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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Six

BIRTHDAY GIFTS

 July 31

Fawkes flashed into Harry’s room at a quarter past seven .  The phoenix bore a letter and a small package.

Harry –

I offer you my best wishes upon your sixteenth birthday.  The Hogwarts Board of Governors has requested a meeting that will take up most of the day.  If all goes as expected, I shall find you this evening.  I bid you an excellent day.  After last evening’s events, some enjoyment is well deserved. 

Please do employ the enclosed salve.  Madam Pomfrey advises that it be applied twice daily for a period of three days.

Fondly,

Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore

Harry couldn’t fathom Dumbledore – furious when Harry signed the will, doting after the will was read.  I don’t understand your master – do you, Fawkes?  Harry wondered as the phoenix disappeared.

There was a small silver bottle inside the package, labelled as ‘Phloston Philligree’s Scar-Away Salve’.  Harry went into the bathroom and stood before the mirror.  He dabbed the thick concoction onto the fresh cut at one side of his forehead, and frowned at the lightning bolt scar on the other side.  On a whim he smeared the excess salve on his finger across the vivid scar; it bubbled and then disappeared in a wisp of vapour.  With a sigh, he turned away.  Harry was marked and nothing could change that.  He readied himself for the day and then headed for the front door. 

Lupin looked up from papers strewn across the dining table just as Harry’s hand touched the doorknob.  “What’s this?” he asked.

“Sirius left me a portkey set for eight o’clock,” Harry said.

“He… what?”  Lupin burst from his chair.  “A portkey?  Are you mad?   How do you know who actually created it?”

“It was in a package he left for me.  Here – I’ll show you the note,” Harry said.

Lupin held the note at arm’s length and squinted at it.  “It’s Sirius’s handwriting, at any rate – oh!  Of course – it’s about the birthday gift.” He shook his head.  “Setting a portkey with a timed trigger based upon opening of a package… he did have his talents, didn’t he?”

“So you knew about the gift?” asked Harry.

“Sirius lacked the patience to hold secret a gift; I’m surprised he didn’t give it up months ago,” Lupin said with a soft laugh.  “I have a rough idea where you’ll be headed.  Would you agree to meet me in front of Flourish and Blotts at, say, eleven o’clock?  If I can’t be there, I’ll send the Weasley twins in my stead.”

“That seems fair,” Harry decided.  He glanced at his watch and rushed outside of the Lion’s Den just before he felt the familiar tug behind his navel. 

He regained his balance inside what looked to be a workshop of some kind.  Filtered sunlight came through windows set high on one side of the room.  There were stacks of wood here, logs and sticks there.  An entire wall was taken up with a huge rack of tools and equipment.  Adjacent to one workbench were rows of shelves filled with all manner of vials, jars, and other things Harry couldn’t identify.  Next to the other workbench were bins of various sizes, large bins standing on the floor and small ones hung from the wall, holding screws, wire, straw, bristles and other materials.  A C-clamp attached to that workbench held an unfinished broomstick.  Something fairly large sat in one corner, draped by a heavy sheet.

“Welcome to my workshop, Mr. Potter.  May I call you Harry?”  The man standing in the shadows had wild dark hair strewn with grey that tumbled down past his shoulders.  He had a severe face with a regal nose and bold eyebrows that peaked like arches.  He was wearing common working clothes, covered by a full-length leather apron.

“ ‘Harry’ would be fine.  Steady on… I know your face…” Harry said. 

The man smiled.  “Perhaps you saw me at the Hogwarts Cup finals; I attend when I’m able.  Interesting match last year, wasn’t it?  I doubt it would have been as competitive had you been playing.” 

Harry asked, “Obviously you know who I am.  Who are you?”

The man gave Harry an exaggerated bow.  “Devlin Whitehorn at your service, sir.”

Harry’s eyes grew wide.  “Devlin… Devlin Whitehorn?  Nimbus-racing-broom Devlin Whitehorn?  Bloody hell!  It’s a real pleasure, Mr. Whitehorn!  Did Sirius have a broom made for me?  This is too much!  My friend Ron would –” He stopped.  Ron would kill to be here, he thought, provided that I was somewhere else.

Whitehorn arched one of his eyebrows even higher.  “Slow down, Harry,” he said.  “I can explain everything, but it’ll be easier if I simply show you.”  He led Harry toward the corner of the room.

Under the sheet was a motorbike.  It was big, mostly black and chrome except for the red fuel tank painted with a silver arc and the word “Triumph”.

Harry gasped.  “I used to dream about a flying motorbike,” he said; “My uncle yelled at me for it.  Did this belong to Sirius, then?”

“I created this for him when he was just eighteen,” Whitehorn said.  “She’s a 1969 Triumph Bonneville… in a way.  Muggles in the know consider this particular Bonnie to be a classic… more of an antique now, I suppose.  A fellow by the name of Diggle – you know him, I imagine? – contacted me a few months past through a friend of a friend of an associate, that sort of thing, to ask if I could restore something I’d built a long time ago.  I never dreamt it would be this.  The letter from Black was quite a surprise.  It was… it was good to hear from him.”  He seemed wistful, Harry thought.      

Harry ran his hand along the seat.  The motorbike flickered for a moment, shrank slightly, and then returned to the way it was before.  He quickly whipped his hand back.

“As I said, this is only a Bonnie in a way,” Whitehorn reminded him.  “You’ve just stumbled across one trick.  She can adjust to the size of the rider, to a point.  The last fellow to ride her must have been terribly large.  When I received her, she was at least twice the normal size; it was a terrible time settling her down, I can tell you.”

Harry asked, “May I sit…?”

Whitehorn smiled.  “Go ahead, she is yours.”

Harry slipped one leg over the top of the seat and carefully sat down.  The motorbike didn’t flicker this time.  He reached forward and held the handlebars, leaning forward a little.  There was a quiver and then the handlebars extended toward him until he could grasp them comfortably.

“She’ll adjust for your posture and positioning, just like a professional standard broom,” Whitehorn said, “but only a bit at a time.  It wouldn’t do for a Muggle to see a motorbike lose a foot in length, now would it?”

Harry asked, “You can ride it on the road, then, as well as fly?”

“She appears to run like a normal bike,” Whitehorn replied.  “You’re actually flying at a fixed height.  She’ll even bank around a curve like she’s rolling on the tyres.”

Harry turned the handlebars from side to side very easily.  He had expected more resistance.

Whitehorn said, “You don’t want just anyone to sit down and take off.  We need to key her to you.”  He took out his wand, and said, “Abalienato.”  The motorbike shimmered, and Harry started to get off.

“Stay on the seat,” Whitehorn commanded.  “Take your wand, touch it to the handlebars, and say possessio, followed by your full name.”

Harry took out his wand, and said, “Possessio Harry James Potter!”  The shimmering stopped.

“She’s all yours, Harry,” said Whitehorn.  “No one else can ride her, unless you permit it.”

“How do I give permission?” asked Harry.

“It’s all in the manual,” Whitehorn returned.  “You’ll need to read it later, cover-to-cover.  We’ll spend some time going over the basics, though.  You’ll leave here able to manage a simple ride without being picked up by the Ministry – or worse, by the Muggle constabulary.”

Harry ran his hand along the fuel tank.  It feels powerful, he thought.  “There are rules about enchanting Muggle artefacts.  Is this going to get me sent to Azkaban if someone finds out about it?”

Whitehorn smiled broadly.  “No worries there.  This is a broomstick.”

Harry looked at him like he’d gone quite barmy.  “Erm… it’s a motorbike.”

“It’s a broomstick and it may be my greatest professional achievement, which I don’t say lightly,” Whitehorn insisted.  “I had to convince a jinni to assist with the spell work; I don’t recommend that, by the way.  If you want to see what you’re sitting on, hold the handlebars and say Abscondo Triumph.”

Harry said it, and the motorbike disappeared.  He was seated on a long pole suspended atop two narrow sawhorses, each where a wheel had been.  A clamp on the front sawhorse held a T-shaped assembly with wooden cylinders that rested in his hands where the handle grips had been.   

Whitehorn pointed at various spots on the wood frame.  “The original frame was all oak, but Black asked that I upgrade the performance.  Thankfully I made two more of these over the last twenty years, so I had a number of ideas in mind.  Now it’s a mix of oak, sunset maple and some ridiculously rare tropical hardwoods, all carefully crafted to look like scrap.  It has a cushioning charm over the entire run of the seat and overlapping onto the frame, and a new braking charm of my own design.  In essence, you’re riding a twin Nimbus racing broom.  She’s fast – very fast – but do understand that she won’t handle quite like a broomstick; she’s much more massive and less aerodynamic, see?   It’s a challenge to run her along the ground, but you’ve quick reflexes so it should come easily for you.  There are wand cores in those cylinders so that you can control her movement without waving your wand about in public.  It’s not like using your own wand, but you don’t need a lot of power to control the charms.  Why don’t you bring her back?  Say Ostendo Triumph.” 

Harry said “Ostendo triumph!” and the motorbike reappeared in place of the wooden frame.  “So how do I ride?” he asked.

“You get her to run like a Muggle motorbike by saying Veho Triumph.  You say Evolo Triumph to fly.  You control speed with the throttle – turn the handle grip, just like this – and you control the braking charm with the handbrakes.  There’s a clutch but it’s only for show.  You don’t need to shout at her, by the way – shouting a spell is for schoolboys.  She’ll respond to a whisper.  If you’re practiced enough, she’ll even take to silent casting.”  Whitehorn shook his head.  “Can you imagine the looks you’d get, shouting at a motorbike on the street?”

“Nothing like the looks I’d get flying over people’s heads,” Harry pointed out. 

“Not a problem, Harry,” Whitehorn assured him.  “Say Occultus Triumph – say it quietly, don’t shout it out.”  The motorbike around Harry disappeared and he along with it. 

Fateor Triumph will bring you back,” Whitehorn added.  “It’s good for about two hours at a time; wood doesn’t hold that particular charm as well as metal.  If you use it for two full hours, give it two hours before you try again.”

Harry returned to view and asked, “If Muggles think this is a real motorbike, what are the chances it would get nicked sitting on the street?”

“Fairly high, I imagine,” admitted Whitehorn.  “There are two ways to address that.  The first is to lash it to something, like a Muggle would; I’ve set aside an Unbreakable Chain and Lock for you.  The second is to carry her along.”

“Awfully big for that, eh?” Harry laughed.  “I suppose I could use reducing and feather-light charms.”

“She’s already over-charmed for that,” Whitehorn said; “You don’t want to cast too many casual charms atop permanent charms, right?  That goes for cleaning as well – you use a good wand polishing kit on her, right?  For reducing, you stand off to one side, hold a handgrip, and say Recondo Triumph – just a whisper, mind you.  To bring her back, set her on the ground, put your hand on top so you’re catching the handlebars, and say Redintegro Triumph.  She’ll easily fit in your pocket when reduced.”  Harry climbed off the seat and reduced the motorbike to an inch in length and the weight of a single Galleon.

Once the Bonnie was returned to full size, Harry and Whitehorn spent a good deal of time going over the basics of imitating a motorbike on the roads and motorways.  Even balance had to be relearned to a small degree, but Harry was more than up for it.

When they were finished, Whitehorn produced two small leather bags from the workbench.  A wide leather strap connected them to one another.  “Here are the saddlebags,” he said.  “You sling this strap over the seat, and tie these underneath.  I’ve got your manual in there, and the chain and lock, and some lashings to hold bigger items to the back of the seat.  Black asked for something else as well – in that envelope there.”  Sirius’ scrawl was on the envelope; ‘For an extra bit of freedom’, it said.  Inside was a scrap of heavy parchment. 

“What is it?” Harry asked.

Whitehorn said, “You’ll need it for riding on Muggle roads, among other things.  It’s more or less the same principle as I used on the motorbike combined with some of the old Black magic, so to speak.  Hold it and say, ‘Harry Potter requires a motorbike licence’.”

As soon as Harry finished saying the phrase, the parchment became an operator’s licence with a picture of Harry’s face at that moment, an address he didn’t recognise, and his birth date.  “The year’s off,” he noticed.

Whitehorn grinned.  “Exactly.  A year or two earlier, I imagine?  That makes you old enough to ride.”

Harry looked at the licence suspiciously.  “You know I’m not old enough to have the motorbike, then?  Why are you doing this?  I’m terribly grateful of course, but…”

Whitehorn finished Harry’s thought for him.  “…But you have good reason to be suspicious; any wizard with half a brain could figure that.”  He conjured two simple wooden stools and they sat.  Whitehorn’s face took on a tired, weathered expression.  Harry knew it well – he saw it each time that an Order member spoke of the last War. 

Whitehorn began, “Times were tough back in the 70s, Harry.  I hope we’re not heading there again, but it’s edging that way.  Anyway, I met Black when he was bunking with your father’s family –”

“Did you know my father?” Harry asked eagerly.

Whitehorn sighed.  “Hard not to – he and Black were thick as brothers.  I don’t know how your father ever found time to court your mother, really.  I knew your grandfather better.  Alexander was one of my original investors, you know?” he said.  “They were good people, Harry, the both of them… and then there was Black.”

Whitehorn seemed to grin in spite of himself.  “He was an original.  I can’t imagine what all those years in Azkaban must have done to him, but in ’78 or ’79…” He closed his eyes and the grin turned into a smile.  “Here comes this kid, ready to take on the universe, asking if I can help him find a flying motorbike.  I ask him why, and he says to me – straight faced, mind you? – ‘You can only carry one bird at a time on a broomstick!’  What’s more, he meant it!  If Sirius Black didn’t have a fit bird on each arm, then it was a bad night for him – a real hound, that one.

“Well, he didn’t have a cauldron to piss in at the time.  His mother tossed him aside – not evil enough for her, according to Black.  So he says to me, he says, ‘I’ll test anything you’ve got’, and he wasn’t taking the mickey either.  I could hand him a ‘stick with completely untested charms and off he’d go, doing loops and side rolls at a hundred, hundred and ten.  He came up with the Anti-Burglar Buzzer, too – said he got the idea from something called a ‘joyful buzzer’ as I remember it.  He’d ride the bloody ‘sticks twelve hours a day and then he’d drag me to the clubs.  Here I was, thirty-two, thirty-three years old, and this kid fresh from school is getting me dates.

“He picked up a few of my bad habits along the way, especially betting on Quidditch.  That’s how Black paid for the bike, see?  I had more or less decided to let him off the hook for it – he was just too much fun, for a start – but when he let me have the Buzzer gratis, that cinched it for me.  Still, he comes up with this scam, and tells me he plans to work it against the wanker that his cousin had just been married off to.  There was no warning him off so I shrugged and sat back to watch.  He works it for half the season, and eventually manoeuvres the wanker to back Wimbourne over Montrose in the finals; as it happens, the wanker’s tight with Ludo Bagman.  What the wanker doesn’t know is that Black’s worked a deal with the bookmaker – he was taking a percentage of the wanker’s losses as a sort of finder’s fee.  At the end of the season, he hands me 25,000 Galleons –”

Harry started laughing.

“What?” Whitehorn asked.

“I know who the wanker was,” Harry managed between snorts.  “Lucius Malfoy… it had to be Lucius Malfoy.”

Whitehorn paled a bit.  “Black liked trouble,” he admitted, “but sticking a Malfoy like that… well… it couldn’t have happened to a nicer family, in truth.  Anyway, I only kept 5,000 – the boy was dead broke, right?  He goes off and invests the rest with some mad Muggles, and… things were turning, and I didn’t see him much after that.  You know the rest, I suspect?”  Whitehorn stared off into space and his smile faded.

“You just told me more about Sirius in five minutes than his so-called friends managed in three years,” Harry said sadly.

Whitehorn seemed to think about that for a while before he said, “It’s easy to forget that there were good times despite everything that happened in those days.  I lost my share of friends and family, as most wizards did.  I should thank you for making me dig up some fine memories – damn fine ones.”

They sat there for a while in the long shadows of the workshop, before Whitehorn went on, “You asked me why I did this.  There are three reasons, I suppose.  First, Black sent me an obscene amount of Muggle money, and I’ve found that a few pounds here and there can be dead useful.  He wrote that it was the rest of my share from the wanker, thanks to those mad Muggles of his and years of accumulated interest.  Second, I like a challenge.  Even racing brooms become stale after a while.  Third, the letter made it clear that she was for you.  I reckon you’ll make good use; with You-Know-Who back, maybe she’ll get you out of a tight fix?”

“Did Sirius explain to you… you know, what really happened back then?” Harry asked gingerly.

Whitehorn said firmly, “There was nothing to explain.  Sirius Black, a Death Eater?  He would have cursed himself to death before he would have harmed your father or mother.  I never believed a word of that tripe.  At any rate, it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the Ministry was lying constantly at the end.”

Harry shook Whitehorn’s hand.  “Thank you so much.  I mean, obviously it’s the best birthday present I’ve ever had.  But, it was his, you know, and – well, that means a lot to me.”  Whitehorn looked a little puzzled to Harry, and it dawned on Harry that the man might assume that he and Sirius had never actually met.

Whitehorn said, “Use it well.  Get in a little carousing, too.  I’m sure that’s what Black would have wanted.”

Harry hesitated.  “Mr. Whitehorn?”

“Please, call me Devlin,” Whitehorn insisted.

Harry began, “Erm… Devlin, can I ask a huge favour?  I don’t have any right, but…”

Whitehorn smiled.  “Ask it,” he said.

Harry said, “I’d like to pick up two Nimbus 2001s, and I’d really appreciate it if you might sign one for me.”

Whitehorn frowned.  “I don’t really keep them lying around, you know?  There’s no company business transacted here.  This is my private workshop and I do try to maintain what privacy I can, but I’m still besieged by special requests.  That’s why I don’t go out much except for Quidditch matches, and it’s the reason I had you use a portkey.”

Harry cast his eyes down.  “I understand, sir, believe me.  I’m in the Prophet every other day.  Right now I guess I’m saviour of the world, and last year I was a deranged menace.  Everyone stares at my scar… I understand.  I don’t want to intrude on your privacy.”

Whitehorn nodded, and then glanced around the room as though he were looking for intruders.  “I suppose you would understand, wouldn’t you?  You won’t tell anyone where we are, then?”

Harry brightened.  “Not a soul, I swear it.”

“Good enough, then.  Follow me,” Whitehorn said.     

Harry reduced the Bonnie and placed it and the licence into one of the saddlebags, slung the wide strap over his shoulder, and followed Whitehorn to a narrow stairway.  The stairway led to a winding hallway, then more stairs, a long corridor, and another set of stairs.  Harry was fairly sure that they went down the same corridor twice, and he was absolutely certain he could never find Whitehorn’s workshop again if he tried.  The last set of stairs ended in a storeroom, filled with shelves and racks full of brooms. 

A young man was stocking the shelves.  “Mr. Whitehorn, sir!  This is a surprise!  What can we do for you today?”

“Hullo, Jackie,” Whitehorn said.  “I need two of the racing specials for my friend here, and I’ll need a black Permaquill as well.”

The stock boy’s eyes ballooned.  “You’re going to sign them, sir?  I mean – that is – you never…” He turned to Harry.  “Quality Quidditch Supplies is at your service, sir.”  He went to a locked cabinet and brought out two long and highly polished wooden boxes.

“Should I include the cases, sir?” he asked Whitehorn.

“Why not?” Whitehorn replied.  “Now, Harry, who should I make this out to?”

The stock boy’s eyes widened in recognition.  He spluttered, “Harry?  You’re Harry P-P-Potter?”

Harry forced a smile.  “That’s right,” he said.

“It’s an honour, Mr. P-Potter.  All that stuff in the Prophet last year… erm… I thought it was a load of dung.  Sir.” 

Harry shook the stock boy’s hand.  “That’s nice of you to say,” he told him.

Whitehorn cleared his throat.  “Who are the brooms for?” he asked.

“One is for me, and the signed one is for my friend Ron – Ron Weasley,” said Harry.

“Weasley… he’s your keeper, isn’t he?  Say, wasn’t his brother your House’s seeker a few years back?” Whitehorn asked.  “Seems to me that was the last time they took the Cup before you came along.”

Harry nodded.  “Charlie’s smashing; he works with dragons in Romania now.”

Whitehorn started writing on the second broom.

Harry said, “Wha… I only asked you to sign one of them… I don’t want to impose.”

Whitehorn smiled.  “Oh, I insist on it,” he said.

The stock boy said, “How will you be paying for these, Mr. Potter?  I’ll have to enquire, but on Mr. Whitehorn’s word we can advance the price for you –”

Whitehorn cut him off.  “On my account, Jackie.”

Harry blurted, “That’s not at all what I intended!  Devlin, I can easily pay for these!”

Whitehorn shook Harry’s hand, and then the stock boy’s as well.  “If you need to reach me, I’ll accept your owl.  I hope Weasley enjoys it; it’s awfully quick for a Keeper, but I think he’ll manage.  Good luck to both of you with the Cup this year.  Oh – happy birthday!”  With that, he disappeared up the narrow stairs.

“I’ll just wrap these cases for you, Mr. Potter, and mark the wrapping so you can tell them apart,” Jackie the stock boy said. 

“Racing specials… what are these, anyway?  I’ve seen the 2001s,” Harry said.

“These are Nimbus 2100-Rs,” Jackie said as he tied together the cases.

“I’ve never heard of a 2100-R; I’ve never heard of a 2100 at all,” admitted Harry.

“Oh, you probably wouldn’t have,” said Jackie.  “The R series is meant for challenge racing, but Aidan Lynch is riding one next season and word is that they’ll be going into regular production.  Mr. Carruthers had me set one in the window just last week.”  He fashioned a simple handle for the cases from a light rope.  Harry thanked him and walked out into the store. 

Sun was streaming into the windows looking out on Diagon Alley; the rain had broken at last.  The street was crowded.  A knot of young boys and girls peered into the window at the Firebolt and the Nimbus 2100-R on display; their parents hovered nearby.  On his way out, he overheard their conversation about the merits of various brooms.  They looked to be near the age of first-years, he thought, but he didn’t recognise any of them.

“My brother has a Nimbus 2000, and he says they’re almost as good as a Firebolt,” one girl insisted.

“I’ll never get to ride anything like those in my whole life,” a boy said dejectedly.

Harry leaned in.  “You know, Gryffindor House is going to be riding international standard brooms from now on,” he said.

The dejected boy looked at Harry curiously and then saw his forehead.  “Eep!  You’re him!” he squeaked.

“Merlin!  It’s Harry Potter!” one of the girls said.  Suddenly he found himself bombarded with questions, and several parents moved closer.  He was both surprised and pleased that nearly all the questions were about Hogwarts and Quidditch.  He seated himself on the kerb and chatted away, paying no mind to the expanding crowd of onlookers.

The girl whose brother had a Nimbus 2000 pointed at the Firebolt and asked, “So what’s it really like riding one of these?”

Harry grinned mischievously.  He untied his packages, unwrapped the package marked for him, and set the fine wooden case on the curb.  “Is that what I think it is?  But… but I thought you flew a Firebolt!” the girl asked.

“Just picked this up today,” Harry said.  He pointed to the boy who had first identified him.  “You, what’s your name?”

“Erm, Alastair, s-sir…  Alastair Blitz,” he stammered.

“Alastair, I need you to watch my things.  Can you do that for me?” Harry asked.

“Yes, sir!” the boy said brightly. 

Harry opened the case and stood.  The sleek racing broom rose effortlessly into his hand.  Alastair goggled, and tugged on Harry’s sleeve.  “Is that – is that signed, Mr. Potter?  By Devlin Whitehorn himself?” he asked in a reverent whisper.  Harry nodded.  The rest of the knot of children and even some of the parents murmured excitedly.

Harry took off his cloak and draped it over his saddlebags.  He wore new denims and one of his hand-me-down boxing singlets.  “So, what’s your name?” he asked the curious girl.

“I’m Laura Davies,” she replied, fidgeting.

“Are you Roger Davies’ sister?” Harry asked.  She nodded nervously.

Harry said, “I know Roger.  He’s quite a good Chaser.”  The girl beamed.

A middle-aged witch who shared the girl’s features stepped forward and shook Harry’s hand.  “Mr. Potter, I’m Mathilde Davies.  My son speaks highly of you.”

Harry was surprised – he hadn’t particularly thought Roger Davies the type to speak highly of others.  He smiled and said, “That’s nice to hear, ma’am.  I think Laura here fancies a ride.”

Mrs. Davies’ eyebrows rose, and she looked nervously up and down the alley.  “Do you think that’s wise?” she asked quietly.

Harry shrugged.  “I’d think a brief flight up and down the alley would be safe enough,” he said.  Wondering about the source of Mrs. Davies’ reaction, he added, “Together, of course!  I imagine she’s not prepared to ride a broom of this calibre on her own?”  He wasn’t sure, but he thought the girl was actually holding her breath.

“I assume you’ll stay at a reasonable speed?” Mrs. Davies said.

“I’m not about to get her hurt,” Harry replied.  “Roger would kill me, I’m sure.”  Mrs. Davies smiled and her daughter took in a lungful of air. 

Harry perched himself on the 2100-R and held out his hand.  “Well, come on, then – it’s you and me,” he said.  There was a chorus of ‘No way!’ and ‘Wow!’ from her companions.   Laura Davies looked as if she would burst.  She took Harry’s hand and seated herself behind him. 

“I’m just going to circle around once, right?  Keep a tight hold,” he told her.  She wrapped her arms around his stomach and giggled.  He was true to his word and took a single swoop up and down Diagon Alley.  He stayed at a relatively low speed but went through sufficient paces to sense the broom’s capabilities.  A genuine grin broke out on his face – it was even more responsive than the broom Sirius had given him.

“I’ve never gone so fast in my life – that was amazing!” she said breathlessly as Harry helped her down.

Harry beamed.  “All right, who’s next?” he asked.  There had to be something good about fame, he thought, and perhaps I’ve found it.  He gave each of the children browsing at the window a turn after clearing it with their parents, before he returned the 2100-R to its case and wrapping.  He tied the two packages back together again, shook hands with all the children and their parents, and donned his cloak.  It was while he signed autographs for some of the children that he became aware of the dozens of people standing and watching him, many of whom politely applauded.

“Good form,” said Fred Weasley in Harry’s left ear.  “Smashing flying, as usual.”

“I’d give it an E, I think,” added his brother George in Harry’s right ear.  “It wasn’t fast enough for an O.” 

Harry hadn’t heard them Apparate in.  He smiled and shook hands with both twins.  They were wearing jackets equal to the garish numbers from the day before.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“We were watching your demonstration,” George told Harry.

“We do have a shop here, you know,” chimed in Fred.  “Surely you remember it?”

George nodded.  “If you failed your O.W.L.s, Harry, it’ll be the start of a promising future on our sales floor.”

“We couldn’t put our partner to work!” Fred objected.

Harry picked up the saddlebags and the cases.

“We were both surprised to see you out here alone, Harry,” Fred said.

“It’s hard to believe that our, erm, protective friends aren’t swarming on you,” George agreed.

“They would be swarming on you right now, actually, if it weren’t for the foresight of our new Lord and master,” said Fred.

“Too true, too true – all hail Mister Moony!” George declared.

“Unusual knapsack you’ve got there, Harry,” Fred said.

“Do you have two new brooms in hand, Harry?” George asked.

Very conspicuous consumption, Harry,” chided Fred.  “Perhaps you’d like to increase your stake in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes?”

Harry was half-dizzy trying to keep up with Ron’s brothers.  “Umbridge made off with my Firebolt last year, and I still don’t know where it is,” he said.  “I picked up the other broom for Ron –”

“A peace offering?” asked Fred.

“It was rather tense last night,” George observed. 

Harry said, “I’ll show you everything if I can set down my things somewhere.”

Fred said, “Allow us, partner,” and took the cases from Harry.

George added, “We’ve been looking for an excuse to get you to the shop,” as he took the saddlebags.

As they walked, Harry asked, “So what’s all this partner business about?  I don’t want you to pay back the 1000 Galleons.  You do understand that, right?”

“Absolutely,” said Fred.

George shook his head.  “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Fred said, “We’re just giving you ten percent.  It’s not a big deal.”

“Had it all drawn up nice and legal-like.  You can have your stake now, being that we’re all adults,” George told him.  “That’s one of the items for our next Annual Meeting.”

“We have Annual Meetings?” asked Fred.

“Absolutely, brother.  I must have mislaid your invitation – remember?” said George.

Fred feigned shock.  “Oh – the Annual Meeting… right!  Mislaid the invitation, eh?  That’s a likely story,” he said.

George swatted at him and then announced, “Here we are, partner… so what do you think?”

Harry was silent for most of a minute before he managed, “It’s very… erm… visible.”

The storefront was painted iridescent green and it glittered with yellow and bluish highlights where the sun struck.  A garish sign with the company logo - three stylised and interlocked Ws – hung above the door.  Children and their parents mobbed the windows, and filled the store to near capacity.  Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes made the Burrow seem calm by comparison – children randomly turned into canaries on one side of the store and projectile-vomited on the other side; parents stood clear either out of disdain of for the sake of safety.  The store staff constantly called out “Scourgify!” but seemed to have as much fun as the customers.  Harry quickly noticed that the workers were all female, young and pretty.  Fred and George were clearly in their element.  Just that quickly, it started – heads began to turn.



Look, it’s Harry Potter!”
I saw him down the street – he was giving broom rides!  Can you believe it?”
Let me see – where is he?”
Are you sure it’s actually him?”
Surely not – they must have hired a look-alike for the day.”



The store had already been quite crowded, and Harry felt thoroughly mobbed.  Fred and George cleared a path for him toward the counter at the rear of the store.  George opened the storeroom door and quickly shuttled Harry’s things inside. 

Oh!  Excuse me, Mr. Potter, I’m so sorry!”  One of Fred and George’s staff was shoved flat into Harry; her forehead bumped into his nose and the rest of her pressed firmly into him.

“It’s not your fault.  Here, let me get you out of this,” he said jauntily.  She was undeniably attractive and he didn’t really mind her being shoved against him.  He hoisted the young woman by the waist until she was seated on the counter, and then hopped up on the countertop himself.

Fred hollered to Harry over the din, “What are you doing?  Hurry and slip back here!”

Harry waved him off and said, “Fetch George, would you?”

He took out his wand, cast Sonorus, and turned to face the crowd in the store.  As soon as he began looking at faces in the crowd, he started to get nervous.  He cleared his throat and it echoed through the room.

“Uh, sorry for that,” he said.  “Look, I want to welcome all of you to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.  Fred and George – where are Fred and George? – there you are – erm, Fred and George Weasley here are very good friends of mine, and I’m pleased to be at their shop.  I’ve used their fine products and I can tell you that you’ll get a real bang out of them.  Actually, you will get a bang out of quite a few of them.”

Harry’s nerves settled a bit atop polite laughter.  He kept going, “I can guarantee that at least a hundred things in this store will make the list of banned items at Hogwarts” – there was more laughter – “and any store that can accomplish that in less than one year is pretty amazing.  Have fun and buy lots of things.  Thank you for coming!”  The store erupted in applause, and Harry quickly hopped down behind the counter.

“We’ll make it fifteen percent,” quipped Fred.

“Twenty percent, then,” added George,” and not a Knut more.”  Both twins burst into laughter. 

Fred said, “You were great up there.  I didn’t know you could handle a crowd like that.”

Harry was shaking a bit.  “I think I’m going to spew up,” he mumbled.

George laughed, “We’re well used to that around here.”

Customers rushed the counter. 



I’ll take six of these, please!”
Are you sure this antidote works?”
Do you think Harry Potter would sign my Skiving Snackbox?”


Harry settled in on the steps beside the counter and signed a score of Snackboxes and a magazine or two before he ran into the storeroom to hide.  Fred and George joined him eventually.

“That was a very good week’s worth of transactions, all in half an hour!” exclaimed Fred.

“We can’t have you come by too often, Harry,” George said, fanning himself.  “This old heart can’t take it!”

Harry shook his head.  “I’ve had people all over me – Gringotts, then Quality Quidditch, and now here.  I don’t understand it.”

“Scarcity heightens demand, Harry,” said George.

“Huh?”  Harry had no idea what he was talking about.

“What my brother the pseudo-intellectual means is that you’re rarely seen,” explained Fred.  “How long since you’ve been to Diagon Alley?”

Harry said, “Until yesterday, I hadn’t been here since the summer before my third year.”

“Precisely, my famous friend,” George said.  “It’s a matter of pent-up demand.  Everyone wants to see you; it doesn’t matter whether they think you a hero or a nutter.”

“I’m inclined to the latter, of course,” Fred chimed in.

George said, “I’m more interested in this spanking good knapsack of yours.  Where did you find this?”

“It’s part of a birthday present that Sirius left me,” said Harry.

“Goodness, it is your birthday today!” Fred shouted, clapping Harry on the back.

“Let me fetch some butterbeer to celebrate,” George said.  “Something to eat, Harry?”

“Eat here?  You must be joking!” Harry said. 

“Aw, ickle Harrykins doesn’t trust the bad old pranksters,” mocked George.

“How are you supposed to carry that knapsack?” asked Fred.  “It’s a bit awkward without a handle.”

Harry said, “It’s not a knapsack; they’re saddlebags.”  He decided that there was enough room in the empty centre of the storeroom, and took the tiny motorbike out of the bag.  He set it as close to dead centre as he could guess, set his hand over it, and whispered  ‘Redintegro Triumph’.

“Merlin!” Fred shrieked.

“Oh, the fun we could have with that…” said George, and a goofy grin spread across his face.

Fred said, “I see endless possibilities for mayhem,” and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

“Down, boys,” warned Harry.

“Where did Sirius come up with this?” asked George.

Harry told him, “Devlin Whitehorn made it for him.  Sirius arranged for Whitehorn to refurbish it for me.  It’s actually sort of a big broomstick under there.”

“Devlin Whitehorn?” Fred confirmed.

The Devlin Whitehorn?” George asked.

“Put his own hands on the most incredible thing that I think I’ve ever seen?” Fred wondered.

“Just for you?” gasped George.

Harry tossed out, “Oh yeah, he signed the brooms for me, too,” as if it were insignificant, knowing full well what he was doing to the twins.

Fred and George looked first at each other with bugging eyes, then at Harry, and then at the wrapped brooms.  They lunged for the packages and each tore one open.

Fred held up one of the brooms.  “Ron’s going to wet himself!  I’ve never seen anything like this – do you think it’s an original?  Cor!  Look at this, George!  To Ron: Hope you win back-to-back Quidditch Cups.  He’s signed and dated it, right here!”

George started cackling.  He handed the other broom to Fred and choked for air.

Harry asked, “What’s so funny?”

Fred snorted, “You haven’t looked it over?”

“No, I haven’t,” said Harry. 

Fred burst out laughing and Harry snatched back his 2100-R.  In bold handwriting, in one line along the length of the broomstick, Whitehorn had written:

Dear Harry: Please break this broom over You-Know-Who’s arse.  I’ll gladly give you a new one.  Best wishes and happy Seeking, Devlin Whitehorn

Harry sputtered, “I hope Madam Hooch doesn’t have a problem with ‘arse’ written on my broom,” and then collapsed in laughter. 

When they had all settled, Harry asked, “You think Ron will go for it, then?”

“The broom?  If he doesn’t, I’ll break it over his arse,” Fred said.

George shrugged.  “He’s always had a problem with jealousy.  Like I said yesterday, it’s the natural outcome of a life of hand-me-downs and put-downs.”  No it’s not, thought Harry, and I should know.

Fred smirked, “Of course, when you mix in the opposite sex – well, it’s a potion for disaster.”

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

Fred frowned.  “You’re joking, right?  George, I think young Harry’s trying to pull a prank on us.”

George said, “He knows better than that.  I think perhaps the lad’s simply naïve.  Shall we educate him?”

Fred nodded.  “He’s either naïve or blind.  Harry, in case you truly didn’t notice last night, our hapless brother thinks he’s in love with Hermione.  However, he’s too big a git to get out of his own way.  He also suffers from denial and self-doubt.  It’s sad, really.”

“Quite sad,” George agreed.  “We tried to help him with his misery last year but he was too stubborn to listen to us.”

“He’s in… oh.  Erm… I see.”  Harry collected himself, and added, “I mean they’ve always circled around one another, but he never actually said anything to me.”

George watched Harry as if he was the first test of a new product; he slowly broke out into a wicked smile.  “Oi, Fred, we have a problem.”

Fred gave Harry the same inspection.  “Most definitely a problem, George; this is too good!  ‘My best friend loves my best friend and so do I’… sounds like something right from one of Mum’s trashy romance novels, doesn’t it?”

Harry stared at the twins coldly.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

George said, “This explains the circus at Gringotts last night, eh?”

Fred gave Harry a mock disapproving look.  “Harry, let me break it to you.  Ron and Mum will never be truly happy unless Hermione hooks up with Ron and you hook up with Ginny.  That way, Mum gets the son she’d prefer over Ron, and Ron gets the girl and his best mate as a brother-in-law.  Don’t pretend that you couldn’t see it!”

George shook his head.  “You’re forgetting the spanner in the works, dear brother.”

Fred nodded.  “Ah yes, that.  Hermione doesn’t love Ron.  Well, not like that, anyway.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open.

Fred chuckled.  “I’ll close that for you if you like, Harry.  We have it on very good authority – Ginny told us.”

“Well, she didn’t exactly want to tell us, but we’re rather persuasive when we want dirt on our siblings,” added George.

Fred’s eyes narrowed and bore in on Harry.  “Of course, I think dear Ginny might have held out on us if we’d asked her this morning.  What do you think, George?”

“This morning, Ginny was a cauldron gone horribly wrong,” George observed flatly.

Fred searched Harry’s face for a response.  “I was thinking you might have something to say about that?” he said.

Harry answered quickly, “I feel badly for her.  I know she was embarrassed, but she panicked – she didn’t need to blurt out everything in her head!”

“What do you intend to do about it?” George asked calmly. 

Harry was becoming apprehensive about the twins’ demeanour.  “I was considering leaving the country?” he offered, hoping to lighten the mood.

“That’s a start,” George said.  He remained expressionless, and Harry squirmed until Fred started to make faces.

Finally Fred said, “If you hurt her, we’ll use you as our personal guinea pig for the next year.  Still, old boy, we do see that you’re in an awkward pinch.”

“You’re allowed some latitude, Harry.  She can be terribly dramatic,” George told him.

“She’s a fourteen year old girl, George – of course she’s dramatic!” Fred spluttered.

“Just be nice to her,” George demanded.

“But not too nice,” Fred added.

“No, definitely not too nice.  That would be a sure path to product testing,” George said.

“So I’m more or less doomed,” Harry observed.

Fred nodded.  “Until she decides to move on, yes.  I don’t want to think about Ginny in love – it makes my stomach turn.  I’d rather talk about the dirt that we wheedled from her.”  

“I agree.  We certainly thought it was good news,” said George.

“Hermione’s completely wrong for Ron,” Fred said flatly.

“Totally mismatched,” agreed George.

“Nothing in common,” Fred said.

George continued, “She’s too smart for him – she’d be bored with him in a month.”

Fred snorted, “She has to be dragged onto a broom, for Merlin’s sake!”

“Besides, we have plans for our little brother,” George cackled. “How can we sit idly by, when so many others have lust in their hearts for him?”

“Do you mean Lavender Brown?” Fred asked.

“She’s about Ronnie’s speed,” said George.

“What speed is that – idle?  Say, what about Parvati Patil?” Fred wondered.

“The Patils still hate him from the Yule Ball,” George sighed.

“That’s quite a grudge, isn’t it?  You don’t suppose Katie…?” Fred said.

George frowned.  “Not bloody likely,” he grumbled.

“Who’s that Ravenclaw with the… you know… and the… oh, come on, brother, you certainly know…?” Fred asked; he scratched his head in frustration.

George pursed his lips for a moment, and then offered, “Isn’t it something like broccoli?”

“Bleagh!” Fred groaned.  “If you’re going to use food to remember names, pick something less likely to make me spew… hold on there… Brock… Brocklehurst, that’s it!”

Harry’s brows furrowed.  “Mandy Brocklehurst?  What about her?”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Harry!  She has those… and that… and to walk behind her on the stairs…” Fred stopped and took a deep breath.  “Delectable, positively delectable.  Too smart for Ronnie, though.”

“True, true – she’d stir up the same feelings of inadequacy as Hermione does,” George said.

“I’m taking away the Wireless, brother,” Fred said with a smirk.  “You’ve been listening to Auntie Agony again, haven’t you? ‘Feelings of inadequacy’… next thing, you’ll be buying skirts and lip gloss!”

“You’re mad, the both of you,” Harry huffed.

“Er… I have to ask a delicate question… you do like girls, right?” George asked.

“Of course I like girls!” snapped Harry.

“You know, there’s someone else who’s been crushing on Ronniekins?  We could set Loony Lovegood on him –” Fred started.

“Don’t call her ‘Loony’.  Luna deserves better than that from you two; she deserves better from everyone.  Her own house treats her badly enough – don’t you start to trifle with her,” Harry warned both twins.

Fred and George exchanged surprised glances.  “Goodness, Harry,” Fred said.

“There are so many layers, aren’t there, Fred?” asked George.

“Layers upon layers, George,” agreed Fred.  “Harry is complicated; he’s nothing at all like our dear confused little brother.”

“Enough!” Harry shouted.  The twins laughed at him; Fred tried to ruffle his hair.

“So when do we get to ride it?” asked George, ogling the motorbike.

Ride it?  I want to know when we disassemble it,” said Fred hungrily.

Harry stood up, reduced the motorbike, and put it back in his saddlebag.  “You guys are too much,” he said.  The twins helped repack the 2100-Rs, lashed the cases back together with the handle, and handed them off.  Harry reduced them and they joined the bike and another package that the twins gave him. 

Lupin was waiting inside the shop; Harry couldn’t tell for certain if he was amused or stunned by the spectacle around him.  “I see they found you,” he called out.

Harry couldn’t help but grin.  “The bike – it’s brilliant!” he said.

Lupin broke into a smile and said, “I’m sure Sirius is very pleased just now.”

Harry bade the twins goodbye and walked with Lupin to the Leaky Cauldron.  Just short of the front door, Lupin said, “We’ve a quick errand to run.  I had though that taking the Underground would be for the best, but no one would ever expect… would it be all right if I were to ride pillion?”

“Pillion?” Harry asked.

“Behind you, Harry – would it be all right if I rode behind you on the bike?” explained Lupin.

“Er… are you certain about that?” said Harry nervously.  “I was just shown how –”

Lupin waved him off.  “If you can fly a Firebolt, you can manage this old thing,” he said.  Harry took a deep breath and stepped out onto the sidewalk.  He stood just inside the anti-Muggle ward and enlarged the bike

Lupin stood stock still for a few moments at the sight of it.  “I never expected to see the Bonnie again, you know?” he said quietly.

“If we’re going to do this…” said Harry.  Lupin summoned two discarded tins from the kerb and transfigured them into fair equivalents of helmets.  He prodded Harry to don one of them and strapped the other to his own head.  Harry nudged the bike out onto the sidewalk and pushed it by the handlebars onto the street.  He tied the saddlebags in place, his cloak and shrunken gifts set inside.  He and Lupin clambered on and then they were off into the traffic. 

Whitehorn had been right; the motorbike didn’t handle like a broom, especially when it was pretending to roll along the roadway.  Harry enjoyed the way that the false engine noise escalated with the throttle, and had to admit that the loud rumble heightened the experience of riding.  He also found the brakes a bit sensitive.  They rode slowly and very carefully.  Harry was content to draw horns and gestures rather than a traffic violation; he didn’t care to test his licence.  No one seemed to suspect that they were riding anything other than a motorbike.  In fact, they drew a few admiring waves.

Lupin directed them to Grimmauld Place.  It was early afternoon by the time that Harry saw Number 12 appear before him.  As soon as his helmet was off, he asked, “Why are we here?” 

“We need to take possession of the house now that the will has been read.  Professor Flitwick has agreed to cast a new Fidelius tomorrow,” Lupin said.  “After that, we’ll move here for a few days to sort things out… if you’re up for it, of course.  I realise that what you do is your own business, but if you can remain safe –”

Harry shrugged.  “Everything’s made sense so far.  I can speak up for myself.”

Entering the house proved rather simple.  Harry held the Black signet ring against a rune adjacent to the front door and tapped a second rune with his wand.  There was a flash of light and a tingle in his fingers.  Lupin cast against the same runes, with the seal of a parchment replacing the ring.  The door opened of its own accord. 

The entry wasn’t as gloomy as the first time Harry had entered 12 Grimmauld Place, nor was it as tidy as when Mrs. Weasley had been running the household.  There was no sign of new infestations, and the results of a few cautiously cast dark detection spells met Lupin’s expectations.

Harry made his way to the kitchen and unloaded his saddlebags onto the tabletop.  Lupin looked at the broom cases with interest.  “I picked up two brooms from Devlin Whitehorn – still can’t believe I actually met him,” Harry said.  “Can you believe he autographed them?  There’s one for me and one for Ron.”

Lupin gave him a half-smile.  “Impressive.  Planning to try and make up, eh?  Good man.”

“I hope so.  I might give Ron this, too,” Harry said, nodding toward a square gold box.  “It’s a birthday assortment from Fred and George.  I’m a bit afraid to open it.”

“You might want to wait until you’ve settled things with Ron, then.  A gift from the twins might offset the broom,” Lupin observed.  “By the way, would you please pick up an actual helmet to wear when riding the bike?  Sirius dumped it a time or two.  He learned the value of helmets the hard way.  I’ll ask that you consider having two helmets, in case you’re planning on anyone riding pillion.”

“The way Whitehorn tells it, Sirius needed three helmets,” Harry said.

Lupin blushed.  “That was sometimes the case, yes,” he admitted.  “I suppose Whitehorn would know.  Sirius was close to him when he was working for Nimbus.  I see he modified the bike a fair bit.  It couldn’t be reduced in size before; that surely would have gotten Sirius out of a fix or two.”

Harry clenched and unclenched his fists and returned to the entry hall.  “I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he said in a forced whisper.  “Whitehorn had quite a lot to say about Sirius, actually.  He said more than anyone else has ever bothered to tell me.”  He stormed up the stairs and toward the drawing room.

“I haven’t shared a lot with you, have I, Harry?  I haven’t given you very much at all,” Lupin said as he followed Harry, casting dark detection spells all the while.

Harry turned on Lupin.  “No, you haven’t,” he snapped.  “Wait, let me take that back: I do owe you my Patronus.  I’m sure Dumbledore was thrilled about that.  Everyone’s all too willing to take an interest in my skills, aren’t they?  I’ll give Hagrid due credit; at least he gave me the picture album.  Even Sirius – I can’t believe he worked for Nimbus and never told me.  He found the time to tell Ginny about music.  He loved books, and I guess he shared that with Hermione.  He even knew Ron was obsessed with the Cannons.  He waits until he’s dead and gone, and then… and then drops all of this on me, and I –” I will not cry, he insisted to himself, I won’t give anyone the satisfaction.

“Harry, no one really knows what to say to you.  No one ever has,” Lupin said sadly.

“You could have said that,” Harry growled.

“I told you that I’d make a poor father figure,” Lupin said, “and I don’t expect to improve much on that score.  Nevertheless, I intend to be here for you if you’ll allow me.”

Harry ignored him.  The drawing room was nearly empty, he realised.  The cabinets were bare and there was a discoloured area on the wall where the Black family tapestry had hung.

“Harry, please talk to me,” Lupin asked calmly.

“Why are you doing all of this, Remus?  Is this out of guilt?” Harry demanded. 

“No, but in part it is a matter of obligation.  Obligation is one of the few noble options left to us,” said Lupin.  “Guilt is a waste of one’s energy.  I have an obligation – to you, to Sirius, and to your parents.  That’s why I’m here, despite your bitterness and mood swings and endless cheek.”

“I have good reason to be bitter – you’re well aware of that,” Harry spat.

Lupin let out a low growl, set his jaw, and thundered, “Do you think you have a monopoly on loss?  Don’t flatter yourself!

Harry wasn’t sure what he’d set off, but he began to apologise, “I didn’t mean to –”

“I’ll be thirty-eight years old this fall, Harry,” Lupin snarled, “and I’m completely alone.  My so-called family won’t have me.  My friends are all dead.  I found love once – surprised, Harry? – and the Death Eaters took that away from me as well.  Do you know why no one around you talks about the past?  No

one cares to remember it!  Nearly everyone from the old Order is swimming in loss, but you’re too self-absorbed to notice!”

Harry felt the telltale catch in his throat and dabbed at his eyes.  He was determined to hold it together in front of Lupin and chose to say nothing.

Lupin picked up on Harry’s distress.  “Your life has been tragic, Harry, by any measure,” he said, now closer to his usual demeanour. “I don’t dispute that – nor does anyone who genuinely knows your history – but I’m weary of watching you push away everyone who can help you.  You’re choosing to push away your life.  Can’t you see that?”

“People who get close to me die.  I need to push them away,” Harry insisted. 

Lupin said, “You need to give the people close to you a choice in the matter.  Sirius and your father took an enormous risk when they befriended me.  I was terribly worried, but they made their choices and stuck by them.”

“Dumbledore doesn’t offer choices, at least where I’m concerned,” Harry countered.

Lupin frowned.  “I don’t share all of Sirius’ anger on that count but I do share his concern.  Dumbledore hasn’t been forthcoming with you and that has been a mistake.”

Harry seethed, “I’m fed up with the lies.  Dumbledore and Snape must have let Sirius rot in Azkaban, as far as I can tell.  Dumbledore told me that Snape was the eavesdropper who heard the prophecy, and that Snape was there when my parents were killed.  How could he not know about Wormtail?  If Snape knew, then so did Dumbledore.”

Lupin slowly turned red.  “Would you repeat that, please?” he eventually asked in a low and dangerous voice.

“Snape was there when my parents were killed.  He had to know about Wormtail, he had to,” Harry told Lupin, “which means that he let Sirius rot, and that Dumbledore let it happen.”

“There has to be an explanation… he couldn’t… no matter how much bad blood… I can’t comprehend… there has to be… Snape!” Lupin spluttered, clenching and unclenching his fists. 

“Dumbledore said he would find me tonight,” Harry added.  “I’m not letting this go.”

“You will tell me exactly how he explains himself,” Lupin ordered through clenched teeth.  “You will spare me no details.  Is that clear, Harry?  I want to know everything.  If Snape was responsible for Sirius being stuck in Azkaban –”

Harry was taken aback by the hatred burning in Lupin’s eyes.  “I’ll let you know, I promise,” he agreed.  Just then there was a loud squeal, followed by a BOOM! and a symphony of popping and crackling.  Harry began to dash through the doorway but Lupin seized him by the shoulder.  They crept, wands drawn, to the edge of the stairs, then to the entry, and finally to the kitchen.

Dobby was crouched beside the table, his head covered by his arms.  Winky madly clutched at him.  The gold box from Fred and George had burst open, and its contents jetted into the room.  Twirling colours exploded into bright letters that spelled out ‘Happy Birthday to our Partner’, ‘Welcome to the Family, Future Brother-In-Law’, ‘Harry Loves Devlin Whitehorn’, ‘Happy Birthday, Publicity Hound’ and a half dozen much cruder references.  A letter on cream parchment popped out, inviting Harry to an Annual Meeting of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes investors, to be held that evening at their Diagon Alley shop. 

It took Harry and Lupin five minutes to quell the explosions, and another half hour to calm Dobby and Winky.  Dobby explained that he knew Harry was in a place that needed to be cleaned, so he and Winky had come to do their duty as Harry’s servants.  Lupin was amused by Harry’s attempt at arguing with the house-elves over their status.  Immediately they set forth.  Within a half hour, the ratty carpeting had been removed to reveal clean but unpolished wooden floors; the remnants of wallpaper had been removed and the walls scrubbed to nearly white; the house-elf heads were banished; and most of the serpent-styled items – door knocker, candelabras and so forth – were nowhere to be seen.  Harry and Lupin swept the house for any undiscovered dark items.  Kreacher was nowhere to be found; when they made their way back to the kitchen, the deranged house-elf’s lair was clean and empty.

“Pumpkin juice and light snacks are prepared for the sirs,” Dobby said with a polite bow.  Just as at the Lion's Den, a pitcher of juice, two glasses and two plates of small sandwiches and cookies were arranged on the table.

“I hope this is to your liking, Master Harry sir,” Winky said.

Harry smiled.  “Very much so, Winky.  Welcome to Grimmauld Place, I suppose.”  He thought for a moment, and added, “May I ask something of the both of you?”

“Harry Potter may ask of Winky anything he requires,” she said.  Dobby nodded his agreement furiously.

“The house is very clean now – thank you, by the way – but didn’t Kreacher get in your way?  Have you seen him at all?” asked Harry.

Winky hissed and showed a glimpse of pointed and sharp-looking teeth that startled Harry.  “Kreacher was a bad elf, Master Harry, sir.  A terrible elf – evil.  Kreacher led his master to death.  Abomination!

Harry agreed with her – even Kreacher’s name raised anger inside of him.  Despite that, he asked, “Where is he, then?”

Lupin sat straighter.  “Kreacher hasn’t managed to leave, has he?” he asked with not a little concern.

Winky’s smile completely bared the sharp teeth; she positively dripped malice.  “Kreacher is not free.  He will not betray the house of Master Harry, sir.  He will not betray Master Harry, sir, or friend-of-the-house Mister Lupin.”  Her eyes narrowed and she added, “Kreacher has earned his reward.”

“Dobby and Winky will protect Harry Potter, sir, and his secrets,” Dobby added fiercely.

Lupin put his hand on Harry’s arm.  “No need to press, I think,” he said.

Harry looked Winky straight in the eyes, which made the house-elf take a step back.  “Thank you for saving me the trouble of dealing with him myself,” he said.  Winky gave a nervous curtsey; Dobby bowed but crossed his arms in what seemed to be grim satisfaction.  Lupin hesitantly took a cookie.  Harry nursed his juice and considered how little he actually knew about house-elves.

Lupin encouraged Harry to attend the twins’ Annual Meeting throughout the afternoon; he finally confessed that he would be there as well, and that he was uncomfortable with Fred and George’s near-worship of him. 

Harry decided to ride the Bonnie back to Diagon Alley.  Lupin begged off, saying that he needed to check in with Tonks and would meet Harry at the shop.  Dobby and Winky twitched at any mentions of Fred and George, and Harry spent his journey across London grumbling to himself about the twins’ explosive birthday gift.

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