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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Seventeen


August 5, 1996

Mister Harry James Potter

In care of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Dear Mister Potter:

The Board of Governors is pleased that you survived the August 4 attack upon your person by so-called Death Eaters, and joins the Minister for Magic in commending you for your efforts to save the lives of three Hogwarts students and several members of their families.

It has come to our attention that the powerful abilities manifested in response to this attack are not under your conscious control.  We bear responsibility for the welfare of all Hogwarts students, and are gravely concerned by the risk that you may unwittingly pose. Upon consultation with Ministry-approved experts, we have concluded that you cannot reasonably expect to gain control of these abilities in the near term; in fact, their basis and genesis are wholly unclear.    

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry reserves the right to dismiss any student whose conduct is considered harmful to himself/herself or to the school (HSWW Charter, Article IX, Sec. LVII, Par. XXIV [amended]).  Given the uncertain and dangerous nature of your abilities, and the minimal chance that you will gain control of these abilities within the normal period of your attendance at Hogwarts; the Board of Governors orders the Headmaster to dismiss you forthwith from your program of study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

This dismissal is not a reflection upon your academic or practical performance in any fashion, nor does it abrogate any commendations or awards earned as a consequence of your attendance.  To that end, the Chair of the Board of Governors is authorised to prepare a letter of recommendation for inclusion in your permanent record.

Your superior performance on the Ordinary Wizarding Level examinations, your collected behaviour and skilful action in the face of adversity, and your formidable reputation throughout the wizarding world are all indications that you will have excellent prospects despite this decision.  The Board of Governors wishes you well in your future pursuits, and fervently hopes that you will be able to make alternative educational arrangements.  To that end, we authorise the Headmaster to place the full force and resources of the institution at your disposal.

Sincerely yours,

Edward Parkinson

Vice Chair, Board of Governors

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

August 6 

Harry picked up the coffee table that set before the fireplace. He hefted it by its end, and sent it flying through the bay windows.  Glass rained down into the small yard below.  It felt good.

Hedwig flapped mournfully about the bedroom, and attempted to remain clear of Harry’s rampage.  Her cage was toppled and bent.  Harry dragged his school trunk out of the closet.  He lifted the empty trunk high over his head, and tossed it through the broken window.  The remaining bits of glass that clung to the cracked frame lost their hold.

The previous nine days played through his mind, fast then slow, slow then fast, clear to distorted to clear.  The letter from the Governors hurt him deeply, but Madam Bones had predicted it.  In the end - the bitter end - all he could see before him was Hermione’s agony, and all he could hear were her screams as Voldemort had torn into her mind.

“I’m going to kill him, Hedwig!” Harry raged.  “I’m going to kill him, and I’m going to put an end to all of this!”

He toppled the couch.  The anger coursed through him so strongly that his entire head burned and his vision darkened around the edges.  He methodically shredded the cushions with his hands.  The fabric blackened and heat licked at him.  When there was nothing left he cried out in fury and pain, and the plastered walls cracked in several places. 

He wrapped his hands around the sides of the writing desk, pulled and swung.  The desk shattered against the headboard of the bed.  Loose papers flew and then fluttered to the floor.  He pulled at the red and gold hangings that framed the headboard and tore them from end to end, then tossed the remains atop the bed.  Brandishing a broken leg from the writing desk, Harry swung at the bedposts until they cracked and fell.

He gulped in great heaving breaths as he looked around the ruined room.  Another pane of cracked glass slid from its frame and broke into slivers that blanketed the wooden floor.  It didn’t feel good anymore, he decided.  Hedwig settled atop the intact armchair, and the room went silent except for a gentle but insistent rapping.

Harry was spent.  “Go away,” he said.

“I need to see that you’re all right,” Lupin called through the door.  “It doesn’t sound good in there, Harry.  Would you please let me in?”

“Suit yourself,” Harry said.  The door unlocked.

Lupin opened the door and peered in cautiously.  “No structural damage, I trust?” he joked.  Harry said nothing. 

“The Weasleys are very grateful for Ginny’s rescue, you know,” Lupin told him.  “Ron, Bill and Fred are still here, if you care to know that.  They would tell you the same.”

“It was all Ron.  I just had to catch her,” said Harry flatly.

“Dumbledore wishes to see you,” Lupin told him.

Harry felt the rage stir inside.  “I don’t want to see him,” he spat. “I’m not sure who I hate more – him or Voldemort.”

Lupin stared at the floor for a long time.  Finally, he said, “He will doubtless stay here until he sees you.  Would you please let him come in?”

Harry barely nodded.  Lupin rose and opened the door, and Harry saw Dumbledore at the head of the stairs.

“I’ll see him alone,” Harry ordered.  Lupin looked as though he were about to say something, but stopped himself and left the room.

“Good morning, Harry,” Dumbledore said, his eyes slowly moving across the damage.  “Your taste in décor has changed somewhat since I last visited.”

“Say what you need to say, and then go,” Harry snarled, his fists balled.

“Ah… the letter from the Board of Governors must lie somewhere amidst the debris.  No, Harry – the Board’s work speaks for itself.  I had thought that I might return your wand,” Dumbledore said calmly, “but your demeanour in recent hours suggests otherwise.”  He waved his hand and the door closed behind him.

“I don’t need it, and I don’t give a damn about the letter or the bloody Board of Governors,” Harry said murderously.

“Mind your language, please. You most certainly do need your wand,” Dumbledore said.  “I shall leave it with Remus.”

Harry refused to look at him, for fear of what might happen next. “Snap it in two, for all I care.”

Dumbledore regarded him carefully.  “Surely you do not mean that.”

“It’s done nothing but bring trouble, to me and everyone else,” Harry fumed.

“I see.  Would you have preferred spending your adolescence in the Dursley’s cupboard?” asked Dumbledore.

Harry felt the anger rise again.  “You’re the one who chose them, who insisted on them,” he growled.

Dumbledore appeared to be weighing something in his mind.  He waited for a time, and then said, “I understand.  We shall not be discussing your wand, or the friends you have made, or the lives you have saved, or any of the positive experiences that you have had over the last five years.  We shall be discussing the ways in which I have brought you grief.”

Harry moved toward Dumbledore menacingly.  Dumbledore did not move.  “You could have killed her,” Harry snarled.  “You knew exactly what you were doing to her!”

Dumbledore said nothing as Harry closed in.  He waited until Harry came to a stop, inches away.  “I have missed the mark, it seems,” he responded.  “Our conversation is to be focused on Miss Granger.  It seems that you require an apology.  Very well, Harry.  I am sorry that the safeguarding charm –”

“Sorry doesn’t wash! That was no charm, it was an effing curse – and don’t you dare lecture me about my language,” Harry seethed through clenched teeth.  “If I had understood, I would have tossed you out that night.”

Dumbledore remained implacable, which irritated Harry all the more.  “Miss Granger is a brilliant witch.  Do you not think that she understood the risks associated with a spell of that nature?  Do you not think that she understood what was at stake?”

“ ‘I am loathe to employ it…’ ” Harry mocked.  “What rot!  She asked because you offered – you baited her into it!”

“I did no such thing, Harry,” Dumbledore assured him.  “I trusted that Miss Granger possessed the maturity to consider her options.  I withdrew an option, and she refused to have it withdrawn.  That was my first mistake; I should have persisted.  It was necessary that she clear her mind of all but the secret to be safeguarded.  I overestimated her ability to do this, and that was my second mistake. I admit to you that it could have been catastrophic in her case.  Would you believe that Miss Granger was possessed of at least twenty-six discrete conscious thoughts at the time that I cast the spell?  I share Professor Flitwick’s admiration of her intellect.  The professor devoted a good portion of yesterday to sifting through the shadows of the intended safeguard.  When unconscious thoughts were taken into account, the number of facets was formidable.”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses. When were you planning to remove it from ME?” Harry seethed.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “Did you feel any sensation yesterday in the vicinity of the runes, Harry? It may have been an itch you couldn’t seem to scratch, or tingling, or even burning.”

Harry crossed his arms. “I had a lot of time to think yesterday. I imagine I would have noticed if my hand hurt.”

“That is most curious,” Dumbledore said. “May I?” He reached for Harry’s hand, and gave his wand a complex wave. Three runes appeared in ghostly blue.

“Well?” Harry asked impatiently.

“These runes should not be present… and they are not the same runes that were cast in the safeguarding,” Dumbledore said. He sounded apprehensive, and Harry suddenly felt cold.

“I… I didn’t do anything,” Harry insisted. “Did… did Voldemort…?”

Dumbledore continued to carefully examine Harry’s hand. “One of the runes gives me pause, but I do not believe that Voldemort is responsible. The changes are quite interesting… have you studied Ancient Runes, Harry?”

“No, I took Care of Magical Creatures,” Harry said.

“Ah, of course. I shall attempt an explanation. Magical runes are divided into three categories, known as aetts,” Dumbledore explained. “Runic spellcrafting typically draws one rune from each of the three aetts. The safeguarding spell employed uruz to strengthen the will, perþ to keep mysteries hidden and secret, and inguz for grounding – to keep the mind from ascending unfettered. Do you understand?”

Harry thought hard. “All three sound related to Occlumency,” he offered.

Dumbledore smiled. “Very good. It was perþ that we believe caused Miss Granger’s discomfort. Tell me – why were the runes cast on the both of you?”

Harry struggled for an answer, and one came to him. “Because she couldn’t practice Occlumency, and I could. You… you tied us together.”

“Excellent – you may take to spellcrafting rather easily,” Dumbledore complimented him.

“So why did they change?” Harry asked nervously.

“That is the question of the day, is it not?” Dumbledore took the tip of his wand, and highlighted the first rune. “Uruz has been replaced by gebo, the gift. This typically strengthens a relationship. It implies the acceptance of a debt – not a wizard’s debt, but one that does not require repayment. Perþ has been replaced by nauþiz, the need. This indicates an imbalance, a need to be fulfilled. Inguz has been replaced by eihwaz, the sign of change. Eihwaz usually reflects the process of unearthing mysteries, of confronting one’s deepest fears.”

“That third one, it looks like a tree,” Harry noticed.

Eihwaz signifies the yew tree,” Dumbledore said gravely.

Harry pulled his hand free. “Voldemort’s wand…”

Eihwaz also refers to death and immortality, but only when used alone. Again, I do not believe that Voldemort is responsible for the change,” Dumbledore assured him. “What were you thinking of, yesterday afternoon?”

“A lot of things,” Harry said sullenly.

“Of that I have no doubt. I shall have Professor Flitwick enquire after Miss Granger. I wonder if perhaps the runes have returned to her hand?” Dumbledore asked no one in particular.

“As long as the safeguard is gone, I’m satisfied,” Harry snapped.

“It is removed to the greatest extent possible.  Miss Granger may have had more on her mind than either Professor Flitwick or I could discern,” Dumbledore told him, and then added curtly, “In any case, the safeguard is no longer necessary or even useful.  Voldemort will shortly be aware of the entire prophecy, if that is not in fact already the case.”

“I don’t regret what I did,” Harry insisted.

“When Miss Granger –” Dumbledore began.

Harry cut Dumbledore off.  “I see that you’re no longer on a first-name basis with Hermione, by the way,” he sneered. “Why is that, I wonder?”

Dumbledore’s reserve seemed to crack a bit, and he frowned.  “I committed an error that put her at risk, and I have acknowledged that to her – and to you.  It is painful to realise for the first time that authorities are imperfect, but that experience is part of leaving childhood behind.  You would do well to remember that.  I am fallible, Harry.  I have always been fallible.  Until recently, you have possessed neither the sophistication nor the inclination to notice.  I will have to once again earn Miss Granger’s trust.”  He paused, and added for emphasis, “We may share that burden in common.”

“I know that,” Harry said darkly.  “Every time I think of her, I see her flinching at the sight of me.  She was my best friend.  She was the best friend I could ever have hoped for, and now… I don’t know.  I don’t regret it, though.  She’s still alive, and that’s enough.”

“You most certainly regret your actions, Harry,” Dumbledore chided him.  “I could feel the pain of your regret the moment that I entered the Granger’s home.  In fact, I would be concerned if you were not regretful.  However, there is more that weighs upon you.”

Harry crossed his arms, and sneered, “You understand me so well – go on, then.”

Dumbledore explained, “You saved Miss Granger’s life, without question – and the lives of everyone else confined within that room – but you were not able to protect her from harm.  Voldemort and his servants violated her mind in unspeakable and unforgivable ways, and you were forced to sit idly by.  Her pain injured you nearly as much as you would have been injured by her death. I believe this may be part of the reason that the runes were perpetuated and changed. Even that is not the worst of it.”

“Oh, I can hardly wait,” Harry said in a scathing monotone worthy of Snape.

“Miss Granger may have been the only person in whom you vested absolute trust.  Your trust has been shaken.  You feel that there is no one left to trust.  You believe that you are alone,” Dumbledore concluded.

Harry shouted, “I should be alone!

“You cannot be alone.  We must assume that Voldemort possesses the entire prophecy.  We know that he performed Legilimency upon Mr. Granger.  It is possible that he holds a connection of some kind with Miss Weasley; I am surprised that you did not consider that possibility.  You no longer possess any margin of safety.  He will come for you,” said Dumbledore.

“He wants something from me,” Harry mused.  “He could easily have killed me, but he didn’t.”

Dumbledore said forcefully, “Harry, Voldemort will know that I cannot kill him. He has no reason to fear me, or anyone other than you.  The lives of his followers are meaningless to him.  Can you envision the horrors ahead?”

Harry nodded.  “That’s why I have to kill him soon,” he said calmly.

Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose.  “You are unprepared for single combat with Voldemort.  He would surely kill you.”

“Then I’ll take him with me,” Harry blustered.

“You must not do that, Harry.  I must be sure that there is no confusion in your mind on this point.  You must not do that.  You must defeat him, and you must survive,” Dumbledore insisted.

“What – is there another prophecy? Something else you’ve neglected to tell me?” Harry sneered

“None of which I am aware,” Dumbledore answered.  “It is very likely that Tom’s death will drive his remaining followers to ever darker and more desperate acts.  The side of light will need your skills and your leadership for some time to come.”

Harry’s voice quaked with barely restrained anger.  “Your masters don’t agree.”

Dumbledore sighed.  “Do you refer to the Board of Governors?  I am accountable to the Board; that is not the same as servitude.  You must know that the Board of Governors is of more than one mind, Harry.  Could you not read between the lines of the letter that you were sent?  Did you not notice that the vice-chair, and not the chair signed it?  Did you not see that –?”

It’s done,” Harry snarled.

“You will be trained, Harry.  You will be trained, you will defeat Voldemort, you will live, and you will lead,” Dumbledore said matter-of-factly.  “That path may seem unattainable to you at this moment, but it is not.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Harry said dismissively. 

“You will be trained.  You can still become a truly great Auror, just as Professor McGonagall promised you… perhaps the greatest to ever serve,” Dumbledore promised.

“No,” Harry said.

Dumbledore insisted, “I mean that sincerely.  You possess all the talents required –”

No!” shouted Harry.

Dumbledore was clearly taken aback.  “I am sorry, but I do not understand.”

“I don’t want to be an Auror anymore, and I certainly don’t want to work for the ruddy Ministry,” Harry raged.  “I know what I am.  Don’t worry; I’ll be your weapon.  I’ll learn to kill him, and I’ll do it for you… but that will be the end of it, do you hear?  I’ll be done with all of it, and all of you!”   

Dumbledore appeared profoundly sad.  “How is it that you have lost yourself so easily?” he asked quietly.

“How would you know if I were lost?  You don’t know me at all.  You know the Boy-Who-Lived,” Harry shot back.

Dumbledore regarded Harry for quite some time, long enough for Harry to descend from anger to hard breathing to uncomfortable stillness.  Then the Headmaster of Hogwarts drew himself up, and once again became the very image of poise and control.  “I do not believe that to be true,” he said.  “If it proves to be true, however, then I hope to rectify that shortcoming over the next two years.  The Board of Governors promised the full force and resources of the institution in support of your alternative education, and I intend to hold them to their promise.  You will be trained, Harry – as my apprentice.” 

Harry was stunned by the offer. “Erm… I don’t know…” 

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.  “You seem resistant to my proposition.  Perhaps I should demonstrate my bona fides.”  Dumbledore withdrew his wand, and handed it to Harry.  He slowly turned, his gaze carefully drawn across every surface of the room.  When he completed a full rotation, he closed his eyes and again slowly turned, drawing slow and deep breaths as he moved.  At the end of the second rotation, he held out his hands, palms out, and said in a lingering whisper that shattered the quiet, “Reparo…” As he turned a third time, the room reassembled itself in a slow-moving wave that followed the lead of Dumbledore’s outstretched hands.  At the end of the third rotation, there was no evidence that anything in the room had ever been touched.  The contents of the desk and bookshelf were returned to their rightful places.  Even the coffee table and the school trunk flew back into the room, before the windows were reconstructed.  Dumbledore stopped, and slowly opened his eyes.   

Remembering the night when Dumbledore had cast the safeguard, Harry quickly fetched one of the armchairs.  Dumbledore lightly sat, and smiled kindly at Harry.  “That was pure Light magic, Harry.  I feel mildly refreshed, in truth.”

Harry clumsily returned Dumbledore’s wand.  Deep inside, he was tremendously impressed. He knew full well that Dumbledore might be the only wizard who could prepare him to kill Voldemort.  Still, he remembered reading or hearing about apprenticeship arrangements.  They were employed widely through the nineteenth century, and they struck Harry as being a step removed from enslavement. Being bound to Dumbledore was not something that Harry found appealing in the slightest. 

“I might be interested,” Harry said, “but I’m not cut out to be a servant.”

Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder.  “I lack the ego for a traditional apprenticeship arrangement, Harry.  All of that fawning and bowing and scraping… I simply have no use for it.  You say that you are interested in considering apprenticeship.  I am glad for the opportunity.  You will report to my office at nine o’clock on August the 30th.  At that time, we shall decide whether to put an apprenticeship agreement into force.  There are faculty meetings scheduled for the remainder of that day, which you should plan to attend.  I will visit you at least once prior to that time, so that we can discuss the apprenticeship and whatever else may be on your mind.  We will also address your living arrangements at that time.”

“I said I’m interested. I didn’t say I’d do it. As for living arrangements, if I do this, I expect that I’ll be commuting from Hogsmeade or elsewhere,” Harry said firmly, and surprising himself.

Dumbledore said, “We will discuss that point.  It may be necessary for you to remain on the Hogwarts grounds –”

Harry instinctively reacted.  “What’s the point in that, if I can no longer be kept safe?” he demanded.

“If Voldemort no longer fears me, then your presence may be the only barrier to a direct attack upon Hogwarts,” explained Dumbledore.

Deflated, Harry simply said, “I see.”

Dumbledore’s clear blue eyes bore into Harry.  “I remain curious about the runes. Is there anything else that you need to tell me?” 

Harry clearly felt Dumbledore’s presence drifting at the edge of his thoughts.  Legilimency was little more than a lie detector unless forcefully directed, Harry understood, but he wondered how many times over the years Dumbledore might have silently tested his honesty.  Angrily, Harry summoned his memory of Hermione’s agony as Wormtail used the safeguard to torture her – it was very easily recovered.  Dumbledore recoiled slightly, and Harry felt his presence withdraw.

“Yes, there is,” Harry said, a sharp edge to his voice.  “I want you to stay out of my mind.  Please leave now.” 

“Your Occlumency abilities are improving rapidly, Harry,” Dumbledore said.  “I shall see you within a few days.  You would do well to stay close to Grimmauld Place, for the time being.”  He left Harry’s bedroom without a backward glance. 

Harry closed and locked the door.  The idea of remaining in the house on Grimmauld Place was little more appealing to Harry than it had been to Sirius.  He looked to the box that Sirius had left to him, and then to his mother’s school chest.  Not yet, he thought.  I just can’t.  He opened Sirius’ box, and his eyes stopped upon the envelope labelled ‘Orion’s Belt’.  Unable to resist, Harry took out the envelope and opened it.  Inside were three loose keys and a full page of parchment that looked as if it had been torn from a journal.  Harry removed the page and began to read. 

March 25

Harry –

Hello, there.  You must be tiring of correspondence from your dead godfather, but it can’t be helped.  If you’re reading this, then it’s summertime and my will has been enforced.  Good.  Not the dead part, of course.  You’re free now, but freedom requires both the opportunity and the proper place.  Grimmauld Place is a mausoleum, as far as I’m concerned.  Luckily, I’ve a better alternative for you.

The House of Black used to hold an enormous amount of property.  We played all sides in Scottish politics, wizarding and Muggle alike.  We stole cattle with the MacGregors; in fact, the word “blackmail” originated with my ancestors.  Under the law they’re your ancestors now as well, though that’s as much curse as blessing.  We also conspired against the MacGregors with the Campbells.  As a result, we ended up with fiefs and peerage.  The principal male heir of the House of Black technically holds the title Earl of Bercliffe.  Since I’m dead, that makes you the Earl.  It means little, as the wizarding titles were hidden from the peerage rolls long ago.

I’ve charged Diggle to unload most of the property held by the Black Trust, including the family manor in Sussex.  Most people would rather receive money than land, and even the Weasleys couldn’t use a 40-room manor with a keep and thousands of acres (not to mention that manors are drafty, expensive to maintain, and frequently riddled with boggarts and other lovelies).  He’s to restock the coffers of the Trust with the proceeds, and put the rest in investments for you.  I’m sure Gringotts will have all the details.  Diggle’s a bit dodgy, but he means well and I think that he has your interests at heart.

There are two properties from the Trust for you, besides the mausoleum. Both are on the family's ancestral lands in Scotland.  One was the place where we would summer with our cousins.  Andromeda was my favourite, of course.  I know Narcissa’s a Malfoy now, and I know I had unpleasant things to say about her last summer, but you need to understand that she was different when I was a lad.  Bellatrix was born a bitch, I’m afraid.  My brother Regulus was around in those days, as well.  Reggie was wild like me, but whip smart like Andromeda.  It’s a shame he turned out as he did.  I have a few good memories.  The family situation only went to hell when I set off to Hogwarts, not that I regret parting ways with dear old Mother and Father.  The portrait shows Mother on one of her better days, truth be told. The main building is a tower house, built around 1500.  It had a few ghosts, but they were fairly tame.  It was leased to Muggles in the ‘80s, as I understand it, but has been vacant for a few years.  The house is on about a thousand acres, south of St. Ebb on the coast.  You have a quarter-mile of your own beach at the base of the cliffs.  There are two huge stacks, one at either end of the beach.  You could follow the beach behind the northernmost stack if you like.   

The other property is called Orion’s Belt. It's a bothy atop the cliffs to the south of the tower house. It was always my favourite part of the place. Moony, Prongs and I used to sneak there from time to time.  Wormtail (the rotten bastard) was always too much a coward for that.  Prongs and I spent part of the summer after graduation there.  I lived in it periodically after that.  Your parents used it a time or two.  Who knows?  Perhaps you’ve been there, in a fashion. 

I was lusting after Muggle women in those days, so there’s not a magical thing to be found inside.  It’s even set for power and plumbing and such.  It has wards, but they’re cast around it rather than against it; don’t move any boulders or flagstones placed in the area.  The wards are unusual.  Muggles can see the bothy, but wizards can’t see it unless you give them permission. Think of it as a limited Fidelius. Phineas Nigellus came up with it (he was a total bastard, reputedly, but definitely a genius).  Mother and Father were a quarter mile away from me for an entire summer, and hadn’t the slightest idea.  I don’t think there’s anyone left alive except Moony who had permission from me.  You should know that the wards also dampen spells and block Apparation.  If you take your wand or anything else that’s charmed, then be sure to stow it in the lead box beside the wood stove.

There were times when I just needed somewhere to get away from all the scheming and the fighting and the rubbish.  The bothy was perfect for that.  I reason that you’ll need that, more than I ever did.  In the event of my death, you’ll find that both the tower house and the bothy have been fixed up and made ready for you.  Tell Dumbledore and his watchdogs to sod off, and have a visit.  Toss a pebble or two over the cliffs.  Walk the beach.  Watch the sunrise.  Howl at the moon.  Share the place with someone special, live it up with your friends, or keep it all to yourself.  Drink a toast for me.  Better yet, drink one for all of us.  I assure you, we’re watching. 

Good luck, lad.

- S.B.

Harry shook the envelope, and the keys fell into his hand.  A small scrap of parchment covered with loop script fell along with them.  It said:

The tower house is located at 1 Lissance Lane, Bercliffe.  Stand at the main entry to the tower, and face directly toward the southernmost stack.  You will see the bothy, which is exactly one-quarter mile away.

Harry presumed that he had to read the message on the scrap before he could see the bothy, just as he’d been shown the address to Grimmauld Place before his first visit there.  He tucked the scrap and the keys into one of his pockets.  Insistent pounding at the door pulled Harry from his thoughts.

Go – away!” Harry shouted.

Ron called through the door, “We just want to see that you’re all right, Harry.  We‘ve been bloody patient about it!”

Bill added, “It sounded like a brawl in there.  Remus isn’t talking, and Dumbledore left.  That leaves us to assume the worst, you know.”

“Bill, I was fond of Chapter 11 in Scandalous Tactics for Duelling.  Don’t test me,” Harry growled.  On the other side of the door, Bill snorted.

“What about it?” Fred asked.

Bill explained with a chuckle, “It’s a very memorable chapter.  The title is ‘Why Challenge Your Opponent’s Manhood, When You Can Remove It Instead?’”

Fred howled, “Harry, if you come within a foot of my manhood, I will personally prepare all of your meals for the next year!  Get accustomed to feathers!”

“I’m not joking.  Go – away; all of you!” Harry snarled.  As he began to walk away, he noticed the thin trail of an Extendable Ear peeking under the door.  He dropped to his hands and knees, crept forward, put his mouth to the end of the Ear, and shouted, “GO AWAY!”  There was a shriek, accompanied by the telltale thump of falling-body-against-wooden-floor.

“Harry, don’t be like this,” Ron pleaded.

Harry snapped, “Like what – at wit’s end?  Too late, I’m already there!”  He heard a popping sound and spun, fists raised.  Dobby cowered, and Harry lowered his hands.

The house-elf surveyed the room, and called out, “Harry Potter is all right, sirs.”

“See?  I’m fine.  Go – away!”  Harry yelled toward the door.

Dobby shook his head.  “Professor Dumbledore must have brought house-elves to repair Harry Potter’s room… Dobby is grateful, but Dobby could have fixed everything on his own.”

“You can leave now,” Harry said firmly.

Dobby’s face fell.  “Dobby does not wish to leave.  Dobby has sworn to serve Harry Potter.”

Harry took a deep breath.  “I meant that you should leave the room,” he said.  “I don’t want you to leave Grimmauld Place, unless that is what you want.”

Dobby put his hands on his hips, striking a caricature of Mrs. Weasley.  “Dobby does not serve this house,” he insisted firmly.  “Dobby serves Harry Potter.  It is important that Harry Potter understand the difference.”

Harry simply couldn’t bring himself to be angry at Dobby.  Perhaps there is someone I can trust completely, he thought.  He moved to kneel beside Dobby, and Dobby shifted nervously from one foot to the other.  “You saved my life again, Dobby.  Those Death Eaters would have killed all of us.  I’m accumulating a very large wizarding debt to you, you know,” Harry said.

Dobby’s eyes widened.  “It is not possible for Harry Potter to owe a wizarding debt to Dobby,” he said in awe.  “Harry Potter surely does not know what he is saying… not that Dobby questions!”

Harry smiled slightly.  “You may question as often as you like,” he said.  “How can I repay you?”

Dobby asked, “Re… pay?” as though he were chewing on the word.  “House-elves are not repaid.  House-elves are forever paying.”

“Fine – a gift, then,” Harry insisted.  “I want you and Winky to take a room for your quarters.”

Dobby gaped at Harry.  “This is Harry Potter’s house, not Dobby’s or Winky’s,” he managed after a long pause. 

“Pick a room.  Fix it to your liking,” Harry continued.  “You both deserve a proper place of your own.  You shouldn’t sleep in that hovel off the kitchen.”

“But… but… where would Harry Potter’s friends stay?” Dobby spluttered.

“Erm… you can move as soon as the Weasleys leave.  I’ll be at Hogwarts soon, of course,” Harry replied unevenly.

Dobby looked uncertain.  “Dobby is grateful, but…” he began.

“I’d like to be alone now, if you don’t mind,” Harry said firmly.

Dobby immediately skittered toward the door.  “As you wish, Harry Potter,” he said.

Harry struggled with an impulse, and gave into it.  “Dobby?”

The house-elf stopped just shy of the door.  “Yes, Harry Potter?”

“Would you please send in Ron?”  Harry asked.  “Just Ron and not his brothers.”

Dobby nodded.  Ron was obviously waiting near the door, because Dobby quickly pulled him into the room before closing the door.

“How’s your shoulder?” Harry asked.

Ron wound around his arm a few times.  “Good enough,” he said.  “Look, mate… I just wanted to say that you made a smashing save.  I didn’t think any of it through, you know?  If you hadn’t been able to snatch her… well, Ginny’s tiptop and I’m grateful.  You should have heard Mum.  I think she’s ready to mint you your own Order of Merlin medallion.”

“How did you make out with her, anyway?” asked Harry.  “She was whacking you with a handbag the last that I saw.”

Ron grimaced.  “The whole thing was pure Mum – hug, then punish, then hug, then punish.  We ended on a hug, thank Merlin.”  He slowly walked around, taking in the fixtures and furnishings, and observed, “This is a very nice room.”

Harry sighed.  “I suppose you’ll be asking me why all the fuss, and that sort of thing?”

Ron came to the armchair, and sat.  “No,” he said.

Harry was thrown.  “I’m sorry?”

“No,” repeated Ron.  “There’s no point.  You’ll either deflect the question, or throw out a reason that any fool can see through.”

“I deserve that,” said Harry.

“Damn right,” Ron agreed.  “Besides, erm… I already know you’ve been dismissed.  I imagine it’ll make the Prophet tomorrow.”

Harry closed his eyes, and saw the same thing he’d seen for the better part of two days.  He blurted out, “I can’t get it out of my head.  The scream that came out of her, it wasn’t even human.  All I could do was sit there…” His anger rose simply by talking about it.

Ron said quietly, “If I’d been approached by an Obliviator, I might have taken him up on the offer.”

“I want him to suffer like that,” Harry seethed.  “I want him to feel that pain!  I –”

Ron stood up.  “That’s enough, mate.  I don’t fancy ending up like the bad end of a brawl.”

Harry’s throat tightened.  “Was I…?”

“Ready to pop off?” Ron asked.  “Dunno.  You had the same look at Hermione’s house, before… you know…”

“Believe me – I know,” Harry grumbled.

Ron dismissed him.  “Look, Dad was right; they would have killed us all.  You had a chance, you took it, they’re dead, and that’s too bad for them.  Any of us would have done the same, given the chance.  If you don’t see that, it’s only because you don’t want to look.”

“I didn’t want to kill,” Harry insisted.

“You didn’t want Hermione to be killed,” Ron countered, “and that won out.  I’m capable of killing to save her, or you, or my family.  I happily tossed Wormtail off that broom, because he took Ginny.  I hope that he’s dead.”

“It feels so wrong,” Harry said. 

“I don’t think you really care that you killed them.  You were out of control, and you didn’t like that at all,” Ron concluded.

Harry thought about that for a long while, and Ron stayed silent. 

“Who are you, and what have you done with the real Ron?” Harry finally asked.

Ron laughed.  “He’s on holiday. Maybe it has to do with the brains?  Seriously, I think Hermione’s finally rubbed off on me.”

Harry dangled the letter from Sirius.  “I don’t want to hold out on you.  You have to read this,” he told Ron.

Ron scanned the letter.  “Sirius does keep popping up, doesn’t he…?  An Earl – is that like a prince, or something…?  There was a 60-room castle, and he gave it up?  I never understood him… Merlin!  Your own beach?  This sounds like quite the bachelor flat.  I expect Bill would be jealous… no magic?  Gods, I don’t know about that…” He slowed down at the last of it, carefully reading the final paragraph.  “He understood you, didn’t he?  He really understood.”

“It gets better,” Harry said.  He found his saddlebags, and pulled out the invitation from Keith MacLeish.

Ron read the front of the card quickly.  “Doesn’t he own every wizarding paper in the world, more or less?”

Harry nodded.  “You might want to read the other side,” he suggested.

Ron read the handwritten note, and his face beetled into confusion.  “Care to explain this?”

“I don’t know.  I assume that Diggle sold him the manor that Sirius mentioned in his letter.  Somehow, I’ve ended up his business partner as well – Merlin only knows what that means.  I’m sure that Remus can help sort it out,” Harry said hopefully.

“Nothing’s ever simple for you, is it?” Ron observed.

Harry surveyed his room.  Sirius was right – this house is a mausoleum, he thought.  “I have a proposition for you,” he told Ron.  “I doubt that it’s a good idea.”

“We’re good at bad ideas, aren’t we?” Ron laughed.  “Let’s have it, then.”

“We need to get out of here,” Harry said.

“Brilliant!” Ron agreed.  “What did you have in mind – popping down to Diagon Alley, or something?”

“I thought we might pop up to the new house,” Harry explained.  “I was thinking about leaving tonight, with a couple of stops along the way.  After all, it’s nearly four weeks until you need to catch the Express.”

Ron stared at him, eyes wide and unblinking.

“Ron?  Hello?  Are you with me, Ron?” Harry asked.

“You’re… you’re asking if I want to… to run off… for the rest of the summer?” Ron stammered.

Harry chuckled.  “All right – for a week, then.  What do you think?”

Ron deadpanned, “Let me get this right – you want me to take off tonight on a 300 mile jaunt, presumably with no permission and certainly with no protection, to an unfamiliar house in an unfamiliar place, in the company of a known Death Eater magnet?”

Harry said, “That covers it.  I figured it would be more like twice that far, though.  I’m concerned about Luna, and I think that I should try to see Hermione.”

Ron mulled over Harry’s plan.  “Checking on Luna… I suppose that’s a good idea. George is still staying there.  Do you, um, think that Hermione’s ready to see you?”

Harry shrugged.  “I’m not planning on coming back here, and I imagine she’d never forgive me if I disappear again for a month.”

Ron fumed, “It’ll be more than a month, mate.  I mean, we can see you on Hogsmeade weekends…”

Harry smiled faintly.  “Dumbledore has an idea about that.  We have to work out the details, but… I’ll be close by.  You’ll see enough of me, I think.”

Ron brightened.  “There’s a bit of good news!  An apprenticeship, then?”

Harry’s jaw dropped.  “Wha… how did…?”

“It’s the obvious solution, Harry,” Ron shrugged.  “It’s not as if you’d be packed off to trade school, or left to self-study.  No one apprentices anymore, of course – leave it to Harry Potter to be original.”

Harry watched Ron’s face, to see if he was jesting or being cynical.  Satisfied that Ron was simply being Ron, he explained, “Dumbledore managed to get the Board of Governors to offer support for my ‘alternative education’, or something like that.  I think he plans to make them eat their words.”

Ron grinned.  “Good show.  So, you’re planning on a few weeks at Sirius’ other place, and then back here to catch the Express?”

“I’m not planning on coming back at all,” Harry answered.  “I can’t stay in this house anymore.  I’ll likely give it to Remus.”

“Really?” Ron asked in surprise, adding, “So you’ll go straight to Hogwarts from the new house, then?”

Harry said delicately, “Ron… I don’t know precisely how this is all going to work. I don’t know how the apprenticeship will work.  I don’t know if I ride the Express.  I don’t know where I’ll be living… Nothing is decided.”

Ron frowned.  “I hadn’t thought… I suppose you wouldn’t stay in our dorm anymore, in any case.”

“I’m leaving tonight.  What do you think?” asked Harry.

“I think we’ve both gone mad – that’s what I think.   I’m in,” Ron answered.  “I don’t know if I can afford to travel, though…”

Harry smiled.  “You’re good for it.  You can repay me from your share of the inheritance… unless your Mum and Dad disown you for doing this, in which case you can work it off.”

“I hope you can cook something besides Yorkshire pudding,” Ron said.  “No magic – that’s roughing it!”

“See if you can sneak your things up here, later – say, after eleven?” Harry suggested.  “I hope that Hermione doesn’t throw a fit.”

“I know that I wouldn’t be upset if you showed up at my window in the middle of the bloody night,” Ron wisecracked. 

“She’ll probably be awake,” Harry mused.  “I would be.”

“It’s a good thing Mum and Dad are early sleepers,” Ron said.  He added by way of explanation, “They’re still at the Grangers’ house.  Dad’s been out to the Burrow a few times.  I… I guess it’s quite bad.”

“We’ll just have to play it quietly,” Harry said.

“If we get to the Grangers’ between midnight and one o’clock and spend an hour there… we should make the Lovegoods’ before sunrise,” Ron calculated. He stopped at the door, and cracked a smile.  “Harry… it means a lot to me that you’d think to ask me… look – it means a lot, right?”

 Harry took his dinner with Lupin and the three Weasleys.  He accepted some of Bill and Fred’s praise, and deflected most back to Ron.  George had reported that Luna was definitely going to pull through, according to Fred.  Harry was pleased to hear the news, but hadn’t realised that her survival had ever been in question; that only increased his certainty about looking in on her.  Lupin told him that the Aurors had just missed Lucius Malfoy, and that there was no sign of Wormtail – dead or alive.  Lupin seemed almost wary, but Harry counted the days and knew that the werewolf would put his special room to use in a night or two.

Harry retired early.  He tried napping, to no avail.  Every time that he closed his eyes, he was assaulted by the same memory.  He sat on the couch before a flickering fire and began to write a letter for Remus.  He crumpled the first three sheets of parchment in disgust.  He was in the process of butchering the fourth, when the floor creaked behind him.

“You’re a bit early,” Harry said without turning around.

“You’d be referring to the other one planning to sneak out in the night, I believe?” Remus scolded.  “Ron’s loyal, but not very subtle.  I see you’re writing a letter.  Shall I save you the effort?”

Harry felt his face flush.  “I need to get out of here.  I hope that you understand.”

“See?  That was so much simpler than a letter,” Remus said.  “Let’s try it a second time.  This time, stand up and turn around.  The least you can do is speak to me, and not to the floorboards.”

Harry set aside his quill and small stack of parchment.  He stood, and nervous shoved his hands into his pockets.  “I need to get out of here,” he repeated.  “I can’t stand being in this house anymore.”  He looked into Lupin’s eyes, and hastily added, “Not because of you, of course!  It’s just that I expect to see him around every corner.  And now, when I close my eyes… I just know I’ll never be able to settle things here.”

Lupin looked at him thoughtfully.  “I wondered how long you’d last in this house,” he said.  “Even I find it difficult at times, I must admit.  Will you want the Trust to dispose of it, then?”

Harry already had an answer.  “Sirius promised the Malfoys that they could be safe here, and you need a place to live.  I’ll sell the house to you for a Galleon, if you want it.”

Lupin smiled faintly.  “I’ll remain a tenant for now.  I may find it difficult at times, but you and this house are the last remaining connections to my friends.  I have no interest in giving up either connection.”

Harry felt his eyes moisten, and he didn’t care.  Lupin had already seen him break down; there was no point in pretence. 

“I’m glad for that,” Harry said in a strained voice.  “You’re all right with my leaving, then?”

Lupin gestured toward Sirius’ box.  “I am.  Dumbledore won’t be, but that’s between the two of you.  Besides, I have a fair idea where you’re heading.  You’ll need this, of course.”  He withdrew Harry’s wand from within his robes, and handed it over.  “You left this at the Granger’s as well,” he added, and produced the framed picture of Hermione.

Harry pocketed the wand, and set aside the picture.  “Sirius said you’d been there before,” he noted.

For the first time that summer, Harry didn’t feel badly at the sight of Lupin’s smile.  Lupin closed his eyes as the smile spread from ear to ear.  “Oh, I’ve been there.  It’s beautiful country, in a rough sort of way.  We started slipping out during seventh year, you see.  It was a little over an hour by broom.  We’d drink and tell lies half the night, and then fly back before morning.  We were usually half asleep and half pissed; it’s a wonder none of us ever flew smack into a tree or a building.”

Harry grinned at the image of Sirius and Lupin wildly weaving across the sky.  “He said that he lived there for a while, after Hogwarts.”

“The bothy was… well, it was what we called a ‘pad’ back in the 70s. Sirius had, erm, an active social life – very active. Too active for my liking, I admit… and he had hideous taste in music,” Lupin explained. “Still, I spent a fair bit of time in St. Ebb, especially during the summer following Hogwarts. I imagine the bothy is in serious need of redecorating.  It was very ‘in’ at the time, but styles have certainly changed over the years.”

“What about Ron, then?” Harry asked apprehensively.

“I suggest that he informs his parents by morning,” Lupin answered.  “When Bill and Fred find his room empty, they’ll ask and I’ll have to answer.  Ride carefully, the both of you – be sure to wear the helmets!”

“Remus…?” Harry called just before Lupin reached the door.

“What is it?” Lupin asked.

Harry struggled to say, “I just wanted to say… I know you didn’t want to be a father… but this week…”

“I’m glad that I could be there for you,” said Lupin.

“Will you still be there?” Harry asked.

Lupin smiled.  “For as long as you like,” he said.  “Let me know that you’re safe, from time to time.”  He quickly left the room.

Harry loaded his trunk with books and clothes and effects and his two brooms, and reduced it.  He walked quietly down the stairs to the cellar, and packed away his weights and bags.  With the two cases reduced and dropped into his saddlebag next to his trunk, he headed back up the stairs and into the kitchen.  He thought that he spotted Dobby peeking out from the pantry; if so, the house-elf didn’t venture out.  He nearly ran into Ron.

“Ready?” he asked.

Ron swallowed a mouthful of cookie, and held up a small athletic bag.  “Not much to take along,” he said.

Harry reduced the bag, and dropped it into his saddlebags.  At the front door, he enlarged both helmets and offered one to Ron.

Ron’s Nimbus racer was propped next to the door. “I’ll ride this, if it’s all the same,” Ron said.

“We can talk if you wear the helmet,” Harry pointed out.  “Probably safer that way, right?”

Ron nodded, and slipped on the helmet.  Harry enlarged the Bonneville, and they headed toward Winchester and the Grangers' house.

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