CHAPTER 1 - Nightmares and Arguments
A/N: I own nothing. It is all JKR's creation and I am merely dabbling and presuming it all could have happened otherwise.
A/N: I'd also like to give credit to DrT(Triwizard Redux) for planting the "what if" seed of changing Harry's escape at the end of Gof. And special thanks to Aurabolt, my most excellent beta.
...Where are we? ...
,,,Wands out, d'you reckon?...
...Without warning, Harry's scar suddenly exploded with pain....
...Kill the spare....
...Avada Kedavra! ...
...Harry felt someone grab his arm. He looked numbly at the name on the tombstone.
...It is ready, Master...
"Bone of the father, unknowingly given,....Flesh - of the servant -w-willingly given - you will - revive your master...B-blood of the enemy, forcibly taken..."
...A blinding bright light...
..And then he saw him...
...You have been taught to duel, Harry Potter? ....
..Avada Kedavra! .. Expelliarmus!...
...Hold on, Harry... Hold on for your father...
...Take my body back to my parents, Harry...
...flashes of different colored curses...He felt his body being tackled to the ground...
Harry woke with a start. His right hand felt empty, My wand! Then he saw he wasn't in the graveyard anymore. He tried to get his bearings, the moonlit window seemed familiar. He was in the infirmary. He was safe, it was over. He looked down at his side, at the familiar bushy brown hair at his bedside resting on a pair of small, delicate arms. Hermione. He lifted one of his arms, wincing at the effort it took and the pain that shot through his body. He pushed back some tendrils that had fallen on Hermione's face.
Her eyelids fluttered. Slowly the lids opened, her face breaking into arelieved smile when she saw Harry looking at her. "Harry! You're finally awake!" She sat up, touched his forehead. "How are you feeling?" Her voice was throaty with concern and worry.
"Like I was dragged through London by the Knight Bus a hundred times," he managed to croak.
Hermione gave him a small smile. She got up and grabbed a cup off his bedside table.
"Frigus vegrandis," she muttered with a flick of her wand. "Open your mouth a little."
He complied and she gently spooned small ice chips in his mouth. "Thanks, Hermione," he said with a sigh of relief.
Hermione sat down on Harry's bed, looked over him worriedly. She knew he woke up from a nightmare, she could see beads of sweat near his temple and his face had a tense, strained look. She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. He looked up at her, her heart wrenched at the haunted look in his eyes. Releasing his hand, she reached for the damp face towel she had just used to wipe another nightmare he had earlier in the night.
"How long was I out?" His voice was hollow.
"Four days," she answered softly.
"What happened after?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Harry averted his face. He said emotionlessly, "I was running from Voldemort. His Death Eaters were firing hexes and curses at me from all directions. I ran to Cedric's...body, and then I felt someone tackle me. I summoned the cup and I was back here. I was holding on to Cedric, someone took his body. And then I passed out."
"He told me to bring his body back." His voice was almost a whisper; his eyes were looking down at his wringing hands.
Hermione took a deep breath. Giving Harry's hand another gentle squeeze, he looked back at her. She moved closer and started to tell her best friend what he missed.
"We were all very concerned when you and Cedric disappeared with the cup. Dumbledore, especially, seemed to be as frantic as...well as Dumbledore can seem to be frantic. When you came back.." her breath hitched,"holding Cedric's body, all hell broke loose. Dumbledore, Fudge, McGonagall, and Moody ran to where you were. Fudge looked at Cedric and said he was dead. The crowd went into a panic. Dumbledore tried to calm them down but Cedric's parents ran down the field. McGonagall was checking you for injuries. Dumbledore told them to stay put while he tried to calm down the crowd but Moody picked you up while the Headmaster was busy."
"Harry, it was Moody who put your name into the cup." Harry's eyes jerked to hers unbelievingly. "Well, he...he wasn't the real Moody. He was Barty Crouch, Jr. He's a.."
"Death Eater. I saw him convicted in Dumbledore's pensieve. I thought he died."
"His father broke him out of Azkaban as per his mother's last request before she died. Crouch was keeping his son under an Imperius Curse while keeping him hidden under an invisibility cloak with his house elf taking care of him. Dumbledore and the others caught him as he was about to escape with you. They made him take Veritaserum. He had the real Moody locked up in his magical trunk while he polyjuiced himself as the auror the whole year. It was their plan to get you in the tournament so V-Voldemort can get you to bring him back"
Harry's head snapped almost painfully to look at Hermione. How did they know he was back? Have there been attacks? Was he followed back to Hogwarts?He grabbed Hermione's hands tight. "Hermione..."
Hermione paused. She looked deeply into his dulled eyes and took a really deep breath.
"Harry, when you came back, you said someone tackled you before you portkeyed...Harry, Pettigrew was brought with you." Harry's eyes widened."We were all in shock when you suddenly appeared in the field. But I recognized him at once, I was lucky to hit him with the Impedimenta jinxbefore he could change back to a rat so Professor Dumbledore was able to stun him."
Harry's shoulders slumped. His head bowed down and he seemed to be shaking as suddenly, everything he went through flashed before his eyes. Hermione climbed fully next to him and put her arms around him. His shoulders only shook more. "Shhh...Harry, it's over. You're safe here." His arms went around her waist and he buried his face in her neck as the first tears flowed from his eyes. Hermione gently stroked his hair. "They caught him Harry. He's in Azkaban now; they're going to perform the kiss on him in two days. They made him take Veritaserum, he told them what happened in the graveyard and about Sirius."
Hermione's own tears were flowing freely as she felt Harry succumbing to the pain she saw in his emerald eyes since he awoke. She tried with all her heart to convey to him that he was not alone, that people loved him, and that sometimes the good happens with the bad. That's how life is.
"I'll always be here, Harry. Just let it all out." She whispered against his hair.
Sirius looked down at the sleeping teenagers. Hermione had her arms around Harry as his head rested on her chest, much like a personal guardian angel. Her head was resting against his godson's head. He took Hermione's seat beside the bed.
It has been an agonizing four days of waiting for Harry to wake up. Ever since he appeared from god knows where with Diggory's lifeless body and the traitorous rat in tow, everything had turned upside down. Suddenly, he had his freedom back, his name was about to be cleared. The traitor who put him in jail and who had been the cause of death of the two people he had loved most was now where he belongs and is now awaiting the kiss of death. But he had felt that everything was pointless if his godson did not wake up.
Poppy said he was in a really bad state when they brought him in. He felt his helplessness as she told them that he was exposed quite cruelly to the Cruciatus Curse. That along with the acromantula bite and the stress and shock that he had gone through with Voldemort's return only spelled a long and arduous fight for his life and health.
Dumbledore had granted his presence as Snuffles beside Harry's bed. He knew that the others took this fact with a suspicious grain of salt but he didn't care. His godson needed him. He really did look so much like James, Sirius thought as he gazed down at Harry. But he's got Lily's gentle soul along with those eyes of hers.
He had tried to stay out of everybody's way the whole four days, especially the Weasleys. Sirius gave in to a small smile as he remembered how each of the Weasleys had stayed watch over Harry as much as they could. Molly and Ginny, especially, seemed distraught. His heart was comforted alittle as he realized that they have adopted the young man as their own and that Harry at least had experienced a semblance of family with them.
He wondered at the amazing young man who could inspire such loyalty and love with everyone he came in contact with. Even Dumbledore and McGonagall had stayed over some shifts to check on how Harry was doing. Remus had to be forced to leave the other day so he could get some sleep.
What overwhelmed and at the same time moved him were the two best friends who had rarely left Harry's bedside. Ron and Hermione had spent almost all their free time looking over their unconscious friend. Okay, granted Hermione stayed more often but they had taken upon themselves to alternate guarding him at night even though the adults have assured them that they had the night watches covered. He actually just asked Hermione about it the other night and she worriedly replied that they both knew how bad Harry's nightmares can get. How he usually got sick when Voldemort had one of his jaunts inside the young man's head. They worried that since he came back, he might try to assault Harry in his extremely vulnerable state through his mind.
That worried him. He had never heard of how curse scars can cause aperson such ghastly nightmares. He vowed to look for the answer to the best of his abilities. He was thankful, however, when Harry had the nightmare on Hermione's watch. He saw her massage Harry's temples gently and wipe his sweaty forehead with a damp towel while she cooed words of comfort. She lightly massaged his shoulders as she waited for him to ride the nightmare out. Harry quieted at her ministrations and he saw her drift to sleep and exhaustion holding Harry's hand.
But he must have had another one. He came in the infirmary as they were talking. Hearing Harry's voice, he nearly sank down on his knees in relief. His next impulse was to run and make sure Harry was indeed alright. Now, Sirius was an impulsive man. He was also avery independent, strong-willed and powerful wizard with the Black reputation and wealth around him as he was growing up. Thus, he never really learned the concept of thinking before acting since he always managed to save the situation and avoid the consequences. But something in Harry's voice stopped him. It was hollow and riddled with a deep, seated pain from horrors that no fourteen year old boy should ever have imagined, let alone experience as he did. He halted his steps and listened to the two young people talk. He settled into the shadows and let them have their conversation uninterrupted but was alert to anything that might indicate that they needed an adult's presence. And that's when he understood how beautiful the friendship was that the two shared. His eyes teared as he remembered another friendship, another unbreakable bond between three boys and an extraordinary girl. And even if his heart was breaking with Harry's loss of control, he was enormously grateful that his godson had what he had in the presence of his friends.
When they quieted down, he waited for the tell-tale sounds of even breaths before he emerged from the shadows. And his heart broke even further when he saw the two friends in each other's arms.
He had a lot to thank these two extraordinary teenagers for. He tugged at the covers that were starting to tangle between the two bodies and tucked them in without disturbing their exhausted sleep. He could feel his heart almost burst with love for these two people whom he owed his second life. They listened and gave him a chance to prove he was innocent when everyone would have killed him on the spot. They tried to defend him against people who wouldn't. They saved his life when all others have left him to fate. And now, they've given him his freedom back.
Sirius planted a soft kiss on each teen's forehead. He vowed he would do anything to protect them. Thus, with determination in his heart, he strode from the infirmary and went straight to the headmaster's office.
"He is staying with me! I am his godfather!" Sirius roared in the Headmaster's Office.
Dumbledore said nothing as he sat behind his desk and looked at the fury in the visage of Sirius Black. He looked older and more tired than he had in years but his voice was steady and calm as he told the young man, "You must understand that the blood wards I invoked at the Dursleys have kept and are still keeping Harry alive and safe."
Sirius ran a frustrated hand in his hair as he stood up and resolutely faced the great wizard. It took every ounce of his control not to shake the headmaster. He took a deep breath to try and calm the anger he was feeling."I understand that but with the way things are going, Dumbledore, it's not helping him. I know you did what you thought best for Harry when I was captured and that you've done everything in your power to keep him physically safe. But have you even spared a thought to his mental and emotional well-being?"
Dumbledore looked as if he was struck. His eyes gave in to a deep regret he has been forced to live with ever since he deposited the fated infant at his relatives' doorstep. "I did everything I could, Sirius."
"I know," Sirius answered tiredly as he sat down again in front of the headmaster. "But since I am in the process of being exonerated, we can take a different path. Have you even told Harry why you forced him on those abominable people?" Dumbledore's silence gave him his answer. "He needs to know, Albus. After tonight, he would have to be told or else we are going to lose the wonderful person he has managed to be despite his upbringing." He looked the headmaster in the eye.
"What do you propose?" Dumbledore quietly asked.
"Let me take him in. I'll try to find ways to cure the neglect his childhood has given him. I'll train him to be as prepared as he could be for anything. I'm sure I can find people willing to help. And maybe, when we give him the answers he needs, we'll have our answer to his destiny."
Dumbledore's lips curved into a rueful smile. "I must say, Sirius, I never expected you to be this grown-up and wise."
Sirius gave a sorrowful smile at his former headmaster. "We all made mistakes which have cost us everything we fought for. But we are being given asecond chance. Those extraordinary young people have gone through alot for us to have this chance. I cannot, in good conscience, waste what they have sacrificed so much for. Harry needs to understand if we want to spare him any more emotional damage. I'm scared stiff of being the one to try and guide him and be what he needs now but I love him and would willingly sacrifice even my life so that he would have everything he should have had in the first place. He needs to be ready and he needs to come into his own and stop walking blindly into these terrors. He may have been extremely lucky in the past but I do not and will not wait for the time when his luck runs out."
The headmaster released a heartfelt sigh. "Very well. I do hope he'll forgive me when he learns everything. I did what I could, but I hope he'll learn to forgive an old man's mistakes. I did not expect to care for him this greatly. But you know Harry. And despite everything that he has gone through, you are right when you say that it is almost a miracle that he has remained the wonderful young man that he is. I hope you would still consent to include me regarding matters concerning him?"
Sirius' face broke into the first genuine smile he's had since the tri-wizard ordeal. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Harry was slowly woke up being aware of warmth and softness around him. He felt a lightness seeping into his consciousness that can only come from a much needed release. He snuggled deeper into the warmth, burying his face in. His brow furrowed a little as he thought he heard a soft gasp from somewhere near him. Memories of last night seeped into his half-asleep mind and remembered how Hermione had comforted him. He can't remember a time when he was held like that. He felt safe. Then suddenly he recalled why there was warm and soft presence beside him.
"Umm Harry..." Hermione's questioning voice reached his ears. His mind was abruptly thrust into full consciousness, now extremely aware that he was snuggling in Hermione's very warm breast.Uh, I meant chest, he berated himself silently. He slowly pushed himself off his best friend, still abit reluctant to release her reassuring presence but embarrassment was winning inside him.
"Er...um, I..uh..I'm sorry for uh..Good Morning, Hermione," he sat up and she settled next to him. He looked at her from the corner of his eye, a bit ashamed for causing the embarrassed flush of her cheeks.
Hermione was terribly aware of the position they had woken up in but her concern for her friend superceded any embarrassment and natural instinct she might have had. "How are you?" she asked, feeling his forehead.
"Much better, thanks to you." He gave her a small smile to convey his thanks. "How bad do you think it will be when I have to face them again?"
"I hope not too bad," she winced slightly, imagining the crowds at the great hall. Hermione gently touched his arm. "Harry, Sirius is still not exonerated, it's a given but they haven't released his papers yet. We're expecting the Ministry to announce it in a week or so. But it's all taken care of, so don't worry ok?"
Harry gave her a real smile. "That's still extremely good news."
She got down from his hospital bed and resumed her seat from the night before."But he's been here ever since you came back. He's been guarding you as Snuffles. You should've seen Madam Pomfrey's face when Dumbledore told her the big black dog can stay." She chuckled.
Laughing a little, Harry asked, "Where's Ron?"
"Oh, he might still be asleep but I think he'll be here in a while. We've been splitting the night watches between us."
At this point, Madam Pomfrey came in and her face lit up when she saw Harry was sitting up and having a conversation with Hermione. "Mr. Potter, I'm glad you've finally joined the land of the living again. You had us worried there for quite a bit."
"Oh I don't reckon you can get rid of me quite that easily, ma'am." Harry gave the school nurse a smile that Hermione could see was not reflected in his green eyes.
Hermione stood up, "I should leave to get ready for breakfast and so Madam Pomfrey can finish checking you up. I'll tell Ron, he'll be extremely relieved when he hears you're awake." She started to leave but turned back when Harry grabbed her hand.
"Thank you, Hermione," he said it so softly she was afraid she might start crying again. She gave his hand a tight squeeze. "No problem, just don't scare us again like that ok?" she teased him.
Straightening up, she said "I'll see you later, Harry"
He nodded and let Madam Pomfrey start her check-up.
It was an interesting day, to say the least. When the Weasleys heard Harry was up, they came down the infirmary by force. At first, it was just Ron, then twins, and Ginny with Hermione, then Mr. and Mrs. Weasley turned up after lunch and Remus made a surprise appearance. Even the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall stopped by to ask him how he was doing. They were having agrand time eating the get-well gifts that had piled up around Harry and laughing at the hyperactive antics of Snuffles when it seemed the whole Gryffindor house decided to invade the infirmary to wish Harry well.
Though they were there en force, Harry could see that each of his house members were greeting him in a tense, strained way except for those who knew him well personally. Of course, it didn't escape his notice either that Ron and Hermione- even the twins and Ginny to a point -- were somewhat acting as his buffers against the tension. Harry couldn't pinpoint the cause and it was nagging the back of his mind all day that he failed to register when Madam Pomfrey said he's well enough to be discharged the next day.
Not being able to hold it in any longer, he asked Ron straight out when it was just the three of them left. "Am I being a paranoid prat or is there something you guys forgot to tell me?"
His two best friends shared a meaningful look before they sat at each bedside. Ron started first, "Look mate, um...I know you know that they caught Pettigrew - thanks to you," he gave Harry a playful smack on the arm,"But the Ministry decided to squash the news that You-know-Who's back. They're trying to make it seem like a Death Eater attempt was made at your life with Crouch and the rat as masterminds. That's what they went to trial for."
Harry felt his face heating up and his temper rising. Snuffles got up in his bed and put a supporting paw on his hand. He looked at his godfather and he bit his cheek to abet the tantrum he felt coming.
"I'm sorry Harry, but Fudge just won't accept your version of the story even if they have Pettigrew. I think that may have been the row you half-heard between McGonagall and Fudge. Dumbledore was trying to make him see reason and start readying the wizarding world again for war. Fudge said it was unacceptable, I think he's scared he might lose his position if he announces Voldemort's, " Ron flinched when Hermione said the Dark Lord's name, "back. He released some fabricated story in the Daily Prophet a few days ago saying you were the target of an elaborate Death Eater attack."
Harry was silent with his eyes closed trying to count his temper into cooling down. In a frighteningly calm voice laced with hatred he said,"So everything I went through...Cedric's death," he almost spat,"was according to him, a complete lie."
Ron placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry mate, but that's what they're doing. If it's any consolation, Dumbledore acknowledged the Great Hall after the maze. He told them what really happened, how Diggory died. You should have seen him when he was arguing with Fudge. Blimey, I've never seen him so angry! It was bloody scary!"
"Yes, it was." Hermione agreed. "I think Fudge was a downright fool not to listen to Dumbledore. I mean, you could feel his magic flowing out of him. He was furious."
Harry had not said anything else the entire time. He was trying to sort out this latest piece of news in his head. Actually, he was such in arage that he wanted to storm to the Ministry of Magic to yell at Fudge if he only knew how to get there.
His two friends could only watch him, not knowing how to help their best friend while his godfather was seething with wrath.
Harry was leaving the Great Hall, walking to the Gryffindor Common Room with Ron and Hermione at each side. The last few days have really been a testament to how he could control his temper. With Dumbledore saying Voldemort's back and was responsible for Cedric's death on one side and the Ministry telling everybody that it was a Death Eater attack and constantly publishing disparaging articles about him in the Daily Prophet on the other side, the Hogwarts student body was slowly being torn apart.
Of course, the fact that he was in the middle of these two opposing views of events only made him more liable to suspicion. Going to class alone was impossible since students seem to take this as consent to approach him and start their own inquisitions. The Weasleys and Hermione had unofficially assigned themselves as bodyguards against such personal ambushes as they seem to have worked out his schedule without his knowledge. He was never without at least one of them the whole time, and he didn't miss their warning glances at the other students who even dared think to approach him with questions. They have also seemed to take it upon themselves to make everything seem as normal as possible. He loved it best when they half dragged him to sit by the lake or just walked around the grounds after classes. They all seemed to discuss everything except what happened when he was around. Harry could still feel their worried glances on him all the time though. He couldn't help it, he was still having nightmares of Voldemort's return and he knew Ron could hear him every time he had one. And of course, he passed on this information to Hermione without fail.
This particular walk to their Common Room has been harder than most. It was the last day of term and they were on their way to gather their things and go back home for the summer holidays. Dumbledore had given a tearful tribute to Cedric and Harry had fought extremely hard against the tears that threatened to fall. Halfway through the service, Hermione has slipped her hand under the table and squeezed his hand in support. He squeezed back and gave her a look that said he was fine though it was the farthest from what he was feeling.
Harry could feel his heart dropping heavily in his stomach. He would be stuck again with the Dursleys, he could tell. Neither Dumbledore nor Sirius has told him otherwise and he had the heavy feeling that it had something to do with the bloody blood wards Dumbledore had placed in Privet Drive. He could feel an angry protest rising in his chest and fought against his every instinct to storm the headmaster's office and demand that he be placed in Sirius' care.
Sirius. Thinking about his godfather still gave him a small smile. At least, one good thing came out of all of this, like Hermione pointed out. Sirius was free. He saw his godfather again one Hogsmeade weekend after he was exonerated. He was undeniably younger looking and he was starting to look like the engaging young man he saw in his parents' wedding photo.
Totally preoccupied with his thoughts of Sirius, he nearly collided with Cornelius Fudge. The Minister looked a bit flustered and he was carrying asmall sack with him.
"What do you want?" Harry growled angrily. He could feel Ron and Hermione tense up on each side of him.
Fudge looked a bit bewildered at first before his face sharpened. "Watch your tone with me, young man. Have you forgotten who you're talking too?" At this point, several students had gathered at their exchange.
Harry's eyes flared with contempt. "I know exactly who I'm talking to. I'm talking to a doddering old fool and coward who is so enamored of his position and lineage that he can't even face the possibility of accepting Voldemort's return without soiling himself and everyone else he tries to hide the truth from. A truly hateful man who would rather have hundreds die at the hands of amadman than try to do the right thing. Believe me, I can't forget who you are even if I try."
Fudge's face turned into a nasty purple color reminiscent of Uncle Vernon."You're as mad as they say you are!" He took a threatening step toward Harry before stopping, noticing the other two angry teens who were holding their wands at ready at Harry's side. Harry himself, was clutching his wand as though itching for a reason to use it.
Fudge looked around, seeing the number of students that have gathered around them, he thrust the sack he was carrying at Harry's free hand. "Here are your winnings," He raised his voice slightly, "There was supposed to be a ceremony to present it but given your mental state..." The Minister immediately turned to leave but Harry grabbed his arm.
"I don't want your blood money," He tried to thrust the sack back.
"I am warning you for the last time young man, let go of my arm," Fudge inserted a note of panic in his voice as a manic gleam entered his eyes.
Harry's temper shot up. He was about to curse the minister when he felt a calming hand close around his arm pulling him back. Hermione's hand went to his back, and gently tried to calm him down. She sidled to his side and in asoothing but firm voice, whispered in his ear, "Breathe Harry, you're letting him win by playing into his game." Harry could feel some of the anger dissipate as her words made their way into his raging psyche. He didn't register Ron stiffened a little at his left at Hermione's whispered advice.
He gave a disgusted sigh as he released the purple-faced Minister. He looked at Fudge straight in the eye and then said in a clear, composed voice, making sure he was heard by everyone in the hall, "I apologize for my hasty actions, Minister Fudge. You must understand that Cedric was a respected friend of mine and for your office to demean his memory like what you are doing, I'm afraid my emotions took hold of me." With that parting shot at the now agape Minister, Harry calmly turnedonhis heels and went straight for Gryffindor tower.
"They all look like I'm about to blow up and would start hexing people left and right!" Harry disgustedly seated himself in the empty compartment they found as they made their way in the train.
"Well, think of it this way Harry, we're a shoo-in for the house cup next year because they're all going to be crapping themselves at the thought of making you angry," Fred said with a snicker. Hermione rolled her eyes as she took the seat next to Harry, while Ron was guffawing loudly at the mental image Fred gave them.
George sat down across Harry and nodded his assent. "Don't you see, this is a perfect opportunity to take over the school. We can do any prank we want because Filch would start soiling himself the second you glare at him." He lapsed into a moment of supposed deep concentration. "Maybe you'll even be able to petrify Mrs. Norris to a feline heart attack!'
Everyone in burst out laughing as they all remembered the time in Harry's second year when the school thought he was the Heir of Slytherin.
The compartment door opened and Malfoy, with Crabbe and Goyle at either side, greeted them with his standard smirk.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" Malfoy smirked as he arched his eyebrow. "A blood traitor party complete with the token mudblood and psychotic mascot." Harry immediately rose from his seat and instinctively positioned himself in frontof Hermione and took a menacing step towards the blond haired bully.
Ron blocked Harry's path and glared at the Slytherin. "If you know what's good for you, you'll leave right now, Malfoy."
"Ooh I'm so scared! What are you going to do, Weasel? Try to comfort Potter again so maybe he'll give your family some galleons?" Malfoy turned to Harry, "You chose the wrong side, Potter. I told you he'll be back! Diggory was the first! And he's going to come for them next and..."
Malfoy's comment was lost in the melee of hexes that erupted from the people in the compartment.
The six teens were all standing with their wands drawn at the three fallen Slytherins, wincing a little at the after-effects of six blinding hexes thrown at the same time.
"Interesting. Who used the Fununculus?" Fred asked.
"I did." A sheepish Hermione said while Ginny, still giggling over the effects of the mixed hexes on the three, sputtered, "I was calvus spell."
"Oh so that's why Malfoy went bald!" George exclaimed holding his sides in laughter. "Well, my partner in crime, let's clear out the trash and look for Lee, eh?"
"Let's" Fred replied. And they moved the three hexed students with their feet none too gently.
The remaining four students were still having much needed laughs when Neville joined their compartment. Of course, they had to tell Neville about it all over again and they had another round of laughs.
In the middle of Ron describing how Crabbe looked like with barnacles on his face, Harry stood up and took something from his trunk. "I'll be back guys."
He walked towards the end of the train, looking for the twins and resolutely ignored the stares and whispers from the compartments he passed. He found the twins discussing what looked like an elaborate prank with their friend Lee. "Can I talk to you guys for second?" The twins got up and followed Harry in a secluded corner in between compartments."What's up, Harry," Fred asked. Harry thrust the small sack he was carrying at George. "You guys take it. I don't want it. Use it to fund your joke shop or something."
Fred and George looked googly-eyed at Harry. "Are you mad, mate? This must be.." George muttered trying to count inside.
"A thousand galleons. I hope it's enough to help you guys out. I don't want it. I didn't earn it. I certainly don't need it either." Harry said with a determined face.
"Harry, we can't accept this." George tried to give the sack back to Harry.
"Use it. God knows we'll need laughter with what's coming." Harry's face darkened at the thought. "If it helps, then just think of me as your silent partner. Just please take the bloody sack and use it for good."
Fred and George looked at each other. They seemed to me having a conversation with their facial expressions.
"If you really do insist, Harry." Fred said.
"I do. Look, if you don't take it, I'm just gonna bloody leave it there for someone to find," Harry had a stubborn expression on his face which told the twins he would really do what he was threatening to.
George sighed. "Ok, we accept. It's a deal, partner." The three teenagers shook hands.
"Just one thing," Harry said while shaking George's hand. "Could you please buy Ron a new set of dress robes? Don't tell him where the money came from."
Fred had a thoughtful look on his face, again not a good sign from either twin."Would you prefer if we bought a glaring orange one or baby pink with ruffles?" he asked keeping as straight a face as he could.
Harry was still chuckling as he reached the compartment with his friends.
Harry was slowly dragging his trunk behind him, trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Ron and Ginny had taken off as soon as they saw their Mum waiting for them at King's Cross.
Hermione was walking beside him with a pensive look on her face. She seemed to be scanning the crowds for someone. Her eyes flickered to her parents who were waiting patiently but still hasn't spotted her. She grabbed Harry's arm as she walked faster. "C'mon Harry, I'd like to introduce you to my parents."
Harry half-jogged trying to keep up with Hermione dragging his arm. She let go as she threw herself at the fairly tall man with curly brown locks, open engaging face and dazzling white teeth.
"Daddy!" Hermione had her arms around her father as he picked her up slightly in a hug. He put her down only to give her to the slender middle-aged version of Hermione next to him. "Mum, I missed you." The hug Hermione gave her Mum was a little less exuberant but no less loving and tender.
"Mum, Dad, this is my friend Harry Potter. Harry, these are my parents Dan and Emma Granger."
Dan shook the young man's hand as he took in the amazing friend Hermione had written them about for years. He was slightly small for his age and though he looked to be on the side of skinny, he carried himself with a grace and energy that can only come from athletic pursuits. His hair was wild beyond decent description but it was the deep green eyes which seemed to bore into your very soul that caught his attention. They weren't the eyes of afourteen year old boy. They looked like the eyes of someone who had the weight of the world on their shoulders.
"Nice to meet you, sir, Mrs. Granger" Harry offered her hand to Emma Granger who he saw was like an altered version of Hermione. She had wavy dark, blonde hair which was cut in a small bob. Her face had the same shape as his friend with a slightly narrow nose and lips. But her eyes were Hermione's eyes- intelligent, sparkling, warm, deep chocolate brown ones.
"Call me Emma, and this is Dan." Emma Granger said as she moved to give the teenager a small hug. "By the way Hermione talks about you, we feel as we've known you for years."
"Mum!" Hermione was shaking her head with a small smile and her cheeks tinged with a slight flush.
"C'mon darling, it's our right as parents to embarrass you in front of friends from time to time." Dan Granger laughed at his daughter's reaction.
"Is this a private party or can I join in?" a deep baritone asked from Harry's shoulder as Emma released him.
Harry was shocked, "Sirius!" He immediately hugged his godfather."What are you doing here?"
"I'm picking you up, what else do you think, kiddo?" Sirius laughed. Harry looked shell-shocked while Hermione was beaming with her mother at her side already wiping tears.
"What....You really mean it? I'm leaving the Dursleys? I mean, I'm coming with you?" Harry still couldn't believe it.
"Yes, yes, and yes. I am going to start being the godfather I ought to be to you, Harry. You never have to go back to those horrible people ever again." Sirius looked his godson straight in the eye. "I'm sorry you had to live there, kiddo. I'll make it up, I promise."
Harry couldn't say anything. There was a humongous lump at his throat and he felt that if he said something, he might start bawling like a baby right there at King's Cross so he just hugged his godfather again hoping it will be enough to express the joy he felt at having a real home to go to. "You know, pup, you really have to thank your very special friend here. She was the one who stunned the rat. And then she did everything legally possible to expedite my exoneration and the approval of my guardianship of you. She is a very special young woman," Sirius whispered to Harry while still hugging him.
Harry pulled away and discreetly brushed the tears that had escaped his eyes. He turned to Hermione, so utterly grateful for the stroke of fate that allowed her to be his friend for the past four years. He shuffled in front of her, looking at his feet, not knowing how to thank this wonderful person for helping him find a new home.
Delicate arms wrapped around him suddenly and he turned his head towards the wonderful scent that he knew only as his best friend. He couldn't speak, and only proceeded to hug the girl tighter. He felt so safe when her arms were around him like this. And now, he knew, she would do anything to keep him safe. He vowed in his heart that he would be a better friend and make her feel more appreciated. He swore he would die protecting this girl. Even from myself, a voice said at the back of his mind.
Slowly releasing Hermione, he looked at her face. He could see where tears streaked her cheek. He gently brushed them away, and looked into her warm brown eyes. "Thank you so much, Hermione. I can't.... I don't know how to thank you."
Hermione nudges him lightly. "Don't be silly,you don't have to do anything. That's what friends do. It's only what you would do for me. What you've already done for me for so many times."
Harry's face became so solemn and serious, Hermione briefly wondered if she had said anything wrong. The he gave her a genuine smile, a smile that she could see reached his beautiful emerald eyes.
"Yes, I would. And more."
He hugged her again briefly before releasing her. Dan was holding Emma, who was seriously crying by this time. He was surprised to see Mrs. Weasley right beside her, also looking like she's bawling her heart out. Sirius was a little teary-eyed but he seemed to be looking at everyone with amusement lurking behind his dark eyes. Ginny appeared to be a bit torn between looking mutinous and happy while Ron clearly felt uncomfortable with the sudden show of emotions. He gave Harry a big grin and flashed two thumbs up at him. The twins, however, were holding each other making a big show of crying complete with handkerchiefs they constantly dabbed daintily at their eyes. Of course, their mother couldn't see what they were doing but as soon as Harry and Hermione burst out laughing, she turned and saw the mock drama, earning each twin aplayful smack on the head.
Mr. Weasley smilingly walked over to Sirius clapping him on the back."Take care of Harry, hear?"
'I will, thanks Arthur."
With that, Mr. Weasley turned to the brood of redheads and hurried them out of King's Cross with their children hurriedly saying goodbye to one another and Mrs. Weasley enveloping both Harry and Hermione in a tight hug before leaving.
As the Weasleys were walking away, Hermione turned to Harry. "We have to go to, Harry. Have a good summer ok?"
Harry was grinning, "Of course I will, thanks to you."
Hermione blushed and then did something she never had before in the past. She briefly touched Harry's cheek, worry seemed to be clouding her eyes for amoment before she reached up to kiss his other cheek. It all happened so fast, she was already walking away with her parents waving goodbye before Harry registered the gesture. "Bye, Harry. Take care. And be sure to write me!" she shouted over the din of the people around the station.
Sirius was seriously trying to keep a straight face as he watched Harry watch Hermione leave King's Cross. With a lopsided smile, the teenager briefly touched the cheek where she kissed him before he seemed to compose himself and became the junior marauder that he rightfully was.
"So where are we going home again?" Harry asked with a big smile lighting his eyes.