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Hedwig returned before they retired for the night. Goldfarb was noncommittal in his reply, but said that Harry could meet with him any time tomorrow. Ron was in the process of obliterating Harry at wizarding chess when the snowy owl landed on the board, scattering the pieces.

“Oy! Harry!” Ron objected. He was no more than three moves from checkmate.

“Good girl!” Harry cooed to his owl, stroking the ridges above her eyes.

“Ruddy owl did that on purpose,” Ron said darkly.

“Oh, stop whinging. We both know you were slaughtering me. Too bad you can’t play chess for a living like some Muggles do,” Harry groused. He’d said it in an offhand way, but his friend’s ears still pinked at the backhanded compliment.

Mrs. Weasley announced it was time they went to sleep, especially since Harry needed to be up early to accompany her to Diagon Alley. As he and Ron went up the stairs, Harry thought about asking Mrs. Weasley to put a silencing charm around his bed. He didn’t really want to talk to her about his nightmares though. She was likely to refuse anyway, now that he thought about it.

He’d stayed at The Burrow a few times during the second war… often to attend a funeral, starting with Ginny’s. The nightmares, either his own or from Tom, would often wake half the house, but Mrs. Weasley insisted on being there to wake him once he started screaming. She’d even gone so far as waiting until he was asleep to dispel the silencing charms he’d placed. By that time Ron was staying in a separate room with Hermione, and it fell to Mrs. Weasley to wake him with a hand on his shoulder and soft words.

As Harry put on his pajamas and curled up in the surprisingly comfortable bed, he noticed Ron watching him. He counted silently to himself. Before he reached twenty, his friend spoke up.

“You still having rough dreams, mate?”

As much as he wanted to snap, Harry stopped himself. It was a reasonable question, and Ron had a right to know what to expect. “Not at St. Mungo’s, but I was also on a lot of potions.”

“S’not a big deal here, mate. The ghoul in the attic wakes me at least once a night, banging on the pipes. I’ll just give you a nudge if I wake up. All right there?”

Harry sighed. “Fine.”

Ron looked like he wanted to say something else, but he just snuffed the candle.

Harry stared into the darkness for a couple of minutes before he spoke again. “Hey Ron?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks, mate.”

~+~

After the battle in the Department of Mysteries, Voldemort had grown very cautious with experiencing strong emotions. By doing so, he could exploit the link between himself and his enemy symbolized by the curse scar. Even if he voluntarily lowered his occlumency shields, Harry seldom got warning visions in time to do anything. Voldemort would suppress his glee while planning his atrocities, and then revel in them once they were committed. Only then would Harry double over in pain, clutching his forehead. Only then would he see what Voldemort was up to. And by that time his victims were usually little more than mutilated bodies.

And so it was when Harry, Ron and Hermione were exploring an abandoned house in Lancashire. There were rumors that Voldemort had rented it long ago when he was still Tom Riddle. Even if they had the correct address, he’d probably only stayed there a fortnight before traveling to the continent. Their search found nothing. As they were leaving, Harry fell to his knees, splitting pain and a savage joy radiating from his scar.

Desperately he focused his mind, hoping against hope he could see something in time to save some of the victims. When he saw an image of The Burrow, walls engulfed in flame as the wards collapsed, he surged to his feet screaming. Ron and Hermione had seized his arms trying to stop him from falling down the steps, so he clasped their shoulders and pulled them with him as he apparated to Ottery St. Catchpole.

The thunderous crack of a triple Apparation drew the attention of a half-dozen Death Eaters still on the property. They charged the trio, curses flying. Harry shrugged free of his friends and brought his wand up. The first reducto was screamed at the top of his lungs and the hapless Death Eater wasn’t so much killed as splashed across the hedgerow behind him. Ron’s cutting curse punched a hole completely through another one’s chest while Hermione conjured a jet of acid that left another blinded and screaming on the ground.

Harry’s next curse missed his target, but sheared through the tree behind the Death Eater. The toppling trunk crushed the surprised wizard to the ground. He was peripherally aware of loose stones and vegetation rising into the air and swirling around them, sparks of electricity arcing between them.

The last two Death Eaters Disapparated as The Burrow collapsed into flaming rubble and Ron began running toward the fire. Harry and Hermione leapt forward and grabbed his arms. Molly Weasley insisted on staying in the house where she raised a family with her beloved Arthur. There was little doubt she had joined her husband and most of her children.

~+~

Harry pushed away the hands shaking him. His eyes snapped open and he saw Ron flinch back, his face lit by a bright green glow. There was a sharp pain in his mouth and he realized his jaws were grinding together and he’d bitten the inside of his cheek. The scream bottled up in his throat felt like a solid object, but he forced himself to slowly exhale. The green glow faded, though he couldn’t see its source.

“Merlin, Harry! That must have been a bad one.”

“It was,” Harry croaked. “I was hoping I wouldn’t yell this time,” he muttered, looking around guiltily. He waited for a knock on the door and didn’t relish having to explain this.

“You didn’t,” Ron reassured him. “I just woke up when my bed started rattling. What were you dreaming about that would make you do that?” he asked in a slightly awed and simultaneously worried tone.

Harry’s nerves had been stretched to the breaking point, and that somehow put him over the edge. “I dreamed someone burned down The Burrow,” he snapped,  “with your mum still trapped inside, all right? I dreamed it happened and I had to stop you running in and burning to death as well and it was all my bloody fault! Is that what you wanted to know? Does that satisfy your curiosity?”

Ron stepped back from the bed, stunned.

Harry’s stomach twisted at the look on his friend’s face. I had no bloody business taking out my miseries on him! “I’m sorry, Ron. It was a bad one, but I didn’t mean to snap.”

Ron sat down on his bed, frowning. He looked at Harry thoughtfully, his eyes assessing him like a chessboard. “Harry,” he said quietly. “Why do you have dreams like that?”

Harry sighed. “Ron, it’s something I have to keep secret.” His friend’s frown deepened. “I trust you,” he added, “more than you know, but I can’t tell you until we take some precautions first. Remember that project Hermione is working on with regards to Snape?”

Ron nodded and his eyes narrowed. “It’s him you’re worried about finding out, isn’t it?”

“Well, him and Dumbledore. I think the headmaster is doing something similar. Hermione thinks Snape is using legilimency on us, reading our minds and memories. I appear to be resistant to it, but she sent us a book that shows how to defend against it.”

“That greasy git has been poking around in our minds?” Ron asked in a sick voice.

“It seems like it,” Harry said. “And I have no doubt he’ll use anything he finds against me, against us. I promise as soon as we can make your minds secure against him, I tell you and Ginny everything.”

“What’s Ginny got to do with this?” Ron asked suspiciously.

“More than you think. Besides, she’s my friend as well… and do you think you can keep anything from her? She was asking me the same questions a month ago.”

Ron shook his head ruefully as he lay back down. Soon he was snoring lightly. Harry waited a few more minutes and then quietly crept out of the room, stopping only to pick up his wand.

There were a lot of stairs at The Burrow, but Harry still remembered how to walk silently. The martial arts had improved his balance and agility, but the biggest components were patience and concentration. The only close call was just below the third landing, when a loose stair creaked under his foot at an alarming volume. But after freezing in place for over a minute, he heard nothing and continued.

He sat down on the couch in the darkened sitting room, wand in his hand. Between the doors, the stairs, and the Floo entrance, any invaders would have to get past him to reach any of the Weasleys. It was utterly ridiculous, but it still made him feel better. Harry slowed his breathing, trying to will the tension out of his body, when he heard a sound behind him. He leapt to his feet, spinning toward the disturbance and raising his wand in a single smooth motion.

Ginny’s nightdress was barely visible as she shrank back toward the stairs. “H-Harry?” she whispered.

Harry jerked his wand back down and nearly fell over the couch. “Sorry,” he whispered back, “You startled me.” His knees were shaking in reaction, so he sat down before they gave out completely. He hoped the room was too dark for her to see his face.

With his back to her, he didn’t feel as humiliated by his reaction. He’d nearly hexed her in her own living room. For the first time, he wondered if agreeing to live with the Weasleys might have been a mistake. He stared at his feet and tried to concentrate on controlling his breathing. The last thing he needed to do was hyperventilate and pass out.

Even without looking, he was painfully aware of her presence as she came to stand beside him. “Harry, what’s wrong?” she asked quietly.

“How did you know I was down here?” he evaded.

“I rigged the stair right below my landing. Fred and George’s room is the floor below mine,” she said as if that explained everything. On second thought, Harry reflected, it probably did. Her voice became even softer. “You don’t have to say if you don’t want to. I know what it’s like to have everyone in your business.”

Harry knew he did not want to shut her out; her least of all. She was standing so close he felt like he was being torn in two. “I had a bad dream. A very bad one,” he said in a broken whisper. “When I get back tomorrow, I need to talk to you and Ron. It’s… I can’t…” his voice trailed off.

Harry barely felt her hand on his shoulder, its weight no more than a feather. He closed his eyes and swallowed. “That’s fine, Harry,” she whispered. “I remember what you wrote... and Ron wouldn’t stop ranting about ‘that greasy git.’”

She gave a soft laugh and glided back up the stairs like a ghost, her nightdress gleaming in the starlight coming through the windows.

Harry crept back up the stairs as dawn stained the windows red. Surprisingly, Ron was already stirring. When he was fully awake, they changed into shorts and t-shirts and soon were running through the damp morning air. Harry knew he was well off his normal pace, but Ron didn’t say a word as they circled the property. While he appreciated his friend’s considerate silence, he was annoyed to find any aftereffects from the beating. He gritted his teeth and pushed himself even harder, until he pulled up lame, cramps racing up his left calf.

“Bloody hell,” he gasped as he dropped to a staggering walk. He tried to stretch out the muscles, but that only made him lurch in a grotesque manner.

“Damn Harry,” Ron said, jogging back. He’d gone several paces ahead before he realized Harry was no longer beside him. He helped Harry limp back to the kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley was starting to cook breakfast when they stumbled in. “Harry, what did you do to yourself?” she asked as she maneuvered him to a chair.

Harry really felt like banging his head on the scrubbed wood table. Instead he merely said, “Got a muscle cramp while running. Nothing serious just smarts a bit. A little ice should fix it.”

Mrs, Weasley just gave him an odd look and tapped the back of his leg with her wand. In seconds the cramp let go and he was able to flex his foot again. He let out a sigh.

“I should have guessed you were the one who got Ronald started on this morning running business,” she said.

Ron let out a snort. “First day of holidays, she came to wake me up for breakfast and thought I’d run away from home.”

“That wasn’t particularly funny, young man,” she said sternly. “Though I suppose it is good to know you are getting some nice healthy exercise while you’re away at school.”

Ron rolled his eyes at that, but was interrupted by his sister coming down the stairs.

“What’s all the racket about?” she asked, yawning. She snapped her mouth shut when she saw Harry. For his part, Harry suddenly became very busy rubbing the soreness out of his calf.

“Harry just pushed himself too hard on his morning run, the silly bugger,” Ron said with a grin.

Harry pushed away from the table and stood up carefully. There was a little lingering soreness, but nothing unbearable. “I’m fine,” he said.

“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said in a worried tone. “You just got out of hospital yesterday.”

Harry found himself looking down. It was almost eerie how she could make him do that with just a few words. “I’m being careful with my neck, Mrs. Weasley; my leg was just sore because I haven’t exercised it in a while.”

“Can I go with you tomorrow?” Ginny asked suddenly.

Ron started to open his mouth, but Harry cut in first. “Sure,” he said, trying not to notice her pleased smile.

Ron glared at Harry for a moment, but was quickly distracted when his mother placed a plate laden with fried eggs and sausages in front of him. Mrs. Weasley gave Harry a wink as she turned back to the stove. Harry tried to help, but she firmly shooed him back to the table, where he found himself sitting between Ginny and her brother. “Arthur had to head in to the office today - some sort of legal challenge at work. So I’ll be taking you to Diagon Alley after you finish eating,” she said brightly.

It felt odd to be sitting there waiting and not cooking. Harry supposed that was a reflex from his days with the Dursleys. His jaw tightened as he thought about his former guardians. He didn’t even want to think of them as relatives. He looked forward to his meeting with Goldfarb, and almost missed the glare Ginny was giving her brother.

“I am not a stupid tag-along,” she huffed.

“I just don’t see why you suddenly decided you want to,” Ron said, swallowing. “Maybe it’s because Harry’s running too?”

Harry had to suppress a growl; he did not want Ron teasing his sister about this. She was shy enough around him already. “I think it’s rather a good idea.”

Ron gave him a strange look.

“For the same reason Hermione joined us, Ron,” Harry whispered.

“But… she’s not…”

“She’s your sister and my friend. And she’s not going to be in our classes so we can’t always keep an eye out, can we?” Harry hissed under his breath. It was a low blow, Harry reflected as he we watched Ron’s face get a little pale, but it worked. Mrs. Weasley sat plates in front of him and Ginny before sitting down herself. Ginny gave Harry a questioning looked, but when he mouthed “later” she just nodded.

Despite his shortened run, Harry found himself ravenous, and finished his food almost as quickly as Ron. Before anyone could say anything, he stood up and began clearing his dishes. Mrs. Weasley started to open her mouth, but just shook her head, muttering to herself.

Ginny got up and helped him, but Ron went upstairs, looking a little upset. Ginny stared after her brother, but didn’t say anything. When the dishes were in the sink, Mrs. Weasley sent Harry upstairs to get ready for their trip.

He ran into the twins on the stairs. Fred and George were still yawning and rubbing at their eyes, but Percy’s door was still shut. Ron sat on his bed brooding as Harry tried to find some semi-presentable clothes in his trunk. He needed a quick shower before they left.

“Do you really think that’s going to happen?” his friend asked as Harry closed the trunk.

“I think it might. Look at how many scrapes we got into with the Slytherins last year. No one’s going to miss that she’s a Weasley… especially after she gets sorted into Gryffindor.”

Ron snorted. “I’d like to be that sure. Mum’ll have an eppy if she doesn’t. I just… don’t like thinking about someone…”

“Me neither, Ron,” Harry said firmly. “We’re going to train her up so if anything happens she’ll be the one inflicting the pain, yeah?”

“We may end up regretting that,” Ron said sourly. “She can be a nasty piece of work when she’s feeling narky.”

“That’s fine,” Harry said as he left the room, “we’ll just point her at Malfoy.”

~+~

Diagon Alley was quite busy for a Saturday morning. Ginny volunteered to help her mother with her errands, much to Mrs. Weasley’s surprise, while her brothers went out to the paddock to play Quidditch. Harry cast a longing glance at the back door, thinking of his broom upstairs in his trunk. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Besides, what I have to do at Gringotts may be almost as much fun.

Ginny half-caught Harry when he stumbled out of the Floo, and he almost knocked them both to the floor of the Leaky Cauldron. “Er, thanks,” he muttered. His face was flaming because of where one of his hands ended up, but Ginny just smiled. Thank Merlin Mrs. Weasley was facing the other way, he thought with relief.

Harry kept his hair swept forward as much as possible to hide the scar on his forehead, and they were able to make it from the Leaky Cauldron to Gringotts with no incidents.

“Now Harry, you said you weren’t sure how long this business of yours would take?”

He shook his head. “I know what needs to be done, but it all depends on Goldfarb, really. I’d ask you to come, but he’s probably going to be a little leery about discussing details with someone else present; at least, until the hearing anyway.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded. “Well, we could wait here, but I’d like to get some things done while you are in there. If you get done before we return, would you stay in the lobby here?”

Harry nodded. “I’ll do that.” He watched them for a moment as they walked away. He tried to ignore the pang of worry that invaded the pit of his stomach. Slowly he turned and walked across the marble floor and introduced himself to one of the attendants.

After giving his name, Harry was ushered into a plushly furnished sitting room and asked if he wanted something to eat or drink. Harry demurred politely and wondered at the change in treatment. After about five minutes, a different goblin led him to Goldfarb’s office.

The portly goblin who managed his accounts looked visibly relieved when Harry walked into the room. “Mr. Potter, I’m glad to see you are recovering from your ordeal.”

Harry frowned. “How did you know?”

The goblin cleared his throat. “With your guardianship in dispute, St. Mungo’s sent the bill for their services to me, as executor of your estate. When I received it, I immediately made inquiries and discovered the gist of what happened. From what I understand, you received your injuries while under care of the muggles?”

Harry nodded slowly.

Goldfarb frowned, which with a goblin’s features made him look truly frightening. “I would like to express my apologies for the time it took to acquire the requisite shares in Grunnings, LLC. Some of the parties holding shares were rather… difficult to negotiate with. However, we nonetheless failed to act in time to prevent your injuries.”

Harry shook his head. “I badly misread the situation, Master Goldfarb. And your letter was sent before it happened… a third party was intercepting my post at that time.”

Goldfarb’s eyes grew intent at that last statement, but he didn’t ask. “Mr. Potter, I presume you still wish to take action with regard to those shares?”

Harry grinned. “I do indeed. I no longer need leverage, but I wish to pursue what you originally thought my goal to be.”

“Ah, vengeance,” The goblin hissed, his answering grin was even more predatory than usual.

“Yes,” Harry replied. “I’d like to use those shares to ensure that Vernon Dursley is sacked, but only after a thorough investigation of his actions at Grunnings. From what I remember overhearing, I think he’s guilty of at least minor transgressions involving his expense accounts. I’d like him to be publicly fired ‘with cause’. And if their board doesn’t want those shares sold at a discount to their competitors, they should make sure someone leaks that story to the Surrey Advertiser.”

Harry smiled for a moment. He’d given this a lot of thought lying in his bed at St. Mungo’s, especially after receiving Hermione’s letter. Vernon and Petunia were obsessed with keeping up appearances, and such a story would devastate their shallow little souls. Goldfarb’s answering grin was just as wicked.

“I believe their house mortgage is held at the Natwest branch in Little Whinging. See how interested they would be in selling the note. At that point Vernon will be out of work, which would be grounds to see about a foreclosure, wouldn’t it?”

“That would depend on how the contract is written, but it’s certainly worth investigating.”

“Good. And a copy of the article from the Advertiser, along with the foreclosure notice if possible, should be forwarded to the Dean of Students at Smeltings School. That might be enough to get Dudley kicked out, especially if they suddenly have difficulty paying the tuition.” He smiled at the thought of his cousin suddenly losing all his friends and having to go to Stonewall High.

The goblin stared at Harry for a moment. “I must admit I am surprised, Mr. Potter. When I saw the particulars on the invoice from St. Mungo’s, I took the liberty of compiling a list of discrete removal specialists from Knockturn Alley. I would have thought that you would wish a more… permanent solution.”

Harry was quiet for a moment. “I think that would be a little too quick, Master Goldfarb. As it is, I am inflicting their worst nightmare upon them. And if Mr. Dursley finds another position somewhere else, I can always repeat the process. I want to have some time to cool off before I do anything permanent. In five years, I will be seventeen and able to apparate and use magic freely. Then I will have the option of seeing how long my former guardians can survive under the Cruciatus curse.”

His confession was a calculated move on Harry’s part. Goldfarb was agreeing to use the Potter inheritance in ways that were slightly outside the limits of his powers as the manager. His casual mention of hiring assassins, something even more illegal, was a further revelation of vulnerability on his part. Harry could use the particulars of this discussion to have him instantly dismissed from his position.

Harry revealing plans that possibly included something far more illegal was a counter gesture that made the old goblin’s eyes widen. It went beyond a tacit acceptance of the goblin’s apology and was an expression of explicit trust.

“Mr. Potter, is there anything else Gringotts can do for you in pursuit of your most excellent vengeance?” Goldfarb leered. Harry remembered how the Gringotts survivors had spoken of revenge as an art form.

“That’s all I can think of… though if you think of something or an opportunity comes up, I would take it as a personal favor if you would let me know.”

Surprisingly, Goldfarb rose to his feet. “I will make sure to do so, Mr. Potter. I know you are busy, so I will not waste any more of your time.”

Rather than be offended at the brusque dismissal, Harry was touched at the respect shown to him. Before, he’d left the goblin’s office the minute their business was concluded, as a gesture of respect. Now Goldfarb sought to return that gesture. “Actually, there is something else,” Harry said hesitantly. It was time to start acting instead of reacting.

Goldfarb sat back down, leaning forward a little.

“I am currently staying with the Weasley’s, pending their confirmation as my legal guardians next week. That means when I am not attending Hogwarts I will be staying at The Burrow, their house near Ottery St. Catchpole. Now, I understand that funds can be released from the trust, as long as they are directly used for the safety and support of the Potter line, namely me. Is that correct?”

“In so many words, yes. There has to be a demonstrated need, and as executor I would need to sign off on it.”

“Good. When I agreed to go home with the Weasleys, it was on the condition that I was allowed to bear the cost of upgrading the security around The Burrow. You are aware of the circumstances surrounding my parents’ deaths?”

Goldfarb nodded and his eyes narrowed.

“Voldemort did not die that night. He currently exists in the twilight land between life and death. He has taken steps to ensure that he cannot at this time completely die. I was however able to prevent him from stealing something from Hogwarts that would have fully returned him to life… the object he tried to steal from vault seven thirteen last year.”

The portly goblin didn’t show any signs of surprise, other than going very, very still. “You are well informed, Mr. Potter.”

“I had a busy year. The point is that Voldemort will eventually find a way to return, and I am no doubt at the top of his list of wizards that need to die. I understand that Gringotts has some of the world’s most skilled magical security specialists and curse-breakers under contract. I’d like to see everything possible done to secure The Burrow from all intruders or hostile magic.”

Goldfarb looked troubled. “Mr. Potter, their services can be quite expensive.”

“Master Goldfarb, if I could trade the sum total of the Potter fortune to guarantee the safety of The Burrow and its inhabitants, I would do so in a second.”

“You know more than you are saying.” It was not a question, and a surprisingly blunt statement from the normally circumspect account manager.

Harry didn’t directly answer the question. “Voldemort will return. This past decade has been little more than the calm before the storm, and Gringotts will be as much a target as other institutions in the wizarding world. Please warn your colleagues, but I would ask that my name be left out of it.”

“You tell me when you haven’t informed your own kind?” Goldfarb leaned back, visibly shocked.

Harry smiled sadly. “There are factions among my kind that are less than honorable, and that I cannot afford to trust yet. They would do well to emulate your clan, Master Goldfarb. We can go over the details after the hearing is over and the legalities are nailed down. I won’t waste anymore of your valuable time.” Harry got up and left the speechless goblin sitting in his chair.

Back in the lobby, Harry found an attendant to take him down to his personal vault, where he re-filled his money bag with galleons. A quick survey confirmed his estimation that he hadn’t really dented the funds at his immediate disposal.

When he returned to the lobby, Ginny was sitting on a bench by the door, kicking her feet and looking bored. Mrs. Weasley was not there, however.

“Oh, there you are, you just missed Mum,” Ginny said, standing up and smoothing her dress.

“What happened?” Harry asked warily.

“She got an owl from Percy, dropped a note on her head right in the middle of Madam Malkin’s. Some reporter showed up on the path to The Burrow asking if you were home. She said she was from the Daily Prophet, but Mum isn’t so sure about that. Anyway, she told me to tell you to stay here while she and Dad sort it out. He’s trying to get someone from the ministry down there to shut her up, at least until after the hearing. She’ll send Hedwig when it’s all clear.”

Harry let out a groan. “That bloody solicitor working for the Dursleys is behind this.”

“Language, Harry!” Ginny snapped.

Harry started to apologize, but then he noticed that she had a very impudent grin on her face. He settled for raising an eyebrow.

“It’s good practice,” she said. “Mum really will get after you if you say things like that. Or she will after the newness wears off.” She smiled again.

“I suppose our little talk with Ron might be delayed,” Harry said thoughtfully. He looked out past the marble pillars at the busy street. There was a lot of foot traffic, and Harry reminded himself that things were still pretty peaceful this early on. “Well, I have a few things I need to pick up,” he said, “did your Mum specifically say we had to sit here in the lobby of Gringotts?”

Ginny frowned, concentrating. Slowly she shook her head and smiled mischievously. Harry patted his forearm. His wand was there, under the baggy sweatshirt. This early in the timeline, it should be completely safe. “Okay, let’s make this quick then. I need you to stick close though, all right?”

She smiled and nodded.

Harry was looking forward to getting some clothes that actually fit, but he had another errand he needed to run first. As they left the lobby and walked down the steps, Harry jokingly offered Ginny his elbow. She raised her chin and adopted a very shushy expression on her face as she took his elbow; it was all Harry could do to keep from laughing out loud.

They hung a right as they stepped onto the crowded street. Passing Magical Menagerie, where he’d found Hedwig, and Gambol and Japes’ joke shop, they finally came to Ollivander’s.

“Is something wrong with your wand, Harry?” Ginny asked as he led them inside.

“No, but I understand it’s your birthday next week.”

“How did you… Harry, you can’t! Mum will have a cow! She already polished up Grandmum Prewett’s wand for me.” No one ever accused Ginny Weasley of being slow on the uptake.

“It is my money after all. Besides it’s a good investment… you know magic’s harder to do if you don’t have a wand that’s suited to you, right?”

Ginny froze in place, her mouth half open. If his mind wasn’t racing trying to keep up, Harry would have found the sight adorable. ”I suppose if I don’t agree you’ll ‘accidentally’ break my wand too?” she said tartly.

“Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies,” Harry smirked. “Seriously, it is your birthday, and this is a very practical gift. I don’t want you going to Hogwarts with any handicaps.”

Ginny peered up at him. When they stood this close, he actually realized how short she was. “Is this related to those things you can’t talk about yet?”

Harry sighed and hung his head. It seemed like he was having to hide more and more from her these days. How long before she got sick of his evasions and told him to stuff it?

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” she said. Her hand was still on his elbow and she gave it a squeeze. “I know there must be a good reason. Don’t worry, I do trust you.”

Harry looked up and smiled. She was being far more forgiving than he’d expected. “Thank you. That means a lot to me. And if your Mum gets upset, she’ll be mad at me, not you. It’s not like she’d make you take back a birthday prezzie, yeah?”

Ginny laughed again, and let Harry pull her into the shop. Mr. Ollivander was his usual incredibly creepy self. Between his unblinking eyes, and the animated tape measure that kept wrapping itself around her, Harry was surprised Ginny didn’t bolt from the store.

After about fifteen minutes, she waved a trial wand that shot forth a huge gout of red sparks. She rolled her eyes as Ollivander clapped his hands together with what was probably intended as a pleased expression. “Griffin feather and Hazel wood, nine inches but surprisingly strong, a very interesting combination from one of my German colleagues. And you, Mr. Potter, is your wand performing well?”

Harry nodded slowly.

“Good, good... Phoenix feather and Holly, eleven inches and very supple. Great things will be done with that wand, mark my words.”

“I hope my professors will agree, Mr. Ollivander,” Harry said politely.

“Well, there are all kinds of tests, aren’t there Mr. Potter?” Those moon-like eyes seemed to bore into Harry.

Harry gave a curt nod and paid for the wand. As soon as the galleons left his hand, he and Ginny were heading for the door.

Harry ducked into the second-hand robe shop next to Ollivander’s. He’d originally planned to go to Madame Malkin’s, but this place would do just as well. Deep down, he also didn’t want to buy clothes that were noticeably newer or fancier than the Weasleys. It would make him feel awkward and might somehow sway people at the hearing.

He jokingly asked Ginny to help him pick, but she took to it with surprising seriousness. She frowned thoughtfully as he went through the racks of shirts and trousers. A couple of items he pulled out she put back immediately. “That’s entirely the wrong shade of blue, Harry,” she’d say, or “That bright a pattern will make your skin look washed out.” For the most part though, Harry picked out darker colors, thinking of the sometimes poorly lit corridors at Hogwarts. The shirts were all long-sleeved – both to conceal his wand and the ugly doxy-bite scar on his forearm. He also found a plain black robe, with no school seals, to wear for the hearing, and some exercise clothes as well. Ginny chatted with the clerk while he picked up a few odds and ends from the bins, like new socks and underwear.

When they were done, he had a large stack of packages. He asked the clerk very politely if she could shrink them for him. The young woman smiled down at him as he counted out the galleons and reduced each of the parcels to the size of a deck of cards. Canceling the shrinking charm only required that he tap them with his wand. He left a nice tip on the counter and stuffed the purchases into his pockets as they walked out. They hadn’t been that long, but he wanted to get back to Gringotts as quickly as possible.

His fears turned out to be well-founded. Percy was standing on the steps in front of the bank, peering anxiously over the crowd. He began scowling as soon as he saw them.

“Where did you go?” he demanded furiously. “You were supposed to wait here!”

“We just went next door, Percy,” Ginny said, “what’s the matter?”

“Mum and Dad sent me to get you,” he said pompously. “And I don’t appreciate having to wait around half an hour trying to find you. Our parents will be furious!”

“I though she meant stay at Diagon Alley until they’d got that reporter sorted out,” Harry said smoothly. “And I wanted to get some decent clothes for the hearing at the Ministry. I don’t want to embarrass anyone showing up in rags.”

Ginny appeared very uncomfortable after that last statement, but it appeared to mollify Percy a bit. “I suppose Ginny may not have completely understood Mum,” he conceded. “I need to get you two to the Leaky Cauldron immediately though. Mum tends to worry a lot.” With that, he grabbed Ginny’s arm and led them through the crowd.

When the Floo network spat him out at The Burrow, Harry managed to stay on his feet, though he did stagger a little.

“There you are!” Mrs. Weasley said. “I’m sorry we had a change of plans, dear. With that awful Skeeter woman here, it didn’t seem like a good idea to give her any more information than she already had. You three were gone so long; you must be starving for lunch now.” She tuned toward the pantry as Percy spoke up.

“Well,” he said in an irritated voice, “we’d have been back here ages ago if they hadn’t decided to go wandering down Diagon Alley.”

Ginny gave her brother a furious glare as Mrs. Weasley rounded on them.

“Ginny, I said for you and Harry to stay there! I don’t know what possessed you to go wandering! I thought you had better sense than that, you could have ended up on Knockturn Alley, or even worse!”

“Mrs. Weasley, if anyone is at fault it’s me. I already explained to Percy that I thought stay mean “stay on the Alley and don’t come back to The Burrow”. We just went a few doors down to get a couple of things. I didn’t want to be dressed like a ragamuffin for that guardianship hearing. The Ministry people might think you weren’t taking good care of me or something.”

“That’s not bad thinking,” Mr. Weasley said, walking in from the sitting room. “But it’s probably not a good idea to go off unsupervised. As you said, there are some people who might mean you harm.”

Harry nodded and pulled his wand out from his sleeve. “I did think about that, and if it wasn’t broad daylight with crowds of people I wouldn’t have moved a foot out of that lobby.”

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley said in an even voice. “I understand that you haven’t had anyone looking out for you for a while. You’ve been very alone. But that is no longer the case, and a twelve year old boy shouldn’t be traveling by himself.”

“I was with him, Dad,” Ginny protested.

“That makes it even worse, Ginevra. Something could have happened to you as well. If Harry is going to be a part of this family, he needs to understand that things are going to be different.”

Harry felt his stomach curdling. Arthur really was right. There was no risk to a thirty year old Harry who knew more curses than any Death Eater, but that was not how anyone saw him. To them, he was a somewhat precocious twelve year old who couldn’t even stop his muggle uncle from thrashing him… and he’d also risked their daughter’s safety. Arthur Weasley’s gravely concerned voice stung worse than Vernon’s bellowed threats or Snape’s sneered accusations. “I’m sorry,” he said miserably. “I just didn’t want to make you have to go back out there again for some stupid clothes.”

Harry was looking down, so when Arthur’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, he jumped back. His hand came up automatically to block and knocked the surprised man’s hand away.

“S-sorry,” Harry mumbled. He hadn’t consciously been expecting a blow, but his reflexes got the better of him. He barely noticed as Mrs. Weasley hustled a protesting Percy out of the kitchen.

“Harry,” Arthur said, sitting down at the table. “We’re not angry. We just want you to understand that we are here to help you with things. It’s not a bother when we have to take you to Diagon Alley, and we’d much prefer that you did things with us, rather than trying to do everything for yourself. Now, no harm was done, and I think we’ve all learned something today. As I keep telling Perkins, ‘Your intentions are good, we just need to work on the execution’.”

Harry gave the man a faint smile, and soon Mrs. Weasley let everyone back into the kitchen and began making sandwiches.

As Harry chewed his sandwich, the small hard knot in his stomach slowly unraveled. Ron and the twins, red-faced from flying all morning, fell on their food like a pack of starving lions. Harry noticed the looks Ginny was giving Percy, and wondered what she had planned for her older brother. Living with a family that treated him like they cared was something he’d wanted all his life. It was funny though, how big an adjustment it was proving to be.

+++++++++++++++

Authors Notes:

Disclaimer?  We don’t need no stinkin’ disclaimer, and if we did, we already did it back in Chapter 1.

Yes, I know JKR said that Ollivander only makes wands with Dragon Heartstring, Unicorn Hair, or Phoenix Feather cores. Given the rarity of Phoenixes, and the number of combinations involved, it seems rather limited in terms of ‘every wizard needs to find the wand that fits them’. Two or Three, multiplied by a couple dozen varieties of wood, would hardly fill a shop. It wouldn’t be the first time that the numbers don’t seem to support the story.

However, if we posit the existence of other wandmakers, each making their foci using the available local ingredients, we return to the idea of the wand choosing the wizard, and Ollivander having a sufficiently varied inventory. All the various wandmakers do is ship their products to each other, for money or barter, to ensure that each member can always find something in their shop for that hard-to-suit eleven year old.

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