Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore sat at his desk, deep in thought. Professor Snape’s attempts to teach Occlumency to Harry had certainly been rather odd – his methods certainly didn’t match the way that Dumbledore would have taught the skill himself, nor were they similar to the methods he had used when he had been instructed. The confrontational and invasive approach that Snape had taken with Harry might well have weakened his mental defences rather than strengthening them. His mind would have been very much laid open by the experience, perhaps actually facilitating Voldemort’s planting of visions.
Without the opportunity to hone his defences against a more subtle probing, the likelihood was that Snape had actually made it easier for Voldemort to gain access to Harry’s mind, since the forceful attacks that he would have become used to would have only trained his mind to recognise attacks of that intensity.
He decided he needed to talk to his Potions master to discern why he had chosen this particular manner of tutoring Harry in Occlumency, and idly wondered whether the antagonism that had existed between the two for the past five years had moulded Snape’s approach.
He activated his Floo and made the connection to Snape’s private quarters adjacent to the Slytherin common room.
“Severus,” he called.
Snape’s head appeared in the fire, looking questioningly at the Headmaster.
“Would you come up to my office, please, there are a few things that I need to discuss with you.”
Snape assented quickly and had reached the Headmaster’s office some few minutes later in response to the summons.
“Please, Severus, take a seat,” Dumbledore suggested, offering him a lemon drop, which was duly declined. “I’ve been talking to Mister Potter about the Occlumency lessons that he took with you earlier this year.”
Snape’s expression turned cynical at the mention of Harry’s name, and he responded with the usual invective in his voice when it came to dealing with the black-haired Gryffindor. “What’s Potter been telling you now, Headmaster? I realise that he’s one of the ’golden boys’ here, but I’m not used to students being given the opportunity to comment on their lessons to the Headmaster of the school.”
Dumbledore related the conversation he’d had with Harry about the Occlumency lessons, and Harry’s concern about continuing the lessons, without expressing his feelings about the teaching methods.
Snape looked on with a mixture of antipathy and annoyance.
“I can hardly understand why a boy of such limited ability as an Occlumens would wish to consider continuing the lessons – he showed very little aptitude, and more or less refused to practice outside of the scheduled lessons,” he snarled under his breath, almost forgetting who it was he was talking to. “I suppose you are taking his word over mine in this matter?”
Dumbledore looked sternly at his Potions teacher. “I’m sure you’re quite aware, Severus, that any suggestion of direct or deliberate abuse of a student by one of the teachers needs me to investigate the situation fully, regardless of which student it might be.
“Anyway, I think you underestimate him,” Dumbledore replied calmly. “Harry has had a great deal of responsibility thrust upon him at a young age, which he has not asked for.”
Snape continued to look annoyed at Dumbledore, but maintained a stoic silence at this description of Harry.
“Now then, Severus, we both know that teaching Occlumency in the manner that you did Harry, a complete novice in the field, must have been totally counterproductive. Why did you choose to pursue those particular methods, normally used only once a student has a firm grasp of the subject, and when they have already conditioned their mind to detect more subtle intrusions?”
“My understanding, when you gave me this particular task, was that Potter needed to learn fast,” Snape replied, pausing for a moment for Dumbledore’s acknowledgement of that instruction, then continuing at the Headmaster’s nod. “I proceeded to test his defences, which were more or less non-existent, and to push the limits of his mind in order to get him to at least try and work up some form of shield.”
“By overpowering whatever defences he might be able to construct?” queried Dumbledore.
“By forcing him to confront the realities of what a skilled Legilimens, such as the Dark Lord, would likely subject him to, given the opportunity,” Snape insisted.
Dumbledore sighed. “I can tell you aren’t giving me the whole truth here, Severus. You know that the attacks on Harry’s mind are subtle ones, not the overwhelmingly powerful blasts that Voldemort subjects you to. What made you do this?”
“What do you mean, Headmaster?”
Dumbledore removed his spectacles and wiped a hand across his weary eyes. “I had initially though that perhaps you were using the lessons as an excuse to torment Harry, but now I see that was merely an added bonus.” He replaced the glasses on the bridge of his nose and looked up at Snape once more, the characteristic grandfatherly twinkle replaced by a steely gaze that made the Potions teacher cringe.
Snape sighed heavily and calmed his thoughts before replying more honestly. “I was instructed to,” he admitted.
“Once the Dark Lord found out that I had been appointed to instruct Potter in the art of Occlumency, he gave me specific instructions as to how I should proceed. I was to attack his mind and leave him as open as possible to outside influences.”
“Why did you do this, Severus? I appointed you to protect Harry’s mind, not to make him more vulnerable.” The disappointment was evident in Dumbledore’s voice as he looked dejectedly at the man opposite him.
“I had to,” Snape responded. “He knows that I am acting as a spy on him for you. He knew years ago, if I understand things correctly. Potter told you what happened in the graveyard at Little Hangleton when the Dark Lord was reborn and the Death Eaters were summoned to him. He must have told you what he said to them?”
“What Voldemort said to the Death Eaters?”
“Yes. Pettigrew, among others, has alluded obliquely on occasion to some form of mistrust towards me, which I took merely to be them playing favourites against me with the Dark Lord’s confidences. Unfortunately, when I saw it in Potter’s mind, I realised what his meaning was, and finally understood my predicament.
“When the Dark Lord was re-born there were three Death Eaters missing, neither dead nor imprisoned in Azkaban. He described them as: one who had fled, one who was at Hogwarts faithfully serving the Dark Lord, and one that had betrayed him.”
“Ah!” Dumbledore exclaimed softly. “I understand the reference now. You don’t believe that he meant you to be the faithful Death Eater at Hogwarts?”
“No, it is clear now that he was referring to Crouch there. I’m afraid I may have given myself away when I prevented Quirinius Quirrell from accessing the Philosopher’s Stone at Hallowe’en five years ago.”
“So he already knew that you had betrayed him and would not return?”
Snape nodded “I had to agree to what he commanded in the first place, obviously, but once I realised that my cover had been blown I had no option than to continue, but to try and find an excuse to discontinue the lessons. It was unknown to me at the time, but he could have decided to have me killed at any time for my desertion.”
Snape deflated at this acknowledgement, and slumped back into his seat, and the two men sat in silence for a few moments as Dumbledore considered his next words.
Having made his decision, he looked over the top of his half-moon spectacles at the Potions master. “I must ask you to make a choice, Severus,” Dumbledore said, a look of sad concern in his eyes. “Either you must leave Hogwarts – immediately and permanently – so that you are no longer a threat to any of the students, or you may not return to Voldemort when he calls you – whatever the consequences of ignoring the Dark Mark burning in your arm might be.”
Snape realised that Dumbledore was offering him the only two options that he was realistically able to, and sighed wearily, knowing that whichever option he elected to take he would face unbearable pain.
“I understand, Headmaster. I have no choice. I have no wish to return to the ranks of the Death Eaters on an official basis. I imagine that my usefulness to the Dark Lord would be severely limited without being in a position to affect Potter, anyway, especially once he realises I know my cover is gone. He would consider it far too great a risk to allow me to live.”
“Not to mention that Minister Fudge knows that you have the Dark Mark, and you would immediately go on the Aurors’ hit list, were you to turn away from Hogwarts and return to his ranks,” chuckled Dumbledore darkly.
Snape had obviously forgotten about presenting his Dark Mark to Fudge when he was trying to convince the Minister of Magic that Voldemort had returned, and blanched a little at the reminder.
“Yes, well there’s a man than needs replacing, and soon, if you ask me,” Snape commented snidely. “If he had an ounce of sense, and was actually concerned with the safety of the wizarding world, rather than trying to salvage his increasingly tenuous grasp on power within the Ministry, we would all be significantly better off.”
“Believe me, Severus, I’ve been trying for a long time to focus the Minister in the right direction, but he seems set on the course he has chosen to take. I only hope that his actions cause no further detriment to the world in the meantime,” Dumbledore added.
“Whilst we are on the subject, or at least moderately adjacent to it, can I assume that you deliberately let Harry see the memory of his father and friends treatment of you?”
Snape grimaced at the Headmaster.
“You think too much Headmaster,” he said with distaste. “Yes. I admit that I wanted him to see how his so-called hero of a father behaved towards his peers. It might actually make him think about his own actions and how they affect others around him. More to the point,” he added with a sneer, “it gave me the opportunity to end the lessons entirely.”
Dumbledore looked over his half-moon glasses at Snape with a question in his eyes.
“I couldn’t risk attacking his mind any further. It would have caused permanent damage and that would have been counter-productive both to your purpose, unless you had plans for him to defeat the Dark Lord without needing him to actually function as a human, as well as that of the Dark Lord himself, who sees his triumph over Potter as one of the biggest steps in cowing the wizarding world into submission.”
“I’m not in the least surprised, Severus. Poor Harry has had so much to cope with, particularly in the past few years, that his mental state must be fragile at best.”
“Pah!” spat Snape. “You molly-coddle him, Headmaster. He needs some discipline in his life.”
“And you would impose that discipline on him by attacking his mind, Severus?” Dumbledore asked in surprise. “I’m aware that your own upbringing was far from ideal, but I would have thought that you would be one of the first to appreciate that discipline can only be lead to success where there is an appropriate reward at the end of it.
“At present it’s difficult to see what that reward would be for Harry. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and if the world knew the contents of the Prophecy he would have their expectations on him as well. As it is, he feels responsible for the death of Cedric Diggory in last year’s Tri-wizard tournament as well as that of Sirius Bl-“
Snape interrupted with a snort.
“He should feel responsible for Black’s death. If he had found a responsible adult to deal with the situation, instead of gallivanting off on yet another adventure, there would have been no need for Black to have been put at risk.”
“I’m not sure about this yet, Severus, but it may well be that Harry’s faith in authority has been irreparably damaged. There may be evidence to suggest that his life with his Muggle relatives has not been as favourable as we would have liked.”
“Do you mean that he has been physically abused by those Muggle oafs?”
“Right now, I’m not in a position to say. I’m meeting with Harry again on Friday to go through some of these things, but he wasn’t particularly keen to discuss it. I intend to take my Pensieve so that I can view some of Harry’s memories without him having to recall the experiences too closely. We’ll have to see what that identifies, and whether we need to take any further action on that.
“However, that‘s not all that I was referring too, I’m afraid, Severus. As adults responsible for his safety whilst he is here at Hogwarts, we have also failed Harry, in numerous ways over the past five years; we have shaken his confidence to take his problems to those who should be responsible for dealing with them, and made him feel that he was forced into taking matters into his own hands.”
“I hardly feel that’s the case, Headmaster,” Snape suggested. “The only explanation for Potter’s various wanderings is that is the fruit of his restless and unnecessary curiosity, a flagrant disregard for rules that are in place to protect both he and the other students, and a lack of discipline.”
“I disagree, Severus,” Dumbledore replied. “Perhaps I can provide a few examples for you: None of the staff, nor myself, fully appreciated the threat to the Philosopher’s Stone. Even though Harry and his friends thought it was you that was actually the threat to the Stone,“ Dumbledore said with a glimmer of a smile, “they were the only ones willing to take action to prevent someone getting their hands on it. I allowed myself to be distracted sufficiently at the critical moment, and was away from the castle when I was most needed.
“Not only did I hire a Defence against the Dark Arts Professor who had aligned himself with Voldemort that year, I compounded that error by employing a vainglorious braggart the following year. Lockhart was basically incompetent, and the students learned little or nothing from him that would aid them.
“I failed to prevent a student being possessed by an old diary of Tom Riddle’s and opening the Chamber of Secrets, or noticing and aiding her when she did. When Harry and Ron attempted to rescue Ginny Weasley from the Chamber, the Defence Professor tried to leave them there for dead. The Ministry of Magic insisted on taking Hagrid to Azkaban, simply because they ‘had to be seen to be doing something.’”
Snape snorted again at this reminder of the Ministry’s incompetence, which attracted the Headmaster’s attention, but he waved at Dumbledore to continue and refrained from making any further comment.
“In Harry’s third year, even though the whole wizarding world was supposedly looking out for his interests, he was safer under the guidance of a werewolf than under those who were supposed to protect him. In fact, the Dementors that were supposedly part of Hogwarts’ security came closer to killing him that keeping him safe.
“He then finds out that his godfather suffered twelve years in Azkaban, again without a trial, despite being innocent of any crime.” Once more, Snape’s reaction to the reminder of Sirius’s and Remus’s presences at Hogwarts was one of contempt for the former Marauders, but Dumbledore ignored the interruption.
“The following year, I end up with a Death Eater on the books, unknown to us all, who ensures that Harry is entered into the Tri-wizard tournament, and then bewitches the trophy into a Portkey that delivers Harry straight into the hands of Voldemort. There, he is forced into performing a rebirth ceremony and a duel with the most evil man in fifty years, but somehow escapes.
“Not only that, but he is then ridiculed by the press of the wizarding world, has to defend himself from Dementors again, and is interrogated before a full Wizengamot trial for simply protecting himself, all before he even returns to school.
“Once at Hogwarts, he is branded a liar by the Defence against the Dark Arts Professor who has been foisted upon us by the Ministry in their attempt to prevent any actual practical learning in the subject. Then he is unfairly prevented from playing Quidditch, one of his few options for releasing pent-up aggression, and when he attempts to set up a club where students can learn practical defence by themselves, it is summarily banned.
“When it is discovered that they have nevertheless attempted to run the club in a covert fashion, he is accused of trying to destabilise the Ministry. I made the mistake of fleeing Hogwarts to protect him, but that simply resulted in further persecution. I’m led to believe that acting-Headmistress Dolores Umbridge attempted to use veritaserum upon him, and also threatened to use the Cruciatus curse on him.”
Snape considered this, and wrinkled his nose in distaste.
“When you put it like that, Headmaster, I can see why you would think that Potter has indeed been failed by us all. That doesn’t make me like him any more, nor excuse his insolence, however.”
Dumbledore paused to consider the Potions teacher over the top of his spectacles once again, carefully weighing up his words.
“Severus, Harry is not his father. Had he been brought up in the wizarding world, with a full understanding of what he had achieved as a babe, then I would understand if he had arrived here at Hogwarts full of himself, with the arrogance that James displayed in his younger years, and I would then have fully understood your attitude towards him. But he wasn’t, and he doesn’t have those characteristics.
“I’m surprised that your attitude toward him hasn’t softened somewhat over the years. I know that perhaps you do not agree with his methods on occasion, but I would have thought that you would at least have attempted to overcome the tensions between you.”
Snape bristled at the Headmaster’s words. “I resent the implication that I am in any way at fault for Potter’s behaviour, or for his lack of respect for authority. His intransigent attitude and seeming disregard for the rules, acting as though they don’t apply to him, are at fault. No doubt his upbringing was sadly lacking.”
“Those were good reasons for him to grow up unaware of his legacy, as he did, but I am starting to feel as though I made a serious mistake in placing him with the Dursleys. Harry’s impulses have perhaps been skewed towards curiosity simply because of his upbringing.”
Snape sat there, somewhat disturbed by the Headmaster’s admission that he might be primarily at fault for that, as well as for what had happened at Hogwarts over the past five years. Then he stood.
“If our discussion is complete, I need to return to my rooms, Headmaster. I have a lot to consider about my current position.”
“Of course, Severus,” Dumbledore replied. “Thank you for your forthright explanation. I shall be away from the castle for much of the next couple of weeks – if you need me for anything, please leave me a message.
* * *
Back in his room at number four, Privet Drive, Harry was thinking over his conversation with Professor Dumbledore and what it might mean for the remainder of the summer. The fact that Dumbledore was planning to return to talk to him further indicated to Harry that he would at least be allowed some contact with the wizarding world this summer, which was a definite improvement on how he had spent his last few summers since discovering his talents.
He looked at the book that Dumbledore had given him. The book was a deep blue in colour, almost black, with a subdued silver coloured lettering on the cover. Calm and Control: Beginning Occlumency was obviously a book to be taken seriously, even though it wasn’t particularly big – nothing like the size of the massive tomes that Hermione seemed to pick out of the library for ‘light reading’. Harry grinned to himself.
Harry opened the book and began reading. ‘No time like the present for starting things, I suppose,’ he thought as he scanned down the first page.
Much to his surprise, the book didn’t actually appear to provide anything in the way of strategies for actually defending his mind, but seemed to be entirely devoted to the process of clearing the mind in preparation for actual Occlumency lessons.
‘Now something like this would really have helped in the first place,’ Harry reflected. ‘If I need time to get used to clearing my mind, it’s no surprise that I couldn’t do it instantly like Snape always commanded.’
He spent a good hour reading through the first couple of chapters of the book and thinking about what they instructed him to do, coming to the conclusion that this was something that he could do. He wondered whether Dumbledore had meant for him to practice the techniques before Friday, but decided that it probably wouldn’t hurt.
He also wondered whether Dumbledore had intended for him to finish reading the book by Friday, though that probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem either, since he didn’t exactly have a full diary of activities scheduled for the next three and a bit days; plenty of time for reading, especially if it was going to help protect his mind from Voldemort. It would help to keep him out of the way of his relatives, too. As few reminders of his presence as possible would probably keep things a lot calmer in the house.
Harry was only disturbed from his thoughts when a small grey owl, attempting to fly through the unopened window, caught his attention. ‘Typical of Pig, that,’ Harry thought, as he recognised Ron’s hyperactive owl.
Opening the window, and suddenly glad for the fresh air that it let into his stuffy room, Harry caught the owl and pulled it into his room, detaching the letter that it was carrying.
Pig maintained his high-tempo twittering and spent a good five minutes whizzing around the room after Harry let him go before spotting Hedwig’s perch and settling down to some of the owl treats scattered at the bottom of the cage.
Harry opened the envelope to find that it actually contained two letters. The first he opened was from Ginny:
Thanks for your letter. Hopefully we’ll be allowed to keep in touch properly this year, rather than having to keep quiet about everything. Ron’s allowed me to send this with Pigwidgeon, though I think it was somewhat under protest.
I’m glad that you’re feeling good enough to communicate with us all. You don’t have to apologise for taking us all to the Ministry – we went of our own accord if you remember – and you certainly don’t have to take the responsibility for us getting hurt. We all made our own choices to go with you, and I’m just glad that we were able to get out okay.
Ron’s still on some sort of medication for his injuries, but I don’t expect him to admit it to anyone – it doesn’t sound great if you admit that a brain attacked you!
Anyway, if you want to talk about anything, I’m happy to be there for you. I know you are hurting that Sirius is gone, but please don’t pull away from us all – you need your friends to help you through it.
‘Well that was really nice of her,’ Harry thought, trying to ignore the reminders of Sirius’s death that threatened to overwhelm him again as he turned his attention to the other letter in the envelope.
Ron’s letter looked as though it had been rather rushed, but then Harry assumed that when Ginny had asked to borrow Pig to send her own reply, Ron decided that he ought to send something too.
Ginny’s already got a response ready, so I thought I’d dash something off too. Don’t worry about the Ministry thing, you know we’re going with you when you dash off like that, you can’t leave us behind, you know. I’m not so keen on Ginny, Neville and Luna joining us though, but I’ve long given up trying to tell Ginny what to do.
Harry sniggered to himself at this point. Ginny’s famed Bat Bogey Hex had obviously pushed Ron’s overprotective older brother instincts a bit further back. He hoped Ron didn’t start trying to intimidate her ostensible boyfriend Dean, as that might get painful for him, not to mention that it would strain the relationship in the dormitory.
Ginny’s admitted that she was winding me up about going out with Dean – I nearly hexed her for that – she says she’s given up on boys now, but somehow I still feel like I’m on the end of a prank.
He did wonder whether Ron was kidding himself about not telling Ginny what to do. Four years sharing Gryffindor Tower with her hadn’t softened those instincts at all, no matter what Ron might think.
Anyway, write back soon, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve actually got time to write a letter, rather than just a note.
Harry still had an odd feeling that Ron was trying to set him up with Ginny, but right now Harry really wasn’t in any rush to find a girlfriend. After the disastrous relationship with Cho, he really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing in situations like that, and figured he’d let it be for a time.
He shooed Pig back out of the window with another owl treat, and went back to his book to re-read and then practice some of the exercises it suggested as the first step in enabling him to clear his mind. He was amused to find that the very first exercise detailed was pretty much what he had been doing the previous night.
Laying back and concentrating on the ceiling, Harry pushed thoughts out of his mind as they popped in, whether they were about the spider that crawled its way from one corner to another or the odd thoughts about the events at the Department of Mysteries earlier in the month.
As with the previous night though, it wasn’t long before Harry was drifting off to sleep.
The following days found Harry delving deeper into the book to learn more strategies for clearing his mind in preparation for Occlumency lessons. Some of them involved concentrating on single objects for periods at a time, others had Harry muttering a simple mantra over and over and concentrating solely on saying the words, which got progressively more difficult with each new cantrip, becoming tongue-twisters in some cases.
This helped Harry a lot in clearing his mind, and he found that he was able to keep returning to the original exercise and concentrate for longer and longer, both on keeping thoughts out of his mind and on single objects. In turn, he found that using his mind like this also made it easier to study, as he was able to focus more effectively on his book. Harry figured that this would be handy when it came to studying other subjects as well.
During this time, Hedwig also returned, bearing a letter from Luna; an owl had arrived from Neville in response to his own as well. Hermione had obviously been unable to procure an owl, but nevertheless had written to him anyway, using the more conventional approach of posting her letter through the Royal Mail.
By chance, Harry had been closest to the door when the mail had arrived and had been able to isolate the letter addressed to him without the fuss that had accompanied the receipt of his very first Hogwarts letter.
Luna’s letter had been short and to the point, simply thanking him for writing and absolving him of any blame for the trip to the Ministry. Neville’s had been similar, though he was more effusive in his thanks that they had managed to escape alive. He was also very understanding about Sirius’s death and had a new appreciation for Harry’s troubles, having been held under the Cruciatus curse at the Ministry by Bellatrix Lestrange.
Hermione, by contrast, had much more to say. She started off with the usual greeting and thanks for the correspondence, but then launched into detailed reasons why Harry shouldn’t feel guilty about the events of that fateful day.
…we each took the choice to go to the Ministry with you, and were prepared to see it through with you all the way, despite any misgivings we might have had. Just as much as you placed us in danger by going off to the Ministry, you saved our lives through the work that you did with all of us in the DA sessions. Without those lessons some or all of us would have died.
Similarly, you should not feel guilty about Sirius’ death. I know it’s hard to deal with right now, and I think you should talk to Professor Dumbledore about it, or maybe Professor Lupin if you can get hold of him.
Anyhow, as I was saying, it isn’t your fault that Sirius died. There are a number of people who share that blame with you: Professor Dumbledore should have protected you better, found a Defence against the Dark Arts teacher that would actually teach us, provided some way for us to get hold of him when he was needed; Professor Snape could have prepared you better to resist the visions whilst he was teaching you Occlumency, could have done something to help us when we were trapped in Umbridge’s office; If Umbridge had believed you in the first place, not tried to discredit you, Dumbledore would still have been Headmaster and we could have gone to him for help; If the Ministry of Magic hadn’t interfered by sending one of Minister Fudge’s stooges to Hogwarts we would have had a Defence teacher that was actually interested in teaching us defence, rather than preventing us from learning it.
As you can see, there is a whole list of people that we could say are to blame for Sirius’ death, but we could play “what if?” all day. The only person who is responsible for Sirius’ death is Bellatrix Lestrange. Please don’t take it upon yourself to accept all the blame for it.
Hermione’s letter went on considerably longer and covered a number of other topics too, including her suspicions that Harry was still withholding information from everybody, but Harry accepted her logic about Sirius’ death, even if he found it difficult to reconcile with the degree of guilt that he still felt.
He did send a reply to Hermione fairly quickly though, to reassure her that he wasn’t wallowing in the guilt, and filling her in on his letter to Dumbledore and their conversation earlier in the week, including the fact that he was working on his skills in Occlumency during the holidays.
He wasn’t too surprised, therefore, on the Thursday morning when Aunt Petunia called him downstairs to use the telephone.
“One of your friends wants to talk to you,” she said with a grimace. “Don’t be on that phone all day.”
Harry rolled his eyes and put the receiver to his ear. Aunt Petunia might be trying to be nice to him, but she couldn’t help but remind him that he was only there under sufferance, and that he was to cause as little disruption to their activities as possible.
“Hi Harry,” came Hermione’s voice from the other end of the line. “How are you doing? Your aunt didn’t seem too keen to call you to the phone.”
Harry was pleased to hear from Hermione. Although he had given her his phone number, he hadn’t been sure whether she would want to call him, and if she did, what the Dursleys’ reactions would be to someone phoning for him. He smiled at the thought of a “normal” conversation with someone of his own age.
“I’m fine actually, Hermione,” Harry replied. “Aunt Petunia’s being fairly nice for her, but that isn’t really saying much. The last thing she mentioned was that I wasn’t to tie up the line.”
“I know, I heard her. That wasn’t very nice.”
“Well I guess it’s her and Uncle Vernon’s phone. I don’t want to cause any more trouble than usual, and they are at least making an effort. I haven’t had Uncle Vernon locking me in my room and barring the windows yet,” Harry joked, “so at least it’s an improvement on other years!”
“That’s beside the point – it should have to be an effort for them to treat you nicely. Anyway, that wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to know if you could come over here for a visit next week.”
Harry thought it would be great to get away from Privet Drive, especially if it meant to visit with his friends, whether it was at The Burrow or at Hermione’s house, but wasn’t sure whether he would be allowed.
“I don’t know, at the moment. I asked Dumbledore if I could do that sort of thing, but I didn’t get chance to discuss it with him when I saw him on Monday. He’s going to be here again tomorrow though, so I’ll ask him then. Which day did you have in mind?”
“Mum and Dad are going to be away next weekend, and asked if I wanted anyone to come and stay on Friday night, provided that I made the arrangements and acted responsibly.”
“What? Hermione not act responsibly?” Harry joked.
“Oh, shut it, you.”
“No, seriously, I’d love to, but I don’t know what Dumbledore will say. I’ll let you know after I speak to him tomorrow.”
“Okay then,” Hermione replied. “I’ll ring you tomorrow evening then. The less that your relatives have to complain about, the better, I guess. You calling me will only make them whinge about the bill you run up.”
“Hey, you know them better than I do.”
“No, but I have just talked to your aunt, remember. Anyway, I’m glad you’re feeling good enough to joke about these things.”
“Well this year I’m not locked away without any news or idea of what is happening, and I don’t have tonnes of chores to do. Life could be better, but probably not much better while I’m living in this house.”
Hermione said goodbye and rang off, and Harry turned to go back up to his room out of the way, as promised, but found Dudley in his way. Some of his good mood vanished in an instant, as he realised that his cousin was deliberately blocking his path.
“Who was that?”
“Hermione. She’s a friend from school.”
“Girlfriend, is it?”
“Uh, no.” Harry retorted. He hadn’t ever though of Hermione as being a girlfriend in the sense that Dudley meant it, but could see why his cousin had jumped to that conclusion. “Just because none of the girls from your school ever ring you to chat,” Harry added, “doesn’t mean that one who rings me is my girlfriend.”
Dudley looked at him with a malevolent glare.
“Girls are only good for one thing,” he stated, knowingly.
“You wouldn’t want Aunt Petunia hear you saying things like that, ‘Diddydums’,” Harry taunted. “She still has this oh-so-perfect vision of you, that you’re still ‘sweet and angelic’. If she knew about the ten-year-old boys and girls you’ve been beating up, she might just keel over of a heart attack,” he added viciously.
“You wouldn’t dare-“ Dudley began.
“Not my business, Dudders, is it?” Harry smirked. “You stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours, okay?”
Harry pulled his wand out of his back pocket and twirled it between his fingers to add emphasis to his point. Dudley backed away slowly, his eyes not leaving Harry’s wand until his ample backside hit the kitchen door, through which he turned and fled. Even if he couldn’t officially use magic during the holidays, Dudley obviously wasn't prepared to take a risk that he might.
Harry heard a small snigger from outside and looked out. Realising that she’d been busted, Tonks revealed herself from under an invisibility cloak.
“Damn. Moody’ll have my arse for this!”
Harry liked the young Auror. She didn’t take herself too seriously and, even though she was about eight years older than Harry and his friends, they had become friends with her fairly rapidly the previous summer. Tonks’s metamorphmagus abilities were always good for entertainment, although they obviously served a more serious purpose as far as her work with the Order of the Phoenix was concerned.
“I guess you’re not supposed to let me see you then, Tonks?” Harry asked with a grin. “Oh, and I haven’t been looking at your arse, so I don’t know if that’s a pity, or not,” he added, bringing a blush to Tonks’ cheeks which clashed rather violently with the spiky bright green hair she was sporting
“Oi! Harry!” she burst out. “You’re not supposed to say things like that!”
“Oh, sorry,” he returned, blatantly insincere, “I thought I was supposed to be the insecure, emotional, hormonal teenager?”
“No, that was last year.”
Harry cringed inwardly at the reminder of his behaviour the previous year, but recovered enough to joke back at the unconventional Auror.
“Ah! New Year, New Harry. How do you like the latest version?”
“Well if you stay in this mood, then I like him well enough. Was it the Muggle-baiting that put you in such a playful mood, or the after-effects of your conversation with a bushy-haired Gryffindor that I overheard one half of?”
Now it was Harry’s turn to blush.
“Hey, it’s bad enough that Dudley thinks she’s my ‘girlfriend’. I don’t need you starting on me as well. You all read the Daily Prophet far too closely.”
Tonks looked confused at this, and asked Harry to explain further, which took about twenty minutes since he had to explain all the background to the Tri-wizard tournament as well as how the Prophet had linked him romantically with Hermione.
“You’ll have to give me the full story at some point, I think,” Tonks said with a sigh. “There’s far more than you’re letting on, isn’t there?”
Harry shrugged, but internally was in total agreement. There was a lot more to explain.
“Some other time,” he suggested.
“Fair enough,” Tonks replied, “but while you know I’m here, I might as well pass on a message that Dumbledore asked me to give you. He said that you’re to meet him at 9 o’clock in the morning, same place as last time.”
Harry thanked Tonks and left her to her ‘guard duty’, knowing that if Aunt Petunia saw a green-haired witch in the front garden she would freak out completely. It was tempting to encourage Tonks to make herself known to the Dursleys on a regular basis, just for the reaction that it would cause. Harry realised, though, that if he was going to stay at Privet Drive all summer, it would be best if Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia weren’t provoked as he’d promised when he arrived, and Tonks’s appearance was exactly the sort of thing that would freak the Dursleys out.
To be honest, Harry had forgotten that it was likely there would be people from the Order watching over him once again, but he shouldn’t have been surprised – the threat from Voldemort was as strong as ever. Harry stored the information at the back of his mind for the moment though, in case it came in useful at some point. With that sort of protection, and the blood-magic that protected Harry whilst he was living with the Dursleys, it was unlikely that he would end up in any danger. However, he could have said the same the previous summer, and that hadn’t stopped an attack by two Dementors.
As the sun set, Harry returned to his room and wrote back to his friends. He asked each of them about their injuries and Neville about his broken wand. He thanked Ginny for her offer of a friendly ear should he need one, and let them all know that he hoped to see them at some point during the summer, although he didn’t know when.
After sending Hedwig off into the darkness with her deliveries, he finally lay down on his bed and ran through a few of the exercises in Dumbledore’s book before falling asleep.