The Sugar Quill
Author: Maven Cree (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Spirit Within  Chapter: Chapter One: Once More Into The Breech
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: I don’t even own a car

Disclaimer: I don’t even own a car.  Any characters or fictional locations previously mentioned in a Harry Potter book or accessory belong to (her majesty) J.K. Rowling.  Everything else belongs to reality or myself.

 

Summary: My first epic and first HP fic.  Fifth year.  Harry gains an unexpected mentor and learns more about himself than he may have wanted to know.  The secret to defeating Voldemort was there all along; will he find the strength to use it? A secret Order.  Special training. And the Dursleys take things up a notch.  R/H, S/A

 

Harry Potter and the Spirit Within

by Maven Cree aka Gates

 

Chapter One:  Once More Into The Breech 

 

Arabella Figg stood in front of the old gargoyle clenching and unclenching her fists. 

 

This was the point of no return.   

 

She could have changed her mind at home. She could have changed her mind after she’d Apparated into Hogsmeade.  She could have changed her mind as she walked to the massive castle known as Hogwarts.  And she could turn around now.  His letter had been very clear-unusually clear Mr. Albus Dumbledore, who tended to favour the more cryptic side of things: 

 

To Miss Arabella Figg,

Certain events in the past year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, have left certain key positions in our staff open.

I would like you to consider accepting the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for a tenure of at least one school year here at Hogwarts.  Your talents make you more than qualified.

I do not wish you to feel pressured to say yes . There are dark times ahead and this will be a strenuous assignment.  If you are not absolutely certain that you could go through with it, please feel free to turn this position down.

 

However, should you accept, I would consider it a personal favour. Please owl me with your response as soon as possible.

(You are needed, Arabella, but not if your heart is not in it.)

Sincerely,

Albus Dumbledore

Headmaster, HSWW

 

Included with the parchment was a fiery golden-red feather.

 

Remus had already warned her that he might ask.  She’d been pleasantly surprised, and at the same time horrified to receive a letter from her old school-time friend.  She hadn’t been in contact with the wizarding world for nearly fourteen years.  An owl bearing a roll of parchment and pecking at her window six weeks earlier had been quite a sight. The letter had contained the usual pleasantries, which made her smile, but had also one cipheric sentence, which caused her to become physically ill: 

 

Fawkes will be working again.

 

Had the letter been intercepted, a person might assume that Fawkes was a Wizard who had taken a job.  And for the precious few who did know that Fawkes was actually a Phoenix, they still might not understand the significance of the phrase.

 

The Order of the Phoenix was gathering again.   And that could only mean one thing.

 

Voldemort was back.

 

The Order had been re-established near the end of her sixth year at Hogwarts.  She, three of four boys known as the Marauders, Joseph Padden, Lily Evens and Thomas Privy had been the only students invited to join.  It was a surprise to all, but all accepted without question.  Fawkes had appeared to each of them, leaving them each one of his fiery coloured tail feathers.  It was the bird himself who chose the Order and he had never been wrong.

 

…At least, they thought he hadn’t.

 

They were given special permission by the Ministry of Magic to use magic outside of the school year as long as it was in the service of the Order, and only as long as an adult Witch or Wizard was present.  Under-aged Wizards were not normally permitted to use Magic outside of the school year (with the exception of self-defence), but Dumbledore had insisted, much to the pride of the students, that their talents were needed and could not wait another year.

 

That summer they had been taught things… curses, defences, charms, spells that they would have never learned in school, seventh year or no.  They were magics used under the direst of circumstances, and unfortunately, they needed to be used quite often.

 

Their seventh year was intense.  They not only were required to attend their regular classes with their fellow classmates, they were also given specialty classes and were increasingly called upon to go out in the world and defend people against Voldemort’s Death Eaters.

 

They left school, their Wand-Touching Ceremony shorter and less than it had been in previous years. Arabella received her Auror licence rather quickly due to her special school training and was recruited by the Ministry rather quickly.  She was one of their best and most respected.

 

And then James and Lily were killed.

 

And Voldemort disappeared.

 

And… him

 

Two weeks later she left the Wizarding world for what she thought would be forever.

 

And all she had to do was speak two little words and she was back in.

 

 

 

“Fluffy’s Feet.”

 

The large gargoyle smiled at her and slid to the side.  She stepped past it and up the winding stairs to a door that she rapped on lightly with her fist.

 

There was a slight rattling and the door opened revealing the kind face of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts.

 

“Arabella!  So glad you could make it.  We were beginning to think you’d gotten lost.”

 

“My apologies, Professor.  Waxing nostalgic, I suppose.  It’s been so long…”

 

“Perfectly understandable,” he said waving off her apology with a smile.  He extended his hand to rest of the people present in his office.  “I believe you know everyone present.”

 

Indeed, seated around the comfortable office were old friends, comrades and teachers.  The Order of the Phoenix was reborn, minus a few who would be missed... and one who would... not.

 

Of the former students, Joseph Padden had just disappeared one day-presumed dead. Thomas Privey had been killed by Death Eaters shortly after Voldemort’s fall.  James and Lilly Potter... dead.  Peter Petigrew... dead.   Sirius Black... murderer.

 

Remus Lupin smiled up at her from his seat.  Those unmistakably warm, but tired brown eyes of his twinkling.  Mundungus Fletcher stood and shook her hand.  She recognized her former transfiguration professor, Minerva McGonagall standing next to Dumbledore’s desk.  Seated, she saw a redheaded couple that she remembered for their kindness and warmth.  They had made things easier for her during the dark times.  Molly and Arthur Weasley.  And lastly... someone she hadn’t expected... but his cold, unapproachable air was unmistakable.  Severus Snape was scowling in the corner farthest from Dumbledore’s desk. 

 

Arabella took one of two empty seats as Dumbledore approached his desk.  It was then that she noticed an extremely large black dog lying listlessly on the ground next to Lupin’s chair.  Its head was down and its tail lifelessly flopped from side to side as though it were anxiously awaiting something.

 

“Now then,” Dumbledore began, “I would like to thank you all for coming.  I know that you have all gone on with your lives and had hoped to put all of this behind you, but I’m afraid that the Order of the Phoenix is once again needed.  And this time, we will be on our own.  The Ministry of Magic’s official position is that Voldemort is still a horrible memory; that any trouble resembling his former antics is the work of errant individuals.  Those cleared as Death Eaters remain in the clear and are not suspect.  The guilty are safely stowed away in Azkaban.  The world is safe and we can all breathe easy... Fudge. Is. A. Fool.”

 

Arabella was more than a little surprised at his words.  She had never known the Professor to openly belittle someone of such import.

 

The large dog on the floor gave a great huffing sigh.  Dumbledore looked down at him and smiled.

 

“Yes, and before I continue, I feel it is important that we all are aware of who our allies are.  Trust will be of paramount concern in the coming days, and I want you all to know that I trust each and everyone person present in this room, not only with my life, but with the future of Light Magic.”

 

He stood taller and clapped his hands together.  “That being said, a certain disguise must now be lifted,” he looked around the room.  “I would ask that you all remember my words and remain calm and patient.  I would also ask that what you see here today remains the disclosure of the Order.”

 

Arabella knitted her brow.  Disguise?  She recognized everyone there.  What disguise?

 

Snape!  It had to be Snape.  She knew Dumbledore never would have allowed that slimy git into the Order.  It must have been someone disguised to look like Snape.  Polyjuice Potion, perhaps?

 

However, Dumbledore was not looking at Severus.  He was again watching the large dog.

 

“I believe that’s your cue,” he said.

 

The dog lifted its head and let out a small whine as it looked at the Headmaster with miserable eyes.

 

Dumbledore looked at the group before fixing his eyes again on the beast.

 

“I believe he’s a little nervous,” he explained.  “Perfectly understandable, but we really need to get this out of the way.”

 

Remus playfully patted the animal on the head.  It let out another great huff and stood, carefully walking to Dumbledore’s side.  It looked up at the Professor who nodded, then sat back on its hind legs.  There was a strange ‘POP’ sound and in an instant, where formally there had been a great dog, now stood a man.

 

Sirius Black.

 

Professor McGonagall let out a strangled gasp and Fletcher jumped to his feet, brandishing his wand.  Professor Dumbledore held up his hand.

 

“Now Mundungus, I asked you to be patient,” he said.

 

“Patient?!  Headmaster, have you lost your mind?  This man is a murderer!  He killed James and Lilly and all those Muggles!

 

“He did no such thing, Mundungus, and if you will allow us to continue, we shall explain.”

 

Mr. Fletcher mouthed wordlessly for a moment before re-taking his seat.  His wand however, remained at the ready.

 

Sirius remained at Dumbledore’s side.  He looked rather pale and somewhat thinner than Arabella remembered.  He seemed to be finding a spot on top of Dumbledore’s desk extremely interesting.

 

Arabella had watched him change.  Inside, part of her was screaming to jump up and stand at Mundungus’s side.  But the greater part of her was frozen... In shock...  It couldn’t be him, it just couldn’t be.  After all these years... standing two metres away from her... It just couldn’t be...

 

“Sirius has been done a great wrong.  He was sent to Azkaban without trial and without compassion.  Had he been given a trial the fact that he had been framed may have come to light.”

 

“Framed?”  Arabella found her voice.  “I was there, Headmaster.  I saw him kill those Muggles and poor Peter.”

 

“You saw Peter yell,” Dumbledore explained.  “You saw the street blow up.  And you saw that Sirius was the only person left standing.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“What you did not see was the wand behind Peter’s back.  You did not see Peter transform into a rat and scamper down into the sewers, because yes, like Sirius, Peter Petigrew is an illegal Animagus.”

 

The room fell completely silent.  Dumbledore waited until he was certain this information had sunk in before quickly explaining the rest of the story.  The switch in the Potters’ Secret Keeper.  Of Wormtail cutting off his own finger to add credibility.  Of his being adopted by the Weasley family.  And how Sirius’s innocence was the only thing that had kept him sane all of those years in Azkaban.  Had he been guilty, he would have gone mad with the rest.

 

The man himself stayed oddly silent through the telling.  His gaze would travel from Remus Lupin to Professor Dumbledore, to nothing.  He would not meet the eyes of anyone else in the room.

 

“Now,” Dumbledore said clapping his hands together. “Any further questions or commentary on this matter will have to be left for another time.  The students will be arriving in five days the rest of the Order, the Saturday following.  I think it best we get down to the business of the Order.”

 

The others nodded solemnly but it was clear from their eyes that they felt there were definitely more questions that needed to be answered.

 

“There are dark times ahead,” the Headmaster continued.  “I want to stress that anyone who does not fully wish to be here, or cannot fully commit themselves to the Order, now is the time to leave.  No ill will shall be set before you.”

 

He paused and looked around the room.  No one made any move to leave.  Dumbledore smiled.

 

“As always, Fawkes has chosen wisely.”

 

The Phoenix on his corner perch squawked and flapped its fiery wings at the compliment.  Dumbledore continued.

 

“As I understand it, Fawkes has once again chosen from among our student population.  Seven to be included in our circle.”

 

“Do we even need to ask?” Snape said sourly from his position in the corner.

 

“I’ll save you the trouble Severus,” he replied, eyes twinkling.  “All of the four remaining Weasley children, that is Fred, George, Ron and Ginny have been chosen… er, their parents permitting.”

 

“Couldn’t stop them if we tried!” Molly Weasley said.  “Even if we did forbid them, you know they would find a way to be become involved anyway.  This way at least we can keep an eye on them.”

 

“Very good,” the Headmaster continued.  “Also there is Mr. Neville Longbottom.”

 

“Longbottom!” Snape exclaimed.  “That bird is off its perch!  The boy is a walking menace!”

 

“Neville may be somewhat… less than graceful in a few of the magical arts, Severus, but he has an uncanny talent with plants.  Professor Sprout will be taking him under her wing.”

 

Snape crossed his arms in a huff.  “Just be sure to keep him away from any potions.  He’s liable to blow up the Order before we can get anything done.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind Severus,” he said with a smile.  “The remaining two really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the last four years at Hogwarts.”

 

Severus rolled his eyes and turned to the window.

 

“Miss Hermione Granger and if he accepts, Mr. Harry Potter.”

 

“Harry?” Arabella started.  She hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

 

“Miss Granger owled me the moment she received her feather asking me what it was.  She and her parents have agreed to her involvement.  Harry, however, I have yet to hear from.  I will speak to him when he arrives.”

 

“You haven’t heard from him at all this summer?” she asked concerned.

 

“No.” Dumbledore said.  “But I’m sure he is doing fine.”

 

*~*~*~*

 

Worst. Summer. Ever.

 

That was the only way that Harry felt he could adequately describe the last two months. 

 

As certain animals were able to sense fear, certain predators were able to sense vulnerability.  Such was the case with Harry and the Dursleys. 

 

Almost as soon as he had set foot in the door, his relatives were able to pick up that there was something different about him.  It didn’t take a genius.  Harry had all but stopped talking.  He did whatever he was told without question, and when he wasn’t being worked like a dog, he was up in his room sleeping.  After a week, the Dursleys had decided to test the waters, see if they could get a rise out of him.  His school supplies were promptly confiscated and locked away in the cupboard that was formerly his home.  Harry hadn’t given them so much as a pleading look.  He was only left with Hedwig, her cage (which Vernon Dursley did not lock as he did not want to put up with Hedwig’s screeching as they had done the summer after Harry’s first year) and his wand, which he kept hidden in the long pocket of his ever-present vest.  He’d taken to wearing the maroon-red article scarcely a day after leaving the King’s Cross train station.  He’d purchased it when his aunt had taken them all out to buy Dudley a present for doing so well on his finals (high 50s in stead of his usual low 50s).  It was made of light breathable material and was open in the front.  He would be able to wear it under a loose shirt or on the hotter days over a tee shirt without much of a look.  As it was, Harry seldom wore tee shirts anymore, so the latter was no longer an issue.  His wand, he felt, needed to be with him at all times.  As much as he hated life that summer, he had no wish to come face to face with Voldemort wand-free.  He also kept several galleons, sickles and knuts as well as several Muggle pounds in a small money pouch in his baggy pants pocket. He wanted to be prepared in case he ever had to make a run for it.  Constant vigilance.  The phrase had been drilled into him by Professor Moody (who had turned out to be Barty Crouch Jr.) the previous year.

 

He tried not to think about the previous year, but found he could think of little else.  The conflict in his mind was the cause of his reserved behaviour and his silent depression only served as fuel for his uncle and cousin.

 

On their way down to breakfast one morning, Dudley had seen fit to push Harry down the stairs for no other reason than he was there.  If not for his finely honed Quidditch skills Harry would have had several fractured bones.  As it was, he merely had to put up with several large bruises and a mildly sprained wrist.

 

His uncle, instead of reprimanding Dudley had forced Harry to re-paint the stairwell as his shoe had made a rather large scuffmark on the wall on his way down.

 

The first blow happened two days later.

 

It was a Saturday and Harry had been sweeping the kitchen floor.  Dudley came running through and shoved him down, causing the broomstick to fall into the porcelain cabinet shattering two of Aunt Petunia’s decorative plates.  Dudley grinned down at him wickedly before opening his vat of a mouth and squealing as loud as he could.

 

“Mum!  Dad!  Harry broke the plates!”

 

Harry was getting to his feet as Uncle Vernon came thundering into the room a moment later followed closely by his aunt who was grasping dramatically at the collar of her blouse.

 

“Dudley tripped me,” Harry said plainly, by way of explanation.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll clean it u—”

 

Harry heard the strike before he felt it.  He found himself sprawled out on the floor again, the left side of his face burning and the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth.  His tooth had cut into his cheek when the back of Vernon’s hand had connected.

 

Harry held his hand to his cheek, stunned.  His uncle hadn’t hit him in years (eight years old was the last time he could recall) and back then it was for offences much more serious than breaking a dish or two.  Harry really never knew why the abuse had stopped, but he guessed that it had something to do with Harry being too quick and his uncle being too large.  It just wasn’t worth the effort to chase him.

 

But Harry wasn’t running anymore, and his relatives must have sensed that.  From that day on, any little indiscretion resulted in a shove, a kick or a slap-sometimes all three.  The Dursleys seemed to have stopped believing in the avenging murderous godfather, Harry had once had spoken of.  They figured that if he’d really existed, he would have shown up already and they’d convinced themselves that the letters Harry received in Sirius’s name were forged by those wicked, abnormal friends of his.

 

He was actually becoming accustomed to the brown, purple and red marks, which painted his formerly fair skin.

 

Harry’s meals were cut drastically.  The Dursleys were no longer on their rabbit diet, but had still cut down on their portions.  Harry’s portions were less than half of what Dudley got.  As such, his weight had dropped considerably, leaving his skin (beneath the bruises) looking sallow and unhealthy, with dark circles under his eyes.   

 

And through it all, Harry really never fought back.  At the beginning of the holiday, he barely put up any resistance at all.  He deserved the abuse… at least he felt he did.  It didn’t feel right to him.  The TriWizard Tournament was over.  School had finished.  He had gotten on the Hogwarts Express and left school.  Cedric Diggory was dead.  Cedric couldn’t do any of that, yet Harry continued to go on.  He felt responsible for Cedric’s death and could not wrap his head around the idea that he shouldn’t be punished in some way for it.

 

As bad as his days got, his nights were even worse.

 

Haunted by images of Cedric, his parents and of course, Voldemort, his dreams were painful and full of misery.  He was almost glad that they didn’t last long, but his awakening was usually caused by a sharp pain from his scar.  The frequency of the pain was increasing daily.  Each time Voldemort was feeling particularly heinous, Harry would feel it. He bore silent witness to Voldemort’s rising, yet surgically cruelty.

 

And his depression would increase.

 

And the abuse would continue.  As the summer wore on, he was so weakened by it that even the precious few times he did try to defend himself, he was too weak to do so.  He had taken to curling up into a tight ball or crawling as far into a corner as he could and waiting for it to be over.  Neither method was spectacularly effective though.  His uncle or Dudley would simple drag him out of his safety and continue.

 

And no one knew about it.

 

When Ron or Hermione or Sirius would write to him, there was always a standard question: “How are things at the Dursley’s?”  For the first time in years, Harry found himself lying to his friends.  It left a horrid taste in his mouth, but it had to be done.  (‘Things are going fine.’  ‘They’re travelling a lot so I often get the house to myself.’  ‘The Dursleys are too afraid of you to bother me.’ were some of his more frequently used responses.)  He couldn’t very well tell them that his life had become a living hell and that he woke up almost every morning trying to think of a reason not to end it.  He could only ever think of one reason and ironically it was the same core reason behind nearly every torment Harry had experienced in life. 

 

And he had to be stopped.

 

For his birthday, Harry had received a box of sweets both from Ron and Hermione, (reasoning that although he hadn’t said so, they doubted that the Dursleys were feeding him all that well) and affectionate letters from Hagrid and Sirius.  Hagrid apologized for the lack of gift but promised to make it up to him in his sixth year.  He was still on assignment for Professor Dumbledore and would not be at Hogwarts for the coming term.  But he did give Harry, Ron and Hermione permission to visit his hut whenever they felt like getting away from things.

 

There was also the expected package from Hogwarts, a little bigger than usual.  Included was the standard letter informing him of the school supplies he would require that year.  In addition, there was a letter to announce that he had been chosen to be a Prefect that year.  A silver badge was tucked into an envelope.

 

And there was a feather.  A bright fiery golden red feather was tucked in among the letters.  There was no explanation for its presence, but Harry recognized it as belonging to Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix.  He figured it must have accidentally fallen into his package, but decided to keep it anyway as he was rather fond of the magical bird.

 

Ron had mentioned that he and his family would be going to Diagon Alley on the sixteenth.  He hoped that Harry would be able to come as Dumbledore said it was not safe for him to visit the Burrow at all that summer.  Harry wrote back that he would be busy that day but he would see them all on September first.  He went to the wizarding alley by himself a few days later.  He’d convinced the Dursleys that he was able to get there and back on his own. (And the fact that Diagon Alley would be swarming with his kind greatly helped his argument.)  He walked several blocks and called for the Knight Bus and when he returned that evening, the Dursleys permitted him to place his supplies in his locked away trunk, for no other reason than to have them put away.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, as per usual, had ignored the day of his birth and put him to work.  He wished Dudley had been as apathetic.  Late in the day he and his bullying best friend Piers Polkiss had decided to present to Harry their version of the “birthday bumps.”  Instead of playful bumps on the rump for every year of his life, Harry was subjugated to fifteen fist poundings… each, plus one to grow on.  Harry was coughing blood by the end of it.  Aunt Petunia had swatted him with a broom handle for getting her floors dirty and sent him to his room for the rest of day.  The time passed rather quickly as the moment his head touched the pillow, he lost consciousness.

 

Summer couldn’t be over fast enough.

 

Harry jammed the garden spade into the dirt and wiped his brow with his forearm.  He rocked back in his kneeling position and squinted up into the bright August sun.

 

In two days he would be returning to Hogwarts and his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were determined to squeeze every last drop of free labour out of him before he left.  Although he hated gardening, he did enjoy being out of the house and away from the Dursley’s.  Out here, all he had to deal with was the sun, the earth, the silence...

 

“LOOK OUT!”

 

Harry didn’t hesitate.  With the troubled situations he usually found himself in during the school year, Harry knew better than to question a warning.  He immediately ducked and rolled onto his side.  His hand instinctively reached for his wand, ready to strike.  As soon as he’d hit the ground, there was a ‘POP’ sound as something small ricocheted off the wooden fence and landed in the garden.  Had Harry not moved, the object, whatever it was, would have hit him in the neck or the back of his head.

 

Harry rolled over to his other side, looking for the source of the projectile.  He frowned as a smug looking Dudley lowered his BB Riffle from his position in the window.  It was the worst thing his uncle could have gotten the whale for his birthday (short of a real gun).   Worst for Harry at any rate.  Since Dudley had received the ‘toy’, Harry had been subject to several stinging peltings, and had twice avoided losing an eye, only once again by using his Bludger dodging skills.

 

Dudley let out a laugh that sounded similar to the bark of a sea lion and disappeared from the window.  Harry scowled and sat back up.  He looked at the small chip the pellet had made in the fence.  The day after tomorrow, he told himself.  The day after tomorrow and I’ll be gone... if Dudley doesn’t kill me first.  He snorted miserably.  What a headline that would be, he thought.  “The Boy Who Lived, Killed By Muggle Toy”.  The Daily Prophet would have a field day.

 

As Harry looked at the fence, he suddenly remembered that someone had warned him about the shot.  He looked around the small backyard of Number 4 Privet Drive.  There was no one present that he could see, but given his experience, that didn’t necessarily mean that Harry was alone.

 

“Hello?”  he asked cautiously.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Harry jumped.

 

The voice had come from somewhere to his right.  Low and to his right.  He scanned the garden, seeing nothing at first, but then, among the Begonias, there was movement.  A dark snake raised its head and looked directly at Harry.  It was an Adder, he was sure of it.  Since discovering he was a Parselmouth, Harry had taken to studying about the different breeds of snake, especially those more native to Britain.  After all, it was only polite to know something about a person (or creature) you might be conversing with.

 

“Hello, there.  I’m fine thanks to you,” Harry told the creature.  “Thanks for the warning.”

 

“Anytime,” the snake said.

 

“Have you been here long?”

 

“I’ve been watching you dig.”

 

“Why? Do you know who I am?”

 

“Yesss.  We all do.”

 

“All?”

 

“There are only four of you in the world now.  We all know who you are.”

 

“Four?”  Harry asked, crawling closer to the snake.  “I thought it was just two.”

 

The snake seemed to shake his head.  “You, an old blind woman, the Dark one and a baby born just this ssspring.” 

 

“A baby?  But a babies can’t talk,” Harry insisted.

 

“Not in your wordsss,” the snake explained.  “We are born knowing how to talk.  Our talk.”

 

Harry nodded.  “I think I understand,” he said.  “Er... Why were you watching me?”

 

“I’m ssstuck.”

 

“Stuck?”

 

The snake nodded.  Harry parted the Begonias and saw that the snake was partially impaled upon a sharp twig.  He gasped.

 

“Oh, no!  Why didn’t you say anything?!”

 

“Didn’t want to be a bother.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.  Hold still I’m going to try to take it out.”

 

The snake allowed him to touch him and as carefully as he could manage it, Harry pulled the twig from its elongated body.

 

“Thanksss,” the snake said.

 

“No problem, but you’re bleeding now.”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

Harry was busy ripping the bottom of his already frayed shirt.  During the summer holidays, he tended to revert to wearing Dudley’s old hand-me-downs.  He didn’t want his good (fitting) clothes to be exposed to his cousin’s torments and so they remained safely stowed away in his school trunk.

 

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about snake physiology,” he apologized, gently tying the strip around the reptile’s thin body.  “I think maybe I should take you to see someone who does.”

 

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

 

Harry sat back on his heels and grinned for the first time in many weeks.  “You’re awfully polite, for a snake.”

 

“We’re all polite.  There jussst aren’t enough of you to tell everyone that.”

 

“I suppose not.  Well, polite, or no, you’re still bleeding.  I know a veterinarian that is not too far from here.  I could take you.”

 

“I don’t want to--.”

 

“—be a bother.  I know I know.  I’m taking you and it’s no bother.”

 

Harry picked up the garden spade and mashed it against a large rock, breaking off the scoop.  He kept the handle and held out his other hand.  The snake slowly began to wind its way up his arm.

 

“Why did you break that?”

 

“I need an excuse to go out,” Harry explained. “I’ll tell my aunt I need to buy a new one.”

 

“I sssee.”

 

“By the way, what’s your name?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Well, I’ll think of something,” he said and trotted back to the house. 

 

*~*~*~*

 

Sirius carefully set the three iron stakes up in tri-pod formation.  He cast a locking charm and the poles remained in their place.  A cauldron, just smaller than your average Quaffle, he hung from the hooks at the top of the poles.  He summoned a jar with shimmering blue liquid from the nearby table and carefully poured it into the pewter pot.  He repeated the action with a light purple liquid.

 

She’s here.

 

He shook his head.  He needed to concentrate on what he was doing.  He summoned a pouch containing Doxy hair and added three braided strands to the concoction.

 

She looks amazing.

 

Sirius cursed as he just stopped himself from adding the Griffin’s nail before the three drops of Perry Melon.  That would have lead to a nasty explosion.

 

I wonder if she’s seeing anyone?

 

“Five Leggil eyes…”

 

Doesn’t matter.  She hates you.  You saw the way she was looking at you.

 

Sirius picked up a rosewood spoon and began to stir counter clockwise.

 

One… Two… Three…

 

He removed the spoon.  The mixture began to shimmer a deep lagoon green.  It shot off bright turquoise sparks before settling down into a deep turquoise blue.

 

Success!

 

She wants you dead.

 

Wonderful.

 

*~*~*~*

 

He had just made the train.  It was 10:57am when Harry stepped onto Platform nine and three quarters.  He had no sooner gotten his trunk stowed away and hopped onto the Hogwarts Express when it began to slowly pull out of King’s Cross Station.

 

Still in the doorway stairwell, Harry pulled out his wand.  He tapped himself on the forehead with it and muttered a quiet spell.  He removed his baseball cap and lowered the collar of his light jacket.  He checked his refection in the glass, patting his hair down as best he could (a futile effort, really) before continuing up the three short steps to the long train corridor.

 

The train was crowded with its usual bustle of loud and excited students ready for another year of school. Harry walked past every compartment.  All were full.  He knew there would be a seat waiting for him near the back.  There always was.  But this time, he would really have preferred to find a quiet corner by himself.

 

Reaching the last compartment, Harry peeked his head around to look into the glass window.

 

“Harry!”

 

Hermione jumped out of her seat and threw the compartment door open.  The remaining Hogwarts Weasleys weren’t far behind her.  Harry took a step back and held his hands up.  From Hermione’s motion, he knew she was about to throw her arms around his neck for one of her trademark oxygen depriving hugs.  She stopped immediately looking confused and somewhat embarrassed.

 

“S-Sorry,” Harry explained.  “I --er didn’t--  didn’t want you to squash Sebastian.”

 

“Sebastian? Who’s Sebastian?  And why didn’t you write more this summer?” Ron demanded from the doorway.

 

Harry motioned that they should all go back into the compartment. They went in and took their seats.  Harry removed his wand from his vest and handed it to Ron.  He then lowered his jacket down his arms.  There were gasps as everyone automatically backed away as they caught sight of the snake draped over Harry’s shoulders.  The snake raised its head and looked around.

 

“Harry... What—What...” Ginny sputtered.

 

“Everyone, this is Sebastian.”

 

“Er, Harry…?”

 

“Isn’t that an adder?”

 

“They’re poisonous!”

 

“Where did you...?”

 

Why do you...?”

 

Harry held up his hand again, as Sebastian seemed to be to be hissing in his ear.  Harry pointed to Ron and then Hermione, and other three in turn, all the while speaking in Parseltongue.  As he pointed to each person, Sebastian’s gaze followed and the snake appeared to nod slightly.

 

“Sorry,” Harry said in English.  “He wanted to know who you all were.”

 

He then went about explaining to the group how he’d met the reptile.  He told them that he’d taken Sebastian to a veterinarian he’d been to when old Mrs. Figg, (his former babysitter) needed to take in one of her cats (who had stupidly swallowed a thick old coin from her collection).  The injury in truth hadn’t been all that serious but the doctor kept the snake overnight just in case.  Harry had used the Muggle money he had with him to pay for the service and had managed to sneak out of the house the next day to retrieve his new friend.  Sebastian didn’t fancy himself a pet, but had asked if he could tag along to Harry’s school, as there was nothing of too much interest for him on Privet Drive.

 

“Harry,” Hermione said with a disapproving voice, “I understand how you might be friends with Sebastian, but do you think it’s wise to bring him to school.  I mean, snakes are dangerous, and since he’s not going to be with you all the time—”

 

“Snakes are only dangerous when they need to be,” he interrupted.  “Like when they’re hunting or when they’re defending themselves, or when they’re scared, but adders like Sebastian don’t scare easily.  He’s actually quite polite.”

 

“The snake is polite?” George said with a sceptical eyebrow.

 

“I can see that,” Ginny said.  She stood up.  “Can I pet him Harry?  Will he like that?”

 

Harry said something to Sebastian.

 

“You can run your finger along the top of his head.  He likes that.”

 

Ginny stepped forward and with her index finger, fearlessly stroked the snake on his head.  Sebastian hissed gently and curled his head up under Ginny’s palm.

 

“What’s he saying?” Fred asked.

 

“He’s… well, he’s not really saying anything.  That sound… if he were a cat, I’d say he was purring.  He likes you Ginny.”

 

Ginny smiled and re-took her seat, leaving space beside her for Harry.  Harry, still in the doorway reset his jacket, covering his friend in cocooned warmth.

 

“Uh!  What’s that smell?” came a disgusted voice from behind Harry.  Harry turned around.  Draco Malfoy and his ‘henchmen’ Crabbe and Goyle were standing there, snide expressions painted on their pale faces.

 

“Oh, it’s you, Potter.  You hang around Muggles and Mudbloods too much.  You’re starting to smell like them.”

 

“With the company you keep Malfoy, I wouldn’t be the one talking about smell.”

 

Malfoy’s face (if it were possible) took on an even more sour look.  “Don’t think we’ve forgotten that little stunt you pulled at the end of last year.”

 

“Really.  I’m surprised that Crabbe and Goyle can remember anything past a minute.  Something that happened two months ago?  I’m impressed,” Harry finished, turning away.

 

“Don’t turn to your back to me, Potter!”

 

He would have acted but the collar of Harry’s jacket began to move and a snake seemed to emerge out of the back of Harry’s neck.  The three Slytherins froze in their tracks, and actually took steps backwards when the reptile opened its mouth and bared its long fangs with a hiss.  It remain frozen in this tableau, mouth wide, staring at the boys and poised to strike.

 

The Slytherins made unintelligible sputtering sounds, trying to deal with their fear and still maintain their ‘dignity’.  Harry turned his head to the side so that his profile, wicked grin and all, was visible to them.

 

“Oh, I forgot,” he said calmly, as though there weren’t a poisonous snake perched on his neck.  “You haven’t met my new friend.  Malfoy, Crabe, Goyle, this is Sebastian.  He doesn’t really like it when people threaten me or my friends.  Rather over-protective this one is.”

 

In front of him, the Weasley’s were all grinning.  They too had been surprised at Sebastian’s hostile appearance but the horrid looks on the faces of the Slytherins more than made up for it.

 

“C-Come on boys,” Malfoy stuttered, finding his voice.  “Potter’s lost it.  We’ll deal with him later.”  The three stumbled backwards from the car stepping on each other as they went.  The door shut and Harry said something in Parseltongue.  Sebastian closed his mouth and brought his head around to the front of Harry.  Harry sat down rather rigidly

 

“I think I’m gonna like that snake,” Ron said.

 

“Right, Harry.  Tell’em we thought what he did was really cool and that he’s alright in our book,” Fred added.

 

Harry spoke to the snake once more and smiled when Sebastian appeared to respond.

 

“He says thanks and he likes you guys too.”

 

“He wasn’t... really going to attack, was he Harry?” Hermione asked.

 

Harry shrugged.  “Don’t know.  I didn’t tell him to do that.  Don’t know what he was planning.  And even if he did, it wouldn’t have killed them.  They’d just get really, really sick.”

 

“So his poison isn’t lethal?”

 

“To us, probably not.  We’re too big.  But to a baby or someone really weak, it might be.”  Harry appeared to be thinking for a moment.  “I think I’ll tell him to stay away from everyone under fourth year, though.  Just in case.”

      

“Would’ve served him right, lousy git,” Ron said, chomping down on a Liquorice Wand.

 

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.  They played exploding snap and tore through the sweets.  Fred and George updated Harry and Hermione on some of their newest jokes.  Harry felt a pang of sadness as he realized this would be the twins’ last year at Hogwarts.  In his opinion they were a staple of the school… the jokesters who kept everyone on their toes and kept the light of laughter in their hearts.  What would Hogwarts be without them?

 

At Hogsmeade, the pranksters in question joined their friend, Lee Jordan, in a carriage.  The remaining four slid into their own horseless vehicle for the ride to the castle.  Harry had been quieter than usual on the train ride and said no more than five words during the ride in the carriage.

 

He released Sebastian into a bush near the front gates of Hogwarts, reminding him to mind his injury.  The snake bid him farewell with a promise that he’d see him around.

 

During the Sorting Ceremony, Harry was less than ecstatic, though he tried to feign it and he slowly mulled his way through the welcoming feast in the Great Hall.  As hungry as he was and as inviting as the banquet before him looked, he found that his stomach was not letting him enjoy it as much as he’d wished.  After practically being starved that summer, Harry found it difficult to eat very much or very quickly.  When the food had first appeared, he like everyone else had dug in promptly.  Moments later, he felt like the food was threatening to make a re-appearance.  He waited a few minutes for the feeling to pass then continued more slowly and in smaller portions.  It seemed that he would have to re-train his stomach, to accept normal amounts of food.

 

His bird-like eating did not go unnoticed by his friends.

 

“Maybe you should go see Madame Pomfrey,” Fred suggested after Harry explained that his stomach felt un-easy.

 

“No!” Harry said quickly.  “I’m sure I’ll feel better by tomorrow.  Just need a good night’s sleep.”

 

“But you need to eat something Harry,” Hermione insisted.  “You hardly had any sweets on the train.”

 

“Really, Hermione, I’ll be okay.”

 

Any further questions about food intake were put on hold as Professor McGonagall approached them.

 

“Mr. Potter, Professor Dumbledore would like a word with you in his office.”

 

Ron and Hermione looked at each other then at Harry.  Harry nodded to the professor and left without another word.  He was halfway there when he remembered that he’d (once again) forgotten to ask for the password.  He continued on anyway.

 

“Sugarquill...  LemonDrop...  Earwax…  Muggle Muffins...”  Harry tried every expression that popped into his head.  After about thirty seconds he paused trying to think of something else.  It was then that the old gargoyle slid aside on its own and Harry was face to face with a pleased looking Dumbledore.

 

“Ah, Harry.  I thought you might be having a little trouble.  Come this way.”

 

He followed the Headmaster up the narrow changing staircase to his office.

 

Harry nervously sat on the edge of the chair that was offered him and waited.  He wondered what it was he could have done.  Was it Sebastian?  He’d never heard of a rule banning snakes at Hogwarts, but still…

 

“Well, Harry, how was your summer?”

 

“Er—Fine sir,” he answered.

 

“Things at the Dursleys not too bad?”

 

Harry felt a surge of panic.  Did he know?  Yesterday was— No, he couldn’t know.  He’s just making polite conversation.  Harry forced his mouth into a partial grin and shrugged.

 

“Pretty much the same,” he answered.  “No better, no worse.  The Dursleys are the Dursleys.”

 

Dumbledore stared at him with that familiar penetrating gaze for a moment before nodding.

 

“Now, Harry,” he continued.  “When you received your school package, was there by any chance a feather tucked in among the notes?”

 

Harry nodded.  “Yes.  It was sort of goldish red.  It looked like it came from Fawkes.”

 

The phoenix in question flapped its wings happily from his perch.

 

The professor’s eyes twinkled.  “Yes, indeed it did.  It means that Fawkes has chosen you for the Order of the Phoenix.”

 

“The Order of the Phoenix?  What’s that?”

 

“A group that was originally organized centuries ago to fight Dark Wizardry. It has been brought back for the fight against Voldemort. Fawkes here chooses who will be included.  A gift of a feather is an invitation to Order.  It is rare, but there are times that Fawkes will choose under-aged students to be part of the group.  Your parents were included among this special breed.  They were in their sixth year when they were chosen.  This time, you, Hermione, Ron, and his siblings have been chosen.”

 

“Ron and Hermione know about this?” Harry asked.  “They never said anything to me.”

 

“I’m sure they wanted to.  But until I confirmed that you had received your invitation, I’m afraid I had to forbid them from mentioning it to you.  I had no doubt that you were chosen, but the rules of the Order must be adhered to.  For your protection, no one must no you have been chosen until you have been fully integrated.  No one other than those who have been chosen.”

 

“Are there other students?”

 

“One other, Mr. Longbottom has also been chosen.”

 

Dumbledore was pleased that Harry did not display shock or bewilderment at the mention of the young Gryffindor’s involvement.

 

“Other than to those I have mentioned,” he continued, “you must not speak to anyone about this until this coming Saturday.  That is… assuming that you wish to join?”

 

“I have a choice?”

 

“You always have a choice, Harry.  Because you are under-aged, permission needed to be granted by your guardians, but Sirius has stepped in on that capacity and said you may join if you wish to,” he said.

 

“Now, I want you to consider this carefully, Harry.  Your previous encounters with Voldemort have all been by accident or in the process of doing something else.  Joining the Order would mean you are actively working towards his downfall.”

 

A choice? Harry chuckled grimly to himself.  Nice of him to say so, but no, I don’t have a choice.  This is my life, ruddy difficult as it is, he thought.  It’s what he was there for.  Lives need avenging. Voldemort needs to be destroyed. A choice?  There’d never been one.

 

“I’m in.”

 

Dumbledore beamed.

 

“Good.  You may return to the feast now if you’d like.  When you are finished, I would like you make your way up to the third floor corridor.”

 

At Harry’s startled expression, Dumbledore held up his hand.

 

“Hagrid has taken Fluffy with him on his assignment.  He shrunk him to the size of a normal dog.  A rather large normal dog with three heads, but he is apparently easier to handle now.  The third floor is where is where the Order will meet.  But right now there is someone waiting to see you.”

 

Harry’s heart leapt and for the first time in months, it was in happiness.  He had a strong suspicion who that someone would be.

 

“C-can I go now, sir?” he asked, standing up. “I’m not really hungry.”

 

“Are you sure Harry?  You’re looking a little on the thinner side, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

 

“Oh, I’m fine sir, really.  Can I go?”

 

“Of course,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling.  “I must return to the feast myself.  I have a few announcements to make, including the fact that the third-floor corridor on the right hand side will once again be out of bounds.  Ron and Hermione can fill you in on the rest later on.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” he said and left the office.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Alohomora.”

 

Harry opened the lock at the end of the third floor corridor.  He paused for a moment, memories of the giant three headed dog washing over him, then proceeded inside.

 

This was not as he remembered it.  Torches lit the walls bathing the room in a warm glow.  There were three rows of seats (ten each) in a half circle, stadium style so you could see over the person in front of you.  A single stone table was the focal point, over the spot where there had once been a trap door.

 

“Hello?” Harry called out.  There was no answer.

 

There was a door in the back corner of the room on the left hand side, large and made out of what looked like thick metal.  There was no handle or knob that he could see.

 

Alohomora.”

 

The lock remained sealed.  Harry tried the spell again.  Alohomora!”

 

Nothing.

 

Wearily he rested his hand on the cool metal.  There was a shifting sound and he could hear the lock being triggered.  The door slowly creaked open.

 

Harry cautiously stuck his head in the door.

 

“Si—Snuffles…?”

 

Harry cried out as he was enveloped into a tight hug around the waist.  He found himself being swung around in a circle before his feet were allowed to touch the floor again.  He backed away visibly grimacing and clenching his teeth at the hot pain shooting up his back.  His breath came in heavy puffs.

 

“Harry!  I’m— Are—are you alright?”

 

“Hi, Sirius.  I’m-I’m fine,” he lied.  “I--my back grazed the frame when you pulled me in.”

 

Sirius’s face took on a pained expression.  “Harry, I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I was just so happy to see you.  I should have thought--.”

 

Harry waved him off.  “It’s nothing.  Look.  See?”  Harry straightened up and held his hands out. “Good as new.”

 

Sirius still looked unsure.  He stood at a small distance as though he were afraid of coming too near too Harry.  Harry gave him a re-assuring smile.  “Come on, I’ve gotten worse bumps from Hermione’s book bag. Once she starts running, that thing flies all over the place!”

 

The former prisoner let the side of his mouth quirk up into an awkward smile.  “I don’t see you in two months and the first thing I do is give you a bruise.”

 

“Hey, at least our meetings are always memorable.”

 

Sirius actually allowed himself to laugh at this.  It was true.  Every time he and Harry had been together in the two years since his escape, there had always been some unusual pretence to it.  The first time, Harry thought Sirius was trying to kill him.  The second was right after… well, Harry tried no to let his mind go back to that day.

 

“So what are you doing here?” Harry asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards friendlier ground.  “Not that I’m not glad to see you of course.”

 

“I live here.”

 

Sirius motioned around the good-sized room.  It was well lit and inviting.  There was a comfortable looking couch and two soft chairs, a large fireplace and three large rugs covering the cold stone floor.  Across the room there was a table with four chairs and a shelf with numerous books of both magic and Muggle technology.  There was also a desk, which was covered in scrolls of parchment and quills.  A small cauldron was hanging on a support by the entrance door.  At the far end of the room was another door, which was open and Harry could make out the foot of large bed lit by the moonlight shining through a narrow window.

 

Sirius ushered Harry to the couch and magiked over two cups of hot chocolate.

 

“I--I thought you were… gathering some people for Professor Dumbledore.”

 

“Done,” Sirius said.  “The Order had been gathered and I’m here to take my place in it.”

 

You’re in the Order of the Phoenix?”

 

Sirius grinned.  “Did you have a doubt?  And since the Order will be meeting up here, Dumbledore suggested that I just live here.  It’s easier than sneaking in and out of the castle all the time in dog form.”

 

“And no rats!”

 

“And no rats.  Dobby keeps me well stocked in food as I can’t very well show up in the Great Hall.”

 

“Do you want me to have my meals up here with you?”

 

Sirius shook his head.  “Much as I’d enjoy that Harry, you have to continue with your school life as though I weren’t here.  You can come and visit me whenever you like, but you mustn’t draw attention to yourself.”

 

Harry dipped his head wryly.  Sirius grinned.

 

“Okay.  Don’t draw more attention than usual, oh, Boy-Who-Lived.”

 

“Can Ron and Hermione visit too?  I’m sure they’d love to see you.”

 

“Of course.  I was going to programme them in anyway.”

 

“Programmed?”

 

Sirius nodded and placed his mug on the low coffee table.  He walked back over to the door with Harry following.

 

“I’ve been studying Muggle security techniques.  That’s one advantage we’ll have over Voldemort.  He wouldn’t dream of looking to the Muggle world for anything of use.  Actually, some of their ideas are really quite good.  A couple that interest me here are surveillance and bio-security.” 

 

Harry scrunched his face up.  “Bio… Er… Sounds familiar, but I can’t really remember.”

 

Again, Sirius nodded and motioned towards the door.  “In high security Muggle places, they’re starting to use the human body as a key.  Retina scans for the eye.  Fingerprint recognition.  Voice recognition.  I’ve taken some of their ideas, put a magic spin on them and am incorporating them into use for the Order.

 

“Like this cauldron,” He said, touching the black pot suspended next to the door.  It had a turquoise coloured liquid in it.  “This is like a Muggle security camera.  Do you know what that is?”

 

“Of course,” Harry said.  “They’re everywhere.”

 

“That’s how I knew it was you at the door.  You tried to open it using Alohomora, didn’t you?”

 

Harry nodded.

 

“When anyone tries to open the door, turquoise sparks shoot out of here to alert me.  Then I can look into it and see who is on the other side.”

 

Harry nodded, looking very impressed.  “And the door?  You said it was programmed.”

 

“Yes.  I magiked it to recognize Harry Potter.  When you touched the door with your bare hand it opened.  And like the Marauder’s Map, it can’t be fooled by Polyjuice Potion or any other type of enchantment.”

 

“That’s amazing Sirius!”

 

“Rather proud of it myself,” he said grinning.  “Right now, only you, Dumbledore and Remus are programmed for this door.  I was just preparing the spell to include Professor McGonagall when you arrived.  I’ll put in Ron and Hermione later.  That’s about it.”

 

“So Pro—Remus is here too?”  Harry looked around the room.  “Is he going to be teaching?”

 

“Yes and no.  He’s going to be offering a special advanced Dark Defence course.  It’s completely voluntary and students won’t really be graded.  Parents or guardians have to give permission for students to them to join…  I haven’t really decided yet if I should let you…”

 

“Sirius!!!”

 

“Kidding!  Just kidding!” Sirius grinned holding his hands up in defence.  “Of course you can take the course.”

 

Harry beamed.  Remus Lupin was the best teacher Harry had ever had.  He was Harry’s favourite… a sentiment shared by many Hogwarts students.  He’d left after his lycanthropy was made public by a bitter Professor Snape.  More than a few were sorry to see him go.  Harry was certain he would have no trouble filling this course.  In fact, there might very well be a waiting list.

 

That reminded Harry of something else.

 

“Sirius,” he asked, “do you know who the new regular Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is?  I saw two new teachers sitting at the head table but I missed hearing who they were.”

 

Sirius’s face seemed to darken slightly, and for a moment Harry saw the look of sadness in the man’s eyes that he had only ever seen when Sirius was reminiscing about his father, James.

 

“The man you saw is Mundungus Fletcher.  He’ll be teaching Care of Magical Creatures while Hagrid’s away.”  He paused.  “The woman is Arabella Figg.  She’s the Defence teacher.”

 

“Arabella Figg… I know a woman named Arabella Figg.  She used to babysi—she use to look after me sometimes when the Dursley’s went away.”

 

That quarter smile tugged at Sirius’ face again.

 

“The woman who looked after you, Mrs. Figg, is Arabella’s mother.”

 

Harry’s eyes grew into saucers.  “She’s a witch?!  Mrs. Figg is a witch?!”

 

Sirius nodded.

 

“How come she never told me?!  She must have known who I was!  She could have told me about my parents!  About the Wizarding world!  Why didn’t she say anything?!”

 

“She must not have felt it was her place to.  Always went her own way, that one.  Mrs. Figg is a Seer, Harry, and unlike Professor Trelawney, she actually has a talent.  No one asked her to move to Little Whinging.  No one even knew she was there until Ara—Professor Figg told us.  Seers… true Seers are isolated people.  They tend to keep away from the Wizarding world.  That’s why it’s so hard to find anyone good to teach your divination class.

 

Harry was not happy.  All those times Mrs. Figg had forced him to go through album after album of her stupid dead cats, when all that time she could have been teaching him about himself.  She knew the Dursleys didn’t tell him anything about his family.  Harry started suddenly.  Could she have known about…?  But then why didn’t she…?

 

“Harry?”

 

Harry blinked.  He realized he had been staring at the wall with a deep frown on his face.

 

“All right, Harry?”

 

“I’m fine,” he said.  “Just tired I guess.  Long day.  I should be getting back to my dorm.”

 

“‘Course.  Classes tomorrow.”

 

“When can I come back?” Harry asked as Sirius opened the door for him.

 

“I should be here when you’re through with your classes.  Bring Ron and Hermione if they’d like.”

 

Harry smiled.  “I will.  Goodnight, Sirius.”

 

Sirius bid him goodnight and waved him out the door.  Harry kept walking until he’d exited the Order’s Chamber, and the entire right side corridor.  He stopped and after a moment dropped to his knees resting his head on the stone floor.  He breathed in shaky shallow breaths.  Tight tears squeezed their way out of his tightly clamped eyes.  He wrapped an arm gingerly around his lower right side.

 

That.  Was. A. Baaad.  Idea, he thought. 

 

He knew it from the moment Dumbledore had mentioned the third floor, but he’d wanted to see Sirius.

 

Part of him (a very small part) was proud of his newfound acting ability.  The rest of him thought he was a bloody idiot

 

And now he was paying for it.

 

*~*~*~*

 

He couldn’t sleep.  Sleep was painful.  Awake was painful.  But he needed to sleep.  Classes would begin in the morning.  He had to pay attention.  He had to learn.  He had to become the best possible wizard that he could be.  People were depending on him.

 

He pushed up from his left side.  He hated sleeping on his side.  It left his back exposed.  But under the circumstances…

 

He listened to the breathing of his roommates… well, what he could hear over Seamus’s snoring, before climbing quietly out of his bed.  He changed out of his nightclothes and slipped on a simple jumper and pants.  He considered taking his invisibility cloak, but it was rather heavy to wear.  Also, his movements that day had gotten steadily less graceful.  He wasn’t certain he could be completely silent.  If he were caught, he would rather put up with detention than reveal the existence of his father’s cloak.

 

Considering what he was planning to do, if he were caught at all, he prayed it would be on the way back to his dormitory.

 

Putting on his open school robe (the colour would be better for shadows), Harry left the fifth year’s dorm and quietly made his way down the stairs.  The common room was expectantly empty, the fire in the hearth low.  Taking a few deep breaths first, he exited through the Gryffindor porthole.

 

*~*~*~*

 

Harry quietly crept his way along the hall towards the dungeons.  Part of him couldn’t believe that he was trying to break into Snape’s office… by himself.  But there was no way that Ron or Hermione could be involved in this operation.

 

He reached the large black metal door and tried the handle.

 

Locked, as he’d expected.  He pulled out his wand.

 

“Alohomora,” he whispered.  Harry held his breath at the loud ‘CLANG’ the lock made as it released.  He listened for a full minute before continuing with his task.

 

Harry entered the empty potions classroom and, after unlocking a second door, slipped into Snape’s office.  After allowing his eyes to adjust, walked to the large cabinet near Snape’s desk.  Again, this was locked and again Harry opened it.  He lit the tip of his wand and used it to read the scratched labels on the many containers.

 

“Loverra Oil… Loverra Oil... Ah!”

 

Harry picked up the jar containing the creamy white liquid.

 

“POTTER!”

 

Harry started and dropped the jar.  It shattered, sending globs of the pasty liquid onto his shoes.

 

“You’ll not be able to charm your way out of this one,” Professor Snape sneered.  “Stealing from a professor.  I’ve finally caught you.”

 

Harry mouthed silently for a moment before dropping his head.

 

“Really, Potter,” he continued snidely.  “I’m rather surprised at you.  Out without your guard?  And did you really think I wouldn’t have detection spells after all the other times you’ve broken in here.

 

“I’ve never--”

 

“Quiet!”

 

Harry shut his mouth and looked sullen.  This pleased Snape even more, as evidenced by the crooked smile that crept up onto his face.

 

“Move,” he commanded, and placed a hand on Harry’s back to steer him towards the door.  He was taken aback when Harry jumped as though his hand were a hot branding iron on his skin.

 

The professor didn’t comment, but narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  He looked from Harry to the broken container on the floor.  His gaze narrowed even more before looking back to the boy.

 

Harry suddenly became fascinated by the leg of a chair.  He would have given his Firebolt to have a troll come thundering through the dungeons at that moment.

 

“Remove your robes, Potter,” Snape said in a new tone that Harry couldn’t recognize.  Harry became a wide-eyed statue.

 

“Now!” Snape commanded.

 

Harry tried to keep his hands from visibly trembling as he obeyed.  His heart was racing.

 

Of all the people… If there was one person he didn’t want to find out about… there couldn’t have been anyone worse as far as he was concerned… well, except for Malfoy, but he was certain that his secret wouldn’t remain hidden from the spindly faced Slytherin, for much longer.  Not once Snape saw.

 

Snape took the robe from him and told him to turn around.  He tried to steady his breathing as Snape tugged at the back of his jumper and he held his breath all together as the cool dungeon air struck his exposed back.  A moment later it was set back into place and the professor walked away from him.

 

His back still turned, Harry closed his eyes and waited for the laugh.  Waited for the joke or the taunt.  ‘Poor pathetic Potter.  Ha, Ha.’

 

“Incendio.”

 

Harry opened his eyes but did not turn around as the fireplace sprung to life.  He watched the shadows of the flames dance on the far wall.

 

“Headmaster?” he heard Snape ask.  A moment later there was a ‘POP’ and Dumbledore’s warm voice filled the office.

 

“Severus.  What can I do for you?”

 

“I will be escorting Mr. Potter to the Hospital Wing.  Would you meet us there?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

There was another ‘POP’ and Harry heard Professor Snape approaching him.  He handed Harry his robes and headed for the door.

 

“Follow me, Potter.”

 

“Can’t you just give me detention or something?” Harry pleaded.

 

Snape stopped in the doorway and looked at him steely.

 

“Potter--”

 

“I don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing!  I’m fine.  It’s not that bad!”

 

“I’m not in the habit of repeating myself, Potter,” Snape hissed, before turning on his heel and continuing out the door.  Harry dropped his head and followed, woefully.

 

Dumbledore (and to Harry’s horror, Professor McGonagall) were already waiting for them when they arrived.  The dungeons were much further from the Hospital Wing than any of the other teachers’ rooms, so their swiftness was not surprising.  A tired looking Madame Pomfrey stood with her hands folded and shaking her head.

 

Professor McGonagall let out a heavy sigh, satisfied, apparently, to see that Harry was at least walking.  He’d been brought into that wing on a stretcher far too often in the past.

 

“Mr. Potter,” she began.  “You have been here just over six hours.  What could you possibly have done to yourself in that short amount of time?”  Her voice was crisp, but she was unable to hide the underlying concern.

 

“Show them,” Snape said sharply.

 

Harry balled his fists tightly.

 

“No,” he said.  “It’s nothing.  I don’t need to be here.”

 

“Harry,” Dumbledore said kindly, “I’m certain Professor Snape would not have brought you here if he didn’t think it was necessary.”

 

Harry stubbornly shook his head.  “No.  No, I’m fine.  I just want to go back to Gryffindor.”

 

“POTTER!”

 

“NO!”

 

Snape sighed in annoyance.

 

“I caught him breaking into my office.  He was attempting to steal a jar of Loverra Oil.”

 

“Loverra Oil?” Madame Pomfrey questioned.  “I use that to heal severe bruising.  It’s not much good for anything else on its own.  Why did you need Loverra Oil, Mr. Potter?”

 

Harry was obstinately looking down at his shoes.  He refused to look at anyone.

 

Professor Snape rolled his eyes impatiently.

 

“His back is covered in bruises and welts.  Belt marks from the look of it.

 

“What?!” exclaimed McGonagall.

 

Harry violently shook his head.

 

“No.  I fell.”

 

“Harry--”

 

“I FELL!  I was bringing my trunk down the stairs and I fell!  That’s all!”

 

“Harry--”

 

“Look, I’m sorry about the Loverra Oil!  I’ll buy it back!  I’ll do detention!  Can’t I just go now? …Please?”

 

Professor Dumbledore placed a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder and continued with what he’d been trying to say.

 

“Harry, let us help.”

 

Harry blinked furiously, refusing to release the tears, which threatened to fall.  The professor crooked a finger under Harry’s chin and forced the boy to face him.  Harry tried to look away, but that haunting, piercing gaze of Dumbledore’s…

 

He hugged his patched arms around his chest and hung his head in acquiescence.

 

Dumbledore turned to Professor McGonagall.

 

“Minerva, will you please inform our guest as to what is happening.  Tell him that Mr. Potter will be fine and that he should remain-where-he-is.  I will speak with him shortly.”

 

After a momentary glance at Harry, Professor McGonagall left the room.

 

Dumbledore waited until her footsteps could no longer be heard before turning back to Harry and motioning for the boy to continue.  Harry took a couple of steps away from him before unhappily beginning to shrug out of his shirt. 

 

His chest and arms were coated in dark bruises and sores, in various stages of healing.  There was an especially dark patch near his lower right ribcage.  It looked as though Harry had more injured skin than healthy.  After a moment, Dumbledore motioned with his finger that Harry should turn around.  The boy chewed down on his bottom lip before turning to let them see the damage.

 

As bad as his front was, this was ten times worse.

 

Harry’s back was a dark rainbow of blacks, greyish-purples, reds and browns.  Long black tracks crisscrossed over each other.  There were a few short marks that seemed to be cuts that had closed up.  Welts and grooves covered him in their purple and blood-brown hues.  All this was emphasised by the slightness of Harry’s body.  Though he was disposed to be naturally thin, it was obvious that this level of thinness was due to heavy malnutrition.

 

Madame Pomfrey let out a strangled gasp and walked quickly to her office.  Harry turned around again.

 

Dumbledore’s eyes had stopped twinkling.  They narrowed suspiciously as he pulled out his wand and pointed it at the boy’s face.

 

“Finite Incantarum,” he said quietly.

 

Harry’s clear pale face changed to reveal several more bruises and cuts.  His left eye looked as though it were healing after being swollen shut.

 

Dumbledore took a deep steady breath.

 

“Your uncle?”

 

“It’s not as bad as it looks!  Really, it’s not!”

 

“Harry, there is no need for you to defend him.  Was this the only time?”

 

Harry hesitated a moment too long.  Dumbledore nodded.

 

“It-- it’s never been this bad before,” Harry explained quickly, seeing the narrow glint on his headmaster’s face.  The seething look that was creeping up behind those blue eyes frightened Harry to his core.  He’d never seen Dumbledore look so vexed.  “He was just really, really angry this time.  I don’t think he really knew what he was doing.”

 

“That is not an excuse, Harry.  No one deserves to be treated the way you have been treated.

 

“I deserve it,” Harry muttered.  His eyes grew wide.  He hadn’t intended to say that out loud.

 

The professor didn’t have time to question Harry further as Madame Pomfrey came storming back in.  “You, sit!” she commanded ushering Harry towards one of the tightly made hospital beds.  “Drink this.”  He handed Harry a gold coloured goblet containing a deep blue liquid.  “I’m afraid Loverra Oil wouldn’t have been much help to you.  Your injuries look to be very much past that.”

 

“They’re really not--”

 

“Drink!  And you two, out!  You can speak with Mr. Potter later!”

 

Harry had quite forgotten that Professor Snape was still standing near the doorway.    He left immediately but Dumbledore’s gaze fell on Harry again, the look plainly telling him that they would indeed be speaking later on.  Madame Pomfrey then pulled a screen around Harry’s bed and shooed the Headmaster out.

 

She’s probably the only person in world who can do that, Harry thought to himself as the slick potion began to trickle down his throat.

 

He immediately began to feel warm all over and his injuries, especially those on his back, began to tingle and throb… at least in a more pleasant way than they had been.  His eyes began to feel heavy and Harry realized that the potion must also include a sleeping additive.  Harry was famous for trying to leave the Hospital Wing before Madame Pomfrey’s permission was given, or not resting enough when he was there.  He lay down on his side, lest he topple forward onto the floor.  He wondered if the sleeping potion had been a part of the original elixir or if the old nurse had added it just for him.

 

Sly ole bird, he thought as his eyes drifted shut.

 

He knew no more.

 

 

To be continued…

 

 

//
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