The Sugar Quill
Author: Mistral (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Just Plain Harry  Chapter: Chapter One: The Twenty-Fourth of July
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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: This wonderful world belongs to J.K. Rowling - I just like to play in it.

A/N: Lots of thanks to Arabella for her insightful and supportive beta-reading.

Chapter 1 The Twenty-Fourth of July

Harry lay on his bed and willed himself not to see it - not to think about it. But even when he closed his eyes and tried to think of something else - Quidditch, or Cho Chang - everything led back to Cedric, and the date. It was July 24th, exactly one month since Voldemort had killed Cedric and risen to his full power again, and that was all Harry could think about.

He had gotten quite good at not thinking about it all in the three weeks since he had arrived back at the Dursleys'. Hermione would be so proud of him - he had already finished all of his summer assignments, and was even going back and studying his old books again from the beginning, just to keep his mind occupied. Though, judging by her letters, she was more worried than proud.

But even thinking about his friends couldn't keep his mind from Cedric tonight. Not even remembering Ron's last letter, which seemed to Harry to be just one long scream of frustration over Hermione. She had gone to Bulgaria to visit Viktor Krum for a week, and she and Ron had been conducting a tremendous letter fight ever since. Usually, hearing about both sides of their arguments, especially since he had started figuring out their changing feelings for each other, could take his mind off his own problems. Not tonight. Harry supposed that was all right, though - it was appropriate that he couldn't think of anything but Cedric, one month after his death.

That wasn't the only thing to worry Harry, of course. He spent many hours, when he wasn't working on schoolwork, just staring out the window, waiting for letters to come. Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Hagrid - he worried about them all, and there was nothing he could do for any of them. Not stuck here at the Dursleys', anyway.

Although it was more bearable here this summer, mostly because the Dursleys had adopted the practice of simply ignoring Harry. They didn't call for him to wake up, they let him get his own meals, they didn't even make him do housework. Maybe they thought that if they just ignored him, he would go away. And he would, just as soon as Professor Dumbledore said he could. He was sending the Headmaster owls every week, and he knew Ron was, too. Harry wanted to be at the Burrow so much he could taste it - to laugh at the twins' jokes, to talk with Mr. Weasley about Muggle things, to be stuffed full to bursting by Mrs. Weasley, to spend time with Ron, to just feel the love that surrounded him there. The Weasleys loved him - Harry, not the Famous Harry Potter, just Harry. He would even have liked to be lectured by Percy right now, as long as he was there.

Harry groaned and pulled his pillow over his head. Stop thinking about it, he told himself. Dumbledore will let you know as soon as it's safe. He knows how important it is to you. And you don't want to put the Weasleys in danger, just because of you, do you? Even more danger than they're already in, that is. That thought made him groan again.

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Harry couldn't believe it - Aunt Petunia hadn't even been coming in to clean.

"Erm...come in?" he said, taking the pillow off his head and staring at the door as it opened.

Aunt Petunia opened it just enough so that she could sneak in, and shut it quickly behind her. Harry didn't know why she did that - Uncle Vernon was away at some week-long meeting about drills for his company, Grunnings, and Dudley was completely engrossed in his favorite TV program - Harry could hear the TV from up here.

"Gracious, Harry, we've been leaving you alone all summer, the least you could have done was keep your room clean!" She stalked around, glaring at the quills, parchment, school books, and owl feathers that were scattered around the room. When she looked at Harry sitting there on the bed, though, her eyes softened.

"Are you...all right?" she said.

It was absolutely the last thing Harry had expected, and it shocked him so much that he told her the truth.

"No," was all he said, but he must have looked completely flabbergasted - he sure felt it - because she reddened.

"I was...I've been watching you," she said, but then she shook her head. She stared at him, and he stared back. Then she walked quickly over to his desk chair and sat down.

"Has anyone ever told you that you have Lily's eyes?"
"Erm...yeah, actually, lots of people," Harry said.

Aunt Petunia looked vaguely interested, which, since it was obvious that the only people who could have told Harry about his mother's eyes were wizards, Harry thought must mean that she was consumed with wonder.

"Um...my Headmaster told me once, and some of my mum and dad's friends from school..." Harry trailed off, because Aunt Petunia looked almost pathetically eager.

"Which ones?" she asked, but almost immediately shook her head sadly. "It doesn't matter, anyway. I -" she stopped again, while Harry just sat there and watched her. He had no idea what was going on here.

"One summer, Lily came home from school with the exact same look in her eyes that you have right now," Aunt Petunia said in a rush. "She didn't want to tell me why at first, and I know she never told my parents. But I was persistent, and eventually...she said that one of her friends had a secret that would alienate him from the rest of the wizarding world. She said that it probably wouldn't bother me more than any other type of wizard, but in her world..." Aunt Petunia stopped, swallowed, and went on. She was twisting her hands together in her lap. "In her world, it was a big deal. And one of her other friends had done something to jeopardize the secret, so that someone who wasn't their friend found out about it, all for some stupid joke. Of course, she was all proud of James, you could see that in her eyes, too - I suppose he did something terribly brave, as usual. But her main worry was the friend with the secret. He was in danger, she said, and there was nothing she could do about it, which haunted her. I could see it in her eyes, and that's the look I see in your eyes all the time, Harry."

All of that speech came out in a rush with barely time for breath, while Harry watched in wonder. It was definitely the longest speech Aunt Petunia had ever given to him, and she had never spoken of his mother before. It was weird to think of the two of them as sisters, confiding in each other, even a little. His mum had obviously not told Aunt Petunia exactly what the secret was, but Harry knew. Professor Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in Harry's third year at Hogwarts, and one of his parents' best friends, was a werewolf. Sirius had played a joke on Severus Snape, another of Harry's teachers, whom all of Harry's parents' friends hated. The joke would most likely have killed Snape, but Harry's dad had found out about it and stopped it, though not before Snape saw Lupin changing into his werewolf form. Harry had never really thought before about the fact that Sirius had risked Lupin's secret and future just for that joke. It shocked Harry, because he knew that Sirius and Lupin were so close that they were almost brothers. How could Sirius have done that?

"And then later, at the wedding," Aunt Petunia said, which brought Harry out of his thoughts immediately. She almost seemed to be talking to herself.

"At the wedding, almost everybody had that look in their eyes. Oh, they all looked happy, and had lots of fun - lots of stupid, immature jokes -" her voice took on a scornful tone that sounded more like herself "but they all looked...I don't know. Like someone had murdered one of them, or was going to murder one of them, but they didn't know which. It was...it was very strange."

Harry just stared at her. He had never thought that Aunt Petunia had been at his parents' wedding - she wasn't in any of the pictures he had of it - though he supposed it made sense. But since when had she been so observant? The wedding had been at a time when Voldemort's power was starting to peak, so no wonder everyone had looked haunted. Voldemort was going to murder one of them - two of them, actually, Harry's parents. To stop himself from thinking about it, Harry forced his thoughts back to his aunt.

"But there was one man," Aunt Petunia was saying, still twisting her hands in her lap and looking at them, not Harry. "His name was...Remus. Strange name, but his eyes looked like they had always been haunted. We talked a lot - we were paired up as attendants. Lily hadn't asked me to be her maid of honor, of course, that was one of her magical friends, but I was a bridesmaid, and Remus was a groomsman." She hesitated, then pulled a picture out of her pocket, which Harry stared at, shocked again.

It was a wizard photograph. It was a formal pose, his parents in the middle, and three couples grouped around them, all in their wedding finery. But the people were moving, most of them waving at Harry, although the young Aunt Petunia in the photo did so almost sheepishly. Sirius was waving with one hand and giving Harry's dad bunny ears with the other. Harry stared at it, thinkng about how the lives of the people in the picture had diverged so drastically soon after it was taken.

Aunt Petunia looked down at the picture in her hands.

"That's Remus," she said, pointing at the man who was standing next to her, smiling and waving up at Harry. "Do you...do you know him?"

"Um, yeah," Harry said. "He was one of my professors."
"Oh," Aunt Petunia said. "Is he...did he...oh, never mind. It isn't important."
She stood up and thrust the picture into Harry's hands.

"You keep this. Just don't let your uncle see it," she said, shuffling to the door. She turned and looked Harry straight in the eye, for the first time since she had mentioned his mother. She had tears in her eyes, which shocked Harry again. How many shocks was he going to get in one day?
"I just wanted to let you know that I know that you're hurting. If you need someone to talk to...well, I'll try."

And with that, Aunt Petunia sneaked out the door again.

Harry lay back on his bed again, looking at the picture, and trying to figure out what to make of all this. He recognized most of the people in the picture. There were his parents, of course, and Aunt Petunia with Professor Lupin. Harry's godfather, Sirius, was next to his father, with a woman that Harry didn't know. He supposed that she was his mother's maid of honor. He wondered who she was, and what had happened to her, but his attention was mostly drawn to the fourth man in the picture: Peter Pettigrew.

Peter had been one of his dad's best friends at Hogwarts, one of the boys who had become Animagi to keep Lupin company when he transformed. But later, he had betrayed them all to Voldemort, allowing Voldemort to kill Harry's parents and framing Sirius for the murders, so that Sirius had had to spend twelve years in Azkaban. Looking at the small, slight man waving up at him from the picture, Harry could hardly believe it, though he knew it was true. They all looked so happy, and so much the group of life-long friends. And yet, Pettigrew must have even then been working for Voldemort.

Harry put the picture on his bedside table, determined not to think about it. The other weird thing about the conversation, aside from it happening at all, that is, was Aunt Petunia's obvious interest in Remus Lupin. Harry knew a crush when he saw one - there was Ron's for Fleur Delacour last year as an example, or even his for Cho Chang. But to think of Aunt Petunia and Professor Lupin...it was just too strange, especially since she still seemed to think about him. That almost goes from the crush stage to, oh, unrequited love, Harry thought. If it has lasted this long...

Rolling over onto his stomach, Harry grabbed his quill and parchment from his table. He had to write to Ron about this - it was just too funny. But when he tried to write about it, he stopped. It really wasn't funny, it was almost pathetic. But it was real, and Harry found that he couldn't make fun of Aunt Petunia. Maybe he could write to Hermione, he thought, but then he reconsidered that, too. She would understand, and she wouldn't laugh, but somehow Harry just couldn't do it.

He found himself writing, "Dear Ginny," before he thought about it. She would definitely understand, she certainly wouldn't laugh, and somehow, he felt comfortable telling her about it. He got stuck half-way down the page, however. She might not laugh, he thought, but she would be embarrassed. It was too much like he was comparing it to her crush on him, and that might hurt her, which he would never want to do. He didn't return her feelings, but she was still his best friend's sister, and he didn't want to hurt her.

Harry crumpled up the parchment, put his glasses on the bedside table, turned off the light, and rolled over. He wouldn't write to anyone, but he certainly wanted to ask Professor Lupin if he remembered Aunt Petunia. Yet another thing to ask his parents' friends about, whenever he saw them again.

//
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