An Inconvenient Truth

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Chapter 002

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Chapter Two

Moody

Wednesday 22 June

Pop. As promised, Amelia arrived at nine the next morning. Harry was in the back garden with his aunt providing him with a comparatively short list of chores that needed to be done before dinner. She caught the tail end of the conversation and asked, "What chores does the other boy have assigned today, Mrs. Dursley?" She liked the woman less and less with each encounter.

"Dudders is having tea with some of his classmates, not that it's any business of yours, Madam."

Amelia smiled at the bony woman and inquired, "And what chores need to be done today to provide you and your husband your pound of flesh?" She hated people that took out their anger or abused their positions by bullying those who were weaker.

Feeling more sure of herself than she should have, Petunia replied, "The garden needs trimming and the flowerbeds need weeding. When they are done properly, I suppose he can accompany you on your errands."

Amelia made a show of drawing her wand, and giving it a larger than needed wave, trimmed the yard and weeded the garden in just a few seconds. In a voice that contained just a hint on menace, she inquired, "Would you like me to cut anything else today, or may we be on our way?"

Petunia stuttered, "No, nothing else, thank you."

Amelia replied, "The next time I meet with your nephew, I will expect to hear that your son has done at least as many chores around the house as what you choose to ask of Harry. I'm certain that he'll be wearing better clothing as well, be calling his friends on the telephone when he chooses to, and have his choice of dessert from time to time. Wouldn't you agree, Mrs. Dursley, or should I have this same conversation with your husband at his office at Grunnings this afternoon?"

Petunia squeaked, "I'll gladly take care of it today. Thank you for pointing these things out to me."

Amelia replied, "Good. I'm glad that we came to this understanding. I'm not a witch who enjoys being disappointed. Harry will be back before dinner. He may have places to visit several times a week during the remainder of the holiday. Will that be a problem?"

Practically shaking, Petunia replied, "None what-so-ever. Enjoy your day."

Harry watched the exchange between Director Bones and Aunt Petunia with a sense of extreme gratitude. He had never had another adult, yet alone one in authority, stand up to his relatives before. He'd never asked for much, but now that he was older, he'd come to realize that a few guiding words years ago could have reigned in his uncles and cousin's constant bullying behavior. After a minute, it looked like the conversation between them had come to a close and Harry brushed the dirt off of his trousers from the flowerbeds.

Amelia saw Harry doing his best to make himself presentable and asked, "Are you ready to go to Diagon Alley? If you don't have it with you, please go get your wand."

Harry replied, "I'll be right back. It's in my room."

Amelia replied, "If you don't mind, I'll come with you to find it."

They walked into the house, leaving Petunia standing in her back garden. Amelia noticed that it was an average size two story home, well appointed and if nothing else, spotless inside. Her mood darkened when she concluded who had likely kept it so clean. As she'd noticed before, there was no outward acknowledgement of Harry's existence anywhere on the main floor - no photographs of him, none of his parents, nothing. They walked up the stairway to the room at the end of the hallway on the right. She noticed that the door had several sliding locks in the outside and had been fitted with a cat flap at the bottom. Stepping inside she looked in disgust at the poor furnishings. They were obviously cast-offs that Vernon had found either at a thrift shop, or on the street, tossed out from some hot-sheet motel. She looked in the wooden crate that served as Harry's clothing closet. In place of a bar hung a strand of cracked lamp wire. There were two impossibly large sweatshirts, one with a rude slogan on the back, a spare pair of dungarees that would be better fitted for a sumo wrestler, two pair of underpants and three pair of stockings. Seeing as there was no chest of drawers in the tiny room, she concluded that she was looking at the sum of his non-wizarding possessions. This space wasn't even meant to be a bedroom. It was intended to be either a large closet, or a very small sewing room that happened to have a window. She noticed a beautiful white owl in a recently cleaned, unlocked cage giving her a reproachful look.

She watched as Harry opened his trunk. On one side were several neatly folded white shirts, a pair of black trousers, and the school robes. On the other sided were neatly stacked textbooks. Harry picked up his wand, closed his trunk and announced, "I'm ready. Will I need anything else?"

"Just your vault key, if you have it?"

Harry bent down and pulled up a floorboard from under his little bed. He reached down and fished out a small brass key, then replaced the board.

They walked down the hallway back to the stairs. Each of the other three rooms were well appointed with matching carpet and curtains, a queen bed, closets and sitting chairs. Unsurprisingly, the other boy's room was a disaster - littered with computer games, an unmade bed, four pair of expensive athletic shoes scattered on the floor, and posters of indecently dressed young women taped on the walls.

As they walked back down the stairs and along the hallway back to the kitchen, Amelia noticed a cupboard door with sliding latches and a lock similar to what she'd seen outside Harry's bedroom door. She opened it and noticed an old crib mattress on the floor. Closing the door, she noticed Harry's embarrassed look and gently inquired, "How long?"

Harry replied, "Nearly ten years. Actually they moved me up there just after I got my Hogwarts letters, addressed to the cupboard under the stairs."

"Letters?"

Harry smiled as he recalled the chaos that they'd caused, disrupting the Dursley's orderly lives. He replied, "I must have received hundreds of them. My uncle kept binning them until Hagrid came and put one in my hand and broke Uncle Vernon's shotgun."

"You certainly have more than your share of interesting adventures. I want to hear more of them, but we should get going." He followed her out to the front yard, and they walked a half-mile or so. Amelia inquired, "Have you ever taken the Knight Bus?"

Harry nodded and joked, "Actually yes; one time by accident."

Amelia smiled and commented, "That's probably another interesting adventure that I'd like to hear about sometime. For now, though, please call the bus."

Harry held out his wand, and a few seconds later, heard a crack as the violently purple bus appeared. Stan Shunpike got out and began his boilerplate pitch – "Welcome to the Knight Bus…" He looked up and greeted them, "Hello Neville. Blimey, it's Director…"

Amelia cut him off, and in a low voice said, "That will do, Mr. Shunpike. We don't wish to be announced. This is Harry Potter, not Neville Longbottom. Mr. Potter will be taking the bus from time to time over the next few weeks. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't announce his presence, or mention his use of the bus to anyone, now or ever. Further, I would expect that he wouldn't be kept on the bus any longer than necessary. Can you manage that for him?"

The gobstruck young man replied, "No Problem, Ma'am. Is it, Ern? We won't breathe a word. Harry Potter, eh?"

She gave him an annoyed look that McGonagall would have envied and replied, "Good. It's settled then. Now, how much is our fare to Diagon Alley?"

"Seven sickles each. That's fourteen sickles together. Twenty if you'd…"

Amelia smiled indulgently and commented, "We don't need cocoa or a toothbrush today, but thank you. Can we be on our way?"

"Right then. Find a seat and we'll be leaving straightaway."

No sooner had they sat down than the bus gave a violent lurch and the road became a blur. In less than five minutes, the bus came to a stop and Stan announced, "Anyone oo wants to get out at Diagon Alley, now's the time, 'cause we're here."

She looked around as the bus left and they walked across the road and opened the door into the Leaky Cauldron.

… --- …

Rita Skeeter was certain that she hadn't deserved the dressing down that her editor had given her when she'd reported that Sirius Black had been captured and had escaped from Hogwarts. Her source, Severus Snape had personally apprehended Black, though even she dismissed his claim that the Boy-Who-Lived had been the one who had somehow set the dangerous madman free.

She didn't notice the older woman and the dark haired teen pass silently through the dark pub, barely nodding to the innkeeper as they closed the back door behind them. She smiled as the ancient barkeep handed her another gin and tonic.

… --- …

Amelia was relieved that Skeeter hadn't noticed them as they passed through the pub that served as a gateway into the Diagon Alley shopping district of London. They walked at a fairly quick pace until the reached the white marble steps of Gringotts bank. They walked to the counter of the dimly lit building where a long row of tellers were working at their various tasks. When it was their turn to talk with the dispatching goblin that would direct them to the right spot, the dispatcher, who had a long nose, even by goblin standards inquired, "What may we do for you today, Madam Bones and Mr. Potter?"

Amelia replied, "Four things, Longsnout - Harry will need to visit his trust vault this morning. When we return from it, I would like to have him receive a copy of his parents' Will, and I would like for Harry to receive an account listing of his family vault. Finally, he will want to exchange some galleons for pound sterling notes. He'll want two thousand, sterling."

The goblin nodded, appreciating the efficiency of the request and replied, "Fangtooth will be happy to escort you. Please follow him."

Harry gave Amelia a questioning look and asked, "How did you know about those things?"

Amelia replied, "That's a fair question, Harry. My brother's son Edgar, was a friend of your parents, along with Frank Longbottom. They were in the Auror academy together. Edgar and his wife, Rachel were Susan's parents. They were killed a few days before your parents. I believe that you will find their names, along with Frank and Alice Longbottom somewhere in your parents' succession list of possible guardians for you."

Harry made the connection, and replied, "Neville's parents? What happened to them?"

Amelia explained as they rode the cart through the winding and mostly dark tunnels. Finally the cart stopped and Fangtooth announced, "We're at your vault, Mr. Potter. Key please."

Harry handed the gnarled goblin his key and they got out of the cart and opened the door. Harry reached in and picked up a stack of fifty coins, one of approximately a thousand such stacks in his vault. Amelia prodded him suggesting, "Why don't you take out nine or ten more Harry. You need to get a few things, and having a bit of spending money would never hurt."

Harry picked up a total of ten stacks and placed them in the little bag the Fangtooth had provided. They got back in the cart, and Amelia added, "Harry, your parents were quite well off. They must have set up that trust vault for you when you were born, intending to add to it as you got into school. They wanted you to be able to buy anything that you needed, regardless of what might happen to them. Let's take a look at your parents' will and exchange half of your coins for some muggle notes. The estate summary that you just received won't change anything for you this year, but I was fairly certain that you've never been given one before."

Harry replied, "Never. I didn't even know that they had another vault or anything other than the one that Hagrid had shown me when he found me."

They arrived at the lobby end of the cart ride and Fangtooth led them to a small conference room where there were two documents on the table and six chairs. He asked, "Would you care to examine the documents while I exchange your galleons for sterling notes?"

Amelia replied, "That will be fine. Harry, he'll need 400 galleons from you."

Harry handed over the coins and Fangtooth weighed them in his hand, knowing by touch that the young wizard was neither over nor short in the count. Fangtooth replied, "I'll return in approximately nine minutes." He left the room and closed the door behind him.

Amelia opened the seal of the parchment marked Potter Will – Copy and spread it out on the table. Whereas she was examining the content, Harry was looking at the handwriting, which was obviously his mum's.

The estate distribution was straightforward; everything went to Harry upon his reaching the age of majority. It was the guardianship succession section that interested her – Sirius Black, Edgar and Rachel Bones, Frank and Alice Longbottom, or their successors.

She decided to look into who handled the execution of the will at a later time. Fangtooth opened the door and set an envelope on the table. He asked, "Will you need anything else today?"

She replied, "No, thank you."

As Fangtooth was leaving, Harry added, "Thank you, sir"

The old goblin turned around and replied, "It was a pleasure, Mr. Potter." It was all too rare that wizards exercised even the most basic courtesies towards goblins.

Amelia folded up the parchments and suggested, "Perhaps we should be on our way as well, Harry. A complete set of proper clothing aside, what would you like to look for?"

Harry considered her question for a moment and replied, "I would like a mobile phone like yours, a new pair of jeans, some proper treats for Hedwig, a swimming outfit, some stamps to mail a letter, a wand holster, a proper pair of shoes, and perhaps a few gifts, and if we have time, a new set of robes, and maybe some books. If we don't, then just the gifts and owl treats."

Amelia smiled at the teen, and replied, "I'm certain that we can manage to get everything on your list and a few others, if we hurry along. Let's get the muggle clothing and mobile phone first, then come back, get measured for robes, then have lunch. Afterwards, we can look for a few gifts, something for your owl and perhaps I can help you pick out a few books. Will that be acceptable to you?"

Harry nodded, and Amelia absently asked, "Where do you like to shop?"

Harry looked at his shoes and admitted, "Honestly, except for the time Hagrid took me when I was eleven, I've really never been. Sorry."

In as comforting a voice as an angry woman could muster, Amelia replied, "You've nothing to apologize for, Harry. Apparently your aunt has been neglecting to offer you proper care for too long. When was the last time you were at the eye healer?"

Harry gave her a blank look as they walked down the alley and replied, "I don't know what you mean, sorry."

Feeling herself growing ever more frustrated, Amelia directed Harry into a small shop and asked, "Claire, could you possibly make time to see this young man in the next few days? He needs a complete examination and either new corrective lenses, or a permanent treatment, if it suits his condition."

The kindly eye healer replied, "Tomorrow at one is the earliest appointment that I have available. Who is your current healer Mr… well bless my soul. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Potter. I'm Healer Claire Singer."

Amelia saw the look of annoyance that Harry involuntarily gave when her gaze flicked upward to his scar. She added, "I'm certain that Harry values his privacy, and will be pleased with your services and confidentiality, Claire."

Clair took a small card from her desk and wrote the date and time of the appointment, then handed it to Harry, saying, "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Potter. I'll see you tomorrow at one."

Amelia replied, "Thanks, Claire. We'll be on our way then." Annoyed that she already had guessed the answer, she asked, "Hadn't Professor Dumbledore made arrangements to have you taken to Diagon Alley or other outings every few weeks?"

Harry replied, "Mrs. Weasley picked up my books before second year. I spent a few weeks at the Leakey Cauldron last summer, but…" Harry paused for a moment before admitting, "I didn't have my key. I just had enough coins to buy my books and a bit to eat."

Amelia didn't say anything for a moment. A lot of people had let Harry Potter down, chief among them, Dumbledore, but looking backward wasn't going to do the teen any good. She announced, "I believe that you're on your way to a much more interesting summer this year."

Harry nodded and they walked in comfortable silence until they reached the first shop.

The next two and a half hours were among the longest of Harry's life. A pair of jeans led to six, whereas a pair of trainers led to three pair of shoes, stockings, pants and summer shirts. A new school robe at Malkins, led to three complete sets, outerwear, and dress robes, new ties, and a nice pair of dragonhide boots.

Fortunately, Amelia had them all shrunk down with a self-reversing charm set for eight hours.

It was getting to be nearly lunchtime and they hadn't yet gotten to the bookstore, the gift shop, found a wand holster or stopped at Eylops. Amelia had received an owl advising her that she had appointments all afternoon, and knew that Susan and Hannah had been promised lunch in five minutes. She said, "I'm sorry that the morning went by so fast, Harry. I have work all afternoon at the Ministry. Would it be all right if I asked Alastor Moody to help you finish up tomorrow morning?"

Seeing Harry nod, she continued, "He's a retired Auror and a good man, Harry, even if he looks a bit rough around the edges. I'll ask him to meet you at the Leaky Cauldron at ten if that's all right with you. I'm certain that your aunt won't object."

"Okay. I'll take the bus just like today. How will I know him?"

She smiled at his insight and replied, "His password will be a sentence ending in the word dragonhide and your reply will contain the word wandholster. Beyond that, he has an artificial eye that's fairly hard to miss. Now let me get you to the Hollow Quill. I really need to get back to the office."

… --- …

Susan Bones tried to hide her excitement, but her lifelong friend saw through it in a minute. She teased her saying, "Relax Bones, its just lunch. Chat him up a bit, don't mention Granger or Black and invite him to go swimming at your house tomorrow."

All of Susan's childhood insecurities seemed to kick in at once, "Suppose he doesn't want to spend any time with me. What if Auntie scared him off? What if I scared him off?" Susan hadn't yet owned up to the "bathroom incident" to her friend.

Hannah gave her friend 'the look.' and replied, "Suppose, suppose, suppose. Just try it, and don't worry about his business with your aunt. If she were really worried about Black, she'd have told you something. Here he comes. Hey, he looks pretty good."

Harry walked up to the table and greeted the two teen witches, "Hi Susan, hi Hannah."

"Hi Harry," replied Susan. She pulled out a chair that was closer to, and facing her, and suggested, "Have a seat. How was shopping?"

Harry replied, "Brilliant, but tiring."

"What did you get?" asked Hannah, who was highly amused at the glances that Susan and Harry were throwing at each other.

"New shoes, stockings, some trousers that fit, jeans, a couple of shirts, a pair of board shorts, robes for school and a set of dress robes."

Hannah gave her friend a wink and silently urged her to move in for the kill.

"Maybe you should come over tomorrow afternoon and I could give you a swim lesson," suggested Susan, encouragingly.

A slightly wicked thought regarding swimming came to Hannah's mind, but she kept it to herself as she waited for Potter's acceptance of Susan's smoothly delivered offer.

Harry had a pained look on his face as he replied, "I can't, sorry." He wasn't experienced enough to explain his situation and ask to reschedule, and Susan wasn't confident enough of herself to get to the bottom of his refusal. They ate their lunch and made a bit of small talk, but Hannah could tell that her friend was nearly in tears. They parted ways about fifteen minutes later with Harry completely bewildered at what had transpired.

… --- …

Wednesday 29 June

The twelve-foot snake wasn't indigenous to the Butrint forest in southern Albania. It had been brought there some fifteen seasons ago and somehow had been strengthened. As a result, it had grown both in power as well as size in the warm weather. It had not seen the man that had left it there, but the asp, which was now just over twelve feet, could feel the presence of the magical being that had somehow returned to it and spoken its name – Nagini.

Nagini sensed the small animal and was silently closing in on its prey when it felt an unusual movement. Where there had been a rat moments before, now stood a man!

Nagini felt the presence of the being that had inhabited it stir and it became very excited.

… --- …

After a week of plodding aimlessly through the forests by Gadinje, Pettigrew had gone to the forest in the southern tip of the country bordering Greece. Even to the wizard's unattended senses, this area felt darker and somehow more dangerous.

Filthy from camping in the forests for days on end and nearly starving from hunger, Pettigrew had switched back and forth from his human form to the rat, which had an easier time finding edible food.

As the little light that found its way into the forest failed with the setting sun, the rat sensed the presence of a large predator nearby. Pettigrew quickly changed back into human form and was startled to see an immense snake within striking distance. The snake raised its head and using its flicking tongue easily found the man.

As Pettigrew pulled his wand out of his pocket to defend himself, he felt a familiar presence. Too scared to move, he was astounded to see a black mist come out of the snake's mouth, forming a quaffle size cloud. In the quiet of the forest, he heard a voice call, "Wormtail" as he was enveloped by the mist.

A minute later, Pettigrew cleared his aching head, and in a raspy voice spoke a word, "Master."

… --- …

Thursday 30 June

More than a week after his bungled luncheon with Susan and Hannah, Harry was still puzzled why it had ended so badly. When he had visited her home, and they'd gone for a walk in their back garden, everything had been comfortable, and she had been easy to talk to. Now he wasn't sure what to say.

He'd finally written Hermione asking for her telephone number so he could call her. Maybe she'd be able to help him.

As he was weeding the flowerbeds, he thought back to his afternoon with Master Auror (retired) Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody.

Harry had walked into the pub from the Charing Cross entrance. The old Auror was sitting at a table with his back to the wall. Where his right eye would normally be was a fitted, electric blue artificial eye that seemed to swivel and rove independently of the other, real one. He looked at the teen for half a minute and mentioned, "Good looking pair of boots you got on. Are they made of dragonhide?"

Harry replied, "Yes sir, they're Chinese Fireball." Then he remembered the password/response signal that Amelia had mentioned and he added, "I'm hoping to get a matching wand-holster."

Moody gave him a half smile, held out a hand, roughened from a lifetime of hard, honest work and said, "Hi kid. I'm Alastor Moody, but most people call me Mad-Eye. I'll answer to any of the three."

Harry shook the older man's hand and replied, "I'm Harry Potter, sir, just Harry."

Moody stood up and Harry saw that in addition to having had a bit of his nose removed, the old Auror had lost one of his legs somewhere, and had been fitted with an artificial peg-leg. Somehow it seemed to fit him well and he was surprisingly graceful with it, though he used a staff to help him balance from time to time. He said, "Amelia said that you needed to do some shopping today. What are you looking for?"

Harry replied, "I'd like a wand-holster, some extra defense and spellbooks and some treats for my owl. I need to stop at Gringotts first. I spent more than I'd expected to last time. Come to think about it, I think I need a bigger trunk too."

Moody gave half of a laugh and replied, "Aye son, that's the thing about going shopping with a woman. You go into a shop looking for a spoon, and come out with a dining room table." He gave a look up the street as they slowly made their way up the alleyway and suggested, "First things first. You walk over to Gringotts, and I'll take a look at the trunk shop that's half way down the street on the left." He conjured a black baseball style cap and handed it to the teen, saying, "Here, kid. Put this on. It'll keep people from getting too good of a look at you. I'll meet you at the trunk shop in ten minutes. Same password."

Harry nodded and walked at a brisk pace to Gringotts. Spending the afternoon with Mad-Eye seemed more like a dangerous adventure that shopping with Amelia. Longtooth took him back to his vault and suggested that Harry take more gold out this time. A thousand galleons and four thousand in sterling later, Harry again remembered to thank the old goblin as he dashed out of the bank.

He walked into the trunk shop, they exchanged their passwords and Moody showed him some of the more exotic trunks. "This one is like my own - multi compartment and a key for each one. Mine has seven. This one has four, but it aught to be more than plenty to meet your needs for years to come. Well made and it has sturdy hinges. Self shrinking too, so you can carry it around easier. I wish my own had that feature."

"How much is it?" asked Harry.

"There's always a bit of negotiating to be done with these things. Could you afford a hundred galleons, if it comes to that?"

Harry nodded. He'd expected to pay five times that amount.

Moody replied, "I'll talk with the shopkeeper. You stand over there and look at the student models for a few minutes till I call you over."

Harry want to the other side of the cluttered shop and Moody called the shopkeeper over, saying," I'd like to get this trunk as a gift for someone. What's yer best price on it?"

The shopkeeper, who to Harry sounded like the oily shopkeeper that he'd heard in Knockturn Alley two years ago replied, "Master Auror Moody. How nice to see you again. I suppose that I could possibly let it go for three hundred and twenty galleons."

Moody replied, "Aye and next you'll be asking for my other leg too. I'll give you forty-five for it. Like I said, it's a gift for someone that you would be very pleased to say was using one of your trunks."

The shopkeeper considered the possible value of being able to mention that the Aurors were using these trunks and replied, "I suppose that could be arranged. In that case, I could sacrifice and let you have it for two forty, no two hundred and fifteen."

Moody gave his magical eye a roll upwards and Harry came to believe that it wasn't just randomly spinning like he'd first believed.

The shopkeeper, sensing that Moody may have been searching his back room for contraband, remarked, "And for today only, I suppose, it could go for two hundred, even."

Moody replied, "I want this for Harry Potter, and I'll give you sixty, not a knut more."

The shopkeeper laughed and replied, "Right Moody, and me mum's the queen herself. And me nephew Stan's good friends with Potter too, I suppose. If that trunks for lil Harry Potter, you bring him in, and you can have it for your sixty galleons. Ha, that's a good one, and next you'll be telling me that me arse is on fire too."

Moody, replied, "I wouldn't know about your arse, Stan, but the lad's over there waiting for us to finish, "Harry, come on over. Say hello to an old friend, Stanley Patrick Shunpike."

Harry walked over and in a polite voice greeted the man, "Hello, sir." He took off his cap and added, "I'd be happy to pay you two hundred galleons for that trunk."

The old shopkeeper shook the teen's hand and replied, "Nonsense, lad. Sixty is more than fair. I was afraid that I'd be stuck accepting Mad-Eye's first offer, the thieving bastard. You two finish yer shopping, and I'll have it ready for you in an hour."

They finished their shopping, getting Harry a Chinese Red wrist model wandholster, a spare wand, treats for Hedwig and fifteen defense books - from escape methods, to books on disillusionment, defensive transfiguration and a book on attack charms. Harry had offered to buy Moody dinner, and to his surprise and delight, the old Auror accepted.

Both men thought that they'd gotten the better deal out of the afternoon. Harry had gotten some first rate equipment and had easily been saved several hundred galleons, and Moody had gotten a first rate dinner and a few drinks for free, all the while meeting a very interesting young man.

… --- …

Harry pulled on an especially stubborn weed and decided that he'd write Susan and explain that her aunt had made arrangements for him to see an eye healer and to do some shopping with Mad-Eye. He'd also mention that he really would appreciate some swim lessons, if she'd be willing to spend any time with him.

Just then Hedwig flew back from Hermione's. Harry hoped that his friend had an idea that would help him. He opened the note and quickly read it.

Dear Harry,

For goodness sake, she probably thought that you were turning her down, or were mad at her. Send Hedwig to her house right now with a note apologizing, and explain that you had an eye doctor appointment already scheduled. I think swim lessons would be a great idea. I'm sorry that you didn't already have them when you were younger, but now would be a great time to learn.

As soon as you've sent Hedwig off with her note, call me. Here's my telephone number.

Love from,

Hermione

Things always made so much more sense when he talked them over with Hermione. He went inside and washed up, then wrote Susan a note for Hedwig to deliver. After he'd wished his trusty owl a good flight, he called the number that she'd written down.

A cheery voice answered, "Grangers. This is Hermione."

"Hi, this is Harry."

"Hi Harry. Have you heard from Sirius? How was the eye healer? What books did you get? Tell me about your new trunk. Oh, I'm so glad that you called."

Harry chuckled and replied, "One question at a time Hermione. Where do you live?"

Hermione gave him her address and Harry asked, "Can I stop over?"

Hermione replied, "Of course you can, you don't need to ask. Is your Aunt going to drive you? You're not going to fly over here, are you? Harry Potter, don't you even think about it, you'll get in so much trouble." She kept this up nonstop for five minutes, while Harry grabbed his wands, shrunk his trunk, walked out to the front yard, took a look around and held his wand out. He held his hand over the phone while Stan gave his customary greeting and Hermione was just finishing when she heard a loud bang out in front of her house. Harry was just getting off the bus when he heard Hermione say, "Call back in a minute Harry, something just happened out in front."

Needless to say, Harry was just about to knock on the door, when his bushy haired friend burst through the front door, knocking him over and off of the front step and onto the sidewalk.

Seeing what she'd done, she began apologizing profusely, "Oh Harry, I didn't know it was you. Are you all right? How did you get here so fast?"

A few steps slower than her overly excited daughter, an older version of Harry's friend walked through the still open door, and helped her daughter pick up her best friend. Smiling at him, she asked, "I hope all of her greetings aren't so lively. You must be Harry. I'm Hermione's mum, Emma Granger."

Not at all injured, Harry took her offered hand and replied, "I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Granger."

Harry explained about taking the Knight Bus, and how it was loaded with Notice-Me-Not charms, and was quite safe to call from any location.

"Where do you live, Harry?" asked Emma, who was quite interested in how the magical transportation system worked. Harry told her, and she calculated "That's about twenty miles and easily an hour's drive with traffic. How soon before you called had you left?"

"I didn't," replied Harry. "I didn't have the address until I called, and it took me a minute to gather up my stuff, so I suppose the ride was about four or five minutes at the most."

"How could the bus possibly go so fast?" asked Emma, trying to do the math taking into account the time required to get on and off the bus.

"Magic, I suppose," replied Harry, who hadn't really thought about it, while Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head at her friend's simplistic answer to a question that clearly deserved at least a roll of parchment to properly explain.

Emma smiled at the contrast between her overly enthusiastic daughter and her very down to earth, but apparently famous friend. They talked for a while as Harry was dragged into showing them his new trunk, books and wizard robes.

Suddenly Hermione demanded, "Harry, where are your glasses?"

Harry thought for a moment, and replied, "They must be out in front." He walked out the front door, saw them lying in the grass, picked them up and put them in his pocket.

When he walked back to the kitchen table where they'd been visiting, Mrs. Granger inquired, "Harry, if you need glasses, why aren't you wearing them?"

He replied, "Susan's Aunt took me to an eye healer, and made an appointment. I went in the next day and she looked at my eyes for a few minutes and asked if I wanted them fixed, or if I'd rather have new glasses. The Auror that had taken me the next day had suggested that I do both, and I did."

"What do you mean?" asked the now confused oral surgeon.

"Well she fixed my eyes, and made me a pair of glasses like he'd suggested."

Emma asked, "Like sunglasses?"

Harry shook his head and replied, "Not really. They can supposedly see through disguises and stuff."

Hermione asked, "Do they really work? Are they even legal? Harry Potter, don't you dare misuse them."

Harry considered her words for a moment and rather than defend future use of something that he hadn't even considered, replied, "Says the girl who manipulated time for an entire year just to take a couple of extra classes."

Hermione laughed at herself, and they spent several hours catching up. Harry explained about the ease of using the Knight Bus and his magical trunk. He lent her half of the new books that he'd bought and gave her his cell phone number.

Mrs. Granger commented, "Isn't that rather expensive, Harry? Why wouldn't you just use your relatives' phone?"

Harry's look darkened slightly for a second. Then he replied, "This will work better. They really don't want me…" He was going to say 'using their phone,' but the reality was 'living anywhere near them.'

Hermione caught the implication of his unfinished sentence and changed the subject by asking, "Did you write Susan back?"

Harry nodded and explained what he'd written, which seemed to pass his friend's unwritten standards of good "boy behavior" relating to a girl.

He left a while after, promising to call in a few days.

… --- …

Hermione liked Susan and knew her a bit from the arithmancy class that they had together. She recognized that Harry needed someone who, like herself, could look at her best friend, and see Harry, not the Boy-Who-Lived. She also thought that Harry could look at Susan, and see the kind hearted girl who was struggling with her physical changes, and just not a pair of boobs on a stick looking like a desert to be eaten, like some of the boys at school seemed to think.

As she was getting ready for bed, Ron's little owl fluttered through her window and dropped a note on her desk. It excitedly flew around her room, occasionally dive-bombing her annoyed cat Crookshanks while waiting for the witch to write a reply to the invitation.

… --- …

Friday 1 July

Susan woke up the next morning and when she came down for breakfast, saw a beautiful white owl waiting patiently on the kitchen windowsill. Her aunt Amelia smiled and suggested, "I think that's Harry's owl and the note is addressed to you, dear."

Susan reached over to Hedwig, who hopped onto the table right in front of the anxious teen and help out her leg. She ripped open the note and began to ask, "Why didn't you tell me..." then she realized that it wasn't Amelia's place to comment on Harry's medical appointments, and that it was simple inexperience in communication, and not disinterest that had gotten them off track.

Amelia waited patiently for her grandniece to draw her own conclusions, and then suggested, "Maybe you should invite him over tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be sunny, and Smidgen could make you two lunch. He could stay for dinner if you'd like. Connie and Rufus are coming over, and they'd probably like to meet him. Send him a note, be sure to mention dinner, and suggest that he bring a robe along for dinner. Have a good day over at Hannah's."

Hedwig waited patiently while her master's friend composed her thoughts and attached the message to her leg for the return flight.

… --- …

That evening after washing the dishes, Harry went up to his room to read his new book on offensive spells. He was quite interested in various uses of the Reducto spell that they'd been introduced to in charms class at the very end of third year. Harry wished that he'd thought to try to blast that rat Pettigrew as he'd scurried off into the darkness that night, but recognized that hindsight was nearly always 20-20.

Ron's owl fluttered in through the open window, carrying a note. Harry caught the excited owl and untied the string holding the note.

Harry,

You need to come over on 24 August. Dad got tickets for all of us to the Quidditch World Cup! We'll leave first thing in the morning the next day. Dad's borrowed a couple of tents that we can stay in after the match. They usually go on quite a while, but not always.

Hermione's coming too. It should be great.

See ya,

Ron

A few minutes later, Hermione called and asked, "Did you get the note from Ron yet? Pig was over a half hour ago and had notes for both of us. I'd better tell Ron not to tie two notes to the little owl at the same time, they might have been too heavy for him."

Harry agreed and suggested that they go to Ron's together. "We could take the Knight Bus and be there in a half hour, if your mum wouldn't mind."

Hermione agreed and asked if he'd heard back from Susan yet.

Harry replied, "No. Not yet. She might have been busy or something and Hedwig might have had to wait a while."

Hermione gave a cheerful reply, "I'm sure she'll write back soon. Have a good night, Harry."

"You too. Bye."

A minute later, Hedwig flew in the window. She had a note tied to one leg, and a dead rat clutched in her other claw.

oc-OC-oc

The old scribe waited to see McGonagall's reaction. She put the parchment down and Crow noticed that she'd marked several passages. Finally she looked up and Crow noticed her thin lips.

"We have discussed cliffhangers and crude remarks before, Mr. Crow."

It was only then that she noticed that he'd already left and was on his way. She would have to get some of the storyteller referrals that he had mentioned before examining his report.

… --- …

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