Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

11. . . . and Perspective

by moshpit 3 reviews

Chapter 11

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 9517 words

Chapter 11: Lessons in Perspective

Mon, 15 Dec 1986

Bzzzzzng! Bzzzzzng! That the phone was ringing was, in itself, not unusual. What was unusual was the fact that the owners had only recently moved into their new home, and very few people knew their latest address and phone number.

David Kepson reached out to answer the phone, a small frown on his face. While not an imposing man, at a mere 5' 9", David was reasonably fit for his late 40's, weighing a proper 160 lbs. His grey eyes were flashing with a mix of curiosity and irritation. He was still on official leave for another week due to the relocation, and he had no wish to be disturbed with anything related to work. "Yes?"

"David?" the bright and energetic voice asked.

"Yes, this is David."

"I'm so pleased to have reached you!" David had a nagging feeling that he should recognize the voice, but the memory escaped him at the moment. He was still tired from the stress and headaches associated with transferring homes. "This is Jonathon at the Social Office."

David sighed. "Hello, Jonathon. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

David was momentarily distracted by the sound of the front door opening. His wife Margaret strolled in, two bags of groceries in her arms. Approaching 50, she still had most of the color in her dark blonde hair, whereas his was nearly grey in entirety, most of the dark brown long since gone. Numerous scattered boxes needed to be put away, and furniture waited to be arranged properly. The kitchen was finally ordered enough for them to start cooking again. And there was nothing in the world better than his Margaret's cooking.

"Yes, it has. How's that new house over in Brighton? You're off Waterhall Road, right?"

"It's nice, we have a good bit of garden and a shed out back." Rolling his eyes slightly at his wife who was staring at him curiously, David decided to cut the small talk and make the man get to the point. "What can I help you with today, Jonathon?"

The brief pause on the other end of the phone told him that there was something odd going on. "Well, uh, David, you were with the program for nearly 20 years, and we never had any complaints from the children, their therapists, or anyone else. We've just gotten a new case, a really tough situation, and all the usual rules we follow won't work. This kid, he's only six years old, but we need to get him into a good home, somewhere away from the area." Jonathon took a deep breath before finishing in a rush. "I know you and your wife wanted to lie low for a while, but you're a perfect candidate home until we can get things worked out. This kid, this - er - Harry Potter, he has absolutely no one left in the world, David. No one. And he's only six!"

David sighed heavily before looking at his wife. She was smiling at him, once again making it clear that long married couples had no secrets. "I can't make any promises, Jonathon."

Jonathon sounded incredibly chipper. "Of course not! All I want is for you to come in, and we can talk about it, maybe go see Harry in the hospital. Does that work for you?"

David looked around, but his wife was already moving into the kitchen with the groceries. She had managed to put on a few extra pounds over the years from active baking for her little side job of selling some of her best creations, but he still loved her dearly. She was far from heavy, but maybe just a little bit heavier than her short frame called for at 5' 4". He could almost smell whatever she was thinking of creating in their new kitchen. "Alright, I need to be in the city on Wednesday for some paperwork anyway. I'll drop by in the late morning, then, shall I?"

"Perfect! Thanks, David. I'll see you Wednesday!" As the line went dead, David wondered how he was going to discuss this with his wife.

Wed, 17 Dec 1986

The Social Care office for the greater area known as Surrey was centered in Epsom, a little northeast of Little Whinging, and certainly far from the geographic center of Surrey. It was, however, a very convenient location for the nearby rail station at Waterloo, and the small office was part of a row of similar little establishments on Adelphi Road.

David Kepson strolled briskly into the building, long since familiar with the slightly worn wallpaper and somewhat thin carpets. Navigating his way down the narrow hallway to the back of the first floor, he found Jonathon Taylor's office door wide open and rapped smartly on the doorframe to signify his presence.

Jonathon looked up, smiled widely, and stood waving David into the room. "Come in, come in! You're looking good, David!" With a slight twinge of envy, David noted that Jonathon's youthful appearance made it obvious that he was still clearly in his late twenties.

David walked in and nodded politely before seating himself. "Jonathon, it's nice to see you. It's been about six months now, hasn't it?" David had been working with Jonathon for the past four years, ever since he took over the position from his predecessor. David liked the younger man well enough, although he thought that Jonathon's enthusiasm could use a little curtailing; still, it was nice having one point of contact for all the paperwork and hassles the foster care program could generate.

Jonathon smiled in reply, sitting behind his desk and moving through a collection of oak tag folders before pulling out the one he was looking for. "It has. You and Margaret were moving out to the Brighton area with that relocation from the store, right? And you found that house I've got a picture of somewhere."

"Indeed." David cleared his throat. "Well, I'm a bit pressed for time, Jonathon. The missus is expecting me to be back as early as possible to try and get the downstairs furniture placed exactly how she wants it. That said, we'd like you to drop by for dinner sometime soon." David made a vague gesture toward the folders scattered across the desk. "So, do you mind?

"Right!" Jonathon flipped open the folder he had pulled out and extracted a glossy photo before sliding it across the desk. "Meet Harry Potter." He watched David for a moment as the other man became absorbed in the picture.

"This is a bit of a rough story, so let me tell you the short version. Harry is an orphan - his parents were both killed some years back in what was assumed to be a traffic accident. We haven't been able to track down the exact cause of death as we can't find any records on them yet. Apparently his father, James Potter, was an only child, and his mother, Lily Evans, had one living relative, her sister Petunia."

Flipping over a couple of pages, Jonathon leaned back in his chair. "Harry was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, but they treated him extremely poorly. They are both in processing for criminal charges of neglect, abuse, and assault, amongst other things. Harry has no living relatives that we're aware of. His aunt and uncle aren't cooperating, so we're having a bit of a time trying to straighten out the records."

Pulling out a map, he pointed to the southwest greater London area. "They were living in Little Whinging, which is why he's in my jurisdiction. As you know, we usually try to keep the kids we get in the same schools or at least in the general area, so as to minimize the shock of going into foster care. Unfortunately, this family spread a lot of nasty rumours and lies about Harry all around the community, so that's not going to work. His own cousin is about the same age, and that boy went a little hog wild with the rumours and getting other kids to pick on Harry. The cousin has also been taken in and will probably be placed with a foster family while he gets some therapy too."

Sliding out a few other sheets of paper, Jonathon leaned back over the desk and tried to summarize the reports he had already received. "Harry went into the hospital Friday night, and he's been there since. The doctors are up in arms over his malnourishment and general health. We've had a couple of preliminary psychiatric evaluations, and the best we can tell is that Harry is very smart - not a genius or anything, but definitely above average. One other thing, he doesn't react well to younger adults or even other kids. He only really relaxes around people somewhat near your age or older."

"Medically, the doctors think he'll be okay if he starts to eat right and gets plenty of vitamins. A physical fitness program would help. Mentally, the best guess right now is that, more or less, he needs about a year of very intense therapy. The doctors recommend that he be pulled entirely from school for the rest of the year to be taught at home and put back into his year with the fall term."

Drumming his fingers absently, he looked back at David. "You know, it's quite funny how things have worked out. You and your wife moved out of the area, you're older, and you've got a lot of experience. It's going to take us months before we can notify the adoption agencies that he's available because of all the paperwork and the evaluations we're going to have to set up. But you and Margaret always wanted to maybe adopt one day, and... it's not perfect, but he's really a nice kid, David." His voice took on a wheedling quality. "It's really quite convenient for everyone, especially for Harry."

David watched Jonathon for a few moments whilst periodically glancing at the green-eyed boy in the picture. Having been a foster carer for so many years, he was intimately familiar with how every child had a heartbreaking story lurking in the shadows. After realizing they would never be able to have children of their own, he and his wife had decided to follow the foster care route instead of just adopting right away. It let them feel like they were truly helping others, and they had entertained the notion of adopting for the first few years. The children that came into foster care, however, tended to be older than what they were looking for. In addition, most of them came with a serious collection of problems. The years and heartaches had slowly overwhelmed them until they decided to leave the program when his job sent him to open the first in a new chain of stores down by Brighton.

David weighed the options in his mind. Jonathon was asking for a long-term foster placement before the clearances could be obtained for adoption. That clearance would be dependent on completing a minimum course of therapy. And the child was young enough that he and his wife of twenty-five years could always petition to adopt Harry directly should they ultimately decide to do so.

David was curious to know what Harry's parents had looked like given the boy's rather distinctive hair and eye color. He finally realized that the boy's single most distinguishing features were his eyes. They were such a vibrant green, staring out from a handsome face marred by bruises and contusions. The marks of physical abuse would soon heal and fade away, but the boy's overall facial carriage fairly screamed out sorrow and misery. Could he turn his back on an innocent?

"Alright, Jonathon. Let's go meet your ward, and then I'll talk to the missus and see what she thinks."

Fri, 19 Dec 1986

"Well, Harry, I'm glad that you and David and Margaret have enjoyed spending so much time together yesterday and today. I'm very happy that you've got a new home to go to, and you'll even get a chance to learn how to fish down on the water," Jonathon said.

Behind Harry, David and Margaret shared a wry smile. They were tired and their hands were still shaking a little due to the incredible volume of paperwork they had to sign as required in the foster care guardianship transfer. David flexed his cramped fingers -- the amount of red tape became more and more daunting every time they went through the process.

Jonathon escorted the Kepsons and Harry to the foyer of the Social Office. Smiles and handshakes were exchanged, and Harry even offered a hesitant but almost tangibly real smile to everyone. They all looked up in surprise when the front door slammed open and a large man entered, yelling for someone named Cynthia.

Cynthia, a medium height honey-blonde woman, shot to her feet from the waiting area sofa where she had been sitting with her son, a dark-haired boy slightly smaller and younger than Harry. The boy immediately hid behind her back, his eyes wide and frightened.

David and Margaret moved in front of Harry, alarmed at both the size and overt aggression clear on the man's face, while Jonathon slowly held up his hands in a non-threatening manner and asked what the problem was.

This only seemed to enrage the big man further, as he began screaming profanities and threats at all and sundry, while other social workers began pouring out into the hall to see what the problem was. As the man stalked closer toward Cynthia, Jonathon placed himself between the two groups and promptly was punched in the head for his efforts.

As Jonathon fell to the floor, the little boy started screaming, and the large man continued cursing as several other social workers jumped on top of him to get him under control. It took them a few minutes to get the man down in submission, and it was only then that someone noticed the fire raging in several rooms on the ground floor.

A sudden exodus of people spilled from the building. Two men half-dragged, half-shoved the now unconscious man who started the fight out into the street. Another man helped a slightly dazed Jonathon out to the front of the office complex before crossing the street. In the distance, the siren song of a fire truck rang out over the shouts and noise from the in-building alarms and sprinklers, which had activated while the escapees were crossing the street. The sprinklers, however, seemed inadequate for the size of the blaze that was rapidly spreading to neighboring offices. The egress of dozens of people from multiple row offices crowded the sidewalk, and most people ran across the street to get away from the flames and billowing black smoke.

Jonathon staggered over to the Kepsons and Harry, motioning for them to follow him back toward the main road. As the group of four began walking toward East Street, right by the junction with High Street and Church Street, Jonathon apologized over the increasing wail of the approaching sirens. "Sorry about that, everyone! It's pretty rare we have a scene like that, but it does happen."

David placed a comforting hand on Jonathon's shoulder. "Are you okay? Think you need to sit down?"

Jonathon shook his head. "No, thanks, David. I'm sorry that it seems like all that paper work has been lost. I'll have to come out to your place someday and go through it all again. You know, it's funny - we were due to get a new computer system any day now to replace the one they took down back in October. If we had it, this fire wouldn't matter much. As it is, we're all going to be scrambling to recover what we've each been working on for months. What a mess."

Jonathon and David turned to see Margaret talking quietly with Harry, her arm around his shoulders. Harry was clearly shaken and very pale, a slight sheen of sweat on his brow, most probably from the fear and stress of the situation. The doctors still had him on a few medications and cautioned that he not over-exert himself for a couple of weeks.

David gestured to a green Opal sedan by the curb and said, "This is us. Thanks for everything, Jonathon. Drop by when you can."

Jonathon was rubbing the side of his head absently while nodding at David. "No problem. You've got all the forms for the therapy, the doctors, the schools, etcetera. Until we can get all that red tape squared away, they give you complete guardianship of Harry. I'll be out to re-do the paperwork so we have the right records at the Office at some point, right?"

After David and Jonathon shook hands, Margaret gave the young man a kiss on the cheek before Jonathon bent forward and shook Harry's hand. "It was nice to meet you, Harry. I hope you enjoy your new home."

Harry solemnly shook Jonathon's hand. The boy still looked nervous and worried over the fire. As Margaret and Harry climbed into the back seat, Jonathon leaned over to David. "Look, David, I'll be sure the application for adoption status gets delayed for a while, even with the therapy and evaluation issues, right? You can take all the time you want to help Harry get settled in before you and Margaret make up your mind. I know he's got issues, but this is pretty much that perfect case you always told me you hoped to get, a real child to raise. Give it a try, eh?"

David smiled slightly. "We'll see, Jonathon. We've been round this thing a time or two before. Thanks for the chance, though." Clapping Jonathon on the shoulder one last time, David climbed into the Opal and made sure everyone was buckled in. Easing out toward East Street, David was careful to give a wide berth to all the emergency vehicles arriving on the scene of the fire that was now consuming the entire row office building.

As David sat at the intersection waiting for traffic to give him an opening, he failed to notice Jonathon, shaking his head slightly while rubbing his face, step off the curb in front of a police car.

Mon, 4 Sep 1995, 2:36

A modest two-storey house with a light beige exterior, dark brown trim and shutters stood in the middle of a large single family plot. There was a neat yard in front and a lush garden surrounded the rest of the house. Several large trees dominated a rear corner of the garden, providing a secluded area where, if they were inclined to do so, a wizard could Apparate without fear of being accidentally spied by inquisitive Muggles.

It was also the only point you could arrive and not be automatically splinched into at least three or four pieces. Having watched Remus work out the disruption fields the hard way, Harry needed no encouragement when learning to Apparate to take it very seriously. He had yet to splinch himself, and if luck held, he never would. It looked downright unpleasant.

It was in this area where Harry arrived after portkeying from Hogwarts. He managed to keep from landing awkwardly by taking half a step forward on landing. He could feel his tension leaving him as he stood gazing at the place he had come to call home. The familiar smells and the warm sunshine streaming through the trees drained most of the resentment Harry was feeling at the world in general as he took deep breaths and began meditative exercises.

After a few moments of peace, Harry shook himself back to alertness and re-centered his mind. As Harry quickly scanned his surroundings and identified himself to the wards around the property edges, Floppy gave a sudden lurch on his head.

"Mr. Potter, I believe we should talk."

Harry sighed. "What now, Floppy? I can't say I'm exactly in the mood for word games."

"Do you recall my warning, Mr. Potter?" The hat seemed unusually tense, even by Harry's limited range of experience with the emotions of magical artifacts.

"Er, which one?" Harry knew that Floppy had been trying to score several points ever since he put the hat on his head, but recognizing which particular dire warning the hat was referring to was challenging.

"Do you think I've given you more than one, Mr. Potter?"

Harry could almost swear that the hat sounded disappointed. "Well, you seem concerned about how I'm using magic, about the actions I'm taking, the prank I pulled and probably the pranks I've got planned, how I've been treating the Headmaster and his feral pet serpent, and you want me to be a social butterfly. Did I miss anything?"

Floppy was silent for nearly a minute before replying in a tone that sounded heavy and dull. "You missed nothing, yet everything, Mr. Potter."

Harry's rebuttal was cut short when a large black dog bounded out of the back of the house in front of him and ran toward Harry, barking like mad the entire way. As Harry was about to walk forward, Floppy suddenly enlarged and engulfed his head.

"Stop!" Floppy commanded.

"What?" Harry asked, alarmed as his vision was suddenly cut off. "What's the problem?"

"You know I cannot interact with anyone, even you, once you cross the threshold of the property, do you not?" Floppy asked, returning to his normal size.

Harry considered the implications of Floppy's question. "Do you have your own core, Floppy, or are you directly connected to the flux lines somehow?"

Floppy was inert for a long time before answering. "I have something that serves as a small core, Mr. Potter. It will keep me aware for one or possibly two weeks as long as I remain a silent observer."

"What happens after that, Floppy?" Harry asked, genuinely curious.

"You don't want to know, Mr. Potter. Please don't allow it to happen." Floppy's tone was both conciliatory and demanding.

"I understand, Floppy. I'll talk to you again in the morning, then, before we go back to Hogwarts." Without waiting for an answer, Harry crossed the invisible line and followed Sirius into the house. Remus would be home soon, and Harry was dreading yet anticipating the conversation that would follow.

Sirius and Remus both had permanent rooms in the house where David and Harry lived. Harry entered and, as he turned to close the door behind him, he was engulfed in a fierce hug from Sirius.

"How's my favorite Godson?" Sirius asked.

"Your only Godson is okay, Sirius," Harry replied wryly. Then, half-dreading the answer, Harry cautiously asked, "Did you get the morning Prophet yet?" No magical delivery system worked around the property, so someone always had to venture out on the days that they wanted to get a paper like the Prophet.

Sirius released Harry and took a couple of steps back, looking down from his slightly taller perspective at Harry. Sirius did not exactly tower over Harry these days, but he still had a few inches on him, even though those inches were rapidly diminishing as the years passed.

"You're lucky you weren't here when Moony saw that article, Harry." Sirius shuddered briefly. "He came close to tearing out of here to get to Hogwarts. I had to literally sit on him to keep him from leaving. I think he was ready for another round with Dumbledore."

Harry cringed. "Er, well, it wasn't really Dumbledore's fault..."

Sirius snorted while dragging Harry into the kitchen, pulling a couple of butterbeers out along the way. "Right. I'm sure you were defending yourself, or at least you better have been, or we'll have real issues. But in the first place, it is Dumbledore's fault for allowing the presence of students who would attack you."

Harry sighed heavily but remained silent.

"Oh," Sirius spoke up. "One of the Tribe stopped by this morning, with a copy of the Prophet in hand. Grishnak, I think it was. I never could keep their names straight. Anyway, he said he'd come back tonight and see if you were in. He wants to talk to you and Remus together."

"Uh, okay." Harry was a little surprised. No one was scheduled to come out for another two weeks or so, but the coincidence with the Prophet article suggested a link of some kind. "I guess we'll find out what he wants later." Harry slumped into a seat along the wall. "Is Moony working today?"

Sirius shook his head. "No, he just ran down to the Alley to see if there's been any news since this morning. He ought to be back- "

The sound of the front door slamming cut Sirius off, and Harry sank lower into his chair. "Sirius! You won't believe what that idiot child did!" Moony shouted, his voice betraying his anger as he stopped in the hallway to take off his shoes. "I was in the Leaky Cauldron when word arrived that Aurors were being sent out to find and arrest Harry! He supposedly tried to kill a teacher!"

Sirius raised an eyebrow while glaring at Harry, who was in the process of sliding under the table. "Is that so?" Sirius called back to Remus.

"When he arrives, we need to give him a good thrashing!" Moony was saying vehemently as he stormed into the kitchen. Without even realizing Harry was there, he sat down next to Sirius and put his head in his hands. "Can you believe it? Arrest Harry? What the hell was he thinking?" Moony demanded of the table.

"Errr," Harry stared at the tabletop. "He probably wasn't thinking at all?" His voice was nearly a whisper.

Moony's head shot up, and he stared hard at Harry. Before Harry could try hiding under the table again, Moony grabbed his collar, and he was literally dragged across the table, butterbeer flying everywhere. Harry was engulfed in a fierce hug that left him wondering if his ribs were going to break. When Moony finally released him, Harry looked up to see Remus glowering balefully at him. "What the hell were you thinking?" the older man demanded in a loud voice.

Harry again started studying the tabletop. Realizing there was no adequate way to explain the events of the past days, he pulled the ponderous, stone, rune-covered "fruit bowl" toward him and swiftly emptied it of the fruit pieces. Wiping it clean with the hem of his shirt, he concentrated hard and deposited the memories of both the battle with the Slytherins and the entirety of the lesson with Umbridge into the pensieve. Sliding the bowl in front of the two men, Harry waited while they plunged into the two memories.

After resurfacing, Harry was almost amused to see them do exactly what Dumbledore and Shacklebolt had done. They stared at each other for a moment before plunging back in for a second viewing. Harry took the time to clean up the mess of the spilled butterbeer with the flannel from the sink.

When they came out the second time, Sirius looked at Harry and gave a low whistle. "Well, I can't fault you for the battle, Harry. I'm not really pleased with how you dealt with that teacher, but I can understand why you blew your top."

Harry looked hopefully at Remus who was staring out the windows of the kitchen into the backyard. "I don't know, Harry. I'm not happy with this. And the bit with the Aurors..." Remus trailed off.

Remus turned and looked at Harry. "You know the law better than I do, Harry. It's been part of your mental training for a while now. How precarious is your position?"

Harry shrugged absently. "I've been trying to avoid thinking about it. She could press charges, but I could probably press charges in return for her teaching deliberate lies. I don't think either one of us would win, but it would be a real mud fest. I'd need to walk through it with our lawyers."

Harry played with the flannel for a few moments, trying to guess how things might play out and which laws might be relevant to the situation. "I think that I'd have to bet on Dumbledore. I doubt he will let it come to charges and public trials. He'll arrange some kind of in-school punishment for me and try to pass off the Auror thing as a big misunderstanding. I don't know what he'll do to her - assuming that he'll do anything at all."

Remus looked steadily at Harry. "Let's skip the battle for a moment. Why did you really attack Umbridge, Harry?"

Harry shrugged again. "Honestly? I couldn't take it anymore. The reactions I was getting from everyone, the roadblocks that have come up since the fight in the hall, and then her whole pack of lies... I wasn't about to let that slide. She was clearly wrong, she was clearly lying, and she clearly knew it." Harry finished with a hard edge to his voice.

Sirius raised his hands in defeat when Remus looked at him, as if to signify that he was leaving the entire thing up to Remus.

Remus looked at Harry again. "Have you tried to clear the air with anyone?"

Harry made a see-sawing gesture with his hand. "A bit with Fred and George Weasley, but we didn't have time to discuss things properly. I tried to talk to Ginny, but she's pretty much avoiding me now - not that I blame her. The surprise was Neville Longbottom - he directly confronted me. I think he still harbors some protective feelings from an old crush on Ginny, and he wanted to know the truth. He knows more than anyone."

Remus got up and fetched three butterbeers, handing one to each of Harry and Sirius before opening his own. "Why not the other students?"

Harry looked surprised. "You saw the way they were looking at me in that class. It was like that the whole day. No one was willing to come within five feet of me except Neville and the Weasley twins."

Remus closed his eyes and sighed. "Harry, you're a big boy. You could talk to others if you really wanted to."

Harry snorted. "Why would I want to? They blindly believed whatever that article said, and most of them know Skeeter's full of crap."

Sirius smirked suddenly. "Even the Weasleys?"

Harry narrowed his eyes at his Godfather. "Not the twins. Or Ginny either, for that matter. Why?"

Sirius winked and smiled. "No reason, Harry. Do go on."

Harry shrugged. "What else is there? I'm a leper, or a Dark Lord, or a volatile unstable killer, or maybe all three, depending on who you want to ask."

"Give them a chance, Harry," Remus said in a placating tone. "You haven't even been there a week yet. No one knows you, and at the rate you're going, no one is going to want to know you either!"

Harry smiled nastily. "Good. Then they won't get in my way."

Sirius shook his head slowly at Harry. "I wouldn't count on that, Harry. I can think of a few who are most certainly going to get in your way, whether you want them to or not."

"Oh?" Harry had a suspicion that Sirius knew more than he was letting on.

Sirius just shook his head again and gestured for Remus to try again.

"Look, Harry, why are you at Hogwarts?" Remus asked.

Harry put down his bottle. "To get information from Dumbledore, to ransack his library, and to hopefully induce him to train me in the more advanced magic you guys can't do."

Remus dropped his head into his hands again and sighed loudly. "Okay, enough of that. We've clearly overtaxed your brain for today. You're going to have to work out those issues with Dumbledore first."

Remus pushed the pensieve back to Harry, who promptly put the memories back in his head. Remus waited until Harry and Sirius finished returning the fruit into the bowl and then rapped on the table to get their attention. "Let's talk about the fight."

Sirius leaned in. "What's the deal with that shield, Harry? You've been able to cast much better shields than that for years, and I never actually saw you perform the spell."

Harry gave a brief smile. "Right, let me explain about that..." Harry spent a solid ten minutes recapping the book on Wards he was still working through, the implications about how Wards could be tied directly to flux lines, and some of the experiments he had been conducting in the Come and Go Room. "... so, I thought that since the book claims that Wards can't be moved due to the changes in the flux lines, that it was a problem with the ambient magical energy. Since Hogwarts is located where it is, I was hoping that I could get around that with a proper buffer. The problem turned out to be the buffer just couldn't handle the load - the rocks would shatter under too much impact to the Ward. That last rock that I was tinkering with still had a weak warding shield on it, so it flared up as soon as their first attack started. It couldn't take the brunt of that first onslaught, so it went the way of the other rocks, but a little more so and took my pocket and part of my hip with it."

Remus nodded slowly. "That makes sense, Harry. It's a good line of thought. I'll see if I can obtain more references on those ideas, or at least some negative knowledge results from others that we can use to investigate more."

"What about Snape?" Harry asked. "He's clearly involved, but Dumbledore swears he questioned him thoroughly. Although he's supposed to be giving Snape the third degree again tonight, now that I think about it."

"I don't know," Remus admitted. "I'd say that the whole thing doesn't add up. It's like when we were stalking Pettigrew and he was always one step ahead of us no matter what we did. It just... well, it feels funny, you know?"

Harry started suddenly as Remus' words triggered a faint memory. "Oh! That's right... I meant to ask you something..." Harry trailed off as he tried to remember what was so important to ask Moony about.

Remus looked puzzled. "What? You wanted to ask me something?"

Harry shook his head and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Argh! This is going to be killing me all afternoon now. Someone said something I wanted to ask you about, Remus. It was important, too!"

Remus chuckled slightly at Harry's antics. "What was it about?"

Harry glared at Remus for a moment. "Something about why magic did something. If I could remember what it was about, I wouldn't be so bothered, now would I?" he asked wryly.

Their conversation was brought to a sudden halt by a sharp knock on the back door. Looking outside, Harry saw the grinning face of an older Japanese man. Despite his small stature and greying hair, the man was obviously in prime shape, judging from the whipcord muscle evident on his arms and legs. Harry quickly waved to his friend outside and rose. "If you'll excuse me, gentleman, that's my cue for a good thrashing."

Remus laughed as he sat back and nodded politely to the man on the back porch. "Better you than me, Harry. Master Gata nearly took my head off when I said we weren't sure when you'd be back to continue your lessons. Sirius and I will talk about things some more, and then we'll all talk over dinner. Go enjoy your lesson."

With a smirk at Remus, Harry turned and strolled outside, following his trainer onto the short-cut grassy lawn. He knew that he was in for a rough few hours.

Mon, 4 Sep, 7:29

The hot shower and change of clothes removed most of the damage visible on Harry, although he had a black eye that was forming nicely, and his training clothes had required magical intervention to salvage. Remus had healed the open wound on his chin before his father came back from work, but there was no denying that Master Gata had pulled out all the stops during the afternoon's training session. For his part, Harry was feeling much calmer about life after the vigorous workout. Harry privately thought that 'workout' was probably too tame a word - 'drubbing' was probably a more accurate description of his session with the Japanese man. Master Gata even had some insightful advice for Harry regarding the fight in the corridor.

Harry's adoptive father came into the room and sat down beside Remus and Sirius just as Harry was putting the last of the dishes on the large table for dinner. Harry settled down on the other side of the table, with the goblin Grishnak on his left and two empty spots at his right. The vacant seat to the left of David was never taken. The seats at the head and foot of the table were, as usual, left empty out of respect for those not present. If too many people came, such that they would need to use the three empty spots, by unspoken agreement the dinner would be held outside with conjured furniture. Those three seats stood silent, waiting for their occupants, and would be for a long time to come.

After David thanked everyone for helping prepare dinner, the food was quickly distributed, and everyone began to enjoy their repast. Before Harry could finally enquire as to Grishnak's unexpected presence, two flying objects came in through the open kitchen window, a big ball of white feathers bounding for Harry and a ball of midnight black winging for the empty seat by Harry.

The white ball of feathers landed on Harry's shoulder and promptly bit his ear - hard.

"Hedwig!" Harry scolded her, "That was uncalled for!" The snowy white owl fluffed her feathers out and bit his ear a second time. "It's not my fault!" Ignoring his protests, the owl promptly smacked his head with one wing while biting his ear a third time, almost hard enough to break the skin. "Remus! Tell her it isn't my fault! You told me not to take her!"

Remus chuckled at the owl and held his hands out in a placating gesture. "Hedwig, it isn't Harry's fault."

David smiled tolerantly at his extended family and joined the laughter around the table as Hedwig continued to abuse Harry. Everyone's attention was diverted, however, when the other winged visitor transformed into a tall, thin man with light brown hair and grey eyes with a soft /pop!/.

"What?" the tall man asked as heads swiveled his way expectantly. "Can't a gentleman stopping by for a visit get a simple 'Hello, how are you' instead of being subjected to discourteous stares? I swear, you people become more uncouth every day."

Sirius started laughing. "Edgar, the last few times you've arrived, you've been in a snit. We were waiting to hear the rant of the day."

Huffing slightly, Edgar sat abruptly in the empty seat. "I have not been in a snit as you call it. You try telling my brothers and sisters they don't have to live like vampires and that a bit of sunlight is quite nice once in a while. That they should get out and about, that modern medicine is a wonderful thing. We'll see how well you fare with that, shall we?"

Hedwig had finally stopped punishing Harry and was grudgingly tolerating his attempts to placate her with food and affectionate petting. Remus looked Edgar carefully up and down before turning to Harry.

"Harry," he said. "I want you to identify something for me. It's human in appearance, thin, rather pale, tends to be a bit broody, generally avoids daylight, likes to dress in dark colors, has an insatiable thirst and appetite, and goes into a withered sleep if unable to feed." Remus and Sirius both put on expectant expressions as they stared at Harry with false adoration.

"Let's not forget the aversion to garlic, that's rather critical, isn't it?" Edgar asked dryly.

"Huh," Harry replied, "that sounds just like one of those creatures that I'm supposed to be terrified of. I think I read about them in my Dark Arts texts. But which could it be? Oh, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, a... vampire?" Sirius chuckled at Harry's whispered theatrics.

Edgar just ignored them as he helped himself to the food on the table.

Sirius looked at Remus in fake puzzlement. "But why would a vampire eat our food, and not us? For that matter, how can a vampire even eat our food?"

Edgar cut off Remus' reply. "Variety, my dear Mr. Black, variety. This way the sharpness of the appetite is satiated, and I can savor the gradual draining of your delectable blood from those pulsing veins like a fine after-dessert wine."

Sirius chuckled and elbowed Remus in the ribs. "That was a new one, Moony. How many more do you think he can come up with?" Remus rolled his eyes in response, winking at Harry.

While the comfortable companionship continued over dinner, Remus filled Edgar in on the latest happenings of their wayward prot'g', even digging out the morning's Prophet article for Edgar to read.

Edgar sat back contentedly after finishing his dinner and contemplated the wall behind Remus for a long moment. "I think those pictures are just about perfect," he finally announced. "I'm sorry I wasn't here when you were working that process out. Are you making copies yet? I want a set."

Glancing at the poster-sized blow-ups of Snape and Dumbledore from his first hours at Hogwarts, Harry had to agree with Edgar's assessment. The quality of the reproduction from the sensory monitor had some issues at that size, but the smaller pictures were clear enough for the new plan Harry had hatched during the afternoon talk with Sirius and Remus. While they had hopes that they might be able to develop moving pictures from the monitors, Harry was happy with the static images. Harry turned to Edgar and smirked. "Not yet. We have some more work to do with them first." The glee in his voice was poorly concealed.

Remus called the attention of his scoundrel in training. "That reminds me, Harry. If the Weasleys are still in on your little effort to cut Snape off at the knees, that project is going to go into the next phase on Saturday. Then you've got that hearing in front of the ICW committee on Sunday. You do know that Saturday, the 9th, is a full moon, so I'll be out from Friday through Sunday, right?"

Harry nodded. "Don't worry, Remus. I'm sure Edgar is going to be with me at the ICW meeting just like always, and you know Cyril will be there since he's my new mentor. As for Snape, well, my involvement there is merely arranging the legal services for the Weasley's action, right?"

Most of the people at the table were grinning with Harry, except for David, who looked a little concerned. "Son, are you sure this Snape person should be dealt with like this?"

At the look of surprise on Harry's face, as well as the frown from Remus and Sirius, David held up one hand to forestall any objections. "What I meant was that if you're successful in how you plan on handling Snape, then how will you know what he's doing later?"

Remus answered the question for Harry. "From what Harry has told us, I think that Dumbledore is beginning to question Snape's loyalties. Even if we don't succeed, Dumbledore will keep a closer eye on Snape. That oath that Harry pressured Dumbledore into will work for us in this case, since Dumbledore will have to keep Harry informed of Snape's activities."

Coughing slightly, Harry hesitantly brought up a potential problem. "This raises another issue. The Headmaster is going to push me to have all of you meet with him sooner or later. How do you want to handle that? And what happens when he pushes to come /here/?"

The room fell silent except for the soft rustling of Hedwig's feathers as she happily enjoyed Harry's absent-minded ministrations. One of her golden eyes was closed, making it appear as if she was winking at them.

Sirius spoke up first. "I say, give him the coordinates and let him Apparate."

Remus winced. "Do you want to make one of the most skilled wizards alive angry with you, Padfoot?"

Sirius grinned in response. "He's not one of my favorites right now, Moony. He's not out there clearing my name, and he didn't push for me to get a trial. I think a little humility would do him some good."

Remus shook his head in exasperation. "No thanks, I don't want to be around when he gets his body reassembled. He's not going to be very friendly." Looking back at Harry, Remus asked, "Why bring him at all?"

Edgar laughed, causing Remus to frown. Edgar pointed one long, pale finger at Remus. "Surely you aren't that naive, Remus. I'd expect Albus already knows where Harry is. I'd bet that Harry had a tracer put on him long before he left Hogwarts."

Remus flicked his eyes to Harry, but Harry was only smiling beatifically. "Of course he did. I transferred it to someone's pet cat on my way out of the castle this afternoon. I was actually surprised he put it on me in such an obvious way."

Sirius gave Harry a high-five hand slap. "That's my boy!" he crowed.

Edgar just shook his head in disgust. "And you think there was just one?"

Harry and Sirius both froze and looked at Edgar. Remus started laughing. "Let's check, shall we?" Pulling out his wand, Remus ran through a few incantations before Harry developed a faint pink glow. "Ah, yes, it appears you fell for it just like he wanted, Harry. I thought we taught you better than that."

Harry held his head low for a moment. "Well, he knows roughly where I am. He certainly doesn't know where this place is, since the disruptors will have blocked the signature as soon as I entered the property. I'll certainly move it onto some random animal or student and scan more thoroughly before any future trips."

Remus nodded approvingly. "Good." Turning to Edgar, Remus inclined his head at the vampire's astute observation. "Good call." Edgar smiled in acknowledgement.

Remus turned back to Harry. ""We can expect that Dumbledore will try to convince you to bring him here. Or he will probably figure out our location and just show up one day without warning. Since the latter scenario is more likely, it would probably be better to just bring him over if and when he asks. Try to delay him a few days so we can make sure all signs of our activities are cleaned up, but we'll go ahead and start planning for his visit. Anything else you think we should worry about, Edgar?"

This time Edgar shook his head. "Not right now. This weekend will be ... interesting."

"I have something I would raise. We are concerned about this article."

Everyone turned startled eyes to Grishnak when he suddenly spoke up. They had almost forgotten he was there. Any goblin that stopped over for meals usually remained silent throughout, only talking to their target in private afterward. They could count the exceptions to this pattern on one hand, with fingers left over. While Remus and Harry had their suspicions as to why, they never pushed the issue. Edgar had never deigned comment on their speculations, so they were suspicious of what he knew on the matter as well.

"Oh? Personally, I found it amusing." Edgar affected nonchalance, but he was staring intently at Grishnak, as were Remus and David. Sirius played with the remains of his dinner, making little piles out of different things. Harry continued to groom Hedwig, content to let the others work out the meanings and undercurrents of the present situation.

Grishnak shook his head slowly. "To let such go without response will risk much."

Remus leaned his elbows on the table, clasping his hands under his chin. "Well, I don't see how this concerns the Tribes. Perhaps you could explore it a bit more with us?"

The friendly intimacy of dinner had vanished, to be replaced by a not quite comfortable silence. "The Tribes do not care, Mr. Lupin." Grishnak was toying with his messenger status ring while contemplating his glass of ale. "It is the Business that cares."

Remus and Edgar exchanged a significant look, but Harry was confused. "Hang on," he cut in. "What do you mean the Business cares? This doesn't have anything to do with that."

Edgar cleared his throat before Remus or Grishnak could respond. "Surely, Harry, you do not expect your ... ventures ... to remain secret forever?"

Harry shook his head. "No, but I doubt they will be coming to light any time soon."

There was a look of profound disappointment on the vampire's face. "Harry, what have I been teaching you for the past three years? Have you not understood any of my historical and political discussions? Re-read the article, and tell me what's wrong with it."

Harry took a deep breath and tried to get his frustration under control. Slowly re-reading the article, Harry began to develop a new appreciation for the writing of Rita Skeeter. "She stretches the facts a bit, but there's nothing technically erroneous in the story."

"So what is the problem?"

Harry tried to organize his thoughts in a more cohesive manner. "It's the spin she puts on things. She characterizes with exaggeration, she asks questions and states rumours, and while none of it is presented outright as factual, it reads as though each word she writes is indeed based on fact."

Edgar nodded. "Right. And what have I been telling you about facts?"

"Facts are irrelevant; only perception matters," Harry recited automatically.

Edgar nodded again. "And so...?"

Harry suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He knew the vampire liked to play his little logic games, but the annoying problem was that the six centuries of experience made him correct far too often. "I need to launch my own campaign to provide a counter perspective."

Edgar clapped his hands in a mocking imitation of golf spectators who were terrified of making noise to disrupt the so-called athletes. Harry shared Edgar's view that if the sport required absolute silence and no physical contact among players, then it was more of a pretentious hobby than a real sport. Playing golf with air horns, explosions, or the occasional rugby tackle would be much more respectable in his opinion and make it truly qualify as a sport. "Now, let us assume that your activities become more public, shall we? What impact will this have on the Business?"

Harry felt the connection leap out. Ever since Edgar had taken over Harry's historical and political lessons, the perspectives of so many other parties beyond wizards were introduced in a way that was simply amazing. The goblin people, for example, were broken into various enclaves, with each subset of enclaves ruled by a chieftain. The chieftain was said to rule over a Tribe of goblins. Tribes pursued many endeavors, but the truly fascinating part was that business activities were always separate from the political activities. In fact, Gringotts was the sole reason that wizards still tolerated goblins, and only grudgingly. The success of Gringotts and other less recognized goblin ventures was dependent upon one critical fact.

Prior to leaving any Tribe to work at Gringotts or some other venture, each goblin pledged to 20 years of employment and for that time to completely set aside all political activities and only do what was best for the business. It led to surly and irritable workers who wanted to be involved in the events around the world, but they all knew that their livelihoods depended on maintaining that neutral business status. So employed gobins grudgingly put up with the necessities of the situation.

Their neutrality also made them the perfect bankers, completely trustworthy in that role, despite how wizards and witches in general tended to view the so-called lesser creatures. The interesting bit is that every goblin rebellion only involved the Tribes yet never any business or business employees. The oath of service was magically binding, and to violate it was rumoured to be instant death.

Harry and his mentors had become rather intimately involved in some mutual beneficial business transactions that everyone involved wanted to succeed, albeit quietly. With the current image that Harry was projecting to the magical world, any revelation of a connection between Harry and those ventures would bring a heavy cloud of suspicion on the business. There was always the possibility that business efforts would fail. Truly disastrous, however, would be for Harry to be publicly perceived as a Dark Lord. Wizards would then question whether the rumoured oath of service was sufficient to assure neutrality and whether the Tribes might be sending workers without the oath of service into the world. The repercussions from that alone would be staggering.

Rather sheepishly, he looked at the assembled people around the dining table. "So, any bright ideas? The Prophet is the Ministry mouthpiece and they employ Rita. There's no other newspaper with as wide a circulation that we could use for our own purposes - well, nothing that's particularly respected."

After a few moments of indecision, Remus spoke up. "We'll just have to see what opportunities come up, Harry. I think it's safe to say, however, that you're going to need to start exerting some positive images to offset the current negative ones."

Harry sighed and put his head into his hands. "Wonderful. After exploding at that witch today, my reputation is probably down to the negative thousands. It's going to take a miracle to change it."

Grishnak chuckled. "Your afternoon's escapade, Mr. Potter, is a tale I shall relish recounting to the Tribes this weekend. They will enjoy it as we do, for that woman is most offensive. The Business will be rather disappointed, however. You understand -- it's nothing personal."

Harry nodded while keeping his head in his hands. "Tomorrow will be such fun," he muttered to no one in particular. Dealing with the students, dealing with the Headmaster, dancing around Snape and Umbridge and the Aurors. And Cyril would be there watching everything.

Shortly after, the group broke up, most heading off to their own homes or beds. Harry was convinced that the next day would be another exercise in frustration, and he was somewhat hesitant to discover the repercussions of his temper tantrum with the idiot Umbridge and exactly how the Aurors were going to be involved.

Harry followed David to the study, where the two spent a pleasant time discussing life at Hogwarts as Harry had experienced it. In turn, David kept Harry informed of the latest events around the store and with their friends. Every time Harry came back from a trip, even one as short at this three-day excursion to Hogwarts, they went through the same ritual, reaffirming their presence to each other. They carefully avoided discussing the three people so dear to them that were absent. Only when their yawns became more frequent did they agree to call it a night.

Completing his nightly routine, Harry paused on his way to bed to scratch Hedwig affectionately about her head. Opening the window all the way, Harry ruffled her feathers gently one last time before climbing into bed. "Good hunting, Hedwig," he called out softly. "Maybe I can talk Remus into letting you come with me soon." As his beautiful owl sailed out into the night, Harry tried to find some solace in what he hoped would be a dreamless sleep.


A big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to cwarbeck and Chreechree.

If there are any good Brit-pickers out there who have some time, I'd like to use your skills. Any volunteers for this story?

On Rita Skeeter and the belief of her articles - bear in mind that no one knows anything about Harry except (a) he's suddenly re-appeared, (b) there were rumors of his going Dark, (c) Harry is rather violent and unpredictable, is he not?, and he has demonstrated as much, and finally (d) even in canon, people knew she was a gossip writer and sensationalist, yet they still believed her over Harry or Harry's friends...

Also, due to Real Life, I will be traveling off and on for the next three weeks, as will my betas for other reasons. I will try to keep a relatively fast update cycle, but chapters are likely to be posted perhaps two at a time with a pause of a week or two between updates. Everything should be back to normal by August 1.

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