"WHAT!?" cried Remus. He turned to the Headmaster and asked him, "Are you sure, Albus? How long has he been missing?"

The elderly wizard raised his hands and the room quickly became silent. "Please everyone, calm yourselves," he began before turning to Remus. "I sent a letter to Harry recently telling him that I would be coming to Privet Drive this evening to bring him here to the Burrow. When I didn't hear back from the boy I became concerned and decided to make my visit earlier than I originally planned. When I arrived a short time ago, Harry's aunt and uncle where out, so I let myself in and checked his room.

Remus nodded his understanding and urged him to continue.

"It was something of a mess but nothing unusual for a teenage wizard, I would say. His school trunk, clothing and books were all still there, and his owl Hedwig was asleep in her cage. The window in his room was open, but from what the Order members who have stood guard over Harry this summer say, he often left the window open to allow Hedwig to come and go. In any case, there was no sign of a struggle, but there was no sign of Harry, either."

Mrs. Weasley gasped, but the elderly wizard just continued on.

"I was searching the rest of the house for any clue as to where the boy might have gone when his relatives returned. I must say they weren't too pleased to find me there, but, after a great deal of yelling on their part, I was finally able to persuade them to admit they hadn't actually laid eyes on their nephew for several days. At that point I decided the best course of action was for me to return here and alert the Order."

Harry wondered, should he approach the Headmaster and try to get him to notice he was right here? He hesitated, though, still feeling a combination of embarrassment and anger over the last meeting the two of them had just after they returned from the Department of Mysteries. As Harry stood there undecided, Dumbledore continued.

"I have already asked Nymphadora to Apparate to the Ministry and check if there has been any reports of Death Eater activity today, especially in the area of Surrey," he said.

"Perhaps she should check for reports of underage magic, too?" suggested Mrs. Weasley. "Remember what happened last year with Harry and those horrid Dementors!"

"An excellent idea, Molly!" he told her. "In the mean time… Sturgis why don't you and Hestia Apparate to Little Whinging to begin searching the area for any sign of our missing charge? Be sure to check the park down the street as I understand Harry likes to spend his time there. Be sure to keep an eye on his relatives' house, also, just in case he does return. While you do that, I will make my way back to Hogwarts and see if I can determine anything from the monitoring charms in my office."

"What would you like me to do, Albus?" asked the concerned werewolf.

Placing his hand on Remus' shoulder, Dumbledore said, "For now, why don't you wait here my friend. If Harry does not return to the Dursley home, the Burrow is his most likely destination. If he does show up here please contact me immediately. Likewise, you and Molly will be the first to know if I receive any news."

His shoulders slumping, Remus nodded his agreement before the Headmaster turned and disappeared into the Floo in a flash of green flames. Deciding to take his chances now that Professor Dumbledore was gone, Harry scampered up to his father's old friend and began meowing.

Lupin began to pace back and forth, rubbing his forehead with one hand. "I don't understand why Harry would have left like this, without telling anyone. I know he doesn't particularly enjoy staying with his relatives, but with Voldemort out in the open now it's even more dangerous for him to be wandering off by himself."

When Remus didn't seem to notice Harry sitting there meowing, the young cat Animagus started to pace along beside him, while continuing his vocalizations. When the worn-looking wizard turned suddenly and almost tripped over Harry, he looked down bemusedly and asked, "Does anyone know who this cat belongs to?"

"We're not sure, Remus, but my daughter has been taking care of him," said Mrs. Weasley. "Ginny, why don't you take that cat up to your room and keep him there so he isn't underfoot?"

"But Mum!" Ginny argued, "I'm worried about Harry, too! I want to stay down here so I can hear what's going on."

"Don't worry, dear, I'll be sure to let you know as soon as we hear anything. Now go on with you."

With a scowl, Ginny picked up Harry and strode out of the room, carrying him while he continued to stare at Remus, still meowing plaintively. As they left Harry heard her brother Ron, who had arrived at some point, asking their mum if someone could go and get Hermione from her parent's house.

Once upstairs, Ginny stalked into her bedroom, slammed the door closed behind her and dropped Harry on her bed.

"It's always the same!" she complained as she paced back and forth in front of the bed. "Send little Ginny out of the room when important things are happening! She's too young to hear what's going on! She's still just a little girl!" She swung around, eyes blazing, and looked down at Harry, who was listening to her intently. "I just get so tired of it… when are they going to realize I'm not a child anymore?" she finished more softly before sitting down on the bed and leaning back against the bed-board and closing her eyes.

Harry felt really bad for Ginny. After the last year he could certainly relate to people keeping things from him. After all, Dumbledore had kept important information from him, even things that he had specifically asked the old wizard about. All because Harry was 'too young' or he 'didn't want to burden him'. Didn't the Headmaster understand that ignorance could get you killed with Voldemort and his Death Eaters on the loose? Besides, he and Ginny had both been through a lot and more than proved themselves! Didn't they deserve to know about Voldemort after both their lives had been affected so deeply by the dark wizard?

Without thinking Harry climbed up into Ginny's lap and rubbed his head against her cheek in an attempt to comfort her. In response, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him gently to her chest.

"I suppose I shouldn't worry about myself when Harry could be in so much danger," she sighed and rubbed her cheek back against Harry's head. "Why is it always Harry? Hasn't he gone through enough in his life? I know he just wants to be a normal teenage boy. Why won't they let him?"

Harry was a bit surprised at how well Ginny seemed to know him. That was all he really wanted, to be left alone so he could just be normal. It was too bad that wasn't going to happen until either he or Voldemort was dead.

Harry pulled back, standing on his hind legs with his front paws resting on Ginny's shoulders. In this position his head was just about level with hers so he was looking right into her bright brown eyes.

"You are a strange one, aren't you?" Ginny asked as she reached up to scratch his ears. Harry fought to maintain his focus while she did. "Do you think Harry is going to be alright?"

Harry meowed and then bobbed his head up and down in the closest thing he could manage to a nod. Ginny's eyes widened.

"I-I'd almost think you understood what I just asked you," she said softly.

Harry meowed and bobbed his head again, then leaned forward until his nose was almost touching Ginny's. He stared into her eyes willing her to make the jump in logic.

"I didn't notice before that your eyes aren't just green. They're exactly the same green as Harry's eyes," she said thoughtfully. "And… there's a mark in the fur over your right eye, just where Harry's has his scar."

Harry's tongue darted out and licked the end of her nose and then he bobbed his head again.

Ginny's eyes widened even more, and she said in a whisper, "No... it can't be."

Harry bobbed his head and meowed again.

"Are you… are you… Harry?"

Harry meowed loudly in relief and he then rubbed his head against her cheek again.

Ginny lifted him from her lap and looked at his closely. "You …you really are Harry, aren't you?"

Harry meowed happily and again bobbed his head.

"Merlin! What happened to you, Harry?" Ginny asked, the words now tumbling out of her mouth. "Did one of Tom's Death Eaters transfigure you into a cat? Was it some cursed object? My brother Bill was telling me once about a statue of Bast they found in a tomb in Egypt. Before he broke the curse on it, anyone who touched it was turned into a cat just like you and…"

Ginny, stopped in mid-sentence when Harry gently put one paw over her mouth.

"Oh, right! You can't exactly answer me right now, can you?" she continued sheepishly. "Well, let's go and tell my mum what's going on and maybe she can sort you out."

Harry hissed and backed away from Ginny.

"Whoa! What's wrong, Harry? Don't you want my mum's help?"

Harry moved his head from side to side, and then looked toward the door.

"Oh-kay… I think I understand. You don't want my Mum to know what happened, but what are we going to do, then?"

Harry tried unsuccessfully to roll his eyes. Instead, he jumped off the bed and padded over to the closed bedroom door. Getting the idea immediately that he wanted to leave the bedroom, Ginny walked over and opened the door. As Harry darted out, she quickly followed after him onto the landing and down the stairs to the ground floor. She finally caught up with him sitting in front of the entry to the parlour. Inside, she saw Remus standing by the window staring silently out.

"Oh! So you want Professor Lupin's help, then? Fair enough," she said quietly, as she scooped him up and stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. Inside, they heard Remus begin murmuring quietly to himself.

"Professor Lupin?" said Ginny.

The wizard jumped and spun to face her, a look of sudden hope on his face. "Ginny! I think I've told you before; you don't have to call me Professor anymore. In any case, have you heard anything? Have they found Harry yet?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking," she said as she walked into the room. "I guess you could say I found Harry." She then held up Harry and then set him on the floor in front of Remus, where he sat up and looked up at his former Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

"Ginny…." the older wizard replied with a sigh, his shoulders drooping. "That's sweet that you named your cat Harry, but I'm more concerned about my best friend's only son right now."

"He's not mine and I didn't name him. This is Harry James Potter."

"Look, Ginny, I appreciate you trying to cheer me up, but I'm not in the mood for jokes. For all we know, Harry may have been missing to two or three days already and I'm really worried about him, not some stray cat you found wandering around the Burrow."

"That's right, Remus," Ginny replied tersely, her hands going to her hips. "A stray cat with black hair and green eyes, just like Harry. A stray cat that showed up out of nowhere right after Harry disappeared. A stray cat that was trying to get your attention earlier when you heard Harry was missing."

Remus stood there looking at the young witch with his mouth open. Slowly he turned are looked at Harry as he sat on the floor right in front of him. He peered at Harry closely for a moment before taking a deep breath and asking hesitantly, "Harry? Is that really you?"

Harry meowed loudly and then bobbed his head up and down.

Remus rubbed his face with one hand and let out the breath he had been holding. Uncovering his face, he crossed his arms and looked sternly at the black cat in front of him.

"The book and the notes Sirius gave you both advised you not to do this without someone there to help in case you had any problems. After the end of term I specifically advised you to seek out Minerva McGonagall's help before you proceeded, but you still went ahead and did it on your own, didn't you?"

Harry lowered his gaze from the irate wizard and hung his head.

"What are you going on about? Wasn't Harry cursed or something?" asked a confused Ginny.

"No, Ginny, he wasn't cursed," replied Remus. "Sirius was helping Harry become an Animagus like he and James were, but our missing wizard here seems to have jumped ahead in his lessons before he was really ready, and now he's stuck, aren't you, Harry?"

Harry was sure he heard a note of amusement in the werewolf's voice now. So he looked up and glared at the older wizard.

"And really," he continued, the corners of his mouth twitching up now, "what would Sirius say if he knew his godson was a cat?" With a dramatic sigh, Remus continued, "We'll have to come up with a new nickname, too. I can hardly call you 'cub' anymore. I wonder... maybe... Fluffy or... I know! Mr. Whiskers?"

Harry had suspected Remus might take the mickey out of him once he knew what his animal was, but this hardly seemed the time so he arched his back and hissed at him as the older wizard chuckled.

"Oh, alright, keep your hair on, young man! Actually, maybe you'd like to get some of that hair off, would you?"

Harry continued to glare at Remus as he heard Ginny stifling a giggle.

"Well, I suppose I have to change you back, if only so Molly will stop worrying where you've run off to this time."

Saying that, Remus pulled a wand from his pocket and pointed it at Harry. There was a flash of light and he felt the swooping sensation in his stomach and the sense of disorientation as he suddenly grew back to his normal size and shape. Straightening up from where he was crouched on the floor, Harry stumbled for a moment as he tried to balance again on just two feet. Ginny stepped forward to take his elbow and steady him until he had his feet under himself once more.

Next, Harry tried to get his mouth to work. "Me… Me…" Harry coughed and then said while shaking his head, "Merlin, it feels good to be back to normal again."

Remus just chuckled while Ginny had the courtesy to cover her mouth and try to hide her grin of amusement.

"All right! All right!" Harry sighed. "You and Sirius were both right, Remus; I shouldn't have been practicing on my own. It just got so boring back on Privet Drive! I had all this time on my hands with nothing to do and no one to talk to. I was going mad!"

Remus finally managed to stifle his amusement and asked, "Just how long were you stuck like that, anyway, Harry?"

"I'd actually been practicing partial transformations for a while now with no problems, so Wednesday night I figured that I'd give the full transformation a try. Anyway, it's Friday afternoon now so that's almost forty-eight hours all together." Harry went on to explain how he'd been unable to change back, how he'd approached Tonks the next day, hitched a ride on Mundungus and finally snuck into the Burrow earlier today.

"I couldn't get anyone to pay attention to me long enough to realize I wasn't a normal cat until Ginny. I'm just lucky she was here!"

"Yeah, I guess you were," Remus said, giving Harry a strange look. Shaking his head, Remus placed a friendly hand on Harry's shoulder and said, "Honestly, Harry, I suspect Sirius would be proud. It's an amazing accomplishment to have achieved your first Animagus transformation in so short a time."

Harry stood straighter under the praise from his former teacher, and slowly smiled as he realized that this was the first time he had been able to think of his godfather since the Ministry, without any pain.

"We better let the rest of them know you're safe now and that they can stop searching for you. Come on, let's all go to the kitchen and give everyone the good news!"

"Erm, could you give Ginny and me a moment before we go in there, Remus? I had something I wanted to tell her."

"Sure thing, Harry," the wizard replied with a mysterious smirk. "Take your time. I'll just go ahead and give Albus a Floo call while you finish in here."

After Remus left the room, Harry stepped over to Ginny. She raised her coppery eyebrows when he reached out and took both her hands in his and said, "I meant what I said there, Ginny, you really saved me this time. Also, well… I'd like to apologize. I have been ignoring you since we got back from the Ministry. I've been ignoring all my friends and that's not fair. You put yourself on the line when I needed you back then and you deserve better from me now. I can't change the past, but I promise I'll try to do better by you from now on. Forgive me?"

Ginny narrowed her eyes at Harry for a moment, but then said, "Alright, Harry. I'll forgive you on one condition."

"Name it, Ginny! I meant it when I said I really owe you a lot."

Ginny got a sly look on her face and said quietly to the dark haired wizard, "I want you to help me learn to be an Animagus, too! I think it would be bloody brilliant!"

"Sure, Ginny!" Harry said with a laugh. "I left the book and notes that Sirius gave me back at Privet Drive, but as soon as I can get my stuff here I'll lend those to you to study. It may take a while: I started right after the Christmas hols and the last month I've been working on it almost full time, but I'll do anything to help that I can."

As he let go of her hands to turn towards the kitchen, Ginny looked at him closely for a moment and said, "Say, Harry, about the idea of a new nick name? How about 'Paws'?"

"Paws?" Harry said thoughtfully.

"I don't know, I just thought... Padfoot and Paws? It just seemed like they would kind of go together."

"Yeah! I think I like it," Harry decided with a grin.

Smiling, the two of them walked out the door together to join Remus and Mrs. Weasley, and let the rest of her family and the Order know that Harry was alright.

~ End ~