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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
Chapter 7: 2000 words and counting
Hero Posted on 3/25/2012 7:32:33 PM
Chapter 6 Chance and Choice: 3,600 words and counting
Long Lost Brother Posted on 4/21/2010 2:57:30 PM
Chapter 5: 0 words and counting.

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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note: It's been a long time coming, but here it is, the first chapter of Free Life, sequel to Taking Control. I'd like to thank everyone who has stuck with me throughout TC and in the wait for Free Life. I hope you all continue to enjoy the story. And a huge thank you goes out to Maggie and Christine for all their assistance. Without further ado, let me give you...

Chapter 1: Cartography
“I wasn’t sure you’d show.”

A small smile formed on Harry’s lips as he walked fully into the room. “And yet you still waited for me.”

“It’s not as if I have any other plans,” he replied heavily.

The smile slipped off the young man’s face as he nodded.

Remus sighed tiredly. “Thank you.”

Harry shrugged and said, “You shouldn’t go through it alone.”

“I truly appreciate your presence, Harry, but the more time you spend outside the Fidelius, the better the chances that Dumbledore or someone else catches up to you.” Indeed, the thought worried Remus more than he had expected. Voldemort was a constant dread, but to actually fear Dumbledore finding Harry was not an emotion Remus could have anticipated feeling. Yet there was no doubt in his mind that should that happen, the results would likely be catastrophic – for Harry, Dumbledore, the war, everything.

“You worry too much, Remus.” Spreading his arms out wide, Harry explained, “I renew the anti-tracking charms every day. I don’t use a wand. If he manages to find me, then he’ll have damn well earned it. Not that I’ll go along with him quietly.”

“It’s exactly that kind of attitude that will get you caught,” Remus gruffly rebuked him. “Don’t get over-confident, and don’t take unnecessary risks.”

“I’m not going to bollix things up now, Remus,” Harry retorted. “I’m not being over-confident. I’m taking every precaution I can think to take, but I’m not just going to hide away in a hole. That would rather defeat the whole point of this. I’ve been fighting for my freedom, not just a place to crash over the summer away from the Dursleys.”

Remus stared straight at Harry for a long moment without really seeing him. He finally flicked his gaze to meet Harry’s eyes and nodded. “You’re right.” What worried Remus was that he could somehow be the cause of Harry’s loss of freedom. If Dumbledore even suspected that he might have sided with Harry, it would not be difficult for the headmaster to use him to lead him straight to Harry. As loathe as he was to admit it, Harry was much better prepared for this espionage business than he. The Marauders had been experts at sneaking around Hogwarts, but, outside those castle walls in open defiance of Dumbledore and Voldemort, it was a whole different game.

“How have the Order reacted to my disappearance?”

He was jarred abruptly out of his thoughts by Harry’s voice, and it took him several seconds for the question to even register in his mind and even longer to respond. “The reactions have been mixed, I’d say,” he speculated aloud. “There are some who reacted quite poorly and all but demanded that every resource be used in finding you and bringing you to safety. I’m sure you can imagine that Molly Weasley was quite vocal in this stance. Given…” A wave of pain suddenly erupted throughout this body, causing him to groan loudly. Stifling the pain he panted, “Transform, Harry.”

He did not even see if Harry heeded his command as his eyes clenched tightly shut against the pain. The wolf flared to life. As his consciousness began to fade, the potion quickly kicked in. He fought for dominance, suppressing the beast within him. The pain reached nearly unbearable heights before the transformation completed, and the sensation abruptly halted. If there was one positive thing about the wolf, it was that it did not feel the lingering soreness from the transformation that he felt in his human body. It was a small consolation.

As his eyes opened, he found himself staring into the green eyes of a black panther.

All right, Remus? Harry asked.

Yeah, Remus responded. Fine. As if to prove his point, Remus pounced forward attempting to pin Harry, but the panther reacted quickly and leapt out of his reach, beginning a game of cat and mouse – or rather one of wolf and cat.

When they finally settled down, Remus curled up on the opposite side of the room, facing Harry. He rarely slept on a full moon, and when he did it was not restful. Instead, he used the time when Harry – and Ginny, when she was here – slept for quiet reflection. At the moment he wondered how the couple would fare over two months of separation. It would be all but impossible for them to see each other. Even a hint of Harry at the Burrow would set Molly Weasley off. She saw Harry as her seventh son, and she was nothing if not protective – stiflingly so.

As his mind wandered, he could not help but notice Harry’s restless movements. It was not the thrashing that accompanied a vision. It was more akin to the tossing and turning one experiences when trying futilely to fall asleep. Frowning to himself, he reached out with his mind and asked, Trouble sleeping?

If Harry was surprised at the sudden question, he did not show it. Without lifting his head, Harry’s reply floated back. Yeah, can’t fall asleep. You?

About the same, he hedged, unwilling to admit that this was normal for him.

Harry stood up on all fours suddenly and silently padded towards him before stopping and lying down facing him a short distance away. So how are things going with Tonks?

Surprised at the sudden question, he took a long moment to respond. Fairly well. I – he paused, considering his words – I actually wanted to speak to you on her behalf. Harry perked up slightly as he continued, She was rather hurt to find out that I knew of your identity as Jim without telling her.

I’m sorry, Harry interjected. I didn’t mean to create trouble for you..

It’s all right, Harry, he replied. She understands that they were not my secrets to share; however, I think you will find that she would be willing to keep your secrets and help you where she can, if you’ll allow her.

Harry was quiet for a long moment, forcing Remus to ponder what was going through the teen’s mind. I’ve always liked Tonks, he finally stated. I guess I never really considered trying to tell more people. Ever since last summer, I’ve tried to keep everything secret from everyone. But now with things coming out into the open – well, the old way won’t work anymore, will it?

He sensed that Harry needed to talk out this new idea and decided to keep his own counsel for the moment. Harry spoke again a moment later. Do you think you could arrange a meeting with Tonks?

Remus nodded, I should think so. She can be rather busy with both Auror and Order duties, but I’m rather confident she’ll make the time for it. The only question is where.

How about we meet in the Muggle world?

Did you have someplace in mind? Remus immediately asked. He was much more acclimated to Muggle life than most witches and wizards. Given the restrictions placed on werewolves, he had more than once been forced to turn to the Muggle world to find gainful employment. Even then he was always hard-pressed to explain away his monthly absences. Still, even a few months of steady employment was not something he could easily pass up.

Well, it’s often easiest to hide in plain sight, Harry replied after a moment’s thought. How about Hyde Park?

Remus nodded, answering, That should work. I’ll let you know when we’re available.

Okay, Harry replied. Just drop by the house to let me know when to meet you, or leave me a note if I’m not there. No owls but Hedwig will be able to find me.

Remus nodded his agreement. You should try to get some sleep, Harry. Harry just stared idly at him for a long moment before turning to wander back to the other side of the room. As Harry curled up on his side and laid his head down, Remus was left to the solitude of his thoughts.

******

He arrived back in his home the next morning to the sound of loud beeping. Cursing harshly, Harry rushed into his living room and stopped in front of a large scroll stuck to the wall showing a map of the UK. His eyes immediately focused on the blinking dot in the centre of the map. Burning its location into his mind, Harry quickly retrieved a bottle of Invigoration Draught, silently thanking Merlin he had had the foresight to brew a batch of it the day before. After dispelling the alarm on the map, he downed a single dose quickly and Disapparated.

It took a moment to gain his bearings after reappearing. He had spent the better part of his first few days of holiday visiting each location and determining the best place to Apparate in should the need arise. He transformed into his owl form and took to the air. As soon as he rose above the tree line he could see the house. At least he got the location right. He had spent hours reviewing his memory of each location to ensure he would not confuse them.

Harry pumped his wings to gain altitude and soared towards the already damaged house. There was no sign of the Dark Mark yet, which likely meant the Death Eaters were still inside – probably wondering where their prey disappeared to. As he circled the house, he found an open window on the second floor and swooped in. He could hear voices – at least three – shouting back and forth to each other as Harry reverted back to human form. He cast a Disillusionment charm on himself and silently made his way right in front of the open doorway. He stood stock still with one arm slightly extended and listened to the footsteps in the hallway.

A moment later, a dark robed figure stepped in front of the doorway. Without moving a muscle, Harry sent a Stunner through his outstretched hand. The Death Eater was unconscious before he had time to react to the sudden burst of red light that had materialized directly in front of him. Before the body could hit the ground, Harry caught it with a levitation charm and quickly directed it into the room. He laid the body down in the corner and bound it. He summoned the man’s wand and, not wanting to risk making a sound snapping it, simply Vanished it altogether. Keeping one eye on the open doorway, Harry spent the next few minutes erecting a temporary anti-Portkey ward over the corner of the room.

By the time he had finished the ward, the other voices were calling for Jugson, who Harry assumed was the unconscious man at his feet. Glancing out the window, he could see that two Death Eaters were making their way outside, but it sounded like there was one person left in the house calling for the last Death Eater. Making a quick decision, Harry padded out into the hallway as he heard footsteps begin to ascend the stairs.

“Jugson! Come on, we need to get out of here,” the robed figure called as he stepped onto the second floor. Harry waited until the man had taken a few more steps before striking. The Death Eater noticed the light a split second before it hit him and had just enough time to yell, “Shite!” before falling victim to the Stunner. After Summoning and Vanishing the man’s wand, Harry quickly bound and levitated him into the room and onto the other body in the corner as he heard two sets of footsteps rush into the house.

Harry made his way back into the hallway as the two began bickering back and forth over whether to look for their missing companions or leave them behind. Not wanting to let them get away, Harry quickened his stride. At the top of the stairs, he could see them standing in the foyer looking up the stairs. One of them must have caught some ripple of movement for he aimed his wand directly at Harry and yelled, “Avada Kedavra!”

Harry ducked and rolled out of the way of the green light as it hit the wall behind him and caused splintered wood and debris to explode outward. He could not see them from his position on the ground as one asked, “Did you get him?”

“What do you think?” the other asked bitingly. “Do walls usually explode when you hit a person?”

Clearly these were not the most experienced Death Eaters in Voldemort’s ranks. Harry jumped back onto his feet and began raining spells on the two of them. Both Death Eaters went on the defensive as they shielded themselves from Harry’s attack. Seeing that this strategy would not grant him anything but a stalemate, Harry leapt over the banister and transformed into his panther form. He landed on the stairs and lunged at one of the Death Eaters, cancelling his Disillusionment Charm in mid-air. The man staggered back a step as Harry tackled him into the wall.

Reverting back to human form, Harry Stunned the man underneath him as he aimed his other hand at the second Death Eater and unleashed another Stunner. The man was too shocked to even attempt to block it. Harry gingerly rose to his feet and levitated both bodies up the stairs, depositing them in the same warded corner as the others. After making a quick sweep through the house to ensure no others were left behind, Harry exited the house through the opening where there once stood a front door.

Just as he stepped outside, a small pop sounded and Harry looked over to see Albus Dumbledore had appeared a mere fifteen metres away. His eyes widened at seeing Harry there, and Harry was surprised at the sudden ache that developed at the sight of his former mentor. He had not allowed himself to dwell on the manner in which they had parted and knew now was not the time to do so. “There are four of them bound and unconscious upstairs.” That was all Harry said before Apparating back to his house. ”This is going to be a long summer,” Harry muttered to himself.

******

After the Invigoration Draught left his system, Harry crashed hard. All his energy vanished, and he simply collapsed onto his sofa into a fitful slumber. He broke a personal record for the summer with a whopping three straight hours of sleep.

Rising tiredly, Harry sat on the sofa with his head in his hands for a long moment before his mind completely awakened. He hardly felt refreshed but knew that no more sleep would be forthcoming. If this endured, he would need to set about brewing up a mild sleeping potion. He would not be able to rely on the potion in the long term, but perhaps it could help him get through this spell until he found another solution.

Standing and stretching, Harry’s thoughts drifted to his displaced student, a fourth year in the BHA. His instincts had been proven correct. Less than a week into the break and already one of his students was attacked. He hoped nobody in his family was injured prior to their escape and wished there was some way for him to check up on them without giving himself over to Dumbledore. At least he knew that nobody was left behind. He had no doubt that Madame Pomfrey would set any injured to rights in no time at all.

He could not help but wonder what Voldemort and the headmaster were making of this latest development. The former would likely be wondering what could possibly have gone wrong, ready to punish those that had failed him and those that had gotten in his way and, in both of their absences, anyone unfortunate enough to be in his presence. Dumbledore, on the other hand – what must he be thinking? A student and his family show up at Hogwarts claiming their home was under attack from Death Eaters. He arrives at the house to find none other than Harry at the scene, Death Eaters already subdued.

He could not help the amused grin that tugged at his lips as he wondered whether or not the headmaster would get any answers on just how the family had arrived at the castle. His contract should still prevent the students from talking about it, but that contract only covered so much. Dumbledore would quickly learn it was a Portkey, and from there he would assuredly deduce Harry’s involvement.

Shaking his head of such thoughts, Harry glanced out the window, taking in the colours in the sky created by the setting sun. Deciding to take advantage of what little daylight was left, he changed into a pair of shorts and t-shirt and walked out the front door. Making sure to reinforce the charm on his person preventing tracking magic outside the wards of his home, he set off at a jog.

He always wondered at the magic of the Fidelius Charm at a time such as this – when someone was leaving the boundary of the charm. There was little about the theory behind the charm in the book he had read, but there must be some obscuration or befuddlement element to it for no one to notice him suddenly materializing from or disappearing into nothingness. He determined to try to learn more about it if the opportunity ever presented itself. Perhaps if he and Dumbledore ever worked out their differences, the headmaster would be willing to share his knowledge or access to his library for Harry to sate his curiosity.

He kept a steady, brisk pace as he jogged along the sidewalk to the nearby park. This was one of Harry’s favourite things about his new home, this park offering several kilometres of trails. There was something altogether relaxing about the natural feel of it all – a little haven separated from civilization. Granted, the trails took him by a couple play parks that brought that civilization back, but somehow Harry could not bring himself to mind the joyfully playing children.

He followed the trail as it looped around and eventually brought him back to his starting point. Harry walked the short distance to his home, allowing his muscles the opportunity to cool down without stiffening up on him. The sun had already finished setting and darkness descended as Harry stretched on his front lawn before retreating back into his house.

Following a quick shower, Harry dressed and walked into his living room, musing over what to do with his evening. Sleep was out of the question, having only recently risen. If he was honest with himself, he knew precisely what he wanted to do; it was simply not the most prudent action he could take. The truth was that he missed Ginny and wanted nothing more than to go to the Burrow to see her.

It would be risky, but he had managed it before. Had he not snuck into the Burrow last summer as an owl? What was to stop him from doing so again? Smirking at the thought, Harry Disapparated and reappeared in the forest surrounding the Weasley home – well outside the wards. Transforming into an owl, Harry took to the sky and soared towards the lopsided house. Just the sight of it was enough to elicit a smile. In the short time he had been there, Harry had come to love his home, but it could not compare to the Burrow. Having grown with the Weasley family, it held a warmth and charm that his newly-acquired home could not hope to match – at least not any time in the near future. He hoped that someday his own home would hold even half as much character.

Shaking himself from his musings, he winged his way to the correct window and peered inside. There she was, sitting at her small vanity running a comb through her hair. It was hard to believe it had been only a few days since he last saw her. He had not even been given the chance to say goodbye, Dumbledore’s actions having forced him into a hasty retreat. Though perhaps that was a gift in disguise, for saying goodbye might have been that much more difficult.

He softly pecked his beak at the window causing her to startle and look towards him. Her eyes widened right before her smile, and she rushed over and threw open the window. Harry did not waste a moment as he flew inside and reverted back to his normal form. He was immediately encircled in her arms, and he squeezed Ginny against him tightly, breathing in deeply the scent of her hair. “I missed you,” he whispered.

“I missed you too,” she whispered back as they separated from their embrace. She took his hand and opened her mouth to speak, but he held up a hand to stop her.

Turning towards the door, Harry cast a one-way Silencing Charm to prevent any sounds within the room from escaping. Turning back to Ginny he said, “All right. We can talk now.”

“How have you been? What have you been up to?” she immediately questioned as she led him towards her bed.

They sat down side by side, Harry holding her hand in his lap, and he told her everything about his last few days, including a more in-depth account of his last meeting with the headmaster than the hastily written letter he had given Hedwig to deliver to her on the Hogwarts Express, assuming that any correspondence she received at the Burrow would be monitored.

“Dumbledore has been by a couple times asking if we had heard any word from you,” Ginny stated following his story. “He’s starting to become a little frantic, I think,” she admitted. “If he saw you at the scene of an attack earlier today, he’s bound to be even worse.”

“Has he been giving you trouble?” Harry asked in concern.

Ginny shrugged. “I think he’s figured out that I know more than I let on, but he hasn’t been too bad. He’s been trying to convince me of the danger you are in and how telling him where you are would be the best thing for you and how you would come to understand that in time.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, how gullible does he think I am? If he can’t find you, why should I be worried about Voldemort finding you?”

Harry smiled. “Let me know if he starts to give you too much trouble, okay? I don’t want you suffering on my account.”

She gave him a mock stern glare. “I think I can handle myself just fine, thank you.”

“Of course you can,” Harry agreed, leaning in to plant a kiss on her cheek. “But I don’t want him to cause you any trouble on my account.”

“Don’t be silly,” she replied. “I can deal with him stopping by to ask questions every few days if that’s what it takes to give you a bit of freedom. Now, I am going to the loo, and you are going to get ready for bed.” Harry opened his mouth to argue, but she beat him to it. “I don’t want to hear it. You’re not sleeping, and I’ll not stand for it. If your arse is not in this bed ready for sleep by the time I get back, you will regret it.”

“Yes ma’am,” he responded with a smirk.

“That’s better,” she said, stealing a quick kiss before rising and heading towards the door. She turned back, winked at him, then ducked out the door.

Harry, not wanting to tempt Ginny to follow through on her threat, decided he had best get ready for bed. Some quick transfiguration work set his clothes to something more comfortable for sleep, and he lay back on her bed atop her covers, staring unseeingly at the ceiling. Turning over onto his side, he buried his nose into her pillow inhaling a scent that was distinctly Ginny. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh of contentment and drifted off to sleep.

******

“Ginny?”

The voice barely registered into her sleep-filled mind as she snuggled closer into the warm pillow, hugging it tightly to her body and rubbing her cheek into it peacefully.

“Ginny?” it called again even as her pillow struggled to extricate itself from her grip. That was about when her brain finally awoke and recognized the precarious position she found herself in with her mother outside her door.

“Yes, Mum?” Ginny called in return, trying to sound more awake than she felt, hoping it would prevent her mum from opening the door.

“Ginny,” her mum continued as though Ginny had not spoken. The sound of a hand on the door knob immediately followed.

She sprang into an upright position and turned panicked eyes towards Harry, finding that he was already fading from sight. She hazily caught a motion as his hand swept towards the door, and somehow she knew he had cast a spell. That was when she remembered the one-way silencing spell he had placed on the door the night before.

“Ginny, dear?” her mum said, and Ginny turned her head quickly to find her mum poking her head just inside the door.

“Yes, Mum?” she responded, injecting a bit of grogginess into her voice.

“It’s past eight,” her mum stated. “I’ve saved a plate for you downstairs.”

“Oh,” Ginny answered dazedly as she realized that Harry was no longer in the bed beside her. “All right. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Are you feeling all right, dear?” her mum asked in concern, opening the door completely and stepping into the room.

“I’m fine,” Ginny replied. “Just slept in I guess.”

“If you’re sure,” her mum said, pausing to give her a chance to change her mind. She left a moment later, shutting the door behind her. As her steps trailed off down the stairs, Ginny let out a sigh of relief echoed immediately by Harry.

“That was close,” she murmured and jumped as Harry suddenly dropped back onto the bed at her side.

“Sorry,” he said softly as his body slowly reappeared. “I was worried she might notice me on the bed even with the Disillusionment Charm.”

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it; you only startled me, is all. How did you sleep?”

When he paused in his reply, she frowned, but it quickly turned to a smile as he replied, “Good - great, actually.” He smiled in return and pulled her tightly to him. Leaning his head down, he kissed her, and she soon lost herself in that kiss. A long moment later their lips finally broke apart, leaving them both breathing quite heavily. She revelled in the way Harry held her close and inhaled deeply. “Thank you,” he finally whispered. “I really needed that, even if I didn’t want to admit it last night.”

She pulled back and looked him in the eye. “You’re welcome,” she said, caressing his face with one hand before adopting a stern expression. “Now I expect you back here if you keep having trouble.”

He smirked at her and agreed with a cheeky, “Yes ma’am.” The smile quickly faded from his lips, though, and with a deep sigh Harry looked her in the eye and said, “I need to go before your mum comes back.”

“I know,” she replied. She hugged him tightly once more and gave him a brief, fierce kiss. “I love you,” she said. “Be careful.”

“I love you too,” he said, giving her one last squeeze as he whispered, “Goodbye.” He rolled out of bed, trailing his fingers down her arm and allowing them to linger briefly as he reached her hand, giving her a long glance before turning towards the window. She watched as he undid the latch and transformed into the beautiful, black owl she had first met in this very room almost a year ago.

He fluttered onto the windowsill and craned his head back for one last look. She smiled weakly and gave a half-wave as he turned back and launched himself out the window. She stood and stared out the window until he disappeared into the tree line. She sighed and grabbed a dressing gown before leaving the room and descending into the kitchen. She sat across from Ron who barely acknowledged her arrival with a grunt as he devoured the contents of his plate.

Ginny murmured her thanks as her mum set a plate in front of her, and she began eating in silence which was not broken until she was halfway through her meal. “How come you slept in so late?”

She looked up and found Ron staring speculatively at her, his plate empty. Her mum had left a few minutes earlier leaving the two of them alone in the kitchen. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I sleep in all the time.”

“In the past, yeah,” Ron assented. “But not this year.”

She simply raised an eyebrow in response as she lifted a forkful of eggs to her mouth.

“You’ve been running with Harry for months,” he added.

“Harry’s not here,” she responded curtly.

“Hasn’t stopped you before today,” he continued, ignoring the warning in her tone.

She had no idea what he was driving at, but he was very quickly getting on her nerves. “Why don’t you just come out and say whatever it is you want to say before I hex your bits off.”

“I heard Mum and Dad talking last night,” Ron responded calmly. “Dumbledore seems to think you might know where Harry is or that he may try to contact you.”

She tried desperately to figure out what that had to do with her lie in this morning – unless he somehow knew – but there was no way. Was there? “Okay,” she stated in confusion.

“Just thought you should know,” Ron replied. “I don’t really know what’s going on, but I figure you probably have a better idea than anyone. If you’re not worried about Harry, I reckon he’s all right, wherever he is. Probably better off than with those Muggles.” She did not need to know Ron well to hear the contempt in his voice at the mention of Harry’s relatives. “But it sounds as if they’re getting pretty desperate to find him.”

“Thanks, Ron,” she replied, not sure what else to say.

He shrugged his shoulders. “S’okay.” He glanced around briefly before dropping his voice to a whisper. “He is all right, isn’t he?”

Ginny nodded hesitantly in reply.

“Right,” he said, standing from the table. Ginny stared after him, her eyes lingering on the stairs for a long moment even after he had disappeared from sight. Finally, she shook herself from her stupor and finished her breakfast wondering just what was going on with her brother.

******

As Harry arrived home, he was relieved to find that the alarm had not been triggered again. At that moment he had a sudden revelation and determined to spend some time later creating some sort of mobile alarm. That way he would not miss an alarm if he was out of the house. He began thinking over how to accomplish it as he changed his clothes and set out for another jog. He was not even halfway through his run before deciding a simple Protean Charm on the alarm would allow him to link it to another item that he could take with him whenever he left the house.

The worst part about the summer break, he decided as he finished his jog, was not having access to the Room of Requirement. He had grown accustomed to the luxuries it provided – namely the space, privacy, and training dummies. He needed to find some substitute to assist in his training over the summer before the lack of training dulled his abilities and instincts. In the meantime he would simply ensure his body remained in peak form.

After washing up from his exercise, Harry set to work on creating his mobile alarm. Deciding to keep things simple, Harry chose to use the cord from his own Portkey necklace as the base for his mobile alarm. With a slight alteration, Harry set it to heat up whenever the alarm went off. It took a bit of experimentation, but he was able to get it at a temperature he was sure to notice without actually burning his skin.

With that finished Harry decided it was past time to pay a visit to Fred and George. He needed to find out just how serious they had been in their commitment to joining the war effort. It took him several minutes in front of the mirror toying with various glamours until he found an appearance he could live with that resembled neither himself nor Jim.

Fingering his necklace cord, Harry gave one last look in the mirror before Apparating into Diagon Alley. The scene before him gave Harry great pause. It was so unlike what he had come to expect from this busy centre of wizarding life. The street was practically empty; only a handful of shoppers dotted the Alley, their heads down as if lack of eye contact might provide some shield should they suddenly be attacked. What struck him most, though, was the oppressive silence hanging over the Alley. Every sound seemed muted yet also amplified by the silence.

Harry physically shook himself out of his musings and stepped forward, his feet carrying him purposefully towards his destination. He kept his head up and forward, but his eyes and magical sense scanned the street for anything abnormal. There was plenty of ambient magic in the area, but life at Hogwarts had taught him how to block out the excess sensations and focus on what he needed. He made it to the twins’ shop without incident. It, like the rest of Diagon Alley, was empty, not a single customer inside. In one sense Harry was relieved; a lack of witnesses would make his visit much easier. On the other hand, he could not help but feel a pang of sympathy on how the current state of affairs must be affecting the business of the twins. He had not paid particular attention to the statements he had been receiving from them on the profits of the shop, but he imagined they were only a fraction of what they had been when the store first opened.

“Hello, sir,” a pretty brunette witch said with a slightly forced smile. “Can I help you with something?”

“I hope so,” Harry replied. “I was wondering if you might tell me where I could find Fred and George Weasley, the owners.”

“Might I ask what business you have with them?” she inquired in a guarded tone.

Harry quirked an eyebrow at her, pondering the question. What could he tell this girl that would facilitate her giving him the information he needed? He was saved the trouble, however, when one of the aforementioned twins entered the shop from a back room. “Oi, a customer,” he called out happily as he approached them. “Fred Weasley’s the name, and welcome to our fine establishment. I see you’ve met the lovely Cameron. She can no doubt assist you in any of your pranking needs. Quite the devious mind this one has,” he praised with a flirtatious wink at the girl, who blushed at the compliment.

Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Oh, I have no doubt of that whatsoever,” Harry replied. “However, I am not here for any pranking needs. Rather, I’m here to speak with you and your twin about a proposition we had discussed a short time ago.”

“Proposition?” he questioned cluelessly. “I don’t remember discussing any propositions with anyone.”

“Come now,” Harry admonished. “I know I don’t come around often, but you don’t mean to tell me you’ve forgotten your silent partner, do you?” Fred’s eyes bulged and mouth dropped open. “Ah, I see your memory is returning to you,” Harry said with a chuckle. “Spiffing.”

“Silent partner?” the woman, Cameron, questioned. “I didn’t know you guys had another partner.”

“Hence the silent part,” Fred quickly inserted. “He’s the shy type, doesn’t like the limelight.”

She gave Harry a scrutinizing look. “Seems pretty confident to me.”

“Don’t confuse confidence with a thirst to be the centre of attention like these clowns,” Harry stated, gesturing at Fred. “I simply prefer to remain, as Fred put it, out of the limelight.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “I suppose you won’t be needing my help then?”

“No,” Fred piped up. “I’ll just take…” he paused and glanced at Harry quickly before continuing, “my friend here into the back. You’ll be all right out here?”

She very pointedly cast her eyes around the empty store before turning her gaze back to Fred. “I think I can manage.”

Fred suddenly looked a lot less sure of himself. “Right then. We’ll be in the back if you need anything.”

As they walked into the back room, which was actually a corridor, Harry casually commented, “Seems like business is hurting these days.”

Fred nodded solemnly. “Ever since the attack on the Alley a month or so back…” He left the statement hanging in the air.

“I figured as much,” Harry said. “I can’t say I’m surprised, to be honest. A lot of damage was done that day, and that was even with forewarning. Imagine what would have happened had we had no clue about it beforehand.”

“Wait,” Fred said, stopping in his tracks. “You knew about the attack beforehand?”

Harry brought his hand up to his forehead and tapped his scar. Fred’s eyes widened. “I informed the Order and came in disguise to help.”

“We tried to help as well,” Fred stated. “We spent most of it herding people into the shop to Floo out. By the time we got out most of the fighting was over.”

Harry nodded. “The most important thing was getting people to safety. You guys did the right thing.”

“Who did what right thing?” George asked as he stepped out of a door a few paces beyond Fred. “And who’re you?”

“You two did in helping people Floo out of the Alley during the attack,” Harry stated. “And I’m the one who’s going to whip you two plonkers into shape. That is, if you haven’t changed your minds.”

George looked at him funnily for just a moment before asking, “Harry?”

Both he and Fred nodded. “We were wondering if you were ever going to stop by,” George said with a grin. “We didn’t exactly know how to get hold of you, what with the disappearing act and all.”

“Had to get settled in,” Harry replied. “Have you guys hired people to take over making your stock?”

“Of course, oh fearless leader,” Fred chorused while clapping Harry on the shoulder.

“Just finished training him,” George inserted.

“Only need one for the moment, what with business in the shop down.”

“But at least owl orders are still going strong.”

Harry nodded. “That’s good. We only have two months to get you two up to snuff, so we need to get started right away.” The two exchanged smiles as Harry continued. “Now all we have to do is find a place to do it.”

“Not to worry, Harrykins,” George stated.

“Yeah, we’ve got just the place for it,” Fred added.

“Right through here, in fact,” George finished, turning aside to the door he had emerged out of and pushing it open. Harry followed him in.

“We had a feeling we’d need to provide the venue,” Fred informed him from behind.

The room was not large but big enough for their purposes and was completely barren. “I suppose this will do. Have the walls been spell-proofed?”

Both twins nodded. “Had that done right when we moved in,” Fred told him.

“Sometimes our experiments go bad,” George said with a half smile.

“Best to be prepared.”

“Right,” Harry agreed. “Well, are you two ready for lesson one?”

Two large grins gave him all the answer he needed. Without any more warning than that, Harry attacked. Fred was completely unprepared and slumped to the ground unconscious from his Stunner. George, fumbling to pull out his wand, barely raised a shield in time to block Harry’s second Stunner, but it was not strong enough to stop the third.

Two quick Rennervates later had the twins slowly climbing back to their feet. “I guess you can call that lesson one….” He did not get to finish what he was saying as the two simultaneously tried to Stun him.

Harry rolled out of the way of both spells and immediately popped back to his feet with a hand trained on each of the twins. “Right. Always be on your toes,” Harry stated as he eyed the two warily. “Second, stop waiting to see if your first attack worked before sending the next. Better if you send three spells and only one hits than if you send one and it doesn’t. Now, here’s what I have in mind…”

Harry used a lot of the same exercises he had put the HA through during the school year to test the twins to see where their strengths were and where they needed improvement. They were quite receptive to his advice on dodging, though they seemed a little too willing to leave their feet. He would need to work with them on how to roll into their landings and using their momentum to carry them back to their feet again. They also needed quite a bit of work on speed and endurance, both physically and magically.

There was one area where they could probably teach him a trick or two, and that was in the creativity of their spell casting. Harry usually kept things simple, sticking with his best spells, but Fred and George rarely used the same spell twice. Harry had never even heard of half the spells they used. Many were not conventionally used in a fight, but those two had creative uses for everything.

He was so involved in the training that it took a moment for him to realize what the sudden heat around his neck meant. He quickly called the twins to a halt and said, “I’ve got to go. I’ll stop by again soon.”

Without waiting for a reply, Harry activated his Portkey which deposited him in his home, right in front of the map. He cancelled the alarm as his eyes roved over the canvas, locking onto two flashing names practically on top of each other, Harry stopped a moment to recall the location before Disapparating and reappearing in an alley of a Muggle neighbourhood. Looking around, Harry confirmed that nobody had witnessed his sudden appearance before transforming into his owl form and taking flight.

He flapped hard to gain altitude and circled the house, inwardly cursing upon finding all of the windows closed and most of the shades drawn. The front door had been blasted down, however, so Harry landed behind a bush in the front yard and reverted back into his human form. He could feel no magical presence nearby but decided to err on the side of caution. He crept silently to the door and peered inside. Seeing nobody, he slipped inside the door and quickly took stock.

There was only slight damage done to the house. If he had to guess, he would say the Creeveys escaped quickly and the Death Eaters had not lingered. After checking each room, he was relieved to find the house empty. It looked like the Creeveys had all escaped. Allowing himself a small smile, he Apparated back home.

Heaving a sigh, he glanced over the map as he wondered how the Creeveys were faring. Not wanting to dwell on it, he walked over to a nearby bookcase and pulled out a Transfiguration text covering the spells used to magically expand a space to be larger than its physical constraints allowed. He found it difficult to concentrate as his scar began to throb in a dull ache, but he did his best to ignore the pain and continue to read.

He read for a couple hours before being overcome by a fit of yawns and finally deciding to head to bed. When he jolted awake, he was pleasantly surprised to find that he had slept for nearly six hours. With a newfound hope that perhaps his sleeping habits were not entirely doomed, he rolled out of bed and threw on some clothes before heading out for his morning jog and workout.

Unfortunately, he was only a quarter of the way through the park when his necklace heated up again. He pulled up and glanced around quickly before ducking into the trees and Apparating back to his house. When he looked at the map, he saw two names flashing near opposite coasts. “Fuck!” he swore, dispelling the alarm and Disapparating on the spot.

He started running as soon as he appeared. The house was surrounded by wide, open fields, so he did not have any cover to Apparate into. Luckily, it was a Wizarding home, so there was no danger of Muggles wondering how he appeared out of thin air. As he approached the house, three black-cloaked figures emerged from the broken-down front door onto the porch. They froze as they noticed him, and Harry slowed down to barely more than a walk.

They turned towards each other in surprise, and Harry struck. They reacted quickly enough to shield against his three stunners, but the spells did their job distracting the Death Eaters while the Blasting Hex he sent connected with the porch they stood upon, erupting in a spray of splintered wood. Harry was already sprinting towards them and leapt onto the ruined porch. Half-visible and struggling in the wreckage, the Death Eaters were easy targets and quickly fell to his Stunners.

He Summoned and snapped their wands, bound them, and quickly set up an anti-Portkey ward over the porch before Apparating to the second location. Appearing behind a boulder, Harry peeked around it at the house to watch as three Death Eaters disappeared, Dark Mark floating ominously in the sky. Turning his attention to the house, Harry was shocked that it was still standing. Huge sections of the walls had been blasted out of the two walls he could see. Using his magical senses, he confirmed that there were no other wizards in the area before performing a quick sweep of the house to confirm that no victims were left behind, though the damage done to the house was extreme.

He Apparated home to the sound of more beeping, and it was only then that he noticed the heat still around his neck. Wondering if he had forgotten to cancel the charm again, he cursed loudly when the map showed three new names flashing. Memorizing all three names and locations, Harry Disapparated. No longer toying with the pretences of Apparating into cover and approaching the houses from a distance, Harry sprang into being in the front yard, slightly off-centre. He reached out with his magical senses as he rushed forward. There were people still inside the house.

Entering quietly through the ruined front door, Harry used his magical senses to guide him down the hall. As he approached an open doorway, he could hear jeering and taunting which was suddenly overwhelmed by an ear-splitting scream. Harry took a quick peek into the room, and what he saw sickened him. On the ground in the middle of the room was a middle-aged woman in a torn, blood splattered dress writhing under what could only be the Cruciatus curse. Surrounding her were four Death Eaters.

Stepping into the doorway, Harry unleashed twin Everberos. The man with his wand trained on the woman was launched bodily through the window across the room, while Harry’s other target flew into the wall and slumped to the ground. Harry ducked into the room as he sent two Stunners at his next target, who erected a shield in time to absorb both spells.

“Potter!” the other Death Eater shouted before shooting the Killing Curse at Harry. Dropping to a knee to allow the spell to pass over his head, Harry gestured a hand towards the door which had been knocked off its hinges and sent it at the Death Eater trying to kill him. The door connected with its target, knocking the man off his feet as Harry rolled out of the way of a series of curses coming from the other Death Eater.

Harry sent a series of Stunners, Blasting Hexes, and Cutting Curses in return, but the Death Eater’s shield was able to block all of them. Harry side-stepped another Killing Curse when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the door coming towards him. Holding up a hand, he stopped the flying door; however, the door exploded a moment later, and Harry was assaulted with a spray of wood and splinters.

Harry instinctively brought one arm up to cover his eyes and deliberately spun to the side and ducked down to avoid any spells coming his way. He looked up and froze; one of the Death Eaters had grabbed the woman and was holding her up as a human shield.

“Don’t move, or she dies,” the man spat. His mask had fallen away, and Harry recognized him as Rabastan Lestrange.

Harry eyed him warily as the second Death Eater began to fan around to his side. Holding up both his hands, Harry slowly backed up as his mind tried to assess the situation. He was in serious trouble here. He did not want to leave this woman to them, but it was beginning to look like this was one battle he could not win.

“Where’s your wand?” the still-masked Death Eater demanded, stopping in his tracks. Despite the gravity of the situation, Harry barely resisted the urge to smirk. They were only now realizing he was not using a wand? His eyes caught on a trophy lying on the ground on the opposite side of the room behind Lestrange, and a plan began to form in his mind.

“Wand?” Harry asked, stalling.

“Don’t play dumb with me…”

“Shut up and kill him,” Lestrange snarled.

The man jerked his head towards Lestrange for a moment before turning back to Harry and raising his wand with a flourish. Harry barely gestured with his fingers as the trophy flew through the air and smashed into the back of Rabastan’s skull. “Avada…” Rabastan released the woman as he staggered forward, and she dropped lifelessly to the floor. Harry brought his arm down and banished Rabastan towards the other Death Eater just as he was finishing his spell. “Kedavra!”

The green flash erupted from the tip of his wand just as Rabastan smashed into him. The light disappeared almost the second it emerged, and the two Death Eaters crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Harry sent several Stunners into the pile of limbs, but before any could connect, both bodies disappeared with a pop, as did the unconscious Death Eater on the other side of the room and presumably the one outside as well.

Harry staggered forward and knelt beside the woman, turning her onto her back and brushing her matted hair out of her face. She was unconscious but still breathing. Just a brief glance down her body was enough to convince Harry that she needed more help than he was able to give. He gingerly scooped her up into his arms, using his magic to make her nearly weightless, and walked outside and past the anti-Apparation wards and then Disapparated.

Appearing before a dilapidated storefront, Harry did not even pause to check whether his arrival was noticed by any Muggles. He walked straight into the window of the store and emerged in St. Mungo’s. “I need a Healer!” he called. The young woman behind the desk gasped and stared at him. “Now!” he yelled, spurring her into action. Without sparing anyone else in the room a thought, Harry brought her forward as several medi-wizards rushed into the room towards him.

A stretcher was quickly conjured, and as they began to cart her off, the medi-wizards began firing questions at Harry asking after her condition as well as his own.

“Listen,” Harry interrupted. “I don’t know what was done to her. There was a Death Eater attack. I know she was put under the Cruciatus Curse, but that’s all I actually saw. Now, I need to go.”

“Wait!”

Too late. He turned and rushed out of the hospital, Disapparating immediately to the second house. The Dark Mark was hovering over a pile of rubble that was at one time a house. Harry could sense no one in the area, and, though he felt horrible about it, he was not willing to spare the time to do a full sweep - not while his students and their families might still be in danger. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he left for the next house. It was still standing, but only barely. Luckily, it too was empty. When he Apparated back to his house, Harry immediately staggered to a chair. As the adrenalin left his system, a bone-deep weariness settled over him as the pain from dozens of cuts across his body began to flair up. Slumping down into the soft, cushioned seat, Harry took a long moment to breathe deeply and allow his body a chance to rest.

His mind wandered to his students and their families and inevitably to the woman he had brought to St. Mungo’s. He wondered what had happened that led to her being left behind. Did Nathan not know she was there? Or were they taken by surprise, separated and with no chance to all make it out alive? Did she force him to leave without her? He could not take it anymore.

He slowly stood on protesting legs and walked to the bathroom. As he looked into the mirror, he was surprised to see a bloody gash on his forehead just below his scar. He could not remember receiving it, but it had left his face smeared in blood. The wound itself was not large but had bled a lot. It was easily healed along with the other nicks he had accumulated on his face. Staring at himself in the mirror, he heaved a long sigh and achingly stripped off his shirt and began removing splinters.

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