Disclaimer: The setting and characters all belong to JK Rowling, of course. I’m just having fun with them.
Later that day, Harry shuffled down the sidewalk, paying more attention to his feet than his surroundings. As a result he found himself in the middle of Dudley and his gang before he realised he was right in front of Mrs. Figg’s house. He looked up at the evil grins on the faces of Dudley’s goons and just shook his head at his own stupidity.
He turned to Dudley and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. “So, are you going to get it over with already or just let me by? I’m supposed to have tea with old Mrs. Figg today. Do you really think I need more punishment than that?”
Piers Polkiss snickered, “Ya know, Big D? I think he’s got a point for once.”
Dudley looked relieved and stepped aside to let his cousin pass. “Yeah, batty old Mrs. Figg and her crazy cats all afternoon is enough punishment for anyone! Better you than me, Harry!”
Harry shrugged his shoulders and headed up the walk.
“Wotcher, Harry!” came a soft voice to his left. “Too bad. I was really looking for an excuse to get that cousin of yours. He’s such a bully!”
“Hey, Tonks,” Harry answered softly. “Nah, Big D hasn’t really bugged me at all this summer. I think the Welcoming Committee took care of any ideas he might have had.”
She giggled from under Moody’s invisibility cloak as Harry shuffled up the rest of the walkway and knocked on the door.
Mrs. Figg must have been waiting there for his knock, because she opened the door before he had a chance to lower his hand. “Harry, dear! Come on in! You remember Mr. Tibbles, don’t you?”
Dudley’s gang sniggered at that and shambled off down the street before she decided to extend the invitation to them as well.
Harry waved half-heartedly at the old cat, “Hey, Mr. Tibbles,” as he slouched through the door. When Mrs. Figg had closed it behind him, he immediately straightened and met her concerned gaze. “Have you heard from… .” he began.
“From me, perhaps, Harry?” asked a deep voice he’d recognise anywhere.
Harry grinned for the first time in at least a month and rushed into Mrs. Figg’s doily-covered cat-smelling living room. “Professor Dumbledore! It’s nice to see you, sir!” He looked into that old face so full of concern for him and just couldn’t help himself. Maybe it was the lack of sleep getting to him or something, but he threw himself into Dumbledore’s arms and broke down in tears.
Dumbledore just held him tightly and Harry felt a couple of tears that weren’t his own falling onto his shoulder.
After several minutes Harry finally got himself back under control and pulled away. “I’m sorry, sir. I… .”
“I think we both needed that, Harry. Don’t be embarrassed about it. If I know you, that’s probably almost the first crying you’ve allowed yourself to do over this whole unpleasant business.”
“Almost,” Harry nodded. “I did some at Hogwarts, really, but nothing like this. I’m sorry, sir… .”
Professor Dumbledore looked sternly at him over those half-moon glasses. “Didn’t I just tell you not to apologise?” But the twinkle was back in his eyes, so Harry just grinned at him and accepted the handkerchief Mrs. Figg was trying to give him. Harry nodded his thanks and mopped his face with it, suddenly extremely self-conscious in front of his batty old Squib of a neighbour.
Mrs. Figg seemed to sense his discomfort and bustled about preparing the tea. Harry moved to help her but was interrupted by his headmaster. “Please sit down, Harry. I need to speak with you about some special arrangements I’ve made on your behalf.”
Harry sat in an armchair next to the ratty old recliner Dumbledore had selected for himself. “Arrangements, sir?” Harry asked eagerly, leaning forward in his chair, partly because he was anxious for a solution to this situation and partly because he was afraid he would relax too much in the presence of the only wizard Voldemort ever feared and drift off into the exhausted sleep that threatened to overtake him.
Dumbledore smiled at Harry’s posture, an even brighter twinkle in his eyes which clearly told Harry that the brilliant old man saw right through him.
Harry grinned sheepishly at him, but kept his gaze on that venerable old face, his heart filling with love, hope, and trust as it had done on all but one all-too-recent occasion when he had spoken one-on-one with his headmaster.
Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat. “First off, Harry, thank you for trusting me enough after all that’s happened to write directly to me about this.”
“Who else could I possibly trust with this, Professor?” Harry shrugged.
“Yes, there is that, I suppose. Now, about the Occlumency training. I’ve brought you a book of suggested exercises that you should practice on your own while you’re home with the Dursleys.”
Harry half-snorted at the idea of Number 4 Privet Drive ever really being a home for him, but as he now fully understood why he had to call it his home, he left it at that.
Dumbledore just handed him the small volume and took a sip of the hot tea Mrs. Figg had set unobtrusively on the doily-covered occasional table at his elbow. Harry imitated him as soon as he realised the tea had been served.
“Apart from this, Harry, I will be tutoring you personally in Occlumency twice a week.”
“But…” Harry started to interrupt with one of the myriad obstacles to that idea.
Dumbledore lifted a hand to stay off any comments. “I’ve already informed a trustworthy member of the Misuse of Magic Office of part of the special circumstances, so any disciplinary action will be headed off before it even gets started. You will travel by Floo Powder to the Great Hall at Hogwarts for special training in Occlumency and for Remedial Potions.”
Harry choked on his tea. “Remedial Potions?!” he gasped out between coughs. He didn’t think he could face Professor Snape just yet.
Dumbledore chuckled. “The O.W.L. results are in, Harry, which means that all students should receive their results within the next day or two. But more importantly, you earned an E in Potions rather than the requisite O that Professor Snape requires. He, apparently, is as loathe to see you right now as you are to see him, after the incident with the Pensieve… .” his voice trailed off for a moment and Harry fidgeted uncomfortably in his armchair, dislodging a doily on the right armrest and diving to retrieve it before Mr. Tibbles and company could get any ideas.
“However,” Dumbledore continued, a note of amusement in his voice, “Minerva McGonagall informs me she made you a certain promise and intends to make good on it even if that old—ahem, shall we just say, even if the former Hogwarts High Inquisitor and Temporary Headmistress is no longer in place at the school.”
Harry brightened. “Potions with Professor McGonagall and Occlumency with you, sir?” He could hardly believe his luck.
“Yes, Harry. You will Floo from this house and arrive for Potions in the Great Hall at ten o’clock sharp on Mondays and Thursdays. You will work with Professor McGonagall for two hours, the three of us will lunch together at noon, and then you and I will work on Occlumency from one o’clock on. You should be back here shortly after three each class day. I don’t dare start too soon after lunch until you’ve got your basic mental shields developed, or you might well bring it all right back up from the strain, and Madam Pomfrey would have my head on a platter.”
Harry laughed. “She probably would. But, sir, are you sure about this? I mean after what you said in explanation of why you chose to have Professor Snape teach me… .”
Dumbledore laughed a little bitterly. “I think it’s a bit late for those kinds of concerns now, Harry. Voldemort has realised full well my feelings for you by now. And as the war against him has to be my highest priority, I might as well act out the part of surrogate grandfather I’ve always felt for you. Now, about those lessons.” He raised bushy white eyebrows at Harry.
“Sounds fantastic, Professor! When do I start?” Harry felt warm all over to know that his feelings for Dumbledore were precisely and completely reciprocated.
“On Monday, Harry.”
“But today’s Friday, sir. How can I… .” fear clenched his stomach into knots.
“I come armed with a dose of Dreamless Sleep Potion that Poppy says you’re to take at precisely eight o’clock this evening so you’ll be up at a more or less reasonable hour tomorrow.”
“Just one dose, sir? But what about tomorrow night? And Sunday… .”
“You have the book to study from tomorrow so you can try some of the basic exercises before sleeping and you will have a special houseguest during the first week or so who is more than capable of setting up wards around your bed and your person as you sleep so that not even Voldemort, connected as you are by that scar of yours, will be able to penetrate your thoughts. I should have thought to send him to you before, but I was worried you’d come to depend upon him too much. That, and he’ll run himself ragged if he does this for too long. And considering his devotion to you, I didn’t think it quite fair to take such advantage of him.”
“You don’t… you don’t mean Dobby, do you sir?”
“I most certainly do. While I was speaking with Professor McGonagall about researching more wards to help protect you as you learned to close your mind, Dobby was cleaning out my fireplace. When he realised who it was we were talking about, he quite timidly interrupted our conversation, saying, ‘But Dobby knows how to set these wards! It is part of a house-elf’s special magic that can only be used if Master knows to ask for it. But Dobby is a free elf, so Dobby is free to offer his help to Harry Potter, if Professor Dumbledore will allow it.’”
Then came Dobby himself, entering cautiously from Mrs. Figg’s kitchen and looking up hopefully at Harry.
“Dobby!” Harry cried joyfully. “Can you really help me with this?”
“That’s wonderful, Dobby! I would love it if you stayed with me for a while until I get the hang of this Occlumency stuff! It always seems to leave me more vulnerable rather than less so—the headaches and exhaustion are so hard to handle!” Harry enthused, secretly wondering how the Dursleys would take to having an uninvited houseguest from the Wizarding world—especially the one who had dropped the pudding on the floor, causing such a disastrous end to their evening with the Masons almost four years before.
Dobby happily threw himself forward to hug Harry’s knees and beamed happily up at Professor Dumbledore, who smiled in return.
Professor Dumbledore rose from his recliner. “Thank you for the tea, Arabella. I really must be getting on to the Ministry. Cornelius wants to meet in person at least twice a week this summer to catch up on what he’s ignored during the past year.” He shook hands first with her, then with Dobby, who nearly fainted with the honour of it all, before turning to Harry. “Ten o’clock sharp on Monday morning, Harry. You know how Professor McGonagall is about punctuality.” He squeezed Harry’s shoulder in farewell, then Disapparated.
Harry thanked Mrs. Figg for the tea and for her help with this project.
“Oh, you’re quite welcome, dear. I’m just glad I can help! Remember to have Dobby turn your cauldron and potions materials invisible for the walk over on Monday. Then you’ll be leaving it all at Hogwarts I should imagine. Sleep well!” She smiled and shut the door behind her last two visitors.
Harry looked down at his little friend and grinned. “C’mon, Dobby! Let’s go home and break the news to Aunt Petunia!”