The Potter children had mounted a letter-writing campaign to bombard their father with the sort of news they might have shared round the kitchen table at dinner. They had decided to focus on just one subject of their choosing in each letter, so that they didn't spend all their homework time writing to him. When all three had completed their missives, they tied them to Whitehorn's leg and sent them on their way.
Wednesday, 2 December 2020
This has to be quick since I have a mountain of essays to complete for Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Defence, and Arithmancy… and they're all due next Monday. However, I wanted to tell you that I have detention… AGAIN! One of the teachers caught me repeating a prank Louis, Albus and I pulled a couple of months ago and now I have to clean all of the cubicles in the Quidditch changing rooms… boys AND girls WITHOUT magic!
The prank was pretty funny the first time we did it. Uncle George has invented these nearly invisible capsules containing itching or sneezing powder that can be stuck somewhere and won't open until triggered remotely by a spell. Albus and I were testing the capsules by putting two itching powder capsules in each Quidditch cubicle so that, eventually, everyone involved with Quidditch was itching like crazy… and no one knew who'd pulled the prank.
Well, that first prank was so successful I decided to try the sneezing powder capsules and again stuck them in all four changing rooms. The thing is, one of the capsules broke as I was handling it and I began sneezing so loudly that it attracted Madam Hooch's attention… not good to be caught in the Ravenclaw girls' changing room when you're a Gryffindor boy! Lucky me! Do you know what the horrible part of the whole thing is? It's not being able to wear a mask or a Bubblehead Charm while I'm cleaning!
Did you ever have to clean stuff for detention, Dad?
Please write back, even if it's just a short note.
Always your son, James
P.S. Albus was kind enough to detonate the sneezing capsules in all four dressing rooms a few hours after I was given the detention. I suppose he's getting me back for not telling him the antidote for the itching powder until he'd suffered for several days.
Albus' letter was just as short.
Wednesday, 2 December 2020
I'm going to tell you about something rather funny that happened in Care of Magical Creatures.
As you know, we're learning about small forest creatures and today's creature was the Bowtruckle. They're funny-looking things, really, but quite mean when they want to be. Well, we all wandered into Magical Creatures expecting to see a line of the beasts resting on a table, but instead, we found the creatures inhabiting a potted tree the in the middle of the class area. The challenge, we were told, was to offer an appropriate snack to the creatures living in the tree so that they would allow us to take them to our examination areas.
Most of us had done our reading, so we knew to take the woodlice as our offering. However, this one bloke, Humphrey, who never does his reading until after the lesson, walked over to the table, selected a carrot and approached the tree without permission. He chose a bowtruckle and stabbed the carrot at it; I suppose he thought the idea of coaxing an animal from its lair was a stupid idea… Well, the offended bowtruckle sprang from the tree and landed on Humphrey's head! We were all wearing protective goggles, but still, the sight of the angry bowtruckle pummelling the bloke's goggles made us all laugh, especially when he decided to stick the carrot between his head and the marauding beast to try to lift it off his head. By this time, Professor Proctor was ready to hex Humphrey, only it was my friend Marcia who actually did the hexing. She then levitated the bowtruckle back to the tree and fed it a large quantity of woodlice… and was allowed to gently remove it from the tree and take it to her bench. Oh, what happened to Humphrey? He's in the hospital wing covered in boils. Serves him right…
I know you took Care of Magical Creatures, Dad. What's your bowtruckle story? I'd like to hear it.
Please write back, even if it's just a short note.
Quidditch Rules! Albus
Lily's letter read:
Wednesday, 2 December 2020
I learned how to turn a teacup into a turtle today. It was rather hard to do at first because my teacup kept sprouting legs and a head, but its shell was still shaped like an upside-down teacup. Madam Fiore kept encouraging me and I finally did it… only to have to make three more turtles because my first turtle still had a floral pattern on its shell. What I didn't know was that I was one of six students out of thirty who were successful. Roger Creevey—I think you know his dad—took pictures of my turtles at the end of class. I don't know when I'll get the photos back, but I'll send you one when Roger gives me a copy.
Did you have trouble learning this when you were a second year, Daddy? If you did, I'd like to read the story.
Please write back, even if it's just a short note.
Love and kisses, Your Sweet Pea, Lily
P.S. James, Albus and I will be on the train home for the Christmas Holidays on Saturday, 19 December. We almost stayed at Hogwarts, but since all our cousins are going home we decided to come home, too, even though you won't be there. I miss you, Daddy.
As James tossed Whitehorn out of the Owlery window, he turned to his brother and sister and said, "I wonder if these letters will be the ones to make Dad write us back."
Lily shook her head sadly. "I don't think he cares much about what's going on with us. I understand what Mummy and Grandmum and PopPop have told us about how much Daddy still loves us but is focusing on himself right now, but his silence is hard to bear."
Albus spoke softly, "I sometimes think we're wasting parchment and ink on letters that aren't answered."
"Why?" Lily asked.
"I put a spell on my last letter to tell me if he just threw the letter away without reading it and the next day, the quill I'd used to write the letter was glowing when I went to put my books away before practice. Dad had received the letter, but just tossed it somewhere. It's probably on its way to wherever the Muggles take their rubbish," Albus answered pessimistically.
"If he did throw our letters away, I hope Mum found them and kept them for him," James said with a long-suffering sigh. He looked at his watch. "Must go… Madam Hooch and my bucket and sponge are waiting for me."
"How many more cubicles do you have left to clean?" Lily asked.
"All of Gryffindor and half of Hufflepuff," James answered. "I finished the Slytherin changing room last night."
"Good luck," Albus said as the three of them left the Owlery and went their separate ways.
Thursday, 3 December 2020
The mail arrived with his noon meal. He had quite the stack today, three letters from his children, two envelopes from Hogwarts, and a large packet from his office. Sighing, he tossed his letters into a drawer of the writing desk—the larger ones that didn't fit ended up in the bin—and rolled his new custom wheelchair over to his table to begin eating his lunch.
When he was done, he rolled to his bed and lowered it mechanically, using the buttons on its control panel, until it was the same height as the seat on his chair. Then, he transferred himself to the bed using a slide board and settled in for his usual post-meal nap.
However, today he was too wide-awake to sleep. He had begun to notice that with the daily torture Silvia was determined to put him through, he was unwittingly gaining strength and gradually needing less and less time in bed between therapy sessions.
Today, he felt restless.
Giving up his nap for a bad job, Harry hauled his body back into his wheelchair and rolled the chair to his window. It was snowing again, but he could see some rather enterprising patients and their therapists negotiating the slippery pathways of the rose garden.
Maybe that will be me in a couple of months, he thought, shocking himself. He dared not hope that the feeling and strength that seemed to be returning to his legs would allow him to ever get up and walk through a snowy garden again.
Harry turned from the window and cast about for something to do. He never watched any of the noon-time programs on the telly; they were mostly insipid talk shows or repeats of shows two decades old and the BBC News Channel didn't interest him one bit.
Then he remembered his mail and rolled over to his desk to look at it. When he opened the drawer, he was shocked to find that it was nearly full of letters, most of them from his children. How long had they been sending him letters? He honestly couldn't remember when they'd begun writing to him. Had he been in such a fog of misery that he'd completely ignored the people he held most dear? Apparently so. Well, now seemed like a good time to at least find out how long he'd been non-communicative.
Digging down into the drawer, he lifted the entire contents onto his desk and turned it upside down, letting the letters cascade over the small wooden surface. Then, picking up the facility-provided letter opener, he slit open an envelope with his name inscribed on it in James' familiar handwriting. The letter inside the envelope was dated the fourth of November, a Wednesday exactly five weeks ago yesterday. His son had written that he and his siblings had received permission to visit him the coming weekend and that they were looking forward to seeing where he was recovering.
Harry sighed and opened another letter. This one was from Lily. Her letter looked like water had been spilled on it while she was writing it because there were big circular patches where the parchment had dried and some of the writing was nearly illegible because the ink had run. He sniffed the letter trying to discover what she'd spilled on it. He sighed when he didn't detect any noticeable odour. Running ink… He read the letter, feeling guiltier with each new sentence: his daughter had written to him the day after her visit and she felt guilty for making him angry because she feared she had hurt him physically in some way.
She ended the letter, "Daddy, I didn't act like a five-year-old when I tried to hug you, you did. Miss Silvia explained that you're mixed up and don't know what you want, but when you yelled at us to get out of your room, you hurt my feelings. I want you back, Daddy. I want you to love me just the way you did before you were hurt. Please go back to being the daddy who calls me his Sweet Pea."
She'd signed it, Love from Your Sweet Pea, Lily.
"Oh, Lily," Harry groaned aloud, "what have I done to you?"
He set Lily's letter aside and pawed through the pile of mail looking for one from Albus. He found one dated the eighteenth of November, but hesitated to actually take the parchment from the envelope. Finally deciding that procrastinating wasn't going to show him what his second son was thinking, he yanked open the letter and began to read. Albus had been brief. He wrote that he had two tests coming up the next day and needed to revise for them before he went to bed early; Madam Pomfrey was insisting that he get more sleep because he'd been to see her two times that week, once for fever and body aches due to a cold and a second time for a sore throat; both times she'd given him Pepper-Up potion and told him to stop running himself ragged. Harry gulped down a sob; if Ginny had known about Albus' illness, she hadn't told him about it, most likely thinking the subject of his children would just make him angry.
I used to know what was happening with my children! Harry thought morosely. I used to care what happened to them. Do I now? Deep in his heart he knew he still did.
Carefully, he set Albus' letter aside and began methodically opening all his letters. He organized them first by child and then by date. By the time he'd opened every last envelope he could see the pattern the children had chosen and the formula they'd agreed on; always write a quick note on Wednesday to be taken to their father by James' Snowy owl, Whitehorn—the owl had been named after the founder of Nimbus Broom Company. They had all been faithful to the task. The feature that touched Harry's heart the most and showed him his children had united in their campaign was the common last paragraph entreating him to write back.
Harry knew and respected many people at the Ministry for their dedication to bettering the Wizarding world and the forthright manner with which they dealt with its problems. These were two traits he and Ginny had endeavoured to instil in their children and to see evidence that their hard work was paying off at so young an age filled his heart with pride and great deal of guilt. What am I teaching them right now? he wondered. He knew the answer; selfish, closed-minded self-absorption with disregard to the feelings of those who loved him. The realization that he needed to change and change immediately, not only with the way he dealt with his family but with his attitude towards his rehab, hit him between the eyes full force.
Harry wept. He couldn't hold the tears in any longer. He'd done inconceivable damage to his relationship with his children and now he was going to have to beg their forgiveness. He had no idea how to go about apologizing, but knew in his heart that he needed to start repairing the harm he'd done by writing to each one, preferably today.
He glanced up at the desk and discovered there was one last envelope from James. Harry read the letter through tear-filled eyes, sometimes having to read sentences three times before he truly comprehended their meaning. As he finished the postscript something his son had written triggered his Auror's instincts and he began sobbing outright.
That's how Ginny found him several minutes later. Harry heard the familiar click of her heels on the tile floor, but was too stricken with grief and guilt to pay much attention to her greeting. He didn't respond until she stopped beside his wheelchair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
"What's wrong, Harry?" she asked. "Was there something in one of your letters?"
Harry drew a shuddering breath and indicating the pile of scattered letters with a wave of his hand, admitted, "I… I've ignored our children."
"I know you have, love," Ginny whispered, "but I know they still love you."
"Are you sure they don't despise me?" he wailed. "I've been so awful to ignore their letters."
"Yes, you have," she agreed evenly, "but it seems that you've taken the time to read what they've written and maybe even started writing back?"
Harry nodded; the lump in his throat was too big. Eventually, he asked, "So… do you think they'll give me a second chance?"
Ginny's tone was shocked as she responded, "Harry, how can you ask that when you've given them second chances to do better all their lives?"
"I… I… I… just—" he broke off thinking about the truth of her statement. "Yeah, you're right…"
Then he remembered the packet from his office he'd opened while reading the letters. There had been a letter from Ron in it and Harry had just begun to realize how small-minded he'd been to think that Ron wasn't bothering to come see him because he thought Harry was useless: the opposite had been the truth and Ron had kept faith by heading Harry's investigation in his absence. Only a true friend would do something like that…
Ginny pulled back and looked at him at arm's length. Then, she said, "There's something more… I know it."
Harry nodded. "Can you help me with a fire call to Ron, please? James wrote something in yesterday's letter that he needs to see," he said, trying to keep the excitement and terror from his voice.
"What do I need to see?" a familiar voice rumbled.
Harry looked up to find his best mate perched on his bed, his face sadly curious and rather concerned all at the same time. Harry felt a surge of wonder that after all these weeks, Ron was finally visiting. However, instead of feeling angry that it had taken nearly six weeks for Ron to visit, Harry eagerly embraced the urge to share his discovery with him.
Abruptly disentangling himself from Ginny's hold, Harry stuck the letter between his teeth and rolled over to the bed. "Here. Read this," he directed, handing the slightly soggy parchment to his friend. "I think this might help the investigation."
Harry sat in impatient silence while Ron read the letter. When he looked up, Ron had a smile on his face. "May I keep this?" he asked. "I need to speak to someone about this."
Harry shook his head. "I'd like to keep the original. Would a copy be sufficient?"
"It would," Ron replied.
"Then go ahead and make one now. I'm still not allowed a wand, even if I had one," Harry sighed as Ginny threw him a sympathetic smile. "I'm supposed to be using all my energy in Physiotherapy and not on superfluous frivolity, as my therapist calls it."
Ron chuckled and withdrew his wand. "Poor you," he sympathized. "How's it going, by the way?"
"It's going," Harry hedged. He really didn't want to talk about his rehabilitation; the subject reminded him all too clearly how different his life was now from the one he'd led pre-accident.
Ron nodded. "I was going to speak with you about what's in the packet from the office, but it looks like I have more pressing things to investigate." He jumped off the bed, landing lightly on his big feet. Harry looked away; just watching his best mate move so easily sent a pang of intense sadness through him.
Harry stuck out his hand for Ron to shake. "Thanks for coming by," he said around the lump in his throat.
"I should have come a lot sooner," Ron apologized, "but things round the office have been a bit crazy. We need to talk about what's in the packet I sent you. I'd like to come back tomorrow."
Harry flashed him a small smile. "I'd like that," he admitted.
Ron straightened up and with a small wave at Harry, he was out the door. Harry listened to his receding footsteps, feeling a little sad that he was going to have to wait twenty-four hours for Ron to come back.
Ginny seemed to sense his melancholy. "I'm glad you said he could come back. Ron was worried you wouldn't want him to."
"I can't stay angry at the world much longer, Ginny. It takes too much energy. I'm glad he came with you today."
Ginny didn't say anything; she was crying too hard.
The door to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes' Diagon Alley Headquarters Branch opened with an ear-splitting cackle that had Ron covering his ears as he entered his brother's establishment. The shop was relatively deserted—only Felicity, George's long-time employee, and three customers were in sight… and they all had their hands over their ears.
"George!" Ron bellowed to the room at large, "when are you going to get rid of that racket?"
George poked his head out of the back room. His grin was wide, his expression playful as rejoined, "When Snorkacks fly."
"That'll be the day," Ron grumbled as he crossed the shop to shoulder his way past his brother.
The back room of George's shop was just as cluttered and packed to the ceiling with all sorts of exotic ingredients as it had been when Ron had worked there in the first few years after the war. As usual, George had four cauldrons going, each one full of a noxious mixture, all at different stages of the brewing process. Ron moved to the farthest corner of the room to find some fume-free air to breathe. That the fresh air was coming from an open window high on the wall seemed to make no difference to George, but Ron had to pull his cloak tighter about his shoulders in order to stay where he was.
George tossed what looked like a pile of diced rosehips into one of the cauldrons and stirred vigorously for thirty seconds before looking up and asking, "What brings you here? Wanna help?"
Ron sighed. As much as he liked being an Auror, he sometimes missed the ordered craziness of George's backrooms and he realized that right now he'd like to trade his current worries for the familiar smells, messes and cranky customers that inhabited the shop. "Can't. I'm on Auror business, if you must know," he answered.
George raised an eyebrow. "What's it got to do with me?" he asked. "You sound serious." He reduced the flames under all four cauldrons and gestured to Ron to follow him upstairs to his office.
Ron waited until the two were seated in what had been Fred and George's lounge and was now the shop's office to recount the story of James' pranks. He ended his tale asking, "Can you explain how the capsules work and what spells are involved in triggering the powder's release?"
George had been lounging in his desk chair while Ron talked and now sat up and leaned his elbows on his desk. "Oh, stop being all officious and Percy-like," he chided. "It doesn't become you!"
Ron snorted, realizing he did sound very like his third-oldest brother. "Sorry," he mumbled, "I forgot where I was."
George roared with laughter and then said, "Of course, I'll explain how they work, although I'm disinclined to disclose the exact charms used to trigger them. I don't have a patent on them yet." He stood up and disappeared into the back room—his and Fred's former bedroom—and came back out a couple of minutes later holding two clearly-empty spheres. He tapped one with his wand and handed it to Ron. "I didn't think you'd wanted to end up sneezing or itching for the rest of the day," he explained as Ron inspected the sphere intently. "I think the best way to explain how they work is to show you. The one you're holding has been activated. I could say the triggering spell all day and the one I'm holding wouldn't open. Now wait here while I go up on the roof." And before Ron could say anything he'd Disapparated.
Suddenly, there was a tiny pop! and Ron found himself coughing and sputtering and covered in a fine powdery substance. The only thing left in his hand was a few bits of the pearly capsule. "GEORGE!" he bellowed as his brother came back into the office via the stairs and stood in the doorway doubled over with laughter.
"Gotcha!" he sputtered happily as he whipped out his wand and Vanished the powder which Ron suspected was either talc or chalk.
"Where'd you go?" Ron asked.
"Leaky Cauldron," George answered, brandishing two ice-cold Butterbeers with LC on their corks. He handed one to Ron who took it gratefully. "These things have a sensitivity range of about a city block so that the one pulling the prank can be nowhere in sight when they go off. I imagine Albus was sitting on the far side of the Quidditch pitch when he triggered the capsules at the match that Saturday."
"Wicked," Ron breathed appreciatively. "Tell me about the spells."
George scowled. "I really don't want to," he said. Then, he added quickly, "All the spells I used are on the up and up; don't doubt me for a moment. You know I wouldn't subject my customers to Dark magic."
"I know you wouldn't, George, but the concept is important to a case I'm working and you're the only one we know of who has any knowledge of how something like this works," Ron explained.
George sat back down at his desk. "All right, if it's that important, I'll give you a list," he said. He took out a piece of parchment and a quill and quickly made the list. As he handed it to Ron he asked, "Does this have anything to do with Harry's case?"
Ron took a long pull from his Butterbeer bottle. "Everything. The day my team and I went back to the scene of Harry's accident we came across what can only be described as a torture chamber. Not only was the pit Harry tumbled into there, but a whole host of apparatuses that reminded me of a medieval dungeon. We think the group we're after experimented for several months on new methods of torture, including one that was remotely triggered."
George let out a long, low whistle. Then, he groaned.
"What's up?" Ron asked, scooting towards the edge of his chair.
"How long have you been on this case?"
"Almost a year. St Mungo's called us in when they started getting cases of patients coming in with suspicious shrapnel-like objects embedded in their bodies. The victims couldn't remember how they'd ended up that way, although they were clearly traumatized. Then, about five months ago, the department nearly lost three Aurors to mysterious infections that seemed to crop up immediately after they'd duelled with a suspect. The Aurors reported feeling something pierce their skin, but when they couldn't find the entry wound they thought nothing of it until they began feeling sick, or in one case, suffered unimaginable pain after he became ill. Why do you ask?"
George stood up and began pacing. "Bloody hell, Ron, I should have reported this, but I didn't," he groaned. "About six months ago I fired an assistant I caught copying my experimentation notebooks. He'd only been with me for a short time and I didn't know him all that well, but Felicity was on maternity leave and I desperately needed someone to mind the front counter while I started the testing of the capsules."
"How'd you catch him?"
"I forgot something Angelina wanted me to bring home and she made me come back to get it after we had dinner. I caught the bloke going through the latest documentation on the capsules and copying everything I'd written about them onto a scroll of parchment. I tried to grab it, but he Banished it somewhere, so all I could do was dismiss him," George explained. He stopped pacing and faced Ron, his expression angry. "I guess I know now what he did with my research."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, George," Ron soothed. "You had no idea why the bloke was stealing your notes. For all you knew, he could have been a double-agent for your competition."
George laughed hollowly. "You mean Zonko's or Gambol and Japes? Pur-lease. Those two haven't come out with anything new in twenty years! I mean, anything significant or worth buying."
"So how do you suppose these suspects of yours put my hard work to use?"
"Easy," Ron said. He pulled a small glass tube from his pocket and handed it to George. Inside was a gel-like substance with metal objects stuck in it. "Healer Stilwell pulled the small one from Harry's spinal cord six weeks ago."
George's eyes widened. "No kidding?"
"Watch," Ron ordered. He flicked his wand towards the tube, casting a non-verbal spell.
"OW!" George dropped the tube on his desk, holding his numbed hand with his other. "Merlin's beard that hurt!"
"Can you imagine what that feels like in the middle of your back, multiplied by a factor of ten?" Ron asked.
"That's… that's what they did to Harry?" George sputtered, turning a pale shade of green.
"Yeah, and it wasn't until the needles were removed that his pain went away."
"What's with the other thing?"
"That was lodged in Harry's lung. Did you notice it drilled its way into the gel when I cast the spell?" George shook his head and held up the tube, peering at it. The sword-like object had buried itself all the way to the bottom of the tube. "Whoever cast the spell held it on Harry long enough for that to worm its way almost to Harry's heart," Ron explained. "The thing exploded during the operation to extract it. If it hadn't been removed, the next time the spell was cast, it would have killed Harry."
George cursed loudly and handed the tube back to Ron. "What can I do to help, Ron?" he asked weakly.
"Do you still have the employment paperwork on the bloke you fired? If you do, we may be able to use it to track down the second perpetrator and maybe even capture him," Ron said.
"Yeah, I have it," George said, getting up. "Be right back."
It took a few minutes, but George returned with a grim smile on his face. "Here it is. I made a copy for my records. These are the originals. You can keep them."
Ron stood and took the papers. "Thanks, George. You've been a big help."
"Any time, little brother, any time."
Ron glanced down at the papers in his hand. The name on the top line was Timothy Dawson. He listed a recent dismissal from St Mungo's at the top of his list of employers.
Kreacher had put the international letter on top of the day's pile of mail. Ginny took it into her office and carefully opened it using a Muggle letter opener.
Good news! I was able to get time off and will be coming home to England beginning on Saturday, 19 December. The journey will take two days because attempting to do it in one is not very practical; it can be done, but one feels like hippogriff manure for days afterwards. Anyway, Grandmother and I will be at The Burrow for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I can hardly wait to see my "cousins" and you and Harry.
Affectionately, Teddy Lupin
Ginny smiled. Teddy coming home was indeed something to be happy about.
At Hogwarts, James slipped beneath the stands of the Quidditch stadium to watch the Ravenclaw Quidditch team practice. He smiled when he realized their star Chaser, fifth year Brian Nelson, still hadn't come back from St Mungo's and the team was training with one of their reserve members. That boded well for the upcoming Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw match in two weeks' time: the teams would be much more evenly matched without Brian.
0819 hours, Friday, 4 December 2020
Albus was late for breakfast. He'd overslept and was fearful the bell would ring before he reached the Great Hall. He dashed down the multitude of staircases in his mad rush to grab something, anything, before the platters disappeared from the tables and made it to the Gryffindor table just as the owls appeared with the mail.
"Oversleep?" his friend Kenneth asked wryly.
"You know it," Albus agreed breathlessly, grabbing for a platter of sausages with one hand and a bowl of eggs with the other. "I was up until nearly two last night completing that essay for Binns. Cor, that was boring!"
Kenneth had opened his mouth to comment when the two heard an excited yell from farther down the table. Albus recognized the squeal came from his sister. A moment later, she came pelting up the aisle clutching an opened letter and two sealed ones.
"Albus! James! You have letters… from DADDY!!!" Lily squealed as she thrust Albus' envelope at him.
Albus took his letter with shaking hands. "Thanks, Lily," he said, trying to sound nonchalant, even though he was afraid of what the contents might be. "I'll read it later after History."
"Oh, no, you don't," Lily said, putting her hands on her hips and looking very much like their mother. "Not when Daddy's finally written back apologizing for being a git the last time we saw him."
Albus eyed his sister as he tapped his envelope with his wand; she hadn't moved and he knew she wouldn't until he'd done what she said. The flap sprang open, allowing him to take out the parchment inside.
"What are you afraid of? It won't bite," Lily hissed impatiently. Albus took the unspoken dare and unfolded the letter.
3 December 2020
I have finally found to courage to read your letters. I know I have failed you as a father, showing you by word and deed how very dark my thoughts have become. I was selfish to think the world revolved around me alone and the losses I've suffered in the past six weeks. Truth be told, I was shoving you and everyone else who cares for me away because I couldn't see that it doesn't matter what I look like, it's what's inside me that counts. I know you've heard it from me many times in the past, and today I realized that I'd better practice what I preach… since you and your brother and sister seem to be better people than I at the moment…
Albus couldn't read any more, at least not here in the Great Hall. He looked up at Lily. She'd let her arms drop to her sides and was actually smiling at someone over his shoulder instead of paying much attention to him. He turned to see who she was smiling at.
James had walked towards the two at a more sedate pace and now accepted the letter Lily held out to him. Like Albus, his older brother seemed reluctant to open his letter in front of the entire school and repeated the same argument with their sister as Albus had. Again, Lily won the contest of wills.
However, instead of reading just first paragraph the way Albus had and then stuffing it away in a pocket to read the rest later, James stood blocking the aisle while he read his entire letter. As he read, his brother's body lost its tension and by the time he refolded the letter and stuck it in his shirt pocket he was grinning like crazy. "I… I… Dad said I've helped the investigation!" James whispered, sounding completely awed. With that, he turned on his heel and went back up the table to his seat.
Albus glanced down at the letter in his hand. He couldn't do it; he couldn't read it in front of everyone like James had. Looking up at Lily, he asked, "We'll exchange later?"
She shook her head. "Nope, not this time," she said. "Now go finish yours. There are two empty classrooms on the ground floor if you want to hide."
Briefly closing his eyes, Albus accepted that his very perceptive sister had once again seen through his attempt at bravado. "Thanks, Lily. See you at lunch," he muttered as he turned to retrieve his bag. She flashed him a smile as he passed her on his way out into the Entrance Hall.
In the privacy of a deserted classroom, Albus again unfolded his letter and began to read where he left off…
… You asked about whether I had studied the bowtruckle. The answer is yes, but not until my fifth year. The story takes place during my darkest year at Hogwarts, and consequently, you and your siblings haven't heard many stories from that year. I suppose, now that you are older, you can handle knowing that my fifth year at school turned me into a rebellious teenager, someone mostly self-centred and out to prove that several teachers as well as the Ministry were in the "wrong," especially because of stories that had been published in the Daily Prophet the summer between my fourth and fifth years. But I digress…
Albus stopped reading and sagged into the teacher's chair, which was near a window that gave him enough light to read by, even if he didn't ignite the room's torches. He'd never known his father had been a rebellious teen. Sure, he'd heard his parents and aunts and uncles talk about how difficult that year had been and about people like Minister Fudge and someone called Professor Umbrella… no, that wasn't right… He thought a moment and came up with the name Umbridge; yeah, that one sounded right. Eagerly, he began reading again.
My bowtruckle story isn't as entertaining as yours. Truth be told, I was resentful to discover we had another, better teacher as a substitute for Hagrid at the beginning of that year. Coupled with several other changes, enough homework to snow even a giant under, and detentions every night because I couldn't keep my mouth shut in the presence of Professor Umbridge, I was in a foul mood the day we were introduced to the tree-guardians. As it was, we were tasked with drawing diagrams of the animals, naming their parts. Your Aunt Hermione was as meticulous then as she is now and insisted I hold our bowtruckle up for her to study while she drew. I'm ashamed to say that I let certain students in the class distract me, anger me and keep my attention on what they were saying instead of paying attention to what I should have been doing. The result was a nearly-squished bowtruckle, which took a retaliatory swipe at me with its sharp fingers. I dropped it and it scurried towards the forest leaving me with a bloody hand and a whole lot of wounded pride.
Albus, I hope you can forgive me for not answering the many letters you've written to me while I have been here at The Groves. I eagerly look forward to your next letter and promise to answer it the day I receive it. I hope you'll continue to share your school experiences and anything else you want me to know. I miss you more than you know and look forward to your visits during the Christmas hols.
With all my love, Dad
The letter dropped from Albus' hand and in the quiet solitude of the empty classroom, he sobbed with relief: the father he knew and loved was definitely back.
A/N: It's been a long road, but Harry has finally reached the point so many of you have been anticipating; he's recognized that his negative attitude isn't doing him any good, personally or with his family, and that he needs to change. I hope you have found this chapter to be what you have hoped for.
My weekly list of thank yous hasn't changed because my editing team of Jedi34, RSS, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple and Rosina Ferguson hasn't changed. They continue to challenge me with their questions and comments and everything I change because of them makes the chapter better. To my beta, Aggiebell, I'm glad you survived your busy weekend and congratulate you on being the proud parent of a high school graduate.