No, the story isn't abandoned. Just put on the back burner because yes, Voltron took over my fandom life and is still the shiniest thing my muses want to play with. But a month or so ago, someone invited me to a Discord, the HMS Harmony, and I found an energy for H/Hr there that I haven't seen on Tumblr in years or ever on Twitter. So to all of you who remember this story fondly and have been hoping to see me come back to it, thank them.
Also thanks to Boo and Bonsly24 on that Discord for tidying up a few things before I posted!
23 December, 1991
Harry woke up and stretched, relishing the feel of the firm mattress. He wondered if he could Transfigure his featherbed at Hogwarts into something more supportive. It was early, but he didn't feel like he would go back to sleep. The empty morning stretched out before him and Harry regretted that he hadn't accepted the Grangers' invitation to stay with them for the entire holiday. The few residents he had been friendly with before Hogwarts had either gone home for good or were with their families. The staff was taking full advantage of the low occupancy to allow leave-time and complete maintenance projects.
But the schedule had been set. Harry would go to the Grangers on Boxing Day and he and Hermione would have plenty of chances to see Dean. Then on the 30th, they would all travel down to London to stay with Sirius. Pippa would be back after lunch and had promised to take Harry into Coventry for a bit of shopping with some money, converted into pounds, that Sirius had given to Dr Aymler. He had ideas for books and yarn for Hermione and was debating between artists' supplies or a Nottingham Forest jersey for Dean.
He got dressed and went downstairs in search of breakfast. The cook plied him with eggs and bangers, adding a cinnamon doughnut that she only made during Christmas, and he ate slowly. He begged a second doughnut and carried it to the lounge, thinking he might find a book or two to pass the morning.
The second he crossed the threshold, he felt a warning tingle of magic. He paused, trying to find the source. The Esperança House Christmas tree was in the lounge, with a number of packages under it. Harry had helped Dr Greene place them the night before; most were gifts to the staff.
The sensation got stronger as he approached the tree and he held out a hand, trying to pinpoint it. And then he saw a large, loosely-wrapped bundle that had not been there before. He moved forward carefully, close enough to see the name on the tag.
He was not at all surprised to see his own name in a loopy handwriting.
Harry backed out of the room and went looking for one of the doctors.
As London was closer than Hogwarts, Patrick chose to send Hedwig to Sirius. Harry kept watch in the lounge, with three books and a plate of cookies as camouflage. So far no one else had come in.
Sirius entered with Patrick and Harry stood and pointed to the bundle. Sirius pulled out his wand and cast a few detection spells. "No booby traps. It's just an enchanted object of some kind." He reached for the tag and turned it over, allowing Harry to see the writing on the other side. Sirius froze for a moment, then growled, "That son of a bitch."
"What is it?" Harry leaned in to read the tag.
Your father left this in my possession before he died. Use it well.
Sirius felt Harry recoil. He stood and moved quickly to hug the boy. The sudden reminder of his father's death was bad enough, but the implication that some wizard had snuck in to leave this was disturbing. Harry hugged back, hiding his face in Sirius' jumper.
Patrick frowned. "Can we assume that someone walked in here to leave that? Or is there some magic way to just make it appear?"
Sirius shook his head. "People can Apparate and bring objects with them. They can banish or levitate them. But I'm not aware of any spell that can make the object leave one place and appear at another on its own. Why?"
"Because I can order a review of the footage from the security cameras and see if we have an intruder on tape."
Sirius stared for a moment before making the connection to the work crews that had been in and out of the halls near the beginning of his stay, then threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, this could be perfect! I'm pretty sure it was Dumbledore and he probably Disillusioned himself. But if he didn't, being able to throw the proof back in his face when I tell him to stop trying to interfere in Harry's life…"
Patrick grinned back at him. "Let me go make a call."
Harry looked up. "How do you know it's him?"
Sirius pulled Harry over to a sofa and sat next to him. "First, it looks like his handwriting. Second, I think I know what's in there and if I'm right, Dumbledore is one of the very few people your father would have trusted with it. I'm quite furious over that, in fact. I had no idea Dumbledore had kept it for so long – it might have helped you all escape when Voldemort attacked."
"What do you think it is?"
"Your dad's invisibility cloak. It's a particularly good one – long-lasting and charmed to grow to cover anyone, even Hagrid. It's been in your family for generations." Sirius leaned back slightly, looking Harry in the eye. "You said you felt it was there?"
Harry nodded. "The minute I came into the room, I could feel there was something magical going on. And when I started looking, I could tell it was from the package."
Sirius felt his eyebrows reach for his hair. "Really? That's… interesting. How long have you been able to sense magic like that?"
Harry shrugged. "Before I knew what it was, I think. It's kind of like the feeling I'd get when I'd do ma—accidental magic. And then when we went to Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, it was everywhere. Can't you feel it?"
"I suppose I could, if I'd grown up somewhere that wasn't saturated with magic."
Harry was about to ask something else, but Mary came in with an armload of packages. "Harry, darling! Happy Christmas! When did you get here?"
An hour later, Patrick called them into his office. They stood to either side as he opened an electronic mail message and clicked on an icon. A rectangle popped up, showing a slider bar slowly changing from one colour to another. Harry leaned in, curious. Sirius was gobsmacked.
"So this thing lets you send messages right away? Kind of like those telephone things Lily always talked about?"
Patrick nodded. "It can store information. It can run mathematical computations, hence the name, if given the instructions. And now they've begun using the networking possibilities for sharing information on a platform called the World Wide Web. But here's what we want. Sorry it took so long to download. Even with them cutting it down to just the times we needed, it's a really big file." Patrick opened the file for them to view.
Sirius watched as the footage began playing back, showing the hallway and lounge in slightly grainy black and white. Harry pointed to some numbers in the bottom corner. "That gives the day and time. This was yesterday, around eleven at night."
They all focused back on the screen as a figure shimmered into view from thin air. Sirius let out a triumphant "Ha!" as they watched Dumbledore move into the lounge and lay the package under the tree with the rest. "What's the time?"
Patrick paused the video and checked. "Six minutes past eleven."
Sirius straightened. "I'll go to the security firm to make sure the employees don't talk about this—the last thing we need is a violation of the Statute of Secrecy. And then I'm going to see Dumbledore. He's almost certainly at Hogwarts. We may come back here so he can see the footage himself. Is that all right?"
Patrick nodded. "Just pop in upstairs as you usually do."
Harry grabbed Sirius' arm. "Take Mr Lupin with you? For backup?"
Sirius grinned at that. "If it'll make you feel better. He'll be nice and cranky with the full moon just a couple of days ago. Want to come, too?"
Harry shook his head. Right now the last thing he wanted to do was see Dumbledore. "No, I'll stay here. But let me know how it went."
Dumbledore settled in his parlour, an afternoon tea laid out by the house elves. The entire castle was quiet, with only a handful of students staying, and there was time to relax. He flicked his wand at the bookcase, summoning the latest Gilderoy Lockhart volume to look over for a laugh.
The flames in the fireplace turned green and Sirius Black's face appeared. "Dumbledore, I need to speak with you. Permission to come through?"
His tone suggested that the question was for form's sake only. Dumbledore set the book aside, wondering what was wrong.
"Naturally, my boy." He straightened in his chair when not only Sirius, but also Remus Lupin, came through, brushing ash from their hair and clothes. "Remus! I didn't know you were visiting. Welcome back!" He held out a hand, but Sirius stepped between them.
"I want you to tell me what the hell you were thinking leaving James' cloak for Harry to find like that!"
Dumbledore blinked, trying to parse out the completely unexpected string of words that Sirius almost snarled at him. He stalled. "I beg your pardon? I… I don't understand. What is this about?"
Remus rolled his eyes and Sirius looked even angrier. "Why did you wrap James' cloak like a gift, put a mysterious tag on it instead of signing your name, and slip it into Harry's residence at eleven-oh-six last night?"
Dumbledore's thoughts raced. He had intended to return the cloak to its rightful owner, of course. But he also wanted to see what Harry would do with such an item, once he realized what it was. Would he use it to prowl after curfew? Investigate places that were out of bounds? Would he share the secret with his friends or keep it to himself?
He certainly had not expected Harry to open it early and then go to Sirius for help.
"That's a rather specific time. How could you possibly say that?"
"We have video evidence of you Apparating into the hallway of Esperança House at that time with the package, leaving it under the tree with the presents to the staff, and Disapparating again. You were wearing robes with snowflakes on them. We can go back there and watch it again, if necessary."
What on earth does he mean by 'video evidence'?
Remus moved in front of Sirius. "He's right. We've already had to go to the security firm and take care of things there. A very precise memory charm for the man who reviewed the footage, another one for his supervisor. Good thing she hadn't reported anything to the next level yet. And then a Muggle-repelling charm for the case holding the recording of the surveillance, since removing it outright would attract notice."
"So, since you've wasted most of our day, we would like some answers. What were you thinking?" Sirius barked from over Remus' shoulder.
"I really don't understand what the problem is."
Remus had to put a hand out to keep Sirius from lunging at him. "Harry's quite upset, you know."
That focused Dumbledore's attention from planning a defence against a younger and possibly faster Sirius. "Harry? Upset? Why?"
Sirius snarled, "Why do you think? He gets a mysterious magical package with no clue as to the sender! He gets a reminder from out of nowhere about his parents' deaths! Of bloody course he's upset!"
Remus grabbed Sirius' shoulder and tried to keep his voice calm. "Headmaster, you need to tell us the truth. Why did you try to sneak an enchanted item into Harry's residence to be found on Christmas Day? Possibly opened in front of staff members who aren't aware of the fact that he's a wizard?"
Dumbledore paled. That thought had not occurred to him. Students staying at Hogwarts for Christmas had their gifts brought to their dormitory and unwrapped them there...
"What was your purpose in anonymously giving him back something that belonged to him in the first place?"
Dumbledore dissembled, "I thought it would be a nice surprise for him. That's all."
"Dragon shite!" Sirius shouted. "You don't even clean your teeth without at least three reasons behind it. Now you had better start talking or Harry will not be returning to Hogwarts!"
"We could enrol him in one of the schools in America," Remus observed. "Where did you say the little Perks girl was transferring, Sirius? Tionesta?"
Dumbledore felt the blood drain from his face.
Sirius brightened. "Yes, that was it. Northern California. The school nearest her father's new job."
"Harry wouldn't want to leave England!"
Sirius shrugged, a confident smile on his face. "He'd miss his friends, of course, but I'd gladly offer to pay tuition and expenses for any of them who'd like to join him there."
"James and Lily would never want that!"
At that, both Sirius and Remus went still and their expressions hardened. They glanced at one another before Remus turned back to him.
"As they are not here and assigned guardianship to Sirius," Remus' voice dripped with venom over that observation, "unfortunately there's no way to know that. But we can surmise that they'd want Harry to be safe and happy. And we'd like to think that Hogwarts is safe, but there's a lot of evidence piling up that says otherwise: a Death Eater hiding as a pet rat. Trolls getting into the castle. Quidditch stands collapsing underfoot—"
"Headmasters who can't mind their own business." Sirius growled.
"I promise, I was simply returning the cloak to Harry, that's all!"
Sirius stared at him with such concentration that, even though he felt no touch on his mind or magic, Dumbledore reinforced his Occlumency shields. Finally he traded glances with Remus, then spoke. "I will give you one chance to come up with a better explanation than that and share it with Harry. If he is not satisfied with what you say, I will lay out his options for continuing his education elsewhere. You'd better be a hell of a lot more convincing to him than you are right now."
The two Marauders turned toward the fireplace. Remus looked back once. "Good afternoon, Headmaster."
26 December, 1991
Pippa had finished her rounds—hardly demanding given the low number of residents at the moment—and went looking for Harry. She wanted one more chance to talk with him before the Grangers took him for the rest of the holiday. They had traded gifts along with the rest of the residents and staff and Pippa was thrilled with the little haul Harry had given her. The woolly red and gold scarf was from Hermione, a product of her needles, and charmed by one of her professors to always keep her warm. Dean had sent a small sketchbook full of drawings of the castle and some of the sights in and around it.
Harry's gift was a necklace with an enamelled red and gold pendant showing a crest with a lion and a stylized G for Gryffindor, his house at Hogwarts. Harry said he'd got a pair of professors to add a protection charm to it that would repel most malicious magical spells. Dr Aymler and Dr Greene had received similar gifts, just in case any of the three of them ran into a hostile magic user.
Pippa looked into the lounge and stopped short. The sight of Harry, nose almost pressed to the glass of the picture window, had her vividly recalling when he had first arrived at Esperança House and would watch from the window, waiting for his aunt and uncle to come back for him.
But now Harry was taller, his palms on the window sill instead of his chin and elbows. The thin and withdrawn child had become a handsome youth with an easy grin and a growing confidence in himself. As he turned, sensing her presence and smiling at her, Pippa had that first glimpse of the future, of a young man who would no longer need her as he once did, though he wouldn't care about her any less.
She tried a quip to help get rid of the sudden lump in her throat. "Waiting for someone, I see?"
Harry shrugged. "Can't help it. I haven't seen Hermione or Dean for almost a week. I miss them."
Pippa pretended to pout. "You're at that school with them all the time. We've seen you once since you left in September and that was an accident."
He gave her a cheeky grin. "That's how boarding schools work."
She crossed the room to him and ruffled his hair. "Smart arse," she said fondly.
"But you love me," he replied in a singsong voice, and Pippa was overwhelmed once more by a memory. The day she'd got through to him, drawn him into a game, and earned his trust enough that he had spoken aloud, had been the proudest day of her career until her graduation from Uni with a full nursing degree.
Now she surprised him by pulling him into a tight hug. "Yes, you impossible boy, I do love you and I am so, so proud of you. You're going to do amazing things, just you wait and see. And I'd be saying that even if you didn't have this magic thing going on."
Harry's smile wavered, showing his uncertainty over her sudden praise, and he ducked into her. Feeling him mumble embarrassed thanks against her shoulder instead of her waist brought yet another wave of memory. Before she could go on, she saw movement through the window. The Grangers' car was coming up the drive.
Harry felt her stance shift and turned, excitement lighting up his face. "They're here!" He raced out to the foyer, trainers pounding against the tile floor. As she followed, Pippa heard the beep signalling that the entrance door had been opened. She paused in the doorway, watching as the car pulled up. The instant it had stopped, a rear door opened and Hermione and Dean tumbled out, racing to tackle Harry in a three-way hug. The Grangers got out more sedately, wide grins on their faces. Pippa's own smile was making her cheeks hurt as she watched the three children, bouncing in each other's arms, laughing, and talking a mile a minute.
As precious as Harry had been to her when his trust was emerging and fragile, only for her, she could only feel grateful joy at seeing how far he had come and how bright his future was.
Thank you as always for reading. I will do my best not to take so long next time.