Hehe...I made a mistake. Turns out, I can only display one poll on my profile. However, as you might have noticed, I'm swapping out the poll on my profile between the four I've made. It's a sloppy fix, but the best I can come up with at the moment. And also...yeesh. I'm officially guilty of fanfiction abuse. Went to a new school around the time I forgot this, made my first actual friend, and basically had no time left. I'm working hard now, so no worries!
And just a tip...I have no clue about most of what I'm writing about. If I get something wrong here, please PM me and spare me the embarrassment of everyone noticing my slipup.
Chapter Three: Month One - The Gathering Clouds
"Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place."
Harry tilted her head back in the dim light from the lampposts, silently watching her godfather's home - her home - grow from its neighbors. The windows grated noisily as they emerged, the frames protruding from the old brick walls, so loudly that she instinctively glanced side to side, then over her shoulder, to make sure that no one had noticed the extra house that was starting to push into the nonexistent space between numbers eleven and thirteen. Ducking her head and drawing up the hood of her jacket for the hundredth time - helpfully lent to her to help her blend in with the muggles, even if the hood repeatedly fell down - she hurried across the dark street and climbed up the stairs as soon as they had popped into existence. Not bothering to knock (why should she? Only Kreacher was here, after all, and Harry herself owned the place), she opened the door and slipped inside, snapping it shut behind her. Once again, her hood slipped off, but she didn't bother to fix it.
"Kreacher!" It wasn't a call for the old house elf, but rather a welcome. The wrinkly creature was standing at attention in the shadows of the entrance hall, Regulus' locket shining against his ratty clothing, and he bowed when he knew he had been recognized. Harry smiled and took off her jacket, hanging it on a hook on the wall. She could give it back to Dudley tomorrow - she preferred cloaks.
That's right - she had accepted help from Dudley. After she made her decision to move to Grimmauld Place - therefore keeping any burden from falling on her friends - she'd simply walked out of St Mungo's, after being released, naturally, and phoned him with a borrowed cell phone. She had been a bit anxious at first, as she hadn't seen her cousin since he'd been taken into hiding by the Order, and that had been eight years ago. She needn't have worried, however - a half-hour later, Dudley Dursley had pulled up to the curb only ten feet away, looking a lot more friendly than when he and Harry had parted ways. He was thinner, too. Thin enough that, when Harry made a comment about not wanting rumors flying around about her - though she hadn't said about what - the formerly pudgy man had been able to lend her his slightly too big coat.
Kreacher scuttled across the floor to her, giant, bat-like ears bounced with his gait. He looked up at her, beady eyes gleaming in the faint light that streamed in through the window in the door, and Harry suddenly saw something else in front of her.
It looked like a house-elf, but was taller. So much taller, and it certainly wasn't about to offer her tea. She reached instinctively for her wand, but it wasn't there. Not in her back pocket, not in the pocket in her cloak, not even in the holster attached to her forearm. She looked up, eyes wide, and took a rapid step back - the creature was raising the cruel, jagged, rusty blade it had carried with it, its sneering gaze fixed on her.
"Milady, duck!" Harry didn't even register the voice; she ducked with battle-sharpened instinct, dodging under the swinging sword and throwing herself at her attacker's legs, knocking him off balance at the exact same time there was a sickening, wet thunk. Alarmed, she whirled around, going stiff as she felt and heard more than saw the beast behind her fall to the dirt. A pale hand was held out to her as she stayed crouched on the ground.
"Are you alright?"
"Poor, poor mistress. Lost all alone for so long...what has mistress been eating, Kreacher wonders? Not enough, not enough...but Kreacher can fix that!" Harry jumped as she was pulled out of the memory by Kreacher grabbing her hand and yanking her along the hallway. She stumbled badly as her feet caught on several uneven boards and once even the severed troll foot beside the kitchen door, but the house-elf didn't stop there. He bustled down another hall that Harry didn't quite remember, and then finally let go of the witch's hand as he pushed open an old oak door and bowed to her again, pushing her into the new room before disappearing into the kitchen, the sound of pots and pans banging together following him.
Harry stopped just inside the door, looking around in amazement. This could very well be the best kept room in the house: it was covered in a fine layer of dust, but the rich colors of the curtains and furniture could actually be discerned, and three lamps were shining through the windowless darkness. She sniffed cautiously, almost expecting to catch the distinct mouse-and-mold scent that coated the rest of her home, but to her surprise, a heavy, floral scent, similar to that of Trelawney's classroom met her. As she took a slow step forward, looking around, she almost expected to see the batty old professor sitting in the plush emerald armchair facing away from the door, staring into a foggy crystal ball. A faint smile curled her lips, and she sat down slowly on the couch, which was equally as green as the chair, except that the pillows were silk and a striking, if dulled, silver, and the same color trimmed the seams of the furniture.
Any amount of time could have passed as she sat there, but the next thing she knew Kreacher was bustling about, setting an ornate tray of food (which appeared to be some sort of pie) on the coffee table and then brightening the lamps' light by twisting a small knob just below the shades. Kerosene lamps. Harry was feeling more and more like she had taken a step back in time, except that she was wearing her old gray shirt and blue jeans. Kreacher bowed to her again before he left, and something like a smile spread across his face.
"Kreacher is glad that Mistress has returned home."
One Week Later:
Harry was quickly discovering how it was to shop in Diagon Alley without being recognized as the Chosen One - within only a few minutes, she'd been shoved around as she walked, had her hood nearly tugged down, and been the subject of some very degrading treatment from a young wizard barely out of Hogwarts. She ducked her head lower as she hurried along and tucked a strand of raven hair back out of sight, scowling at the cobblestones.
If the father's someone like that, I'd rather not meet him. She thought to herself, sidestepping a pile of trash that had been left in the middle of the street. Emerald eyes glanced around, and then she cut sideways into a shop, standing up straight again. Really, keeping herself from all the attention of being the 'Chosen One' and also a recently MIA witch who had come back pregnant (though that wasn't common knowledge as of yet) almost wasn't worth all this trouble. There was no one else in the tiny apothecary she stood in, and she smiled in relief, moving along a tall shelf laden with very run-of-the-mill potions ingredients. What were the components of the elixir she had read about yesterday? Mint was one of them, that much she remembered...
"Kreacher, do you know...?" She looked hopelessly to the old house elf, who had insisted on tagging along everywhere she went after her return. He proudly straightened up, reciting the list his mistress had been reading.
"Mistress needs a half pound of mint sprigs, four ounces of lavender, a handful of powdered dragon scales, and ten ounces of maple sap, along with a clear glass vial...preferably not broken, naturally." Harry thanked him quietly and jumped when a thin hand rested on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't help but overhear your list...you're making a cure for morning sickness?" The young woman was only a few years older than Harry herself, and was clearly the owner of the shop - her light auburn hair was piled on top of her head in a pristine bun, only a single ringlet curl falling against her cheeks on either side, and her dark brown checkered dress was overlaid by a white apron. There was clear sympathy in her gaze as she patted Harry's shoulders to tell her to stay still and bustled away, starting to collect the ingredients needed for the cure. Her dark gray eyes were startlingly knowing as she looked up from measuring out the maple sap. "The father left you, I suppose?"
"I...I guess you could say that." Harry murmured, trailing a hand over a polished crystal ball sitting on the counter beside her. "I don't really know what happened, though. I don't..."
"Ah...he just up and went, didn't he? No reason you can see?" The shop owner didn't let Harry deny it, starting to weigh out the mint sprigs. "That happened to me as well. Well, I wasn't preggers, but all the same...it stung. How far along are you?"
Harry stopped for a moment, trying to figure the time that had passed since she'd become pregnant, according to the healers. "About...two months, I think. It's all a bit...foggy."
"How so?" The young woman blinked quizzically, pausing just as she started to measure out the dragon scales. Her gaze met Harry's, and then she shook her head quickly. "Never mind. None of my business. Not supposed to pry, but sometimes my mouth works faster than my brain. How many are you making?"
The woman's words cut through Harry's mind like a bullet. How many? She didn't know! She looked down at her slightly bulging stomach, wondering. How many little lives were growing in there? How many children would she welcome into the world in just a few months? A moment later, she realized that the shop keeper had been asking how many potions she was making, not children. "Oh, um...enough to last until this - the morning sickness, I mean - stops."
"You're darn close to that right now, Miss. It stops sometime around the third month, give or take. Reckon you'll only need thirty, at the most. If it turns out you need more, come right back and I'll get it for you." She pressed a large paper bag into Harry's grasp, only for it to be immediately taken by the ever-protective Kreacher, who hobbled to the door to wait. The woman smiled, somewhat confused. She was obviously not a pureblood, nor used to house elves. "Been nice talking to you. The name's Casey Howland. You?"
Harry smiled from under her hood, looking backwards as she walked to leave the store with Kreacher. "Harry. Harry Potter." And then she was gone, leaving Casey standing stock-still alongside the shelves.
"Did I just make a mistake, Kreacher?" Her emerald gaze met the beady black eyes of the elf, and he hummed thoughtfully.
"I think Mistress should not have given her name. Mistress wants to keep her pregnancy a secret, so she should not have let Casey Howland the mudblood know." Harry scowled slightly, half in annoyance that she had practically handed her condition to the press on a silver platter, and half in irritation at Kreacher's die hard habits. A moment later, he hastily corrected himself. "Muggleborn, I mean. Mistress must forgive Kreacher - he is old and used to Mistress Black's ways."
"It's fine, Kreacher. Where to next?"
"New robes, Mistress. Mistress's current wardrobe will no longer fit her soon."
Harry nodded and set off through the thinning crowds, sometimes holding down her hood to ensure no one else recognized her. Madam Malkin's laid near the end of the alley, practically right beside Gringotts. She was so intent on reaching it that she never saw the tall, lanky figure that had frozen across the street.
Kreacher followed Mistress Potter loyally, mannerisms similar to a dog following a beloved owner...just only, though. The intelligent, sometimes malicious gleam in his small, beady eyes flashed about constantly, a frown adding more creases to his aged face except for when he looked at his Mistress, when the smallest smile turned up his lips and his ears tilted back just a little. He had endured a lifetime of abuse, not that he ever noted as such - he had been perfectly happy in the Black household, and only began to get used to his new life when Mistress Potter (as well as Granger and Weasley) had briefly lived in Number Twelve years ago. He wasn't as young as he'd been then. Age was certainly creeping up on him, bringing stiffness and exhaustion, particularly at the moment as he scuttled down Dragon Alley, but he wasn't going to complain. He still had the exceptionally sharp hearing of the house elves, even if his eyesight had gone almost too far for him to follow the right cloak down the winding street, and that let him hear the footsteps that rapidly approached him from behind. But he was simply an elf - no one would possibly want to capture him, because he couldn't be held in any prison and was extremely insignificant to most wizards. Mistress Potter, however...
Kreacher was not a conventionsal elf. He knew what others would have done, what he was supposed to do. He didn't do it. In a split second, it seemed that he shed all effects of age in the face of the probable danger and spun around, thrusting his hand out palm forward. Like a crack of lightning, bright violet light raced to hit the figure head on, sending witches and wizards alike hurrying to the sides of the street and sometimes into shops in fear. The victim was flung backwards, being a more immediate cause for people to get out of the way as he flew down the street, hitting the cobbled stones with a grunt of pain. Kreacher was still standing ready in front of Mistress Potter, scowling with both ears flattened and hand raised. Anger coursed through him in a way he hadn't felt since Master Regulus had died because of his quest to stop the Dark Lord, and he took a menacing step forward, but a hand landed on his shoulder and pulled him back gently.
"Blimey, mate!" The figure struggled on the ground before pulling itself - himself - upright, a hand going to his forehead. Mistress Potter hurried down the street until she was beside him and knelt on the ground next to him. Curious and a bit irritated, Kreacher followed her and peering at the man closely to see him clearly.
"Ron! I'm sorry, I swear I didn't -"
"S'okay, mate. It was the bloody elf-"
"Ron." Mistress Potter's voice went from concerned to reprimanding faster than Kreacher could squawk indignantly. The elf smirked crudely at Weasley, still squinting to see more clearly. "Kreacher was protecting me."
"He doesn't need to protect you from me! Like I'd hurt Harry bloody Pot-" he was cut off abruptly as Mistress Potter slapped one of her thin, pale hands over his mouth. She glanced around, seeming panicked, and then leaned closer to whisper.
"Don't call me that. I don't want anyone to know...you know..." She gestured to her stomach, and Ron's eyes widened.
"Yeah. I'd...reckon that's for the best. But where've you been? Me and Hermione have been looking everywhere - Godric's Hollow, the Hogwarts grounds, Merlin, we even checked Privet Drive! We've been all over Britain..."
"No, no you really haven't. I've been at Grimmauld Place."
Weasley's mouth and opened again to reply, but he quickly closed it. Kreacher croaked in delight at the stumped look on his face, and looked up to Mistress Potter. "Mistress wished to purchase robes before Weasley's untimely interruption?" Mistress Potter blinked a bit before smiling. Before she could even stand, however, Weasley grabbed her wrist.
"Wait. We've been looking for you for a reason...well, beyond the obvious. Hermione's at Fortescue's. Would you...?" After a moment, which included a dozen different emotions flitting across Mistress Potter's face, she nodded and pursed her lips, not looking particularly pleased but not displeased, either.
The odd trio retreated down the street, the opposite direction that Kreacher and his Mistress had originally been headed, as the shoppers slowly reemerged after their fright. A few disbelieving stares followed them, and Kreacher glared warningly at a short man with untidy brown hair and hundreds of freckles. His mouth was opening and closing rapidly, and to Kreacher his whispers were just audible.
He had seen Mistress Potter's face as she stood, the motion making her hood slide back.
The man slowly closed his mouth for the final time, walking away slowly, but Kreacher saw him stretch onto his toes to whisper in another shopper's ear, glancing rapidly after the small group to make sure he wasn't seen. The house elf snickered as the bolt of magic he'd conjured struck its target, but Mistress Potter's disapproving frown chased the smirk from his face faster than any punishment.
"Harry! Oh, we've been looking for you! Where have you -"
"Sh! Don't call her that, she doesn't want...you know...that getting out." Ron made a motion over his stomach to indicate Harry's pregnancy. Hermione's eyes widened with comprehension and she nodded, lips pursed together. Fortescue's Ice Cream was very emtpy - really, it hadn't been full since Florean Fortescue had been rescued with scars lacing his entire body and one arm so horribly mangled that he had to get it amputated. Of course, this, despite being very insensitive of the wizarding world, made it easy for the three to have a long-awaited conversation. One that had been postponed since almost ten months ago, shortly after Harry's disappearance.
News was passed between them in whispers, Kreacher standing beside the table and glaring angrily at anyone who wandered a little too close to ward off eavesdroppers. Harry, of course, didn't have anything she wanted to share, seeing as she barely remembered anything from the past year and didn't want to push her pregnancy troubles onto her friends, so Ron and Hermione spoke most of the time.
"...so Rose and Hugo are at Bill's, they'll be so happy to see you. But...that's not all." Hermione's voice dropped to a whisper, and she leaned across the table until she was practically in Harry's face. "Do you remember how the Ministry was pressuring you even more to join the Aurors right before you...left?" At Harry's nod, she continued. "Well, we found out why. There's a rebel group, of sorts, but they're more like the remnants of the Death Eaters. They've been forming secretly ever since just about the end of the war, maybe a bit later, and, well...they want you dead. Nothing else. They have a personal vendetta against you for killing Voldemort, and the Ministry thought that having you as an Auror would draw the fight to the professionals, not whoever you lived with. Now...Harry, I'm so glad that you're keeping you-know-what a secret. I mean, a child would be excellent leverage against you. You'd best not let word of this get out, ever. Or at least not until they're gone."
"You..." Harry's mind reeled to try and grasp the simple sentence she'd just heard. "You expect me to make my child live as an outcast? All alone, for an indefinite amount of time?" When both Hermione and Ron started to nod, Harry exploded. "No! I know what that feels like, I don't want it to happen to him...her...them...whatever! I'm not going to lock them up like I'm incapable of protecting them! I'm the bloody Chosen One, I would think I could handle keeping my own child safe!" She fumed as her voice died down, both of her friends sitting shocked in their seats.
"Harry...I'm sorry, I was making the logical conclusion. If Ron or I were being hunted, I would hide Rose and Hugo-"
"And I would be at least helping protect all four of you. I can handle one..." Harry blinked hard at the feeling that washed over her. Like instinct telling her she was wrong, but not on her loyalty. "At least one child! I mean...I've won a whole war, 'Mione. Have a little faith."
"Well...I guess you're right. Which reminds me - have you thought of any names?"
Well, I know I promised this chapter would be longer but since there's extra plot now (yay!) I figured I would break it off. Sorry. But, onto more important matters - I'm about to put up the father poll again for a tie-breaker, but as soon as the tie's broken I'm switching it to the number of children, and then gender, and then names. I have a system - don't judge. Check in every now and then to see which is up!