Disclaimer: I wish I owned things beside anxiety and poor health, but alas.
The return to Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix turned out to be far less triumphant and coming later then anybody expected. But still, nobody in the house slept, waiting and worrying, not without a cause.
"Nymphadora, Remus, finally. Where have you been?
Mrs Weasley was already halfway through dreary corridor when she stopped suddenly at the sound of closing door and seeing only three people standing, where there should be four. The thumping sounds of descending feet shook her out of the creeping numbness, that took over at the unwelcome sight.
Ron jumped off the last step, socked feet sliding a bit on the polished wood floor and pushed through the small crowd, but it was Hermione, fast on his heels who asked.
"Harry? Where is he?"
Mad-eye limped forward, taking out the bag from his coat and then enlarged it, passing it to Hermione.
"Take it upstairs, girlie. You troublemakers take the trunk." He mentioned toward twins, who stood far too still, frowning, no sight of good humor on their youthful faces.
"No! Nobody will go anywhere till you tell us where is Harry!" Screamed Ron standing tall and proud and scared in the dark corridor, dressed up in his maroon pj's with indian pattern that ended a whole inch above his ankle. Hermione's hand snuck closer, grasping the fried edge of his sleeve, searching for comfort, mouth pressed tightly to stop the sob, that was already threatening to get out.
"He is gone." Whispered Lupin in defeated tone, voice carrying, his eyes trailing on the dark woodwork at his feet.
"Stop it, you overdramatic shit!" Growled Moody, tired of the man's attitude, making people jump in place at his sudden exclamation." To answer your question, youngling, we have no idea where he is. Your friend packed up essentials and run off."
It was like a dam has burst, filling the house with angry noise, changing quick into the buzz of hornet's nest. For so few people, they surely knew how to make a lot of noise. Sirius's voice carried over the others, filled with fear, breaking halfway.
"Then what are we waiting for, he must not be gone for long. We need to search every place he knows off, he wouldn't know how to get here."
"SCUM! LIARS! TRAITORS! MUDBLOODS IN ANCESTRAL HOUSE OF BLACK! I SHOULD HAVE CURSE YOU THE MOMENT YOU LEFT MY LOINS. SHAME! SHAME AND DISHONOR!"
It took some time to wrestle the curtains over vocabulary deficient portrait of the thankfully late Waldburga Black, time the others took to relocate to the kitchen, waiting in tense silence for the screams to stop. Molly, puttered around preparing tea that no one asked for, blinking out the tears while little cups crinkled in her hands. Sirius came in a moment later, slung himself onto nearby chair and put his hands in shaggy mane, barely acknowledging the steaming cup put under his nose. He was breathing hard and shallow through his nose, swallowing every few seconds, blinking off the sting in his eyes.
"We have to call the Order. " Arthur gently pried the kettle from his wife's hand, pulling her closer and looking at their diminished numbers.
"Oh yes, call the Order, but not before you tell us what you know".
"Ginny! You will let us handle it. Besides, what are you doing awake, up to your rooms."
"That's so not happening." Ron glared at his mother defiantly, jaw clenched and fingers white, clutching on the table's edge. Twins didn't even blink, crossing arms in eerie unison. Ginny was gritting her teeth, looking mutinous, deliberately slurping her tea like she was trying to say 'uh, uh, comfy here, will stay '. Only Hermione tried to avoid Mrs. Weasley gaze, but there was no question that she wouldn't move an inch for all the gold in Gringotts. "Harry is my…our best friend. We will not leave until we know what happened to him."
"Please, just tell us. Is he hurt? Did he left something?"
"As a matter of fact…" Auror ignored the scandalized 'Moody' hissed by Molly and send her a small glare, that made her mouth pinch tightly. He focused both of his eyes on Hermione. "As a matter of fact, he did. Lupin, give them their letters."
Whatever method was used to call the Order, it was effective, because Remus barely had the time to give out all the letters (sneakily hid as soon as they touched the owners hands in the simple case of 'out of sight out of mind' thinking), before the kitchen grew more crowded. Sleepy eyed people nodded to each other tiredly, confused and nervous, accepting their cups of tea or coffee, before setting themselves in their usual spots. Unscheduled meetings in dark times were never appreciated.
Finally, the room was full.
Albus Dumbledore walked in, his yellow robes a true cause for impending headache, even at the late hour still looking fresh as cucumber. He took his seat at the head of the table, peering curiously at the present teenagers who sat close to each other, their expression daring anyone to try and throw them out. And then his heart skipped a bit, because Harry was not among them, and if he knew that boy, all the king's horses wouldn't be able to keep him out of the centre of things. Which meant only one thing…
"Potter is missing." Announced Moody with his characteristic bluntness. Naturally, chaos ensured. Alastor rubbed the bridge of his nose, understandably missing working with people who knew when to shut up. Kingsley on his right appeared to share his sentiment, even if his facial expressions were hard to decipher on the best day.
"Splendid. You have dragged us at unearthly hour because Saint Potter took a midnight stroll. He probably mopes somewhere and moans about how hard he has it." Snape drawled with distaste. Moody looked at him like he saw particularly ugly worm and. He wasn't the only one, most of the order members had no sympathy for this dour man, who never made any effort at all to be, if not polite then neutral. Maybe it was too much to expect courtesy from someone who likes threatening children with death of their beloved pets and made even seventh years cry.
Moody's not so secret fantasy was dragging the man before Wizengamot and watching him take one way trip on the boat to Azkaban. Usefulness as a spy can not be dismissed, of course, but in his private opinion, it shouldn't outweigh the damage done to wizarding world. And Alastor knew very well who was the reason most of those bright kids, that thought about Auror or Healer career never made it past their OWL's. So, he observed very closely Snape's reaction for his next words. He was not disappointed.
"For a month".
For a moment there was only stunned silence. Not everybody knew the details, but it was common knowledge that Potter was under surveillance twenty four hours, seven days a week ever since he came back from school. Which didn't explain…how?
"We arrived exactly half past ten, the adults were already in bed, cousin was in his room listening to music, and I use this term loosely, playing on one of those time eating contraptions of theirs." Tonks murmured with a side of her mouth 'Computer', like it was supposed to tell them anything. Moody patted her hand without looking at her, pointedly glancing at Lupin.
"Harry's room was empty. And the smell was somewhat atrocious. The only thing out of place was that." Remus patted his coat, taking out sheet of paper, glaring at it like it somehow betrayed him.
He put the 'Congrats' card on the table next to Emmeline Vance, who immediately took it, her jaw about hitting the floor from the sheer audacity, before passing it to Strugis Podmore.
Tonks took over, pulling out the note that she found on the trunk.
"He left this where his things were hidden, under lock and key by those 'people'," there was no mistaking the derision in her voice," in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry's first bedroom." Before anybody tried to stop her she straightened the paper and started to read.
I am very sorry for worrying you. More sorry then I can say. But I am not sorry for leaving and that is one thing I refuse to feel guilty about it.
I can not offer more reasons as for 'why' ,then the the ones I already gave. I can not make things better, because it's me still breathing in and out that makes them worse and I am about to stop that only when my time comes and not for big fat bullies trying kill me. I am contrary like that. I can't come back, not now, not when I feel like if I spend another moment in enclosed space I will drown and disappear in my head and never come back.
It's the hottest summer in years and I am cold and tired, and if I am not about to get sick, I will kiss Snape on his crooked mouth, I shit you not. Sorry to say, I don't think it's the kind of sick, that will go with Pepper-Up.
I know you will try to find me, whatever from misplaced sense of duty, because you need me for this one thing that nobody talks, but everyone thinks I am ignorant about. Or maybe out of love and friendship. I know you will try.
I won't run forever. I don't plan for forever.
Just that little bit, to catch my feet, to breath without being crushed to the ground by unspoken of expectations, to walk around with no weight to my name. Dress up for a bit as any other wand waving boy among other boys, indistinguishable from any other.
So please, don't be mad?
Wish you all the luck in the world.
"What a sentimental angsty babble. Woe me…"
"Are you talking about yourself, perhaps, sir? Hoping for a peck?" Growled Charlie, rolling his shoulders like he was preparing for a fight. Fred and George mimicked puking which made Ron interesting shade of purple and green. "Or maybe you are just jealous that he could choose freedom? Had the guts to pull it off. Is trying to make something off himself."
"What he is is arrogant and reckless, and the only thing he can make of himself is canon fodder." Snarled Snape, his sallow face caught in the familiar sneer. He didn't seemed to be very concerned by the way Charlie was already pushing up the sleeves of his flannel shirt, exposing scared freckled forearms and Ron looking like he might at some point join his brother if not for Hermione's hand pushing him down. Maybe she should have done the same to Ginny, since the youngest Weasley's hand was halfway to her wand.
"What he is is clever, resourceful and sneaky." Hissed Sirius already on his feet, his mouth twisted and fists going white on the table. He barely spend any time with his godson, but Merlin be merciful to that spiteful man, for he had quite enough. "And ten times the man you will ever be."
"He succeeded in spite of his incompetence. That and luck, nothing else."
"Oh, so you think that he avoided detection for entire July by luck? " Asked coldly Remus, sending a briefest glance at Sirius, who sat down, with unreadable expression. "Do you suffer from sort of selective hearing disorder, Severus? You are peeved because he had proven you're wrong. He was cunning and that personally offends you, because you didn't see it coming. And don't you sneer at me, I am not eleven year old and distinctly remember that you sat at the front of his house few times, ergo, he fooled you too. Need a bandage for that ego of yours?" If looks could kill, Lupin would be a distinctly unimpressive smear on the nearest wall. It came as a bit of surprise that it came from him, since he usually shied away from confrontation. But then, people liked to collectively forget that a shabby sweater does not a man made. Besides, Snape was the kind of person that pushed everybody buttons just by being his normal lovable self.
"But Harry wouldn't run away, not like that. He wouldn't." Whispered brokenly Mrs Weasley, dabbing her eyes with flower patterned kerchief. Snape rolled his eyes, but for once he proved that Slytherin's self-preservation was a real thing, just sparingly exercised. Ron threw his mother incredulous look.
"But he would. He already did, last year. Harry was packed and gone and in Leaky before anyone got to him in ten minutes flat. We told you that he was miserable, but you didn't believe us."
"He had bars in the windows!" Growled George, glaring at his mother, still peeved that she didn't believe when they told her the first time.
"That's enough." Ron bristled. Hermione looked torn between standing up for her friend and bowing down before Headmaster's curt tone. Nobody looked very happy, Sirius with tightly pressed lips stared with wordless accusation at the side of Dumbledore's head. "Remus, can you show us what he wrote?"
A small notebook that was earlier resting under Lupin's palm landed in the middle ot the table, where it was snatched by eager hands. The first few pages were shifted with reverent slowness, like they contained the secrets of the universe, but then with increased agitation Sirius nearly ripped it in half. He raised his head.
"I can't read it. It's coded."
Spell after spell landed on the paper showing…nothing. Wands tapped on the thin cardboard cover, every known revealing spell cast and working in its own way… or more accurately, just making a mess more jumbled then before. Sequences of numbers changed into unreadable squiggles. Doodles became colorful blobs. In the end with one resigned 'Finite' it returned to its original form.
"And there is that. Your oh-so-smart godson's notes, full of gibberish."
Hermione got up, fed up and tired and worried, shooting her professor a haughty glare.
"Just because you can't read it doesn't mean it's useless, …sir." Fred couldn't hide a smirk while his brother was blinking off imaginary tears. Their friends were of the more serious sort, but the way Hermione could say any compliment as an insult…now, that was a special kind of talent. Mundugus Fleatcher who was the closest to the notebook, pushed it toward her with something close to 'by all means' looking over the goblet made of pure silver. She opened it on the first page, frowned and then turned it upside down, slowly rotating it. Suddenly her eyes widened and a chuckle got out unchecked, when she finally figured out a way to read it, snatched the goblet right out of disgruntled Fleatcher's hand, pouring the cheap wine down the drain and a moment later she deciphered the first few words. Then she started to laugh, tears running down, fingers touching decoded message. The relief was so sudden that she barely found the edge of her chair.
Till this moment some part of her was still convinced that Harry was kidnapped, made to write those things and then taken against his will in some elaborate plan. But this, this meant that it was real, and maybe she should be mad, but for now she knew that Harry was alright and that made all the difference in the world. Maybe even better then alright, going by the tone of his last letter that came barely ten hours ago.
Doesn't mean that she won't make him pay for worrying her so.
"Miss Granger?" Blue eyes hidden by the half moon glasses peered at her, curios, but some of the worry bled out after noticing her reaction. She cleared her throat.
"'Dear Hermione, I knew you would get there. Have fun, Harry.' That's the first sentence. He used skip code and mirror, nothing magical about it at all. "
"He used the what?"
It took few moments to explain how Cesar Cypher worked and wasn't that a treat to get one over wizards, that believed that if it can't be done by magic it can't be done at all.
"So can we translate it?" Asked Bill, already itching to know more. Codes and ciphers and long lost languages was in his lifeblood and realizing that muggle world was not devoid of those meant a lot of new possibilities.
Hermione bent her head over scribbles, pen mysteriously finding its way into her hand. Minutes tickled by and after initial few words no sounds of furious scratching penetrated the air. Finally she looked up with an expression that was difficult to interpret.
"My best friend is brilliant asshole."
Ron giggled followed by Ginny and a moment later room filled with the sound of twittering people, breaking the heavy nervous atmosphere. Hermione colored slightly, her frizzly hair covering the redness of her ears.
"So what did he write? " Asked Ginny, leaning over Hermione's shoulder, glancing at the page that translated part was on.
"Bread, granola, sugar…is that…is that a shopping list?" She asked with disbelief. "Oh, Merlin…that's so…Harry."
"Bored, salty and bit peeved Harry," added Ron with a grin, watching as Hermione's forehead hit the table as she groaned pitifully. "Well, I would be pissed too, if someone would send me somewhere I don't care to be and then not tell me anything at all."
There was nothing subtle about the way his eyes skimmed over adults in the room. Very deliberately avoiding Sirius, since the man begged, pleaded and cajoled any chance he got to get Harry to come or at the very last, to tell him what was happening. Out of everyone in the room he probably understood the most the need to just be able to walk free, even if it is just to the nearest shop for a bag of peanuts.
"Yes, but why me? Ugh…You are going to help me and…Bill, you too. Twins? Once we figure out the keys, translation will be simple, if somewhat tedious."
"Keys? As in plural?" Asked Bill, pushing his chair closer and paging through the notebook, like he was holding a map to a treasure hunt.
"I tried to skip his two pages long shopping list and cut straight to the cheese, but it has changed into string of letters. Which means that somewhere between bread and butter is a clue to the next message, a key word. We will have to find it and then figure out what other code he used. And that means we have to go through all of this, whatever he wrote, to get the tiniest bit of information."
"Oh, goody." Bill clapped his hands like Christmas came early, then copied the page few times, giving them off to his somewhat disgruntled siblings, and then happily went through the gibberish, noting carefully down every fourth word.
Above their heads already an argument brewed, if it was wise to give the task to Harry's friends who might want to cover vital information. In the end, the general feeling was that it was in their best interest to find their wayward friend safe and sound. Naturally in the typical adult fashion, they did not care much about the opinions of the teenagers. Would they care for it, they would realize that while safety was important factor, they all were aware that wherever Harry was, it made him happy.
And, as they were people that spend the most time with their bespectacled trouble magnet, they knew it was a rare case, indeed.
Most of the crowd dispersed, small teams were set to patrol the most crucial places, but with instruction to keep up the illusion, that Harry Potter was under protection and glad to be there. There was still one full month till September, and the less anybody outside the room knew, the better the chances for retrieving their wandering boy wonder.
At the single knock on the kitchen door everybody froze in place. Nobody else was supposed to be there now, at this hour. And then they heard familiar bark.
Charlie, who sat the closest to the door, slid from his seat, score of wands behind his back already waiting to unleash unholy hell should it turn into trouble. Doorknob turned. On the floor at Charlie's feet lay a rolled up wad of parchment and a single white feather. The corridor was completely empty. Somewhat bemused he sat down once again, twirling the feather in his fingers.
"Hedwig," whispered Sirius, hand travelled towards letter, unrolling it carefully.
Hedwig told me that you've finally found out, so there is no point of keeping this charade up. I am safe. Maybe even the most safe I have ever been. More importantly, I am happy.
I has plans, lot of them, all carefully noted and each place researched as far as I could, while still trapped in fluffy and doily filled hell, but then life happened and I stumbled over some wonderful people. Unusual, brilliant people who helped and continue to help me.
They are bit neurotic, unnervingly insightful and have ten thousand of quirks, but they are also caring and tactile and never boring. They don't do boring. Domestic? Utterly. Boring? Perish the thought. They are the kind of people that make you either read between the lines or sunk in the land of confusion previously unknown to mankind, so I have to dust off few of my grey cells and try to keep up. It's like playing charades daily and, while annoying sometimes, they never hold it against me if I don't get things right.
Well, lets call them William and Hamish, shall we?
They have little baby together, Kat, she is always down for cuddles on bad days, even if it ends in slobber and jam in my hair.
It looks like those are the only kisses I will be getting this summer.
I eat my own weight a day, I swear. I will come back looking like a snake that swallowed an egg and that would be tragedy. There goes my Quidditch career, watch it fly by as I wave her goodbye… but have you ever tried sushi? Or pierogi? Spicy curry? Hogwarts food is delicious, but I think I will wither and die without onion soup with olive ciabatta and lemon tea done by Mrs. She knows her tea.
Great Merlin…I adore it here. Ever heard that saying that 'every blessing ignored becomes a curse'? I'm making the best I can with a time I spend here, thanking whatever gods continue to give me those chances. I didn't know how heavy was my name till I've left it behind, even if just for the moment. If I had a choice, if things were different, I think I'd still choose them.
I spend a lot of time doing things I missed out doing as a kid. Learned to ride a bike. I'd say I had a bruise to prove it but nope, sorry, all gone by now. We took a road trip, all four of us, I think Kat had the most fun, not having to pedal anywhere. We all looked like a wet mice before we finally arrived home, but it was well worth it.
Swimming is a lot harder when you decide to go without gillyweed, and the ocean is just a notch above freezing. Never expected it to be so … encompassing.
It's scary. Beautiful but scary. And salty like Hamish, when he doesn't get his half an hour of 'alone time'.
It's funny how stars can appear so much brighter when you so rarely look up. Or sleep in a hammock because someone ( and I won't point fingers, you know who you are ) bundled you up in a ton of blankets and didn't wake you up. I hate mosquitoes.
I rode a horse. And I will tell you that it's not at all like hippogryph, I walked funny for hours and you are not allowed to laugh. Much. By the way, did you know how many studs of Aethonans are in Britain? You'd think that someone would mention that there is one more way to fly to a person who loves to fly. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. I only saw them when they were gliding in the sky, and what a view it was.
Lesson to you. If someone shows you how to hit somebody so they would drop their wand and then fall unconscious, and tell you to practice it, they don't mean knock them out. Of course, my lovely guardians thought it was the funniest thing since Monty Python but I think, that the person I've done it to didn't appreciate it, so…now I am fooling around with ex MI-5 agent and get my ass handled to me on a dinner plate.
Not that I am moaning about it, it's a very nice way to spend your time, releases endorphins, helps with blood pressure, leaves you in a puddle of ache and misery to be scrambled off the ground by well meaning pedestrian.
It's an experience.
Which is why I sleep like a hibernating bear and they have to resort to underhanded tactic to rise me up. It involves curls, puppy eyes and being called Unkie. Merlin, that one will break hearts as often as she will break bones, with dads like that.
I am of course, taking Hedwig home now, she won't deliver any messages, since I know that you would rather keep an eye on me instead of letting me be and I know what tracking charm is. Sorry guys, not going to happen.
Don't worry folks, you will hear from me, but now I have to go, there is a bucket of strawberry ice-cream with my name on it and a baby who is eyeing her Legos.
Love you and miss you all, see you soon,
"Home." Whispered Ron, gaining looks from the only residents of Grimmauld Place. "Did you ever heard him calling Dursley's house home? "
"Never. Hogwarts is his home." Hermione worried her lower lip with his teeth. "You think….that he wouldn't want to come back? "
They sat for a moment in silence, trying to imagine world where Harry Potter doesn't come back to school, isn't there for breakfast, dressed up proudly in red and gold and laughing for something Ron said, looking fondly at Hermione while packing toast for her to nibble on when she is too deep in lecture. Sitting before the match between Angelina and Alicia, absentmindedly rotating his wrists, already too focused inward to be fully a part of conversation. Chewing on sugar quills, because he liked the crunch between his teeth, a fact that made Hermione cringe and finally scream his name, only to be offered the rest of the box, like it was all excuse to share. The way he would smile, only with his eyes, when he spotted someone doing something kind, and letting it carry him through the day with just that little bit of bounce added to his steps, which in turn made people around him just that bit happier, seemingly with no reason at all.
They already found themselves missing him, the thought of him not coming back was unbearable.
"He will come back." Murmured gently Remus, sliding into a set opposite Hermione, with Sirius at his side. "He already said that, and Harry isn't the kind of person who breaks their promise, especially promise made to a friend. What we will have to do..." The man leaned closer, looking at Mrs Weasley who was chopping onions, whatever to prepare breakfast or just have an excuse to have a bit of a cry without people trying to cheer her up. He shook his head. "What we have to do is make sure that he can, at the very last spend some time with those people next year, they seem to be doing him lot of good."
"And that we will be able to see him. I don't like the idea of him sneaking and running away like a thief in the night, just so he could be both safe and content with his lot. I am sure that he would want to have all the people he loves at his side." Added Hermione, her mouth set. She never liked the thought of Harry with Dursley people and the way he seemed to shrunk every time she hugged him at the beginning of the year was filling her with justified anger. She worked hard for this friendship, damn it, so did Harry. So did Ron. They always tried to support her, even when they weren't all that happy with her, so it would be the high of disloyalty to not help him find...family. A dad or two. Little sister.
She suddenly had the vision of Harry tying pigtails on a baby girl's head, his tongue sticking to the side while he tries put elastics on wiggling baby's hair. Slowing down from that too fast pace of his to trot, so the short legs could keep up with him. Learning babytalk. Giving piggybacks. It hit her that her friend must be doing just that, living with a tiny person for whom he would fight for, because he already loved her like a little sister. They can't just take him away, not on her watch.
"It's a bit hard since we don't have idea who those people are." That made her slow down a little and refocus of Ron. "Merlin knows that the bloke deserves a bit of normal in his life. Ouch, whoa?" He glared at his only sister who none too gently jabbed him in the ribs. He caught himself just in time to see his mother sending them suspicious look. "I miss him, it's never boring with him around. "
Molly turned, misty eyed and sad, Sirius climbed up on his feet, sending them a wink over his shoulder and with a swipe of the wand, butter knife danced and started to work on a pile of still warm toasts.
Remus took out the one letter that he didn't want an Order to read, Moody and Tonks concurred. It was something that shouldn't be shared with so many strangers, as Ministry already was doing everything in their power to destroy Harry's reputation. And he knew at least one person who would use it against the child out of simple unchecked pettiness.
They bowed their heads to read the letter and afterwards shared a look among themselves.
And just like that, the decision was made.