Come the weekend, Severus let people know he'd be away from the castle for at least a few hours; when Dumbledore questioned him further, he merely said that he wished to visit with his godson once more before the school year started in order to remind the boy that there would be differences in how 'Professor Snape' and 'Uncle Severus' spoke to him in school, as the lad was starting Hogwarts this year. While he certainly wished to be there for his godson on a personal level should the boy become homesick or whatever, he wanted to make sure the lad understood that in the classroom, he'd merely be another student among the many.
Dumbledore hid a frown at that. He'd rather counted on Professor Snape favouring the Malfoy lad to cause Harry Potter to turn still further against Slytherin, but of course he couldn't say so aloud. As it was, the rest of the teachers had been quite enthusiastic in singing the praises of the reduced tensions between Houses ever since that dratted Wizarding Culture course started up, and he'd been unable to get it removed. While the course itself didn't teach anything he specifically didn't want Harry Potter to know, it led to far too many inter-House friendships for his taste. Knowing he had no real basis for objecting to Professor Snape's intended visit to his godson, though, he merely gave his usual grandfatherly nod and wished the young Potions Master a pleasant visit before heading back up to his office.
Flooing to Malfoy Manor, Severus made his way out to the terrace where Lucius and Narcissa sat a short distance apart from one another, encouraging 14-month-old Aurora to toddle between them. "Severus, good morning," Lucius called. "Come sit down. Would you care for a drink?"
"Perhaps some lemonade, if it's not too much trouble?" Severus said, taking a seat. A house elf promptly popped in and gave him a glass of lemonade, which he took with a nod to the little creature. He smiled and wiggled his fingers at Aurora, who promptly hid her face in her mother's robes. A moment later, the toddler peeked out again and wiggled her fingers back at the visitor. Severus chuckled. "She's getting so big," he commented.
"She is, and we're trying for one more," Narcissa said.
"Well, I wish you good fortune in your endeavours," Severus said. "Lucius, might I ask you to look at a couple of my memories and give me your thoughts? I am… coming to certain conclusions about a particular person's behaviour, and I do not care for them. I'd like another perspective, either to confirm the conclusions I've reached, or to offer another possible explanation."
"Of course, Severus, come to my study so we can use my pensieve," Lucius said. The two men entered the house and Severus supplied the memories. Lucius entered the pensieve, emerging again a short time later. "And the conclusions you've reached?" Lucius asked.
Severus sighed and steepled his fingers. "As difficult as it is for me to admit, I believe Dumbledore has been manipulating me for some time now, with his subtle hints about the Potter boy being the son of James. The memory I did not show, was of my visit to the Potter boy. He is… polite, enthusiastic about learning, and even greeted me as an old friend of his mother's. He was not, as I expected, a miniature James Potter with a scar on his head. In fact, I saw no sign of any scar, nor did I detect any sort of glamour on the boy. I can only conclude that Dumbledore is attempting to use me… the antipathy he expects me to have for the son of James Potter… to steer young Mr. Potter in a specific direction. Whatever that direction might be, I have a feeling it is not one in which the boy would voluntarily go."
"I agree," Lucius said. "You are aware, of course, that I have remained in contact with Sirius Black, and that Sirius was instrumental in ensuring that the Dark Lord will never return. Without divulging too many secrets, I believe I am safe in telling you that Sirius and my cousin Stephen have found evidence of malfeasance on Dumbledore's part, including withholding evidence in a criminal case, neglect of duties as a magical guardian, and outright theft."
Severus gaped like a landed fish. "But… he… he's Dumbledore!" he exclaimed. "How… I mean… surely someone would have noticed earlier!
"No one would have noticed earlier, because nearly everyone in the Wizarding World went to school under the man," Lucius pointed out dryly. "Certainly nobody would have looked in his direction for any wrongdoing, and most people who did find any would more than likely excuse it, simply because if Dumbledore takes any sort of action, it must be a good one, because he is the 'Leader of the Light' after all."
"I… no, you're right. No one would believe it of him," Severus admitted. "May I ask how you've come by this knowledge?"
Lucius leaned back in his seat and looked at the Potions Master thoughtfully. "I'll not name my sources, but it was discovered through Gringotts that Dumbledore broke the terms of the Potters' will, of which he was executor, by placing their son with Lily's sister. Furthermore, the will specified that Sirius was not their Secret-Keeper, and that he was to be young Harry's guardian in the event anything happened to his parents. Dumbledore not only personally placed the boy with Lily's sister, he either ignored it when Sirius was sent to Azkaban without a trial or else colluded in sending him there… despite knowing from the will that Sirius couldn't have betrayed the Potters to the Dark Lord because he wasn't the Secret-Keeper."
Severus groaned. "Of course, it had to be Black." But then he thought a bit more about what he'd just heard. "Wait, but Black was a member of the Order of the Phoenix… and yet Dumbledore at the very least allowed him to be imprisoned without a trial? But why would he do such a thing?"
"Think, Severus," Lucius said softly. "Put aside your animosity towards Sirius, and consider the situation. You've said it yourself, you believe Dumbledore is attempting to manipulate you to treat Harry Potter in a certain way, presumably to steer him in a certain direction in reaction to you. Would the boy be so easily steered, if he had grown up knowing the wizarding world and his place in it? Which he would have done, had he been raised by Sirius as his parents intended."
"He… no. No, you're right, Lucius. No child raised by Sirius Black would be easily steered," Severus admitted. "I'm not entirely sure how to proceed at this point. I believe Dumbledore is using me for some purpose of his own, but if I attempt to… to act in a manner other than what is expected of me, I may cause more problems than I solve."
Lucius nodded. "Perhaps act as you are accustomed to, only moderating your behaviour slightly? I am well aware of the complaints against you, and I do understand that you dislike teaching and are frankly ill-suited for the position. However, I believe I can safely say that Dumbledore will soon be too busy to worry about any changes to your interactions with the students, and that if all goes as I believe it will, you'll be able to resign after this school year."
Severus actually smiled. "I hope you're correct in your beliefs. I would love nothing more than to get away from the dunderheads and spend my time in research."
"Well, do what you can this year," Lucius said. "I know your subject is a dangerous one, and you need a certain amount of sternness in order to impress upon the children that they must pay attention to what they are doing in your class, particularly while brewing. But perhaps try to be a little more approachable if they have questions? And honestly, a slightly more even hand in distributing or deducting points might not go amiss. I know you favour Slytherin, but I frankly believe your bias, which seems as if Dumbledore has been subtly encouraging, only widens the breach between the Snakes and the rest of the school."
"You may be right about that as well," Severus admitted. "I make no promises, though. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me today."
Lucius smiled. "I believe lunch will be served soon, and I'm sure Draco would love the chance to see you once more before you become Professor Snape rather than Uncle Severus; shall we go and be social for the remainder of your visit?"
"We shall," Severus agreed, following the blond man out of the study and back out to the terrace, where they enjoyed a hearty meal and a pleasant afternoon of chat.
On 31 August, Stephen pulled up in front of #4 Privet Drive for what would likely be the last time. Petunia opened the door with a smile. "Good morning, Mr. Coyner," she greeted him as he got out of his car. "Harry's nearly ready, he just needed to empty his snake's water dish before you start loading his things."
"Good morning, Mrs. Dursley," Stephen replied with a smile. "Is Dudley looking forward to Smeltings?"
"I honestly think he's a little nervous," Petunia admitted. "But he's done much better this year, both in his conduct and in academics, so I think if he just manages to keep it up, he'll be fine."
Stephen smiled. "That's good to hear. How about you, have you any specific plans yet?"
"I'll be working as a receptionist at a new estate agency that's opening up in the village in mid-September," Petunia told him. "And I'm thinking about taking the course to get certified as an estate agent myself, but I'll decide that after I've worked there for a while. I imagine I'll learn more about that position, just from working there, so I can think about whether or not I'd be suited to it."
"That sounds like you've found yourself a perfect job," Stephen said. "I certainly hope it all works out well for you."
"Thank you," Petunia said with a smile.
Harry came running down the stairs just then. "Hi, Stephen! Everything for school is in my school trunk, and everything else is in your old trunk that you loaned me. Well, except for Suliss in her carrier, plus her regular tank."
"You sent Hedwig to London already, then?" Stephen asked, referring to the snowy owl Harry got on his final visit to Diagon Alley.
"Yes," Harry said. "You said yourself that she'd prefer it, just as she'll prefer to fly up to school rather than sit in a cage on the train all day. So, I sent Uncle Remus a note saying hello and told her to just wait there for me to show up."
"Good thinking," Stephen said. "Shall we go get your things, then?"
"Okay," Harry said with a nod. He led the way up to his room, which looked strangely bare with only two trunks, the snake tank, and the snake carrier visible besides the actual furniture that would be left behind.
Between the two, they loaded everything into Stephen's car in just a few minutes. Stephen stayed in the vehicle as Harry went back to say his farewells to his aunt.
Petunia looked at her nephew, not quite sure what to say. "I… er… I hope you like your new school, Harry," she said, a little awkwardly. "And living with your godfather from now on when you're not at school. I know I haven't been… oh, I'll be blunt, I treated you poorly for years and I wouldn't blame you if you hated me for it. But if it makes the least bit of difference, I am sorry. As odd as it might seem, I think losing my husband turned me into a better person."
Harry smiled. "You've spent most of the last couple of years trying to make up for how you treated me before," he said. "I forgive you, Aunt Petunia. I think if anyone is truly to blame, it's the person who left me on your doorstep without even asking if you wanted me."
"Will you… will you stay in contact?" Petunia asked hesitantly. "I won't deny I'm still not comfortable with m-magic and all that, but I thought maybe you could send something to Mr. Coyner and he could forward it to me in the normal mail? It… it doesn't have to be often, mind, but maybe a couple of times a year, just so I know how you're getting on?"
"Of course I will, Aunt Petunia," Harry said. "And I'm sure if you wanted to send me anything, he'd be willing to pass it along for you… I think he still uses his family's home as his mu… normal world address."
Petunia stepped forward with her arms held awkwardly, just slightly out as if she wasn't certain what to do with them. "All right, then, I guess you need to go. Be well, Harry. You're a good lad and I just wish I'd seen that sooner than I did."
Harry stepped closer and gave her the hug she seemed unsure about. "You also be well, Aunt Petunia. Enjoy the peace and quiet without two boys racketing about," he added with a grin.
Petunia returned his hug a little sadly, thinking of what could have been if she'd spent less time resenting the boy for existing, but had to chuckle at Harry's parting remark. "It's going to be so quiet, I won't know what to do with myself," she said with a chuckle of her own. "Have a safe trip to London."
"We will," Harry said, stepping out the door with a wave. "Goodbye!" Hurrying down the walk, he climbed into Stephen's Mini and buckled the safety belt.
They arrived at Grimmauld Place in good time and Dobby and Konder popped the trunks and snake tank up to Harry's room. Harry walked up, carrying Suliss, and settled her into her tank with fresh water and a meal, petting her gently and telling her he'd miss her during the school year, but that Dobby would take good care of her while he was gone.
::Dobby iss a kind keeper:: Suliss hissed in return. ::He iss not you, of coursss, ssinsse he cannot ssspeak, but he iss careful and gentle. Will the one you call Uncle Remusss alsso handle me? I like him. He iss warmer than mossst of you humansss::
::I can asssk him:: Harry told her. ::If you want him to, I think he will::
::Thanksss:: Suliss said, putting her head down and curling up in her favourite spot near, but not on, the warming-charmed rock they used in the magic-heavy house.
Harry headed back down to spend the rest of the day with Remus and Stephen, the latter of whom had moved into Grimmauld the previous week, as he no longer needed to stay in Little Whinging for the sake of Draco's primary school registration. Sirius and Diana, along with one of her muggleborn security guards, came for dinner and the group spent the evening playing board games and talking of the future. Sirius and Diana said that everything was set for Harry to stay with them at Kensington starting with the Christmas hols, ranging from letting Wills and little Harry know that it was going to happen, to preparing a press release with photographs to go out once he actually moved there. Everyone got a chuckle when Harry told Remus that Suliss wanted him to handle her regularly and why. A laughing Remus could only shake his head and agree.
"I really wish I could come and see you off tomorrow, Harry," Diana said regretfully as they prepared to leave at the end of the evening, "but security doesn't want to even think about trying to bodyguard me in King's Cross on a busy morning. I honestly can't blame them. Sirius will be able to go see you off, though, as he can get through the mundane portions of the station as Padfoot accompanying Remus."
Harry smiled. "It's okay, I understand perfectly well why it's just not something you can do. Security must have enough to worry about, with you bringing Wills and Harry to their school every day."
"That's for sure," the security guard muttered, causing more laughter all around. "It's a bit easier now that you're in the know, however, Your Royal Highness. We can put trackers on you on a regular basis now, for example. I honestly can't wait until the young Princes are old enough to be informed as well, so we can better keep tabs on them, too."
Diana laughed. "I'd like for them to be informed as well, but we do rather need to wait until my Harry develops a filter between his thoughts and his mouth, otherwise he'd be breaking the Statute of Secrecy every ten minutes!" She hugged Harry and kissed him on the cheek. "I hope you learn lots and have loads of fun at Hogwarts, Harry, and I can't wait to see you again at Christmas."
"Thank you, Auntie Di," he said, making her smile. "And thank you for coming tonight."
Sirius hugged him as well, playfully mussing his hair. "I'll apparate over first thing in the morning, pup, and you get to take Padfoot on his lead when we walk to the station tomorrow. We did consider taking you to the platform via side-along apparation, but since you're wanting to look for those kids you and Draco met in Diagon, it's better if we go through the muggle side. They'll likely have less of a problem getting to the platform if there's someone about who knows exactly where to go and how to go about it without attracting attention."
Harry laughed. "Like Padfoot won't attract attention?" he asked. "I'll see you tomorrow, Uncle Sirius."
In the morning, Harry found himself excited enough that he had to ask Stephen to apply his brown-hair-and-eyes glamour, as his hair kept cycling from lemon yellow to apple green and then to the blue of those shiny tropical butterflies he'd seen in a natural history museum. Once that was done and his school trunk shrunk and in his pocket, they only had to wait a few minutes for Sirius to arrive. Padfoot put in his appearance and grudgingly permitted Harry to buckle a collar and lead into place before they all walked out the door, headed for King's Cross.
They arrived about 10:15 and almost immediately spotted Dean Thomas coming up from the Underground with his mother and a man they didn't recognise helping him with his trunk. Remus grabbed a trolley as Stephen waved to the group. "Dean, Mrs. Thomas! Over here!"
"Hey, Harry!" Dean called cheerfully. "Nice dog! Pity you can't bring him to school with us, I bet he'd be popular in the dorm on cold nights."
Stephen snickered as Padfoot sat down and put a paw over his face. He introduced Remus and Mrs. Thomas introduced her husband Bernard while Harry and Dean chatted. Sophie and Hermione arrived almost simultaneously, and the entire group moved towards the entrance to Platform 9-3/4 once the girls' trunks were piled on the trolley with Dean's.
Remus spotted a family of redheaded children entering the station from the street and frowned. "I'm going to take Padfoot and go on ahead," he said to Stephen. "The Weasleys just showed up, and since they have no reason to be in the muggle area of the station, I don't want them to spot me here."
"Right, see you on the other side, then," Stephen said with a nod.
Remus slipped through before the Weasleys got anywhere near the platform entrance, while the three muggle families said their goodbyes. "Write often! Make sure you behave! Don't go crazy with sweets just because we're not there to tell you what to eat!" Dean and Sophie laughed at that last remark from Hermione's parents, remembering that they were dentists, while Hermione herself just looked flustered.
Stephen took pity on her. "Right, kids, it's 10:30, if you want to get a good choice of compartment, you'd best get to the platform. Hermione, you and Sophie go first… and remember, step to the side as soon as you get through, so no one bumps you from behind."
The two girls looked at each other and held hands, taking deep breaths and walking into the pillar, vanishing into it.
"Boys, you go next, then I'll follow with the trolley," Stephen said.
"My goodness, this place is packed with muggles," Molly Weasley's strident tones carried down the platform. She looked curiously at the group near the platform's entrance, but neither of the two boys lining up for a run at the pillar fit the description Dumbledore had given her of Harry Potter, so she didn't consider talking to them. According to the station clock, they had some time, so she simply paused and watched as the two boys went through, followed by the young man pushing a trolley with several trunks, but not the parents. Obviously, the children were muggleborn, but perhaps a relative of one had also been muggleborn and so was taking charge of getting the youngsters aboard the train.
The Ropers, Grangers, and Thomases snickered amongst themselves at the redheaded groupas they chatted, at both Molly's eccentric idea of muggle clothing and her obvious hunt for someone, although they didn't have any idea why a witch and her children would be on this side of the station.
At ten minutes to eleven, an increasingly worried Molly, still seeing no sign of Harry Potter, tried again. "This place is so packed with muggles," she said once more, even more loudly than earlier. "What's our platform number again?"
"9-3/4," Ginny piped up. "Mum, can't I go to Hogwarts this year?"
"Next year, Ginny, you have to be eleven before starting, you know that," Molly said distractedly, still peering about as if she expected a bespectacled black-haired boy to pop up out of hiding.
The ginger-haired witch started when the group she'd spotted earlier passed by, with one of the women turning to pointedly comment, "Nice example you're setting for your children, breaking the Statute of Secrecy like that. And if you don't want them missing the train, you'd best hurry."
Molly's mouth dropped open and anger flared in her eyes. How dare that muggle berate her? But before she could do more than take a deep breath in preparation for giving that muggle woman a piece of her mind, Percy grabbed her arm.
"Mum, she's right," he whispered harshly. "What's more, if we don't go through now, we'll miss the train altogether!"
"But… but… fine, do you have the trunks?" she asked her oldest current student. "Take Ronnie through with you, as he's never done it before."
"None of us have, Mum," Percy reminded her. "We should have just flooed in like normal, then we wouldn't have this problem." With that, he grabbed his youngest brother's hand and pulled him through the portal.
The twins followed a moment later, then Molly with Ginny. To her astonishment, she spotted the group of muggleborns waving to the Malfoy boy of all people… and he was smiling and waving back!
"I've got us two compartments," the Malfoy child called, "so that we've room for more friends as we make them. Come on, the train's going to leave soon!"
"Be right there, Draco," the brown-haired boy called back, as he turned to the young man handing the trunks up to the two girls and the tall black boy who were already aboard. "Stephen, undo me before I go," he said. The young man pulled out his wand, waving it at the boy, whose hair and eyes both turned apple green. As the child grinned, his hair went lemon yellow. "Thanks, Stephen, I'll write tonight, let you all know what House I make," he said as he swung aboard the train.
Molly looked astonished at the colour-changing hair on the boy. Either he wasn't muggleborn at all, or his metamorph talents led to an early contact, if for no other reason than to teach him how to control the talent. Well, that would explain the young wizard helping the group. She didn't think there were any metamorphs outside the Black family anymore, though. Perhaps this lad was an illegitimate child of Sirius Black? And where in Merlin's name was Harry Potter? Her boys worked together to haul their trunks aboard, with the twins scrambling on just as the whistle sounded. "Hey, Ginny, we'll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat!" one of them called before vanishing into the carriage.
Beside her, Ginny burst into tears as the train whistled and pulled out of the station. "I didn't get to meet Harry Potter!" she wailed.
Molly grabbed her daughter's hand. "None of us did," she worried. "Stop making a scene, Ginny, I have to let Professor Dumbledore know." Pulling her wand, she conjured her patronus to send the message. Then she side-along apparated Ginny home.
Once she was gone, Remus emerged from behind a pillar and waved to Stephen, who walked over to the werewolf. The two men ducked back behind the pillar, where Padfoot transformed to Sirius and all three apparated to Grimmauld Place, a little disturbed that Dumbledore had actively set someone looking for Harry, and doubly glad they'd had the scar removed at the same time as they destroyed the horcrux that had been inside of it.