For a long moment, Harry stared at Potter Cottage from where he and his father had apparated upon the stepping stone path leading to the cottage's oak front door. The garden gate was but a few paces behind them, latched closed as usual. In the high noon sunlight, the many pansy, begonias, tulips, and marigolds occupying the flowerbeds lining the ivy twined fencing surrounding the cottage's front garden were in full bloom with bees buzzing from one flower to the next and butterflies sunbathing on their vivid green foliage. The centuries old wattle and daub cottage had its windows thrown wide, letting in the warm afternoon breeze. Harry could hear the Weird Sisters blasting from around the back of the cottage, which he knew to be coming from Bethany's bedroom. She was particularly obsessed with the band's lead singer, Myron Wagtail, like most girls of her age.
Harry smiled at the thought of his younger sister and attempted to rid himself of his nervousness, which was entirely unwarranted, if he were to look at things objectively. This was his childhood home. His mother and sister were just inside waiting for his father and him to return. He may not be the boy that they had come to know over the last fourteen years, but he remained their son and brother. That had to count for something. They wouldn't reject him for being a bit different than they remembered. Their hearts wouldn't allow it.
"Come on," James said and rested a supportive hand on Harry's shoulder.
With the coaxing press of his father's hand, Harry took one step - then another - towards the front stoop. The sweet nectar of the garden's blossoms and the scent of the lawn having been freshly trimmed diluted with his every step, as the smells of homemade biscuits and a fresh baked meat pie wafted out to him through the cottage's open windows.
Upon reaching the front door, Harry reached out, gingerly turned the old iron latch, and pushed the weight of the door inward. The wail of Myron Wagtail belting "Do the Hippogriff" increased in volume, as he stepped into the long, white walled, photograph lined entrance hall beyond.
"For the love of Merlin!" James growled out between gritted teeth, as he stepped into the entrance hall behind Harry. Without waiting for his son to step aside, he stepped passed Harry purposefully and headed for the stairs off to the left side of the hall with an angry stride, all the while muttering under his breath.
Harry sighed, feeling only small twinge sympathy for his sister, as he watched their father stomp up the stairs. But a moment later, Kirley Duke's guitar solo was abruptly cut short before it could even truly begin with his sister's bedroom door slamming open and his sister yelling out in furious protests.
"DAD!" Bethany's yell reverberated through the cottage just as loudly as "Do the Hippogriff" had been only a moment prior.
"I'm leave for a week -"
"Mum said -"
"Before or after you turned it down for the tenth time, only to turn it back up the second that she was back downstairs?"
Harry shook his head, knowing that his father's pronouncement was closer to the truth than his sister would ever admit, and headed for the kitchen to find his mother. You're on your own with that, little sis. You're on your own. He would have to say hello to her later, after their father was done scolding her.
As Harry passed through the arched doorway to his left, a little before the stairs and opposite another archway leading to the sitting room, and set off across the handsome dining room decorated in rich mahoganies and royal blues - the room rarely ever used outside of special occasions - he heard Bethany and their father's disagreement over the merits of blasting the Weird Sisters at full volume throughout the house develop into a full blown argument.
You really shouldn't test him right now, Bethany, Harry thought warningly, knowing that his father's self-restraint had been severely strained over the last few weeks and that the man had been pushed even further on edge from their trip to Ollivander's. If she came out of their argument with only a few days worth of grounding, he'd be surprised. A full week to ten days of grounding sounded more likely.
"Well, you weren't here, so why does it even matter?"
Make that definitely a week at the very least, Harry thought with exasperation. Bethany never had been able to hold her tongue when she ought to.
Upon rounding the framed archway leading to the kitchen that double as their dining room for day to day use, Harry felt himself pass through a static wall of magic. The instant that his father and sister's argument was cut off and his mother's melodic humming filled his ears, he knew the ward to be a silencing ward. Out of curiosity to see what ward his mother was using in specific, he stepped back through the wall of magic and then stepped forward through it for a second time, while paying close attention to the magic brushing against his skin.
"Crevetace Sanctum; not a bad choice." Harry smiled softly at his mother, as she whirled around - startled by his intrusion - from where she had been directing a knife to chop a variety of vegetables and a bowl of greens to rinse under a steady stream from the tap.
For a long moment, Lily Potter stood frozen in place, staring at Harry with her right hand clutched over her rapidly beating heart and her left hand clutching the counter behind her. Her eyes were wide and filled with emotion that flickered so fast from amazement to relief to uncertainty and doubt, before returning to wonder and hope. Harry remained stock-still and waited for the reaction that was sure to come, as her eye roved over him with scrutiny and she took in his form standing before her; healthy, whole, and of one mind.
"H-Harry?" Lily choked out, as her eyes took on a watery sheen and her grip on the lip of the wooden countertop counter slackened.
"Hi, Mum," Harry said into the quiet of the kitchen. He could not keep the relieved smile from his face, as he saw the love in her eyes.
As if Harry's response was all that Lily needed to hear, she rushed forward, hurriedly stepped around the center island at the middle of the room, and wrapped her arms around Harry in a suffocating hug.
"O-oh, Harry," she sobbed, as she held him close. "My baby, my b-baby boy - you're h-home. You're f-finally home. How I've m-missed you..."
Wrapping his arms around his mother, who was a few inches shorter than he was himself, Harry made sure not to tug on her long, auburn ponytail and allowed his mother to cling to him and thoroughly soak his shoulder with her tears. As she babble about him being home, how much she had missed, and how scared she had been that she had lost him - as well as how much she loved him and would always love, even if he was no longer the same as he had been before he had left - he did his best to sooth her and make out her muffled words.
"Shh, Mum," Harry said, as her halted babble gave out to heartfelt sobs. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I love you. Shh...everything is fine now. I promise." He move one of his hand up to the back of her head and cradled her close to him, while wishing that he could do more.
Upon feeling his mother's weight give way against him, Harry tightened his arms around her instinctively and kissed her hair. He wasn't entirely certain what to do, other than stand there and let her cry herself into exhaustion. Knowing how much she cared about their family and fretted over even the slightest of coughs or the smallest of bruises, he doubted that she had slept all that much in the last few weeks - not with him missing and then his father and him 'on the continent' with Sirius for the last week. Exhaustion would surely claim her soon with the torrent of emotion taking its toll on her.
Or so I hope, Harry thought despairingly. He didn't like seeing his mother so upset. The entire situation was made worse for him, as he knew that he was the singular cause of her tears.
Harry wasn't certain how long they stood there. All he did know was that he was flooded with relief, upon hearing familiar footsteps enter the kitchen behind him. As he craned his neck around to look to his father, he gestured helplessly to his mother, who was still clinging to him as if her very next breath depended upon it. He loved his mother and was more than happy that she was happy to have him home and was as accepting of him as he had hoped that she would be, but calming crying women had never been his specialty. Half the time, he usually ended up making things worse. Though, so far, it didn't seem he was doing too horribly. He hadn't been able to sooth her tears, however he hadn't exactly made them worse either.
"Lily," James said gently and reached out to disentangle her from Harry. She went willingly, her blurry emerald eyes searching for her husband.
"J-James," Lily sobbed, as the man pulled her to him.
Harry didn't hear the rest of what she said, as she buried her face against his father's robes and her sobs that had somewhat calmed took hold once more.
"Yes, he is," James responded softly to her tearful babble, stroking a hand through her hair and disentangling her ponytail, while using his other hand to cradle her to him.
"I'm going to go find Bethany," Harry mouthed the words to his father and tilted his head towards the closed door to their right that led out to the entrance hall just beyond the stairs and near the backdoor.
"Check the back garden," James mouthed back and looked pointed out the window over the kitchen sink that viewed said garden.
Harry nodded his understanding and headed for the backdoor, stepping around the kitchen table and its spindle legged chairs. His father would know how to calm his mother down. Somehow, his father always knew just what to do to make all of them feel better.
Out in the entrance hall, Harry took an immediate left and exited the house through the backdoor that stood exactly opposite the front door. The cool shade that was slowly creeping across the back garden at an angle, as the sun made its daily pass overhead, felt pleasant against his exposed skin in contrast to the heat of the day and the exceptional warmth of the kitchen. Like in the front garden, the flowers in the back garden were in full bloom. Unlike the front garden that was mainly comprised of decorative plant life that lined along the ivy twined fencing defining their property, the plant life of their back garden was spread throughout the open area of their backyard and was most comprised of fruit and vegetable vegetation and various other plants that could be harvested for potion ingredients or directly applied medicinal purposes. Four rune stone pillars stood at the four corners of the vast garden. Though they weren't currently activated, Harry knew that in the late fall and throughout the winter into early spring they would provide a stable environment for the plants to continue to grow and flourish, as if were still mid-summer.
Harry smiled at Remus Lupin, who was currently fighting with a flitterbloom a few paces up the garden path from the back stoop. If the shears in the werewolf's hands were any indication, the man was attempting to trim its wandering tentacles, which were indeed looking a bit long, as they had grown to extend past their usual four feet. He had to restrain himself from outright laughing at the man's predicament, as the tentacles curious prodded at the man's robes and pulled at the man's short, tawny locks. Unfortunately for all herbologists, flitterblooms were highly sensitive to active magic and wilted with even the most delicately applied Freezing Charm.
"Hi, Remus," Harry greeted and stepped down from the back stoop to assist his pseudo-uncle. He grabbed hold of the tentacle pulling at Remus's hair and gently stretched it out for Remus to trim. "Have you seen Bethany? Dad said she might be out here."
Remus regarded Harry with shrewd scrutiny, neither making to trim the flitterbloom nor to answer Harry's question.
"What?" Harry asked, plastering an innocent look on his face and pretending that the werewolf's suspicion was entirely off the mark. While he had his reservations about lying to his mother about who he truly was, he had no qualms about lying to Remus. The man did not need to know his origins and would only be a liability, if he ever did find out. Best that he never does, he thought, as he met the man's distrustful gaze with open trust in his own eyes.
"Nothing," Remus said quickly, after a short pause, and snipped the flitterbloom tentacle that Harry was holding still for him.
Harry released the end of the tentacle that remained attached to the plant and discarded the trimmed end into the bucket beside Remus, which was filled with a purple color potion that would preserve the flitterbloom cuttings.
"Here," Harry said and caught hold of the tentacle Remus was attempting to stretch out and trim at the same time.
"You aren't supposed to be helping me, Harry," Remus chided, as he snipped the tentacle.
"Then you'll owe me one." Harry shrugged and repeated the process of discarding the trimmed end of the tentacle into the bucket, before grabbing another one.
Technically, Remus was right. Harry wasn't supposed to be helping the man, as the Potter family was paying Remus for tending their gardens with monthly Wolfsbane Potion on top of a decent sum of galleons. When Harry and Bethany had been little, Remus had tutored them in math, reading, writing, and geography as well. Now days, Remus tended the Potters' gardens in the afternoons, after having tutored Aries and Mira, Sirius and Mayra's two oldest children, in the mornings. As Remus wouldn't allow James and Sirius to bequeath him a vault full of galleons without having earned it, the setup was an all around win-win scenario. Neither Sirius nor Mayra had time to tutor their children, and Lily greatly disliked the idea of house elves and neither she nor James really had time to tend to their gardens. As a werewolf who found remaining employed to be a difficult task, Remus had more than enough time. The steady work and income assuaged the man's plight, as well as afforded him a decent flat and a comfortable lifestyle.
"How was the continent?" Remus asked, as he trimmed the struggling tentacle that Harry stretched out and held still for him.
"Demanding," Harry grinned through the lie, "but well worth it."
Before Remus could ask anything else, Harry got his answer as to where his sister was in the form of a happy shriek and a 4' 9" blur shooting out the backdoor of house. Bethany jumped down the back stoop with her black hair flying wildly behind her and her hazel eyes bright with excitement.
"Harry!" Bethany exclaimed with delight, as she ran forward and clobbered him with an enthusiastic hug - very nearly knocking them both into the flitterbloom.
"Bethany," Harry greeted warmly and wrapped his arms around her in return.
Upon pulling apart a seconds later, Bethany stepped back and gave her brother a speculative once over. Her lingered on his attire for a moment, however, after seeming to satisfy herself that he was unharmed and wholly intact - or at least appeared to be so - she merely raised a quizzical eyebrow and asked a single question. "What happened to your glasses?
"I no longer need them." Harry shrugged, passing off his'improved' eyesight as an inconsequential detail of his healed mind.
"Porteur didn't need glasses," Remus said and regarded Harry with calculating eyes, his suspicions seemingly renewed by the observation.
"No, he didn't," Harry agreed flatly with a nod to the man and turned his full attention to Bethany. "Dad wasn't too harsh with you just now?"
Bethany's smile twisted into a scowl and irritation entered her eyes. "He grounded me for a week - a whole week! - just for having the phonograph turned up too loud for his liking. I was supposed to go to Demelza's house and stay the night on Wednesday. It's been planned a month - her brother, Kenver, is coming back from his expedition in South America and Mrs. Robins is throwing a big 'Welcome Home' party for him - and now Dad says I can't go!"
"You should have thought of that before you disobeyed your mother's warnings," Remus scolded without sympathy. "You knew your father and brother were coming home this afternoon."
"I've already heard it from Dad. I don't need to hear it from you, Remus," Bethany said, while glaring up at Remus. Upon turning her disgruntled look upon Harry, she took hold of her brother's hand and gave it a pull forward and away from the cottage. "Come on. I have to tell you what Romilda wrote me."
Feeling charitable, Harry extended Remus an apologetic look, as he allowed his sister to drag him away from the man and the partially trimmed flitterbloom.
"He's been so cranky, since you ran away," Bethany said moodily under her breath and huffed irritably. She steered Harry to the right, past the tomato plants that had several green fruits weighing down their leafy branches, and then left towards the far end of the garden. "Not that I blame you, what with them wanting to put you back in St. Mungo's," she hurried on, before looking up at Harry with searching eyes. "You're really okay now?"
"I didn't freak out when you tackled me back there, did I?"Harry asked, disentangling their hands and looping his left arm over her shoulders so that they could better walk side by side down the garden path. His sister leaned into his side with a content sigh.
"No, you didn't." Bethany wrapped her arm around Harry's back. This was familiar to them. They had walked the gardens together, hand in hand or arm in arm, ever since they were little kids. "I'm really happy, Harry. You worried me. Mom wouldn't stop crying, and Dad was horrible to be around. He wouldn't even look for you, you know. He just kept saying that there was nothing that we could do and that we had to trust you to return. Then he and Sirius up and disappeared, and the next thing we knew, you were on the continent seeing some specialist. And now..." she looked up at Harry, "now you're home -healed - just like that."
"The specialist wasn't a healer," Harry admitted, feeling he owed her a semblance of the truth - though definitely not the full truth. "He's a specialist in the Mind Arts." He reached up with his free right hand and tapped the side of his head. "He put things right up here. Before, I was living in two different realities. This one and the one I dreamt about. He healed the chasm between the two. Now, there's only this one and I know what is real and what isn't. It wasn't 'just like that', but he knew what he was doing. That's for sure."
"What are the Mind Arts?" Bethany asked curiously, as they rounded a bird bath at the eastern end of the garden and took off down the center path of the pumpkin patch, being sure not to trip on a few of the long vines that crossed over the path to the opposite side.
"They're something Dad probably doesn't want me telling you about," Harry said honestly.
"Dark Magic?" Bethany said, looking up at Harry hesitantly. They both well knew their father's views on the subject. While Harry had obtain himself leniency from James in exchange for obeying his father's decisions regarding his medical needs and overall safety, James would not be please to catch his two children discussing the Dark Arts in any way, shape, or form.
"Eh...more like almost, but not quite. It's a form of magic that is only ever as sinister as the one wielding it." Harry gave Bethany a reassuring smile. "There aren't a lot of people with true talent for it." Only Snape, Dumbledore, Voldemort, me - need I go on..., he added cynically inside his mind, but knew that their father would really have his head should he worry Bethany needlessly. "If you're really interested, you could ask Dad about learning Occlumency. It's the defensive side of things. - Anyway, I thought you were going to tell me what Romilda wrote you."
"Oh, you won't believe it," Bethany said, her young mind so easily distracted. "Romilda overheard her grandmother and Neville's Great-Uncle Algie talking about the latest votes for the open spot on the Board of Governors. Guess who is going to be filling the chair - come on guess," she urged, when Harry gave a one shouldered shrug.
"I didn't even know that there was an open chair," Harry said truthfully. He hadn't exactly been keeping up with current events the last few weeks, as he hadn't really had time to pick up a copy of The Daily Prophet and look it over.
"You didn't?" Bethany looked puzzled for a moment, before giving a dramatic sigh. "Of course, you didn't," she said and shook her head ruefully. "Okay, so get this: Tuesday, last week there was some high to do meeting of the Professors, the Board of Governors, and the Ministry. They were supposedly coordinating funding or schedules or some such nonsense. The Prophet didn't really give details on that bit. So, the whole lot are in the middle of this meeting, when...I know his name...he's that Celesta Burke's grandfather -"
"Lord Ainslie Burke," Harry supplied. He knew of the man, though he had only become familiar with Ainslie Burke's descendants in the other world, as the old man had died some time before the war broke out. Upon Ainslie Burke's death, the Burke Estate had been inherited by Lachlan Burke, who had proceeded to fill Voldemort's coffers quite nicely and to Imperius several Ministry officials in the year following Voldemort's rebirth in preparation for Voldemort's takeover of the British Isles.
"Yes, him." Bethany nodded. "He just dropped dead! Can you believe that?" she asked, aghast. "Right in the middle of the meeting, sitting in his chair at the table of the Board of Governors, he just died! Skeeter is having a field day."
Harry hummed. "I can imagine."
"Officially, they're saying that it was stress, but...with who is likely to replace him..." Bethany trailed off meaningfully.
"Who's replacing him?" Harry asked dutifully, knowing that she wanted him to either guess or ask. Gossip was a game to her. A year ago, she wouldn't have cared about what was published by Skeeter in The Prophet or what Romilda Vane's grandmother and Algie Longbottom were discussing behind closed doors. A year ago, however, she had yet to make friends with Romilda Vane, Demelza Robins, Victoria Frobisher, and Ilene Pennell. The five girls shared a dorm and gossip was apparently their currency with the Vane Heiress cashing in and redistributing the wealth. Even the two biggest gossips in his year, Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, didn't have the reach throughout Hogwarts that little Romilda had established over the course of her first year.
"Tolus Talvace," Bethany whispered the man's name, as if the very man that she spoke of might hear her and apparate into existence before them.
"As in Gavid and Dunhan Talvace?" Harry asked, halting their leisurely stroll past the belladonna and looking down at Bethany.
Bethany rolled her eyes. "You're so hopeless sometimes, Harry. As in Mayra's father - though I think Gavid and Dunhan are her nephews, aren't they? Do you know them?"
"I know of them," Harry said. "They're old year Slytherins. Gavid will be a 7th year this year, while Dunhan will be a 5th year."
"I don't know many of the older Slytherins," Bethany said thoughtfully and began walking once more, pulling Harry along with her. They round the northeastern corner of the garden and began down a row of sugar snap peas. "The only ones I know are Marcus Flint and Zinnia Parkinson - and the others on their Quidditch team: Miles Bletchley, Chandler Warrington, Peregrine Derrick, and Lucian Bole. Romilda knows a lot of them though. She says most aren't worth the introduction. Did you know that Flint finally graduated last year?"
"Did he?" Harry asked, faking interest and playing dumb.
"Oh, yes," Bethany began, before launching into the tale of Flint's struggles to pass his exams for the second time.
With Bethany sufficiently sidetracked from pursuing the extent of Harry's knowledge on Gavid and Dunhan Talvace, Harry turned his thoughts to the two Slytherins that he had come to know in the other world. While he didn't know much about the Talvace family as a whole, as the two brothers hadn't liked to talk about their past - like everyone else, they had lost far too much, while retaining far too little of their loved ones - the brothers, upon their initial crossing of paths in Denmark, had informed him that they were the last of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Talvace of Britain and had later on, after having traveled together for some weeks, sworn to him their revenge against the Dark Regime for what had happened to their family with a furious passion that had left him with no doubt of their true allegiance. Over the course of the war, he had come to depend and trust the brothers as much as he depended upon and trusted Ron, as the brother had nearly always been as good as their word, unforeseen circumstances aside.
From his teenage self's knowledge, Harry knew a bit more about the family. They were regarded as supporters of the Dark Arts and of the creed of pure-blood superiority and were known to associate with the Malfoys, Lestranges, Rosiers, and the likes. There was, of course, Mayra's marriage to his godfather nine years ago, after a two year engagement. As far as he knew, however, Mayra didn't share the views of the rest of her family on blood purity. Upon marrying Sirius, she had apprenticed at St. Mungo's of her own volition and her reputation as a healer soon marked her as being fair and just with all her patients. Within the last five years, she had become publicly, as well as privately, estranged from her parents and her eldest brother and sister-in-law. Harry did remember meeting her younger brother once, a few years ago. He couldn't remember the man's name, but the man had seemed decent enough, if a bit jokey about his sister allowing half-bloods, a half-breed, and a muggle-born into her home. Other than that one event, though, he couldn't remember ever meeting any other members of Mayra's family and had practically forgotten that Mayra's family name had been Talvace.
As for the Gavid and Dunhan of this world, his teenage self had kept an eye on the two, but had never approached them. Unlike the Talvace brothers in the other world, who had been forced to endure tragedy and face the resulting devastation of their beliefs being put to action, the brothers in this world were still very much in belief of their superior blood status and the liberty of their family's wealth. Not to mention, the two were much younger than the 20 and 23 years that he had initially come to know them. It was a shame, as both had been highly skilled in combat and warding in the other world, as well as good friends of his. He could only hope that his actions in this world would pull them to him, rather than push them towards the Dark Regime.
"Are you even listening to me?" Bethany demanded with a twinge of annoyance and scowled at her brother, upon giving him a nudge in the side.
"Sorry, I was just thinking about the prospects of Flint as the next Knight Bus conductor." Harry grinned down at his sister with mirth, picturing the bulking form of Marcus Flint dressed in the violent violet Knight Bus uniform and attempting to quote the standard greeting to all stranded witches and wizards through a crooked front-tooth smile that had no place on his sallow face, which was better fit for the Slytherin's ugly sneer.
Bethany grinned as well at the image her brother's words created in her mind, her eyes alight with shared mirth, before she broke out in full laughter. "Oh - I should - tell Romilda and - the girls!" she exclaimed, as she giggled joyously.
Before Harry or Bethany could come up with an even more hilarious future career for the dimwitted ex-Quidditch captain, a call from the direction of the cottage caught their attention.
"Harry! Bethany!" James yelled from the back stoop and motioned for them to join him inside.
"Be there in a sec," Harry yelled back. He steered his sister right and up the center garden path back towards the cottage, as he watch their father disappear back inside.
Upon entering the cottage and quickly washing up for lunch, their father informed them that their mother was having a kip and that it would just be them and Remus for the meal. Harry merely nodded and joined his father, Bethany, and Remus at the kitchen table. As he loaded up his plate with his mother's meat pie and another plate with a small salad, he grinned, the feeling of home washing over him.