Once again Harry awoke to the sound of raised voices.
It was becoming an all too familiar occurrence, and one that was both worrying as well as confusing. They were arguing about him, of course; it was always about him.
A less discreet place than the entrance hall of the house might exist, but he doubted it. The sound unerringly travelled all the way up the house’s wide staircase to the topmost landing and his bedroom. Why they couldn’t bicker in Black’s study or his aunt’s quarters he did not know.
Throughout his childhood, the adults in his life had fallen into two distinct camps: his aunt Bellatrix and everybody else. Despite her lack of official standing in his life, it had been she who had provided a refuge and, surprisingly, a shoulder to cry on when the world around him became too much for even his long-suffering soul to bear. She alone seemed to understand that the burden he was being asked to carry was too much for his young shoulders and that he needed seasons in, his life where he could experience something approaching normality. But now, well, that appeared to have changed.
He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, the angry voices rising and falling in noisy debate.
“Harry shouldn’t be going anywhere. He should be staying here where I can look after him, where he can regain his strength and he can take his true station in life.”
“It’s like falling off a broom, Bella, life goes on and Harry has to as well.”
“I can’t believe that you’re being so callous, Cousin, the boy needs to recover; the boy needs me.”
“I think that all that Harry needs is to be left alone to be himself.”
“Would that you had taken that approach when he was younger!”
There was silence, a fact that unnerved Harry. Black was normally very quick in justifying the way he had brought up Harry. Whatever regrets, if indeed there were any at all, his godfather had in respect to his upbringing, were buried deep inside away from the world’s prying eyes. Certainly Harry had not seen one hint of remorse from the man.
Harry heard a cough and then a barely audible response from Black: “Would that we both had had that choice.”
There was silence once again, and Harry pictured the cousins staring at each other in a battle of wills. Something had changed in both of them since he had returned from Hogwarts and he was still trying to work out if the change was permanent. The silence was interrupted by the arrival of a third whose lack of situational awareness belied her status as an Auror.
“Morning all,” announced Tonks in a manner more befitting The Bill than a member of wizard law enforcement, “Harry up yet?”
Normally Harry would be smiling at the arrival of Tonks. Her zest for life was contagious and the uneasiness he’d felt as his guardians squabbled about him would have disappeared as she’d stomped down the hall towards the stairs that led up to his bedroom.
But not today and not since Hogwarts. She too had changed and the once playful banter and friendly flirting that had characterised their earlier friendship had changed as she became more insistent and demanding of his attention.
After the obligatory pounding of her feet up the two flights to his room, his bedroom door was flung open and she marched into the room and yanked the duvet off his bed.
“Get up, lazybones!”
“Tonks! I could have been naked!”
She laughed and flung the cover into the far corner of the room.
“Are you saying that next time you need a bit of warning so you can prepare properly? I don’t usually go for morning sex, normally bursting for the loo, and I do like to brush my teeth before having a snog and all that. I’ll give you five minutes to get yourself sorted and we’ll have a quickie before we tootle off to Hogsmeade.”
This was the new game: how far could she push him until she either went too far or he gave in under her relentless assault? Or, as was more likely, he told her where to get off and Black had to find him a new partner.
Without thinking, he climbed out of his bed, pulling off his pyjama top and letting it fall to the floor. It wasn’t until he noticed where she was looking that he realised what he’d done.
“You know,” he mumbled, trying to ignore her actions, “I’m a man who likes to, er, take his time, so, I’m, er, afraid I’m going to have to pass for the time being.” He tried to laugh at his own joke, but the look in Tonks’ eye stifled the laugh before it got going.
She was still staring at his chest which she probably thought was a fair exchange as the top she was almost wearing was doing its best to draw his attention to hers. The silence was uncomfortable, especially when their eyes met and he could see that the last thing that she wanted to do today was leave his bedroom. Finally, he picked up the bathrobe that was draped over the end of his bed.
“I think I’ll go have my shower now, will you wait for me in the kitchen?” He turned, leaving her standing and walked slowly towards his bathroom. Only when he closed the door behind him did he hear her footsteps as she left his room.
As the water cascaded over his body, he let his forehead rest against the pristine white tiles letting out a cry of frustration as he did so. First Ginevra and now Tonks. Or was it first Tonks and now Ginevra? His nights were haunted with confusing and mainly erotic dreams. The woman who visited him each night was an amalgam of Ginevra and Tonks and, more disturbingly, his aunt.
He had surmised that Bellatrix’s appearance in his dreams were because she was the last person he saw before going to sleep each night. Ever since he had returned home she’d made a habit of checking on him after he had retired for the evening. Once or twice, the morning had brought vague memories of his waking in the night and finding her hand upon him, but things were so confused he could not remember whether or not he just dreamt it.
Ginevra, or at least her red hair, had been in every dream. Whereas the presence of his aunt was a confused memory that disappeared as he rubbed his sleep from his eyes, the touch of Ginevra’s auburn tresses on his skin as she had trailed kisses across his chest and down his abdomen lingered throughout the day.
Tonks had been a recent addition; her long legs and ample cleavage filled in the details of the mystery woman who rode him to a wet and messy climax every night.
But dreams were one thing; real-life was very different. Today, he and Tonks would visit Hogsmeade. They would go as partners and friends, not as lovers, but he knew that she at least wanted more. What did he want? Deep down he knew he still wanted Ginevra, but, as he’d reminded himself on many an occasion, she was no longer available to him.
He dressed slowly, knowing they had plenty of time to get to Hogsmeade. He had no desire to experience the argument that his departure was bound to cause between his aunt and godfather, and leaving at the last moment was the best way of avoiding the worst of it. Let them kill each other after he’d gone, he couldn’t care less. His residence chez Black was beginning to wear on him. The arguments, the strange dreams and the claustrophobic atmosphere were a burden he was less and less willing to bear. Perhaps it was a consequence of the breaking of the contract, but he now saw the world through different eyes and leaving his childhood home was becoming a more and more attractive proposition.
Satisfied everything was in place, he reached under his pillows and retrieved the thin strip of material that had been his most treasured possession since he had left Hogwarts. He lifted it to his nose and inhaled deeply. The preserving charm he had placed on it was still working and he smiled at the memories it stirred. The smile stayed with him as he tucked the fabric into his top pocket and left his bedroom to face the day.
It was a crisp, October morning with clear blue skies. There was a hint of frost in the air that gave freshness to the day and an extra crunch to the gravel beneath her feet. It was the type of morning that would normally have made Ginny feel glad to be alive, but not this morning. Since the day Potter had abandoned her in the school entrance hall, she had learned to loath the merest mention of the phrase ‘Hogsmeade Weekend’.
How foolish she now appeared, enthusing about the joys of visiting Hogsmeade when sat on the summer lawn by the lake with him. Until that episode in her life, trips to Hogsmeade had been perfunctory, with no more time spent in its environs than it took to acquire the necessary school supplies. In the heady atmosphere of his presence, the thought of walking arm in arm with him through the normally dull village had entranced her.
Now, the visit had all the appeal of repairing teeth the Muggle way.
She looked back at the castle, shielding her eyes against the low sun, surveying the damage resulting from Potter’s battle. It was far more extensive than she had first believed, and although it had been repaired, she could see the new slabs on the floor as clearly as if they were labelled as such.
Those few details that had emerged of the fight and could be confirmed claimed that towards the end Potter had caused the floor itself to rise up against his attackers. Such a display of power both shocked and pleased her and gave her hope that even though they had said their goodbyes, he would return and revenge the wrong that had been done to him.