Disclaimer : I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Three days after Ron's visit, Harry was awoken very early by Hedwig, who was pecking at his arm demanding attention. He'd had a rough night and wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep. Hedwig refused to allow it and hopped up onto his pillow in order to nip at his ear.
"All right," he snapped, sitting up and reaching for his glasses. "What is so all-sodding important that you had to wake me up from the best stretch of sleep I had all night?"
Seemingly unaffected by his outburst, she leaned over and held out her leg for him to remove the attached letter. It was from Remus.
Tonks and I will be arriving at half nine to escort you into London. We're looking forward to seeing you. Tonks says to tell you to get ready for a makeover, whatever that means.
Harry grinned, looking down at his oversized pajama bottoms. Any kind of a makeover would be an improvement over Dudley's huge hand-me-downs. He was anxious to see Remus and make certain he was okay. Ginny had told him that he was looking better, but Harry wanted to see for himself.
Getting out of bed and flicking off the lamp on his desk, he trudged towards the shower. The hot water helped to wake him up and lifted his spirits about the day. He'd never been shopping in London before, aside from Diagon Alley, and he was really looking forward to it. As he glanced in the mirror, he realized he needed a shave and wished he could use magic. It would make everything so much easier. Maybe when they were out today he could pick up a Muggle razor. How hard could it be to use? Ron had shown him the proper charm to use at school to get a close shave, and he cursed the Restriction for the Use of Underage Magic yet again. Not that it would do him any good even if he were allowed to use magic, he thought grumpily. Madam Pomfrey had him on a strict restriction until he went back to school.
He dressed in the same pair of jeans he'd worn the day before, but pulled a clean T-shirt out of the wardrobe. The jeans were tattered, but they fit him better than the others he owned, and he fully intended to come home wearing a new pair in his own size.
"Dobby," he called, when he returned to his room.
The little house-elf appeared a moment later. "Good morning, Harry Potter, sir. How is the great and noble Harry Potter feeling today?"
Even though he'd lived with Dobby for almost two weeks now, he was still uncomfortable with the gushing. "Morning, Dobby. I'm good. How are you?"
Tears sprang to Dobby's eyes as he dropped to his knees and wrapped his long, skinny arms around Harry's legs. "Harry Potter asks how Dobby is? Dobby is so happy to be taking care of Harry Potter, sir. This-"
"All right, Dobby, enough already," Harry interrupted, unwrapping Dobby from his legs. "I'm going to be out today, so could you give me my lunch potions to go?"
"Of course Dobby would be happy to do this for Harry Potter." He Disapparated with a "pop" and reappeared a moment later with several phials. "Harry Potter should take this one along for lunch; the others are for now. Dobby has also brought Harry Potter some breakfast."
Harry looked over to see a plate piled high with scrambled eggs and bacon, as well as a sinful-looking danish that he reached over and grabbed off the plate.
When he finished his breakfast, he hurried down the stairs to wait in the den. Uncle Vernon had left already, and Aunt Petunia eyed him warily. She began dusting around him, and he knew she was bursting to know what was happening. She wore a scowl on her face, and her eyes were narrowed with suspicion.
Harry felt generous and decided to fill her in on the plan for the day. Before he could speak, however, the doorbell rang, and Aunt Petunia whipped the door open.
She froze in place, and Harry watched as a wide variety of emotions played across her face. He remembered last Christmas and how she had acknowledged knowing Remus from her past. Harry held his breath, waiting to see if there would be a repeat, desperately hoping for some kind of sign. Other than that one rant to Hagrid in Harry's first year, his aunt had never mentioned her sister. He'd give anything if she'd just say something…anything…
But Aunt Petunia said nothing. The recognition in her eyes hardened into dislike, and she turned on her heel and left the room without a word. Harry let his shoulders sag in resignation. Why had he expected anything else? She would never give him even a glimmer into his mother's past. He'd be leaving them soon, never to return. He didn't know if Dumbledore would try and make him return here next year, if he survived, but he would never come back. He honestly didn't believe they'd let him, anyway. They'd never wanted him, and he'd come to accept that.
"Wotcher, Harry," said Tonks, who sported bubble-gum-pink hair again. Harry was certain she did it just to annoy his aunt. She was dressed in a white sundress with large red polka dots that clashed violently with her hair. Harry couldn't remember ever seeing her looking so much like…well, like a girl.
"Hi, Tonks. Hi, Moony," he said, leading them both into the kitchen. "Can I get you anything? Some tea, maybe?" He hoped they'd decline the offer; he wanted to get out of here before Aunt Petunia came back to inspect what they were doing.
"Just a glass of water would be great," Tonks replied as she sat down at the table and looked around the kitchen with a frown.
"How are you doing, Harry?" Moony asked. He looked tired, but healthy, and there even seemed to be a hint of color to his face.
"I'm okay," Harry replied, filling a glass for Tonks.
"You're looking kind of peaked," Tonks said, when she finally stopped looking disapprovingly at the cleanliness of the kitchen. "Of course, after everything you went through at Malfoy Manor, I suppose just appearing peaked is a good thing."
Harry's mind flashed to a cold, dark room, intense pain, and utter helplessness. His vision blurred as his chest constricted painfully . White masks everywhere… His breath came in short, painful gasps as he desperately tried to fill his lungs. He just couldn't get enough air. He leaned over to grip the table and dropped the glass he was holding to the floor. The shattering sound of glass brought him back to the present, and he forcibly shook his head in an attempt to clear it of the memories.
"Harry," Remus said with alarm.
"I'm all right," he whispered, bending down to scoop up the glass. He was wound tight, waiting for Aunt Petunia to come storming back to the kitchen, demanding to know what he'd broken. He felt strong hands on his shoulders pulling him up and guiding him to a chair at the table. Tonks finished clearing the glass, while Remus pressed a soft cloth to his hands. Distractedly, he noticed the blood covering his hands, but felt as if he were looking at a picture of someone else. He saw the concerned glance that passed between Remus and Tonks and forced himself to get a grip on his emotions.
"Harry," Remus said, "I think we need to talk about-"
"I'm fine," Harry interrupted, quickly getting up and leaving no room for argument. He kept the cloth around his bleeding cuts, but stuffed his hands inside his pockets. "So, we're going shopping today? I need to stop at Gringotts and get some money."
Remus's shoulders sagged, but he conceded to letting Harry off, for now. "We will be stopping at Gringotts, but you need to remain under your Invisibility Cloak while we're in Diagon Alley. We can't let you be seen, Harry. It's too risky. Besides, this trip is my treat. Sirius left me all this money, and I don't know what to do with it. I think he'd approve of getting you some decent clothing. He'd see it as a way to get back at your relatives. Call it an early birthday present, from both of us."
Harry smiled at the gesture, pleased that Remus seemed so happy to do it.
Tonks put her hand to his chin and lifted his face, running her hand along his stubble. "You need a shave," she said bluntly.
"Yeah," Harry said, grinning sheepishly. "I was hoping we could get a razor while we're out."
"Ugh," Tonks said. "Nasty things, those Muggle razors. I'll fix you up." She took out her wand and performed a quick charm. Harry felt the smoothness on his cheeks instantly.
"So, what do you have in mind, Harry? What would you like to buy for yourself?"
He thought about it for a minute, never having the opportunity before to indulge himself. "I want some jeans that fit," he said at last.
Remus covered a smile with his hand while looking at Tonks's dumbfounded face.
"Jeans. That's it? Jeans. Harry, I don't think you understand the concept of a shopping spree at all. You just leave it up to me. We'll bring Remus along to carry the bags."
"So that's what I've been reduced to, is it? A servant of your whims?" Remus asked in a mock-injured tone.
She smiled at him sweetly. "You haven't complained so far."
Remus's face colored slightly, as he ducked his head and cleared his throat. "All right, then. First stop will be Diagon Alley."
Harry smiled at Tonks teasing Remus, although it was quite disconcerting to think of the two of them together like that . "How are we getting there?"
"We've got a Portkey to the Leaky Cauldron," Tonks replied. "Once in London, we're on foot, or we can use the Underground."
Harry ran upstairs to grab his Invisibility Cloak and followed his minders out to the car.
Diagon Alley was full and bustling on this hot July morning. Hidden beneath his Cloak, Harry craned his neck to take in all the sights and sounds. He felt a huge amount of freedom, being here without being seen. He could look around all he wanted without any of the usual stares or pointing. He waited with Tonks as Remus went into Gringotts to have some of his money converted to pounds. He agreed to get Harry some money of his own to keep in his pocket. Harry reckoned Remus knew all too well what it was like not to have spending money of your own readily available. Tonks chatted away, and Harry had to grin, imagining how she must look, talking to herself. Of course, there were so many oddities in Diagon Alley, perhaps no one even noticed.
When Remus returned, he tried to steer them right back towards the Leaky Cauldron, but Eeylops Owl Emporium caught Harry's eye and inspiration struck.
"Remus, could we make just one stop?" he pleaded, keeping his voice very low.
Remus rolled his eyes, but Harry knew he'd already won. "It would make everything so much easier if Ginny had her own owl. It would just take a minute."
"Aww, come on, Remus." Tonks joined the pleading. "You won't be the hindrance to young love now, will you, old man?"
"Old man," Remus spluttered. "Just who are you calling an old man, Miss Nymphadora?"
Harry colored slightly as he watched the two of them flirt outrageously with one another. He liked seeing Remus so carefree and…happy. It took him a minute to name what the emotion was that he felt coming from Remus, but that was it. He was happy. Harry was very grateful to Tonks for giving that to him. Remus hadn't mentioned Wormtail or anything about what he'd done to him to Harry, but Harry was happy to leave it that way. As long as Remus seemed to have recovered, there was nothing more he could ask.
"What kind of owl do you want to get her, Harry?" Tonks asked.
"Dunno. I'll know it when I see it," he replied.
Inside, he looked at cage after cage of owls. Owls of all kinds, color, and sizes. His gaze kept coming back to an ordinary barn owl with burnished brown feathers that looked almost red in the sunlight. She was a small owl, but seemed to have a fiery personality and wouldn't let any of the other owls share her perch. She reminded Harry of Ginny fighting with her brothers and holding her own.
He directed Tonks to the right one, and she purchased the owl for him. Harry remained beneath his Cloak until they reached the Leaky Cauldron.
"I'll just write a quick note to Ginny and send the owl off with it, okay?"
Remus nodded and went to get some drinks while Harry sat down and wrote Ginny.
Meet _____ (you insert the name). She should make corresponding easier. Hope Hedwig likes her. I do.
He felt very strange signing the letter that way, still, but it also pleased him that he could. He sent the owl off to Grimmauld Place and belatedly hoped Mrs. Weasley wouldn't mind. Too late now . After they finished their butterbeers, Tonks led them out of the pub and off to Harrods, which she claimed was the best place to start. As they began walking towards the entrance to the Underground, Harry's mind was caught up in fantasies of Ginny's face when the owl arrived. He thought she'd be pleased and wondered what she'd name her new pet. She'd named Pig for Ron, so maybe he'd turn the tables and name this one on Ginny. Harry played with several scenarios in his head, enjoying the sibling relationship his friends shared. He missed being with all the Weasleys and was looking forward to joining them.
He hadn't really noticed as they began descending the long steps leading down to the train station. It was the click-click of heels on the pavement that startled him, forcing his mind to another place hidden well below ground. It got darker as they descended, until the artificial light of the Muggle Underground lit up the station. Harry's breathing became labored, and he clutched the railing to keep himself from fleeing back up the stairs. Taking deep breaths, he tried to control the panic and ease the tight constriction within his chest. Don't be stupid; it's just the Underground. You've ridden on it before; stop acting like a baby.
"All right, Harry?" Tonks asked as they stood waiting for a train, shoulder to shoulder with all the Muggles doing the same thing. Harry knew his face had lost its color, and she could probably detect his body trembling, since they were all pressed so close together.
"Yeah, I'm fine. How far are we going?"
Tonks looked at a map on the wall detailing all the stops and all the train lines on the Muggle Underground. "We've got four stops to get to Harrods. We'll walk around from there and go in any other store that catches your fancy."
Harry nodded absently, shutting his eyes and staying focused on his breathing. Four stops. I can do four stops.
A loud rumbling filled the station as the train pulled in, setting Harry's teeth on edge. They loaded onto the train and managed to get seats together. He watched all the Muggles as they crammed onto the train.
"What are you thinking about, Harry?" Remus's gentle voice asked.
Harry swallowed and replied, "Wondering if Ginny got her owl yet."
Remus looked at him closely, and Harry was forced to look away. Somehow, he always felt that Remus could see right through him and know why he was lying.
When the doors shut and the train began to move, Harry felt the fear rising within him. He couldn't stand being enclosed like this… helpless …. hopeless …
He forced his mind away from the thoughts of Malfoy Manor that it seemed intent upon revisiting. He made it through the first stop by concentrating on his breathing. Before they reached the second one, however, flashes of white masks inflicting intense pain was all he could see. They were surrounding him, he couldn't get away, there was nowhere to go. His body curled as he tried to shield himself from the curses raining down upon him; there were too many…it hurt, everything hurt.
"Harry, you're all right. Take a deep breath." It was Remus' voice that broke through the haze. He felt Remus's arm around his shoulders and opened his eyes to look into the concerned face of his father's old friend.
"I need to get out of here," he pleaded, leaning on Remus for support. He was trembling so badly that he didn't think he could walk on his own. I'm pathetic.
A woman who had been sitting on his other side leaned over and laid a gentle hand on his arm, giving him a slight pat. He looked up, startled, into a kindly-looking face with dull blue eyes. She wore a nurse's uniform and had her grayish hair pulled back in a bun.
"It'll be all right, honey. Sometimes, closed-in spaces do this to me, too," she said, misinterpreting his distress. She looked over at Remus. "I think your son has a bit of claustrophobia. You might want to take him to a counselor who could help him deal with it."
Remus nodded politely and didn't correct her that Harry wasn't his son. She patted Harry's arm once again. He knew she was just being kind, but Harry was irritated, nonetheless. He was still extremely sensitive to being called unbalanced, after all the trouble in fifth year, and her suggestion that he needed a counselor panicked him. Certainly, Remus wouldn't make him talk to a stranger about things. No, Harry couldn't do that.
As the train came to a stop, they got off and climbed the stairs back into the hot summer sunshine. Remus and Tonks kept Harry between them and nearly dragged him up the stairs. Tonks guided them over to a bench where they sat while Harry took great gulps of air, trying to stall for time. How am I going to explain this?
Remus took the matter out of his hands, seemingly already knowing what was happening. "How long have you been having flashbacks, Harry? Has it been happening at the Dursleys', as well?" His tone was gentle, not accusing, and it bolstered Harry somewhat.
He was quiet for a moment, unsure how to answer. The words were right there behind his throat, and he desperately wanted to let them come pouring out. He couldn't, though; something was blocking them. Neither Remus nor Tonks had said a thing, waiting for an answer. He had to say something. "I don't like to be closed in," he finally whispered, staring intently at the torn trainers he was wearing.
Tonks put her hand on his back and began rubbing gently.
"There is nothing to be ashamed of, Harry. You've been through an awful lot. Most people who've been through any kind of captivity have some trauma to work through afterwards. I know I've been working through some issues over what went on at Malfoy Manor, myself," Remus said gently.
Harry looked up at him quickly, his chest constricting at the mention of Malfoy Manor. Remus had never spoken to him about his dual with Wormtail.
"It's true. I had nightmares about it for a while, but they're spacing out some now. Thankfully, I had Tonks here to talk about them. Talking does help, Harry, even if it seems pointless. When you bottle all your feelings up, they eventually boil over. They have to get out somehow." Remus spoke in that same mild tone he always used, but Harry could see a flicker of something behind his eyes.
"I don't think that man I fought was my old friend. The Peter I knew died a long time ago. I don't even know who he became, or maybe it was always there and we just never saw it. I don't know. That's how I'm dealing with it, anyway, by looking at them as separate men. It's working for the most part, although it still never stops the nightmares completely."
Harry continued to stare at his trainers while Tonks kept up the gentle, soothing motion on his back. I can do this. "Sometimes…when I wake up…I'm not certain where I am, or if it's still happening." His mind flashed repeatedly on waking up, cowering in a fetal position, envisioning horrors that were no longer there.
"Oh, Harry," Tonks said, sighing and squeezing his shoulder.
"Have you told Bill that you've been having nightmares?" Lupin asked, his voice sounding oddly strangled.
Harry shook his head as his body tensed; he didn't want pity. He wished they would stop talking so they could just start with the shopping. He didn't want to talk about this.
"Harry, he's there to help. I'm going to arrange for Madam Pomfrey to send a Dreamless Sleep Potion. I'll have Bill give one to you every few nights, like we did last year. Is this the reason your light burns at all hours throughout the night?" Remus asked, keeping his voice low.
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. So they had noticed. Damn. He swallowed and willed himself to be invisible. He refused to look at either of them, but nodded slightly.
Remus put his fingers around Harry's chin and forced him to raise his head once again. "I already told you, there is no reason to feel ashamed. You've certainly earned the right to be experiencing some difficulty. I'm certain if you asked her, Madam Pomfrey would even have a name for it. We're going to start by helping with the nightmares. I think you'll find that after we talk a bit about what happened, both the nightmares and the flashbacks will lose their intensity."
"But for now," Tonks thankfully interrupted, "let's go shopping. I can't stand looking at you in those awful clothes a minute longer."
They got off the bench and began walking along the sidewalk. Remus kept his arm around Harry's shoulders. After a few minutes of silence, Harry asked, "What's happening with Voldemort?"
Tonks eyes glanced warily up and down the street, looking for any potential eavesdroppers. Remus kept his voice very low, but answered, "As far as we know, he's still recovering, as well. There have been no new attacks. His seize for power has been put on hold, since he knows he must eliminate you first. It gives us some time to work; unfortunately, it puts you at even greater risk.
"What else is new?" Harry asked hollowly.
"Our information is only sketchy, since our source has been compromised."
Compromised? Source? That means Snape. "What do you mean?"
"Well, in helping you and Ron escape, Snape risked exposure. He told them he placed a Memory Charm on both you and Ron in the hospital wing so you couldn't identify him as a Death Eater, but Voldemort is suspicious and keeping him under close watch. Dumbledore, too, has to act as if he's unsure about Snape's true motives. It's a mess and very dangerous for him. The one fortunate thing that has gone our way is that they assume Draco Malfoy was holding Ron's wand and returned it in order to duel with him. When the remaining Death Eaters Disapparated, they took all their dead, except for young Draco, who was up on the stage. So far, they don't appear to suspect Snape for the wands."
Harry's guilt intensified. He still didn't like Snape, but he did know they were working on the same side, and he didn't want him hurt. It was his fault Snape's cover was in jeopardy, and there was no excuse for it. Potions class was going to be torture, even more so than it usually was.
"Things get worse," Tonks said, as she and Remus shared a brief glance.
Harry held his breath, raising his eyebrows in question.
"There isn't going to be a Vote of No Confidence. Fudge dodged another bullet with his wedding distraction. I think it's only temporary, but, for now, he's still in charge. We've got a suspicion that Voldemort has people working on the inside to keep him there."
"Why?" Harry asked in alarm. "Do you think Fudge is under the Imperius?"
"No, nothing like that. Fudge lacks intelligence; he's short-sighted and power-hungry. He's, in essence, ineffective, exactly who Voldemort wants in control while he prepares to strike," Remus answered.
"The Ministry is in shambles, no one knows what anyone else is doing, no one knows who to trust, and nothing is getting done. They're all afraid to speak up, or out, against anyone, not knowing which side anyone is on," Tonks added. "With a little bit of money, Voldemort and the Death Eaters are able to pull the strings without actually taking control."
"It's eerily similar to the way things were the first time Voldemort rose to power. Unfortunately, the mistakes of the past seem bound to be repeated," Remus said.
They'd arrived at the store and entered. Tonks led them directly to the young men's apparel and began flicking through the rack. A pretty sales girl with blonde hair and lots of eye make up approached them. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Yes," Tonks said before Harry even had a chance. "My brother here needs a makeover. New everything."
The sales girl, whose nametag identified her as 'Tara', immediately brightened and ushered Harry to a desk. She pulled out a measuring tape and wrapped it around his waist, shoulders, and down his legs. She began eyeing him speculatively as she did so, and he was certain she slowed down considerably when measuring his inseam. He colored brilliantly as both Remus and Tonks hid their smirks.
"I'll be right back," Tara said, smiling at him and slightly licking her bright red lips.
"Did you enjoy that, Harry?" Tonks asked with a grin, after Tara was out of earshot.
"Sod off," Harry replied good-naturedly, not meeting her eyes.
"Boxers or briefs?" she asked.
"What?" Harry asked, startled into facing her.
"Do you like boxers or briefs?"
Harry really didn't want to answer that question and didn't see why she needed to know.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," she said, tugging at the belt of his very baggy jeans and peering in at the waistband of his pants.
"Hey!" Harry yelled indignantly, pulling away from her, while Remus chuckled out loud. Harry readjusted his clothing and stared at her in shock.
"Boxers," she stated without missing a beat. "We said a complete makeover, Harry. I'll go pick out a few; you try on whatever Tara brings back. I'm certain she'd be happy to offer any assistance if you can't get undressed yourself." She waggled her eyebrows at him before she turned and walked away.
Exasperated, Harry turned to Remus, who raised his hands defensively. "Don't look at me. She's the Auror; she'd wallop my arse in a duel."
Harry stood stunned for a moment, before bursting out with a snort. It felt good to laugh again. Tara had returned with an armload of things and led Harry to a dressing room. She walked in behind him and proceeded to hang the clothes together in outfits. The dressing room was small, and he tried to back as far into the corner as he possibly could. Still, she managed to brush against him several times before leaning directly into his chest to hang something on the hook behind him. "Let me know if you need anything," she said in a husky voice before departing.
By then, Harry was sweating and feeling very nervous. He proceeded to try on outfit after outfit, while both Tonks and Tara either approved or vetoed each article of clothing. When Tara went to exchange some things for different sizes, Tonks leaned over and asked him if he thought Tara was attractive.
Harry looked at her, stunned. He always thought Tonks liked Ginny; they'd always gotten on very well. "I already have a girlfriend," he said in a daze.
"Just because you're on a diet doesn't mean you can't look at the menu," Tonks replied, smirking.
Remus finally put his arm around Harry's shoulders. "She's baiting you, Harry. If you had stepped one toe out of line, Ginny would have had a full report, probably with pictures. You passed the test."
Harry stared dumbfounded at Tonks, who stuck her tongue out at Remus. "Spoilsport," she hissed.
When they left, Harry had bought four new pairs of jeans, two blue and two black, a variety of tops, jumpers, trousers, shorts, underwear, socks, a jacket, raincoat, and even a bathing suit. He thought the bathing suit was completely unnecessary – he didn't even know how to swim – but Tonks insisted he might like to take a dip in the lake once he was back at Hogwarts. He took the underwear Tonks had picked out without even looking at it, and was rather apprehensive about having to do so.
Once they were outside, Tonks shrunk all their packages so she could fit them right in her handbag. They stopped in several more stores along the way and picked out a few more items, including new trainers that Harry wore out of the store. They ate lunch in a small pub, and he delighted at being able to choose anything on the menu he desired. He picked the fish and chips – Aunt Petunia frequently had that, and it always smelled delicious. He liked it immensely and made a mental note to go out for it again one day. Harry enjoyed himself thoroughly, but couldn't escape the uncomfortable feeling that he was being watched. He kept glancing behind him and kept his wand at the ready, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. Still, the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end, and both Remus and Tonks noticed his discomfort.
"All right, Harry?" Remus asked.
"Yeah. Paranoid, I suppose. Must be Moody and his Constant Vigilance . I feel like someone is watching me."
Tonks jerked her head back and forth, narrowing her eyes. "I haven't noticed anything," she said, although she was obviously on heightened alert.
"Best to stick with gut instincts, however," said Remus. "They've served you well in the past. Why don't we head back to the Leaky Cauldron? Tom is holding the return Portkey for us."
They returned to Privet Drive in what felt like no time at all. Harry sighed, looking at the neatly manicured garden. " I suppose this is it. Any word on when I can get out of here?" he asked, not expecting the answer he wanted.
"Dumbledore knows your relatives won't consent to a move, and he also knows how much you want out. As soon as he's certain the Blood Magic is in effect for another year, we'll come to get you. Let Bill know if you have any problems, and I'll make certain he gets a Sleep Potion to you for tomorrow night," Remus said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Tonks started to unload all his purchases, but he stopped her with his hand. "Erm, d'you think you could leave all that stuff at Mrs. Figg's?" He'd left the store wearing a new pair of black jeans, a bright red T-shirt, and his new trainers. The rest of his things were still packed in the bags. Tonks had thrown away the old clothes of Dudley's that he'd been wearing before they left the store.
"But, Harry, a lot of this is summer stuff. You can wear it now," Tonks said, her brow knitted in confusion.
"Erm…I know, but I want to wait until I'm back with the Weasleys…to show Ginny. Yeah, I want to show Ginny." Harry knew Aunt Petunia would never let him keep all those new clothes. She'd insist he stole them or something, and either return them to get things for Dudley, or just ruin them in the wash. She used to do that a lot if he ever showed a fondness for any of the clothes they gave him.
Remus shut his eyes, his expression grim, and Harry suspected he somehow knew what was happening. Harry didn't want another confrontation with the Dursleys, and he couldn't stand to see the pity in Remus' eyes, so he quickly said his good-byes and sprinted into the house, grateful that they didn't follow.
By the time Harry entered his bedroom, he was exhausted. This was the busiest day he'd had since getting back here, and it was catching up to him. Since he'd had such a big lunch, he decided to forego dinner. He changed into pajama bottoms, carefully folding his new clothes on the chair and hiding them under a Charms textbook that he knew Aunt Petunia would never touch. As he sat down, he realized Hedwig had a letter attached to her leg. He untied it carefully, scratching Hedwig's head affectionately.
"Want to go out and hunt, girl? Go on, then," he said, opening the window and watching her soar into the dimming sky.
He picked up his letter, noting Hermione's small, neat script. Breaking the seal, he read:
How are you? I hope the Muggles are treating you well. You will tell someone if they aren't, won't you, Harry? I know Professor Lupin warned your uncle about keeping his hands to himself.
I'm having a wonderful holiday. Obviously, I won't say where we are, but we're on the coast, and it's very relaxing. It's been nice to have so much time with my parents. I got a letter from Ginny, saying she and Ron went to visit you. Did you enjoy that? How does Ron seem to you? Try and work on him to practice for his Apparation test, Harry. It's very important he be able to Apparate, so he can get away if needed. He doesn't want to hear it from me; it just seems to make him angry. I seem to make him angry a lot these days.
I'll be returning soon, and hope to meet up with you at the place. I hope you're feeling better and taking care of yourself.
Harry folded the letter and placed it with his stack under the floorboards. With an amused grin, he pictured Hermione sunbathing on a beach with sunglasses and a huge book propped up in front of her, blocking all the sun. Relaxing, indeed. He wasn't certain Hermione and relaxation, as most saw it, would mix. He was glad she was enjoying herself and getting to be with her parents. He'd write back to her tomorrow. He wasn't certain how to tell her to back off a little, and Ron would come around. It wasn't something Hermione found easy to do; he knew that well. He also knew that she cared a great deal and tried to control his own annoyance with her interfering. Things were just fine here at Privet Drive…
Harry was so tired, he didn't put his full effort into Occlumency before falling into a fitful slumber.
He found himself in a luxurious bedroom, in which soft candlelight burned and the remains of a meal lay on a bedside table. Bellatrix Lestrange stood in front of him, bowing meekly.
"My Lord, plans are in place. The location is known, and not enough time has passed to be a hindrance. Our plans are in motion," she said, a distinct note of glee in her voice.
"Very good, Bella. This will be the first step in ensuring my ultimate victory," Harry said through Voldemort's mouth. The pressure in his head was intense, but he couldn't break away.
"Potter is weakened; I can feel it. The time to strike is now. Have Narcissa and Lucius-"
The scene broke off with a flicker and seemed to shimmer before him. His head felt like it had been split down the middle, and he gasped at the intensity of it. Suddenly, he found himself back in Malfoy Manor, huddled on the floor while Lucius Malfoy's cold, blue eyes glared down upon him.
"Come, Mr. Potter. Certainly, the 'Hero of the Wizarding World' can withstand more than this? A pitiful excuse for a hero you are. What would your loyal fans say if they could see you now, hmm? Cowering on the floor and crying like a little boy. Pitiful," he said, sighing and blasting yet another round of the Cruciatus at Harry. His vision blurred as white mask after white mask launched a variety of hexes. He tried to shield his body with his hands, but there were too many to keep up with the ferocity with which they were aimed.
The dream flickered again; this time, he was outside in the grand arena Voldemort had prepared. Harry was tied to the ground, unable to move or defend himself as Voldemort's red, snakelike eyes came closer and closer. Harry felt long, thin fingers wrap around his throat, and Voldemort's face loomed above him.
"I'm done with you, boy," he hissed.
Harry struggled to get away, but the pressure on his neck became stronger and stronger, and he was powerless to stop it. He was helpless yet again. He began to scream…
Harry awoke with a gasp and looked into the enraged face of his Uncle Vernon, who had his hand wrapped tightly around Harry's throat and was squeezing hard enough to block the airflow. Harry put his hands around Uncle Vernon's wrists and tried to pull him off.
"What the devil are you screaming about, boy? I will not have this again. I've had enough of all your foolishness. Stop this racket immediately. I'm done with you, boy," Uncle Vernon said, panting with the effort to hold Harry down.
"Gerroff," Harry said, struggling. He began to panic, since he couldn't breathe. His struggling caused Uncle Vernon to bump the desk, knocking his new clothes to the floor, and spilling his change from the pocket.
Keeping one hand around Harry's throat, Uncle Vernon used his other hand to scoop the pounds up off the floor. "What is this? Where did this money come from? Are you stealing now, boy? Is that where these clothes came from?"
"You will not harm Harry Potter!" a shrill voice echoed within the room. "Harry Potter is not a thief."
"Ahhhhhhhhh," Uncle Vernon screamed, releasing Harry and backing away towards the door, taking Harry's money with him. Dobby advanced on him in a fury. If Harry hadn't been so shaky, he would have found the sight of a hulking Uncle Vernon shrinking in terror from a pint-sized house-elf amusing.
"You will not enter Harry Potter's room again," Dobby said.
"Wh-Wh-What is this abomination in my house? I won't have it," he yelled before the door slammed shut with a resounding slam. Dobby rushed to Harry's side.
"Is Harry Potter all right?"
Harry sunk wearily back into his bed, edging towards the wall and away from Dobby. "I'm okay, just tired. I'll see you in the morning, Dobby."
Dobby hesitated, unsure if he should leave, but when Harry shut his eyes, effectively dismissing him, he disappeared with a "pop".
A/N: Okay, I'm home! Thanks for all your well-wishes. We had a wonderful time. I'd highly recommend a visit to anyone who is considering it. On the day we had to leave I explained to my 3-year old about the plane ride home, and he said, "But- but- but- I'm not ready yet." Too cute, that's how I felt. I took my CotD outline notebook with me with these grand plans of sketching out some future chapters. Didn't happen. I was as exhausted as the kids each night. Oh, well, I'm back now, and I'll try to get the muse working.
Thanks so much to Mistral for keeping me moving and pointing out the holes. Your efforts are much appreciated.