrival of the other Death Eaters, and how Snape had finally come and taken Dumbledore’s life with Avada Kedavra.
There were several pauses, through which the Dumbledore card remained patient and encouraging, as Harry recounted the battle with the Death Eaters, chasing Snape out onto the grounds and dueling with him fruitlessly; Hagrid’s hut burning and then discovering the false Horcrux, and the note from the mysterious R.A.B. It was here that the Dumbledore card finally reacted, with a sudden gasp of what Harry thought was enlightened surprise — the sort of gasp that comes as you discover the last hidden piece of a puzzle — but he bade Harry continue nonetheless.
Harry described the aftermath of the battle and the comparing of stories in the Infirmary around Bill Weasley’s bedside, where they heard Fawkes’ mourning song, and then of being questioned by Professor McGonagall, but refusing to tell her where they had been that night. He spoke of his feelings of loss and the sense of the weight of the world settling upon him in the days following. Finally, he spoke of the beautiful funeral attended by so many.
Until this telling, even when he had told the story to Ron and Hermione - and some of it to Ginny - Harry had not relived these events so fully. Somehow in this telling, the full truth of it all came crashing upon him and he finally felt the complete weight of the loss of his Headmaster — and despite the presence of Dumbledore, embodied in the Chocolate Frog card, Harry knew that the great wizard would never again truly be his protector. Even his lingering anger at Snape was displaced by the sudden, overwhelming grief.
Harry sobbed heavily; not even the caring reassurances in Dumbledore’s own familiar voice could assuage the tide of Harry’s mourning tears. It was as if all of his pain of loss had come crashing in upon him, and it was not only for Dumbledore that he cried, but for his parents, and for Sirius; and for the Muggle, Frank Bryce, for Bertha Jorkins and for Cedric Diggory, whose ‘shades’ had appeared from Voldemort’s wand during the Priori Incantatem.
When, after a few minutes, the card’s attempts at reassurance still had not stemmed the tears, Dumbledore seemed to realize the importance of this purging and became respectfully silent and supportive. Finally, Harry cried himself to sleep upon the bed.
After about an hour Harry awoke. He stretched lazily and let out a satisfied groan as he extended his arms above his head and forced the sleep from his muscles. He sat up and looked over at the Dumbledore card, suddenly remembering that he had told the story of Dumbledore’s death and had been overcome with grief and tears. He was a little embarrassed, but at the same time he felt good, freed somehow of some of the weight that he had lately felt so heavily upon himself.
The image of Dumbledore returned to the card and smiled at Harry. “Feeling better?” Dumbledore asked. Harry nodded, looking quite refreshed. “Then I believe we have much to discuss. And I am quite certain you have many questions as well.”
For another hour, they discussed the particulars of the events of that final evening. Now that his grief had dissipated somewhat, Harry’s anger at Snape had returned, and his main concern was the man’s role in Dumbledore’s death. Dumbledore, however, made it clear that the matter would not be discussed. After another angry outburst from Harry, he sighed wearily.
“It would seem, in light of recent events, that I may have been overzealous in my protection of Severus Snape. However—” he held up a hand to silence Harry’s objections, “—I am not yet ready to admit that I was wholly wrong, either. I must reflect upon the matter…” His tone was firm and brooked no argument, and Harry reluctantly dropped the subject.
Instead, they turned the conversation towards Harry’s plans, and his preparation and training for destroying the Horcruxes, and eventually defeating the Dark Lord. He had discovered on the train that he was, in Dumbledore’s opinion, being rather too hasty in his plans.
“There are many things I would like you to learn before you face Voldemort, Harry,” the card stated earnestly. “For instance, I should like you to continue your study of Occlumency. And there is much regarding the wielding of power that I should like us to discuss.”
“Occlumency,” Harry’s tone was flat and his expression somewhat less than enthusiastic. “But, Professor, I tried that, and it didn’t amount to anything.”
“I am afraid, Harry, that once again I must admit fault in that situation,” the Dumbledore card said apologetically. “I felt that Severus Snape would be best qualified to teach you and, at the time, I thought that perhaps your dislike of Severus was preventing you from learning. For that assumption, I apologize.” The card considered Harry for a moment. “But as that appears not to have been the case, I would like for us to take a different approach to teaching you before we abandon the discipline altogether.”
Just then Harry heard his name called from the bottom of the steps. He excused himself and hurried down to a light lunch, again kept for him by Aunt Petunia.
As promised, after lunch Harry spent several hours in the back garden pulling weeds and tending plantings as tersely directed by his aunt. It was not at all unpleasant work and it afforded him a welcome opportunity to consider the events of the morning.
By late afternoon Harry was feeling a bit dirty and sweaty and, after seeking consent from his aunt, he went to take a shower and afterward returned to his room.
As Harry entered the little second bedroom, still dragging a towel over his hair, he was greeted by Hedwig tapping lightly at the bedroom window. He crossed the room quickly and pulled open the sash, allowing Hedwig to hop in. Harry held out his arm and she stepped up onto it, careful not to take too great a purchase with her talons. He walked her across the room to where her open cage sat on the bureau and set her on her perch, next to the fresh water and owl treats he’d set out before his shower. She held out her leg and he untied the small bundle of coiled parchments.
Harry stood for a minute, absently smoothing Hedwig’s feathers as she cooed, before looking down at the four pieces of parchment in his hand. One of them was tied with the red ribbon he had used to send his letter to Ginny. At the sight of it the creature inside him roared, but there was also a cold fear running down his spine.
He glanced over at the pewter stand on his desk and noted thankfully that it was blank, Dumbledore having disappeared from its borders, giving him some privacy. He sat at the foot of his bed heavily, staring hard at the letters. The thing in his chest was telling him to rip open the one from Ginny and read it first, but he was apprehensive. Carefully he plucked it from his hand by the ribbon and stared at it for a moment. Finally, he set it aside, next to his thigh on the bed.
Harry studied the other three pieces of parchment and realized suddenly that there was one more there than he had expected — who would be writing to him other than Ron, Hermione and Ginny? All three remaining rolls of parchment were of about the same size, though one was a slightly brighter white than the others. He took that one from his hand and set the others aside with Ginny’s. Upon closer examination he saw, scrawled in a tiny tight script across the edge of the parchment, To: Harry, From: Hermione.
Harry pulled the string, unrolled and unfolded the parchment, quickly recognizing Hermione’s familiar orderly handwriting. He read it through.
Thank you for writing so quickly. Hedwig arrived last night and wouldn’t continue on to The Burrow until I wrote you a response.
I am very happy to know that you made it to your aunt and uncle’s safely. It seems like there was some reason for you to make this last visit by yourself and I am glad that they are treating you a bit better. I can’t imagine what your aunt has to talk to you about, but I think you should listen politely and give consideration to whatever it is. She may not have ever treated you that well, but she is your only aunt and you are a much better person than to act spitefully.
The change of plans worked out nicely as my parents have planned a family holiday to Greece for two weeks. We will be leaving Monday morning. I will send you a postcard by standard owl post, but it would probably not be a good idea to try to write long letters. I will be home after that and am planning to go to The Burrow for a visit; hopefully you will be there by then.
I got a letter from Ginny just a little before Hedwig arrived, so I will warn you that the Burrow seems to be more chaotic than ever. Apparently the wedding has been pushed back to give Bill some healing time and between planning for the wedding and caring for Bill, Fleur is driving everyone a bit crazy.
Oh, and there are no secrets in the Weasley household! Everyone seems to know that Ron kissed me and that we intend to start going out! So I suspect everything that has happened between you and Ginny is common knowledge as well.
Harry, Ginny told me that you broke up with her? You didn’t say anything, but I suspected something had happened. I am not going to judge you for that, as I believe I understand, but please be careful of the twins!
I will see you in about three weeks and we can have a long talk then about everything. Until then, please be safe and careful.
Harry read the letter a second time before setting it down on his opposite side from the unopened parchments. Great, he thought with exasperation. Just what he needed: for the whole Weasley family to know that he and Ginny had been together briefly and had now broken up - even if it was his intention to try and reverse that. Visions of vindictive pranks by Fred and George flashed through his mind and he made mental note not to eat any offered sweets for the remainder of the summer.
He looked down at the three remaining scrolls and picked one up, avoiding the red ribbon still. He examined it carefully, now wary of the twins, and could not find any markings on the outside of the parchment. So, holding it at arm’s length, he pulled the string and opened the letter. When nothing happened he looked at the signature line and saw that it was from Mr. Weasley. He took a deep breath and read.
I am writing to confirm with you that you are welcome at The Burrow at any time. Whenever you are ready, just send word and I will arrange transportation for you.
I gather from the whisperings of my children that there are matters to be addressed on a personal level, but I believe your safety and security outweigh all else at the moment.
I have been asked by the Minister for Magic to arrange a meeting between the two of you as soon as you return to The Burrow. I informed him that I would deliver his invitation to meet, but made no promise that you would be willing. Mr. Scrimgeour is a persistent man, so I would encourage you to accept his invitation, rather than waiting for whatever pressures he might employ in order to force a meeting.
I was going to wait to tell you this, but when Hedwig showed up at our window during breakfast I thought I may as well inform you, so that you could think about it. Please give the matter your consideration.
Please be safe and come to us as soon as you feel it is right to leave your aunt and uncle.
Harry set this letter aside with Hermione’s and puzzled over it for just a moment. He was grateful for Mr. Weasley’s thoughtfulness, but it seemed obvious that he was now being pressured through his work, all due to his association with Harry. Harry felt as though he would have to accept the meeting with the Minister, if for no other reason than to do something to relieve the strain on Mr. Weasley. He had been shown too many kindnesses from the whole of the Weasley family and he felt determined to prevent any pressures from being imposed upon them if it was within his power to do so. He made a mental note to discuss the matter with Dumbledore.
He looked down at the two remaining scrolls of parchment and suddenly snatched up the one he knew to be from Ginny. He couldn’t put it off any longer; he needed to know what she had to say. The creature inside him was turning round and round uncomfortably, and he felt he might be sick if he didn’t get it over with. He pulled the ribbon away and opened the parchment with his eyes closed. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he opened his eyes and focused on the beautiful handwriting, both feminine and straightforward — much like the girl herself.
Ron told me a little of what happened on the train. It sounds wonderful, and I am so happy for you.
I understand how you feel about keeping me safe. Just try to imagine for a minute how I and every one of your friends feels about your safety, given whatever it is you must face in this dreadful war.
Of course I forgive you, Harry, and understand that you were acting as you thought was best, but please quit worrying about my safety and pay special attention to your own instead. I get quite enough coddling from my parents and brothers, thank you very much. I do not want it or need it from you.
I look forward to seeing you when you return to us at The Burrow, and we can discuss other matters at that time. However, let me just point out from your letter — you “think!” and you are “no longer sure?”
Well, Mr. Potter, what I think, is that you had better be sure, because if you are not sure then we have nothing worth discussing.
I will look forward to seeing you soon.
The creature lay coiled, skittish and confused inside him. He read the note through three times in rapid succession. He could not tell if she was actually angry, if she was merely making light of him as she was sometimes inclined to do, or whether she was simply trying to be very careful not to say too much. Still, she had gotten right to the point and challenged him without completely dashing his hopes.
For a moment Harry longed for a different life in which his only worry would be deciphering Ginny’s words as she had written them, without thought of what she may or may not have written under the assumption that her mail could be intercepted. He sighed, and shook the thought from his mind. It would not do him any good to wish for a reality that simply wasn’t.
He set Ginny’s letter with her father’s and Hermione’s and snatched up the final scroll. This one would be from Ron. He pulled it open and read the final letter.
Hedwig is pecking at me. She is a wonder, I wish Pig were as devoted. She came in the window before breakfast and after Dad untied your letters she flew to his desk and brought me a quill. Guess you told her not to come back without mail. Gee, thanks mate.
Must be different without your lump of a cousin there? Sounds like maybe your family has figured out that you are a good guy. Or maybe they just figured out that you’re rich? Whatever they figured, I’m glad to hear things are a little better.
I filled Ginny in a bit. She was busy writing to Hermione when I got home, and the whole family is buzzing about my finally getting up the courage to ask Hermione out. I swear my shoulders will be red for a week from all the back slaps from my brothers. And thanks mate, for the moral support. Mum seems to be really happy for me; she flushes and breaks into a huge smile whenever she looks at me and she keeps offering me snacks.
Unfortunately, they also keep asking Ginny about you. I guess your secret is out, but so far Ginny isn’t saying anything. What’s going on between you two? Why did she go home with my parents instead of coming on the Express with us? I didn’t really think about it before. I guess I was sort of distracted, sorry.
I think maybe I have written enough to satisfy Hedwig — she’s quit nipping at me. So I’ll leave off and look forward to talking when you get here.
Don’t worry about the change of plans, Hermione figures you want the time to “think.” Still, everyone is looking forward to seeing you here at The Burrow as soon as you can come. I’ll warn you, though, that the place is a zoo of activity, what with wedding planning and all.
Anyway, be safe and I look forward to seeing you soon
Harry read through Ron’s letter again quickly and then set all four letters on his small writing desk. He needed to think a bit before responding to any of the Weasleys, and Hermione had simply told him not to write to her. In any case, he could take some time to think. Unlike so many previous summer visits to Privet Drive, he was not feeling the restlessness and boredom of having nothing to do and no one to talk to. In fact, he was rather feeling that he had quite a lot to do.
Harry went to his wardrobe and drew out a fresh shirt. As he caught his reflection in the mirror he noticed that while he had grown quite a bit in the last few years, and all the Quidditch had left him in quite good physical condition, the unfortunate truth was that the hand-me-down clothes from Dudley had grown even more. He determined that he should replace all of Dudley’s old clothes as soon as possible.
Harry found himself wondering what sorts of clothes Ginny might pick out for him if given the chance. The wayward thought sent his mind back to her letter. What sort of response should he make? His thoughts were interrupted by Aunt Petunia’s shrill voice calling him down for supper.
After his meal Harry returned to his room. That second evening at Privet Drive, Dumbledore had begun Harry’s introduction to meditation and spoken of several things he felt might be important for Harry to familiarize himself with. The time slipped by quite rapidly, despite a few frustrating early attempts at meditation, and Harry soon found that he was yawning furiously, and eyeing his little bed. After letting Hedwig out for the night and saying his goodnight to the Dumbledore card, which he then removed from the base, Harry slipped into his bed and drifted easily off to sleep.
Monday had slipped by in a strange other-worldly way as the Dumbledore card had Harry aggressively pursuing this concept of meditation. During the morning the exercises had seemed rather fruitless to Harry and he found himself tired by the effort. But Dumbledore had kept counseling Harry to relax and not try to achieve anything; instead, he should just allow himself to drift. In the afternoon something had changed and Harry began to find calm within himself that he had not previously known.
After supper Harry had ventured out for a walk in the neighborhoods surrounding Privet Drive, as he had many times before. Covering familiar ground, he felt an odd sensation of detachment, a purposeful realization that all of this — his experiences growing up in these streets, his time spent at the Dursleys’ — was coming to an end.
Harry was not certain what he would do after his seventeenth birthday. He had Grimmauld Place, but he was fairly certain he never wanted to live there — not that he was sure what he would do with it. Yet another matter he could discuss with Dumbledore. He wondered briefly if one could sell a magical property, and supposed that it must be possible. He knew he was always welcome at The Burrow, but it wasn’t really his home — no, he decided; he would have to find another place to live. As an of-age wizard, it would be time to make a home for himself.
Becoming an adult wizard would mean he had to deal with so many practicalities — and all on top of matters concerning the war, and the Horcruxes, and the prophecy. It gave Harry a headache to think of it all. So, sitting on a swing in the park near Privet Drive, he pushed it all from his mind and found a soft, comforting void of white. In the calm he decided to consider only that which was most important to him, and as he did so a swirl of images crossed his consciousness. Hogwarts school, his parents and godfather, Dumbledore, Ron and Hermione, his Firebolt, Death Eaters, Wormtail, Snape and finally Voldemort himself all slipped past, flitting by and wisping away, all giving way to a final image; an image of Ginny Weasley. Harry could feel himself smiling.
On the edge of his consciousness, Harry heard the sharp snapping of a twig nearby, and was jolted instantly back to reality, drawing his wand from his pocket. He turned in the direction of the noise and saw a small flash of coat-tail slipping away at the corner of a garage near the far edge of the cramped park.
Harry ran quickly toward the building, his wand extended in front of him. He slipped around the corner of the garage. Before him was a little path, a row of garages on one side and a narrow wood on the other; it was down this path that the figure was running, already some distance from him. Without thinking Harry continued his pursuit, along the garage wall. As he reached the other corner, a leather-gloved hand reached out, catching the shoulder of his sweatshirt, his own momentum causing him to spin around.
Harry’s heart caught in his throat as he realized his mistake, and he tried to pull his wand hand around towards his assailant - but it was caught in the steel grip of another gloved hand. His assailant was shrouded in shadow, making it impossible for Harry to discern any details. Fear left Harry - no Death Eater would take him so easily! He kicked the man’s leg, hard. There was a loud, resounding thud as Harry’s trainer impacted with the man’s limb, and pain radiated through Harry’s toes. The man released him and Harry dropped to the ground, clutching his foot in agony.
Realization dawned as the man stepped forward into the low light of the setting sun and Harry looked up into the scarred face of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. Moody’s voice was a low growl as he uttered a mumbled expression of pain and pulled back his coat to rub his leg where it was fitted to the wooden prosthesis. “That hurts!” he growled. “What did you have to go do that for, lad?”
Harry stared for an instant, forgetting the pain in his own toes. Then his voice caught up to him. “I’m… I’m sorry Professor, but you grabbed me? You… you might have been a Death Eater.” His breathing had nearly returned to normal.
Moody stared down at Harry with a hard expression that seemed almost comical, as his magical eye was wandering about looking at anything-and-everything. His normal eye, beady and dark, was fixed on Harry, and below it, an incomplete nose and a leathery gash of a mouth made up the rest of his face. Suddenly Moody’s expression transformed into what Harry could only assume was a smile and he reached out a hand to help Harry up. “Quite right, my boy, quite right,” Moody exclaimed, his voice now jovial, though it still sounded somewhat like the human equivalent of a large barking dog. “Still hurt… But I guess it hurt you just as much.”
Harry stepped down lightly on his foot as Mad-Eye righted him, and he looked up to see that the running figure was returning. As the silhouette stepped from the long sunset shadows of the trees, Harry recognized the face of Oliver Wood grinning at him. Wood extended his hand and shook Harry’s vigorously. “Great to see you, Harry,” he said beamingly. “I’ve joined the Order… Took me a bloody long time to figure out how, but I finally managed it.” Harry smiled back and looked down at their hands, whereupon Wood quit shaking and released him.
“That’s great, Oliver…” Harry began slowly, “But what are the two of you doing here? Spying on me?”
“Let’s just say we’re keeping an eye for your own protection,” Mad-Eye cut in, his magical eye fixed on Wood, “And this was just a little, unintentional test of your awareness - which I would say you passed,” he continued, reaching down to rub his leg again. “If I had been a Death Eater you’d have created an opportunity to hit me with a good defensive curse. A physical attack’ll catch most wizards by surprise — they rely too much on their wands.” Moody’s magical eye swiveled and fixed itself upon Harry.
Harry nodded his understanding, twisting his sore foot a bit against the ground. “But Professor, what are you doing here?”
“Please, boy, I’m not your professor. Never was, technically. Anyway, I was just teaching young Wood here about his duties for the Order. Which will include a shift guarding your aunt and uncle’s house; and you too, if you insist on taking these evening constitutionals.” Though Moody’s voice was stern, Harry could hear a hint of a kind undertone.
“So the Order is still active, even without Dumbledore?” Harry asked quickly.
“Yep. The Order is continuing, and we’ll be redoubling our efforts, and expanding our ranks.” Moody’s eye swung back toward Wood, standing next to him. “Things are very quiet right now; there have been no reports of Death Eater attacks anywhere in the country since… Well, since Dumbledore was killed. But if you ask me, this is the calm before the storm: we have to be prepared; we must maintain constant vigilance.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry replied, trying to ignore the slight chill that ran through him at the mention of Dumbledore’s death.
“Good. You’d best be getting back while there’s still a bit of light. So off you go,” Moody growled with finality as he motioned back toward the small park with a gloved hand, his magical eye matching the motion and swinging completely around; probably checking that the coast was clear.
Harry nodded to Moody and took Wood’s hand once more in a parting handshake. Then he was off, back around the garage, through the park and toward the house on Privet Drive. He took comfort in the fact that the Order was still operating, and he appreciated that they were guarding him, but it made him feel like something of a prisoner. Fortunately, he thought to himself, a prisoner very soon to be freed.
The rest of that night was spent in conversation with the Dumbledore card, discussing the Order and what role it might take with Dumbledore absent. They discussed Hogwarts, and the merits of Harry finishing his seventh year, and what the Minister for Magic would want from Harry - and what Harry might want in return. They speculated together about the apparent lack of activity from Voldemort. And of course, Harry did more meditation exercises.
That night Harry dreamed of Ginny standing alone beneath the broad snow-covered bows of the oak tree in the corner of the back garden at The Burrow. She simply stood there, her arm outstretched to him. She was wearing a set of evening robes that suggested the Christmas holidays and she seemed to glow, a happy smile spread across her lips.
Waking early Tuesday morning, Harry held onto the dream for as long as he could and before it faded completely he had taken out a bit of parchment and scrawled a few simple words:
I am sure, very sure.
Harry coiled up the small note and tied it to Hedwig’s leg with the red ribbon. He fussed with Hedwig’s feathers all the way to the window and sent her on her morning mission before going downstairs to offer to help Aunt Petunia with breakfast.
Tuesday passed like a dream and Harry was certain he wore a ridiculous smile most of the day; his aunt asked him several times if everything was okay, and whether he was certain he felt quite well.
He spent most of the morning dusting, polishing and vacuuming for his aunt without complaint and in the afternoon he did more meditation exercises with Dumbledore. It was becoming quite easy now to set everything aside and find that empty white space. Even though thoughts of Ginny were ever-present in his mind, he was able to hold onto those emotions and keep them secure in the emptiness with him - almost as though he had contained those emotions in a protected place and held them safe as his mind was cleared of other concerns.
Wednesday passed in much the same way; more cleaning for Aunt Petunia and more lessons with Dumbledore. Harry also remembered to write a letter to the Daily Prophet to obtain a summer subscription and request a week’s worth of back issues. He folded the letter carefully to hold the few galleons that would pay for the whole summer and set the thick parchment aside to wait for Hedwig’s return.
Hedwig returned just after supper with a small scroll of parchment tied to her leg. Harry quickly retrieved the scroll and opened it. As he did so, a small piece of folded paper fell out of it; with seeker reflexes, Harry snatched it and took a closer look. It was a small rectangle of very white tissue paper, folded neatly in half, about one and half inches square. Harry unfolded the paper to discover what looked like pale pink lip prints. He blushed to himself slightly, folded the paper back and set it quickly on his bureau.
He finished unrolling the scroll to find a letter from Ron.
Don’t know what was in your last letter, but it sure seems to have made Ginny very happy. She’s been smiling all day and she and Mum have been whispering quite a lot. Guess that whatever was going on with you two, you must have patched it up.
Got a postcard from Hermione today, she says she’s having fun in Greece, and that she’ll be sending you a card soon as well.
Wish you were here, or better yet, that I was there with you. The women here are driving me completely batty with wedding talk about flowers and dresses, though I get the feeling that something odd is going on with the wedding planning. Fleur gets kind of sulky sometimes and spends most of her time tending Bill.
Anyway, I’m hoping the next week and a bit goes quickly, so that you can come be with me here, craziness and all.
Oh, yeah, Ginny is sending you a Whisper. I told her I didn’t think you would know what it was, so she asked me to write and explain. You’ll see it; it’s a small piece of thin white parchment. Just hold it between your palms. Your body heat will activate it, and the rest is self-explanatory. Oh, and it’s best if you close your eyes.
Harry set the parchment aside and retrieved the small square of paper from his bureau. He regarded it carefully and wondered exactly what a Whisper could be. He had seen Howlers and knew them to be particularly unpleasant, but a Whisper certainly seemed to hold greater intrigue. And besides, it was from Ginny; it couldn’t be anything nasty, could it?
Harry held out his right palm and laid the folded square across it. Gently he placed his left hand over his right and pressed his palms together, his fingers and thumbs aligned. For a moment nothing happened, but then Harry felt the slightest flickering of the paper, as though he had captured a butterfly, as he sometimes had when he was a child, playing in the back garden, and it was struggling between his palms. He eased the space between his palms and the fluttering increased. So, with the slightest trepidation, he opened his palms; the paper appeared to have actually become a white and pink butterfly.
In an instant it flew from his hands, leaving a brief trail of sparkling silver dust in its wake. It circled his head a couple of times and Harry, remembering Ron’s letter, closed his eyes. After a moment, he thought he felt a soft hand on his shoulder, and the sense of someone leaning close to his ear… But not just anybody… It was Ginny. And he heard her voice, a soft, clear whisper. “Harry, I am so glad you have come to your senses. I know what you were trying to do, and I love you for it, but you cannot hide what you feel from anybody.” There was a pause, the eternity of a couple of heartbeats. “And Harry… I have always loved you.” Then, before he could think, he felt the soft paper flutter against his lips and dissolve into the distinct feeling of one of Ginny’s softest kisses. It lingered for far too short a time.
As he felt the press of familiar lips withdrawing, he opened his eyes just in time to see the fluttering paper flit into shining silver dust just inches from his face and disintegrate into nothingness.
There was a light chuckle from the Dumbledore card in its base on the bureau, and Harry, blushing furiously, turned to see the small image smiling brightly. “Pardon my intrusion, Harry; I didn’t mean to spy,” Dumbledore apologized in a happy voice. “But I haven’t seen a Whisper in so many years. A rather spectacular way to receive a message, don’t you think?” Harry could feel the heat in his cheeks, and imagined that he was sporting a stupid grin, too. He quickly nodded in response.
Dumbledore reminisced for a few minutes about the few Whispers he had received in his lifetime, but then quickly set Harry to more meditation exercises, saying that it was the perfect time to practice concealing personal memories, and so that was how Harry spent the remainder of Wednesday evening.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Harry’s contemplation of the events of the past few days was interrupted by his aunt calling him to lunch from the bottom of the stairs.
As Harry descended the stairs, his thoughts remained in a similar vein, of recent events; since he had been back, without Dudley around, Privet Drive had actually been — dare he think it - pleasant. Through the week, his uncle was out all day, so he had seen very little of him — not to mention that his aunt was being civil toward him, if not actually kind. She certainly had been feeding him better than he ever remembered eating before while at Privet Drive. Of course, he knew that the most significant difference had been having Dumbledore with him… or rather, the Dumbledore card base. It had made all the difference to the way in which he passed the hours in his room.
As he thought about it he wondered what was going to happen on Saturday, once his aunt and uncle had retrieved Dudley from school. Well, he thought, I’ll simply deal with Dudders once I have to.
Harry found his aunt in the kitchen. She was looking a little anxious, and she quickly pointed him to a prepared plate set out with a roast beef sandwich and a few crisps. It was at the dining room table rather than the counter, which threw Harry for a moment, but he sat down and began eating anyway, surmising that his aunt must have decided that it was time for their discussion.
After a few minutes his aunt came and sat down at the table. She was clutching something tightly in one hand; it was a small leather book, Harry saw, rather like the small address book that his uncle kept. Harry took a drink of milk and cleared the food from his mouth before politely asking what it was that she wished to discuss with him.
Petunia fidgeted uncomfortably in her chair, looking rather like a child caught in a lie, finally cornered into telling the truth. She set the small leather book on the table, pushing it towards Harry. “I wonder if you could tell me what this is?” Her long neck seemed to crane unnaturally away as she spoke, as though it had taken considerable effort simply to speak those few words.
Harry leaned forward a little in order to see and immediately recognized the embossed seal of Gringotts Wizarding Bank in bright gilding on the cover. The seal was just a logo with the word “Gringotts”; perhaps this was why his aunt was unclear. It could have been anything, he supposed, unless you already knew that Gringotts was a bank. “It looks like an account book from Gringotts Wizarding Bank,” he said after consideration, then added, “Where did it come from?”
Petunia’s eyes widened and she crossed her arms as she leaned backwards in her chair. “A joke, then,” she stated rather disdainfully. “One of those birds brought it, a couple of weeks after you were left on our doorstep.” The distaste in her voice increased as she continued, “The note said that an account had been created in my name.” She exhaled sharply. “The letter was from someone who claimed to be a barrister, a Mr. Pratt or Pracht, something like that. It went on about how he knew that we, as your relatives, would expect no compensation for taking you in, and that it was not his intention to insult us by setting up a fund for your care.” She sighed again. “I knew that it was all a cruel joke when I opened the ledger because there was only one entry, for two hundred ‘g.’ - which of course isn’t real currency.”
Petunia paused again, pressing her thumbnail to her lips. “When I showed it to Vernon he was furious and he chucked it into the fireplace, letter and all.” Here she paused once more and looked up at Harry, as though unsure whether or not to continue. “Well, a few days later when I was cleaning, I found this book amongst the ashes, completely unmarked. When I looked inside it there was a second entry, dated the first of the month, for another two hundred ‘g.’ I never said anything to Vernon but I hid the book away, in case it was real — but no other letter ever arrived, nothing telling us how to withdraw it, so I assumed that it wasn’t.”
Harry just stared at his aunt, not sure what to say. Obviously, ‘g.’ was galleons — but aunt Petunia wasn’t to know that. His mind was racing with the concept that someone had set up a fund for his care, but the Dursleys were too frightened of the wizarding world, too proud, or simply too dim to investigate how to access the money. How different his life would have been if the Dursleys had treated him better, been happier with his presence and spent money on new things for him. There was no guarantee, though, that it would have changed anything - he wondered if his Uncle Vernon would have used the money toward his care at all.
Harry’s train of thought was broken by his aunt speaking once again. “We - especially Vernon - always resented that you were thrust upon us, that we were just expected to care and provide for you. We knew that your father’s family had money of some sort, and expected to receive at least some help towards your education and so on. But all we received was this stupid joke; it just made us even more resentful.”
There was a short, uncomfortable silence. Finally Harry picked up the account book and paged through it. There had been a monthly deposit of two hundred galleons for every month that Harry had been in the Dursleys’ care, until the age of eleven. Once he had started Hogwarts, Harry noted, the deposits continued at a rate of fifty galleons per month while he was away, and resumed at two hundred during the summer months. There was very nearly sixteen years’ worth of deposits listed, and the total balance, including accumulated monthly interest of two and half percent, was an impressive eight hundred twenty thousand, three hundred seventy-six galleons, eight sickles and twenty-four knuts.
Harry just stared at the little book for a while. He wondered where the money was coming from. Surely if it had been coming from his family vault he would have been notified. He also found himself wondering how it was that this account had been accumulating interest, while his vault simply contained whatever coins were placed there. He tried to clear his mind of the many questions and found that in a matter of moments his thoughts were enveloped in a void of white. Finally, in a calm, flat voice, Harry responded, “Galleons. ‘g.’ stands for galleons. It is real money, Aunt Petunia. It’s wizard money.”
Petunia’s eyes widened as Harry spoke and her lips pursed in an expression of agitated confusion. “Why didn’t they just send us it in pounds and be done with it?”
“They… whoever ‘they’ is, must have thought you would already know about the wizarding bank and would be able to arrange to get the money,” Harry offered. He thought for a moment. Hermione’s parents had been able to go to Gringotts and exchange pounds for galleons. His grandparents must have done the same thing when his mother had first started at Hogwarts.
“Aunt Petunia? When my mother was first notified that she was a witch and would be going to Hogwarts, didn’t your parents have to take her to Diagon Alley to buy her books and supplies?” He paused and glanced at his aunt; she wasn’t looking at him, but appeared to be listening. “And, didn’t they have to exchange pounds for galleons at Gringotts Wizarding Bank?” His aunt just sat, looking confused. “Didn’t you ever go with them? Even once?” he prompted.
Petunia looked over at Harry, meeting his steady gaze, and he was taken aback by how pale and frightened she looked. He found himself hoping that she would remember to breathe soon. Finally she did take a deep breath and began to speak. “I did… once. It was the very first time they went. They were all so excited, especially Lily. I was only thirteen years old at the time, mind, and I had become frightened of my sister… of the strange things she could make happen. And here we were, going to this odd and horrible place, for the express purpose of sending my little sister away to become even more strange.” She paused and took several deep breaths. She seemed to be calming slightly. “I remember…” she finally said, “I remember a large white stone building with strange creatures guarding the doors, and becoming very upset. We went in and the place was full of more strange creatures… everywhere. I… I believe I panicked, and my mother had to take me outside while my father finished with Lily. I remember them joining us later at the car, with a whole trunk-full of new things for Lily to take to school.” Petunia gave what sounded to Harry like a disappointed sigh and she finished, “They never tried to take me with them again.”
Harry glanced back down at the final figure in the account book. Someone had paid this money all his life for his care and he had never known. The Dursleys had resented him his entire life, partially because of the expense of his care, and yet they had had these funds available to them the whole time. Harry felt a spike of anger well in his stomach.
It simply wasn’t fair that the Dursleys would now reap this reward after treating him as they had. His mind raced with possibilities. Is there any way I can prevent this? He couldn’t immediately think of a way - after all, the money was clearly in his aunt’s name. He could simply refuse to cooperate, or to reveal any more information. But then it occurred to him; what did he care? Did he really wish the Dursleys ill? No, he had to admit to himself, in spite of everything, he did not; but neither did he wish them rewarded. He thought the whole situation rather absurd, and it aggravated him.
Harry looked at his aunt hard, so much so that a look of shock met his gaze in return. He could not hide the edge of anger in his voice. “Why now?” His aunt looked suddenly frightened of him as he spoke. “If you thought this was all a joke, why bring it up now?”
Petunia looked away, shame playing across her features. “Because—” her voice caught in her throat, “…Because a German company has purchased Grunnings, and Vernon is losing his job.”
The statement was a completely unexpected turn to Harry and the shock of it dulled the edge of his anger.
“And,” Petunia continued, “Some part of me has always wondered if it was real.” Her voice changed suddenly to a sort of guilty plea. “Harry, I am sorry. I told myself it was all a joke because I wanted reason to resent you, but I knew it could be real. We were so determined to weed out any possibility of magic in you that we treated you terribly. In the end we failed completely. We probably do not deserve this money, but right now it could mean the difference between staying afloat and losing everything by the end of the summer.”
Petunia produced a handkerchief from somewhere and began dabbing her eyes. “You see, Vernon and I have not been good with money; Vernon has always insisted on keeping up appearances, whether it was the car or the house, or clothes. And I have to admit how much we have spoiled Dudley. The truth is, unless Vernon finds another job that pays him just as much, we will have no way to keep up our monthly expenses.”
Harry was completely dumbfounded. As much as he told himself he didn’t care about the Dursleys, Petunia was his only blood family and he didn’t want to see her destitute. It was sheer irony, he thought, that his aunt was essentially turning to him for help. It was all too much to take in, and he couldn’t yet know how he felt about it, but he knew that the next step should at least be taken.
“Do you think...?” Harry began tentatively, all hint of anger now gone from his voice. “Do you think you could brave that place again, now that you are grown, in order to get the money from that account? I mean… I think you’ll have to go there, at least once.”
His aunt looked up at him with surprise, her eyes still welling with tears. She gave the slightest nod of affirmation. “Would it be possible for you to arrange it?” she asked rather timidly.
Harry realized suddenly just what he was being asked. His aunt wanted him to take her to Gringotts. Harry’s head began filling with thoughts of a trip to Diagon Alley. He was not thinking of security and other considerations, just the excitement of the bustling shopping center of Wizarding London. He didn’t really care about the money. Ever since he had learned about his inheritance in his Gringotts vault, money had just never been a concern to him. Instead what occurred to him now, was how much he would like to get away from the house, and the neighborhood, even if it meant having to go out with his aunt. He nodded back to his aunt.
“Harry.” His aunt’s voice invaded his thoughts again. “One more thing… do you know, is a galleon more or less than a pound?”
Harry considered for a moment. “I think I heard my friend Hermione once talk about the conversion rate from galleons to pounds; there’s something like four or five pounds to the galleon, I think.”
Petunia took the account book from Harry and was clearly inspecting the final figure. After a few seconds, she became pale again and uttered slowly, “But… But…That would mean there are over four million pounds here.” She just stared at the little book in her hands for a long moment. A greedy smile stretched slowly across her face, making her horsy features look rather uncomfortable. “Harry,” she said excitedly, “if you can arrange it… I’m taking Vernon to work in the morning and I’ll have the car to do the weekly shopping. I would like it if we could go tomorrow.”