The Hogwarts Express pulled in to King's Cross station amidst a cloud of steam.
"Well, that's it then. School year's over." Harry sighed despondently.
"What are you so glum about? Summer! No homework, no classes, no tests! Those ruddy exams were enough for me…" Ron griped belligerently as he gathered his things together.
"My parents and I are supposed to be going to France. I can't wait. They have an entire magical province there, you know. Hopefully my parents will let me explore and pick up some light reading… though knowing them they're probably going to want to lounge around half naked on the beach drinking wine. Such a waste of time, especially when I could be doing extra credit work…in French. That would put me at the top of the class uncontested for sure!" Hermione grumbled a moment later. Her voice seemed more nasally and annoying than usual.
Harry followed along after the crowd, an uneasy feeling growing in his chest as he reached the platform. He hadn't spotted Sirius on the way in. All around him families were having joyous reunions. He was buffeted this way and that by the crowd as he searched--at first curiously, but then more frantically as the platform began to clear and there was still no sign of his godfather.
"He's probably just running late. Maybe he's on the muggle side? Chatting up Mr. and Mrs. Granger and keeping them company while they wait?"
The platform was deserted; the last of the families vanished through the floo as those with a single child apparated away. All that was left was a few candy wrappers, and a page of the Daily Prophet idly blowing down the track. Heart pounding, he exited to the muggle side and looked around. He spotted Hermione and her parents exiting the station; there was no sign of Sirius.
He jumped as a heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"It's about ruddy time, damned freak. You think I've got all day to wait around for the likes of you?"
"Vernon! Save it for when we get home. People are watching."
Harry's blood ran cold. "No." Harry whispered quietly.
"None of your nonsense, freak." Vernon growled, squeezing his shoulder and dragging him along like so much unwanted baggage.
Harry, still numb, let himself be dragged along. All the while in his head a constant litany of "No. No. No. Nonononono…." was resounding through his head. It was getting hard to breathe. They were halfway across the station already and his shoulder was beginning to ache under Vernon's meaty fingers.
Harry suddenly wrenched his shoulder out of Vernon's grip and hurriedly backed out of striking range. This wasn't happening.
"No. NO! What are you doing here? It's over! He's dead! There's no reason for me to go back! I want Sirius!"
Vernon's face was slowly turning purple and he began huffing like an enraged bull. He lunged for him, but Harry had already turned and started running the other way. He hadn't gotten more than a few feet when his path was suddenly blocked.
He tried to swerve, but the man anticipated this and grabbed him.
"Now Harry, you're making a scene." Remus Lupin sighed in his weary, passive-aggressive voice.
"Let go of me! Where's Sirius?"
"Dumbledore decided it was for the best that you return to your aunt's house. Sirius agreed."
"No he didn't! He promised!"
Harry broke free a second time and took off in a new direction, this time deeper into the station. Again he'd barely gotten a few feet when he was stopped again.
"Harry, dear! There you are! Goodness gracious! Running about, making a scene. You're just a child! You need to do what Dumbledore thinks best!" Molly Weasley scolded while firmly embracing him.
Harry struggled, but the woman was like an octopus with steel arms.
"Let go! Let me go! NOO! Sirius!"
"Harry! Harry! HARRY! Wake up!"
Harry woke with a start and looked around in confusion. His heart was pounding, his skin was clammy, and for a moment he wanted to flee.
"You were having a nightmare." Hermione huffed. "You nearly got me a couple of times, the way you were flailing around!"
Harry slowly straightened in his seat and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, trying to wake up. His roommates and Neville were all watching him warily.
"We're almost to the station. Pull yourself together." Hermione ordered.
"Was it about You-Know-Who?" Neville asked fearfully.
"Your nightmare. Was it about him?"
"It was about your forehead exploding, wasn't it? I know that would give me nightmares. Just sitting around in class and then BOOOM!" Terry disagreed.
"No. No it wasn't about either of them." Harry muttered distractedly.
"You were calling your godfather's name. Were you… Was he hurting you? Are you afraid to go home with him?" Hermione asked worriedly. "I know he's unstable…"
"He is NOT!"
"You don't have to cover for him, Harry. It's probably not completely his fault. Azkaban damaged him."
"I was not having a nightmare about Sirius! Would you quit it!"
"What was it about then?"
"That Dumbledore called the Dursleys to come pick me up from the station because he'd decided to keep interfering in my life, if you must know."
"Dumbledore is a great and respected wizard and…"
"Again, shut it. His interfering landed me and Sirius both in our own version of hell for ten years. Voldemort is gone. He doesn't have any more excuses to keep interfering, but I'm not sure that will really stop him."
"Honestly! You're being paranoid."
"It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you." Michael chimed in from his spot by the window.
"Looks like we're almost there. If those relatives of yours really are there, don't worry. You can come visit me for a bit. I'm sure my mum wouldn't mind."
"And if she does, you can come stay with us. Our house isn't very big, but I'm sure we could find somewhere to stuff you." Terry agreed.
"I'd invite you, but we're going to be visiting relatives all over for most of the summer, and it would be difficult to add you to our travel plans last minute, but otherwise…" Anthony added apologetically.
Harry smiled at his roommates.
"Thanks, I appreciate it…but hopefully none of it will be necessary."
"I guess we'll find out." Neville agreed.
Harry followed out after the crowd; the similarity to his nightmare was enough that he could feel his stomach clenching in response.
"Harry! Over here!"
"Sirius." Harry's relief was so great the tension just bled right out of him, leaving him feeling wobbly and lightheaded.
Sirius, with Remus right behind him, pushed their way through the crowd towards him, both their faces alight with concern.
"Harry…you're all clammy! And pale… Pomfrey said you were fine!"
"Nightmare. On the way here. It's nothing, don't worry about it."
"Let me decide if I need to worry about it. You look like death warmed over."
"What was your nightmare about? Voldemort is gone, Harry. You don't need to worry about him ever again." Remus added kindly.
In response Harry huffed disgustedly and rolled his eyes.
"Why does everyone think I'm worried about bloody Voldemort? I know he's bloody well dead. I was there. Not to mention stuck in the stupid hospital wing for a week, even though I was fine…"
"If it wasn't Voldemort, what was it?"
"I dreamed you weren't here to pick me up. Dumbledore was going to force me back to the Dursleys. I tried to run for it, but all his minions were waiting to drag me back." he added with a distrustful glance Remus' way, though they missed it as they were exchanging a look when he did it.
Harry caught it and stepped back out of reach, glaring at both of them.
"What's going on?"
"We actually were planning on heading to the Dursleys…"
Harry's already pale face went grey.
"Harry? Harry! Breathe! It's not what you think. We were going to see if they'd sign over custody and then we were going to gather any of your stuff that was still left there!"
Harry sucked in a breath; he hadn't realized he'd stopped until the two men freaked out.
"I told you this was a bad idea!"
"Well Dumbledore is obviously talking out of his ass again and has no bloody clue what he's talking about."
"Do I have to be there?"
"Well…no. We just thought you'd want to get your stuff and all. Say goodbye."
"I don’t have any stuff there. I told you as much. Repeatedly. I've no desire to see any of them ever again, and I'm sure the feeling is quite mutual."
"In that case I'll head over there myself tomorrow."
"I'm coming with you." Remus warned.
"Let's just head home." Sirius replied, grabbing hold of Harry. "Hold on tight."
Moments later they were on the edge of Mould-on-the-Wold. A crack to their left a moment later announced Remus' presence.
The Ploughman's Ease was serving chicken pot pies that evening. The three of them ordered one, plus a large mug of dark foamy ale for the two men and a nice glass of juice for Harry.
"Grandpa and Grandmum were talking about maybe doing some travelling this summer. You'd best get your homework out of the way so it's not hanging over you while we're off to have fun. We'd likely come back just in time for you to go back to school, so you wouldn't really have time to do it afterwards."
"Yes, you don't want to leave it for the last minute."
"It's already done."
"Pull the other one." Remus chided. "Your father used to use that one on his parents."
"Tried to, you mean. Your grandmum always demanded to see it."
"That's right. He always ended up grounded the first week of summer."
Harry pulled his trunk out, enlarged it and dug out several neatly rolled scrolls, which he plopped down in the center of the table. Remus and Sirius exchanged a disbelieving look and each grabbed one.
"What've you got?"
"History. Witch burnings."
"I've got potions. Switch? I was never any good in that class."
They each read through, and then took another. Remus read the seventh--he'd always been a faster reader than Sirius. They were still at it when their food arrived.
"Unbelievable. You actually did all of it. Well too. You definitely take after your mother. In this at least." Remus finally concluded. "If you continue in this vein, you should have no trouble maintaining an 'O' in my class next year."
"I'm going to be the DADA professor next term."
"Yeah? In that case, you can keep this one. One less thing for me to worry about." Harry told Remus cheerfully, digging his DADA homework out of the pile.
Remus took the offered scroll with a sigh and tucked it into his pocket. Sirius snickered, flicked his wand, and the rest of the scrolls re-rolled themselves and packed themselves away.
"Why would you do your homework so early? And when?" Sirius wondered, sounding slightly horrified.
"So it was out of the way and I wouldn't have to worry about it for the rest of the summer. As for when, it was after exams but before we left. We were stuck waiting around cooling our heels for a whole week before we were let go. Ravenclaw house just decided to use the time wisely. Not to mention we still had access to the Hogwarts library, as well as the house library, during that time. We only have a couple of muggle born in the house, and they're all in the upper years. They pointed out that, unlike some of the students, there was no big family library waiting for any of them to do research in. The practice just sort of spread from there. It's become almost a Ravenclaw tradition. Use the last week after classes end to get the summer or holiday work out of the way. It would have been the same for me at the Dursleys; there's certainly no magic books there. Heck, I probably wouldn't have even had my school books to work off. Aunt Petunia knows I can't use magic in the summer to defend myself. My stuff would have been taken off me the moment I was inside, and either locked up or burned."
"Don't start. I lived with those people for ten very long years. I think I know better than you what they would or wouldn't do. Definitely better than Dumbledore, so I don't care to hear what he has to say on the matter either."
Several of the sconces along the wall shattered one after another, causing everyone in the room to jump in fright. The two men slanted a look at Harry, then at one another. They said nothing, just joined the others in the inn who were setting things to rights with a few quick 'reparo' spells. Harry noted a lot of the people in the pub were side-eyeing him as they undid the damage. He had to make a conscious effort to not hunch his shoulders. They had no proof it was him; he hadn't even had his wand in hand. If he went acting guilty it was as good as admitting it…. Even if he wasn't quite sure how he could be responsible. According to the kids at school you stopped having accidental magic after you got a wand. He had a whole year of school under his belt at this point; he really shouldn't having accidents like this.
"Well. Bit of excitement there." Sirius said cheerfully as he sat down. "No harm done though. No one was hurt."
Remus looked like he wanted to say something, but Sirius kicked him, so he reconsidered.
"So…where are we going to go? You said grandpa and grandmum wanted to take a trip?"
"Yeah. We've got a place in France. That's where aunt Cas has been living. We might go there. We've also got a place on an island in the Mediterranean."
"Yeah. Been there?"
"No, but Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon have always wanted to go there. Can we go? I could send them pictures of me with a tan standing next to a sign that says Majorca. They'd die if they knew I got there first."
"I don't know where they want to go exactly. We might head off to India. We've some business investments there. Grandpa was saying something about getting me familiar with things…"
"I wonder if I'd see Padma and Parvati?"
"Padma's is in Ravenclaw with me. Parvati is her twin sister. She's in Gryffindor. Padma said they were going to visit an uncle or something that's still there. "
"Could be, if the uncle's in the same magical district. Given the choices, do you have a preference?"
"No. Wherever is fine with me. I've never been anywhere but my aunt's house, here and Hogwarts. Anywhere we go will be awesome. Oh, hey, I might see Hermione or her parents if we go to France…although, maybe not. They're muggles. She doesn't even know if they'll let her take a tour of the French magical district. I got the impression they intend to lay around mostly naked on the beach and drink a lot of wine. Hermione's not too keen on that idea."
"Well, if we end up going there maybe we can take her for the day or something."
"Mmm." Harry replied, noncommittal. He wasn't sure how fun hanging out with just Hermione for the day would be, even if they were in France in a magical district. She'd probably just want to hang out in the library and obsess about homework.
"So…how'd you do on your exams?"
"Pretty good, I think."
"So…there weren't any issues after your forehead…?"
"NO." Harry huffed. "And before you say another word, I don't have brain damage or anything of the sort. I got enough of that sort of thing from bloody Hermione, I don't need it from you two as well. For your information, my forehead exploding was the best thing that ever happened to me. My memory is better, I can concentrate better and it's easier to do magic…like, a lot easier. Loads, even. There's no comparison. That thing was stealing half my brain power and the majority of my magic, I think. I was completely surprised, you know, when Hagrid told me I was a wizard. I didn't have a clue. I mean yeah, sometimes weird stuff happened around me, but I never really believed I was responsible. I never really felt like it had any connection to me. Well, now I know why. So much of me was tied up in fighting that thing off, or it feeding off me, or something, that there was very little left for me."
"Oh…um, that's good?"
"Um, who won the house cup?"
"Yeah, Gryffindor, right?"
"Not hardly. Between all the points they lost battling Slytherin at the first flying lesson, and the whole dragon smuggling thing… Nah, Hufflepuff won. Slytherin lost points for the flying lesson too, and they and Ravenclaw lost a bunch because Weasley and Draco kept fighting. Weasley also lost us a lot of points because he kept getting shirty with Professor Snape, and he attacked me a couple of times… Basically Hufflepuff was the only house that didn't lose a bunch of points all year, so yeah, they won. When it was announced they all just sat there like lumps for like, five minutes, and then they started cheering so loud I'm pretty sure the walls shook. They were like, crying and stuff. I heard it's been centuries since they've won, so I guess you can't blame them, but geez."
"Hufflepuff?" the two men said in unison, sounding flummoxed.
"How about the quidditch cup? Gryffindor?"
"Nope. Ravenclaw won that. Slytherin's had it the last seven years. Gryffindor was strutting around all year and swore the cup was going to be theirs, but their seeker kind of sucked. Well, ok, he didn't completely suck, but he wasn't the best. The rest of their team was good enough that they made up for it in goals, but Slytherin got the snitch. So, they won the game, but they weren't up enough on points for it to make a difference. We managed to win all our games with a big enough lead in points that it ended up being ours. It's been a long time since Ravenclaw had the cup, so we were pretty excited… surprised, but excited. It was pretty cool, plus we got to rub Weasley's face in the fact that our team beat out his hero Oliver Wood, the quidditch warrior." Harry snorted.
"Huh. Weird. No offense, but Ravenclaw's quidditch team isn't usually…" Remus said apologetically.
"We're the geek-slash-nerd house not the jock house. Yeah, I get it. We still won."
"You gonna try out for the team at any point?"
"I don't know. I think it might be fun. I'm not sure how keen I am to be out there in all kinds of weather, getting cold, getting rained on, when everyone else is warm and toasty inside. I might. I'm still not sure."
"You should. Your dad and I were both on the team"
"Yeah, chaser and beater. I saw."
"Your dad played seeker too, only for one year though. The seeker we had got suspended. We had reserve chasers but no seeker or beaters. The lot of them were sent out to see who could best take his place for the games, and your dad won. He wasn't too thrilled. Chaser was what he liked and what he'd tried out for. We won the cup the year he played seeker though."
"Cool. Like I said though, I'll have to think about it. I never seem to have time as it is, and it would probably mean having to drop out of the clubs I'm in."
"What clubs are you in?" Remus asked curiously.
"Herbology and Charms."
"You'd pick gardening and charm work over quidditch? But…it's quidditch!"
"I bet you'd get along well with Ron. Or Mike. Or Terry." Harry said, rolling his eyes. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I like quidditch. I think it would probably be fun to play once in a while, I do like flying, but it's not the end all be all of creation either."
They made small talk while finishing up their meals, and then it was off to the manor house.
Harry ran ahead and beamed when the gate swung open as he appeared. It was good to be home.